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The Good Samaritan 
an article from
A Dictionary of the Biblical Tradition in English Literature, ed. David Lyle Jeffrey, 
(c) 1992 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.  
Used by permission; all rights reserved.  
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GOOD SAMARITAN The parable of the good Samaritan is told in Luke 10:30-35 in response to a lawyer’s request for a definition of “neighbor” in the second of the great commandments: “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus tells the story to make evident that a good neighbor comes sometimes from the least expected quarter and that true charity transcends the limits of community. A traveler is set upon by thieves, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Two subsequent travelers, a priest and a Levite, observe his tattered body, but hasten on their way. A third, who would have been considered both an alien and a moral inferior, stops to give aid, then carries the man to a hospice where he undertakes for his recuperation expenses. The Samaritan was far from a socius to the Jew, and Jesus’ story would have shocked his hearers, whose expectation would have been that such a “reprobate” would more likely have finished off what the muggers had begun. The parable is intended to chasten self-righteousness.

The earliest allegorization of the parable is provided by Origen (Hom. 34 (PG 13.1886)), who may well be reflecting the exegesis of apostolic times. He writes:

…the man who went down is Adam; Jerusalem means Paradise; Jericho, the world; the robbers, the enemy powers; the Priest stands for the Law; the Levite for the Prophets; the Samaritan for Christ. The wounds stand for our disobedience; the beast, the body of the Lord. The common house, that is the inn, which receives all who wish to enter it, is interpreted as the Church. Furthermore, the two denarii are understood to mean the Father and the Son; the innkeeper, the Head of the Church, to whom the plan of redemption and its means have been entrusted. And concerning that which the Samaritan promises at his return, this was a figure of the Second Coming of the Saviour.
This teaching reached the West in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of Origen and is faithfully transmitted by St. Ambrose (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam (PL 15.1806), St. Augustine (Quaestiones Evangeliorum (PL 35.1340)), and the Venerable Bede (In Lucae Evangelium Expositio (PL 92.469)) among the most noteworthy.

As the Samaritan pericope came to be employed in the liturgy, its exegesis became even more widely known; portions of Bede’s commentary on this passage were, e.g., used in several lessons at Matins in the Roman and Sarum rites. Liturgical commentators such as Rupert of Deutz (De Divinis Officiis (PL 170.322), Sicard of Cremona (Mitrale (PL 213.396)), and especially Guillaume Durandus (Rationale Divinorurn Officiorum, 6.127), using the other scriptural texts of the proper of the Mass, explain the Samaritan’s remedies in terms of the sacraments of baptism, penance, and the Eucharist.

It is in liturgical homilies rather than the poetry of the OE period that one encounters the Samaritan parable and its traditional exegesis. Two homilies (ed. R. Morris, EETS o.s. 29 and 34 (1868)) for Christmas Day use the Samaritan parable in a discussion of the Incarnation and its place in salvation history. Striking use of the parable and its biblical and liturgical exegesis in ME occurs in Langland’s Piers Plowman where Will, after meeting with Faith and Hope, encounters Charity in the person of the Samaritan. Passus 17 of the B text employs the Samaritan episode to sum up preceding developments in Will’s quest for firsthand knowledge of Christ and salvation and to point the way to the poem’s climax in Passus 18. There, Christ “semblable to the Samaritan and somedel to Piers the Plowman” jousts with Death in Langland’s depiction of the Passion and harrowing of hell.

Although Spenser makes no extended use of the parable in the Faerie Queene, his wounded characters are generally treated in a manner sufficiently resembling the Samaritan’s to lead critics to believe that he had Luke’s text in mind (e.g. 1.5.17;; 3.28).

Fielding puts the parable to excellent satirical use in the twelfth chapter of Joseph Andrews. The cries of Joseph, lying wounded and bloody by the roadside, are heard by the passengers in a passing coach. A lawyer, a “man of wit,” a haughty lady, and several other characters are all anxious to pass by. When after much debate among the passengers Joseph is rescued, it is because the passengers fear some legal action if Joseph dies. A further debate follows about clothing the naked Joseph, and it is a postillion, “a lad who hath been since transported for robbing a hensroost,” who gives Joseph “his only garment, at the same time swearing a great oath (for which he was rebuked by the passengers) that he would rather ride in his shirt all his life than suffer a fellow-creature to be in so miserable a condition.”

Brief sarcastic allusions to Samaritan-like behavior or lack of it in certain characters are found in Byron’s Don Juan (5.955-58) and the “Age of Bronze” (690-91), as well as Browning’s “Inn Album” (946-47). As is indicated in the full title of Thackeray’s novel The Adventures of Philip on His Way Through the World; Shewing Who Robbed Him, Who Helped Him, and Who Passed Him By, the Samaritan parable acts as the novel’s framework for the various trials of Philip Firmin and as a model to test the charity and loyalty of those around him. In The Way of All Flesh (chap. 57), Samuel Butler describes Ernest Fontifex as having fallen “among a gang of spiritual thieves,” and Ernest himself feels “as though if he was to be saved, a good Samaritan must hurry up from somewhere — he knew not whence.”

Bibliography. Gerhardsson, B. The Good Samaritan —The Good Shepherd? (1958); Manson, T. The Sayings of Jesus (1949), 259-63; Marshall, I. H. The Gospel of Luke (1978), 440-50.