The best-known Samaritan, of course, is the “Good Samaritan,” an un-named fellow in one of the parables of Jesus who is the only one to come to the aid of a traveler who has been robbed, beaten and left for dead by the highway. Tensions ran high between Samaritans and Jews at that time, and many Jews saw Samaritanism as a perversion of true Judaism. The story is meant as an illustrative answer to the question, “who is my neighbor?” in regards to the biblical charge to, “love ones neighbor as ones self.”
Another biblical Samaritan, an un-named woman this time, meets Jesus at Jacob’s Well and asks him whether Mt. Gerizim (the Samaritan holy place) or Jerusalem (the Jewish holy place) is the true place of worship. Jesus answers by saying that true worship happens, “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the true worshippers will worship… in the Spirit and in truth.” Both stories illustrate themes of Jesus’ teaching that describe a kingdom of God not limited by ethnicity or geography.
Present-day Samaritans still regard Mt. Gerizim, near Nablus, as their holy place, where their unique culture has been kept alive for millennia in spite of severe persecution. While Samaritans numbered over one million in the fifth century, the official tally was a scant 146 in 1917. Numbers are currently in the 700s due to an influx of eastern European brides, welcomed into the normally-exclusive community in order to infuse the tiny community with new genes and combat high rates of birth defects.
Today, the Samaritans are divided between two communities, one in Israel and one on Mt. Gerizim. The late King Hussein of Jordan purchased and presented the land on Mount Gerizim to the Samaritans. There is a thriving community there, with a community center, museum, general store and a synagogue. The community in Israel, Neveh Marqeh, near Tel Aviv was established in 1954 with the help of the former Israeli president Yitzhaq Ben Zvi. Most families living in Neveh Marqeh also have a second home in Kiryat Luza and the entire community comes together there to worship.