KUTIM, JEWS AND THE BAR KOKHVA REVOLT OF 132CE-135CE
Interactions Between Jews and Kutim
4th Century CE
Until the middle of the second century CE, Jewish sages commonly applied the nickname Kutim to a unified people whose territory lay between what we know today as Ramalla, 9 km north of Jerusalem, as far as the Beit Shean valley in the north, the Jordan river in the east and a line between Jenin and Tul Karen (Tulkarm) in the west. Historians usually understand the term Kutim to mean Samaritans.
Interactions Between Kutim and Jews
Interactions between the Kutim and the Jews were mostly positive. In many villages on the western and northern borders of the Samaritan lands they lived side by side. Both communities suffered under Roman rule, and they managed to coexist. They respected the border between them, despite a certain amount of mutual suspicion and antagonism based on religious differences.
After the Romans bloodily suppressed the Bar Kochva revolt (132-135CE), many Jews fled to established Jewish communities in neighbouring countries. Jewish lands in the north became sparsely populated. The Samaritans, whose numbers had increased, moved into territory west and south of Samaria during the second half of the 2nd century CE and during the 3rd century CE.
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4th Century CE
Consequently, by the beginning of the 4th century CE, the majority of the population in many nominally Jewish areas was actually Samaritan. Some centres considered culturally Jewish, such as Yavne in the south, (Jamnia in some texts – about 12km southwest of Lydda), possessed a Samaritan majority. Caesarea and Dor (on the coast, about 25km north of Caesarea) in the west, also fall into this category. Samaritan villages were numerous on the Plain of Sharon. The Samaritans held their Council in Shechem (about 8km southwest of Sychor).
Samaritan population expansion also led to a calamitous change in the way Samaritans were regarded. Jewish sages sought a decisive separation from the Samaritans. They wanted to keep the remaining Jews in the Land of Israel united in the Jewish tradition. They overturned the attitude that had prevailed since the 1st century BCE. From this time on, they treated the Samaritans as gentiles who had encroached on Jewish territory, rather than as Israelites, like themselves.
In the religious dispute between Jews and Samaritans following the 3rd century CE, the Jewish sages did not always understand the differences between the beliefs of mainstream Samaritans and the beliefs of sects such as the Dusitheans. Consequently, their accounts of Samaritan religious life contain factual errors, confusion and misunderstandings.
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Map credit: www.bible-history.com
Dear mr Tsedaka,
I’ve read somewhere (*Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition by Lisbeth S. Fried) that according to the Samaritan Book of Joshua (SJ), Joshua build a “House for the Ark”… Sounds like a stone temple to me… or was this one of the 3 sanctuaries of unhewn stones? Or is this not a building, but a tent?
Greetings and thanks.
Shalom Benny, I see from pictures a good amount of Samaritan men don’t have beards. What are the regulations on shaving? Thanks
Shalom Ezekiel. I apologise for the delay in my reply; it is a busy time of festivals and preparations for my international tour. Beards are a free choice to males from non-priestly families or priests with no religious duties. Having a beard is a requirement of priests with religious duties, like cantors or the High Priest.
Shalom there has been mixing throughout exiles, but did the ancient Judeans look like how the Samiritans look? I’ve also noticed a minority of Samiritans with red hair, that took me by surprise since for the most part Samiritans have not mixed with any other peoples, that’s usually not found in the Middle East
Shalom Yehoshua. I apologise for the delay in my reply; it is a busy time of festivals and preparations for my international tour. The Israelite People always included red-haired people. David was a redhead, and before him Esau, the brother of Jacob.
I do not understand why the psalm 78 reference couldn’t simply refer to Shilo which was destroyed by the Philistines and replaced eventually by Jerusalem (or Nov/Givon) since Shilo was in the inheritance of Yosef in the tribe of Ephraim?
