Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Overlooked: Samaritans


Samaritan Priest and others at Passover. Photo from here

The story of the Good Samaritan is what most people think of when they hear the word "Samaritan." The story was revolutionary at the time because a Samaritan, the outsider of the outsiders, was the only one to offer help to the wounded Jew. Today many people do not know what a Samaritan is or that Samaritans continue to live today.

Location
There are only about 705 Samaritans left. About half of them on the outskirts of Nablus and the other half lives in Holon near Tel Aviv.

Culture and Religion
Samaritans share the same lineage as Jews. However, they claim to be the true keepers of the faith and culture of the ancient Israelites. Their religion, Samaritanism, is based on the written Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) but with a different version of the ten commandments. The last commandment is expanded to include God declaring Mount Gerizim the holy spot of Israel. It is this commandment which gives Samaritans religious justification to its construction of their holy temple on Gerizim. Samaritans believe Moses was the last prophet (the other prophets of the Old Testments are fictional according to the Samaritans). Another difference to present-day Judaism include the Samaritans continued use of a priesthood and denial of the Talmud and any rabbinical law.

History
It is known that Samaritans came from the northern tribes of ancient Israel. No one knows exactly when Samaritans and Jews separated from each other. It was once believed the Samaritans intermixed with invading pagan groups but this theory has fallen out of favor. Whatever the reason, by the end of the fourth century BC the split was finalized. The Jews had their temple in Jerusalem while the Samaritans had their's forty miles away on Mount Gerizim.

During Greek occupation the Samaritans were relatively well off. However, while external persecution was light some Samaritans embraced Greek culture. Things changed when the Maccabeean John Hyrcanus conquered Samaritan lands and destroyed their temple.

The Roman era was a mixed time for the Samaritans. The Samaritans were not granted the same special exception of religious freedom that the Jews received. The Samaritans were forced to offer sacrifices to the Roman imperial cult. The local Jewish leaders kept up persecution on Samaritans who became virtual untouchables. After the failed Jewish revolts against Rome, things changed somewhat. Samaritans were allowed to rebuild their temple. The Samaritan leadership made the effort to constantly remind the Roman authorities that Samaritans were not like the "troublesome" Jews.

The Christian empire was no friend of the Samaritans. Religious oppression led to failed revolts against Emperor Zeno and Justinian I. The temple was destroyed again. Justinian I allied with the Christian Ghassanid Arabs to crush the last Samaritan revolt. Tens of thousands of Samaritans were killed or forcibly converted. It was a blow that the Samaritans would never recover from.

The Islamic Era was one of attrition. Samaritans were granted People of the Book (Dhimmi) status. Many of the remaining Samaritans converted over time to end the economical and social oppression against them.

Today
Despite their history and being in a geopolitical powder cake Samaritans have managed to reach an equilibrium. They keep their faith while sending the children to either Israeli or Palestinian schools for secular education. The close knit group official remains neutral on the complex political issues that everyone else has strong opinions on.

The religious ceremonies held by the Samaritans are now open to religious tourists. Tourism has brought in money which the Samaritans have used to improve themselves. There is no current effort to rebuild the temple but all temple functions including sacrifice continues. The videos below documents the Samaritans' Passover celebration near Nablus.



With such a small community there are fears of interbreeding. So men are allowed to marry someone outside the faith as long as they convert. Recently the Samaritans contracted with a Ukrainian agency to find brides for two members.

There is no one external threat to the Samaritans currently. However; by being such a small group in such a dangerous area, any disaster could destroy the Samaritans chance for a future.

Additional Resources
Wikipedia Article on Samaritans

The Samaritan News - Defunct newsletter on Samaritans

The Samaritans - Everything you ever wanted to know about the Samaritans... ever

The Samaritans' Newsletter - Updates on the Samaritans

2 comments:

prof said...

hello
vous pouvez poster vos infos sur jewisheritage.fr
shalom

Jennifer said...

Wow, you never hear anything about modern Samaratins, I'm going to have to read more on them. Your note about their worship brings to mind the woman at the well who asked Jesus who was right about where to worship.