Jesus and the Reduction of Intergroup Conflict
Philip F. Esler
The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) is one of the most cherished of all New Testament passages. The secondary literature on the parable, which forms part of the larger passage comprising Luke 10:25–37, is immense, and I will not attempt to summarize it here.1 Many scholars regard the parable as having been uttered by the historical Jesus,2 and I return to this issue later. In this essay, I assume that the parable is either authentic or that, even if Luke composed it (the view I prefer), he so well understood—and here passed on— the message of Jesus that perhaps it does not matter much whether it comprises Jesus’ authentic words or not.
In this essay, I discuss Luke 10:25–37 within a new exegetical framework derived from social-scientific ideas relating to intergroup conflict and its reduction. Although my approach is essentially historical, in that my principal aim is to investigate the message that the passage would have communicated to its initial recipients, I am also keenly interested in the relevance that my social-scientific perspective and exegesis may have in contemporary interethnic relationships, as I indicate below. I am heartened to see that Gerd Theissen (1990) has also sought to relate the parable of the good Samaritan directly to a modern issue, namely, the current crisis surrounding the legitimacy of charitable assistance.
I employ two areas of social-scientific research to aid this historical investigation. First is anthropological research into the broad features of Mediterranean culture, which has helped generate an invaluable model for investigating the bedrock social context of biblical texts. This model is now so well known, especially from Bruce Malina’s book The New Testament World (1981; 3d ed., 2001) and other research,3 that I only refer to it briefly where