Shalom Dave. I apologise for the delay in my reply; it is a busy time of festivals and preparations for my international tour. It is very simple indeed. When it says “Rejected the Tent of Joseph” [Psalms, 78: 60,66] two places are mentioned: Adam and Shilo. Adam Ha’ir is a place on the way from Jerico to Shechem and Mount Gerizim . The meaning is: The Almighty accepted the Tent in Adam that was the original Moses Temple/Tent, and neglected the Tent in Shiloh. The unknown writer of Psalms said  that the Almighty rejected the Tent of Joseph, but as we know from the Book of Samuel 1, the Shiloh Tent was eventually delivered by King David to Jerusalem. For the Jewish writer of Psalms this act of King David is proof that Jerusalem is the chosen place. It became part of the Jewish claims against the original Tent and entered the Jewish-Samaritan polemic. But the text proves that there were two tents.
Thanks for your comments, but where do we find in those verses in Judges something about the Passover sacrifice being made at Har Grizim.
Shalom Dave. I apologise for the delay in my reply; it is a busy time of festivals and preparations for my international tour. You will probably be aware that all the books in the Bible, including the Torah, were re-edited by writers in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, to favour the Jerusalem Temple tradition.
Benny, I was looking at Judges Chapter 9 about Yotam the brother of Avimelech. Could you elaborate on how you understand the discussion there about the men of Shechem, etc. I am not sure I understand your point about Hargrizim and Yotam. Thanks.
It is simply as written. Since the summit of Mount Gerizim was always the place for the People of Israel to gather during the Passover sacrifice and the three pilgrimages, Yotam used one of these gatherings to state his proverb. Murder was commonplace in the royal houses of the Israelite and Judean kingdoms, particularly in Israel.
I am reading an interesting Hebrew document referring generally to Tractate Chulin 6 on the history of the Cuthites. It basically lists the changes in approaches to them from the time of Ezra through the time of Rabbi Meir (regarding Samaritan circumcision, meat, wine, bread, matza, and other matters) and then ultimately the time of Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi when the halacha decreed the Samaritans as non-Jews. There are many historical developments here, especially in the second century, and many halachic particulars. It would be fascinating if the Samaritans could bring their own historical perspective and analysis to all these developments.
I think it is very important to emphasize that the Temple of Solomon was highly unique as a TEMPLE. All other places of worship were only portable sanctuaries and not permanent buildings of wood or stone. This was the case in Gilgal, Shilo, Givon and Nov, as well as the one at Hargerizim.
It is an elementary mistake to regard the Sacred Site on the top of Mount Gerizim as a temple: it was never recognised as one by the Israelite Samaritans. They consider the whole Mountain to be a Temple (one of 13 titles of the Mountain found in the Torah and mentioned in the 4th century CE by Marqeh in his book Tibat Marqeh (Marqeh’s Ark).
I have another history question: Samaritans claim that their sanctuary (not a temple) existed throughout the time of the First Jerusalem Temple period, alongside the existing sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. However, although our Tanach discusses the sins of the tribes who followed Yerevam ben Navat to those sanctuaries, not a single word is mentioned about any Israelites going to a sanctuary at Hargerizim. Now considering the strong condemnation of Yeravam and his successors, it would seem logical that had a sanctuary existed in that same period at Hargerizim SOMETHING about it would have been mentioned in the Book of Kings, which is the same book that condemns Yeravam and Dan/Bethel. How does Samaritan historiography address this?
The only Temple that we, the Israelite Samaritans recognise is the Tabernacle/Tent of Moses, located on Mount Gerizim almost 260 years after the People of Israel entered the Sacred Land. The temples that the first King of Israel built in Dan and Beit El were considered to be places of pagan worship. Since then, worship of the Almighty – especially in the form of the Passover Sacrifice – never ceased at the sacred site on Mount Gerizim, except when the Israelites were forcibly prevented from making pilgrimage to the summit. In those periods they worshipped in known places around Mount Gerizim.
There was an attempt to build a large altar on Mount Gerizim in the sixth century BCE. Eventually the Samaritans abandoned this attempt, on the basis of their core belief that Moses’ Temple will be restored at the End of Days by a Prophet Like Moses (the Taheb). All the Jewish accounts about building a Samaritan Temple in the 4th century BCE, early in the Hellenistic period, were attempts to prove that the Israelite Samaritans built their “Temple” on Mount Gerizim a long time after the Jewish one. Samaritan written sources never mentioned the building of a stone temple on Mount Gerizim, nor is there evidence of such a temple: after 30 years’ excavating on the top of Mount Gerizim, the archaeologist Dr. Yitzhak Magen conceded that he had not found it. Our worship and our pilgrimages focused on the three main existing sites at the top: The Eternal Hill where Moses’ Temple stood, The Altar of Isaac, and The Place of the Twelve Stones that Joshua brought from the Jordan River (Joshua 4:9). All these sanctuaries are made of unhewn natural stone.
In conclusion, discussion about the existence of a Samaritan Temple is diverting seekers of historical accuracy from the main point: contrary to the Judaic/Jewish version of history, no temple was built on Mount Gerizim.
Yes, thanks, I understand that a stone/wood temple was never built at Gerizim. But I was making the point that unlike all the condemnations of Yeravam ben Nevat, Achav, Yehu, etc. in our Tanach, there is not a single reference to any sanctuary existing at Hargerizim in those times in the same Tanach texts. One would assume that if a large body of the Israelites were worshiping at Hargerizim (other than Dan/Bethel), something would indicate this and condemn it in the Books of Samuel and Kings. But there is total silence in this regard. Not even a hint. And not even in any midrash either.
Not exactly. The fact that the books of Samuel and Kings never mentioned an Israeli Cult of worship on Mount Gerizim has no significance, because these books were edited in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period. So we have to find hints for it in other books. The Book of Judges mentions the proverb of Yotam, which was spoken from the top of Mount Gerizim, not to the winds but to the people gathered there for cult purposes. Jeremaiah dedicated chapter 23 to the prophets of Samaria long after its destruction by the Assyrians. With regard to Samaritan sources, the cult on Mount Gerizim never ceased.
Thanks Benny. Sorry for beating a dead horse (and American expression referring to repeating an issue). I just would have assumed in comparing how the books of Samuel and Kings critique all the kings of the 10 tribes from Yeravam until the last one, that one would find a similar critique of those worshiping at Hargrizim as well. The criticisms of the 10 tribes who did not go to Jerusalem is very harsh in those books and some of the prophets. It would have been natural to harshly critique those at Hargrizim as well in Kings, Samuel, Hosea, etc.
It is obvious that after the Yotan proverb from the top of Mount Gerizim, the scriptures edited in Jerusalem ignored worship on Mount Gerizim for religious reasons (except for occasional hints). See for example, the great polemic in Psalm 78: that the Almighty rejected the “Tabernacle of Joseph” (ie., the Tabernacle on Mount Gerizim) and chose instead Mount Zion in Jerusalem:
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph,
and chose not the tribe of E’phra-im:
but chose the tribe of Judah,
the mount Zion which he loved.
(In the King James version).
Hi, Benny. Our tradition states that the reference in Tehillim 78 about the tabernacle of Yosef refers to the destruction of Shilo during the lifetime of King David and King Saul. Shilo was in the territory of Efraim, which is of course of the inheritance of Yosef.
It had never been the tent of Joseph but the Tabernacle made by Eli, a priest of Itamar. The Temple of Solomon initially contained the utensils of the Tent of Eli; they were taken by Pharaoh Shishak during the rule of King Rechavam of Judea. The replacements were taken by king Jehoash of Israel after his victory over Amatzia, king of Judea. In turn, their replacements, made by Josaiah king of Judea were taken by the Babylonians. The Tent that “God rejected in Joseph” was, of course, the original one.
I think there might be some confusion about various references to Samaritans in the Talmuds. We find in the short Tractate Kutim that it says the Kutim will only be readmitted to the Jewish People when they give up Har Gerizim and accept the House of David/Jerusalem. And yet here we are referenced to a mention that the previous generations were “satisfied” with the Kutim, when R. Abbahu was after the time of the Tractate Kutim mishnahs. And he says that the forefathers did not “corrupt” their ways, when everyone knows that the Kutim were rejected in those earlier days after the destruction of the Temple decades before R. Abbahu. I suppose one has to examine the commentaries and also to determine whether there were different “sects” of Samaritans being referred to. I am not an expert in any of this, but would be interested to know more.
Why confusion? Everything should be clear and logical. I think I gave a full answer to this elsewhere: please see my reply to Andy on the Kutim, Jews and Bar Kokhva page.
I couldn’t find the (Reuters) photo on the JPost website but it was almost identitical to this photo from Getty Images:
I found it by searching Google News with “Samaritans Shavuot”.
