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Some Account of the Ancient Samaritans

Manners of the Ancient Israelites containing an Account of their Peculiar Customs and Ceremonies, their Laws, Polity, Religion, Sects, Arts and Trades, Divisions of Time, Wars, Captivities, etc. with a short account of the Ancient and Modern Samaritans. 1825 Written originally in French, by Claude Fleury. 1825.

Chapter VIII, p. 250-263. Some Account of the Ancient Samaritans.

As the History of this singular people is so intimately connected with that of the ancient Israelites, it may not be improper to give a short account of them in this place. 

About the year of the world 3295, 709 before the Christian era, Sennacherib king of Assyria, having failed his attempts upon Judea, and becoming cruel and tyrannical even among his own people, in consequence of his disappointment, was slain by his two eldest sons, Adramelech and Sharezar, while worshipping in the house of his god Nisroch. The parricides having fled, Esarhaddon the third son, assumed the reins of government in the Assyrian empire.[1] After he had fully settled his authority in Babylon, he began to set his heart on the recovery of what had been lost to the empire of the Assyrians, in Syria and Palestine, on the destruction of his father's army in Judea. Having gathered together a great army, he marched into the land of Israel, and took captive those who were the remains of the former captivity (a few excepted who escaped into the mountains, &c.) and carried them away into Babylon and Assyria. As the land was in danger of becoming entirely desolate through lack of inhabitants, he brought colonies from Babylon, Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and established them in cities of Samaria, instead of those whom he had carried into captivity.[2] And thus the ten tribes which had separated from the house of David were brought to utter destruction, and could never afterwards assume any political consequence. 

It appears that some considerable time must have elapsed from the captivity of the Israelites of Samaria, before the above heathen colonies were brought in; for we find immediately on their settling they were much infested with lions, commissioned by the Lord to be a scourge to these idolaters,[3] and which, we may suppose, had multiplied greatly after the desolation of the land. The king of Babylon being told that it was because they worshipped not the God of the country, that they were plagued with ferocious animals, ordered that one of the captive Jewish priests should be sent back, to teach these new settlers the manner of the God of the land; [4]i.e. how to worship the God of Israel, as it was an ancient opinion among the heathens, that each district, and country had its peculiar and tutelary deities. A priest was accordingly sent back, who took up his residence at Beth-el, and there established the worship of the true God, and the heathens incorporated this worship with that which they paid to their idols. The few remaining Jews soon became miserably corrupted both in their manners and religion, and while Jevivah was feared because of his supposed superior influence in that land, all the other gods of the Babylonians, Cuthites, Hamathites, Avites, and Sepharvites, had divine honours paid to him.

This monstrous mixture of idolatry with the worship of the true God, continued for about three hundred years, till the building of the Samaritan temple on mount Gerizim, by Sanballat the Horonite, about A. M. 3595, B.C. 409. As the Jewish priesthood had been greatly corrupted by impure connexions and heathenish alliances, Sanballat found no difficulty to procure a priest, a regular descendant of the house of Aaron, to officiate in the schismatical temple which he had lately erected: for one of the sons of Joiada the high priest, whom Josephus called Manasseh[5], having married the daughter of Sanballat, and refusing to separate from her when Nehemiah insisted on all Jews to put away their strange wives or to depart the country, Manasseh fled to Samaria, and there became high priest of the temple on mount Gerizim, built by his father-in-law. Samaria now became a common asylum for refractory Jews; for all who violated the law by eating forbidden meats, &c., and were called to account for it, fled to the Samaritans, by whom they were kindly received; and as multitudes had apostatized in this way, in process of time the major part of the people was made up of apostate Jews and their descendants. This soon brought about a general change in the religion of the country; for as they had hitherto worshipped the God of Israel only in conjunction with their false gods, after a temple was built among them, in which the daily service was constantly performed in the very manner as in Jerusalem, and the laws of Moses brought to Samaria and there publicly read, they abandoned the worship of their idols, and became wholly conformed to the worship of the true God, in which they have hitherto continued with undeviating exactness; being in many respects more conscientious than the Jews themselves.[6] The Jews, however, considered them as apostates, hate them worse than any other nation; and the Samaritans consider the Jews their worst and most inveterate enemies. 

