The Samaritan religion, also known as Samaritanism, is the national religion of the Samaritans. The Samaritans adhere to the Samaritan Torah, which they believe is the original, unchanged Torah, as opposed to the Torah used by Jews. In addition to the Samaritan Torah, Samaritans also revere their version of the Book of Joshua and recognize some Biblical figures, such as Eli.
Samaritanism is internally described as the religion that began with Moses, unchanged over the millennia that have since passed. Samaritans believe Judaism and the Jewish Torah have been corrupted by time and no longer serve the duties God mandated on Mount Sinai. Jews view the Temple Mount as the most sacred location in their faith, but Samaritans regard Mount Gerizim as their holiest site.
Samaritanism holds that the summit of Mount Gerizim is the true location of God’s Holy Place, as opposed to the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount as Judaism teaches. As such, Samaritans trace their history as a separate entity from the Jews back to the time of Moses, where they believe Joshua laid the foundation for their temple. Samaritan historiography traces the schism itself to the High Priest Eli abandoning Moses’ Tabernacle in favor of Mount Gerizim following Joshua’s death.
Abu l-Fath, who in the 14th century wrote a major work of Samaritan history, comments on Samaritan origins as follows:
A terrible civil war broke out between Eli son of Yafni, of the line of Ithamar, and the sons of Pincus (Phinehas), because Eli son of Yafni resolved to usurp the High Priesthood from the descendants of Pincus. He used to offer sacrifices on an altar of stones. He was 50 years old, endowed with wealth and in charge of the treasury of the Children of Israel. …
He offered a sacrifice on the altar, but without salt, as if he were inattentive. When the Great High Priest Ozzi learned of this, and found the sacrifice was not accepted, he thoroughly disowned him; and it is (even) said that he rebuked him.
Thereupon he and the group that sympathized with him, rose in revolt and at once he and his followers and his beasts set off for Shiloh. Thus Israel split in factions. He sent to their leaders saying to them, Anyone who would like to see wonderful things, let him come to me. Then he assembled a large group around him in Shiloh, and built a Temple for himself there; he constructed a place like the Temple (on Mount Gerizim). He built an altar, omitting no detail—it all corresponded to the original, piece by piece.
At this time the Children of Israel split into three factions. A loyal faction on Mount Gerizim; a heretical faction that followed false gods; and the faction that followed Eli son of Yafni in Shiloh.
Further, the Samaritan Chronicle Adler, or New Chronicle, believed to have been composed in the 18th century using earlier chronicles as sources states:
And the Children of Israel in his days divided into three groups. One did according to the abominations of the Gentiles and served other gods; another followed Eli the son of Yafni, although many of them turned away from him after he had revealed his intentions; and a third remained with the High Priest Uzzi ben Bukki, the chosen place.
Samaritanism emerged as an independent ethnic culture following its survival of the Assyrian captivity in the 8th century BC. Jewish sources attest their own narrative of the origins of the Samaritans. From here there are conflicting proposals, including the Samaritans being the people of Kutha described in the Talmud. The traditional Jewish narrative of 2 Kings and Josephus, details the people of Israel were removed by the king of the Assyrians (Sargon II) to Halah, to Gozan on the Khabur River and to the towns of the Medes. The king of the Assyrians then brought people from Babylon, Kutha, Avah, Emath, and Sepharvaim to place in Samaria. Because God sent lions among them to kill them, the king of the Assyrians sent one of the priests from Bethel to teach the new settlers about God’s ordinances. The eventual result was that the new settlers worshiped both the God of the land and their own gods from the countries from which they came. However, genetic studies showed the Samaritans are almost definitely descendants of the historical Israelite population, albeit isolated given the people’s reclusive history. This casts doubt into, if not totally disproves, this historical theory that Samaritans originated from Assyria.
Furthermore, the Dead Sea scroll 4Q372, which recounts the hope that the northern tribes will return to the land of Joseph, remark that the current dwellers in the north are fools, an enemy people, but they are not explicitly referred to as foreigners. It goes on to say that these people, the Samaritans, mocked Jerusalem and built a temple on a high place (Gerizim) to provoke Israel.
Conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews were numerous between the end of the Assyrian diaspora and to the Bar Kokhba revolt. The Tanakh describes multiple instigations from the Samaritan population against the Jews and disparages them, Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan also gives evidence of conflict. The destruction of Mount Gerizim’s Samaritan temple is attributed to the High Priest John Hyrcanus.
Following the failed revolts, Mount Gerizim was rededicated with a new temple, which was ultimately again destroyed during the Samaritan Revolts. Persecution of Samaritans was common in the following centuries.
The principle beliefs of Samaritanism are as follows:
- There is one God, Yahweh, the same God recognized by the Hebrew prophets. Faith is in the unity of the Creator which is absolute unity. It is the cause of the causes, and it fills the entire world. His nature can not be understood by human beings, but according to his actions and according to his revelation to his people and the kindness he showed them.
