Who are the Samaritans?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Samaritans are a distinct ethnic and religious group found today mostly in Israel. The history and origins of the Samaritans are actually a bit difficult to pin down, as many of their writings have not survived to this day, but genetic evidence clearly indicates that they are descended from the Israelites. In addition to sharing a genetic heritage with the Israelites, the Samaritans also share a religion; their religious faith is very similar to Judaism, although there are a few disputes between the two religions regarding holy sites and religious texts.

The Samaritans appear in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible.
The Samaritans appear in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible.

Today, under 1,000 Samaritans are known to be alive, coming from four different families. Many of them live on Mount Gerizim, a holy site under their religious beliefs, and others can be found scattered in various regions of Israel and the Occupied Territories, where they are treated as a religious minority. Out of concerns that the rich cultural history and traditions of the Samaritans would die out, the group approved intermarriage to members of the Jewish faith, in the hopes of preventing the genetic problems associated with a small gene pool.

The Samaritans are featured in the Torah as the Kuthim.
The Samaritans are featured in the Torah as the Kuthim.

As a distinct group, the Samaritans emerged around the time that the Assyrians invaded Israel, in 722 BCE. Their version of the Torah emerged in the 300s BCE, reflecting a schism between the Samaritans and the Jews, and relations between the two groups remained extremely hostile. Understanding the history of relations between Samaritan and Jewish people can explain some of the appearances of the Samaritans in the Bible, especially in the story of the Good Samaritan, a parable which was meant to illustrate that all people had the potential for compassion.

Many people believe that the Samaritans are named for Samaria, a city in Northern Israel. However, they are actually named after a term which means “keeper of the law,” reflecting the importance of the Torah and other religious texts in Samaritan culture. The Samaritan and Jewish versions of the Torah have a number of differences, and they also differ on a few key issues. The Samaritans, for example, view Mount Gerizim as a holy place, as opposed to members of the Jewish faith, who venerate Mount Zion.

In addition to appearing in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Samaritans are also found in the Torah, where they are known as the Kuthim. Like other modern residents of Israel, the Samaritans speak Modern Hebrew, and the residents of the Occupied Territories speak Palestinian Arabic. In religious worship, the Samaritans speak their own versions of Hebrew and Arabic, keeping these languages alive for future generations to study, learn from, and enjoy.

Samaritans are a religious group found mostly in Israel.
Samaritans are a religious group found mostly in Israel.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Every year, families in our church pack a shoebox to be distributed to children around the world. This organization is part of Samaritan's Purse which is run by the son of Billy Graham.

Their organization is known for helping people who live in countries that have war, poverty and disease.

It is so interesting to watch a video of these shoe boxes full of basic essential items and small toys being delivered to these children.

In some small way I feel like I am being a good Samaritan by providing a child with a gift they probably would not have had otherwise.


Reading about the Samaritans reminds me of the story in the Bible of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

It was quite a surprise that not only was Jesus talking to a woman, but a Samaritan woman at that. There was a lot of hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans.

If I ever have the chance to visit Israel, I think it would be very interesting to visit Mount Gerizim and see where these people live today.


I never realized this group of people still exist today, and that there is such a small number of them. I always remember hearing about the story of the Good Samaritan.

This was one of the more popular stories that was put on as a play when I went to church camp. Each team was responsible with coming up with their own drama, and I think the Good Samaritan was done every year.

I always remember the moral of this story as helping anyone out that you saw in need. Of all the people who passed the man lying in the road, the Good Samaritan was the only one who stopped to help him out.

Not only did he stop to help him, but he went out of his way to make sure he was taken care of until he was better.

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