It is necessary to observe, that as out of Samaria no prophet arose after this time, and the Jewish prophets having inveighed strongly against the Samaritan corruptions, they have never received the prophetical writings of the Hebrews, and have none of their own: so that all they acknowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to be divine, is the five books of Moses, which they have in the most scrupulous and conscientious manner preserved till the present day; and to them the republic of letters is obliged for the preservation of the ancient genuine Hebrew character, now called the Samaritan, which was thrown aside by Ezra when he published a connected edition of the Old Testament Scriptures, in which he used the Chaldee character, since improperly termed the Hebrew.[7] It is scarcely necessary to observe, that the Pentateuch is printed in this ancient Hebrew character, in the first volume of the London Polyglott, and its various readings are given in a parallel column in the first volume of Dr. Kennicott's Hebrew Bible. 

Having taken this general view of the rise and continuance of this remarkable sect, it may be necessary next to consider what their present state is, both in religion and civil point of view.


CHAPTER IX. p. 253 A short Account of the Samaritans in Judea and Egypt.

The present state of the Samaritans in Egypt and Judea cannot be better known than from Dr. Huntington's letters. This learned Englishman had seen them at Cairo and Napolussa, had corresponded with them, and examined them upon several things, which common travelers generally omit. 

"There are no Samaritans," he observes, "at Damascus; and though those of Sichem boast of their numerous brethren at Cairo, I saw there but one Samaritan and his wife, who were very poor. The synagogue is a little, nasty, and obscure chamber. Here are kept two copies of the law, which may be about five hundred years old. They have a form of prayer, and a book which they call Joshua, which contains a short chronicle from the creation of the world to Mohammed. Lastly, they keep in their little library some commentaries on the law, written in Arabic. This is the language in common use, except when they quote any passage of the law; or write the names of their high priests, for then they use the Samaritan Characters. Those of Sichem or Napolussa are for the most part farmers of the customs, and collectors of the tribute at Sichem, Gaza, Joppa, or else are secretaries to the Bassa, which gives them some countenance. They walk the streets well enough dressed, and are not so miserable as in other places. Their principle, Merchab ben Yacoub, wrote to me at Jerusalem. The letters were signed by eighteen persons, which were almost all of consideration at Sichem.

This commissary of the customs was afterwards obliged to retire to Leghorn, because of the persecutions he met with in the holy land. These Samaritans boast of having a copy of the law written by the hand of Abisha. `We have,' say they in their letters, `a sacred writing; `tis the copy of the law, in which are found these words; `I, Abisha, the son of Phineas, the son of Eleasar, the son of Aaron the high priest, have transcribed this copy at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, in the thirteenth year of the children of Israel's entrance into the holy land, or upon the frontiers.'" The Samaritans having boasted of this copy, I was willing, in a second journey I made to Sichem, to examine the truth of the fact with my own eyes. But I turned over the manuscript long enough without finding the words; and the Samaritans, who were present, confessed that these words were not in their copy; that they were formerly, but somebody had maliciously expunged them. 

Thus, instead of honestly acknowledging their imposture, they face it with a new falsehood, and sacrifice their conscience to a chimerical antiquity." All the Samaritans hate the Jews mortally; for this traveler relates, that they having one day asked him whether there were Hebrews in his country, they were overjoyed to hear there were; but when he went to undeceive them, because they took the Jews of England for Samaritans, they would not believe him: "No, no!" cried they, "they are Israelites, Hebrews, our most brotherly brethren." As they do not give the Jews the title of Hebrews, or Israelites, they think all nations do the like. And indeed they fancy that they are the only stock of Israel. One of them had a design to come and see those whom he called his brethren in England; but understanding he must be upon the sea on the Sabbath, he thought it was breaking the rest of it, and would hear no more of the voyage; for they observe the Sabbath with the utmost strictness. They do not pronounce the name Jehovah, but make use of the word Sema. Mr. Ludolf, with a great deal of reason, believed it to be the word Shem, which signifies the NAME, by way of eminence. What is more surprising is, that the Christians of Egypt do the same thing, never pronouncing the word Phta, which is the name the Egyptians gave God, to signify that he did everything without fraud, with art and truth. But they call God Ebrudiz."

"Their notions of the Messiah are very confessed and very different; but they always speak honourably of him, and they do not declaim much against those that worship him. Their hatred to the other Jews makes them more moderate perhaps to the Christians."

