1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Samaritans

SAMARITANS. This term, which primarily means “ inhabitants of Samaritis, or the region of Samaria, ” is specially used, in the New Testament and by Josephus, as the name of a peculiar religious community which had its headquarters in the Samaritan country, and is still represented by a few families at Nablus, the ancient Shechem. By the Jews they are called Shomronim, a gentilic form from Shomron=Samaria; among themselves they sometimes use the name Shemérem (=Heb. Shomerim) which is explained to mean “ Keepers, ” sc. of the Law, but they usually style themselves “ Israel ” or “ Children of Israel.” They claim to be descendants of the ten tribes, and to possess the orthodox religion of Moses, accepting the Pentateuch and transmitting it in a Hebrew text which for the most part has only slight variations from that of the Jews. But they regard the Jewish temple and priesthood as schismatical, and declare that the true sanctuary chosen by God is not Zion but Mount Gerizim, over against Shechem (St John iv. 20). The sanctity of this site they prove from the Pentateuch, reading Gerizim for Ebal in Deut. xxvii. 4. With this change the chapter is interpreted as a command to select Gerizim as the legitimate sanctua.ry (cf. verse 7). Moreover, in Exod. xx. 17 and Deut. v. 21 a commandment (taken from Deut. xxvii.) is found in the Samaritan text, at the close of the Decalogue, giving directions to build an altar and do sacrifice on Gerizirn, from which of course it follows that not only the temple of Zion but the earlier shrine at Shiloh and the priesthood of Eli were schismatical. Such at least is the express statement of the later Samaritans: in earlier times, as they had no sacred books except the Pentateuch, they probably ignored the Whole history between Joshua and the captivity, thus escaping many difficulties. According to modern views the books of Moses were not reduced to their present form till after the exile, when their regulations were clearly intended to apply to the rebuilt temple of Zion. The Samaritans must' in that case have derived their Pentateuch from the Jews after Ezra's reforms of 444 B.C. Before that time Samaritanism cannot have existed in the form in which we know it, but there must have been a community ready to accept the Pentateuch. The city of Samaria had been taken by Assyria (2 Kings xvii. 6 sqq. and xviii. 9-11) in 722 B.C., and the inhabitants deported, but in point of fact the district of Mount Ephraim was not entirely stripped of its old Hebrew population by this means. In the Annals of Sargon the number of the exiles is put at 27,290, representing no doubt the more prominent of the inhabitants, for this number cannot include the whole of N. Israel. The poorer sort must have remained on the land, and among them the worship of Jehovah went on as before at the old shrines of N. Israel, but probably corrupted by the religious rites of the new settlers. The account of the country given in 2 Kings xvii. 2 5 seq. dwells only on the partial adoption of Jehovah-worship by the foreigners settled in the land, and by no means implies that these constituted the whole population. Josiah extended his reforms to Bethel and other Samaritan cities (2 Kings xxiii. 19), and the narrative shows that at that date things were going on at the N. sanctuaries much as they had done in the time of Amos and Hosea. To a considerable extent his efforts to make Jerusalem the sanctuary of Samaria as well as of Judah must have been successful, for in Jer. xli. 5 we find fourscore men from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria making a pilgrimage to “ the house of Jehovah, ” after the catastrophe of Zedekiah. It is therefore not surprising that the people of this district came to Zerubbabel and Jeshua after the restoration, claiming to be of the same religion with the Jews and asking to be associated in the rebuilding of the Temple. They were rejected by the leaders of the new theocracy, who feared the result of admitting men of possibly mixed blood and of certainly questionable orthodoxy; and so the Jehovah-worshippers of Samaria were driven to the ranks of “ the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin ” (Ezra iv.). Nevertheless, down to the time of Nehemiah, the breach was not absolute; but the expulsion from Jerusalem in 432 B.C. of a man of high-priestly family (Neh. xiii. 28), who had married a daughter of Sanballat, made it so. It can hardly be doubted that this priest is the Manasseh of Josephus (Ant. xi. 8), who carried the Pentateuch to Shechem, and for whom the temple of Gerizim was perhaps built. For, though the story in Josephus is put a century too late and is evidently based on a confusion, it agrees with Neh. xiii. in essentials too closely to be altogether rejected,[1] and supplies exactly what is wanted to explain the existence in Shechem of a community bitterly hostile to the Jews, yet constituted in obedience to Ezra’s Pentateuch.

