Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blame it on the Samaritans

Most scholars have concluded that in the Gospel of John the separation between Judaism and Christianity has already occurred. This conclusion is sometimes based upon the anti-Jewish vitriolic polemic, the monolithic view of Judaism and the stereotypical picture of the Jewish people that the author of the gospel has painted. Yee has stated there are three factors leading to the Johannine picture of "the Jews."

The exclusion of the people with blemishes, the lame, the Samaritans, and persons employed in unclean occupations such as tanners, is a factor that ought to be considered in the creation of separate but not equal Jewish communities. The Johannine community, which had been excluded, is presented as “disassociating themselves from a past, even while providing a basis for continuity in concrete and symbolical terms." It is the conflict between these two communities in their struggle for self-definition and identity that is reflected in John’s Gospel.

Raymond Brown's 1st stage of the development of the Johannine community includes, as part thereof, those Jews of Samaritan background. Although Johannine scholars discussed the exclusion from the synagogue as a factor, it is more likely the prior exclusion form the Temple predated the so-called Johannine polemics and was a factor in its creation. Brown’s influx of Samaritans theory is based on a real event. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

This must have provoked a reaction from the Jewish members of the community. Perhaps Matthew records this reaction in these words: “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Mark does not mention the Samaritans but Luke not only mentions them, he also records a successful ministry to them in these words: “Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”

Yet even before this successful ministry, Stephen preached his last sermon containing numerous contacts with Samaritan theology, the significance of which has not been understood. Stephen’s last sermon has a decidedly Samaritan viewpoint. The following arguments can be advanced in favor of Samaritan background of Stephen's last sermon:

1) The MT says Terah lived 205 years but Stephen said 145 years in harmony with the Samaritan text. In Gen. 11:32, Terah lived 205 years surviving by 60 years Abraham’s departure from Harran. Stephen reports that Abraham left at his father’s death in Acts 7:4 in harmony with the Samaritan text in which Terah lived for only 145 years.

2) Stephen says that God told Moses I am the God of your fathers; the MT reading is "father" while the Samaritan reading is "fathers".

3) Stephen in Acts 7:37 mentions a future prophet like Moses based on the Samaritan Book of Exodus as the history recited of Abraham through Moses depends on Genesis and Exodus; the MT lacks this statement in Exodus (but does have it in Deut 18:15).

4) Stephen mentions the city of Shechem which is the Samaritan counterpart of Jerusalem.

5) Stephens says that Abraham's seed shall "worship me in this place". The word "place" is standard Samaritan terminology; see John 4:20 and Acts 6:14. The Jewish cultic term is “house”.

6) Solomon's temple was not only in the wrong "place", it was of human hands. According to the Samaritans, the tabernacle of Gerizim was not made by human hands.

7) Stephen says that the Law was given by an angel on Sinai.

8) The Samaritans called themselves Hebrews from the third century BCE as confirmed by Josephus [Ant. XI viii 6] but in the first century Jews did not call themselves Hebrews.

Why does Stephen in verse 4 refer to Judea as “this country in which you are now living” when he lives in the same place? Soards in agreement with Haenchen considers it odd. Perhaps it is not a rhetorical device to create distance. Perhaps, because Stephen and his community have been excluded from the Temple, they do not consider themselves part of Judea! Perhaps Stephen is a Samaritan!

This is a work in progress. More work is needed on this. Why does the Gospel of Mark omit all references to the Samaritans? Why does this sermon include Samaritan material? Does this material support the influx of Samaritans into early Christianity? If the Hebrews are the Samaritans, who are the Hellenists?

Copyrighted 2006


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