WHO WERE THE SAMARITANS?

By

Pastor Alan Campbell

The only detailed reference to the Samaritans is to be found in the Second Book of Kings. In the twenty fourth verse of chapter seventeen, we find that when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deported the Ten Tribes into exile in Halah and Habor by the River of Gozan in the cities of the Medes, that the King of Assyria replenished the depopulated territory of Israel with foreigners: 'And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava and from Hamath and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria, instead of the children of Israel and they possessed Samaria and dwelt in the cities thereof'

These people were heathen idolators with no fear of God; but, following attacks on their settlements by wild mountain lions (which they attributed to the anger of the God of the dispossessed Israelites), they petitioned the Assyrian monarch for help. His response was to send back one of the captive priests of Israel to teach them his laws and customs. Therefore we read: 'Then the King of Assyria commanded saying, Carry hither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence, and let them go and dwell there, and let them teach the manner of the God of the land. Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord' (II Kings 17:27, 28).

When we consider that the Israelites had themselves gone into captivity for their idolatry and Sabbath breaking, that they worshipped Baal and Ashtaroth, and that the official priesthood since the days of Jeroboam had fostered the cult of the Golden Bulls at the shrines of Dan and Bethel, it is hardly surprising that the priest who returned to teach the Samaritans, succeeded only in joining a corrupted form of Israelite belief and worship to the customs which these people already held. Thus while they now paid lip service to the God of Israel, they continued to serve their own gods as well, according to the Biblical account.

Consequently there evolved a mongrelized people of various national and racial backgrounds, practicing a hybrid religion which bore certain outward similarities to the worship of the now exiled Israelites. It was truly a rnulticultural, multi-faith society that had been created. Although called Samarkans, these people did not necessarily dwell in the area of the former Israelite capital of Samaria but tended to be found mostly in the area of Shechem; so much so that both in the Apocrypha and in the writings of Josephus they are referred to as Shechemites. They had developed into a distinctive people by the Hellenistic period, when Shechem was rebuilt after years of desolation.

It was, however, during this period of Hellenization carried out by Alexander the Great and his successors, that a group of religious purists emerged in the Samaritan community, who decided to make a fresh start, and who erected the Samaritan Temple at Mount Gerezim. They developed their own distinctive religious system, including: the worship of the God of Israel, obedience to the Law of Moses, expectation of a coming Day of Judgment, belief in Mount Gerezim as the appointed place of sacrifice and in the return of Moses as the Taheb or the Restorer/Returning One.

From this point onward, there is a rapid deterioration in relations with those of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, who had returned to Palestine from exile in Babylon. They regarded the Samaritans as racially inferior interlopers, and their religion as a spurious counterfeit. At the time of the Maccabean Revolt the Samaritans sided with the Seleucid oppressors, and to placate Antiochus Epiphanes, they even allowed their temple to be dedicated to Zeus Xenious!

Subsequently, in 128 B.C., they were conquered by the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus (the conqueror and incorporator of Edom/ldumea), who destroyed their Temple on Mount Gerezim. At one particular Passover, between A.D. 6 and 9, the Samaritans defiled the Jerusalem Temple by scattering bones in it. Pilgrims travelling south from Galilee to Jerusalem for the religious festivals were afraid to go through Samaritan territory, a fear which was to be justified by the subsequent massacre of Galilean pilgrims by Samaritans at En-gannim in A.D. 52. The Samaritans rebelled against the Romans in A.D. 36. When a fanatic assembled them at Mount Gerezim, promising to reveal the sacred vessels which they had been taught were buried there by Moses, the rebels were ruthlessly massacred by order of Pontius Pilate. During the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-70, a group of Samaritans joined in the rebellion and were slaughtered by the Roman Commander Vettulenus Cerealis, once again at Mount Gerezim.

After almost two thousand years, only a tiny remnant of the descendants of the Samaritans remain. They have preserved their religion and culture, and are to be found to this day in Palestine, living in two small communities at Nablus and Holon, with their own scrolls and priesthood.

In spite of our Lord's instruction to His disciples: 'Into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not' (Matthew 10:5), and the incident when the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village which refused to receive them (Luke 9:52-54), Samaritans receive fairly favorable comment from the New Testament writers Luke and John. The one leper out of the ten who returned to Jesus to give thanks for his healing was a Samaritan (Luke 17:16). The Lord Jesus asked for water from, and subsequently ministered to, a woman of Samaria (John 4:4-30 & 39- 40); while we read of a great spiritual revival accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles in Sarnaria (Acts 8:5-25). How do we account for these events? Could there have been two types of Samaritans?

Just as every Jew residing in the Roman Province of Judea, and practicing the Jewish religion at the time of Christ, was not necessarily a true Judahite, a similar situation existed in Samaria, also a Roman territory. Isaiah the prophet had made it clear that, even though the vast bulk of Ten-tribed Israel had been taken into captivity in Assyria, a tiny pathetic handful would survive the mass deportations. This is what he says: 'Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it as the shaking of an olive tree two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches thereof saith the God of Israel' (Isaiah 17:6).

This accounts for the presence in the Holy Temple at Christ's Presentation as a baby, of the aged prophetess Anna of the Tribe of Asher. It also accounts for the favorable reaction of some Samaritans to Christ, and to the preaching of the Gospel. Some of them, like the leper, and the woman by the well of Sychar, while they were Samaritans by religion (worshipping at Mount Gerezim), and by provincial designation (living in the Roman province of Samaria), were clearly not descended from the mixed multitude who had been sent into the area some seven hundred years earlier, but rather from the little handful of true Israelites who had escaped deportation - the grapes and berries of Isaiah's prophecy.

In her discussion with the Lord Jesus, the woman of Samaria made her racial ancestry crystal clear, for she said to Jesus: 'Art thou greater than our father Jacob which gave us the well...' (John 4:12).

She actually claimed descent from Jacob-lsrael. Furthermore, her own life was symbolic of the experience of the woman Israel, for the Lord Jesus said to her: 'Thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou hast is not thy husband' (John 4: 18)

Israel had indeed had five husbands; her first whom she married at Sinai was:

1. ALMIGHTY GOD. She then served the following succession of alien Empires spoken of in prophecy as her lovers:

2. ASSYRIA

3. BABYLON

4. MEDO-PERSIA

5. GREECE - And the sixth whom she served in the time of Christ was:

6. PAGAN ROME

It was to cancel their bill of divorce to redeem them and bring them again into covenant relationship by His atoning death that Jesus came.

Thus we see revealed the true identity of the various types of Samaritans; and in the ministry of our Lord and His Apostles, to them we see the fulfilrnent of the words recorded by the Old Testament prophet Amos: 'For lo I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth' (Amos 9:9).

 


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