Book 3, Chapter 7. In Judaea and Through Samaria – A Sketch of Samaritan History and Theology – Jews and Samaritans.


We have no means of determining how long Jesus may have tarried in Jerusalem after the events recorded in the previous two chapters. The Evangelic narrative only marks an indefinite period of time, which, as we judge from internal probability, cannot have been protracted. From the city He retired with His disciples to ‘the country,’ which formed the province of Judaea. There He taught, and His disciples baptized.  From what had been so lately witnessed in Jerusalem, as well as from what must have been known as to the previous testimony of the Baptist concerning Him, the number of those who professed adhesion to the expected new Kingdom, and were consequently baptized, was as large, in that locality, as had submitted to the preaching and Baptism of John – perhaps even larger. An exaggerated report was carried to the Pharisaic authorities: ‘Jesus maketh and baptizeth more disciples than John.’ From which, at least, we infer, that the opposition of the leaders of the party to the Baptist was now settled, and that it extended to Jesus; and also, what careful watch they kept over the new movement.

But what seems at first sight strange is the twofold circumstance that, Jesus should for a time have established Himself in such apparently close proximity to the Baptist, and that on this occasion, and on this only, He should have allowed His disciples to administer the rite of Baptism. That the latter must not be confounded with Christian Baptism, which was only introduced after the Death of Christ, or, to speak more accurately, after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, needs no special explanation. But our difficulties only increase, as we remember the essential difference between them, grounded on that between the Mission of John and the Teaching of Jesus. In the former, the Baptism of repentant preparation for the coming Kingdom had its deepest meaning; not so in presence of that Kingdom itself, and in the teaching of its King. But, even were it otherwise, the administration of the same rite by John and by the disciples of Jesus in apparently close proximity, seems not only unnecessary, but it might give rise to misconception on the part of enemies, and misunderstanding or jealousy on the part of weak disciples.

Such was actually the case when, on one occasion, a discussion arose ‘on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew,’ on the subject of purification. We know not the special point in dispute, nor does it seem of much importance, since such ‘questions’ would naturally suggest themselves to a caviller or opponent who encountered those who were administering Baptism. What really interests us is, that somehow this Jewish objector must have connected what he said with a reference to the Baptism of Jesus’ disciples. For, immediately afterwards, the disciples of John, in their sore zeal for the honour of their master, brought him tidings, in the language of doubt, if not of complaint, of what to them seemed interference with the work of the Baptist, and almost presumption on the part of Jesus. While fully alive to their grievous error, perhaps in proportion as we are so, we cannot but honour and sympathise with this loving care for their master. The toilsome mission of the great Ascetic was drawing to its close, and that without any tangible success so far as he was concerned. Yet, to souls susceptible of the higher, to see him would be to be arrested; to hear him, to be convinced; to know, would be to love and venerate him. Never before had such deep earnestness and reality been witnessed, such devotedness, such humility and self-abnegation, and all in that great cause which set every Jewish heart on fire. And then, in the High-day of his power, when all men had gathered around him and hung on his lips; when all wondered whether he would announce himself as the Christ, or, at least, as His Forerunner, or as one of the great Prophets; when a word from him would have kindled that multitude into a frenzy of enthusiasm – he had disclaimed everything for himself, and pointed to Another! But this ‘Coming One,’ to whom he had borne witness, had hitherto been quite other than their Master. And, as if this had not been enough, the multitudes, which had formerly come to John, now flocked around Jesus; nay, He had even usurped the one distinctive function still left to their master, humble as it was. It was evident that, hated and watched by the Pharisees; watched, also, by the ruthless jealousy of a Herod; overlooked, if not supplanted, by Jesus, the mission of their master was nearing its close. It had been a life and work of suffering and self-denial; it was about to end in loneliness and sorrow. They said nothing expressly to complain of Him to Whom John had borne witness, but they told of what He did, and how all men came to Him.

The answer which the Baptist made, may be said to mark the high point of his life and witness. Never before was he so tender, almost sad; never before more humble and self-denying, more earnest and faithful. The setting of his own life-sun was to be the rising of One infinitely more bright; the end of his Mission the beginning of another far higher. In the silence, which was now gathering around him, he heard but one Voice, that of the Bridegroom, and he rejoiced in it, though he must listen to it in stillness and loneliness. For it he had waited and worked. Not his own, but this had he sought. And now that it had come, he was content; more than content: his ‘joy was now fulfilled.’ ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ It was the right and good order. With these as his last words publicly spoken, this Aaron of the New Testament unrobed himself ere he lay down to die. Surely among those born of women there was not one greater than John.

