Who has not heard the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37)? For centuries, Jesus’ tale has inspired people to help their neighbors. But there are parts of the story that we may miss if we are unfamiliar with first-century Judaism. What made the good Samaritan so good? One reason may be that he saw what he thought was a dead body on the side of the road (the Samaritan did not know the person was alive) and he did not ignore the corpse as others did.

In Jewish culture to be unburied was perceived as a curse. Elijah prophesied that Jezebel would meet this ugly fate and, indeed, her dead body was torn apart by wild dogs (2 Kgs 9:34-35). In Babylonian exile, a righteous man named Tobit secretly buried the bodies of other Jews whom the king had slaughtered (Tobit 1: 16-20; c. 2nd century BCE). Mishnah preserves rabbinic thinking on the matter “A High Priest and a nazir [a person who took a Nazarite vow] may not become impure for their relatives (Lev 21:11), but may for an abandoned dead body.” (m. Nazir 7:1). For the ancient rabbis, even priestly purity was secondary to deeds of kindness.

Indeed, the Torah associates dead things with ritual impurity, and Moses did not give any commands obligating one to bury an abandoned body. Those who passed the supposed corpse on the side of the road could have shown mercy, but instead, they followed the letter of the law. In Jesus’ day burying a body that no one else could care for was seen as a highly ethical deed, as a selfless act of kindness that cannot be repaid. Yeshua asked, “Which… proved to be a neighbor…” and he was told, “the one who showed mercy toward him”  (Lk 10:36-37 NASB). In Yeshua’s teaching (ἔλεος; elios) “compassion” “mercy” or “loving kindness” (חֶסֶד; chesed) towards other people transcends all other commandments. A Samaritan was an outsider, with no obligation to care for the corpse of a Jew, yet he showed compassion, and thereby acted like a good neighbor.

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40 COMMENTS

  1. So Yosef Ramatayim buried Yeshua in his own tomb not just as an act of love but it would also be seen as an act of mercy and loving kindness. As we know that many of the priests believed in Him I wonder what the the others thought. Did they consider this story He told? Do we know how old Yosef was? Was he ostracised for what he did? I was overwhelmed by the amount of costly embalming oil he gave to prepare the body the first time I read 'The Complete Jewish
    • In Judaism we say he did was a mitzvah - a righteous deed. I do not know much about him and I can imagine he may have be ostracized at least by some of his peers for his devotion to Yeshua. There is no way of knowing how widely this particular story was known. But do keep in mind if the priests were Sadducees they would reject most of Jewish tradition outside of Torah, like this one.
    • That brings up a good question about burial. Why would Joseph of Arimathea ask for the body of Jesus. Didn't he realize all of his followers would want the body?

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  2. I feel from what I have read is the Good Samaritan was to show people to do onto others as you would have them do to you. What goes around comes around. I believe he was teaching to help others and not like the Priest do by going to the other side of the road to avoid the person on the ground. The good Samaritan did not do that he went over and checked to see if the person was alright or needed some help. Part 1
    • Very well said Lee. In addition, the Good Samaritan has displayed the power of Loving your neighbor as we do love ourselves by saving a life he never know to Adam. Emulating this act will make the world a better habitable place. What a joy!
  3. There is alot of that happening today in this country that people will not help someone who needs help and there are some if you go to help them they do not want your help. This is what I mean what goes around comes around. If you help someone then someone will help you if you need them. I also think that this is a good study, I wish that people would listen to it.
  4. "For the ancient rabbis, even priestly purity was secondary to deeds of kindness."
    Thank you for several layers of poignant truth that you have added to our knowledge of this story (just taught it and had my students exit out a few months ago, in fact!). The Greek and Hebrew etymology is always so helpful and interesting, too.
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  5. shalom prof.p.shir this is perfectly the key point one learns from the difference between new covenant and the old one.first of all we can not do good without the spirit of GOD in us.we need the help of GOD in order to do good works like what the despised Samaritan did.we are taught that GOD is good.so all those who do good are obedient sons.summary of the first covenant says do not do bad then the second says do good.YESHUA taught us everyone who sins is a slave of sin. people should therefore learn GODS righteousness and be led by
    • I see your point, Moses. Thanks for sharing. In Jewish tradition, there are about 365 commandments that teach us not to do something and 248 that teach us to do something. So it is like a 60/40 balance. The reason the New Covenant and Yeshua's words teach us by focusing on the good is not that it is somehow vastly different. Most of the things that needed to be prohibited already were. We know what they are. We know what we cannot do. At this point in our growth, Yeshua comes and teaches us how to focus on all the things we can do to honor Hashem's name.
  6. Very interesting would like to know more Some of the translations are misleading it is written to fit the people of today Have a Blessed day
  7. Thank you, Prof. Pinchas, for this further insight @ the Jewish view of burying unknown or abandoned bodies, thus providing more understanding of this parable. This parable was used at a recent burial of a mentally ill person & her small acts of kindness of making free coffee for others w/disabilities. Metaphorically, she was the "outsider" of today's main stream society as was the Samaritan in 1st c. Israel. May she & others like her RIP.
  8. In addition, the Samaritan risked attack, as it all could have been a trap. And he left an open tab with the inn keeper to care for the person's injuries. In other words, compassion without ANY consideration of cost. Very difficult to imitate.
  9. Why was this parable only written in the Gospel of Luke and not found in the other Gospel? Why was it significant to Luke to mention this parable?
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