A Counter-Cultural Detour Through Samaria

The fall of Samaria, which resulted in the deportation of thousands from the northern kingdom to Assyria, raises another question: Was the subsequent Assyrian importation and settlement of people from “Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim” (2 Kings 17:24) into the towns of Samaria the beginning of the people known in the New Testament as the Samaritans?

While the traditional assumption is that the Samaritans of the New Testament are the descendants of those imported peoples mentioned in 2 Kings 17, a comparison of the two groups does raise reason for doubt. For example, the imported peoples were syncretists – i.e. “They worshipped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought (2 Kg 17:33).”

Because clear evidence of such syncretism doesn’t exist among those later identified as Samaritans, scholars like Everett Ferguson suggest that a connection between the two peoples isn’t so clear, and may be nothing more than a later attempt of Jews to slander the Samaritans (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd Edition, p. 534). But what would be the motivation for such slander? The Samaritans created a rival religious institution that preferred Shechem and Mt. Gerizim over Jerusalem and Mt. Zion as the location of the Holy Place (p. 534).

In contrast to Ferguson, the Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan 2005), says the Samaritans are “a mixed race made up of a combination of Israelites who remained in the land and these non-Israelite settlers (note 17:24-41, p. 557).” And in spite of their syncretistic origins, they eventually “came to follow the teachings of Moses, including monotheism (note 17:24-41, p. 557).” I might add that their (ASB-Zondervan) conclusion of an evolution from syncretism to monotheism may be correct, but I have not been able to find a justification for that conclusion in any of their many notes on the Samaritans.

While the origins of the New Testament Samaritans may not be as clear as we might wish, we can see – and I think some may be surprised – how this “slandered, mixed race” people are referenced in the New Testament.

The references to the Samaritans fall clearly into three groups: First we see Samaritan used as a pejorative as in John 8:48 when Jesus was asked, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” We can see this negative sense also in the story of the (Samaritan) woman at the well in John 4. Her initial words to Jesus illustrate the inferior position of the Samaritans among Jews: “‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”

The second type of reference to Samaritans is simply geographical. For example, when Jesus sent his disciples out (Matthew 10), he specifically told them not to go among the Gentiles or any town of the Samaritans. Rather, he charged them, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel.” Luke mentions an occassion when Jesus sent his disciples into a Samaritan village to prepare things for his arrival (9:52). None of these types of references should be deemed positive or negative.

The third category includes those times Jesus mentions or interacts with Samaritan people, and is clearly the most positive portrayal of the Samaritans in the Bible. I’ve already mentioned the John 4 story of the (Samaritan) woman at the well. In this story, we don’t see Jesus distancing himself from her because he is a Jew and she a Samaritan. We don’t see him reference her pejoratively. What we see is Jesus offering her “living water” and engaging her in a meaningful conversation about the messiah. John concludes this story with a very positive view of the Samaritan woman: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39).”

Another illustration of how Jesus views the Samaritans differently than the surrounding culture does is how he juxtaposes the Samaritan with religious Jews in the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Since Jesus was crafting that story himself, he could have painted any picture he wanted, yet he chose to cast the Samaritan as the good neighbor and the religious Jews as the bad neighbors.

Finally, in Luke 17 we see the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. While on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled between Galilee and Samaria and was approached from a distance by ten lepers. They called out to him and he healed them. One of them, realizing that he was healed, came back to thank Jesus. Then, as if in a parenthetical note, Luke adds, “He was a Samaritan” (LK 17:16). Notice Jesus’ response: “Weren’t all ten healed? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Once again, Jesus juxtaposes the outsider against those representing the majority culture.

In all three cases – the woman at the well, the good Samaritan, and the leper who was healed – the Samaritans were cast in a much more positive light than some might expect considering the hostility of the surrounding culture toward them.

Is there an application for us in how we should treat/view those who might be considered negatively by the surrounding culture?

The Game of Life®

vaca107Colleen, Grace, and Zach were playing The Game of Life® the other day. It was Zach’s first time to play. And since he is just three years old there were some obvious challenges for the girls to maintain their sanity and interest in the game.

One bright spot came when Zach had to choose between two occupations. One of the jobs was a veterinarian, which is the one Zach naturally chose. When Colleen asked him if he wanted to be an animal doctor, he said, “No, I want to be an animal.”

Connecting dots . . . wrongly

In my Acts of the Apostles course, one of the projects the students are required to complete is the Personal Application Paper, which requires the student to catalog twenty principles they have discovered in their study of the book of Acts. They are then required to formulate a plan to apply each of the principles to their lives.