That these were his last words, publicly spoken and recorded, may, however, explain to us why on this exceptional occasion Jesus sanctioned the administration by His disciples of the Baptism of John. It was not a retrogression from the position He had taken in Jerusalem, nor caused by the refusal of His Messianic claims in the Temple. There is no retrogression, only progression, in the Life of Jesus. And yet it was only on this occasion that the rite was administered under His sanction. But the circumstances were exceptional. It was John’s last testimony to Jesus, and it was preceded by this testimony of Jesus to John. Far divergent, almost opposite, as from the first their paths had been, this practical sanction on the part of Jesus of John’s Baptism, when the Baptist was about to be forsaken, betrayed, and murdered, was Christ’s highest testimony to him. Jesus adopted his Baptism, ere its waters for ever ceased to flow, and thus He blessed and consecrated them. He took up the work of His Forerunner, and continued it. The baptismal rite of John administered with the sanction of Jesus, was the highest witness that could be borne to it.

There is no necessity for supposing that John and the disciples of Jesus baptized at, or quite close to, the same place. On the contrary, such immediate juxtaposition seems, for obvious reasons, unlikely. Jesus was within the boundaries of the province of Judaea, while John baptized at Anon (the springs), near to Salim. The latter site has not been identified. But the oldest tradition, which places it a few miles to the south of Bethshean (Scythopolis), on the border of Samaria and Galilee, has this in its favour, that it locates the scene of John’s last public work close to the seat of Herod Antipas, into whose power the Baptist was so soon to be delivered. But already there, were causes at work to remove both Jesus and His Forerunner from their present spheres of activity. As regards Christ, we have the express statements, that the machinations of the Pharisaic party in Jerusalem led Him to withdraw into Galilee. And, as we gather from the notice of John, the Baptist was now involved in this hostility, as being so closely connected with Jesus. Indeed, we venture the suggestion that the imprisonment of the Baptist, although occasioned by His outspoken rebuke of Herod, was in great part due to the intrigues of the Pharisees. Of such a connection between them and Herod Antipas, we have direct evidence in a similar attempt to bring about the removal of Jesus from his territory. It would not have been difficult to rouse the suspicions of a nature so mean and jealous as that of Antipas, and this may explain the account of Josephus, who attributes the imprisonment and death of the Baptist simply to Herod’s suspicious fear of John’s unbounded influence with the people.

Leaving for the present the Baptist, we follow the footsteps of the Master. They are only traced by the disciple who best understood their direction, and who alone has left us a record of the beginning of Christ’s ministry. For Matthew and Mark expressly indicate the imprisonment of the Baptist as their starting-point, and, though Luke does not say this in so many words, he characteristically commences with Christ’s public Evangelic teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee. Yet the narrative of Matthew reads rather like a brief summary; that of Mark seems like a succession of rapid sketches; and even that of Luke though with deeper historic purpose than the others, outlines, rather than tells, the history. John alone does not profess to give a narrative at all in the ordinary sense; but he selects incidents which are characteristic as unfolding the meaning of that Life, and records discourses which open its inmost teaching; and he alone tells of that early Judaean ministry and the journey through Samaria, which preceded the Galilean work.

The shorter road from Judaea to Galilee led through Samaria; and this, if we may credit Josephus, was generally taken by the Galileans on their way to the capital. On the other hand, the Judaeans seem chiefly to have made a detour through Peraea, in order to avoid hostile and impure Samaria. It lay not within the scope of our Lord to extend His personal Ministry, especially at its commencement, beyond the boundaries of Israel, and the expression, ‘He must needs go through Samaria,’ can only refer to the advisability in the circumstances of taking the most direct road, or else to the wish of avoiding Peraea as the seat of Herod’s government. Such prejudices in regard to Samaria, as those which affected the ordinary Judaean devotee, would, of course, not influence the conduct of Jesus. But great as these undoubtedly were, they have been unduly exaggerated by modern writers. misled by one-sided quotations from Rabbinic works.

