Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Samaritans and Mount Gerizim

In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered the 10 tribes of Israel known as the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrians had a practice of mixing the people of their conquered lands. By mixing people with different ethnicities, languages, religions, etc., they removed many of the common traits that a conquered people would rally around to organize a revolt.

The group of people who now inhabited the north, an Israelite and Gentile mix, intermarried and would become the Samaritans. In 586, the Babylonians destroyed the Jewish Temple and conquered the remaining two tribes exiling most of the wealthy, educated, and powerful to Babylon in three waves. After Persia conquered Babylon, the Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews in Babylon to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple.

When these Jews returned, the first order of business was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. When the Samaratians heard of the plans to rebuild the temple, they came to Jerusalem and asked if they could help. The Jews, seeing the Samaritans (who only accepted the first 5 books of the Bible and had intermarried with Gentiles) as Gentiles (or worse) rudly rejected the offer. The Samaritans, very upset with this treatment, began a small guerilla war causing the Jews difficulty in finishing their building projects. The Samaritans also did something else a little more constructive – they built a temple of their own just down the road from Jerusalem on Mount Gerizim.

The Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim stood until the year 120 BC when the Jewish commander Johanan Hyrcanus marched over and destroyed it. As you can imagine, the relationship between the two groups went from bad to awful. A real hatred existed between the two groups; they didn’t talk or interact in any way if at all possible. The Jews would even walk for an extra three days to avoid having to pass through the land where the Samaritans lived.

Today a small group of Samaritans still live around and worship at Mount Gerizim.

"He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew 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, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” They went out of the town and came to him.

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “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 believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

John 4:4-31, 39-42

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