- The Torah is the only true holy book, and was given by God to Moses. The Torah was created before the creation of the world and whoever believes in it is assured a part in the World to Come. The status of the Torah in Samaritanism as the only holy book causes Samaritans to reject the Oral Torah, Talmud, and all prophets and scriptures except for Joshua, whose book in the Samaritan community is significantly different from the Book of Joshua in the Tanakh/Old Testament. Essentially, the authority of all post-Torah sections of the Tanakh, and classical Jewish Rabbinical works (the Talmud, comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara) is rejected. Moses is considered the only prophet who ever arose.
- Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is the one true sanctuary chosen by Israel’s God. The Samaritans do not recognize the sanctity of Jerusalem and do not recognize Mount Moriah.
- The apocalypse, called “the day of vengeance”. At the end of days, in which a figure called the Taheb (essentially the Samaritan equivalent of the Jewish Messiah) from the tribe of Joseph, be it Ephraim or Manessah, who will be a prophet like Moses (though some say he will be Moses) for forty years, and bring about the return of all the Israelites, following which the dead will be resurrected. The Taheb will then discover the tent of Moses’ Tabernacle on Mount Gerizim, and will be buried next to Joseph when he dies.
Festivals and observances
The Samaritans have retained an offshoot of the Ancient Hebrew script, a High Priesthood, the slaughtering and eating of lambs on Passover eve, and the celebration of the first month’s beginning around springtime as the New Year. Yom Teru’ah (the Biblical name for “Rosh Hashanah“), at the beginning of Tishrei, is not considered a New Year as it is in Rabbinic Judaism.
Passover is particularly important in the Samaritan community, climaxing with the sacrifice of up to 40 sheep. The Counting of the Omer remains largely unchanged; however, the week before Shavuot is a unique festival celebrating the continued commitment Samaritanism has maintained since the time of Moses. Shavuot is characterized by nearly day-long services of continuous prayer, especially over the stones on Gerizim traditionally attributed to Joshua.
During Sukkot, the sukkah is built inside houses, as opposed to outdoor settings that are traditional among Jews. Samaritan historian Benyamim Tsedaka traces the indoor-sukkah tradition to persecution of Samaritans during the Byzantine Empire. The roof of the Samaritan sukkah is decorated with citrus fruits and the branches of palm, myrtle, and willow trees, according to the Samaritan interpretation of the four species designated in the Torah for the holiday.
The restrictions of Yom Kippur are more universal in Samaritanism, with even breastfeeding and the feeding of children being disallowed.
Samaritan law differs from Halakha (Rabbinic Jewish law) and other Jewish movements. The Samaritans have several groups of religious texts, which correspond to Jewish Halakha. A few examples of such texts are:
- Samaritan Pentateuch: There are some 6,000 differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Jewish Pentateuch text; and, according to one estimate, 1,900 points of agreement between it and the Greek LXX version. Several passages in the New Testament would also appear to echo a Torah textual tradition not dissimilar to that conserved in the Samaritan text. There are several theories regarding the similarities. The variations, some corroborated by readings in the Old Latin, Syriac and Ethiopian translations, attest to the antiquity of the Samaritan text, although the exact date of composition is still largely unclear. Granted special attention is the so-called “Abisha Scroll”, a manuscript of the Pentateuch tradition attributed to Abishua, grandson of Aaron, traditionally compiled during the Bronze Age. However, testing on the scroll revealed it was created no earlier than the 14th century CE, in fact around a century younger than the world’s oldest Torah scroll.
- Historical writings
- Samaritan Chronicle, The Tolidah (Creation to the time of Abishah)
- Samaritan Chronicle, The Chronicle of Joshua (Israel during the time of divine favor) (4th century, in Arabic and Aramaic)
- Samaritan Chronicle, Adler (Israel from the time of divine disfavor until the exile)
- Hagiographical texts
- Samaritan Halakhic Text, The Hillukh (Code of Halakha, marriage, circumcision, etc.)
- Samaritan Halakhic Text, the Kitab at-Tabbah (Halakha and interpretation of some verses and chapters from the Torah, written by Abu Al Hassan 12th century CE)
- Samaritan Halakhic Text, the Kitab al-Kafi (Book of Halakha, written by Yosef Al Ascar 14th century CE)
- Al-Asatir—legendary Aramaic texts from the 11th and 12th centuries, containing:
- Haggadic Midrash, Abu’l Hasan al-Suri
- Haggadic Midrash, Memar Markah—3rd or 4th century theological treatises attributed to Hakkam Markha
- Haggadic Midrash, Pinkhas on the Taheb
- Haggadic Midrash, Molad Maseh (On the birth of Moses)
- Defter, prayer book of psalms and hymns.
- Samaritan Haggadah
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia