Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BSD Blogging: Samaritans of the 21st Century

Modern-day Samaritans celebrating Shauvoth on Mount Gezirim

In Nehemiah we read of the enmity between the Samaritans--especially their governor Sanballat--and the Jews during the post-exilic period when the Jews were returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding it.

We know that enmity continued in the time of the New Testament, but what happened to the Samaritans and Samaria? Inquiring minds want to know.

A few years ago I looked this up when I was teaching a class on Luke and got to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Much to my surprise I learned that a small group (about 750) of Samaritans continue to live in Israel today and practice their own unique religious tradition which is related to Judaism but relies on a Samaritan Torah and commentaries. Modern Samaritans claim descent from two tribes of Israel: Manasseh and Ephraim. They live near  Mount Gezirim, where tradition says Abraham took Isaac for sacrifice and which they say is the original holy site of the Israelites. 

Samaritans believe the Jews practice an altered and amended form of religion which developed after their return from Babylonian exile while Samaritans maintained the purity of the original worship and beliefs of the Israelites. Over the centuries the number of Samaritans declined due to bloody historical events and the forced mass conversion of many to Islam in the early Muslim period of Palestine. The 700+ Samaritans remaining in Israel today are members of five family groups and there are some Samaritans scattered around the world, including some in the United States. 

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