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Historic Jesus

The Gospel narratives reflect a state of tension and hate between the Jews and the Samaritans, which had grown over several centuries. The origins of the conflict between the two parties are unclear. The Jewish side of the story is told in the books of Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. These accounts report that the Samaritans were the descendants of colonists brought to the land of Israel from Cutha, Babylon, and Hamath by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, as part of Assyrian military policy.

When the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., they moved the local population out and replaced it with people from other territories. Thus, the northern ten tribes of Israel were "lost" to history. The Assyrians found that this forced expatriation reduced the ability of conquered peoples to revolt. The Samaritans adopted a form of the Israelite religion, which the Jews believed to be bogus and insincere.

The Samaritan side of the story, however, traces their origins to the two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Accordingly, the Samaritans believed that they had just as much right to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as did any Jew. The Samaritans admitted that foreigners had been imported by the Assyrians, but denied that they were descendants of these people.

In the name of the same God, both sides condemned and sometimes killed each other. During the fourth century B. C., the Samaritans built a temple for the worship of God on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, where rituals were performed based on the Mosaic Law-the only religious authority they had ever acknowledged. The Jewish king John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple in 129 B. C. The reasons for doing so are lost in religious polemics, but the Jewish antipathy that expressed itself in the destruction of the Samaritan temple was a fact.

During the time of Jesus, tension between the Jews and the Samaritans was high. During the period A D. 6-9 Samaritans scattered bones in the Jerusalem temple at Passover. In A. D. 52 Samaritans killed a group of Galilean pilgrims at the town of En-gannim. Jews traveling between Galilee and Judea normally avoided Samaria by crossing east of the Jordan River. Jesus, however, traveled through Samaria a number of times, one time staying for two days with the villagers of Sychar. On his last trip to Jerusalem, people in a Samaritan village refused him admittance (Luke 9.51-56). In one of his best-known parables, he used a Samaritan to illustrate true neighborliness. Jesus was often called "a Samaritan" by his enemies, who used the term to express their vehement disapproval of Jesus.