To omit nothing that concerns the religion of the faith which the high priest Eleazar sent to Scaliger, in the name of the synagogue of Sichem, which that great man consulted.

"1. The Samaritans observe the Sabbath with all the exactness required in Exodus. For none of them goest out of the place where his is on the Sabbath day, but only to go to the synagogue, where they read the law and sing God's praises. They do not sleep that night with their wives, and neither kindle, nor order fire to be kindled; whereas the Jews transgress the Sabbath in all these points. For they go out of town, have fire made, sleep with their wives, and even do not make use of proper ablutions.

"2. They hold the passover to be their first festival. They begin at sunset by the sacrifice enjoined for that purpose in Exodus. But they sacrifice nowhere but mount Gerizim, where they read the law, and offer prayers unto G0d, after which the priest dismisses the whole congregation with a blessing.

"3. They celebrate for seven days together the feast of the harvest; but they do not agree with the Jews concerning the day after the solemnity of the Passover; whereas the Samaritans reckon fifty days, beginning the next day after the Sabbath, which happens in the week of unleavened bread, and the next day after the seventh Sabbath following, the feast of harvest begins. 

"4. They observe the feast of expiation the tenth of the seventh month. They employ the four-and-twenty hours of the day in prayers to God, and singing praises, and fasting. For all except sucking children fast; whereas the Jews except children under seven years of age.

"5. The fifteenth of the same month they celebrate the feast of the tabernacles upon the same mount Gerizim.

"6. They never defer circumcision farther than the eight day, as it is commanded in Genesis; whereas the Jews sometimes defer it longer.

"7. They are obliged to wash themselves in the morning when they have slept with their wives, or have contracted any defilement in the night; and all vessels that may become unclean, are defiled when any such unclean person touches them.

"8. They take away the fat from sacrifices, and give the priests the shoulder, the jaws, and belly.

"9. They never marry their nieces as the Jews do, and have but one wife: whereas the Jews may have many.

"10. They believe in God, in Moses, and mount Gerizim. Whereas the Jews put their trust in others. We do nothing, say they, but what is expressly commanded in the law by the Lord, who made use of the ministry of Moses. But the Jews swerve from what the Lord hath commanded in the law, to observe what their fathers and doctors have invented".

Thus far their creed sent to Scaliger. They say, that Mr. Huntington persuaded them they had brethren at London; but he says that the Samaritans were misled by the Israelites, and thought that all who went by the name of Israelites were Samaritans. Some fraud seems to have been practiced upon them relative to this subject, in order to get a copy of their law, and they certainly did entrust him with a copy of their Pentateuch which Dr. Huntington seems to have requested from them in the name of their pretended Samaritan brethren in England: at least, so am I to understand their letter to these English Samaritans, a translation of which I subjoin from Basnage, that the fact may speak for itself. Indeed it is a literary curiosity, and being perfectly authentic, is worthy of particular attention.

A Letter of the Samaritans, to their Brethren in England

In the name of the Almighty, adorable God; in the name of the great Lord, who is by himself, our God, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has said in his law, I am the God of Bethel," the supreme God, Lord of heaven and earth, God Almighty, who has sent Moses the son of Amram, commissioned with his laws, and by his means has revealed the holiness of mount Gerizim, and of the house of God.

We salute you, oh synagogue of Israel, the people of our Lord and master, who has chosen this people above all nations of the earth; for you are a people holy to the Lord. We call ourselves Samaritans, and we assure you, our brethren in Israel, that we are extremely devoted to Moses the prophet, and to the holy law. We observe the Sabbath as God has commanded, for on that day nobody moves out of his place, except it to pay his devotions at the house of the Lord. As all those who sought God went to the tabernacle of witness, we do nothing there but read the law, praise God, and pay him our thanksgivings; and whereas the Jews ride on horseback, go out of the city, light fires on that day, and converse with their wives: we separate ourselves the night of the Sabbath, and light no fire. The Jews do not wash after every kind of pollution, but we do, and purify ourselves thereby. We pray to God evening and morning according to the command he has given us, `You shall offer me a lamb in the morning, and another lamb between the two evenings.' We lie upon the ground when we worship God before mount Gerizim, the house of God.

