The Samaritans

National Association of Christian Ministers Summary Series: Theology

The Samaritans were a distinct religious and ethnic group that emerged in the region of Samaria, which was located between Judea and Galilee in ancient Israel. The origins of the Samaritans can be traced back to the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.

After the conquest, the Assyrians deported many Israelites from the region and resettled it with people from other lands. Over time, the remaining Israelites intermarried with the newcomers, resulting in a mixed population that followed a unique form of religious worship and held distinct beliefs.

The religious differences between the Samaritans and the Jews of Judea were a significant source of tension.

The Samaritans maintained their own version of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, which had some variations from the Jewish version.

They also had their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which they regarded as the central place of worship, in contrast to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

The relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was marked by animosity and mutual hostility. The Jews of Judea considered the Samaritans to be impure and heretical. The New Testament contains accounts of this animosity, including the parable of the Good Samaritan, which highlighted the unexpected kindness of a Samaritan toward a Jewish man.

Despite their differences, the Samaritans and the Jews had some shared ancestry and common religious roots. In recent times, the Samaritans have continued to maintain their distinct religious and cultural identity, although their numbers are relatively small. They still celebrate their unique religious festivals and perform ancient rituals on Mount Gerizim.