It is remarkable that, having got the Pentateuch, they followed it with a fidelity as exact as that of the Jews, except in regard to the sanctuary on Mt Gerizim. The text of the sacred book was transmitted with as much conscientiousness as was observed by Jewish scribes;[2] and even from the unwilling witness of the Jews[3] we gather that they fulfilled all righteousness with scrupulous punctiliousness so far as the letter of the law was concerned. They did not however, receive the writings even of the prophets of N. Israel (all of which are preserved to us only by the Jews) nor the later oral law[4] as developed by the Pharisees.

But although these differences separated the two communities, their internal development and external history ran parallel courses till the Jewish state tookia new departure under the Maccabees. The religious resemblance between the two bodies was increased by the institution of the synagogue, from which there grew up a Samaritan theology and an exegetical tradition. The latter is embodied in the Samaritan Targum, or Aramaic version of the Pentateuch, which in its present form is probably not much earlier than the 4th century A.D., but in general is said to agree with the readings of Origen's τὸ Σαμαρειτικον. Whether the latter represents a complete translation of the Law into Greek may be doubted, but at any rate the Samaritans began already in the time of Alexander to be influenced by Hellenism. They as well as Jews were carried to Egypt by Ptolemy Lagi, and the rivalry of the two parties was continued in Alexandria (Jos. Ant. xii. 1. 1), where such a translation may have been produced. Of the Samaritan contributions to Hellenistic literature some fragments have been preserved in the remains of Alexander Polyhistor.[5]

The troubles that fell upon the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes were not escaped by the Samaritans (2 Macc. v. 23; vi. 2), for the account in Josephus (Ant. xii. 5. 5), which makes them voluntarily exchange their religion for the worship of the Grecian Zeus, is evidently coloured to suit the author's hostility. Under the Maccabees their relations with Judaea became very bitter. They suffered severely at the hands of Hyrcanus, and the temple on Mt Gerizim, was destroyed. Although this treatment established an unalterable enmity to the Jews, as we see in the New Testament, in Josephus and in Jewish tradition, the two sects had too much in common not to unite occasionally against a common enemy, anduin the struggles of the Jews with Vespasian the Samaritans took part against the Romans. They were not, however, consistent. for under Hadrian they helped the Romans against the Jews and were allowed to rebuild their temple on Mt Gerizim. They seem to have shared in the Jewish dispersion, since in later times we hear of Samaritans and their synagogues in Egypt, in Rome and in other parts of the empire. In the 4th century they enjoyed a certain degree of prosperity, according to their own chronicles, under Baba the Great, who (re-)established their religious and social organization. In 484, in consequence of attacks on the Christians, the Gerizim temple was finally destroyed by the Romans; and an insurrection in 529 was suppressed by Justinian so effectively that, while retaining their distinctive religion, they became henceforth politically merged in the surrounding population, with a merely domestic history. They are mentioned in later times by the Jewish travellers Benjamin of Tudela (1173) and Obadiah Bertinoro (1488 in Egypt), by Sir-John Maundeville and others, but little was known of them in Europe till Scaliger opened communications with them in 1583.[6] In consequence of the interest thus aroused, the traveller Pietro della Valle visited them in 1616 and succeeded in o btaining a copy of their Pentateuch and of their Targum. Towards the end of the same century Robert Huntington (afterwards bishop of Raphoe), who was chaplain to the Turkey merchants at Aleppo, interested himself in them[7] and acquired some interesting manuscripts now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Since his time there has been intermittently a good deal of correspondence with them,[8] and in recent years owing to the increased facilities for travelling they have been much visited by tourists, not altogether for their good, as well as by scholars. At the present day they live only at Nablus (Shechem), about 150 in number, the congregations formerly existing in Gaza, Cairo, Damascus and elsewhere having long since died out. Politically they are under the Turkish governor of Nablus; their ecclesiastical head is the “Priest-levite” (in 1909 Jacob b. Aaron), who claims descent from Uzziel the younger son of Kohath (Exod. vi. 18). The line of the high-priests, so called as being descended from Aaron, became extinct in 1623.

