Who Were the Samaritans?

The Samaritans were an ancient Semitic people who occupied Samaria as early as 700 B.C. Samaria lies north of Judea and south of Galilee. The Samaritans claimed to be the remnants of early Hebrew tribes, and the Israelites and Samaritans felt contempt toward one another.

Like the Jews, the Samaritans were strict monotheists who worshiped Yahweh. However, they rejected all but the first five books of the Old Testament, and claimed that their version of the Torah was superior to that of the Israelites. According to their own history, the Samaritans were descended from members of the Lost Tribes of Israel who had married into local pagan people.

The antipathy toward the Samaritans was such that Israelites would cross the Jordan River twice when traveling between Galilee and Jerusalem just to avoid setting foot in Samaria. Samaritans were not allowed to worship in the temple in Jerusalem, and had built their own temple on a mountain in the region. However, during Jesus Christ’s travels through Israel, he regularly walked through Samaria, ministering to them just as he ministered to the Jews. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then he ordered his disciples to minister to the Samaritans as well. Christ’s embrace of the Samaritans was a precursor to his embrace of Gentiles.