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Brief History

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It is impossible to write an accurate history of the Samaritans because their records are so scarce, and their references are sometimes contradictory. The name Samaritans appears only once in the Old Testament, in II Kings 17:29 where it is used for those colonist newcomers, planted by the Assyrians, who persisted in their pagan ways. However, the majority of the population consisted of Israelites who had not been deported and who continued in their Israelite faith. The beliefs brought by the newcomers did not survive and, from a Jewish standpoint, no paganism is found in later Samaritan theology.

The mixed population of Samaria was not accepted as Jewish by the Jews of the south. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile and began to rebuild the Temple, the Samaritans offered to help but were rejected, and then they 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 Bible 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.

(also see Samaritan Torah Scroll)

In the following centuries, the Samaritans suffered when Shechem was destroyed by Alexander the Great, while in 128 B.C. John Hyrcanus captured Shechem and destroyed the Samaritan temple. It remained in ruins until the 2nd century A.D. when it was rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian as a reward for Samaritan help against the Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 A.D.).

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).

(See Map of Samaria in NT Times)

The story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 also shows up the division between Jews and Samaritans and the disciples are 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 between the Jews and the Samaritans because in their minds it would be impossible for a Samaritan to act charitably.

Overall the New Testament speaks favorably about the Samaritans, they received Jesusí ministry and were among the first to accept the gospel.

(also see Map of Modern Samaria)

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