THE HIGH PRIESTHOOD AND SAMARITAN HIGH PRIESTS THROUGH THE CENTURIES
High Priest Aabed-El ben High Priest Aasher, ben High Priest Matzliach has headed the Israelite Samaritan Community since May 2013. His appointment follows the passing of High Priest, Aaron ben Ab-Hisda, aged 85 years, on 19 April 2013. The current High Priest is the 132nd since Aaron ben Amram, brother of Moses, who promised the High Priesthood to his grandson Pinhas and his seed forever. [Numbers, 25:12-13].
The High Priesthood remained in the Pinhas family for 112 generations. It usually passed from father to son. In this way it provided leaders for the Israelite Samaritan community until 1624 CE. From time to time, the High Priesthood passed to a brother or uncle if there was no direct successor. Occasionally, the High Priest appointed his own son to succeed him, and shared duties with him during his tenure.
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The High Priests from the family of Pinhas were called Rabbans. Members of this family who were not High Priests, but considered wise and devout, were also accorded the title Rabban.
Another branch of the Pinhas family were priests in Damascus. Twice, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the High Priests of Damascus went to Nablus (Shechem) to head the Israelite Samaritan People, since there was no successor there.
High Priests of Damascus
In the years following the 8th century CE a Samaritan Community settled in Damascus. Here also, the High Priesthood passed from father to son, in the Pinhas family. Usually, the Priests of Damascus and their families lived in a designated neighbourhood near the other Israelite families. The High Priests of Damascus came under the jurisdiction of the High Priest in Nablus. The latter was Head of all the Samaritan People.
The lineage of the 112 Samaritan High Priests, leaders of the Israelites and the Israelite Samaritans, includes two of the High Priests of Damascus, Itamar ben Amram and Yusef ben Azzi.
Samaritans (and collectors) assign high value to Pentateuch manuscripts scribed by High Priests of the Pinhas family. They are known as Pinhasieh (plural: Pinhasias).
The High Priests of the family of Pinhas struggled to maintain the priesthood and the community until the beginning of the 17th century CE. They had to deal with a family reduced in numbers, and a decline in the overall number of Israelite Samaritans.
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Last Pinhas High Priest
In 1624 CE Shalmaiah ben Pinhas ben Eleazar, the last High Priest of the family of Pinhas died. He had held the office for 11 years, and left only one daughter. Mystery surrounded Shalmiah’s death: while on his way from Nablus to visit the Samaritans of Gaza, he simply disappeared. One tradition says that the Almighty took him. The poet and writer Marchiv ben Jacob solved the mystery in one of his many letters to Europe in the 17th century, writing: “the last Rabban died in our time”.
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House of ‘Abtah
Another Aaronic line, descendants of Itamar ben Aaron, the brother of Eleazar, assisted the Pinhas family High Priests throughout history. They helped the High Priests to direct the religious life and rituals of the Samaritans. They also helped translate the Hebrew Pentateuch into Aramaic. Aramaic had become the lingua franca of the region. At that time it was spoken by the majority of the Israelite People. Because of this special duty, they were called ‘Abtah, which means ‘Translator’ (Arabic: Haftawi).
Priest Abed Ela ben Shalma, a sage of the Samaritan tradition, was the forefather of the current priestly families. He was born and active in Damascus, before moving to Nablus to serve the high priests. Abed was a great poet, translator and religious teacher. In Damascus they knew him as “President of the House of Abtah”.
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No High Priest
The year 1624 CE found the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim without a High Priest. The High Priest in Beit El, an important location near Nablus, held authority over other Samaritan priests. Then, in Damascus, in 1625, governor Mardam Beka initiated a pogrom. It destroyed the Samaritan Community. One small family escaped to Nablus, to become the forefathers of the Dinfi household of today. Currently, Dinfi, largest of the four households of the Samaritans, contains the two large families of Altif and Sassoni (or Sirrawi).
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Succession Question Resolved
The Pentateuch restricts the principle of passing the High Priesthood from father to son to High Priests of the Pinhas family. The sages sought and found another principle in the Pentateuch: “The Eldest priest of his brothers” [Leviticus 21:10]. Subsequently, they asked the Priest Tsedaka ben Tabia ben Yusef to be the first High Priest from the family of Itamar to head the Israelite Samaritans. The Community felt deep sorrow at the demise of the Pinhas family, mingled with relief that they still had priestly descendants of Aaron.
Since that time, the Community calls on the succession of “The Eldest Priest of His Brothers” when succession from father to son is not possible. Both principles serve to avoid disputes regarding the identity of the High Priest. They ensure that the Almighty makes the decision, rather than Man. After the death of the High Priest, the next High Priest will be the eldest priest in line.
