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Samaritans

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Samaritans marking Passover on Mount Gerizim
Preach to the choir
Religion
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith

Samaritans are an ethno-religious group from the area of Israel and Palestine who have a distinct cultural identity and religion going back around 2500 years. Today there are about 800 Samaritans living in Israel and Palestine.[1] They claim descent from the Israelites (tribes of Menashe and Ephraim) and their religion is closely related to Judaism. They believe that they are descended from the Israelites who stayed behind during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE, and they preserve their religion and traditions, while the other Israelites went to Babylon and came back after 538 BCE with different ideas about how to do things.[1] Some people suggest a slightly later origin, perhaps 5th century BCE. Their main difference with Judaism is whether to worship on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or Mount GerizimWikipedia near Nablus.[2]

The Good Samaritan of the parable was one.

History[edit]

They appear to have been a significant community in Israel/Palestine for some time. After the Jewish-Roman wars (66-136 CE) scattered or killed the Jews, the Samaritans gained greater power and influence and were autonomous in the 3rd and 4th century CE before falling under Byzantine rule. They numbered around one million people in the 5th century.[1] This was before the Samaritan revoltsWikipedia (in the 5th and 6th centuries CE) when they attempted to rise up against the Byzantine Empire and most were killed.

In the Middle Ages and under Ottoman rule, they were at best second-class citizens. Many of those who weren't massacred converted to Christianity or Islam.

Today[edit]

Under the British Mandate for Palestine,Wikipedia they were more protected, although they were very few in number: the 1931 census recorded just 182 in Palestine. Their community was concentrated in Nablus until the First Intifada (1987-1990) when most fled to Kiryat Luza on nearby Mount Gerezim. Their other main home is in Israel, at Holon near Tel Aviv.[1]

Those living in the West Bank at Kiryat Luza speak Arabic and attend Palestinian schools, and many work in Palestinian institutions. Those living in Holon speak modern Hebrew and are required to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces.[1]

In Israel, they are regarded as a stand-alone religious group. Rabbinical authorities view them as a branch of Judaism, but conversion is required for a Samaritan to become a Halakhic Jew.[2]

Religion[edit]

Samaritanism's primary religious text is the Samaritan Pentateuch (or Samaritan Torah), written in a dialect of Hebrew; their version of the Pentateuch has approximately 6,000 differences from the Masoretic text used by Jews. They don't consider the rest of the Jewish Torah to be divinely inspired. Most variations from the Masoretic text are minor, connected with grammar, copying errors, textual conventions, etc. However they seem to have edited Exodus 20:17 to have God tell them to build a temple on Mount Gerezim.[3] Traditionally, their version of the Pentateuch is written in the Samaritan alphabetWikipedia, which is markedly different from the more familiar Hebrew square script, and is closer to the original Phoenician alphabet.

Like the Jews, they celebrate Passover and Sukkot. Unlike the Jews, who gave up the practice long ago, they mark Passover with the sacrifice of large numbers of animals.[1]

Mount Gerezim is still their most sacred place. They believe this is where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, Joshua gathered the tribes after the Exodus, and the Israelites built their tabernacle. Jews claim much of this happened elsewhere.[4]

They are strict about observing the Sabbath. A BBC article reported that none were doctors because they didn't want to have to work on the Sabbath, although it's not clear if that's an instance of their reputedly good sense of humor.[4]

The religion also has an apocalyptic element, with a belief in a messiah (the Taheb) who may be Moses or a similar prophet who will return for the "the day of vengeance" and resurrection of the dead.[5]

Woo[edit]

Real Israelites?[edit]

Some people claim that their religion is closer than Judaism to that of the Israelites before the Babylonian exile. The Samaritans believe they practice the true religion of the Israelites.[6]

The traditional Jewish position is that 2 Kings 17:24 says the Samaritans were brought by the Babylonians to replace the exiled Jewish population, and aren't native to the region. This may be connected with the more general Jewish position that God gave Palestine to them and them alone and everybody else can sod off.

Genetics[edit]

Low-level genetic studies of the uniparental male-only Y chromosomeWikipedia indicate Samaritans are broadly similar in patrilineal descent to some Jewish and other Semitic groups.[7]

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 The Last Samaritans, Israel's Smallest Religious Minority, Culture Trip
  2. 2.0 2.1 SamaritansWikipedia
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Samaritan Pentateuch.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Last of the Good Samaritans, BBC Travel
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Samaritanism.
  6. The other "People of Israel", Quantara
  7. Oefner, P.J., et al., "Genetics and the history of the Samaritans: Y-chromosomal microsatellites and genetic affinity between Samaritans and Cohanim," Human Biology, Dec. 2013, Vol. 85(6), pp. 825-58, https://doi.org/10.3378/027.085.0601.