The Samaritans – Living peacefully in the middle of Palestine
Today we visited the Samaritan Village which is located on top of Mount Gerizim one of the two mountains which enclose the city of Nablus. The Samaritans are one of the oldest and smallest religious sects in the world that still exist today after thousands of years of history. We first visited the Samaritan Museum with Father Ibrahim as our guide.
When we entered however there was a young Palestinian woman, a Muslim who is actually an official guide in the museum and has been educated by the Samaritan high priest in all aspects of their practices and religion.
She started by asking us what we knew about Samaritans and of course we answered that we knew the story of the Good Samaritan, the leper who was the only one to come back and thank Jesus for being healed and of course the story of the woman at the well (John 4).
Picture L-R Fr. Lewis Lima,(UK) Samaritan Priest Hosni Kahen, Fr. Ibrahim Nairouz , (Anglican priest Nablus) and the author
She gave us first a brief outline of the Samaritan faith and practices: they are in all respects a Jewish sect, keeping the same Sabbath observance, dietary laws, feasts, customs and rituals as the mainstream Jewish religion with the exception that they only recognize the first five books of the Bible and they also believe that mount Gerizim where they are located is the true site of the Temple that God commanded the Jews to build.
We were then joined by Samaritan priest Hosni Kahen who give us further insights into their Faith and practices. Priest Kahen has written a number of books about the Samaritan religion and he has also researched and traced the journey of Moses wandering in the desert for 40 years and proved that Mount Sinai is in the south now the site of St. Catherine’s monastery and not the Mount Sinai in the North where it is claimed to be by mainstream Jewish religion.
The Samaritans in Nablus have very little to do with the Jewish communities in Israel – they do not see eye-to-eye and their differences go back to the time when the two groups split, into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel.
I will take you through some of the Pictures I took:
1 . We were introduced to the Sanctuary (Kodesh, where the Torah Scrolls are kept) which is actually a replica of the one in the Synagogue across the street. See the red velvet covering the Scrolls and at the back on velvet cloth on the wall hanging, the ancient Hebrew language similar to Aramaic. The priest showed us where the syllabic symbols and shapes come from (mouth, eyes, head ) He explained that their Bible is written in the same language and children from 5 years onward are taught to read it, and by the age of seven they can read the entire Bible in Aramaic.
Chart: He explained that the chart represented the history of the Samaritans from Adam to Jacob and his sons who became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.
The Priest Kahen then showed us the wall murals depicting the epic events in Samaritan history.
Picture with Chariot: He explained that at the time of the split in the Jewish Tribes occurred after the death of Solomon: the tribes Judah and Benjamin took the southern kingdom, Judea and the 10 remaining tribes took the northern Kingdom and became the Samaritans. At the time of the expulsion to Babylon 27000 Samaritans were expelled – mostly able-bodied people and many were left behind to carry on the nation. So there has been an unbroken line of Samaritans in the land of Palestine for more than 3000.
The scroll which is encased in a large silver case which opens in the middle and is a replica of their original scroll which is now held in a safe in the synagogue and which is about 1400 years old. They also have Scrolls that are over seven hundred years old.
Picture: Wall Painting showing the arrival of the Arc of the Covenant.
The mountain on the left is a mount Gerizim ( the blessed mountain)and on it are six heads of the Israeli tribes on the right is Mount Ebal (the cursed mountain) and there are six similar figures on that mountain also – in the center is the whole nation and the Ark of the Covenant is being carried into the valley. Depicted at the bottom right-hand side is Jacob’s well and the tomb of Joseph.
The Priest showed us the map he researched and drew, tracing the Journey of Moses from Egypt through the Sinai desert to the mountain overlooking the Dead Sea where he looked across at the Promised Land but never actually entered it.
It was interesting to hear the priests explanation about how Moses and the Israelites were on their way to the Holy Land along the coast and almost in the Promised Land but turned back almost 180 degrees (see the map) to go back into the Sinai towards Egypt to collect the bones of Jacob and bring them to the Holy Land. They feared attack if they returned the same way and headed south instead and eventually crossed the Red Sea in the great Exodus story of The Parting of the waters.
It is also interesting to note that Priest Kahen believes Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments is in the south of the Sinai desert (the present site of St. Catherine’s Monastery) and not in the North as believed by mainstream Jewish religious.
We went on to look at a slideshow of the Samaritans form of worship. They wear all white robes with red Hats of a Turkish style ( a fez) – the priest explained to us that in previous centuries they wore turbans and red and blue garments but this changed over time during the Ottoman period.
The daily language of the Samaritans is Arabic and their religious language is Aramaic they kneel touching their heads to the ground similar to the Muslim form of Prayer for some of their prayers. They hold all the same feasts and festivals as mainstream Jewish tradition including the slaughtering of sheep according to biblical tradition.
In the center of the village they have a courtyard and a covered area where they hold their festivals attended by most of the 400 members of their community.
The Synagogue was not open so I just took pictures of the gates and the door
There is approximately only 400 Samaritans living on Mount Gerizim and there is a smaller community near Tel Av-iv in Israel. Together these are the only Samaritans living in the world, the last remnant of a religious body that is in the priest’s estimation traces its origin in an unbroken line back to Adam almost 6,000 years ago.
This was a memorable visit, I was impressed with the openness and friendliness of the priest and I was also impressed with the Friendship the warm friendship between Father Abraham and Hosni Kahen. I hope that the Samaritans grow and prosper in peace with their Muslim and Christian neighbors as it is today because that has not always been the case in the past.
December one 2016