Doctrines The Samaritans are a strict sect who believe that their form of Ancient Israelite Religion, as distinct from that of the Jews, is the true one, going back to the period before the building of Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem. Their sacred text is the Samaritan Pentateuch or the "Five Books of Moses", which they have in common with the Jews, and which they interpret in the light of their own traditions. Other important Samaritan texts include the Memar Markah (Teaching of Markah) and the Defter (Prayerbook) both from the fourth century CE or later. Their holy site is Mount Gerizim at Shechem (modern Nablus) where they still practise animal sacrifice, notably in the slaying of a lamb at the annual spring festival of the Passover. They are monotheists and look forward to the coming of a saviour, Taheb, often identified as a new Moses, who will initiate an era of justice and peace known as "the Second Kingdom". They also believe in an ultimate Day of Judgment and the Resurrection of the Dead.

History The precise date of the schism between Samaritans and Jews is unknown, but was certainly complete by the end of the fourth century BCE. Archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim suggest that a Samaritan temple was built there c. 330BCE, and when Alexander the Great (356-323) was in the region, he is said to have visited Samaria and not Jerusalem. The Jewish leader John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple in 129/8 BCE, and with few exceptions their subsequent history is marked by violent incidents between them and their more powerful neighbours, Jews, Christians and Romans. Inscriptions indicate something of a Samaritan diaspora in the eastern Mediterranean. In 484 and 529 Samaritan rebellions against the Christian authorities were ruthlessly suppressed, and since then they have remained a small community in Israel. Half of the Samaritans now live with their High Priest near the Palestinian town of Nablus, the rest near the Israeli town of Holon.

Symbols The only object employed in Samaritan worship is the Torah scroll, still written in the ancient and highly distinctive Samaritan script, and encased in ornate silver and velvet. Even the priests' vestments, unlike those of the ancient Judaean hierarchy, are devoid of decoration. Samaritan houses often have a mezuzah above the main entrance, in the form of a stone inscribed with the words of the Ten Commandments (cf Ancient Judaism).

Adherents From over 200,000 in 529 CE, the number of Samaritans had dropped to 2000 by the 12th century. There are only about 500 today.

Main Centre
  P.O.Box 61, Nablus, Israel/ Palestine