The Uniqueness of God
teacher's guide Lesson 10

Lesson Ten

The Samaritans

Texts: Luke 9:51-56; 10:30-37; 17:11-19; John 4:1-42; 8:48

2 Kings 17 states why the Northern ten tribes of Israelites known as Israel went into Assyrian captivity.  It states that the King of Assyria took those people into exile and replaced them with captives from other places.


Read 2 Kings 17.  In typical faith systems of that period the unexpected and the unusual were often explained by the cause being an upset deity. Their common perspective fit consistently with the problem. Consider 1 Kings 20:23 as an example. They expected the Lord to be appeased to be one among the many gods they worshipped.  Ironically, they thought the very thing that caused the exile of the former inhabitant nation to provide the solution to the replacement people—a priest from a non-Levitical genealogy and an idolatrous form of worship.


A typical practice of that era was for a conquering king to use exile of conquered peoples as a means of controlling them while reducing the likelihood of their rebellion.  Typically what would happen is that (a) a conquered people would be exiled, (b) a group of sick, weak, and elderly would be left to act as caretakers of the conquered land (to keep the land from reverting to wilderness), and (c) another conquered people or peoples would replace the exiled inhabitants.  In time intermarriage would occur and a different people came into existence. Josephus and others declared this is how the Samaritans of what we call the New Testament were formed.  They said the 1st century Samaritans were descendants of the intermarriage of people produced by the events of 2 Kings 17.


When “people power” was not nearly as expensive as it is today, and when the needs of the conquered were an insignificant consideration, the replacement policy was a viable solution to the conqueror.  When people are removed from the home setting and their roots, they are truly broken and not likely to feel patriotic.


Later, Judah was conquered by Babylon. Still later, some people of Judah (second or third generation of the exiles) were allowed to return from Babylonian captivity.  Those who returned refused to allow this “new” people to assist them in their restoration of Jerusalem. The result: an animosity that lasted for centuries because these people who were partly Jewish were rejected by the returning Jews.


Judah was exiled to Babylon for basically the same reasons Israel was exiled byAssyria.  However, Judah preserved their Jewish identify, but the ten tribes of Israel seemed to have be absorbed into other peoples.  The nation of Israel ceased to exist as a people. Exile cost them their identity as a nation.  Their idolatrous existence for generations made it easier for them to be absorbed by others and to cease having a distinctive identity. 


However, Josephus’ view has been questioned. The questioners reject Josephus’ claim that the people produced by the events of 2 Kings 17 are the origin of the New Testament Samaritans.  They declare the people produced by the events of 2 Kings 17 are not the ancestors of the first- century Samaritans.


Determining the origin of the Samaritans in the New Testament may be complex.  The fact that they are partially Jewish in genealogy and are a part of a deep Jewish-Samaritan animosity is evident.


The Mishnah, a Jewish writing, came into existence in the fourth century AD.  However, it is said (in some things) to reflect first-century thought and actions.  It reveals a significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans.  Examples follow.  The presence of a Samaritan could alter the prayer life of Jews (see Berakoth 7:1; 8:8).  Food from a Samaritan source could alter what a Jew ate (see Shebiith 8:10).  Samaritans interfered with the Jewish identification of the New Moon [the beginning of the Jewish new month] (see Rosh ha-Shanah 2:1-4).  A Jewish man paid a fine if he seduced a Samaritan woman (see Ketuboth 3:1).  A Samaritan could not be a witness on any Jewish document except a divorce decree or an emancipation decree (see Gittim 1:5).  A Jew with confirmed Jewish heritage may not marry a Samaritan (see Kiddushin 4:3).  In multiple cases, the “rules” changed if a Samaritan was involved. 


This is provided only to illustrate that the Jewish-Samaritan animosity was real and enduring.  The Jews truly resented the Samaritans.


The intensity of the Jewish-Samaritan animosity is seen in the confusion about the beginning of the month (since that determined when Jewish religious responsibilities were fulfilled), and (b) the paying of a fine for the seduction of a Samaritan woman rather than being subject to marriage or death (consider Leviticus 20:10-16, Exodus 22:16-17, and Deuteronomy 22:28, 29).


Whenever a group is the victim of prejudice, the group reacts with prejudice of their own.  Many Samaritans despised Jews, also.


The appointed Jews in Jerusalem communicated the beginning of the month (the authorized first appearance of the new moon) with Jews outside of Jerusalem by building nighttime bonfires on mountaintops. To create deliberate confusion, the Samaritans would build numerous bonfires on several mountaintops at this time. Thus, outlying Jews would have difficulty in determining the beginning of the month which also began the counting to official religious occasions in Jerusalem.


A Samaritan woman was considered a non-person.  Sexual violation of a Samaritan woman (at best) was worthy of only a fine.  However, sexual violation of a Jewish woman could result in death or a marriage that could not be ended.


From  John 4 we learn: (a) the Samaritans occupied the territory between Galilee and Judea (though there was a direct route that connected Galilee and Judea that ran through Samaritan territory, Jews did not often travel the route); (b) Jews did not associate with Samaritans; (c) it was shocking for a Jewish man to speak to a Samaritan woman in public; (d) a conflict existed between Jews and Samaritans about the appropriate place to conduct sacrificial worship; and (e) the Samaritans also expected the Messiah.


Many Jews would choose a longer, more difficult route to Jerusalem rather than go through Samaritan territory.  Jewish men did not speak to women in public.  Such conversations could be used as evidence of adultery. There was no appropriate reason for talking to a Samaritan woman in public.


The Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament; Genesis through Deuteronomy) as Scripture.  They were convinced that Mount Gerizin, not Mount Moriah (Jerusalem) was the approved site for worshipping God. The other texts in today’s lesson speak of the separation or hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans.  Please note: (a) the Jews did not classify the Samaritans as gentiles (any non-Jewish person).  (b) The animosity existed both ways and found expression in the Jews (the rejecters) and the Samaritans (the rejected).


The Samaritan acceptance of the Pentateuch would indicate a Jewish background/perspective.  Their worship at Mount Gerizim would be a major theological issue between them and the Jews.  For biblical insights, read Deuteronomy 12:1-14.


The unusual situation is generated by Jesus’ use of Samaritans in his teachings: compassion (Luke 9:51-56); who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37); gratitude (Luke 17:11-19); and evangelism (John 4).


With some of the controversial topics/happenings, Jesus used Samaritans to make his point.  Jesus sometimes used a prejudiced relationship to emphasize a controversial reality.  We seldom do that.


In the John 4 text, Jesus reached the people of Sychar through his interaction with a woman who likely had multiple divorces and was living with a man to whom she was not married.  Jesus violated three taboos: (a) he spoke to a woman in public; (b) he initiated contact with a person of questionable reputation; and (c) he interacted with a Samaritan.  We would not begin an evangelistic outreach by using such a person!


Most Christians would avoid a situation that would lead to an evangelization opportunity like Jesus used in John 4.  Here, Jesus used a controversial situation to achieve good by God’s values.


Only a unique God would use a hostile situation to illustrate His values!


God will not use merely the “humanly acceptable” to achieve His objectives.


For Thought and Discussion


1. What typical practice for conquering kings existed in the late Old Testament period?


The conquering kings would exile the conquered inhabitants, leave people who posed no threat to the conquerors for the purpose of caring for the land, and replace the conquered exiles with exiles from another place.  Through intermarriage this often produced a “new people.”


2. When some of Judah returned from Babylonian captivity, what did they refuse to do?


Those who returned from Babylonian captivity refused to allow the “new people” produced by the Assyrian captivity to assist in the rebuilding programs.


3. Does everyone agree with Josephus about the origin of New Testament Samaritans?


No, they do not.


4. What is the Mishnah?  In some instances, what does it do?


The Mishnah is a fourth-century Jewish document said to reflect, in some matters, first-century positions.


5. Give two things that reflect the intensity of the Jewish-Samaritan animosity?


(a) The Samaritans building fires atop mountains to create Jewish confusion about the official date of the new moon (first of the month) and (b) the fine for the seducing of a Samaritan woman reflect the intensity of the animosity.


6. What do we learn about Jewish-Samaritan interaction from John 4?


a. Samaritan territory was avoided by Jews.

b. Non-association between Jews and Samaritans.

c. Jewish men did not speak to Samaritan women in public.

d. Conflict existed between Samaritans and Jews about the appropriate location to worship.

e. Samaritans also expected a Messiah.


7. The Samaritans accepted what as scripture?  Of what were they convinced about worship location?


Samaritans accepted Genesis through Deuteronomy as scripture. They thought sacrificial worship should occur on Mount Gerizim.


8. What is unusual about Jesus’ teachings?  What taboos in John 4 did Jesus violate?


Jesus sometimes used Samaritans to emphasize his points.


a.      Jesus spoke to a woman in public.

b.      Jesus had contact with a person of questionable reputation.

c.      Jesus interacted with a Samaritan.

Link to Student Guide Lesson 10

Copyright © 2009
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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