The Real Samaritans


Remember the Bible story of "The Good Samaritan?" In the book of Luke, someone asks Jesus how to get into heaven. He answers with a parable about a Samaritan who stops to help a Jewish traveler left for dead on the roadside by robbers. Samaritans and Jews despised one another back then, so the point seems to be: Love your neighbor ... even neighbors you don't particularly like.

You may have heard the story before, reports CBS News correspondent David Hawkins, but what you probably don't know is that the ancient tribe of Samaritans still exists. They live in two communities; one is in Israel, in a Tel Aviv suburb, and another on a mountain in a part of the Palestinian West Bank that's also known as Samaria.

The Samaritans wear turbans and speak Arabic — but they're not Arabs. They also speak ancient Hebrew and worship in synagogues — but they're not Jews.

The Samaritan religion split from Judaism 27 centuries ago. When Jews were driven into exile in Babylon, the Samaritans' ancestors stayed behind. When the exiles returned 50 years later, the two sides had irreconcilable religious differences.

For Samaritans the holiest place in the world is not Jerusalem, but Mount Gerizim, which is 40 miles to the north. They say Abraham offered to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on this rock; it's where Noah's ark landed after the flood; and it's where their temple once stood. For thousands of years, Samaritan families have gathered at Mount Gerizim on Passover to sacrifice a lamb to God, a practice Jews abandoned long ago.

The Samaritan High Priest, Eleazar ben-Tsedaka, claims to be a direct descendant of Moses' brother Aaron. He says the Samaritans have lived in this land for 3,345 years. His own family dates back to the area 147 generations.

The Samaritans may have been in the neighborhood the longest, but they're vastly outnumbered. There are only about 750 of them left in the world. While they've managed to preserve their language and religious traditions, inbreeding threatens the health of the community. They consider themselves both Palestinian and Israeli — and try to maintain good relations with both.