In religion, since they recognize no sacred book but the Pentateuch, they agree with the Jews in such doctrines and observances only as are enjoined in the law of Moses. They do not therefore observe the feast of Purim, nor the fast of the 9th of Ab, nor any of the later rabbinical extensions or modifications of the law. It is this conservatism which has caused them to be confused with the Sadducees, who likewise rejected the later traditional teachin; but it is not correct to say that they deny the resurrection gas Epiphanius, Haeres. ix., and others) and the existence of angels (Leontius, de Sectis, ii. 8), or that they are entirely free from later religious developments. Briefly summarized, their creed is as follows: (a) God is one, and in speaking of Him all anthropomorphic expressions are to be avoided: creation was effected by his worcll divine appearances in the Pentateuch are to be explained as vicarious, by means of angels (so as early as the 4th century A.D.); (b) Moses is the only prophet: all who have since claimed to be so are deceivers; (c) the Law, which was created with the world, is the only divine revelation; (d) Mt Gerizim is the house of God, the only centre of worship; (e) there will be a da of judgment. Closely connected with this are the doctrines (also llhund in the 4th century) of a future life and of a messiah (Ta’eb), who shall end the period of God's displeasure (Fanuta) under which his people have suffered since the schism of Eli and the disappearance of the Ark, and shall restore Israel to favour (Re’uta, Riḍwân).

The Samaritan language properly so called is a dialect of Palestinian Aramaic, of which the best examples are found in the literature of the 4th century A.D. An archaic alphabet, derived from the old Hebrew, was retained, and is still used by them for writing Aramaic. Hebrew and sometimes even Arabic. After the Moslem conquest of Syria in 632 the native dialect of Aramaic gradually died out, and by the 11th century Arabic had become the literary as well as the popular language In the Liturgy Hebrew was no doubt used from the earliest times side by side with Aramaic, and after the 11th century it became, in a debased form, the only language for new liturgical compositions.

The literature of the Samaritans is, like that of the Jews, almost entirely of a religious character Reference has been made above to Samaritan Hellenistic works which have perished except for a few fragments. According to Samaritan tradition, their books were destroyed under Hadrian and Commodus, but of the language and contents of them nothing is recorded There can be no doubt that some, perhaps much, of the literature has been lost, for nothing[9] is extant which can be dated before the 4th century A.D. The Targum, or Samaritan-Aramaic version of the Pentateuch was most probably written down about that time, though it was clearly based on a much older tradition and must have undergone various recensions. To the same period belong the liturgical compositions of Amram Darah and Marqah, and the latter’s midrashic commentary (called the “Book of Wonders”) on parts of the Pentateuch, all in Aramaic. With the possible exception of one or two hymns there is nothing further till the 11th century when there appears the Arabic version of the Pentateuch, usually ascribed to Abu Sa'id, but perhaps really by Abu'l-hasan[10] of Tyre, who also wrote three Arabic treatises, still extant, on theological subjects, besides some hymns. Of the same date (1053) is an anonymous commentary[11] on Genesis, preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (MS. Opp. add. 4°, 99), interesting because it quotes from books of the Bible other than the Pentateuch. In the 12th century, Munajja[12] and his son Sadaqah wrote on theology; the earlier part of the chronicle called al-Taulidah[13] was compiled, in Hebrew (1149); and about the same time treatises on Grammar[14] by Abu Sa'id and Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Faraj. The next 100 years were rather barren. Ghazal ibn-al-Duwaik, who wrote on the story of Balak and on the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, is said to have lived in the 13th century, and another chronicle (in Arabic), called the Book of Joshua, is dated about the same time by T. W. I. Juynbolli[15] In the second half of the 14th century lived three important liturgical writers, Abisha b. Phinehas (ob. 1376), Abdallah b. Solomon and Sa'd-allah (or Sa'd-ed-din) b. Sadaqah: Abu'l-fath, who composed his chronicle[16] in 1355: a high priest Phinehas, author of a lexicon: and the anonymous writer of the commentary on the Kitab al-as atir,[17] a work, ascribed to Moses, containing legends of the Patriarchs. Another famous liturgist Abraham Qabazi lived in the early part of the 16th century, and his pupil Isma'll Rumaihi in 1537 wrote a work on the praise of Moses. Probably about the same time, or a little later, is another anonymous commentary on Genesis in the Huntington Collection in the Bodleian Library (NIS. Hunt. 301). Several members of the Danfi family were prominent in the 18th century as liturgists, among them Abraham b. Jacob, wh0 also wrote a commentary [18] on Gen.-Num., and of the levitical family Ghazal ibn Abi Sarur, who commented on Gen.-Exod. Another Ghazal (=Tabiah n. Isaac), priest-levite, who died in 1786, was a considerable writer of liturgy. Subsequent authors are few and of little interest. Mention need only be made of the chronicle[19] written (i.e. compiled) in Hebrew by Ab Sakhwah (=Murjan[20]) b. As'ad, of the Danfi family, in 1900, chiefly on the basis of al-Taulidah and Abu'l-fath; an Arabic chronicle[21] by Phinehas b. Isaac (ob. 1898) of the levitical family; and a theological work,[22] also in Arabic, by the present priest-levite, Jacob b. Aaron.