An example of how this project works follows:

PRINCIPLE: Everything isn’t as it immediately seems, therefore, don’t draw definite conclusions hastily.

TEXT: Acts 28:3–6

BACKGROUND: En route to Rome according to his appeal to Caesar, Paul survived a treacherous voyage at sea and landed at Malta, battered but alive. Paul was among 276 survivors who were welcomed by the local residents. However, he was a prisoner, which apparently communicated certain things about him to his hosts; namely, that he was somehow shortchanging justice by surviving the shipwreck. This conclusion regarding their assumptions is based on what his hosts said in response to Paul being bitten on the hand by a viper,

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” – Acts 28:4 ESV

In the minds of those who were watching Paul, certain things were obvious: a) He was a prisoner who was guilty, likely of murder; b) he deserved punishment, though somehow he had apparently dodged it by surviving the shipwreck; and c) Justice (or fate) had finally caught up to him by way of the viper.

The dots were connecting very nicely . . . until Paul simply shook free of the viper and suffered no ill effects (28:5). However, being certain that “a” leads to “b” leads to “c”, their confidence was only slightly halted by the delay in any obvious effects of the snake bite. Because these dots were so easy to connect, they could wait expectantly for Paul “to swell up or suddenly fall down dead” (28:6). But, after waiting a long time and having none of their expectations realized, they had to reconsider their conclusions regarding Paul.

This time, though, things were more clear: a) a man who survives a stormy sea and shipwreck, b) which is immediately followed by a deadly snakebite that has no ill effect, c) is clearly “a god” (28:6). Paul must be a god. Yes, that has to be it; those dots connect very nicely! Or, . . . perhaps, there is still a better – more correct – explanation.

POINT: Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem . . . even when they seem so obvious or clear. For those of us who believe we can read people well, this is a difficult thing to accept. Better yet, it’s difficult to practice patience. And this lack of patience can be particularly harmful (to us and others) when we begin to assign motive for their actions. Here’s the truth: sometimes people do things for reasons that appear very obvious, but in reality, are for very different reasons or for no real reason at all. Sometimes we do dumb things or do things badly, just because we are people.

“Why did you throw a rock through Mrs. Jones’ barn window?” the teenager’s mother angrily enquired. “It’s because she told us she saw you smoking at the back of her property; it’s payback, isn’t it?” his dad accusingly interrupted, conveniently wrapping up the mystery. “No! I didn’t even think about whose window it was. I don’t know why I did it; Joe and I were walking behind her barn and we saw some rocks and a dusty old window, and without really thinking we thought, ‘let’s see who can hit the window.’ He threw first and missed. Unfortunately, I won; I hit it on my first try,” the teen explained.

In the fictional conversation above, the dots connected very easily for the teen’s parents: a) They knew their son, b) Mrs. Jones had reported his smoking, and c) that report obviously led to retaliation. Or did it? In reality – as much as a fictional story can portray reality – their son broke the window because: a) he is a teenage boy in the company of another teenage boy, b) with access to rocks and an old window, and c) it seemed like fun to see who could break the glass. Pretty simple. Pretty reasonable, … if you know teenage boys who have access to rocks and old windows.

But, if the glass is still broken, what difference does it make if it was broken for revenge or the result of a poor decision? It makes all the difference in the world in terms of how the matter should be handled. In this case, revenge is a matter of the heart; a poor decision is a matter of maturity. Furthermore, the revenge angle wrongly assigns evil intent to the teen, which unfairly harms his reputation and the relationship between him and his parents.

APPLICATION: I will endeavor to be slower and more considered (i.e., investigative) in connecting dots, particularly when the dots lead to negative conclusions about others based on their actions. Proverbs 18:17 offers wisdom to this end:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

 

Israel Tour Highlight #137010

Beniko Gihon, #137010

Working with tour groups in Israel is [almost] always a blessing. It’s exciting to see visitors’ faces when, as they say in Hebrew, “the coin falls.” In other words, when “the light comes on” or the connection between a certain event and place happens. I love to see the joy of discovery, especially as it relates to the Bible. But my groups generally have modern cultural and historical interests, too. Every group is different, and I’m regularly on the look out for things out of the ordinary, not on the itinerary that will make my group’s visit to Israel more special than it might already be. For this group, I found that special historical gem in the breakfast line.

As I approached the special-order egg line, I noticed the tattoo on his arm, 137010. Immediately, I knew he was a holocaust survivor because I’ve seen these tattoos in the museum, and probably a dozen times in person. However, I never had the nerve to ask the bearer to share his/her story; I just imagined what it might have been.

