THE GOOD SAMARITAN INN MUSEUM: A SUITABLE PLACE FOR SAMARITAN ANTIQUITIES?
I recently visited the impressive Good Samaritan Inn Museum near Ma’ale Adumim, on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. It displays artefacts belonging to our Israelite Samaritan forefathers. The Samaritan finds include tools, mosaics and inscriptions. The museum founder, Israeli archaeologist Dr Yitzhak Magen, has dedicated areas to each faith associated with the Parable. So we have Samaritan, Jewish and Christian halls there. With Edward Levin, Dr Magen co-authored The Samaritans and The Good Samaritan (Published by The Israel Antiquities Authority, 2008).
The museum site is believed to be that of The Good Samaritan Inn,. Of course, the location is famous for the New Testament Parable of The Good Samaritan. Alongside the finds we can see decorated mosaic tiles from Samaritan synagogues, uncovered by Dr Magen and his team at several locations in Samaria.
An Awkward Question
An awkward question arises: what connects Israelite Samaritans and the story of The Good Samaritan? If we insist on historical accuracy, I believe we must answer: “nothing”. Israelite Samaritans and the Parable of The Good Samaritan have nothing in common. Furthermore, we have nothing in common with the ancient Christian site that developed from the parable. Note that artefacts from Mount Gerizim in the museum date from the 6th to the 2nd centuries BCE. So, clearly they predate The Good Samaritan story by 200 years or more.
The Parable of The Good Samaritan, within the context of the Christian message, is a commentary on the verse and commandment in the Pentateuch, “Love Your Neighbour”. Jesus delivers the parable in the Book of Luke [10: 25-37]. The well-known story concerns a Samaritan who assists a dying man on the road. Some Christian commentators have used it to demonstrate the indifference of Second Temple Period Jews towards their Messiah, Jesus. The parable became a central element of Christianity in the period leading up to the adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital in Byzantium.
However, in a speech at the opening ceremony of the museum, Dr Magen followed Professor Shmaryahu Talmon’s interpretation of the parable. He denied the presence of Samaritans in the area around Jerusalem. Moreover, Dr Magen said that the writers of the New Testament changed the identity of the third figure in the Parable from ‘Israelite’ to ‘Samaritan’. It seems they were unaware of the traditional triangle Cohen, Levi, Israel – Priest, Levite, Israelite.
Back to Contents
Christian Attitudes To Samaritans
Most scholars accepted the identification ‘Samaritan’ due to the positive attitude of Jesus towards the Samaritans of his time. But early Christianity never properly integrated the message of the Good Samaritan. Moreover, since adopting the parable, Christianity treated the Samaritans in a manner opposite to the meaning of the message of Jesus. The Priest and the Levite, who show indifference to the wounded man on the road to Jericho, represent Judaism. (The writer of the story suggests that the injured man might represent Jesus himself). The Priest and Levite represent a Judaism not being persecuted, but being treated by Christianity as a valid historical tradition. The Christians did this in order to legitimise the existence of Christianity itself.
In the parable, the Good Samaritan who cares for the injured man is supposed to represent the Samaritans. However, the Christians pursued and killed hundreds of thousands of Samaritans. They confiscated Samaritan property and lands, and broke the power of the Samaritan nation. Samaritans became a persecuted minority because they resisted forced conversion to Christianity.
Back to Contents
Sadly, of course, this example of the faithful behaving contrary to the tenets of their faith is not unique. However, the issue highlights an absurdity. Today’s Samaritans are descendants of the original owners of the museum site. But the artefacts displayed there commemorate a distortion which is painful for Samaritans. The distortion is the antithesis of the original message, because early Christianity sought to destroy the Samaritan People, who only now show signs of recovery. (Their population fell to 141 individuals in March 1919, recovering to 760 by April 2013).
Back to Contents
Before the rise of Byzantine Christianity, the Samaritans numbered many hundreds of thousands. They raised armies, and created a unique cultural tradition. However, the Byzantine Christians changed all that. The Byzantines inflicted severe calamities upon the Samaritans, for example, suppressing Samaritan resistance with great bloodshed, and forcing survivors to convert. They sold tens of thousands of young Samaritans into slavery. In addition, they took Samaritan property and lands through iniquitous laws of inheritance. Thus, the Byzantines subdued our Samaritan forefathers. Ultimately, they broke the spirit of the Samaritans, who could no longer look their oppressors in the eye.
Back to Contents
The Good Samaritan Inn
So the site of The Good Samaritan Inn Museum, with its associated remains of an ancient Christian church, is renowned as a Christian site. Other noteworthy Christian sites exist in Samaria, for example the remains of the octagonal Christian church on the peak of Mount Gerizim. But for Samaritans, these sites are reminders of our historical frustrations, tragedies and defeats.
More recently, some Christians have acknowledged Samaritan suffering at the hands of the Byzantines, and have sought reconciliation.
During Passover in 1986, Apostolic Delegate Carlo Curis came to meet Samaritan High Priest Jacob ben ‘Azzi. Consequently, I encouraged a Samaritan delegation to accept an invitation to meet Pope John Paul II in Rome, in June of the same year. Later, we built the Community Centre in Kiriat Luza, aided by a significant donation from the Roman Catholic Church.
Back to Contents
Eventually, antiquities from our rich heritage will be concentrated in our spiritual centre, Mount Gerizim. Then the resurgence of the Israelite-Samaritan tradition will be confirmed.
We cannot imagine that archaeological finds from Jerusalem, symbolising the cultural heritage of the Jewish People, should be displayed elsewhere. Similarly, we cannot imagine that the tens of thousands of finds that Dr Magen made in his excavation on Mount Gerizim should be displayed elsewhere. They represent the rich cultural past of our people.
Rather than in Christian sites or the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, the Mount Gerizim archaeological treasures should be displayed securely in a museum on Mount Gerizim, the mountain which is central to our spiritual and cultural life.
Choir and MUSIC