The people of the northern kingdom of Israel, named after its capital city established by Omri. At the time of the NT, Samaritans were despised by Jews, on account of their intermarriage with Gentiles after the fall of the northern kingdom in 721 B.C. However, the NT presents them as generally responding favourably to the gospel.
Samaria’s population deported2Ki 17:6-18Sargon II of Assyria completed the siege begun by Shalmaneser V, deporting (according to his own annals) over 27,000 of Samaria’s inhabitants. See also2Ki 18:11-12
Samaria resettled by other peoples2Ki 17:24This resettlement, the first of several, led to intermarriage, and is seen by many as the origin of the Samaritans of NT times. See alsoEzr 4:2,9-10
Religion in Samaria after its fall
Syncretism arises in Samaria2Ki 17:25-41Those resettled brought their own gods with them, but also worshipped the Lord as the god of the land. Ultimately these inter-mixed peoples would abandon their polytheism and would accept the law of Moses.
Samaritans offer to rebuild the temple with the returning exiles but are rejectedEzr 4:1-5The response of the Samaritans to this rejection, based on the Jews’desire to keep the faith pure, reflects the double-mindedness of their offer.
Ongoing opposition from the Samaritans to the work of the returned exilesSee alsoEzr 4:6,7-23
Samaria’s religious background by the time of the NT
Samaria had established its own templeJn 4:20The Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. It was later destroyed by the Jews, which led to a hardening of attitudes between the two groups.
Samaritan Scriptures contained only the PentateuchJn 4:22Jesus Christ highlights the limited revelation of the Samaritans. Since their Scriptures contained only the Pentateuch, they were expecting a Messiah that they could know little about.
Samaritan and Jewish attitudes to one anotherJn 4:9Samaritans were seen as being very lax in their religious observance, and Jews would not therefore share drinking vessels with them. By NT times the gulf between Jew and Samaritan was quite wide and bitter. See alsoLk 9:51-56 The three-day journey from Galilee to Jerusalem involved overnight accommodation, which the Samaritans generally refused, causing many Jews to travel on the eastern side of the Jordan.
Samaritans and the ministry of Jesus Christ
Initially Jesus Christ instructs his disciples not to go to the SamaritansMt 10:5-6
Jesus Christ is opposed by some SamaritansSee alsoLk 9:51-56
Jesus Christ ministers to a Samaritan woman and many Samaritans believe in himJn 4:4-30,39-42
Jesus Christ tells a parable about a good SamaritanLk 10:30-37 For the Jews, the concept of a “good” Samaritan would have seemed very strange; but Jesus Christ shows that love and faith is not restricted to Israel’s boundaries.
Samaria and the ministry of the early first Christians
The risen Christ includes Samaria in the church’s missionAc 1:8
The apostles pray for the gift of the Spirit for the Samaritan convertsAc 8:14-17The delay in their reception of the Spirit until the apostles came from Jerusalem may have been God’s way of removing the old Jewish-Samaritan divide in the infant church.
Dictionary of Bible Themes Scripture index copyright Martin H. Manser, 2009. As Editor, Martin Manser wishes to thank all those who compiled or edited the NIV Thematic Study Bible, on which this work is based.
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