The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON WHO WERE
17th MAY 2012
The Gospel reading for the Sunday that passed was the story of Christ's meeting with the Samaritan Woman by Jacob's well. In the past I have explained a little about who the Samaritans were, but the reading gives me the opportunity to continue with something that was mentioned last week and give you a small history lesson on the Twelve tribes of Israel.
The name Israel comes from the forefather Jacob whose name God changed to Israel. (Genesis 32:28). The twelve tribes of Israel are named after his twelve sons although the tribe of Joseph was later divided into two tribes and named after his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:1-20). This should have made thirteen tribes, but in fact the tribes remained as twelve because the tribe of Levi, as the priesthood, was distributed among the other tribes, and had no allotment of its own. Israel then is the twelve tribes, but the Old Testament makes a clear distinction between Judah and Israel and talks of them as two different nations. Judah is clearly mentioned as being special to God and Jacob also blessed Judah saying that the monarchy will belong to Judah and that the Messiah would come from the house of Judah.
In the period that preceded the monarchy, Israel had no king; and the people were ruled by the Judges. The prophet Samuel was the last of these judges and when he was old he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. (1 Samuel 8:1). The people rejected his sons and demanded that Samuel give them a king. Saul from the tribe of Benjamin was anointed as the first king of Israel, but his monarchy was not to be inherited by his son because the promise of the Messiah had to be from the tribe of Judah of which David the next king was. Originally David was anointed as king only of the tribe of Judah, but after seven years, when Saul died, David became king of a united Kingdom of Israel. At that time he ruled from Hebron but when he captured Jerusalem which was controlled by the Jebusites, he made it his capital.
The kingdom remained united throughout David's life and his son Solomon, but in about 930 BC the united kingdom split, with ten of the twelve Tribes of Israel rejecting Solomon's son Rehoboam as their king. The Tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam, and reformed the Kingdom of Judah, while the other ten tribes under their chosen king Jeroboam continued to be called the Kingdom of Israel, or just Israel. Thus we now have two different kingdoms, the Northern kingdom known as Israel with its capital Samaria and the Southern kingdom known as Judah with its capital Jerusalem. Israel and Judah were never united again and even though they should have been one people, from time to time they even fought wars against each other.
About the same time a religious schism also separated the two kingdoms. It was customary for all followers of the faith to go once a year to sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. Jeroboam the king of Israel feared that the thousands of pilgrims travelling to Judea would eventually side with the true king Rehoboam so he made two golden calves, and he said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt." and set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. This was the beginning of a corrupted and mixed faith with Israel worshipping both the God of their fathers and simultaneously these pagan images. For this great sin Israel lost favour with God and consequences were to follow.
The northern kingdom of Israel lasted a little over 200 years before it was gradually conquered by the Assyrians. (722 BC) In order to assure that the conquered territories remained pacified, the Assyrians forced many of the native inhabitants to relocate to other parts of their empire and in their place sent Assyrians to relocate in the conquered territory. The Assyrians did not settle the Israelites in one place, but scattered them in small populations all over the Middle East. Some of the Israelites may have fled to the kingdom of Judah while others may have fled to the mountains, but the vast majority of Israel never again returned, and have become known as the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel." After centuries of integration with the peoples of their new homes, they soon dropped what was left of their corrupted Israelite religion and adopted the local religions. In time they also lost their Hebrew names and identities. Similarly the Assyrian settlers in Israel adopted as their God the God of the Israelites.
The people of the Middle East were above everything else highly superstitious and wherever the Assyrians conquered lands they feared that the local gods would wreak vengeance on them. Therefore, they would adopt the local god or gods into their religion and cultic practices. Within a short time, the Assyrians in Samaria were worshipping the God of Israel as well as their own gods and within a couple of centuries, they would be worshipping the God of Israel exclusively. The New Samaritans, who were Assyrian and therefore non-Hebrew, adopted almost all of the Hebrew Torah and cultic practices; however, they also adopted the belief that began with Jeroboam that they could sacrifice to God outside of the temple in Jerusalem. The Judeans frowned on the Samaritans, denying that a non-Hebrew had any right to be included among the chosen people and angered that the Samaritans would dare to sacrifice to their God outside of Jerusalem. Now because the Israelites were divided and scattered to various places, the kingdom of Israel was lost forever.
