The Good Samaritan, from the Rossana Gospels (Codex Purpureus Rossanensis) by Unknown artist

Unknown artist

The Good Samaritan, from the Rossano Gospels (Codex Purpureus Rossanensis), 6th century, Painted purple vellum, Diocesan Museum, Rossano Cathedral, Italy, Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, fol. 7, © A. De Gregorio / De Agostini Picture Library / Bridgeman Images

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Samaritan Jesus

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The Rossano Gospels, the oldest extant illuminated manuscript of the New Testament Gospels, includes a full-page depiction of the parable of the Good Samaritan in a cycle of illuminations portraying Jesus’s Passion—and situates it between images of Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and his healing of two blind men (on one side) and Jesus’s trial before Pilate (on the other). This placement connects notions of spiritual conversion (symbolized by the healing of the blind) with the idea of redemption through Jesus’s death.

The upper register depicts an allegorical interpretation of the parable that is read from left to right. Jerusalem, or perhaps Jericho, appears on the far left. In the middle, Jesus, as the Good Samaritan (evident by the cross nimbus), ministers to the wounded, bloody man. An angel—in a white robe, with blue wings and a halo—stands on the other side of the man and holds a bowl draped with a white cloth.

The narrative continues to the right in a second scene in which the wounded man, still naked and bloody, sits sidesaddle (making his injuries more visible to the beholder) on the Samaritan’s animal. The man watches as Jesus pays the innkeeper.

The bottom register includes two pairs of figures from the Septuagint with their names inscribed above them—David and Micah, and David and Sirach. All four figures have halos, but King David has a jewel-studded crown, darker clothes, and a breastplate. The four each hold a brief text from the Septuagint, texts that in the context of the illumination serve as prophecies about the parable and about Jesus himself. These verses all further illustrate the allegorical interpretation of the parable: Psalm 94:17 (‘If it had not been that the Lord had helped me, my soul would have sojourned in Hades’); Micah 7:19; Psalm 118:7; and Sirach 18:12 (Filareto and Renzo 2001). The four figures also point upward to Jesus as the Good Samaritan, with their fingers spelling out a four-letter abbreviation of the Greek for ‘Jesus Christ’ (IC XC).

The allegorical portrayal of the Samaritan as Jesus ensures that he is the primary focus of attention. Jesus is the one who, as prophesied in Scripture, ministers to wounded human beings, takes them to the inn/church, and pays the price for their healing/salvation (Gowler 2020: 54–58).



Filareto, Francesco and Luigi Renzo. 2001. Il Codice Purpureo di Rossano: Codex purpureos rossanensis (Rossano: Museo diocesano di arte sacra)

Gowler, David B. 2020 [2017]. The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia (Waco: Baylor Academic Press)

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