ISRAELITE SAMARITAN RELIGION

Contents

Four Principles of Faith

In our religion, Samaritans follow four principles of faith:

Firstly, One God, who is the God of Israel.

Secondly, One Prophet, Moses son of Amram.

Thirdly, One Holy Book, the Pentateuch, the Torah handed down by Moses

Fourthly, One Holy Place, Mount Gerizim

In addition, we believe in the Taheb son of Joseph, The Returning One, The Restorer, A Prophet like Moses. He will appear on the Day of Vengeance and Recompense in the Latter Days.

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Four Distinctions

To be an Israelite Samaritan means adhering to the four tenets of identification:

Firstly, Reside in the Holy Land.

Secondly, Participate in the Sacrifice on Mount Gerizim at Pessach.
(Passover, see Calendar).

Thirdly, Celebrate the Sabbath, as written in the Torah.

Fourthly, Adhere to the laws of purity and impurity prescribed in the Torah.
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Origins

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Shavuot Pilgrimage

Israelite Samaritans trace our roots back for 127 consecutive generations in the Holy Land. We are the remnant of an ancient people, descended from the ancient Kingdom of Israel. In contrast, Israelite Jews descend from the Kingdom of Judea. They rejected attempts by Samaritans to broker peace between the people of Israel.

Research concerning the People of Israel tends to view the Samaritans as a sect which split from Judaism. The split occurred in the Second Temple Period (538 BCE-70 CE). The story goes that, during this period, Samaritans adopted a version of the Pentateuch with different lines and structure than the Jewish Masoretic text. This attitude, widespread in Biblical research, erroneously assumes a paternal relationship between Jews and Samaritans.

Moreover, some research links the Israelite-Samaritans with the foreigners brought in by Assyrian emperors. The research may intend to be objective, but it misinforms. We can clearly see from a study of Kings 2, Chronicles 2, and archeological excavations, that the link originated from Jewish Sages in the Second Temple period. It was a product of the great polemic between the Jews and the Samaritans.
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Samaritan Religion and Judaism

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Shavuot Pilgrimage

Historians make a mistake when they consider the Israelite Samaritans to be another sect, a branch of mainstream Judaism. During the Second Temple Period, sects abounded. They included Pharisees, Sadducees and Boethusians. None of these were similar to Israelite Samaritan society in structure, nature or characteristics.

The Israelite Samaritans, descendants of the Israelites who lived in the Kingdom of Israel and in the north of the Land of Israel, occupied their own territory, the Land of Samaria. Many even spread to the plains in the north and the south. They had governors and kings and raised armies of rebellion against foreign rulers. They built synagogues. Their way of life centred on the commandments in the Pentateuch.

In the Byzantine period (295-634 CE) at least nine sects existed. They had sprung from the main Israelite Samaritan stream. We know them collectively as Dositheans. Some survived until the end of the 10th century CE.

Claims are sometimes made that the Israelite Samaritans were a branch of Judaism. If so, they surely would have consecrated other books and scrolls along with the Pentateuch, as the Jews did. However, they did not: the Mosaic Pentateuch is the sole sacred book of the Israelite Samaritans.

Historical research shows so-called Normative Judaism to be a development of the Pharisees. A  leading sect in early Judaism, Pharisees rejected the other sects. This development left only two main streams of Judaism: the Jewish Karaites and the Jewish Rabbinate. The Karaites accepted the whole Bible and rejected all later literature. The Rabbinate adopted and consecrated the Bible, and later the Mishnah and Talmud.

The Israelite Samaritan tradition, based on the Pentateuch, represents the most ancient biblical tradition. The Jewish Karaite and Rabbinic traditions both represent post-exilic traditions.
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722 CE: ASSYRIAN INVASION

Historical research concerning the People of Israel in Biblical times makes another common error. It often confuses the Israelite Samaritans with the foreigners brought in by the Assyrians to administer their colonies in Judea, Samaria, Galilee and Edom. These foreigners replaced the elite of the destroyed Kingdom of Israel, whom the Assyrian rulers had exiled. The foreigners administered the colonies, raising revenue for their Assyrian overlords. The Assyrians settled the  foreigners in administrative cities, such as Samaria and Gezer. They followed pagan customs and worshipped idols. On the other hand, the majority of the Israelites of the destroyed Kingdom of Israel remained on their lands and continued to pay taxes to the Assyrian rulers. The newcomers administered and collected those taxes.

Excavations and surveys after The Six-Day War in 1967 reveal a strong Israelite presence after the Assyrian conquest. The lineage of the ancient Israelites in the north of the country continued through the Israelite Samaritans on Mount Gerizim.

