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The Samaritans in Palestine

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 05.03.2007:

The Samaritans, who live in Nablus on Mount Jerizime, have been in this country for over 2,600 years. They have their own culture, civilization, language, heritage, and religion. Many Palestinians know little about them though they live in close proximity to each other. The Samaritans have existed in Palestine since the days of the Prophet Moses. While Samaritans and Jews are both of Israelite ancestry, Samaritans are descendents of the northern kingdom of Israel, whereas the Jews are descendents of the southern kingdom.

Samaritans exceeded one million two thousand people in the years 400 to 500 AD. They lived in several places in the Holy Land, extending from the southern part of Syria to the northern part of Egypt. The people of Nablus called them Samaritans. The Samaritans themselves say that their name is ‘Shomerim’, a Hebrew word that means, ‘observers,’ that is, observers of the Bible of Prophet Moses. The Samaritan language is ancient Hebrew, the language used in the first millennium AD.

Currently there are approximately 570 Samaritans, male and female, who live in two areas in Palestine: Mount Jerizime, in Nablus, and Holon city. They descended from the two Israelite tribes of Levi and Joseph. Mount Jerizime (the blessed mountain) is the site of their ancient holy temple and their central place of worship.

The Samaritans have what could be the oldest document in the world in the form of a Bible that was written in ancient Samaritan characters on lambskin, 13 years after the death of Moses, over 3,634 years ago. It is a well-preserved international treasure and only used on important occasions. This ancient Bible comprises the five books of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament. Samaritan children learn the ancient Hebrew language before going to school with the help of their parents and their friends. They also practice it at home to help them master it. In addition, Samaritans speak Arabic fluently, which they learn while attending Palestinian schools.

By 1917, the number of the Samaritans was reduced to 146 because of the persecution against them during the First World War. Beginning in the 1930s, however, all aspects of their life gradually began to improve. Without losing any of their unity, and while maintaining their religion, history, culture, civilization, and doctrine, Samaritans have integrated into public posts, and many of them are successful businessmen in Nablus and Holon.

Basic Elements of the Samaritan Religion

Samaritans are the most ancient sect in the world and believe that they are the only true representatives of the ancient children of Israel.

The Samaritan religion is based on the following five elements:

• The unity of the one and only God

• One prophet: Moses the son of Umram

• One holy book: the ancient Bible that comprises the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)

• One holy place: Mount Jerizime in Nablus.

• The eternal joy: the day of reward and punishment

Samaritans are the most ancient sect in the world and believe that they are the only true representatives of the ancient children of Israel.

The Festivals

The Samaritans celebrate only the seven festivals that are mentioned in their Bible:

• Easter (Passover), during which the Samaritans present sacrifices on Jerizime Mountain

• Al-Fitr festival, which commemorates their expulsion from Egypt

• The Harvest of the Seven Weeks, which commemorates the Bible being given to the Prophet Moses

• The Hebrew New Year, which marks the seven Hebrew months

• The great day of fasting, which is the tenth day of the seventh month

• The Festival of Tabernacles, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, which commemorates the protection of the sons of Israel when they left Egypt and the abundance of delicious fruits they were given

• The Festival of the eighth day (after Tabernacles)

Pilgrimages are also an important part of the Samaritan faith. Three times a year, Samaritans are required to make pilgrimages to their holy sites. In addition, all Samaritans, even the elderly and infants, are committed to the doctrine of fasting.

The Samaritan high priest’s family belongs to the Haron family, descended from Moses’ brother. This family is usually entrusted with performing the religious rites. The high priest is the oldest man in the Haron family.

Pilgrimages are also an important part of the Samaritan faith. Three times a year, Samaritans are required to make pilgrimages to their holy sites. In addition, all Samaritans, even the elderly and infants, are committed to the doctrine of fasting.

The Samaritan high priest’s family belongs to the Haron family, descended from Moses’ brother. This family is usually entrusted with performing the religious rites. The high priest is the oldest man in the Haron family.

The Samaritans and Marriage

Samaritan men and women are free to choose whom they will marry, and most marry relatives. Marriage ceremonies resemble Islamic ceremonies but the basic beliefs are different. Divorce is almost impossible save for exceptional cases such as illness and a woman’s infertility.

A Samaritan is not allowed to marry his sister-in-law if his wife dies, and the same rule applies to a female who cannot marry her brother-in-law if her husband dies. If it happens that a girl agrees to be wedded as above, then she has to live with the man for at least a year as a trial period.

Samaritan men and women are free to choose whom they will marry, and most marry relatives. Marriage ceremonies resemble Islamic ceremonies but the basic beliefs are different. Divorce is almost impossible save for exceptional cases such as illness and a woman’s infertility.

A Story about Samaritans

Jesus was preaching in Jericho, and an expert in Jewish law tried to trick him by questioning what the Bible meant by ‘love thy neighbour’. According to rabbinical law, a Jew’s neighbour was a fellow Israelite. Jesus answered with a parable of a man who was beaten and robbed on the road to Jericho. Two people passed him by, but the third, a Samaritan, went out of his way to care for the man. ‘Which of these three’, Jesus asked, ‘was the neighbour of the victim?’ The lawyer could not bear to utter the word Samaritan, for the Jews detested the Samaritans. He said instead, ‘the one who showed mercy’. And Jesus answered simply, ‘Go, and do likewise’. This beautiful, timeless story has inspired us for centuries.

It is possible that no one could ever write the full story of the Samaritans and their history in Palestine. I hope that this article will offer readers a hint of the interesting life of the Samaritans, a people who have survived for over 2,500 years.

It is possible that no one could ever write the full story of the Samaritans and their history in Palestine. I hope that this article will offer readers a hint of the interesting life of the Samaritans, a people who have survived for over 2,500 years.

Imad Atrash

With assistance from Diane Adkin

Palestine Wildlife Society

www.wildlife-pal.org

Source:

This Week in Palestine

March 2007

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