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NIV John 8: 48The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” 49“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.

What was the intent of the insult and why doesn't Jesus respond to the point about being a Samaritan? The attackers might have simply said, "Aren't we right in saying that you are demon-possessed?" And Jesus ignores that part and responds only to the "charge of possession" (to borrow a modern phrase)!

Why did they make that charge and why didn't Jesus respond?

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We need to know something about the identity of the Samaritans. This issue was discussed on this forum under post #10162, the question being "Are the Samaritans descendants of Israel's lost tribes, and so rightfully considered Israelites?" See also a website devoted to modern Samaritans - https://www.israelite-samaritans.com . The important point to note is their claim to being Israelites, whether they are or not.

The claim of being Israelitish was put forth by the Samaritan woman whom Jesus spoke with at the well of Sychar. She asked him: "Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." (John 4:12, ESV) They believed they were descendants of the patriarch Jacob, and therefore Israelites.

The claim was, and is still made, that the Samaritans were descendants of the northern tribes and therefore, while not technically being Jews (Judeans), they were nevertheless Israelites. The account at 2 Kings 17:24-28, however, relates that the northern territory was totally depopulated, that the king of Assyria repopulated that land with Gentiles and sent a Jewish priest to teach them the worship of YHWH. The Samaritans themselves, as well as others (see above-mentioned post), claim that they are in fact a remnant of Israelites. From the Jewish point of view, whatever else they may be, they are not Jews. They built their own temple on Mount Gerazim (which was destroyed during the intertestamental period). That is why the woman told Jesus, "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." (John 4:20, ESV)

So what would be the point of accusing Jesus of being a Samaritan? Jesus appeared to be a knowledgeable Jewish man. But to the Pharisees whatever education he obtained was illegitimate. He was like a Samaritan. He appeared to be what he was not. It would be like telling someone today, "I don't care what you appear to know. You must be a cultist. You don't belong with respectable people like us." As to why Jesus did not reply to the charge, I will not speculate. I do think the charge of being possessed was much more serious.

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Jesus does answer the charge of being a Samaritan when he says, "“but I honor my Father and you dishonor me." Samaritan religious practices were considered a syncretism of Jewish and pagan rites. Both 2 Kings 17 and Josephus (Antiquities 9.277–91) trace the Samaritans as descending from Jews who had intermarried with foreigners.

The Samaritans were a group of people who lived in Samaria - an area north of Jerusalem. They were half-Jews and half-Gentiles. When Assyria captured the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. some were taken in captivity while others left behind. The ones left behind intermarried with the Assyrians. Thus these people were neither fully Hebrews nor fully Gentiles. The Samaritans had their own unique copy of the first five books of Scripture as well as their own unique system of worship. At the time of Jesus the Jews and the Samaritans did not deal with one another. Jesus, however, ministered to the people of Samaria preaching the good news to them. (Who Were the Samaritans?)

The Samaritans were of mixed Jewish and pagan ancestry, therefore they were considered half breeds and despised. Samaritans were "fools" and "enemies" but are not called "foreigners." The term could even be used as a pejorative akin to "bastard" because the Samaritans claimed one father as tribe while really being of another. In Genesis Rabbah 94 (cited at Infogalactic), Rabbi Meir speaks with a Samaritan who, like all Samaritans until this day, claims to be descended from Joseph. Rabbi Meir says that the Samaritans are descended from Issachar.

The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews. (Samaritans)

When Jesus said he honored his father, he claimed to be fully Jewish. He was denying being a half breed, enemy, or fool, and claiming to be fully orthodox in belief and practice.

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Calling Him a Samaritan was a derogatory way of denying Jesus is The Christ:

And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:26-27 ESV)

Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:41-42)

The Christ would not come from Samaria or be a Samaritan. So in addition to the insult, being born of sexual immorality (8:41) and an illegitimate son of Abraham (He does not know His true father), the claim He is a Samaritan means He cannot be the Christ.

Jesus does respond, albeit obliquely:

Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. (8:49)

He does know who is Father is.

The primary focus of the Jewish people was the human ancestry and birthplace of the Christ. While Matthew and Luke each affirm Jesus fulfilled these requirements, John explains the Christ was also the pre-existent I Am:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” (8:53)...Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (8:58)

Which is the reason John wrote:

She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (11:27)

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:31)

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According to many academic papers it was not an insult.

Jesus in John 8 does not argue the point that he is a Samaritan. I and many scholars see the Gospel of John as a Samaritan gospel or at least favourable towards Samaritanism. See Jstor/Brill academic links on The Fourth Gospel and the Samaritans by James D. Purvis; The Samaritan Origin of the Gospel of John by George Wesley Buchanan.

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  • Hi Jeremiah Jones. Just improved the answer to remove the rant and that is now indeed a valid contribute. As a potential improvement, you might like to share what you thought to be relevant in the articles given that made you share in the first place (I reckon not the entire articles). – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Feb 9 at 11:18
  • Thanks for pointing to those papers! The third one was particularly relevant. However, I'm always confused how people understand the term. Samaritan sometimes refers specifically to Samaritans proper and sometimes to Ephraim, the diaspora... the ethnic but Hellenized Israelites of the northern tribes: [Mat 10:5-7 NLT] (5) Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: "Don't go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, (6) but only to the people of Israel--God's lost sheep. (7) Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. It confuses me to no end! – Ruminator Feb 9 at 15:11
  • Page 301 of the 3rd link is a good example: Whatever date we assign to Ezekiel the inhabitants of Northern Israel in his days were Samaritans. In that view, Jesus' comment in Mat 10:5-7 makes no sense. The rampant imprecision of the use of the term makes any conversation involving the term useless gibberish to me. – Ruminator Feb 9 at 15:14
  • @ Ruminator Hi Hope this helps you with your confusion! In biblical scholarship forgetting the contradictions and controversies and taking Old and New Testaments and the Chronology of Israel at face value. From 721 BCE all the Northern kingdom of Israel was finally conquered and the king of the Assyrians deported all the Israelites. He then brought Pagans from the Assyrian empire to replace Israelites. 2 Kings 17:24 NIV These new people would become the Samaritans. Jeremiah Jones – Jeremiah Jones Feb 10 at 15:29
  • @ Ruminator Hi (5) "Don't go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans.” Well, the Gentiles are the Samaritans. See Matthew 4:15-16. (6) “but only to the people of Israel--God's lost sheep” The lost sheep are the deported Ten Tribes of the kingdom of Israel (known today as the ten lost tribes). See 2 Kings 17:24 Jeremiah Jones – Jeremiah Jones Feb 10 at 16:08

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