This time was different. I took a deep breath and asked the elderly gentleman a) if he spoke Hebrew, and b) if I could ask a question. “Yes,” he answered to both questions. I was hesitant, but I proceeded to ask if he would tell me the story of the numeric tattoo that appeared on his left forearm. I was afraid he would be embarrassed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he seemed pleased that I asked.

Interacting with my inquiry about his tattoo, he said, “My name is Beniko Gihon; in Germany my name was changed to 137010. I am a Jew originally from Greece.” He continued with a moving, two-minute version of his story. His family had been rounded up in Thessaloniki, and he was the only survivor. Over the course of five years, he was systematically transferred to/from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Dachau. He had a variety of jobs, but mainly focused on his work in the crematoria.

I was translating his story for a man from my group and noticed that others had started to lean in closer to listen in on our conversation, which indicated that they found this interesting, too. After a couple minutes, his eggs and mine were ready, so, unfortunately, we had to bring this encounter to a close. I thanked him for sharing his story, we shook hands, and parted ways.

I found a table near my group and sat down by myself. To say that his story was gut wrenching would be an exaggerated understatement. But, his story wasn’t the thing that affected me the most. It was the question he posed: “Why were the Christians so quiet?”

I wanted my group to hear Beniko’s story, but I wondered if that would be asking too much. As I ate my breakfast, I kept an eye on him from across the room and wondered whether I should ask him to speak on the bus. Since he didn’t seem to mind my initial inquiry, I decided to go for it, and the outcome was just what I had hoped.

After my group boarded the bus, I brought them up to speed on what was about to happen, then I introduced Mr. Beniko. He climbed the stairs and stood proudly in the front of the bus and began to share his story.

Beniko, which is the Greek version of Benjamin, started with some details of his family and how the Nazis came to Greece and killed so many. The rest were taken to the labor and death camps in Germany and Poland, which is where he learned to speak German, and where his name was changed to 137010.

His story lasted longer than I had given him, which I knew it would. But, seeing him standing in the front of the bus and hearing his biography was worth every minute.

Some specific details that pierced my heart:

“I saw, with my own eyes, the soldiers toss little children in the air and shoot them like birds.” 


“As people were herded off the trains near the crematoria, they pleaded with the soldiers to know where their children or parents were. The soldiers would point to the smoke rising out of the crematoria and say, ‘there they are.’”

“The people were packed so tightly into the ‘showers’ that when the Zyklon B gas was released they all died standing, and only fell to the ground when the doors were opened. As we removed the bodies, we could see the scratches on the walls where those on the outer edges were trying to claw their way out.”

As a worker at the crematoria, “I collected the fat that came from the bodies as they were burned. The Nazis used the fat to make soap for us prisoners, and I bathed with soap that may have been made from the remains of my parents and other family members.”

Beniko’s story, made the horrors of the Holocaust real and personal for us, impacting each in a slightly different way. I tried to give some current perspective to his presentation because the easy thing would be to say, “I wasn’t there” because none of us were. I reminded the group of the words of James 1:27 that pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans, which I understand to mean “take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.” I also think that being born again demands that Christians have an active interest in “the least of these” (Mt 25). 

PhD Research Proposal Approved!

I was surprised with good news yesterday: I received official approval of my PhD research proposal. I was also surprised at the relief I felt when I saw that my proposal had been approved.
I submitted the proposal in early May, so I’ve been waiting on pins and needles almost four months. My adviser let me know that World Cup 2010 would delay the process since all state universities in South Africa were required to adjust their schedules to accommodate the World’s largest sporting event. But that didn’t make it any easier to wait and wait and wait. 
I’ve struggled with proceeding very much with my research because I’ve been afraid that I might need to make some major adjustments to my project framework; and I think struggling with the pressure/desire to move forward (to actually get something done!) but not wanting to go too far is the pressure I felt float away when I received this news.
I was confident in my proposal because I had worked hard on it, refining it several times to meet the guidelines. Also, I had a few qualified friends make helpful comments that improved it’s quality. And my adviser, who is supposed to know about this kind of stuff, said it was a very good proposal. 
However, since there was so much riding on the “whims” of people I don’t know and my adviser had “warned” me that it’s almost automatic for the committee to return proposals, even good ones, with some recommendations to improve the document, the delay was causing me to feel some uncertainty that my work would be satisfactory.
So, I was quite happy to get this notation at the bottom of the evaluation form:
Aanbeveling / Recommendation
That the proposal be approved.
[Dept Head Signature]
Evalueerder / Evaluator: Prof. CJP Niemandt
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