We have seven solemn feasts wherein we assemble. The first is the feast of Passover, at the time that our fathers came out of Egypt. We sacrifice the lamb the fourteenth day of the month, at evening, a little before sun setting and eat it roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. We make this sacrifice only upon mount Gerizim; and we prepare it on the first day of the month Nisan, according to the Greeks. We reckon seven days for the feast of unleavened bread; six whereof we eat bread without leaven. On the seventh we go early at break of day to mount Gerizim, to celebrate the feast and read the law. When prayers are ended the priest gives the blessing to the people from the top of the eternal mountain. We do not begin to reckon the fifty days of the feast of the harvest, like the Jews, from the morrow of the feast of the Passover, but we reckon them from the day following the Sabbath, that happens in the feast of unleavened bread, till the morrow of the seventh Sabbath, on which we celebrate the feast of harvest upon Gerizim. We celebrate also the seventh month, which begins with the feast of trumpets. Ten days after is that of propitiations; in which we sing hymns and say prayers, from one day to the other night and day. The women and children fast as well as the men, and we dispense with none but those that suck; whereas the Jews dispense with all under seven years old. We observe the feast of tabernacles upon Gerizim the fifteenth of the seventh month. We set up tabernacles, according to the order given us by God, `Ye shall take you boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of think trees and willows of the brook.' We spend seven days in joy under these tents, and on the eighth we end the feast of the Lord with a hymn.

We very circumspectly observe whether the conjunction of the sun and the moon happen in the night, or in the day before noon. If it happen before noon, that day is the first of the month; but if it happen at twelve o'clock, or a little after, we delay the beginning of the month till marrow. If the conjunction be lunar, the month continues twenty-nine days, but thirty if it be solar. If the new moon falls on the eleventh of the month Adar of the Greeks, we intercalate a month, and reckon thirteen that year. And the month that immediately follows is the first month of the year. But if the month begins on the twelfth of Adar or some days after, then that is the first month of the year, and we reckon but twelve; for the week of unleavened bread must be in the month Nisan. The Jews reckon otherwise than we; we begin the sabbatic year and jubilee from the first day of the seventh month.

We sprinkle the water of separation the third and fourth days, upon all that are defiled by contact of women, and we sprinkle it seven days upon the women, and we sprinkle it seven days upon the woman who has an issue upon her. The woman who is delivered of a boy, separates only forty-one days; and eighty if it be a girl: the circumcision is made exactly on the eight day after the birth, without deferring it one single day, as do the Jews. We purify ourselves from the defilements contracted in sleep, and we touch none of the unclean things specified in the law without washing in clean water. We offer to God the fat of the victim, and give the priest the shoulder, the jaw, and the ventricle.

It is not lawful for us to marry a niece, or a cousin, as is done by the Jews. We believe in Moses, and in mount Gerizim. We have priests of the race of Levi, descended in a right line from Aaron and Phineas. We are all of the tribe of Joseph, by Ephraim, Manasses; and of the tribe of Levi. Our habitation is in the holy city of Sichem, and at Gaza; we have a copy of the law, written in the time of grace, in which we read these words: I, Abishai, the son of Phineas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, have written this copy at the door of the tabernacle, in the thirteenth year of the people of Israel's entrance into the land of Canaan, upon its frontiers. We read this law in Hebrew, which is holy tongue, and do nothing but according to the commands of God, given us by Moses, the son of Amram, our prophet, upon whom be peace forever and ever. We give you notice, you that are our brethren, children of Israel, that R. Huntington, an uncircumcised man, is arrived here from Europe, and has acquainted us that you are a great people, composed of men pure and holy like ourselves, and that you have sent him to desire of us a copy of the law; to whom we would not give credit, till he had written before us some characters of the holy language; in order to assure you that we have the same Mosaic religion that you profess, and if we had not been willing to oblige you, we should not have sent a copy of the law by the hands of the uncircumcised, for that is a reproach to us. Nevertheless we have committed it to him, with two other little books, that we might not absolutely deny your request. We also conjure you in the name of the living God not to deny ours, and to tell us what religion you are of? Tell us what is the language you speak, the city you live in, the king that governs you, and what religion you profess? Have ye any priests of the race of Phineas? Have ye only one priest? In the name of God tell us the truth, without any shadow of dissimulation; and send us a copy of the law, as we have sent you ours. Send us also some learned men, some prophets, some persons of repute, and especially some descendants of Phineas; for know that God has chosen us children of Israel to be his people, and to live at Gerizim, according to what he has said, Ye shall seek their habitation, and shall go there. He has said also, You shall keep three feasts every year; the males shall rejoice three times a year before the Lord. Know also, that all the prophets are buried in the territory of Sichem: our father Joseph, Eleazar, Ithamar, Phinas, Joshia, Caleb, the seventy elders, with Eldad and Medad.

