The name of the “Good Samaritan” has become proverbial with an image of kind people, perhaps doing all they can to be kind and helpful. People who know or care little about religion will use the term praisefully, even if they don’t know they are referring to Jesus of Nazareth. There are automobile clubs named after him, churches, animal shelters, and charities named after him and your author was actually born at the Good Samaritan Hospital many miles from here.
The story of the Good Samaritan is found in the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus described the importance of loving both God and neighbor. Challenged to define what a good neighbor is, Jesus told the famous parable of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was attacked by thugs who beat him and left him for dead. Subsequently, a priest and a Levite took the same path and ignored the victim, presumably to remain in a state of ritual purity so that they could serve in the temple. The Samaritan goes down the same path, finds the wounded, assists him and puts him in refuge, even paying for his stay in an inn. Jesus ends his story by saying, “Go and do the same. “(Luke 10: 29-37)
There are two things to note here. The first is that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was infested with bandits and only a fool walked it unarmed and alone. But more significant is the fact that the Jews of Jesus did not particularly like the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. Speaking of a “good” Samaritan shocked first-century listeners, much like telling a modern parable about the “good rioter” or the “good tax evader”. The Samaritans were not very popular.
The reason for this goes way back in the history of Israel. Although the ancient Hebrews were a people for a long time, they were not unified until the time of the monarchy, after David ascended to the throne around 1000 BC.
David’s grandson, however, lost control of 10 of the 12 Hebrew tribes, which formed a new Hebrew kingdom known as Israel, as opposed to Judah, the larger and southern tribe. The two kingdoms evolved somewhat differently, with the north having better water, crops, and farmland, but the new monarchy remained unstable. The southern kingdom kept both the Davidic royal family as well as Solomon’s temple and some fairly miserable farmland.
Around 722 BC. AD, the king of Assyria invaded the holy land and pulverized the north of the kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians were a smart people with a large, well-equipped army and a lot of money to fund it. One of their policies to keep conquered peoples in line was to forcibly exile people from their homelands, then toss them to a distant location, then also to cast people from distant lands into the newly liberated territories. . Those familiar with the Trail of Tears in American history are familiar with the concept. It would be the fusion of the old Hebrews who remained in Israel and the new pagans who were imposed on them, which would produce the Samaritan people. The Bible describes this nasty part of politics as follows.
“In the ninth year of Hosea the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and brought the Israelites into Assyria, and placed them in Hala, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of Medes. And this happened because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt out of the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods. … And they did evil things, provoking the anger of the Lord, and they served idols, which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this.’ Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn away from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers and which I sent the prophets to you through my servants. But they did not want to listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They despised his statutes and his covenant which he had made with their fathers and the warnings which he had given them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, about whom the Lord had commanded them not to do like them. And they forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metallic images of two calves; and they made an Asherah, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they burned their sons and daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. … This is why the Lord was very angry with Israel and took them out of his sight. Only the tribe of Judah remained. The people of Israel walked in all the sins Jeroboam committed. They did not depart from it until the Lord removed Israel from his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So Israel has been exiled from its own land in Assyria to this day. And the king of Assyria brought in men from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and put them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. (I Kings 17)
The Samaritans remained in the territory, despite an attempt by Roman governor Pontius Pilate to exterminate them. But the Samaritans complained to the emperor, and Pilate was removed from his post in AD 36 Unfortunately, during World War I a considerable number of them were slaughtered. But a vestige remains to this day, with their own version of Torah and their own customs.
The Samaritans appear once again in the Bible, but this time in a better light, when Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus shows her no prejudice and she gradually comes to believe in Jesus, seeing him first as a rabbi, then as a prophet, then as the Messiah. In addition, she shares the story with the people of her town and many of them decide to believe in Jesus and his message. It is a sweet story of reconciliation between peoples who have had a long history of conflict and disagreement. Would all rivalries in the Middle East have such a pleasant end?