The Samaritans And Their Sacred Law -- By: William Ewing

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 079:316 (Oct 1922)
Article: The Samaritans And Their Sacred Law
Author: William Ewing


The Samaritans And Their Sacred Law

The Antiquity Of The Five Books Of Moses

William Ewing

Many and picturesque are the religious sects in the Lands of the Bible today; but none makes a stronger appeal to the imagination than that of the Samaritans. The circumstances of their origin, their age-long feud with the Jews, and the singular vicissitudes of their history, an experience in which romance and tragedy are so strangely mingled, present a fascinating theme for study. It is pathetic to see how a once numerous and prosperous people has dwindled. The community at Nablus, under Mount Gerizim, has shrunk to about 150 souls in all; so that extinction stares them in the face. In a despairing effort to avoid impending doom, early in 1919, the Samaritans approached the Sephardim Jews with proposals for intermarriage. Their friendly overtures were promptly and decisively repelled. One is glad to know that in the wreckage wrought by the Turks during the Great War the Samaritans escaped with comparatively little damage; and that their precious manuscripts were preserved intact.

The most prized possession of the Samaritans is the sacred copy of the Pentateuch—the five Books of Moses— which they claim to have been written by Abishua, the great-grandson of Aaron. It is impossible to credit the existing manuscript with such antiquity; but the investigation of its ancestry and transmission, and the religious life, thought and ritual of which it has been the centre, is a matter of profound interest for Biblical students. It may shed fresh light on many questions affecting especially the composition and date of the books concerned. The books of the Bible comprise the remnant of the literature of the ancient Hebrews that has escaped destruction —an escape manifestly due to the protecting providence of

God. Materials from the records of the ancient world that have survived and are available for the critical study of these documents are scanty. The rubbish heaps of Egypt, the mounds of Palestine and Mesopotamia, the ruins of Syria and Asia Minor have been in some measure explored with results which, if for this particular purpose they are meagre, are yet of priceless value. In view of all this activity a mild wonder may be expressed that a field so rich and promising as the Samaritan Pentateuch opens up should have been so largely neglected.

Gesenius, to whose work a certain revival of interest in the subject was due, started with the assumption that the Massoretic—the Hebrew from which our English translation was made—as compared with the Samaritan, represented the older text, and therefore, as closer to the original, should be accepted as the more accurate....

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