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What was the Samaritans relationship to the Jews?

By Joseph D. Meador

religion, articles, christianity

Q&A

Q: When did the Samaritans come into existence and what was their relationship to the Jews?

A: The formation of the Samaritan race is an important part of Jewish history. The nation of Israel was united under the rule of three kings, Saul, David and Solomon. With the death of Solomon, it has been observed that the tears shed over his grace were insincere. Indeed, Solomon fulfilled the prophetic warnings in 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

When Solomon's son Rehoboam attempted to become king, he was rejected by the northern 10 tribes because he pledged a harsh and tyrannical rule, even worse than his father. In his place, the people of the northern 10 tribes, known as Israel, made Jeroboam king. The remaining southern tribes, known as Judah, allowed Rehoboam to rule over them.

In this division, the northern tribes gained a major portion of the fertile land and springs. The boundary of separation between the north and south ran directly across the central highland, through the valleys of Michmash to the east and Ajalon to the west, giving the northern tribes three times the square miles that Judah retained. The northern tribes continued as a separate nation for just over 200 years. During this time, some nineteen kings reigned over Israel representing nine families. Eight of these northern kings were either assassinated or committed suicide. None of these kings were faithful to the Lord. Each of them promoted idolatry.

Because of disobedience (cf. 1 Kings 11:13, 17), the Lord allowed the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser V to march against the northern kingdom. The siege against Samaria lasted from 724 to 722 B.C. when the capital city fell, bringing the rule of the ten tribes of Israel to a close.

An Assyrian governor was placed over the territory. Many of the Jews were taken as captives by Assyria and in their place a foreign upper class of people were imported from Babylon, Cuthah, Acca, Harnath and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 12:24). Mixing ethnic populations of captured nations had been instituted by an earlier Assyrian king to diminish chances of rebellion among conquered people. This resulted in the formation of a hybrid race, who came to be the Samaritans.

Historically, there was never a feeling of kinship between the Samaritans and the remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah. In fact, the Jews, who resettled Jerusalem after the captivity, considered the Samaritans as mongrels or half-breeds who were not regarded as Jewish.

However, before the alienation, there was considerable intermarrying. As religious and social exclusiveness grew stronger in Judea, intermarriage became a serious issue. This situation continued until Manasseh, brother of the Jewish high priest, married the daughter of a Samaritan. The controlling religious party in Jerusalem demanded that he divorce her at once. Rather than comply, Manasseh withdrew from Jerusalem at the invitation of his father-in-law, taking many priests from the Jerusalem temple with him.

The father-in-law of Manasseh, a man of considerable wealth, soon built and established a rival Jewish temple on Mount Gerizim where the Samaritans set up a form of Jehovah worship complete with animal sacrifices. They used a copy of the Law of Moses in their worship which they had brought with them from the temple in Jerusalem. They also dedicated a set time to observe the various ritual feasts and offerings, although with some minor differences than those observed in Jerusalem.

These two religious groups, the Jews and Samaritans developed side by side, each one charging the other was debased and corrupt. In Jesus' day it was well understood that "Jews have no dealing with Samaritans (John 4:9). Jesus' parable about the good Samaritan (Luke 10:2-37) and, the Samaritan leper (Luke 17:15-16) attacked the prejudice of traditional Judaism as they taught the virtue of mercy and thankfulness.

Today, a small number of Samaritans maintain a temple on Mount Gerizim.


Published November 1996