Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Economist on the Samaritans

SAMARITAN WATCH: Who are the Samaritans and why is their future uncertain? An ancient tribe survives in Israel (A.V., The Economist Explains Blog).
THIS week millions of Jews are celebrating Sukkot, a week-long Jewish holiday commemorating an ancient pilgrimage linked to the harvest. It is a time to relax, see family and eat good food. Jews are not the only ones to indulge. Some 800 Samaritans, dotted around Israel and the West Bank, also join in. Most people only know Samaritans from a bit part in the Bible, or as a charity for the emotionally vulnerable. So who are the Samaritans—and why are their numbers dwindling?

The rest of the article is a pretty good summary of the history of the Samaritans and their current situation. This sentences requires some unpacking:
And because it hosted an older Jewish temple, Mount Gerizim, near the Palestinian town of Nablus, is held by Samaritans to be holier than Jerusalem.
This issue goes back to a variant reading in the book of Deuteronomy which has Moses building an altar on Mount Gerizim rather than Mount Ebal. This has been discussed here, here, and here. (I'm not sure whether the Deuteronomy fragment in question is genuine or not [see here and links], but that does not matter for the broader discussion.) The larger historical situation has been discussed here. Archaeology shows that there was a Samaritan temple at Mount Gerizim in the Second Temple period, but it was not older than the Second Temple on the Temple Mount, let alone older than the original Judean temple established on the Temple Mount during the Iron Age II (a.k.a, the First Temple period).

More on the Samaritan Sukkot is here and links. Other past posts on the Samaritans are here and here and many, many links.