The Samaritans — A Living Link With The Past Part I -- By: Sylvia Mann
BSP 6:3 (Summer 1977) p. 77
The Samaritans — A Living Link With The Past
[Mrs Mann is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in archaeological and historical subjects. Her books include Atarei Yerushalayim, Tour Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria.]
Most people know little about today’s Samaritans. Many believe that the name refers to an ancient, biblical race of which no vestige survives. They are often surprised to learn that the Samaritans, who accept only the Pentateuch as Holy Writ, are a vital, intelligent group with a rich history and a distinctive language and literature, practising their own form of worship and following age-old traditions and customs. In outward appearance, they tend to be tall and goodlooking, often light-complexioned, and indistinguishable from the folk among whom they live.
Claiming direct descent from Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph, who entered the Promised Land with Joshua and settled in the Samaria region, while their priests stem from the tribe of Levi, the Samaritans rather resent the name by which they are known. They prefer to call themselves ‘Shamerim’ — in Hebrew, guardians — for they contend that they have guarded the original Law of Moses, keeping it pure and unadulterated down the centuries.
Their numbers are not large, and today less than five hundred are left of a great nation that is said to have been counted in hundreds of thousands — there were estimated to be over three-quarters of a milllion
BSP 6:3 (Summer 1977) p. 78
in the early part of the Christian era. About half of the remnant live on their ancestral site, close to Mount Gerizim, and the other half in Holon, near Tel Aviv.
Their creed is simple: ‘the unity of God, with Moses as His prophet; the holiness of the Sabbath and the set feasts; the sanctity of Mount Gerizim, and a belief in Resurrection and in the Day of Judgement’ — the last tenets obviously adopted at a later stage. Mount Gerizim, in the district of Samaria, draws Samaritans on three annual pilgrimages — Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. The yearly Paschal sacrifice, which all Samaritans are required to attend, is of the utmost importance.
General opinion, until recently, was that, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BC and its population carried off into exile, ‘the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel.’ 2 Kings 17:24. These foreign elements, who eventually took the religion of the Land, are held to be...
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