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The Samaritan canon

As has been mentioned, the Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch from the Jews. They know of no other section of the Bible, however, and did not expand their Pentateuchal canon even by the inclusion of any strictly Samaritan compositions.


Samaritans trace their roots to those Jews not dispersed when the Assyrians conquered Israel in the 8th century BCE. About half of the few hundred surviving members of the Samaritan community live near Tel Aviv in the town of Holon. The rest live on Mount Gerizim (Arabic: Jabal al-Tur), near Nabulus in the West Bank. They preserve their separate religious and communal organizations and speak Arabic but pray in an archaic form of Hebrew. They participate in national life as part of the Jewish section of the population.


Samaritans, member of a community of Jews, now nearly extinct, that claims to be related by blood to those Jews of ancient Samaria who were not deported by the Assyrian conquerors of the kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. The Samaritans call themselves Bene-Yisrael (“Children of Israel”), or Shamerim (“Observant Ones”), for their sole norm of religious observance is the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). Other Jews call them simply Shomronim (Samaritans); in the Talmud (rabbinical compendium of law, lore, and commentary), they are called Kutim, suggesting that they are rather descendants of Mesopotamian Cuthaeans, who settled in Samaria after the Assyrian conquest.

Jews who returned to their homeland after the Babylonian Exile would not accept the help of the dwellers of the land, who were later identified as the Samaritans, in the building of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Consequently, in the 4th century BC, the Samaritans built their own temple in Nabulus (Shechem), at the base of Mount Gerizim, some 25 miles (40 km) north of Jerusalem. The low esteem that Jews had for the Samaritans was the background of Christ's famous parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).

Since the 1970s their population has held at about 500; they are somewhat evenly distributed between Nabulus, which is also the residence of the high priest, and the city of Holon, where a synagogue is maintained, just south of Tel Aviv–Yafo. All live in semi-isolation, marrying only within their own community. They pray in Hebrew but adopted Arabic as their vernacular after the Muslim conquest of AD 636.

The Samaritan Pentateuch

The importance of the recension known as the Samaritan Pentateuch lies in the fact that it constitutes an independent Hebrew witness to the text written in a late and developed form of the paleo-Hebrew script. Some of the Exodus fragments from Qumran demonstrate that it has close affinities with a pre-Christian Palestinian text type and testify to the faithfulness with which it has been preserved. It contains about 6,000 variants from the Masoretic text, of which nearly a third agree with the Septuagint. Only a minority, however, are genuine variants, most being dogmatic, exegetical, grammatical, or merely orthographic in character.

The Samaritan Pentateuch first became known in the West through a manuscript secured in Damascus in 1616 by Pietro della Valle, an Italian traveler. It was published in the Paris (1628–45) and London Polyglots (1654–57), written in several languages in comparative columns. Many manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch are now available. The Avisha' Scroll, the sacred copy of the Samaritans, has recently been photographed and critically examined. Only Numbers chapter 35 to Deuteronomy chapter 34 appears to be very old, the rest stemming from the 14th century. A new, definitive edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch is being prepared in Madrid by F. Pérez Castro.

The Samaritans

This ancient sect has close historical ties to the Jewish faith. However, they have an entirely separate set of traditions and customs which diverged from Judaism long ago, before it was codified and homogenized. For instance, they believe that only the Pentateuch is divinely inspired. Their language is still written using an archaic version of the Hebrew alphabet. The Samaritans, who were persecuted and shunned outsiders, are ironically best known because of a short parable in the New Testament in which a Samaritan does a good deed for a victim of a mugging (Luke 10:25). Today, about 300 Samaritans live in the West Bank in the vicinity of Nablus on Mount Gerizim, preserving their customs and language. For more information on the Samaritans, refer to http://www.the-samaritans.com, who have graciously allowed sacred-texts to mirror these articles.

The Samaritan Chronicle, or the Book of Joshua (Part I)
The Samaritan Chronicle, or the Book of Joshua (Part II)
Book of Enlightment (Part I)
Book of Enlightment (Part II)
Some Account of the Ancient Samaritans
The Messianic Hope of the Samaritans
Nabloos and the Samaritans
The Oldest and Smallest Sect in the World