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 asked 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
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 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
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 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. Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 15:32
  • It is clear that you're overstating the general statement than John himself overstating. It is true that Jews have nothing to do with any pagan,yet there were many pagans living with minor interaction out od necessity just like Americans with Mexicans.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 4 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


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.

  • Somehow I missed your answer until now. It appears we need a better translation than most bibles provide. Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 17:00
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    Ellicott's insight is important "At no time probably did the Galileans follow the practice of the Judæans in this matter." Northern Jews often went to Jerusalem for pilgrimages but southerners had less reason to travel north. There is also the question of how strictly most Jews observed such restrictions in any case. Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 17:13

Herodian Example? To use the exploits of Herod in building up palaces in Samaria as a possible refutation that the Jews were not absolute in their rejection of Samaritan culture, is grossly misleading. Herod's affiliation with Jewry was never one of his priorities! His Idumean heritage often outpaced any affiliation with the Jews. He was first and foremost an authoritarian dictator, making treaties and conspiracies to his advantage over any people groups.

He may have married a Jewess, but it was not for theological reasons. And often his motive was not "love" of family...he killed members of his own family 'at the drop of a hat'.

Herod's habit and obsession with building edifices took him to all corners of his kingdom: Perea, Galilee, Judea, and Samaria. He did not build a palace city (Sebaste) because he loved the Samaritans...beyond economic or military reasons. He could have cared less for their theology. His dealings with the Samaritans was in a different context than the statement made by the woman at the well in John 4.

Good Samaritan The Parable of the "Good Samaritan" spoken by Jesus, also does not refute the idea of hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. In fact, just the opposite was intended. Jesus used the most extreme example of inimical relationship between the nationalities to prove an amazing point. (It was in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" asked by a skeptic.) He was showing that even when "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans", loving your neighbor involved even loving the most undesirable person!

Shortest Route Trueness! The shortest route between the northern Galilee and southern Judea would have been the straight line. And when absolutely necessary, Jews did use this route. But stay-overs in a village, or dilly-dallying around in that territory was frowned upon...by both...as the experience of Jesus and his disciples illustrated.

The observant Rabbis and faithful Pharisees would, however, prefer to take the route to Jericho and up through Perea (outside Samaria territory) until they reached the Valley of Jezreel (Esdraelon), then crossed back over into Galilee. The circuitous route was necessary to maintain their ceremonial purity.

The woman at the well in a city of Samaria was well to be shocked at the conversing of Jesus. She recognized him as a Jew, but also a religious person: a Jewish prophet (John 4:19). A Jewish, theological person would never contaminate himself by dealing with her! So it perplexed her. [See the Talmud, and writings of the Pharisees, about the many, many detailed regulations re associating with Samaritans while eating, or staying over! Definitely considered "unclean."]

Again, this incident does not refute the idea of an existing hatred between Jew and Samaritan. This is no hyperbole. John did not overstate the matter in his narrative. Consider:

The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God. The Jews answered Him (Jesus), "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?" (John 8:47-48)

So the religious Jews placed Samaritans and demonized people in the same category! This speaks to your question directly!

{PS: The confederacy of Jew and Samaritan against Rome in the Bar Kochba Revolt, only illustrates the commonly shared hatred against the Roman occupation, not a loving relationship between Jew and Samaritan.}

{Further note: When John used the words the Jews he was mainly referring throughout his book to the Jewish rabbinical scholars and Conservative leaders...not the Jewish people as a whole. He was not being "anti-Semitic," when he criticized them (the rulers). After all, it was recorded that "The common people heard Him gladly!" Some have mistakenly thought John was critical of all Jews. Hardly; John was a Jew of Jews.}

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