If you are willing to oblige us, acquaint us whether you are devoted to Moses, and his law, to Gerizim and the house of God; and send us some persons, without being concerned about the length of the journey. Do not intrust the Jews, for they hate us. If you send us any deputy, give us notice of it by some friend. If ye have the book of Joshua, and any liturgy, send us that also.

Tell us what your law is. As for us, we call the law what begins with the first word of Genesis, and ends with the last of Deuteronomy. Cause all this to be copied for us in the holy tongue, and tell us by what name you go? We adjure you by the name of the living God, not to suffer a year to run over your heads without giving us an answer. In the meantime, we bless God, the Lord of heaven and earth, and we implore his mercy and his justice, to instruct you in all that can please him, and to guide you in the good way, amen. May he preserve you and deliver you from the hands of your enemies, and gather you together from your dispersions into the land of your fathers, through the merits of Moses. We add, that this is our faith: we believe in God, in Moses his servant, in the holy law, in mount Gerizim, the house of God, and in the day of vengeance and peace. Blessed for ever be our God, and let his peace rest upon Moses, the son of Amram, the righteous, perfect, pure and faithful prophet. We have written this letter at Sichem, near Gerizim, the 15th day of the sixth month which is the 27th day of the lunar month, in the 6111th year of the creation of the world, according to the Greeks; the second from the year of rest. This year the seventh will begin the fourth of Elul, according to the Greeks; and the next year is the 3411th from the entrance into the land of Canaan. God be blessed.

May this letter be the help of God arrive into the city England, to the synagogue of the Samaritan children of Israel, whom God preserve. It is written by the synagogue of Israel, dwelling at Sichem. Mechab, the son of Jacob, a descendant of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, was the secretary."

The Samaritan Pentateuch which it appears from the above that the Rev. Mr. Huntington (then chaplain to the Turkey company at Aleppo, and afterwards bishop of Rapho in Ireland) had requested from them in the name of the Samaritans dwelling in England, is Cod. 65, in Kennicott's collection. Mr. H. had made it a present to Abp. Marsh. It seems it had been highly prized by its Samaritan possessor, for, says Mr. Huntington, in an epistle to Ludolf, He had it in his bossom, suspended from his neck. Kennicott supposes it to have been written about the middle of the thirteenth century. The 33rd and 34th chapters of Deuteronomy are supplied in this manuscript by Marcab ben Yacoub, the writer of the above epistle. The manuscript is in the 12mo form.

In the year 1790, I met with "an Epistle from the Samaritans at Sichem to the Samaritans of England," in Marsh's Library, St. Patrick's Dublin, neatly written in a very legible Samaritan character upon paper; it is probably the same with that mentioned above: I began to transcribe it as a curiosity, but could not find the opportunity to finish it. It is directed in the following manner: "To the congregation of the children of Israel, the Samaritans dwelling in the city of England." I mention this circumstance here, that any of the literati who are curious in oriental matters may know the residence of such a curiosity, and consult it when opportunity may offer. If my recollection be correct, a part of the epistle is accompanied with a Latin translation.

For further information relative to this people, I must refer the reader to Prideaux's Connexions, as quoted above, to Ludolf's and Huntington's Letters, and to Basnage's History of the Jews.Whether any remains of this very ancient sect of mongrel Jews be now in existence at Sichem or elsewhere, I have not been able to learn.

[1] 2 Kings xix, 37. 1 Chron. xxxii, 21. Isai. xxxviii, 38. [2] 2 Kings xvii, 24. Ezra iv, 2, 10. [3] 2 kings xvii, 25. [4] Ibid. v, 26. [5] Antiq. B.xi,c.7. [6] Prideaux. Connex. Vol. I, p. 42, &c. vol. Ii, p. 588, &c. [7] See a farther account of this in the Bibliographical Dictionary, vol. vii, Succession of Sacred Literature, under the article Ezra.

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