Bibliography.—General: Nutt, Fragments of a Samaritan Targum . . . with . . . a Sketch of Sam. History, &c. (London, 1874); Montgomery, The Samaritans (Philadelphia, 1907), an excellent account with full bibliography; Petermann, Brevis ling. sam. grammatica (Porta Lingg. Orient.), Leipzig, 1873; Steinschneiider, Die arabische Literatur d. Judeh, p. 319 sqq. (Frankfurt, 1902 .

Texts: the Pentateuch in the Paris and London Polyglotts; separately by Blayney (Oxford, 1790). A critical edition is in preparation by the F reiherr von Gall. Targum in the Polyglotts; reprinted in square character by Brull (Frankfurt, 1874–1879); with critical apparatus by Petermann and Vollers (Berolini, 1872–1891); cf. also Nutt, op. oil.; Kohn, “Zur Sprache . . . der Samaritaner,” pt. ii. (Leipzig, 1876) (in Abharzdlungen f. d. Kimde d. Morgenlandes, v. 4); Kahle, Textkrilische . . . Bemerkungen . . . (Leipzig, 1898) and Zeilsch. f. Assyr. xvi., xvii. Arabic version, ed. by Kuenen (Gen.-Lev.)', Lugd. Bat. (1851); cf. Bloch, Die Sam.-arab. Peril.-ilberseb zung, Deut. i.-xi. (Berlin, 1901); Kahle, Die arab. Bibeliiberselzungerl (Leipzig, 1904); Heidenheim, Der Commeritar Marqahs (Weimar, 1896). Parts also in dissertations by Baneth (1888), Munk (1890), Emmerich (1897), Hildesheimer (1898). Various texts and translations, mostly liturgical, in Heidenheim’s Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift (Gotha, 1864–1865, Zurich 1867–?) often incorrect, cf. Geiger in ZDMG, xvi.-xxii. Cowley, The Samaritan Liturgy (Oxford, 1909), text and introduction. For editions of other works see the foregoing footnotes.  (A. Cy.) 