Since 1919 the Samaritan Community has seen an increase in numbers, rising to 751 on 1st January 2012. The priestly family of ‘Abtah has increased, and today is the second largest of the four Samaritan families, the Dinfi being the largest. The ‘Abtah family has three branches today, named after their forefathers. The largest is the House of Pinhas, named after Pinhas ben Yitzhaq ben Shalma, the priest. There are two smaller branches: the Houses of Yitzhaq and Jacob. The House of Yitzhaq takes its name from High Priest Yitzhaq ben Amram ben Shalma. The House of Jacob takes its name from High Priest Jacob ben Aaron ben Shalma.
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High Priest Duties
The duties of the ‘Abtah High Priest include being the High Court regarding personal matters in the community. For this purpose, the High Priest consults with heads of households, and his brothers, the priests. He resolves disputes between individuals and families in the community. The High Priest calculates the calendar in 6-monthly periods. Moreover, twice a year he circulates the calendar to all members of the community aged 20 or over. In addition, he directs all religious ceremonies, including circumcision, conclusion of the reading of the Torah, wedding, divorce and burial. In addition, he officiates at personal events, such as the benediction of the first born, or witnessing oaths.
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The High Priest represents Israelite Samaritans in dealings with the secular government. Furthermore, he blesses the worshippers with the Blessings of the High Priest each Sabbath and festival, and on the three pilgrimages [Numbers 6:3-4]. Above all, the High Priest directs the greatest event of the year, the Paschal Sacrifice on Mount Gerizim.
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Photos: Ori Orhof
The High Priests of the Family of Itamar since 1624 CE
|Tsedaka ben Tabia||1624-1650|
|Yitzhaq ben Tsedaka||1650-1694|
|Abraham ben Yitzhaq||1694-1732|
|Levi ben Abrahan ben Yitzhaq||1733-1752|
|Tabia ben Yitzhaq ben Abraham||1752-1787|
|Shalma ben Tabia||1798-1855||Shalma was 4 years old when his father Tabia died. He was educated by the Samaritan sages up to the age of 15, when he was declared High Priest|
|Amram ben Shalma||1855-1874|
|Jacob ben Aaron ben Shalma||1874-1916|
|Yitzhaq ben Amram ben Shalma||1916-1932|
|Matzliach ben Pinhas ben Yitzhaq ben Shalma||1933-1943|
|Abisha ben Pinhas ben Yitzhaq ben Shalma||1943 -1961||Brother of Matzliach|
|Amram ben Yitzhaq ben Amram ben Shalma||1961-1980|
|Asher ben Matzliach ben Pinhas||1980-1982|
|Pinhas ben Matzliach ben Pinhas||1982-1984||Brother of Asher|
|Jacob ben Azzi ben Jacob ben Aaron||1984-1987|
|Yusef ben Ab-Hisda ben Jacob ben Aaron||1987-1998|
|Levi ben Abisha ben Pinhas ben Yitzhaq||1998-2001|
|Shalom ben Amram ben Yitzhaq ben Amram||2001-2004|
|Eleazar ben Tsedaka ben Yitzhaq ben Amram||2004-2010|
|Aaron ben Ab-Hisda ben Jacob ben Aaron||2010-2013|
|Aabed-El ben High Priest Aasher, ben High Priest Matzliach||2013-|
Choir and MUSIC
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Could you please send me faximile of the Tolidah, thank you very much.
Is someone allowed to join the community, practice the religion and be welcomed in or do you have to be born into it?
Yes, thanks, I understand that part. I was wondering about the Samaritan analysis about the texts of the Tanach prophecies themselves in relation both to the tribe of Yehuda and earlier prophecies concerning the northern tribes and the kings, etc.
Benny, I understand that the Samaritans never accepted the Tanach prophets. Some of them were from northern tribes rather than Judea, and the prophecies were fulfilled against Ahav, Yehu, Hoshea Ben Ela, etc., as well as kings of Judah and their kingdoms. What does the Samaritan tradition say about the histories of those prophets such as Eliyahu, Yeshayahu, Hoshea, Yechezkel, etc.?
Their activities and prophecies are not items in the Samaritan chronicles, although they had every right to prophesy: the spirit of Moses encourages prophecy at any time by any Israelite. The Israelite Samaritans had no prophets of their own at any time in their history. For them, the prophecy of Moses illuminates any other prophecy after him.
One other question in this regard: what were the years in history that the sanctuary actually existed at Hargerizim. Apparently it has not been in existence for almost 2000 years, is that correct? And during which years did it exist prior to the Common Era? Thanks.
It was there for 260 years. The current year, counting from the year Joshua led the People of Israel into the Promised Land is 3652. So the Sanctuary was there from the year 1638 BCE until 1378 BCE.
Thank you for your reply, Benny. Now wasn’t the sanctuary in existence during the time of Ezra until it was destroyed in the time of Shimon Hatzadik, and then rebuilt again after Bar Kochba?
