Who are the Samaritans? In John 4:4-42, Jesus’ ministry enters a new stage. He leaves the confines of traditional Judaism and turns to those whom his Jewish contemporaries reckoned as outsiders and enemies: the Samaritans. The breach between Jews and Samaritans can be traced to the Assyrian occupation of northern Palestine (721 BCE; see 2 Kings 17), but the most intense rivalry began about 200 BCE. The source of the enmity between Jews and Samaritans was a dispute about the correct location of the cultic center (cf. John 4:20). The Samaritans built a shrine on Mt. Gerizim during the Persian period and claimed that this shrine, not the Jerusalem Temple, was the proper place of worship. The shrine at Mt. Gerizim was destroyed by Jewish troops in 128 BCE, but the schism between Jews and Samaritans continued (cf. John 4:9).
When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he meets someone who stands in marked contrast to all that has come before in this gospel. When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus (3:1-21), he spoke with a named male of the Jewish religious establishment, a “teacher of Israel.” When Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman, he speaks with an unnamed female of an enemy people. Continue reading