We all know the phrase ‘good samaritan’. In our day and age, it means someone who selflessly helps another with no expectation of reward. But Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was more than just a tale of a charitable act toward a stranger. Choosing a Samaritan for the hero of this parable was a shocking — even unbelievable — answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”
The reason is that the Jewish people had a longstanding and profound hatred for the Samaritans to the north of Judea. But how did the enmity between these two groups begin? What led to the intense hatred that we see between the Jews and Samaritans that lent this parable it’s hard-hitting intent?
As with most stories that span a thousand years, the enmity between Jews and Samaritans was complicated. But it boiled down to four main issues:
Early disagreements on pagan worship:
Trouble started not long after Moses brought the twelve tribes of Israel to the Promised Land. At the death of Solomon in 975 B.C., the kingdom of Israel was split into two parts, Judah in the south, and Samaria in the north. The two kingdoms were often in disagreement. The northern kings loved their pagan idols and were constantly at odds with Jerusalem.
So, when the Assyrians conquered Samaria in 724 B.C., the inhabitants of Judah were not sympathetic. The Assyrians took their captives home and sent their own pagan people to occupy the land of Samaria. Still, some Samaritans remained in their homeland and continued to practice the faith of Moses while intermarrying with the pagan settlers.
Assyria fell to the Egyptians a hundred years later, and Egypt, in turn, was conquered by Babylon. In 586 B.C., the southern kingdom of Israel also fell to the Babylonians, and what the Jews refer to as the “Babylonian Exile” followed.
When the Babylonians allowed the Judeans to return to their homeland, the rift between the Samaritans and the Judeans widened. Some sources say that the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, but were rudely refused because of their pagan impurity. Other sources say the Samaritans were the ones who refused to help their brothers of Judah to rebuild.
Differences in worship:
Meanwhile, the Samaritans who had resisted paganism developed their own version of worship, using only the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – and rejecting all other books of the Old Testament. Tensions increased when the Samaritans built their own Temple for worship on Mt. Gerizim, and stated that their mountain was the dwelling place of the Lord, not the Temple in Jerusalem. With that, any hope of reconciliation between the two peoples was lost.
Sadly, disagreements, wars, differences in worship, and miscommunication resulted in the simmering hatred that divided the people of Israel that were once brothers.