The Good Samaritan

"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead."

Luke 10: 25-30.

The Wadi Qelt

Photo courtesy of Dr Carl Rasmussen Ph.D

It is worth pointing out that Jesus, in his parables and teachings, invariably chose settings and situations that his auditors could recognize and to which they could relate; his "stories" were never esoteric and "out of reach" to the common man's understanding, whose attention was his prime target.
So it was with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was - and still is - one of the most important routes in the middle east with a strategic history stretching back to the beginning of human movement from place to place: Jerusalem sitting atop the Judean Hills commanding the way east and west across the country from the coastal plain to the Jordan and beyond - and vice versa, with Jericho performing the same task at one of the few accessible crossing points of the Jordan and access from there through the mountains to the coastal plain. It has been a much-used route throughout history.

Just to the north of the present highway running down from Jerusalem to Jericho is the Wadi Qelt, a stream bed which was surely the original route between the two cities in ancient days - no one would stray far from water in the Judean Desert, which even today can be treacherous to the careless traveller, certainly in the summer months, when the heat is fearsome. So by using this highway as his setting he could be quite sure that his hearers could picture the situation with no difficulty. That the Samaritan was an object of disdain, and hence the focal point of Jesus showing that there is good in all people and no "generalizations" are justified, is clear from the context. It is interesting to speculate also, just why the Samaritan was held in contempt by society. If we recall the exile after the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.E. and the gradual return over the years from about 536 B.C.E. onwards, we are told that the Samaritans claim NOT to have been part of that exodus but to have remained behind in Samaria throughout the exile. It was for this reason that Ezra and Nehemia, in their attempts to bring the Children of Israel back to the worship of God and to purify them from the sins which had caused the destruction in the first place, decreed that all those who had married "foreign wives" must "put them aside" - and further that all those who had not shared in the punishment of the exile would no longer be considered Jews - a clear example of excommunication.

As a result of this, the Samaritans were no longer considered as "Jews" and from that time on held an increasingly negative place in society. By the time Jesus came along they were virtual outcasts about whom no good could be considered, so it was easy to use them as his example.

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