The Ancient City of Luza was destroyed by the army of Jehochanan Hyrcanus the Hasmonite in the year 113BCE, 15 years later than previously thought. The latest coins found in the burnt city date from 113BCE. It was a sacred site that was destroyed, not a Temple. The sacred site still exists today, simple and natural. The ruins found in the excavations were of administrative buildings.
So, if I understand correctly, Samaritans believe the sanctuary (having existed since the time of Joshua) was destroyed first by King Saul , then later rebuilt, then destroyed by the Hasmoneans (rather than at the time of Shimon Hatzadik) and then rebuilt again under Hadrian until it was destroyed by Justinian?
For us, the only sanctuary on Mount Gerizim was the Temple of Moses. It was hidden before the appearance of King Saul. The holy sites on the top of Mount Gerizim are for visits or pilgrimages, not for worship and they are all natural, not made by human hand.
Historically no Samaritan holy place on the top of Mount Gerizim was ever destroyed or rebuilt.
Benny, was the end of the 260 years the time of King Saul, who Samaritans say destroyed the sanctuary the first time, which was later rebuilt and destroyed again by Hyrcanus, then rebuilt again after Bar Kochba, until destroyed by the Christian emperor Justinian?
Please see my answer on 2014/07/04
Benny, do you mean that the end of the 280 years is when Samaritans say that King Saul destroyed the sanctuary in Hargrizim?
Please see my answer to 2014/07/04
Benny, what is the reason that Samaritans do not perform all sacrifices at Hargerizim, just as they do the Pesach sacrifice, i.e. the daily sacrifices, holiday sacrifices, etc.??
Also, why have the Samaritans not rebuilt a sanctuary on Hargerizim?
For the answer to the first part of your question: see above.
For the second part: the Tabernacle of Moses will be there at the End of Days.
Hello, Benny. A question please: if Samaritans still make sacrifices for Pesach on Hargerizim, why do you not also make the regular daily, shabbat and yomtov sacrifices as well? Thanks.
The Passover Sacrifice commemorates the Exodus, which took place before the making of the Tabernacle of Moses. All other Sacrifices, including Second Passover, were offered for as long as the Tabernacle existed (260 years), and were then replaced by special prayers.
Thank you. That’s an interesting clarification, i.e. that the korban is not directly dependent on the sanctuaries. But what about today? I am not sure I understand why Samaritans could not build a new sanctuary and perform all the sacrifices of the year and holidays in addition to the Pesach sacrifice.
Please see my reply to your comment of 22 June.
Are you interested on a pdf text in french language about the visit in 1852 of a french priest (skilled in antic hebrew, arabic and aramean languages) to the city of Nablus and to the Samaritan’s Hight Priest Shalma ben Tabia ?
The text is not very kind for the Hight Priest but anyway the book is full of interesting details. For example, the author tells a long story of Samaritans and also tells interesting informations about an exchange of letters between the community of Nablus and a french linguist, Antoine-Isaac Sylvestre de Sacy (1758-1838) an orientalist, also very skilled in modern and antic languages of the Middle West… (arab, persian, demotic, samaritan arabic and hebrew, aramean, hebrew, and so on.)
I am not very fluent in english (I understand english but I do not write it properly) so I am not able to traduce this (long) text in english for you, but anyway, if you want it, I will send it to you as it is. For sending it to you, I just need an e-mail address.
Thanks for the very interesting material Claire: we are always happy to receive historical material regarding the Samaritans.
Claire, I would be interested in the French Priest article, to add it to our bibliography.
David E Webb
I would like to see the full list of Samaritan High Priests from Aaron to 1624 AD.
I will send you the full list soon
My apologies for the late reply: we have the chronology of the 112 High Priests from the House of Phinchas b. Elazar b. Aaron up to 1624 CE, and then 22 High Priests from the House of Itamar b. Aaron, the brother of Moses, up to 2014. The current High Priest is Abed-El b. HP Asher b. Phinchas. The chronology was written by generation after generation of High Priests. It was first edited, by comparison with ancient scrolls, by the High Priest in Damascus: Elazar b. ‘Amram, in 1149 CE. The list was edited again by his successor, Jacob b. Ishmael in 1347. This written chronicle is called: Tulidah (Chronology). The most ancient manuscript of the Tulidah in existence dates from the 14th century. As I said, this chronicle is concerned with the High Priests of the People of Israel and the Israelite Samaritans. Other later chronicles relating to the Kings of Israel and Judea in a similar way can be found in the Bible, with more detail about the first split, which occurred at the end of the 10th century BCE. The final split between the Israelite Samaritans and the Israelite Jews happened from the end of the 4th century BCE through the 3rd century BCE.