Who were the Samaritans? Why were they so despised by the Jews?
Before Samaria existed or any Samaritan ever walked the earth, the nation of Israel split into two separate nations. The Northern Kingdom was composed of ten of the tribes of Israel, and would come to be known as Israel, while the Southern Kingdom had a few of the ten tribes from the Northern Kingdom, but was primarily composed of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites (the priests). The Northern Kingdom quickly fell into idolatry and was prophesied to be taken into captivity. Originally, King Omri “bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he fortified the hill and called the name of the city that he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill” (1 Kings 16:24), so Samaria was named after its former owner (Shemer). In Samaria, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) would set up idolatrous practices throughout the land, but the nation would eventually be taken into captivity by the Assyrians. The Assyrians would resettle some of the former Israelites in with other pagan people’s into Samaria, but later they would be referred to as half-breeds by the Jews, so they were despised, even up to Jesus’ day. Today, some Samaritans claim that they still exist and state that they are still part of the old Israelite kingdom; descendants of the 10 Northern Israelite tribes who survived the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
The Samaritans had a hodgepodge of different people and practiced a multitude of different religions, and as Israel’s captivity approached, the nation fell into even more despicable practices. Some even began to sacrifice their children in the fire! Religion couldn’t get any worse than that, and now the Israelites were caught up in the things that God had warned them about. It says that “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idol” (1 Kings 16:25-26). There were idols everywhere in Samaria. That was another reason that the Southern Kingdom (Judah, or the Jews) thought of the Samaritans as unclean, and even in Jesus’ day, they were hated even more than the conquering Romans were. After Ahab, the son of Omri reigned, he built a house of worship for Baal and “laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub” (1 Kings 16:34). Israel could sink no lower than to be sacrificing their own children in the fire, and to a god that is no god at all, but is merely a representation for Satan himself in Baal.
Woman at the Well
The Samaritans do see their roots as being in Israel, and they have some inherent genetics of the people of Abraham, but by the time Jesus earthly ministry took place, the Jews hated the Samaritans and would go out of their way to avoid them. The Parable of the Good Samaritan shows their severe distaste for Samaritans (Luke 10:30-32), but ironically, the Samaritan was the only one who did the right thing (Luke 10:33-35). The Jews would avoid going through Samaria, even if it meant they had to walk an extra twenty miles. That’s how badly they hated the Samaritans, but Jesus took a different approach to the Samaritans…and to women. When Jesus went into Samaria, He was thirsty, so went to a well and saw a Samaritan woman. In Jesus’ day, the Jews never openly or in publically spoke with a woman, not to mention a Samaritan woman, but Jesus never followed human traditions, so “Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7). Then He tells her about the living water, which speaks of Himself, and He said that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). He tells her that worship is not so much about a place, like Jerusalem, but “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:24). It wasn’t the place but the Person whom they would worship, and it would no longer only be in Jerusalem where true worship would take place. When Jesus’ “disciples came back…they marveled that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27), and even more remarkable, a Samaritan woman. The lesson would be that those we might think of as unworthy to worship God or even associate with, may be the very ones God is calling to worship.
The Samaritans were seen as the enemy of the Jews. Half-breeds and traitors of God, but ironically, so were the Jews who had exchanged their own human traditions for the Law of God. Jesus told the religious leaders that you are “making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this” (Matt 7:13), telling them that “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die” (Matt 7:9-10). Tragically, they weren’t even taking care of their own parents (Matt 7:11-13), thus, they were breaking the 5th Commandment. Rather than looking down at the Samaritans, they should have looked inward at their own hearts. They should have known better than to condemn others (like the Samaritans). That’s why Jesus condemned their hypocrisy, and He quoted Isaiah the Prophet (29:13) in saying, it was “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 7:7). We cannot look down upon others we consider unredeemable, because God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). And even many Samaritans could be (and were) saved (John 4:38-42).
Here is some related reading for you: Samaritan Woman at the Well; Bible Story and Lessons 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.