The caption in the JPost was:
“Standing on Ceremony
Worshippers hold up Samaritan Torah scrolls during a traditional pilgrimage marking Shavuot atop Mount Gerizim near Nablus yesterday morning. The Samaritans, who trace their roots to the Kingdom of Israel in what is now the northern West Bank, observe religious practices similar to those of Judaism.”
Thank you for your take on Rav Abbahu’s comments. I always thought his remarks (perhaps inspired by the “they worship a dove-shaped idol” calumny) was indicative of a (rather cynical) hardening of rabbinic attitudes toward the Israelite Samaritans based on the rabbis’ desire to be sole kings of the mountain (as it were) and for that they had to declare you to be goyim.
Allegations by the Jewish sages regarding the Israelite Samaritans of their time often arose from confusion about the lifestyle of the latter. For example: burning fires on the mountaintops to herald the beginning of the month. The months were based on a different calendar, but the Jewish sages interpreted it as an attempt to confuse their own calendar.
The accusation that the Israelite Samaritans worshiped the form of a dove on the top of Mount Gerizim also came through misunderstanding. At that time it was customary for Samaritan women, at the end of their monthly impure seven days period, to offer two doves to the Holy Site run by the Priests. So it is no surprise that the engraved form of a dovecote (columbarium) can be seen on some ancient Samaritan oil lamps.
Thank you for the link to the photo.
But wouldn’t everyone have known the distinctions regarding the doves and everything else in this earlier period before the corruption in the period of R. Abbahu?? Similarly for the mountain fires. There is no mention in any of the commentaries that I am aware of that the fires were set by Samaritans for their own needs, but only to confuse the Rabbinic Jews.
I think it would be of great importance if the Samaritans could produce a book that discusses all the Talmudic references to the Kutim from the Samaritan’s OWN sources as Benny has done here. It may not clear up any misunderstandings but at least it would be a source of analysis and comparison. I know Benny is producing a book on the history of the Samaritans from their own sources.
Very interesting and spot-on accurate.
Whereas early rabbinical references to “the Kutim” are rather favorable (see Chapter 2 of the Tosefta on Masekhet Avoda Zara, Chapter 6 of the Tosefta on Masekhet Mikvaot and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s famous statement in the Gemara that “Any mitzva that the Kutim hold to, they are more exact on than the Jews”), there is the very poignant account in the Jerusalem Talmud (Masekhet Avoda Zara, Chapter 5): a group of Israelite Samaritans come to Rav Abbahu in Caesarea and say, “Your fathers were satisfied with us (hayu mistapkin b’shelanu) and you, for some reason, are not satisfied with us.” Rav Abbahu replied, “Your fathers did not corrupt their ways but you have corrupted your ways.” With all due respect to Rav Abbahu, I think he had an ulterior motive. When did this scene in Caesarea take place? In the late 3rd-early 4th centuries CE, exactly when the Israelite Samaritans were flourishing, i.e. around the time of Baba Raba. The Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots were long-since vanished by then. The only other group that could challenge the rabbis were the well-organized, prospering Israelite Samaritans. So they had to be pushed beyond the pale and declared goyim hence Rav Abbahu’s reply.
How was your Shavuot? Did you see the photo on page 6 of today’s Jerusalem Post?
It is possible to understand why Rabbi Abbahu answered the Samaritan sages the way he did. They came to him in a gesture of peace and understanding, since 4th century CE Jews and Samaritans lived together in the same city of Caesarea, each community numbering tens of thousands of individuals. He never meant corruption of the commandments: אבותיכם היו מסתפקים בשלהם אתם אינכם מסתפקים. He meant that in earlier times Samaritan settlement had been limited to the district of Samaria, but in the previous century (ie., the 3rd century CE), they spread, settling in areas which had become depopulated when the Jewish inhabitants fled following the failed Bar-Kochva revolt. The Samaritans also settled in cities considered “Jewish” by the Jewish sages. So the correct interpretation of Rabbi Abbahu’s claim is that it was driven by political and geographical motives, not social or religious ones, since based on Jewish claims, the Samaritans were more particular (מקפידים) than the Jews in keeping the commandments of the Torah. Please send me the picture with the text from today’s Jerusalem Post.
Thank you Andy,