In the New Testament there are several stories that give us a taste for the distaste of Jews for Samaritans in the first century. The two most prominent passages are in John 4 and John 8:48. In John 4, Jesus makes his way to Galilee by way of Samaria. In the city of Sychar he meets a woman at a well and has a discussion about worship and the messiah. In verse 9 John gives us an aside further explaining a statement made during the conversation – “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” The second instance in John 8:48 the Jews believe Jesus to be “a Samaritan and demon-possessed.” They may be saying that they believe he is not a true Jew and that his lineage is in question (which would cast doubts on the possibility of him being the Messiah).
The Fall of Samaria & the Exile:
In 2 Kings 17:1-2 Hoshea is the last king of Israel. Shalmaneser, king of Assyria had attacked Israel, subdued them and forced them to pay revenues to Assyria on a regular basis. When Hoshea decided to stop paying the tribute, he went So of Egypt to seek out help. His effort failed. Shalmaneser attacked Israel and laid siege to its capital city Samaria for three years. Shalmaneser did not live long enough to see victory but his successor Sargon II did. He ultimately defeated the city (722 B.C.). Here is Sargon’s record of the events from the Annals of Sargon II:
The governor of Samaria, in conspiracy with another king, defaulted on his taxes and declared Samaria’s independence from Assyria. With the strength given me by the gods, I conquered them and took 27,280 prisoners of war along with their chariots…The rest were deported to Assyria. – B&M, 127-129
Sargon mentioned deportation of many of the inhabitants of Samaria. The most affluent inhabitants of the land were taken by the Assyrians and settled in other lands throughout their empire. In the vacuum that their removal left, other defeated peoples were settled in their place. These Gentile settlers brought with them their foreign gods and practices of worship. Josephus sheds some light on that:
But now the Cutheans, who removed into Samaria, each of them, according to their nations, which were in number five, brought their own gods into Samaria, and by worshiping them, as was the custom of their own countries, they provoked Almighty God to be angry and displeased at them, for a plague seized upon them, by which they were destroyed; and when they found no cure for their miseries, they learned by the oracle that they ought to worship Almighty God, as the method for their deliverance. So they sent ambassadors to the king of Assyria, and desired him to send them some of those priests of the Israelites whom he had taken captive. And when he thereupon sent them, and the people were by them taught the laws, and the holy worship of God, they worshiped him in a respectful manner, and the plague ceased immediately; and indeed they continue to make use of the very same customs to this very time, and are called in the Hebrew tongue Cutlans, but in the Greek tongue Samaritans. – Antiquities 9.3
You can see the problems brewing as the influx of other cultures bring in other religions and “gods.” That is the first major problem. The second major problem comes with the fall of the Assyrians and the rise of the Persians. The Assyrians conquered people and maintained stability through deportation. King Cyrus of the Persians took a different approach. He decided to worship all the gods of his empire. He took over a kingdom that was full of displaced people who were not able to worship their gods as they once had. His approach to bringing peace to his kingdom and to worship all gods was to send those who wanted to go home back to their homes. He encouraged them to rebuild their temples and even provided means to finance it (Ezra 1:1-4 &6:3-5. 2 Chronicles concludes with Cyrus giving approval for a new temple to be built in Jerusalem (2 Chron 36:22-23). The Cyrus Cylinder records the following:
I returned the images of their gods to their sanctuaries which had been in ruins for a long period of time. I now established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all the former inhabitants of these places and returned them to their homes…and I endeavored to repair their dwelling places.” – M & B, 149-150
While this was a huge step forward for God’s people, it did not come without difficulties. Imagine returning to the homes of your fathers and grandfathers only to find strangers living their. These were not just any strangers. These were Gentile strangers who had been moved into your homes through the deportation of the Assyrian regime. Some Jews intermarried with them and Samaria became viewed as a place of Gentiles and even worse – the offspring of Jew-Gentile marriages. Additionally, it was the Samaritans who opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem when Cyrus sent the Jews home (Neh 6:1-4). The Sanballat in that passage was governor of Samaria.
Enmity Due to Samaritan Worship:
A third problem that arose was a matter of worship. The Samaritan woman in John 4 said, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:20). The mountain she references is Mt. Gerizim. The Jews believed that one should only do formal worship at the temple of God in Jerusalem. There were not supposed to be any competing sanctuaries. The temple at Gerizim was established at the end of the Persian period (400 B.C.). Sanballat, governor of Samaria had a daughter who married Manasseh, son of John the high priest (thanks to F.F. Bruce for putting those pieces together). It was not viewed favorably for the son of the high priest to marry a Samaritan (because of the two problems mentioned above). He refused to divorce his Samaritan wife and her father, Sanballat, built a temple at Gerizim for Manasseh to serve as high priest – Josephus, Antiquities 11.8.1-2 & F.F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations, 110-111.
It should be noted that the Samaritans were religiously very similar to the Jews. While their genetic makeup may have had some Gentile lineage, they did get their act together in following the Torah. By the first century, the main problem with the Samaritans was their failure to worship at Jerusalem. The other issues probably had some bearing on the negative feelings toward Samaritans but not as major as the location of their worship.
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