Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The Samaritans (Of Biblical Times)

Back in June I was reading The Books and The Parchments by F.F. Bruce. Chapter 10 is about "The Samaritan Pentateuch." Basically, the Samaritan Jews only believe that the Pentateuch (First 5 books of the Bible - those penned by Moses) is Canonical and they have preserved their translation of the Pentateuch separate from the Hebrew scriptures. This is highly beneficial to the story of the transmission of our Biblical texts. But that's not really the most intriguing thing about this chapter, though.

For much of us, when we've come to the story of the Woman at the Well, in John 4, and hear about the Samaritans, the "milk" answer we hear at church is that the Samaritans are basically a mixed-race breed of Jews. This is only partially true. In this chapter, Bruce relates to us the full, "meat" answer to the question "Who are the Samaritans?" I will paraphrase and quote some from this 10th Chapter of Bruce's book (pages 125-132 in my edition).

Around 587 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar brought Judah to an end, many Jews were deported to Mesopotamia. Upon returning, "the Samaritans and others who had not gone into exile offered to cooperate with them, but their offer was turned down." After not being allowed to partake of worship at the Jerusalem temple, around 400 B.C., the Samaritans built a temple near Shechem at Mount Gerizim. See John 4:20 (Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.). The Jews, of course, did not want anything to do with the Samaritans and made light of some of the foreigners in their midst (this was the racial tension).

Moving forward some centuries, around 108 B.C., John Hyrcanus (a Jewish revolutionary from the Maccabeean family) took over Samaria and destroyed the Gerizim temple. This only added fuel to the fire of the hatred between the two groups. The no longer had to worry about Jewish occupation after the Romans took power. They still remain in Palestine. "They have preserved their ancient traditions and worship at the place called Nablus, near the ancient Shechem, where some 250 of them still live; another fifty or so live at Tel-Aviv."

"They have preserved their traditional expectation of the Messiah, whom they call the Taheb, or 'Restorer'; they envisage him primarily as a second Moses - the one of whom Moses said: 'Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken'(Deut. 18:15). They distinguish two main divisions of their history - the period of divine favour (rahutha) from Moses to Eli, and the period of divine displeasure (panutha) from Eli to the Taheb, through whom the divine favour will be restored. It was the Taheb that the woman at Jacob's well had in mind when she said, 'I know that Messiah is coming...when he comes, he will show us all things' (John 4:25); and it was with the Taheb that Jesus identified Himself when He replied to her, 'I who speak to you am he' (John 4:26)."

Now Playing: "We Were Born to Be Loved" by King's X

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