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Who Were the Samaritans?

Everyone can agree that Jesus was a wise and insightful man. Even someone who doesnít believe that Jesus is the Son of God can still say that. His insightful-ness showed up whenever someone asked him a question. In fact, Jesus usually did not answer what someone wanted to know, instead he answered with what the person needed to hear.

So it happened one day that Jesus was asked by an expert in the Jewish Law what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus asked, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" The expert responded to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." The expert had one more question: "And who is my neighbor?" Instead of answering directly, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Why did Jesus use a Samaritan as the hero of the story? Jesus knew he was speaking to a Jew, and he used the one group that Jews hated the most. Now, you might think they would hate the Romans the most or even Jewish tax collectors (who collected the Roman taxes), but no, it was the Samaritans.

An example of their hatred: On another day, Jesus was in discussion with some Jews. Jesus said something that angered the Jews and he was asked, "Arenít we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?" (John 8:48) The Jews hated the Samaritans so much they believed them all demon possessed!

So, why did the Jews hate the Samaritans so much? For that, we have to go 700 years beyond the time of Jesus. Actually, I will go back to the year 1000 BC and then go forward 300 years in order for this to make more sense.

David was king of all Israel around 1000 BC. His son, Solomon, followed him as king of Israel. But after Solomon, the kingdom split in two: the Northern Kingdom (known as Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (known as Judah). Focusing on the Northern Kingdom, it had good kings and bad for several hundred years, until 722 BC. In that year the Assyrians came down and defeated them.

The Assyrians took many of the conquered Jews from the conquered Northern Kingdom back to their home country in order to keep an eye on them and to prevent rebellion. That meant there were a lot of empty farms and houses and businesses. According to II Kings 17: 24 and following, the Assyrian king brought in people from different counties to fill the void. These people did not worship the One God of the Jews, instead worshipping many gods. It seems a safe assumption that the Jews who had remained in their country intermarried with the newcomers and followed in the same practice.

These people did not leave, but remained in the land, most likely continuing to intermarry and to blend in with the other Jews up to the time of Jesus. And they continued their practice of worshipping numerous gods. So you can see why the Jews would hate them.

But what does that have to do with Samaritans? According to II Kings 17:24, most of the foreigners who came to settle in the Northern Kingdom ended up settling in the region of, you guessed it, Samaria.

And so what was the insightful Jesus really saying when he answered the question of loving oneís neighbor? The person you hate the most is your neighbor and is deserving of your love.

©2006 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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