A Samaritan Pentateuch, dating from the 14th century.
Who are the Samaritans?
The Samaritans are an ethnic and religious sect, who trace their lineage from the northern Israelite kingdom destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. They claim descent from Abraham the Patriarch and the biblical tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, two of Joseph’s sons. The exact date of the Samaritans’ rift from mainstream Judaism is uncertain, however, it is likely to have been concluded at the end of the 4th century BCE. During the course of history, due to persecutions and forced conversions, the Samaritan population has been reduced dramatically. Nowadays, some 800 Samaritans live in modern-day Israel and the West Bank.
The Samaritan religion
The Samaritans’ religion is closely related to Judaism. While some aspects of their faith, such as belief in one God and in the Torah as God’s word dictated to Moses, are identical to Judaism, others differ a great deal. They reject the rabbinic Jewish laws and follow their own Samaritan codes of law and liturgy. Their principal canonical text and main norm of religious observance is the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Samaritan Pentateuch contains the basic text of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, yet there are about 6,000 differences between it and the masoretic Jewish version. One of the most fundamental disagreements between the two is the location of the Temple. Rather than the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Samaritans regard Mount Gerizim (near Nablus in the West Bank) as the site that God had chosen for a holy Temple.
This 14th-century Pentateuch was copied on parchment by the scribe Abraham ben Jacob ben Tabya ben Sa’adiah ben Abraham, of the Pijma family. It is written in Samaritan Hebrew majuscule characters, which is typical of the Damascene scribal tradition (i.e. from Damascus, Syria). Samaritan Hebrew is written in the Samaritan alphabet, a direct descendant of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet (very ancient script used by the Israelites around 10th century BCE), which in turn is a variant of the earlier Phoenician alphabet. The Samaritans have continued to use the Paleo-Hebrew script for writing Aramaic and Hebrew texts to this day.
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Article by:
- Maryanne Saunders
- Judaism, Sacred texts
The Torah has central importance in Jewish life, ritual and belief. Maryanne Saunders describes what the Torah is, what it includes and how it is used in worship and ritual.