1902 Encyclopedia > Samaritans


SAMARITANS. This term, which primarily means "inhabitants of Samaritis or the region of Samaria," is specially used, as in the New Testament and in 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 (about 150 souls) at Nabulus, the ancient Shechem. They regard themselves as Israelites, descendants of the ten tribes, and claim to possess the orthodox religion of Moses, accepting the Pentateuch and transmitting it in a text which for the most part has only microscopic variations from the Torah of the Jews. But they regard the Jewish temple and priesthood as schismati-cal, and declare that the true sanctuary of God's choice is not Zion but Mount Gerizim, overhanging Shechem (John iv. 20); here they had a temple which was destroyed by John Hyrcanus about 128 B.C. (Jos., Ant., xiii. 9, 1), and on the top of the mountain they still celebrate the pass-over. The sanctity of this site they prove from their Pentateuch, reading Gerizim for Ebal in Deut. xxvii. 4. With this change the chapter of Deuteronomy can be interpreted with a little straining as a command to select Gerizim as the legitimate sanctuary (comp. ver. 7); and accordingly in Exod. xx. and Deut. v. a commandment taken from Deut. xxvii. is inserted at the close of the decalogue. Thus on their reckoning the tenth command-ment is the direction to build an altar and do sacrifice on Gerizim,—from which of course it follows that not only the temple of Zion but the earlier temple of Shiloh and the priesthood of Eli were schismatical. Such at least is the express statement of the later Samaritans; the older Samaritans, as they had no sacred books except the Penta-teuch, probably ignored the whole history between Joshua and the captivity, and so escaped a great many difficulties. The contention that the Pentateuch is a law given by Moses for a community worshipping on Mount Gerizim is of course glaringly unhistorical. By the (unnamed) sanc-tuary of God's choice the Deuteronomist certainly designed the temple of Zion ; and the priestly law, which is through-out based on the practice of the priests of Jerusalem before the captivity, was reduced to form after the exile, and was first published by Ezra as the law of the rebuilt temple of Zion. The Samaritans must therefore have derived their Pentateuch from the Jews after Ezra's reforms, i.e., after 444 B.C. Before that time Samaritanism cannot have existed in a form at all similar to that which we know; but there must have been a community ready to accept the Pentateuch. In point of fact the district of Mount Ephraim was not entirely stripped of its old Hebrew popu-lation by the Assyrian captivity, and the worship of Jehovah went on at the old shrines of Northern Israel side by side, or even interfused, with the old heathenish rites of the new settlers whom the Assyrians brought to fill up the lands desolated by war. The account of the religious condition of the country given in 2 Kings xvii. 24 sq. dwells only on the partial adoption of Jehovah-worship by the foreigners who had come into the land, but by no means implies that the foreigners constituted the whole population. Josiah extended his reforms beyond the limits of Judaea proper to Bethel and other Samaritan cities (2 Kings xxiii. 19), and the narrative shows that at that date things were going on at the Northern 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 Judaea 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. And so it is not surprising to find that the people of this district came to Zerub-babel and Joshua after the restoration, claiming to be of the same religion with the Jews and asking to be asso-ciated with them in the rebuilding of the temple. Their overtures were rejected by the leaders of the new theocracy, who could not but fear the results of interfusion with so large a mass of men of mixed blood and very questionable orthodoxy; and so the Jehovah-worshippers of Samaria were thrown into 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 expul-sion from Jerusalem in 432 B.C. of a man of high-priestly family who had married a daughter of Sanballat made it so; and it is more than probable, as has been explained in ISRAEL, vol. xiii. p. 419, that this priest is the Manasseh of Josephus, who carried the Pentateuch to Shechem, and for whom the temple of Gerizim was built. For, though the story in Josephus (Ant, xi. 8) is falsely dated and mixed with fable, it agrees with Neh. xiii. in too many essential points to be wholly rejected, and supplies exactly what is wanted to explain the existence in Shechem of a community bitterly hostile to the Jews, and yet constituted in obedience to Ezra's Pentateuch.

