Mount Gerizim

Mount Gerizim. Daniel Ventura – CC BY-SA 4.0,

A Jewish offshoot or a pagan cult?

The best-known incident in the Bible regarding the Samaritans is of course the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37: A priest and a Levite both pass by a man who has been robbed and beaten. The Samaritan, however, stops and takes care of him. Then, as now, Samaritans were not at the top of the social pecking order, and that is precisely the point of the story.

The Gospel of John contains another well-known account involving Samaritans. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well near Shechem and asks her for a drink. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” she asks (John 4:9). Eventually, Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah (John 4:25–26). In the course of their conversation, the woman points to Mt. Gerizim and tells Jesus that her forebears “worshipped on this mountain,” whereas the “Jews say that the Temple where God should be worshipped is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20).

A Samaritan temple indeed once stood on Mt. Gerizim, the Samaritan’s holy mountain. But by the time of Jesus it was in ruins, destroyed by John Hyrcanus, the second-century B.C.E. Jewish ruler of Judea, a member of the Hasmonean dynasty.

Read the rest of The Samaritans in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.