“But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity” (NRSV, Luke 10:33)
The lawyer to whose question “And who is my neighbour?” we owe the Parable of the Good Samaritan, was not a lawyer in the modern sense, but an expert in the Jewish Law – what we would call an Old Testament scholar, commentator and exponent.
As regards the characters in the parable itself, the priest was not a resident of Jerusalem but officiated at the Temple sacrifices in a part-time capacity for a spell of one week twice a year. The Levite was one of the Temple servers or choirmen whose duties were also arranged according to a rota.
The Samaritan was a native of Samaria, an area in the centre of Palestine west of the Jordan and situated between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north. Its inhabitants, who were historically of mixed race, professed the Jewish religion in an unorthodox form and, until it was destroyed by the Jews in 128 BC, had their own temple in opposition to the one in Jerusalem. They were thus both heretics and schismatics, and a most bitter mutual hatred of 400 years’ standing existed between them and the Jews.