When we consider what difficulties were met with in the introduction of Pentateuchal orthodoxy even at Jerusalem, the foundation of a community of the Law in the Samaritan country, among the mixed populations whom the Judaean leaders did not venture to receive into fellowship, must appear a very remarkable exploit. The Samaritan religion was built on the Pentateuch alone; and the fact that they did not receive even those prophetic books and historical narratives which originated in Northern Israel (all which have been preserved to us only by the Jews) shows that, before they received the Pentateuch, their Jehovah-worship was a mere affair of traditional practice, uninspired by prophetic ideas and unsupported by written record of the great deeds of Jehovah in time past. It can hardly in any respect have risen above the level of the popular religion of North Israel as described and condemned by Hosea and Amos. In Judaea the duty of conformity to the Pentateuch was enforced by appeal to the prophets and to the history of the nation's sins and chastisements, and the acceptance of a vast and rigid body of ordinances was more easy because they came as the consolidation and logical develop-ment of a movement that had been in progress from the days of Isaiah. Among the Samaritans, on the other hand, the acceptance of the Pentateuch implied a tremendous breach of continuity. They must indeed have felt that they had fallen behind the Judoeans in religious matters, and the opportunity of putting themselves on a par with them by securing a copy of the institutes of Moses and the services of a Judaean priest would naturally be grasped at. But what is remarkable is that, having got the Pentateuch, they followed it with a fidelity as loyal and exact as the Jews themselves, save in the one matter of the change of the sanctuary. No concessions were made to heathenism or to the old iax Jehovah-worship; the text of the sacred book was transmitted with as much conscientiousness as was practised by Jewish scribes in the first centuries after Ezra; and even from the unwilling witness of their enemies the Jews we can gather that they fulfilled all righteousness with scrupulous punctiliousness so far as the letter of the written law was concerned, though of course they did not share in the later developments of the oral law, and so were heretics in the eyes of the Pharisees.
That it was possible to establish such a community on such a soil is a remarkable evidence that in that age the tendency to a legal religion was favoured by general causes, not confined to Judaea alone; it must be remembered that elaborate hierocracies sprang up after the fall of the old nationalities in many parts of western Asia (comp. PRIEST, vol. xix. p. 729). At the same time it must be remembered that, as Ezra could not have succeeded without Nehemiah, Manasseh had Sanballat's civil authority to back him. It is probable, too, that Josephus is right in assuming that he was strengthened by a considerable secession of Judaeans, and it is not to be supposed that the " Samaritans" ever embraced anything like the whole population of the Samaritan country. Samaria itself was Hellenized in the time of Alexander; and in Ecclus. 1. 26 the foolish people that dwell at Shechem are distinguished from the inhab-itants of the Samaritan hill-country in general. The Samaritans, like the Jews, throve and multiplied under the discipline of the law, but at no time in their history do they appear to have had the political importance that would have accrued to so closely knit a religious body if it had held all the fertile Samaritan district.

Jews and Samaritans were separated by bitter jealousies and open feuds (Jos., Ant., xii. 4, 1), but their internal development and external history ran closely parallel courses till the Jewish state took a new departure under the Maccabees. The religious resemblance between the two-bodies was increased by the adoption of the institution of the synagogue, and from the synagogue there certainly 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, according to Noldeke's investigations, not earlier than the fourth Christian century, but in general agrees with the readings of Origen's TO Sa/iapeiriKdV. For the dogmatic views of the Samaritans our sources are all late; they embrace hymns and other books of little general interest, and mainly at least of mediaeval origin. Like the Jews, too, the Samaritans had a haggada; indeed the Arabic books they still possess under the name of chronicles are almost entirely haggadic fable with very little admixture of true tradition. The recent date of all this literature seems to> show that the old Samaritans had not nearly so vigorous an intellectual life as the Jews, though what life they had moved in similar lines; indeed, having no sacred book but the Pentateuch, and having passed through no such-national revival as that of the Maccabees, they lacked two of the most potent influences that shaped the development of Judaism. On the other hand, they shared with the Jews the influence of a third great intellectual stimulus, that of Hellenism. Samaritans as well as Jews were carried to Egypt by Ptolemy Lagi; the rivalry of the two sects was continued in Alexandria (Jos., Ant., xii. 1, 1), and Hellen-ized Samaritans wrote histories and epic poems in Greek with exactly the same patriotic mendacity which charac-terizes Jewish Hellenism Of this, the oldest surviving Samaritan literature, some fragments have been preserved in the remains of Alexander Polyhistor.

The troubles that fell on the Jews for their fidelity to the law, under Antiochus Epiphanes, were not escaped by the Samaritans (2 Mac. v. 23, vi. 2); the account in Josephus (Ant., xii. 5, 5) which makes them voluntarily exchange their religion for the worship of the Grecian Zeus is certainly a malignant falsehood.