The Biblical history of that part of Palestine which bore the name of Samaria need not here be repeated. Before the final deportation of Israel by Shalmaneser, or rather Sargon, the ‘Samaria’ to which his operations extended must have considerably shrunk in dimensions, not only owing to previous conquests, but from the circumstance that the authority of the kings of Judah seems to have extended over a considerable portion of what once constituted the kingdom of Israel. Probably the Samaria of that time included little more than the city of that name, together with some adjoining towns and villages. It is of considerable interest to remember that the places, to which the inhabitants of Samaria were transported, have been identified with such clearness as to leave no reasonable doubt, that at least some of the descendants of the ten tribes, whether mixed or unmixed with Gentiles must be sought among what are now known as the Nestorian Christians. On the other hand, it is of no practical importance for our present purpose to ascertain the exact localities, whence the new ‘Samaritans’ were brought to take the place of the Israelitish exiles. Suffice it, that one of them, perhaps that which contributed the principal settlers, Cuṯah, furnished the name Cuṯim, by which the Jews afterwards persistently designated the Samaritans. It was intended as a term of reproach, to mark that they were of foreign race,  and to repudiate all connection between them and the Jews. Yet it is impossible to believe that, at least in later times, they did not contain a considerable admixture of Israelitish elements. It is difficult to suppose, that the original deportation was so complete as to leave behind no traces of the original Israelitish inhabitants. Their number would probably be swelled by fugitives from Assyria, and by Jewish settlers in the troublous times that followed. Afterwards, as we know, they were largely increased by apostates and rebels against the order of things established by Ezra and Nehemiah. Similarly, during the period of internal political and religious troubles, which marked the period to the accession of the Maccabees, the separation between Jews and Samaritans could scarcely have been generally observed, the more so that Alexander the Great placed them in close juxtaposition.

The first foreign colonists of Samaria brought their peculiar forms of idolatry with them. But the Providential judgments, by which they were visited, led to the introduction of a spurious Judaism, consisting of a mixture of their former superstitions with Jewish doctrines and rites. Although this state of matters resembled that which had obtained in the original kingdom of Israel, perhaps just because of this, Ezra and Nehemiah, when reconstructing the Jewish commonwealth, insisted on a strict separation between those who had returned from Babylon and the Samaritans, resisting equally their offers of co-operation and their attempts at hindrance. This embittered the national feeling of jealousy already existing, and led to that constant hostility between Jews and Samaritans which has continued to this day. The religious separation became final when (at a date which cannot be precisely fixed) the Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, and Manasseh, the brother of Jaddua, the Jewish High-Priest, having refused to annul his marriage with the daughter of Sanballat, was forced to flee, and became the High-Priest of the new Sanctuary. Henceforth, by impudent assertion and falsification of the text of the Pentateuch, Gerizim was declared the rightful centre of worship, and the doctrines and rites of the Samaritans exhibited a curious imitation and adaptation of those prevalent in Judaea.

We cannot here follow in detail the history of the Samaritans, nor explain the dogmas and practices peculiar to them. The latter would be the more difficult, because so many of their views were simply corruptions of those of the Jews, and because, from the want of an authenticated ancient literature, the origin and meaning of many of them have been forgotten. Sufficient, however, must be said to explain the mutual relations at the time when the Lord, sitting on Jacob’s well, first spake to the Samaritans of the better worship ‘in spirit and truth,’ and opened that well of living water which has never since ceased to flow.

The political history of the people can be told in a few sentences. Their Temple, to which reference has been made, was built, not in Samaria but at Shechem – probably on account of the position held by that city in the former history of Israel – and on Mount Gerizim, which in the Samaritan Pentateuch was substituted for Mount Ebal in Deu_27:4. It was Shechem also, with its sacred associations of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph which became the real capital of the Samaritans. The fate of the city of Samaria under the reign of Alexander is uncertain – one account speaking of the rebellion of the city, the murder of the Macedonian governor, the consequent destruction of Samaria, and the slaughter of part, and transportation of the rest, of its inhabitants to Shechem, while Josephus is silent on these events. When, after the death or Alexander, Palestine became the field of battle between the rulers of Egypt and Syria, Samaria suffered even more than other parts of the country. In 320 b.c. it passed from the rule of Syria to that of Egypt (Ptolemy Lagi). Six years later it again became Syrian (Antigonus). Only three years afterwards, Ptolemy reconquered and held it for a very short time. On his retreat, be destroyed the walls of Samaria and of other towns. In 301 it passed again by treaty into the hands of Ptolemy, out in 298 it was once more ravaged by the son of Antigonus. After that it enjoyed a season of quiet under Egyptian rule, till the reign of Antiochus (III.) the Great, when it again passed temporarily, and under his successor, Seleucus IV. (Philopator), permanently under Syrian dominion. In the troublous times of Antiochus IV. Epiphanes, the Samaritans escaped the fate of the Jews by repudiating all connection with Israel, and dedicating their temple to Jupiter. In the contest between Syria and the Maccabees which followed, the Samaritans, as might be expected, took the part of the former. In 130 b.c. John Hyrcanus destroyed the Temple on Mount Gerizim, which was never rebuilt. The city of Samaria was taken several years afterwards  by the sons of Hyrcanus (Antigonus and Aristobulus), after a year’s siege, and the successive defeat of Syrian and Egyptian armies of relief. Although the city was now not only destroyed, but actually laid under water to complete its ruin, it was rebuilt by Gabinius shortly before our era, and greatly enlarged and beautified by Herod, who called it Sebaste in honour of Augustus, to whom he reared a magnificent temple. Under Roman rule the city enjoyed great privileges – had even a Senate of its own. By one of those striking coincidences which mark the Rule of God in history, it was the accusation brought against him by that Samaritan Senate which led to the deposition of Pilate. By the side of Samaria, or Sebaste, we have already marked as perhaps more important, and as the religious capital, the ancient Shechem, which, in honour of the Imperial family of Rome, ultimately obtained the name of Flavia Neapolis, which has survived in the modern Nablus. It is interesting to notice that the Samaritans also had colonies, although not to the same extent as the Jews. Among them we may name those of Alexandria, Damascus, in Babylonia, and even some by the shores of the Red Sea.

