Samaritans and Judeans: Belonging to Israel in the Gospels (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Maia Kotrosits, 'Samaritans and Judeans: Belonging to Israel in the Gospels (first century CE),' Last modified October 29, 2022, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9091.

Ancient authors: Author of the Gospel of John 4:4-30, author of the Gospel of Matthew 10:5-6, and author of the Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 (link to Greek text and full LEB translation).

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman is an allegory for Judean-Samaritan relations under colonization. Judeans (Jews) and Samaritans share a relationship to the history and traditions of Israel, as the woman in the passage herself suggests, even while their particular histories differ. While Samaria was the former capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, it was later associated with “foreign loyalties,” and often denigrated by Judeans in the south (on which see Josephos’ narratives about Samaritans at this link). The mention of the woman’s “five husbands” is likely an allegory for the five peoples or nations that are said to have settled in Samaria (see 2 Kings 17 and Josephos linked above) before Rome (the current “husband”).

In either case, this passage demonstrates both an instance of Judean denigration of Samaritans and a strong sense of Judean connectedness to Samaritans as people belonging to Israel. In this passage, we see references to the temple in Samaria (mount Gerizim) and the temple in Jerusalem. Both had been destroyed by the time this text was written: the former under the Maccabees (ca. 112 BCE) and the latter by the Romans (in 70 CE). This helps explain why Jesus suggests Israel’s god will no longer be worshipped in those places.

There are other places in the New Testament writings which suggest both tension and connection between Samaritans and Judeans. In the Gospel of Matthew 10:5-6, Jesus tells his disciples to go out and heal people and cast out demons. He makes an exception by saying to not go to the peoples (ethnē), or non-Israelites, or to the Samaritans, but instead only go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” While they are not included in the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Samaritans are also not peoples outside of Israel. In the Gospel of Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells a parable of a “good Samaritan” helping someone who had been robbed by bandits after a priest and a Levite passed by. In this case, the Samaritan becomes the exemplar of how those associated with Israel should act.

Works consulted: Maia Kotrosits, Rethinking Early Christian Identity: Affect, Violence, and Belonging (Fortress, 2015), chapter 5; Matthew Chalmers, “Rethinking Luke 10: The Parable of the Good Samaritan Israelite” Journal of Biblical Literature 139 (2020) 543-566 (link).

Source of the translation: Translation by Maia Kotrosits

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The Gospel of John 4:4-30

[Jesus] needed to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, being tired from the trip, was sitting at the well. It was about noon.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the city so they could buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, being from Judea, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? Judeans do not associate with Samaritans.” Jesus answered and said to her, “If you had known the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “You do not even have anything to draw the water, lord, and the well is deep. Where then can you get this living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself with his children and his animals.” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone drinking from the water of this well will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water I will give will become in them a spring of water welling up to into eternal life.” The woman says to him, “Give me this water, lord, so that I may not be thirsty or keep coming here to get water.” Jesus says to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” The woman answered and said to him, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus says to her, “You are correct in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ In fact, you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. You have spoken the truth.” The woman says to him, “I can tell, lord, that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, and you say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.” Jesus says to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You all worship what you do not know. We worship what we know because salvation is from the Judeans. But the time is coming, and that time is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. And in fact the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is spirit, and it is fitting to worship him in spirit and truth. The woman says to him, “I know that the messiah [i.e. anointed one] is coming, the one called the anointed. When he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus says to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

Then his disciples returned and were surprised that he was talking to a woman. But nonetheless no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” The woman left her water pot and went into the city and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the anointed one?” They left the city and came to him. 

Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Teacher, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples were saying to each other, “No one brought him anything to eat.” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I’m saying, look up and see the fields already ready for the harvest. The one reaping is receives his reward and gathers crops for eternal life, so that the one sowing and the one reaping can rejoice together. For here the saying is true that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you have joined their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that city began to trust in him because of the word of the woman who attested, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. Many more began to trust in him because of what he said, and they were saying to the woman, “We no longer trust because of your word. We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the saviour of the world.”

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The Gospel of Matthew 10:5-6

Jesus sent forth these twelve instructing them, saying, “Do not go into the places of the peoples and do not enter the cities of the Samaritans. Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

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The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 

Once a lawyer stood up, testing [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” And he said to him, “What has been written in the law? How do you read it?”  He answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your strength and all of your mind.’ And ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” He then said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Taking his bid, Jesus said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered bandits, who having stripped and wounded him, left him half dead. By chance a priest was going down that same road, and seeing him, passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite passed by the same spot, and seeing him, also passed by on the other side. A Samaritan however was traveling. After coming upon him and seeing him, he was moved with compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He put the man on his own mule, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I’ll reimburse you.’ Which of these three seems to you to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the bandits?”

The man who questioned Jesus answered, “The one who had compassion toward him.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

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