Who are the Samaritans? To have a clue of the answer to this question, you perhaps need to revisit the story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water as recounted in the gospel of John, the woman wondered why Jesus had asked for water even if the Jews did not associate with the Samaritans. As recorded in John 4:21-24, after a brief conversation with the woman, Jesus assured the woman that a time would come when the place of God’s worship will neither be Jerusalem nor Mt. Gerizim because what would be important is worshipping God in truth and spirit.
The Samaritans were half-Gentile, half-Jew people who came about when the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel 721 years before the coming of Jesus. Some Israelites stayed behind and intermarried with the Assyrians. The product of this intermarriage was the Samaritans.
An obvious aspect of the Samaritans is their differences with the Jews. They had their own copy of the first five books of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. They refused to recognize the Temple of Jerusalem as their place of worship and built their own temple.
The Samaritans maintained a hostile relationship with the Jews, and they even attempted to frustrate the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, which took place after the Israelites came from exile.
- The Jews did not mix with the Samaritans because the latter were considered an inferior race. From the Jewish standpoint, the Samaritans were inferior to the Jews but better than the Gentiles.
- The Samaritans had their own version of worship, place of worship, and scripture, which were at odds with the Jewish way of worship. However, their religion is similar to Judaism in many other aspects.
- Jesus’ intention was to remove the barrier between the Samaritans and the Jews.