Tribalism in the Bible


 Am sure you are wondering what the topic is all about but shortly you are going to find out. Today at church (Mamlaka Hill Chapel) the preaching was on Tribalism which is based on the series “the 10 most pressing issues facing Kenyans today.” It was quite interesting to hear the pastor speak on this and he gave very practical and real accounts and examples of how tribalism has affected us as Kenyans, how it continues to be a stigma in the society we live in unless we do something about it.

 What hit me the most is when he mentioned the things that Tribalism come from, and one of the points was “STEREO TYPES.” Why? You may ask. Because this is the thing that as young people we wrestle and battle with today, if your parents (who are not to blame) ever shared stereo types with you about other people groups. Well I don’t need to go into that because you know them, and the most recent one which I still don’t see anything funny about is “PANGA PUFF GIRLS.” Yeah you know this one.

 Am not trying to say that am holier than though, or in a better spiritual place than most, but as everyone was laughing at the jokes (Which were and are really funny hence being jokes) I had a really different outlook and even asked some of you for your opinions on the issue. I viewed that as being hugely a spiritual thing and hence that sapped dry the joke aspect of it from my stand point.  The pastor even happened to mention that Tribalism has spiritual roots that are not from God, and whatever is not of God is automatically of the devil.

 Well that to say, I couldn’t help thinking of Tribalism in the bible. What am talking about is the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus spoke about the Samaritans and even encountered one at a well. You might not know this but the two communities had deep hatred for each other, and it so happens that the Samaritans are Jews, just not pure Jews… what we know as “Pointies.” So here’s a little history about them…

 Israel is divided into three regions: Judea in the south, Galilee in the north, and Samaria in the middle. When a Jew wanted to go from Judea to Galilee, the most direct route led through Samaria. But good Jews would never go that way. They would go through Perea east of the Jordan River. Why?  Because there was such tension between the Jews and the Samaritans that the Jews only uttered the word “Samaritan” as a curse word. I dare to say that if we continue with tribalism then we just might turn out like this… You may be asking how  – forgive me for picking this as an example and saying this or even asking… but doesn’t the word “Kihee” in kikuyu mean uncircumcised? Also the same word is used to refer to Luos? And to call someone that in the Kikuyu community is hugely disrespectful? Chew on that…

 Why were the Samaritans despised? In the year 722 B.C., the Assyrians invaded Israel from the north and carried the majority of the people from the 10 northern tribes into captivity. The Assyrians then sent some of their people to Israel, where they intermarried with the Jews not taken into captivity. The marriage that took place between the Assyrians and the Jews produced the Samaritans, half – breeds in the eyes of Jews.

 Barred from the temple, the Samaritans built their own temple. On Mount Gerizim. Although they still believed in the Pentateuch – the first five books of Moses – They changed the stories though. The garden of Eden was Mount Gerizim, Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Gerizim, and Abraham offered Isaac – you guessed it – On mount Gerizim.

 The book of John 4 talks about the Samaritan woman. The woman meets Jesus at Jacobs well which still stands to date, a hundred and fifty feet deep and is situated at the war torn West Bank. I noticed something really interesting while I was in Sudan which will explain the next point that am about to make. Women would go to the well to draw water in the morning or in the evening because those were the coolest times of the day. This woman (The Samaritan Woman) however, goes to draw water in the middle of the day… why?

 She did this to avoid other women in her community. She already has two strikes against her. First she is a Samaritan and then she is a woman. In Jesus’ day it was forbidden for Rabbis to speak to women in public to such an extent that even if one saw his wife in the street, he would not acknowledge her. A Jewish man would pray in the morning thanking God that he wasn’t a Samaritan, a dog or a woman in that specific order. This explains the woman’s shock when Jesus spoke to her.

 In Luke10:25 – 37 Jesus gives the story about the Good Samaritan in a bid to answer the critical question… “Who is my neighbor?”  We know that at the end of this story the preferred person was the Samaritan and not the Religious leader, nor the lay associate. But let’s look at them closely before jumping to conclusions…

 The priests at the time were the ones who called the shots and controlled the people… more like the politicians of the day. The priest may have looked at the man and thought that the man was a lazy welfare dependent. More over in the book of Numbers19:11 – 13 if a priest touched a dead man he would be unclean for seven days and must purify himself. He could have thought that it was too much to take seven days off.

 The Levites would have been a kin to social workers of our day, after a closer look, this levite passed as well – perhaps worried that had he done otherwise, he would have been vulnerable to being attacked himself. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was widely known as “The Bloody Way” due to the great number of thieves who lay wait for unsuspecting travelers.  The Samaritan however sees this person and goes to great lengths to take care of him.

 Someone wisely said that if we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each enough sorrow and suffering to disarm all of our hostility. The priest and the Levite saw the man as a nuisance to avoid. The Samaritan saw him as a neighbor to love. How do you see people?  As Jews? Samaritans? Luo? Luhya? Kikuyu? Meru? Kamba? Kalenjin? Taita? Embu? Samburu? Maasai?

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” the expert of the Law replied, “The one who had Mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.


Jonathan Siaga