  1. There are, however, many difficulties in the story, which is not rendered clearer by references to Sanballat in the documents from Elephantine (dated in 408/407 B.C.) published by Sachau in the Abhandlungen d. Kgl. preuss. Akad. d. Wiss. for 1907.
  2. This appears by the frequent agreement of the Samaritan Pentateuch with the Septuagint. The Samaritan character is an independent development of the old Hebrew writing, as it was about the time when they first got the Pentateuch, and this in itself is an indication that from the first their text ran a separate course. Differences between MSS. existed down to the time of the Massoretes (see art. Hebrew), and it was from one of these divergent texts that the Samaritan was derived, the Septuagint from another. But while the Jews constantly revised their text with skill and success, the rigid conservatism of the Samaritans prevented any changes except the corruptions naturally due to human infirmity. The story that they possess a copy of the Law written by Abisha, the great-grandson of Aaron, seems to have aroused a strangely widespread interest, so that tourists invariably ask to see it and usually claim to have succeeded in doing so. Considering the extreme reverence with which it is regarded, it may safely be said that this manuscript is never shown to them. The origin of the legend is no doubt due to a pious fraud. It is first mentioned by Abu'l-fath in 1355, from which year its “invention” dates. Obviously an old copy would be chosen for the pur ose of such a discovery, but it is unlikely to be earlier than the 10th or 11th century A.D.
  3. Not, indeed, without exceptions, nor at all periods, but such is the general intention of the Massekheth Kuthim; see Montgomery, Samaritans, cap. x.
  4. For details see Nutt, Fragments, p. 37, and more fully, Montgomery, l.c. No doubt, in addition to the legal ordinances, the Samaritans retained some ancient traditional practices (cf. Gaster in Transactions of the 3rd Internat. Congr. for the History of Religions, i. p. 299, Oxford, 1908), or introduced some new observances. Their Passover, for instance, has some peculiar features, one of which, the application of the sacrificial blood to the faces of the children, has a parallel in the old Arabic ʽaqiah. See the account of an eye-witness (Professor Socin) in Baedeke’s Palestine; Mills, Three Months’ Residence at Nablus (London, 1864), p. 248; Stanley, The Jewish Church i. app. iii.
  5. Chiefly in quotations by Eusebius (Praep. Ev., ed. Gifford, Oxon., 1903, bk. ix. 17). See Freudenthal, Hellenistische Studien, i., ' ii. (Breslau, 1875); Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Eng. ed., 1891), ii. 3. p. 197.
  6. See Eichhorn’s Repertorium, xiii. p. 257.
  7. See his letters ed. by T. Smith (London, 1704).
  8. See especially de Sacy in Notices et extraits, xii. The later letters are of less interest.
  9. Except, of course, the Pentateuch itself (see Bible) which cannot be properly regarded as a Samaritan work.
  10. So Kahle, see the bibliography.
  11. See Neubauer in Journ. asiat. (1873), p. 341.
  12. See Wreschner, Samarilarzische T raditionen (Berlin, 1888).
  13. Ed. by Neubauer in Journ. axial. (1869). The chronicle was continued in 1346, and was subsequently brought down to 1856–1857 by the present priest.
  14. See Noldcke, Gall. Gel. Nachr. (1862), Nos. 17, 20.
  15. Chronicon Sam .... Liber Josuae (Lugd. Bat., 1848). It narrates the history from the death of Moses to the 4th century A.D. and is derived from sources of various dates. A Hebrew book of Joshua announced by Gaster in The Times of June 9, 1908, and published in ZDMG, vol. 62 (1908) pt. ii., is a modern compilation; see Yahuda in Sitsgsber. d. Kgl. Preuss. Akad. (1908), p. 887; and Gaster's reply in ZDMG, 62, pt. iii.
  16. Ed. by Vilmar (Gotha, 1865). Partly translated by Payne Smith in Heidenheim's VicrteUahrs5chrift, vol. ii.
  17. Translated by Leitner in Heid. Viert. iv. 184, &c.
  18. An account of the work (of which the only MS. is in Berlin) was given by Geiger in ZDJIIG, xx. p. 143 and later. Parts of it were published as dissertations by Klumel in 1902 and Hanover 1904.
  19. Ed. by E. N. Adler and M. Seligsohn in the Revue des études juices, vols. 44-46.
  20. The same who compiled Gaster's book of Joshua.
  21. Mentioned by Yahuda, op. cil. p. 895. as existing in a Berlin MS.
  22. Translated in Bibliotheca sacra (1906), p. 385, &c.