The kingdom of Judah had a similar history, but with the difference that they were not scattered and therefore were able to retain their Identity. They too had fallen away from the Lord and many adopted the religious practices of the Israelites. In 597BC the Babylonians took control of Judah and deported around 10,000 Judeans to Babylon. All those deported were drawn from the elite, the professionals, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah. This deportation was the beginning of the Exile. The Hebrew kingdom, that started with such promise and glory by David, now seemed at an end and the special bond and the covenant that God had promised to the Hebrews, seemed to have been abandoned. The Judeans went through a period of confusion and despair, a community together, but homeless in the streets of Babylon. After ten years the king of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem destroying the city walls and the temple and deporting more Judeans into exile.
The Persian king Cyrus the Great ended the exile in 538 BC, the year in which he captured Babylon. The Exile ends with the return of most of the Judeans to Judah although many had fled to Egypt where a large Judean community developed. Within a few years Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt.
The history of Israel and Judah can be confusing because today we call everyone who believes in the faith of the Old Covenant a Jew, but this is a misinterpretation of the word Jew. The name Jew is a shortened version of Judean and means a descendant of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin which comprised the kingdom of Judah. Originally it was not a religious term yet today the meaning is extended to embrace even converts to the Judean faith.
The only true Jews are the descendants of the kingdom of Judah so while all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews and not all who follow the Jewish faith are Israelites. Many of the millions of so called Jews around the world claim to be of the lost tribes of Israel and therefore descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but if that is so then they should be called Israelites and not Jews because the lost tribes were a separate nation. In fact the majority of Jews today in the Diaspora are not descendants of Israel but descendants of the Khazars: They were a Mongolian people who embraced Judaism and flourished from the 8th through the 10th centuries on the territory extending between the Don and the Volga rivers, and the shores of the Black, Caspian, and Azov Seas. They are known as Ashkenazi Jews and their lineage can be traced back to Noah's great-grandson Ashkenaz. Thus as far as blood is concerned, the Ashkenazi Jews have no Israelite blood lineage.
But let's now return to the Samaritans. We have seen that originally they were of the lost tribes of Israel and when they were deported the territory of Israel was replenished with Assyrians. These people were heathen idolaters with no fear of God; but, following attacks on their settlements by wild mountain lions (which they attributed to the anger of the God of the dispossessed Israelites), they petitioned the Assyrian monarch for help. His response was to send back one of the captive priests of Israel to teach them his laws and customs. Therefore we read in II Kings: "'Then the King of Assyria commanded saying, Carry hither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence, and let them go and dwell there, and let them teach the manner of the God of the land. Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord' (II Kings 17:27, 28).
The problem with this is that for more than two hundred years, the priests of Israel had been accustomed to the corrupted form of the Israelite faith mingled with the worship of the Golden Bulls at the shrines of Dan and Bethel. The priest therefore would have only succeeded in joining this corrupted form of the Israelite belief and worship to the customs which these people already held. Thus, according to the Biblical account, while they now paid lip service to the God of Israel, they continued to serve their own gods as well.
However, during the period of Hellenization carried out by Alexander the Great and his successors, a group of religious purists emerged in the Samaritan community, who decided to make a fresh start, and who erected the Samaritan Temple at Mount Gerezim. They developed their own distinctive religious system, including: the worship of the God of Israel, obedience to the Law of Moses, expectation of a coming Day of Judgment, belief in Mount Gerezim as the appointed place of sacrifice and in the return of Moses as the Restorer/Returning One.
By New Testament times the lands that once had been the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel became Roman provinces and was divided into three provincial designations, "Judea," "Samaria," and "Galilee. Galilee was the Northern most region of Palestine. Judea was the Southern most region of Palestine and Samaria was situated in-between. To travel from Galilee to Judea one had to go through Samaria. Christ was born in Judea but lived and grew up in Galilee. In the preceding centuries the Judeans had gone through many foreign occupations and during those times many immigrated to Galilee which was then occupied by gentiles making the population predominantly Jewish.
In spite of the hatred that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans there was no restriction in travelling between the three provinces. Christ himself must have walked many times through Samaria to get to Jerusalem. It was probably on one of these journeys that the meeting with the Samaritan woman took place.
The Gospel reading for the event is rather long, and I don't want to weary you with the full reading or expand on the spiritual interpretation of the reading. That is something we can leave for another time - possibly next year when the same readings comes around. For today I will assume that you all know the story so I will only concentrate on the historical facts and the woman's confession regarding some of the Samaritans.
The reading begins: "At that time, Jesus cometh to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there."
