Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Samaritans

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It is always our duty to ask ourselves whether the kind of speech we voice and the kind of rhetoric we listen to engenders respect for our neighbor, no matter how different she or he might be from ourselves, or whether it is sowing the seeds of hatred and violence.

This article is Joshua Tilton’s personal reflection based on his work on the Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road pericope for the Life of Yeshua project.

I am grateful to be living in a generation that has demonstrated a growing sensitivity toward issues of racial justice.[1] The struggle of minority groups to attain equal treatment under the law and to enjoy equal respect in society is commendable. We are all indebted to minority groups who have raised their voices in protest against inequality, not only for making our own societies more humane, but also for helping us to look back at our histories and at our sacred texts from a new—and I hope more inclusive—point of view. This blog is a tiny tribute to the ongoing struggle for racial justice and harmony in our world.

In our recent attempt to propose a Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ instructions to his twelve apostles (see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road), David Bivin and I were confronted with a racially sensitive issue. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the apostles not to enter any city of the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5). Reconstructing Jesus’ words in Hebrew raised an uncomfortable question that, as far as we are aware, has never before been considered by New Testament scholars. The question is: What Hebrew word did Jesus use to refer to the Samaritans? This is a sensitive question because, of the two Hebrew alternatives, the more common term in ancient Jewish sources is a racial slur.

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08 ten lepers
The story of the ten men Jesus healed of scale disease as illustrated in the eleventh-century C.E. illuminated Codex Aureus of Echternach. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

  • [1] My optimistic view that our generation has demonstrated a growing sensitivity toward issues of racial justice in no way negates the reality of continued incidents of violence, hatred or discrimination. Neither do I wish to gloss over the very real pain endured by those who have experienced the cruel effects of racial injustice. I am merely expressing a hopeful view that sensitivity concerning these issues may be growing. If that sensitivity is to continue growing and bear meaningful fruit in our societies, then, of course, it must be carefully tended and nurtured. I hope that I may continue to learn and grow and be open to correction when I demonstrate my own ignorance and prejudices.

Comments 2

  1. Felicia Silcox

    Superbly researched and beautifully written; a thought-provoking and timely article, especially in view of recent world events. Thank you, Joshua.

  2. Pingback: Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road | Online

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  • Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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