Although not only in the New Testament, but in 1 Macc. 10:30, and in the writings of Josephus, Western Palestine is divided into the provinces of Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, the Rabbis, whose ideas were shaped by the observances of Judaism, ignore this division. For them Palestine consisted only of Judaea, Peraea, and Galilee.· Samaria appears merely as a strip intervening between Judaea and Galilee, being ‘the land of the Cuthaeans.’ Nevertheless it was not regarded like heathen lands, but pronounced clean. Both the Mishnah and Josephus mark Anuath (כפּר עותנאי) as the southern boundary of Samaria (towards Judaea). Northward it extended to Ginaea (the ancient En-Gannim) on the south side of the plain of Jezreel on the east it was bounded by the Jordan; and on the west by the plain of Sharon, which was reckoned as belonging to Judaea. Thus it occupied the ancient territories of Manasseh and Ephraim, and extended about forty-eight miles (north and south) by forty (east and west). In aspect and climate it resembled Judaea, only that the scenery was more beautiful and the soil more fertile. The political enmity and religious separation between the Jews and Samaritans account for their mutual jealousy. On all public occasions the Samaritans took the part hostile to the Jews, while they seized every opportunity of injuring and insulting them. Thus, in the time of Antiochus III. they sold many Jews into slavery. Afterwards they sought to mislead the Jews at a distance, to whom the beginning of every month (so important in the Jewish festive arrangements) was intimated by beacon fires, by kindling spurious signals. We also read that they tried to desecrate the Temple on the eve of the Passover; and that they waylaid and killed pilgrims on their road to Jerusalem. The Jews retaliated by treating the Samaritans with every mark of contempt; by accusing them of falsehood, folly, and irreligion; and, what they felt most keenly, by disowning them as of the same race or religion, and this in the most offensive terms of assumed superiority and self-righteous fanaticism.

In view of these relations, we almost wonder at the candour and moderation occasionally displayed towards the Samaritans in Jewish writings. These statements are of practical importance in this history, since elaborate attempts have been made to show what articles of food the disciples of Jesus might have bought in Samaria, in ignorance that almost all would have been lawful. Our inquiry here is, however, somewhat complicated by the circumstance that in Rabbinic writings, as at present existing, the term Samaritans (Cuṯim ) has, to avoid the censorship of the press, been often purposely substituted for ‘Sadducees,’ or ‘heretics,’ i.e. Christians. Thus, when the Samaritans are charged with denying in their books that the Resurrection can be proved from the Pentateuch, the real reference is supposed to have been to Sadducean or Christian heretical writings. Indeed, the terms Samaritans, Sadducees, and heretics are used so interchangeably, that a careful inquiry is necessary, to show in each case which of them is really meant. Still more frequent is the use of the term ‘Samaritan’ (כותי) for ‘stranger’ (נכרי) the latter, and not strictly Samaritan descent being meant. The popular interchange of these terms casts light on the designation of the Samaritan as ‘a stranger’ by our Lord in Luk_17:18.

In general it may be said that, while on certain points Jewish opinion remained always the same, the judgment passed on the Samaritans, and especially as to intercourse with them, varied, according as they showed more or less active hostility towards the Jews. Thus the Son of Sirach would correctly express the feeling of contempt and dislike, when he characterised the Samaritans as ‘the foolish people’ which his ‘heart abhorred.’ The same sentiment appears in early Christian Pseudepigraphic and in Rabbinic writings. In the so-called ‘Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs’ (which probably dates from the beginning of the second century), ‘Sichem’ is the City of Fools, derided by all men. It was only natural, that Jews should be forbidden to respond by an Amen to the benediction of Samaritans, at any rate till they were sure it had been correctly spoken, since they were neither in practice nor in theory regarded as co-religionists.  Yet they were not treated as heathens, and their land, their springs, baths, houses, and roads were declared clean.

