Note: this question does not deal with WHY the Jews shunned Samaritans. Rather, it questions the extent to which such shunning actually took place in the Biblical and historical records.

In the Gospel of John the narrator tells us "Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" in explaining why the Samaritan woman is surprised when Jesus ask her for a drink of water. But other Gospels and the historical record seem to tell a different story.

  • In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10) Jesus tells a tale about a Samaritan traveler who rescues a robbery victim by taking him to an inn located in Judean territory between Jerusalem and Jericho. Although the story is fictional, the setting is normal: a Samaritan is traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho, and he engages in commerce with an innkeeper. Admittedly this Samaritan is a special case, but his journey itself is not extraordinary - nor, apparently, is his dealing with the presumably Jewish innkeeper. What is special in this parable is the Samaritan's acting as a true "neighbor," not his interaction with Jews per se.

  • Historically, Samaria and Judea were both under the rule of King Herod, who conducted large building projects in Sebaste and Caesaria there. A Jew himself (though an ethnic Idumean) he must have relied on both Jewish and Samaritan laborers and craftsmen, who would have needed to work cooperatively.

  • Moreover in about 27 bce, Herod married the Samaritan princess Malthace, to whom two of his heirs were born. Thus, marriages between Jews and Samaritans were known to occur at the highest level of society and may well have be conducted among the lower classes as well, even if not with priestly approval.

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  • Looking at a map of the area, we see that the most direct route from Galilee to Jerusalem is through Samaria. As merchants and pilgrims made this journey and returned home they must have stopped for water, food and probably overnight stays in Samaritan inns or homes. Jesus' own family is reported to have made such a pilgrimage every year (Luke 2:41) - a journey of several days each way. Certainly other pious Jews would have done so by the thousands. It seems impossible that these travelers would walk or ride their animals through scores of miles of Samaritan territory without having anything to do with the residents or merchants on their way.

  • According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Samaritans participated in the Bar Kochba Revolt showing that, given the right circumstances, Jews and Samaritans could join forces against a common foe.

To be sure, there is ample evidence that Samaritans in Jesus' day were despised by many Jews, especially the guardians of racial/ritual purity such as priests and Levites (the villains of Jesus' story) as well as in rabbinical tradition. There is also evidence of violence against Jewish pilgrims on the road through Samaria. But it seems this did not stop pilgrims and merchants from making the journey, any more than news of murders and kidnappings in Mexico stops north Americans to make the trip tough such dangerous areas.

So the question: Is John overstating the matter (using hyperbole) when he says the Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans?

  • I've always heard that in fact the Jews would not travel through Samaria, but would often go all the way around it, for this very reason. I am not sure of the source of this claim however.
    – Nacht
    Mar 27 at 12:55
  • According to the Biblical Hermeneutics Help Center - What topics can I ask about here? If your question is about: -interpretation of a specific Bible passage -hermeneutical approaches -translation of Biblical texts -historical context (with regards to a particular text) -source criticism ... then this is the right place to ask. Our focus is what the Bible says. We don't answer questions on extrabiblical sources. This question seems very much out of scope.
    – David D
    Mar 27 at 12:57
  • 1
    Isn't the whole point of the parable of the Good Samaritan that the two groups normally don't associate, but in this case an exception was made. This Samaritan (one of the good ones) had compassion for a fellow man, even though he would normally have detested him. ¶ "Samaritan" has taken on a completely different meaning where anyone that helps a stranger is called a "good samaritan". The original meaning of the parable is lost. Had this story been told in Alabama a hundred years ago, it would have been called "*The Good Negro", and people would have understood its meaning much better. Mar 27 at 15:32

1 Answer 1


The operative verb in John 4:9 is συγχράομαι (sugchraomai) which means (BDAG):

to associate on friendly terms with, have dealings with

Note that this does NOT mean that Jews avoided all contact with Samaritans, but simply avoided having any friendly contact with them and refused to make any friends with them. Note that John 4:8 illustrates this well:

John 4:8 - His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.

Thus, the Jews were willing, even if reluctant, to but food from Samaritans but would not associate on a friendly/social basis. Sharing a drink from the hand of such a person would be unthinkable, but buying their food is acceptable. Hence the crux of the narrative plot.

While all this appears to our eyes to be rather pompous and inconsistent (it was), that was the social norm at the time. Ellicott sums this up well:

The later Jewish authors abound in terms of reproach for them—e.g., “He who eats the bread of a Samaritan is as he who eats swine’s flesh;” “No Samaritan shall be made a proselyte;” “They have no share in the resurrection of the dead” (Pirke, Rabbi Elieser, 38; comp. Farrar, Life of Christ, i. 209, note). Jesus Himself speaks of a Samaritan as an alien (Luke 17:16; Luke 17:18; comp. Luke 10:33), and is called a Samaritan and possessed of a devil (comp. John 8:48). But the strictest Jews allowed exceptions to the forbidden intercourse. If bread was interdicted, fruit and vegetables were not; if boiled eggs were forbidden, fresh ones were not. At no time probably did the Galileans follow the practice of the Judæans in this matter, and hence they go to the city to buy food, while the woman asks this question of a Jew whom she met on the road from Jerusalem.

Thus, John's (V8, 9) comment is quite accurate when understood by the social milieu of the time.

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