Jacob's well is located in Samaria between the city Shechem and Mount Gerezim and still exists today where a large Orthodox Church is built on the site. The well has for centuries been looked after by the Orthodox, but a few years ago there was a lot of trouble over the site caused by overzealous Jews. In May of 1979 a Cypriot monk named Fr. Philoumenos was appointed as caretaker of the well. The fanatic Jews continually threatened to kill him if he didn't leave and take with him the Icons and Cross. Fr. Philoumenos always answered that he would never abandon the venerable site or his position as caretaker and that he was prepared even to give his life for the cause. In the afternoon of 29th November of 1979 as Fr. Philoumenos was reading vespers, the Jews entered the church and killed him with an axe, beating him mercilessly and cutting off his fingers. They then desecrated the Church and the Cross and threw a hand grenade and destroyed the area. At the time of his martyrdom his identical twin brother who was in Greece heard his brother telling him: "Brother, they are killing me for the glory of God, please do not despair. Fr. Philoumenos was recognized by the Church as a new-martyr and is commemorated as a saint on the day of his martyrdom.
Coming back to the reading: When Christ said to the woman: "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water" Here Christ is speaking in spiritual terms, but he is also indirectly telling us something about the well. The well is fed by underground springs, and its water is fresh and cool and because the water is moving and not from a cistern, the ancients called it "living water." Christ used this term and gave it a new and special meaning.
The woman of Samaria confirmed the hatred that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans by telling Christ: "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans."
The hatred that existed was not one sided. The Jews despised the Samaritans because of their religious convictions, because they adopted the Jewish faith and contaminated it with pagan rituals and also because they claimed that Mt. Gerezim was the true mountain of God and not Jerusalem, insisting that it was the mountain where Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Isaac. On the other hand the Samaritans resented the Jews because they refused to accept them as true Israelites. There were Samaritans who claimed that they were descendants of a mixed race of Assyrian and Jewish blood, but there were other Samaritans who claimed they were true Israelites and direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel.
This is a real possibility for the prophet Isaiah prophesied that even though the majority of the ten tribes would be taken into captivity in Assyria, a small proportion would survive the mass deportation. (Isaiah 17:6) As such they would have retained their identity and avoided intermarriage with the Assyrian settlers. They were Samaritans by religion because they sacrificed at Mt. Gerezim, but that didn't characterize them as Assyrians because they had stopped sacrificing at Jerusalem long before the Assyrians came.
Certainly the Samaritan woman of the Gospel claims that she is a descendant of Israel. She said to Christ: "Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?" Jacob is Israel and by saying that Jacob was their father she is claiming that her kinfolk and herself are true children of Israel.
Again the woman said to Christ: "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Our fathers can refer to her ancestry from the time Israel and Judah became separate kingdoms, but it can also refer to the fathers of the Israelite faith going back to Abraham. Below Mt. Geresim is the town Shechem and Jacob's well at Sychar is located just outside the town. In the Old Testament we know that Abraham built an altar in Shechem. When Jacob had fled from Laban back to Canaan, he built an altar at the place he camped "before the city of Shechem". He bought the land and this is probably Sychar where he dug the well and the parcel of land he gave to his son Joseph. When Joseph died his body was buried at Shechem. Shechem is situated in a valley between two mountains the one Mt Gerezim and the other Mt. Ebal. Joshua built an altar on Mt. Ebal beside Shechem known as the altar of Joshua and brought there the Ark of the Covenant and the priests of Israel made a sacrifice.
Thus for the Samaritan woman, the area where she lived was holy and sanctified by God because the altars and sacrifices of the Hebrew fathers were acceptable and pleasing to God. But regardless of whether Jerusalem or Mt. Geresim was the rightful place for sacrifice, the woman said something quite remarkable: "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet."
The Samaritans accepted only the Torah, known in Greek as the Pentateuch, meaning the first five Books of the Old Testament, and rejected all the Books of the Prophets. They believed there was no prophet after Moses, except the one of whom the great Hebrew leader had spoken of: “a prophet like unto me” (Deuteronomy 18:15)—whom they correctly identified with the Messiah. By saying: "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet" she was actually playing with the idea that possibly the man speaking with her was the Messiah. That is why she turned the conversation to the expected Messiah saying: "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." At this point she had not concluded that Jesus was that Messiah, but she had come very close to that irresistible proposition. From the woman's words we can deduce that the Samaritans believed in the promise of the Messiah, that the Messiah was yet to arrive; the Messiah would be a person (not a mere ideal “concept,” as alleged by modern Jews); and that the Messiah would be a teacher who would tell us all things, not a military conqueror and political deliverer as had expected the Jews and as we saw last week was the hope even of the disciples. Thus in some respects the Samaritan woman seems to have had a clearer vision of the Messiah than even the Saviour's disciples.
One could ask; how is this possible, how could the Samaritans know of the coming Messiah if they only accepted the Torah, that is the first five books of the Old Testament and rejected all the others Books of the prophets which clearly speak of the Messiah? Because, quite obviously, there is sufficient evidence in the Torah to point in that direction and understanding.
The first messianic hope in immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve when God told the serpent he would be crushed through a woman's seed, Later Abraham is promised that of his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed, Jacob foretold the coming of the Messiah through the tribe of his son Judah. In Exodus, the Messiah had been foreshadowed in the Passover lamb and as we have already seen Moses foretold of a prophet who would be like unto himself, in other words a deliverer and lawgiver in whom everyone will owe obedience. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
These are just some of the passages in the Torah that point to the expected Messiah. One then has to ponder: if the Samaritans could discern the coming of the Messiah and identify him only upon the basis of the first five books of the Old Testament, because that is what the Samaritan woman did, then what does that say about the Jews who in the other books were given more than three hundred prophecies to identify him.
In reply to the Woman's faith in the Messiah, Christ told her: "I that speak unto thee am he." Properly translated from the Greek it should read "I Am, the one speaking to thee." The correct order of the words is important because there is a hidden message in the words which the translators of the KJV missed out on, and that is because they didn't have the Septuagint Old Testament as reference. In the Septuagint the words "I Am" are used in connection with the revelation of God's personal name. When Moses went up the mountain to the burning bush, God told Moses to go into Egypt and tell Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. When Moses asked God what shall he tell the people if they inquire after his God’s name, God replied: "I AM THAT I AM" and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the people of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you”. In giving us His name as I AM, God is telling us that He is the ‘Absolute Being’ that has no beginning or end, or I AM from the very beginning and ever shall be. In St. John's Gospel where is also found the story of the Samaritan woman, the name "I AM" is used many times to subtlety affirm the divinity of Christ. These are mostly lost in the English translations because the translators didn't understand the connection of the words "I AM" with God's name.
One classic example is when Jesus said to the Jews: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him." (John 8: 56-59) They wanted to stone him because they understood the use of "I Am" as God's name given to Moses.
Coming back to the Samaritans, they believed that they could follow the Jewish faith but were not obliged to worship at Jerusalem. Christ told the woman that the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father indicating by this that the end of the Mosaic system of belief was approaching the end. But he also told her bluntly to her face: you Samaritan don't know what you worship but we Jews know what we worship for salvation is of the Jews.
Since the knowledge of proper worship comes through sacred revelation and the Scriptures, and since the Samaritans rejected all Old Testament Scripture save the Pentateuch, it is not surprising that they “knew not” about proper worship. Salvation was of the Jews because God had been working his plan of salvation through the Hebrew nation. The whole of scripture was therefore necessary because it contained God's revelation to them concerning proper worship.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Christ points out that true worship is not a matter of some external place like Jerusalem or Mt. Gerezim. It is not the external practices of offering animal sacrifices, but the internal sacrifices of the heart. Isaiah had prophesied: This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. (Matth. 15:8) The Father seeketh people who can worship him with their hearts, but of this both the Jews and Samaritans had failed. The Jews may have had the Scriptures but they lost the true meaning of worship through their fanatical observances of the Law. On the other hand the Samaritans had the same Mosaic Laws but they were more liberal in their execution. As such their hearts were more opened to God.
Several times in the Gospels the Samaritans are mentioned in comparison to the Jews. Whenever they are mentioned, they always appear as extremely grateful and good people and as examples to magnify the ingratitude of the Jews. Of the ten lepers that were cured only one returned to give thanks to God and he was a Samaritan. In the story of the Good Samaritan the image of the Samaritan is used to show how the Jewish priesthood which taught the law and should have been merciful was actually hypocritical and cruel, whereas the Samaritan who was considered by the Jews as a heretic lived closer to the meaning of the law and therefore had a compassionate heart.
The story of the Samaritan woman also reveals how the Samaritans, even though they were ignorant of what they believed, their hearts were closer to God than the Jews. That is why Christ revealed himself as the Messiah to the woman, something which he didn't do directly with the Jews.
As we saw last week, the Jews placed their hopes on a political messiah, but the Samaritans were looking for a spiritual Messiah, a prophet like Moses who would teach them of spiritual matters. Thus Jesus could reveal himself as the Messiah to the woman without worrying about political misunderstandings that would have arisen if he did the same in Judah.
When the Samaritans heard the woman's testimony that Jesus was the Messiah, they received him with open hearts and pleaded with him to stay with them which he did for two days. During his stay he talked with them of salvation and they said to the woman: "Now we believe, not because of your testimony: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." They believed and accepted Christ because they thirsted for spiritual salvation whereas the Jews thirsted only for political salvation.