The question was discussed, whether or not they were to be considered ‘lion-proselytes’ (from fear of the lions), or as genuine converts; and, again, whether or not they were to be regarded as heathens. This, and the circumstance that different teachers at different times gave directly opposite replies to these questions, proves that there was no settled principle on the subject, but that opinions varied according to the national bearing of the Samaritans. Thus, we are expressly told, that at one time both their testimony and their religious orthodoxy were more credited than at others, and they are not treated as Gentiles, but placed on the same level as an ignorant Jew. A marked difference of opinion here prevails. The older tradition, as represented by Simon the son of Gamaliel, regards them as in every respect like Israelites; whilst later authority (Rabbi Jehuda the Holy) would have them considered and treated as heathens. Again, it is expressly stated in the Babylon Talmud, that the Samaritans observed the letter of the Pentateuch, while one authority adds, that in that which they observed they were more strict than the Jews themselves. Of this, indeed, there is evidence as regards several ordinances. On the other hand, later authorities again reproach them with falsification of the Pentateuch, charge them with worshipping a dove, and even when, on further inquiry, they absolve them from this accusation, ascribe their excessive veneration for Mount Gerizim to the circumstance that they worshipped the idols which Jacob had buried under the oak at Shechem. To the same hatred, caused by national persecution, we must impute such expressions as that he, whose hospitality receives a foreigner, has himself to blame if his children have to go into captivity.

The expression, ‘the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans,’ finds its exact counterpart in this: ‘May I never set eyes on a Samaritan;’ or else, ‘May I never be thrown into company with him!’ A Rabbi in Caesarea explains, as the cause of these changes of opinion, that formerly the Samaritans had been observant of the Law, which they no longer were; a statement repeated in another form to the effect, that their observance of it lasted as long as they were in their own cities. Matters proceeded so far, that they were entirely excluded from fellowship. The extreme limit of this direction, if, indeed, the statement applies to the Samaritans, is marked by the declaration, that to partake of their bread was like eating swine’s flesh. This is further improved upon in a later Rabbinic work, which gives a detailed story of how the Samaritans had conspired against Ezra and Nehemiah, and the ban been laid upon them, so that now not only was all intercourse with them forbidden, but their bread declared like swine’s flesh; proselytes were not to be received from them; nor would they have part in the Resurrection of the dead. But there is a great difference between all this extravagance and the opinions prevailing at the time of Jesus. Even in the Rabbinic tractate on the Samaritans it is admitted, that in most of their usages they resembled Israelites, and many rights and privileges are conceded to them, from which a heathen would have been excluded. They are to be ‘credited’ on many points; their meat is declared clean, if an Israelite had witnessed its killing, or a Samaritan ate of it; their bread and, under certain conditions, even their wine, are allowed; and the final prospect is held out of their reception into the Synagogue, when they shall have given up their faith in Mount Gerizim, and acknowledged Jerusalem and the Resurrection of the dead. But Jewish toleration went even further. At the time of Christ all their food was declared lawful. There could, therefore, be no difficulty as regarded the purchase of victuals on the part of the disciples of Jesus.

It has already been stated, that most of the peculiar doctrines of the Samaritans were derived from Jewish sources. As might be expected, their tendency was Sadducean rather than Pharisaic. Nevertheless, Samaritan ‘sages’ are referred to. But it is difficult to form any decided opinion about the doctrinal views of the sect, partly from the comparative lateness of their literature, and partly because the Rabbinist charges against them cannot be absolutely trusted. It seems at least doubtful, whether they really denied the Resurrection, as asserted by the Rabbis, from whom the Fathers have copied the charge. Certainly, they hold that doctrine at present. They strongly believed in the Unity of God; they held the doctrine of Angels and devils; they received the Pentateuch as of sole Divine authority; they regarded Mount Gerizim as the place chosen of God, maintaining that it alone had not been covered by the flood, as the Jews asserted of Mount Moriah; they were most strict and zealous in what of Biblical or traditional Law they received; and lastly, and most important of all they looked for the coming of a Messiah, in Whom the promise would be fulfilled, that the Lord God would raise up a Prophet from the midst of them, like unto Moses, in Whom his words were to be, and unto Whom they should hearken.  Thus, while, in some respects, access to them would be more difficult than to His own countrymen, yet in others Jesus would find there a soil better prepared for the Divine Seed, or, at least, less encumbered by the thistles and tares of traditionalism and Pharisaic bigotry.