Introduction / History
In the New Testament the Samaritans were considered inhabitants of the district of Samaria. They descended from the exchange of population effected by the Assyrians after their conquest of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC Pursuing their policy of transferring conquered peoples, the Assyrians deported many of the original inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom and replaced them with a mixture of people from the east: from Babylon, Avva, Hamath, Sepharvaim and Cuth (deriving from the latter, the Samaritans are often referred to in rabbinic literature as Cuthim).
The mixed population of Samaria was not accepted as Jewish by the Jews from the south of Israel. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile and began to rebuild the temple, the Samaritans offered to help but were rejected, and so proceeded to prevent or delay the project (Ezra 4:1-6). When the returned exiles began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans protested to the authorities in Persia (Artaxerxes), that this constituted an act of rebellion and the work was stopped until the arrival of Nehemiah, who King Artaxerxes commissioned as governor (Ezra 4:7-24).
The Samaritans maintained their hostile attitudes and actions which were now directed against Nehemiah (Neh 6:1-13). Their opposition proved unsuccessful but the division was now complete. Samaritans were forbidden to offer sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple or to intermarry with Jews, while the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerazim, near Shechem. Their holy book consisted of the Pentateuch alone; the text featured minor deviations from the accepted Hebrew text and also contained an additional verse specifically mentioning Mount Gerazim as the site of the temple.
In the following centuries, the Samaritans suffered when in 128 BC John Hyrcanus captured Shechem and destroyed the Samaritan temple and when Shechem was destroyed by Alexander the Great. It remained in ruins until the 2nd century AD when it was rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian as a reward for Samaritan help against the Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD).
The continuing hostility between Jews and Samaritans is clearly seen in the New Testament. One of the worst insults that hostile Jews could offer to Jesus was to call him a Samaritan (John 8:48). When Jesus was refused hospitality by a Samaritan village because he had set His face to go to Jerusalem, his disciples were angered, and then Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51-56).
The story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 shows the division between Jews and Samaritans. The disciples were amazed that Jesus was talking to a woman of Samaria (John 4:27). The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-37) also reveals this division, because a Jew could not think of a Samaritan acting charitably. In many places the New Testament speaks favorably about the Samaritans, they received Jesus' ministry and were among the first people who believed in Him.
What are their lives like?
Today a small Samaritan community has survived without losing it's identity through intermarriage. There are about 550-600 observant followers of the Samaritan religion, most of whom live in Kiryat Luza, close to the mountain of Gerazim, south of Nablus in the West Bank, which is their religious center. The rest live in Holon, a district near Tel Aviv in Israel.
Although their temple is long since destroyed, they still celebrate Passover every year around their ancient temple site of sacrifice on Mount Gerazim, their holy mountain. The Day of Atonement is the holiest day of their year and the Sabbath is most rigidly observed. They are a distinctly religious community and their high priest acts as their political official and representative.
The Samaritans near Nablus participate in the life of the Palestinians, while the Samaritans of Israel participate in the Israeli society. Despite the continuing conflict in the area, the group has managed to maintain relationships with both Israelis and Palestinians. Samaritan identity is extremely complex. Neither Muslim nor Jew, they function well in both societies. In Holon, they have a special neighborhood, but otherwise they live and work among Israelis, attending their schools and serving in the army. In Nablus, the Samaritans are seen as an important part of the community's history, and they are treated as a protected minority.
What are their beliefs?
Samaritan and Jewish believes have much in common, below the main similarities and differences:
Similarities between Jewish and Samaritan theology are:
1) They both consider themselves true worshippers of Yahweh.
2) Both place supreme importance on the Pentateuch as a detailed way of life (the Samaritans reject the rest of the Jewish canon/the Old Testament).
3) They both look for the Messiah (the Samaritans expect Him to rule from Mount Gerazim, and the Jews from Jerusalem).
4) The Samaritans believe basically the same as the Jews concerning final judgment, rewards, punishments, circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws, and the ceremonial and judicial laws.
Differences between Jewish and Samaritan theology are:
1) The Samaritans insist that Mount Gerazim is the only true central sanctuary for all Israel.
2) The Samaritans overly elevate Moses' position.
What are their needs?
The ministry of Christ began with the Jews and yet He excluded no one. He ministered to Samaritans, to gentiles and to anyone who was willing to believe the truth. Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, and Judaism had become a dead system of works that blinded men from the truth and placed heavy burdens on the people. This has not changed. Today, the law is a heavy burden for the small Samaritan community.
Pray that God will again reveal himself to the Samaritans as He did 2,000 years ago to one of their women at the well.