The Ancient Samaritan city of Luza lasted from the Persian period to the end of the Hellenistic period. So far, excavations there have exposed over 500 inscriptions on stones, and many ritual tools. Undoubtedly, the Ancient Israelites and their successors, the Israelite Samaritans, maintained a monotheistic religion throughout the period and did not adopt pagan symbols or cults.

Linking the Israelite Samaritans with paganism or with pagan tribes discounts the sources of their culture. Prominent scholars of the Bible and ancient Israelite history have stated that the Israelite Samaritans are indeed descendants of the Ancient Israelite People of the Kingdom of Israel.
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SAMARITAN AND JEWISH VERSIONS OF THE PENTATEUCH

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Torah Scroll, Shavuot

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Judean Desert, particularly scrolls found in Qumran Cave No. 4, revealed Pentateuch texts scribed by Jews who had given up their urban life for a more isolated existence in the desert. They wrote the texts during the last two centuries BCE and the first century CE. Large sections of these scrolls are identical with the text of the Israelite Samaritan version of the Pentateuch. Significantly, they differ from the Jewish Masoretic text. So, we conclude that different versions of the Pentateuch existed. Some were scribed and delivered from generation to generation in the north of the Land of Israel, the original home of the Israelite Samaritans. Others were scribed in the south of the Land of Israel, and formed the Jewish Masoretic Text.

The Israelite Samaritans consecrated only the Five Books of the Pentateuch. Their version of the Pentateuch (SP), has approximately 7000 differences from the Jewish Masoretic Text (MT). Most are due to orthographic differences between the texts.
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Samaritan Pentateuch and LXX

Doctor R. Weiss of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, respected researcher of the relation between the LXX Pentateuch* Greek translation and the SP, discovered that in 1900 differences of the LXX from the MT, the text of the LXX is identical with the SP. Since we know that there are between 6000 and 7000 differences between the SP and MT, and approximately 60% of them are orthographic, the 1900 differences must be in the real text and style of the writing. This means that the LXX is much closer to the SP than to the MT. *(LXX is a Jewish Bible, written entirely in Greek, edited in Egypt in the third century BCE. It is also known as The Septuagint, and The Seventy).

We conclude that the translators of the LXX worked from texts that were closer to the SP version, such as those found in Qumran Cave Number 4. They were written in the same Ancient Hebrew script by Jewish writers, and are called Proto-Samaritan texts. These texts from Qumran, and earlier texts in the hands of the LXX translators, furnish the earliest versions of the Pentateuch known today. Thus, the SP presents the reader with the earliest known version of the Pentateuch, and the MT contains texts that appeared later, in the first part of the Second Temple Period.

The principal differences concern the choice of the place where the Name of the Almighty will dwell. In twenty-two verses of the Book of Deuteronomy the Israelite Samaritan Version has: “In the place that the Almighty HAS CHOSEN”, whereas the Jewish Masoretic Version reads: “In the place that the Almighty WILL CHOOSE”.
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Mount Gerizim and Temple Mount in Samaritan Religion

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On Gerizim

The location of the Holy of Holies provides the main difference between Judaism and Samaritanism. We have Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the Jews, and Mount Gerizim in Samaria for the Israelite Samaritans.

The difference arose from the different geographical origins of two groups that eventually became two separate nations. Temple Mount is located in the heart of Judea, the centre of Jewish culture. The Jews take their name from the region. In contrast, Mount Gerizim is located in the heart of Samaria, the centre of Israelite Samaritan culture, after which the Samaritans are named by outsiders. (Samaritans refer to themselves as The Shamerem or Keepers.)

Jerusalem remained a pagan place until the time of David and Solomon. They both fulfilled the desire of the southern tribes of Israel, led by the tribe of Judah, to have a holy place of their own. Meanwhile, the northern tribes, headed by the tribe of Joseph (and his sons Menashe and Ephraim) continued to worship at the altar of the Almighty that still exists on Mount Gerizim today. Joshua built this altar according to the commandment in Deuteronomy 11:29-30 and 27:4,15.
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Qumran Text

In July 2008, Professor James Charlesworth of Princeton University analysed a previously unknown fragment taken from Cave Number 4 in Qumran, and written by a Jewish scribe. The inscription from Deuteronomy 27:4-6 contains the commandment to build an altar to the Almighty “on Mount Gerizim” (בהרגרזים), spelling the name of the mountain in one word of seven letters: הרגרזים (Hargerizim). We should examine this astounding discovery carefully. This written version of the name of Mount Gerizim and the injunction to build an altar to the Almighty on it can be considered to be neither Samaritan nor Jewish, but an ancient Israelite text. It predates the split between the Jews and the Samaritans, which occurred after the time of Alexander the Great, in the Fourth century BCE. (The fragment itself forms part of the collection from Qumran preserved in Azusa University, northeast of Los Angeles).