Under the Maccabees their relations with Judaea became very bitter, and they were severely chastised by Hyrcanus, who destroyed their temple. Hostilities between the two nations recurred from time to time ; and in the New Testa-ment, in Josephus, and in Jewish tradition we see how deep-seated was their mutual abhorrence. But, with all this, the sects were too nearly alike not to have much in common. The Roman yoke galled both in the same way; the Samaritan false prophet whose movement Pilate put down with cruel slaughter (Jos., Ant., xviii. 4, 1), and probably also Simon Magus and Dositheus (Orig., Cont. Cels., i. p. 44), are parallel phenomena to the false Messiahs that arose among the Jews. The original views of the Samaritans were like those of the Sadducees, and they did not believe in a resurrection or a Messiah; but it was impossible for their faith to survive under the cruel pressure of foreign bondage without absorbing something from Jewish eschatology. And so too, in the struggle of the Jews with Vespasian, perhaps also in that with Hadrian, the Samaritans forgot their old feud, and took part against the Romans. They seem also to have shared in great measure in the subsequent dispersion, for in later times we hear of Samaritans and Samaritan synagogues not only in Egypt but in Rome, and in other parts of the empire.

The Christian emperors made hard edicts against them as well as the Jews, and at length excluded them from the public service. Under these circumstances they naturally came to be mainly traders and merchants' clerks; in Constantinople "a Samaritan" meant "a banker's clerk." In their old homes they still remained numerous enough to make a serious insurrection under Justinian (529 A.D.). Its suppression was followed by very stern decrees against the whole sect, and Europe heard little more of the Samaritans till, towards the close of the 16th century, Western scholars took an interest in the few congregations ;that still remained in the East, at Cairo and Damascus as well as at Nabulus. It was found that during the Middle Ages they had formed an Arabic literature of considerable size but of little intrinsic worth, and had continued faithfully to preserve their scriptures. Since then their numbers have been constantly on the wane, and they have almost lost their old learning, which was never very considerable.

Samaritan Literature. —Of this a full account is given, along with a sketch of Samaritan history, in the introduction to Nutt's Fragments of a Samaritan Targum (1874). The following list confines itself to what has been printed, (a) The\ Hebrew-Samaritan Pentateuch, i.e., the Hebrew text in Samaritan recension and character, was first printed in the Paris polyglott. On the nature of this recension, see Gesenius, De Pent. Sam. origine, &c. (1815). A list of variations from the Massoretic text is given iby Petermann, Hebr. Formenlehre nach der Aussprache der Samaritaner (1868). (b) Targum, also in the Paris and London polyglotts, but in very corrupt form. A critical edition of the whole is still lacking ; the best text of part is that given by Nutt .from a Bodleian MS. The dialect, apart from the corruptions of the text, differs little from other Palestinian Aramaic, (c) Aramaic ;having been supplanted in Palestine by Arabic, an Arabic version of the Pentateuch was made by Abu Sa'td about 1100 A.D. The first three books have been edited by Kuenen (1851-54). On this version, see especially De Sacy in Mem. Acad. Inscr. et Belles-Lettres, vol. xlix. (d) The so-called Samaritan book of Joshua is an Arabic chronicle going down to Roman times, but of almost no historical use. It may date from the 13th century. Juynboll edited it in 1848 from a Leyden MS.; there are other MSS. in the British Museum and in Trinity College, Cambridge, (e) Another short chronicle, El-Tolidoth, published by Neubauer in Jour. As. (1869), seems to have used the Jewish Book of Jubilees. Both (d) and (e) with some other sources were used by— (f) The Chronicle of Abulfath, written in 1355, and continued by later hands ; edited by Vilmar (Gotha, 1865). (g) A collection of hymns was published by Gesenius (Carmina Samaritana, 1824). Other liturgical pieces have been published by Heidenheim. (h) Specimens of Samaritan writings on Hebrew grammar were published by Noldeke in the . Gottinger Nachrichten (1862).

For the Samaritans in general, see Nutt, op. cit.; Juynboll, Comm. in Hist. Genlis Samar., Leyden, 1846 ; Appel, De Rebus Samaritanorum sub imperio Romano peractis. De Sacy published in the Notices et Extraits, xh. (1831), all the correspondence of the Samaritans with European scholars, and other material, about the modern Samaritans. For the modern Samaritans see also Petermann's Reisen, vol. i. (1860). For Makrizi's account of the Samaritans, see De Sacy, Chrest. Ar., vol. i. Other literature in Nutt and very fully in Kautzsch's article in Herzog-Plitt, vol. xiii. (W. R. S.)


4 See especially Friedlander, Hellenistische Studien (1875), p. 82 sq. An Egyptio-Samaritan fragment has also been suspected by Ewald to be imbedded in the Sibyllina, xi. 239-244.

The above article was written by: Prof. William Robertson Smith.

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