The next group we will consider the Samaritans were not strictly a Jewish sect. The Samaritans had a separate ethnic identity and different religious history.
The Samaritans were the racial and religious descendants of the ten northern tribes which were conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The aristocrats and the elite were sent by the Assyrians into exile and other conquered peoples were resettled in the Samaritan cities. But the country folk, the villagers, remained mostly untouched by the changes. The Samaritans of Jesus’ day represented the first century version of the ten tribes left behind. They practiced in a way an older form of Yahwism which was not influenced by the Babylonian exile of Judah.
But Samaritanism had made its changes by the first century. The Samaritans had their own High Priesthood and their own account of the origin of this priesthood which differed markedly from the Biblical account (compare 2 Kgs 17:24–41 with the Samaritan Chronicle). This priestly succession has continued down to the present day. A small group of Samaritans still exists with its priests in modern Israel.
The Samaritan points of doctrine are as follows:
- They believe in Yahweh as the only God and are thus fiercely monotheistic.
- They accept the five books of Moses only (the Pentateuch), rejecting the prophets and the writings.
- They once had a temple, which was destroyed in the Jewish War of A.D. 66–73 just as the Jewish temple was destroyed. The Samaritans also took part in the Jewish war.
- Josephus recorded that 11,600 of them were massacred on Mt. Gerizim when their temple was leveled. Samaritans still perform sacrifices on the mountain even though the temple is no longer standing.
- They believe in a coming day of vengeance and recompense (in other words, a judgment day).
The animosity between Jews and Samaritans is clear both from Josephus and the New Testament. But both Jesus and the early church showed great interest in evangelizing the Samaritans. Jesus portrayed the Samaritans in a favorable light (Luke 10:33) and the early Christian community welcomed them into the church (Acts 8:5–17).