Israelite Samaritans maintain that the chosen place had already been selected at the time of the Pentateuch. It is therefore written in the past tense: “HAS CHOSEN”. The place is Mount Gerizim, the only mountain in the Land of Israel that is consecrated in the Pentateuch for the offering of the Blessings on it [Deuteronomy 11:29]. On this mountain Abraham and Jacob had built altars.

In contrast, the Jews claim that the chosen place was announced in the period of the Davidic and Solomonic Kingdoms (1000-930 BCE). The location is therefore written in the future tense: “WILL CHOOSE”, and refers to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The latter may have been written to justify deferring the identification of the one Holy Place to the later time of David and Solomon.
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Textual Differences

Also, in several passages in the two versions of the Pentateuch (SP and MT), text written in one version does not occur in the other version.

In the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-14, Deuteronomy 5:18], the Tenth Commandment of the Israelite Samaritan Pentateuch orders the building of an Altar on Mount Gerizim. Significantly, this command is missing in the Jewish Masoretic text. However, to maintain the complement of ten, the Jews made the opening words “I am YHVH (‘Yaweh‘) your God” the first Commandment. These words do not signify a command, rather a statement of fact. The second Commandment in the Jewish Masoretic Text is the first Commandment in the Israelite Samaritan Pentateuch: “You shall not have other gods…”
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The Chosen Place

Moreover, in chapters 11 and 12 of Deuteronomy, the commandment to offer the Blessing on Mount Gerizim appears at the end of chapter 11. Immediately after, in chapter 12, follows the commandment to destroy all other places of worship and to worship only in the chosen place. If we take the last verse of Chapter 11 and make it the title of Chapter 12, we conclude  that Mount Gerizim is the Chosen Place for the Altar of the Almighty. Readers of the chapter knew without doubt that Temple Mount in Jerusalem was sanctified later, in the period of king David and his son Solomon. Mount Gerizim is the clearly implied chosen place.
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English Translation of the Israelite Samaritan Torah

In April 2013, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan published my life work: The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah.

This edition gives the Samaritan Torah and the Jewish (Masoretic) text in English. The texts lie side-by-side in parallel columns. Bold capital letters emphasise the differences between the two versions. In a column on the left, notes clarify the interpretations of the Samaritan Sages on significant differences between the two versions. I edited, translated and wrote this volume. Ms. Sharon Sullivan co-edited.
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Roots of Abrahamic Religions

Throughout history, the Israelite Samaritans never lost their unique status and identity as a People. Accordingly, they retain their own writing, the ancient Hebrew script. They speak their own language, the ancient Hebrew dialect spoken by Jews until the beginning of the first millennium CE. And they follow a unique, millennia-old historical tradition, despite periods of intense oppression. The tradition dates from to the entry of the People of Israel to the Promised Land under Joshua bin Nun. And, it should be remebered, all the Abrahamic religions: Samaritanism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Druze and Bahai, stem from our roots and traditions in Ancient Israel.
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Samaritan Studies

Samaritan Studies are developing at a rapid pace since the establishment of the Société d’Études Samaritaines in Paris in 1985, and the Round Table Lectures. The Société has helped to organise 8 International conferences of Samaritan Studies. Locations include Oxford, England (1990), Paris, France (1992), Milan, Italy (1996), Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel (1998), Helsinki, Finland (2000), Haifa, Israel (2004), Papa, Hungary (2008) and Erfurt, Germany in 2012. These fully-documented conference lectures open a window on all aspects of Samaritan Studies. In addition, between congresses there are conferences of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS). Both dedicate sessions to Samaritan Studies. More recently the University of Zurich, Switzerland has dedicated conferences and courses to the Samaritans and Samaritan Studies.

 

Benyamim Tsedaka

Photography: Ori Orhof

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3 Responses

  1. I am currently a Karaite Jew but I place a much heavier emphasis on Torah than Tanakh. I was wondering, though, can you convert to the Samaritan Israelite faith?

    • Benyamim Tsedaka

      Shalom Cole,
      The usual answer to your question is: it is possible to join our community after living with us for three years and fulfilling all the commandments of the Torah. Of course, males must also be circumcised.

  2. By the way, my Hebrew name is Yitzchok ben Hershel ben Chaim HaKohayn. Like your High Priest, I am descended from Aaron.

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