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Palestine, during the earthly life of Christ, had three divisions: Galilee in the north, Judaea, including Jerusalem in the south, and Samaria in between. The quick route from Galilee to Jerusalem was through Samaria, which some people used. However, most Jews avoided passing through Samaria because of the centuries- old rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans. So, they journeyed double distance by travelling on the eastern side of the River Jordan. Moving through Samaria could cause confrontation between the two factions. Considering this sensitivity, Jesus had instructed his 12 apostles, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town” (Mt 10:5). During his last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through Samaria. On the way, a Samaritan village did not welcome him because his destination was Jerusalem (Lk 9:52-53).

A sequence of historical events caused the hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans were the occupants of the territory formerly assigned to the tribes of Ephraim and the half-tribe, Manasseh. King Omri purchased a mountain from Shemer and built the city and named it Samaria after the previous owner, Shemer (1 Kgs 16:23-24). He made it the capital of Northern Israel. Later that region also got the name Samaria. When the Assyrians deported and scattered in captivity, the ten tribes of Northern Israel, “The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities” (2 Kgs 17:24). They intermarried with the remaining Israelites in the newly occupied area. The pagans who inhabited Samaria continued the worship of their idols. So, God dispatched lions among them that killed some people. The Assyrian king sent them an Israelite priest from exile to teach them the worship of the God of the land. They learned the books of Moses and worshipped the God of Israel, but continued their idolatry as well. “They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods” (2 Kgs 17:33). Because of these blended races and mixed worship, the Jews considered the Samaritans as “half-breeds” and detested them.

The animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans intensified because of several reasons:
(1) When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and started rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans opposed it and halted it for some time (Neh 6:1-14).
(2) The Samaritans perpetuated their idolatrous worship by building a temple for the purpose on Mount Gerizim.
(3) The Samaritans offered refuge for the outlaws of Judaea (Josh 20:6-7; 21:21).
(4) While accepting the Torah, the Samaritans disregarded other Jewish scriptures and traditions. Hence, the Jews detested the Samaritans and blocked all contact with them (Jn 4:9; 8:48).


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