The Samaritan Pentateuch, also known as the Samaritan Torah, is the sacred text of the Samaritan community. It is written in a version of the Hebrew script and contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The Samaritan Pentateuch is the oldest extant manuscript of the Torah, with the oldest surviving copies dating back to the 10th or 11th century CE. However, the text itself is much older, with scholars believing it preserves a textual tradition that branched off from the Jewish Masoretic tradition in the post-exilic period, around the 4th century BCE.
There are over 5,600 differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text, with most variations consisting of small spelling and grammatical changes. However, some divergences are more significant. For example, the Samaritan Pentateuch locates Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem as the chosen site for the Holy Temple. This reflects the competition between the Samaritans and the Jerusalem religious establishment over the location of the central place of worship.
Some key differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text include:
- The 10th commandment on coveting is split into two commandments to maintain the number at 10.
- Moses’ father-in-law is called Reuel rather than Jethro.
- The Samaritan Pentateuch contains many interpretative additions and changes that support Samaritan theological views and practices.
The Samaritan Pentateuch provides valuable evidence for textual scholars studying the transmission history of the Torah. Comparing it to the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls has enabled researchers to analyze the development of the biblical text over time. For the Samaritan community, the Samaritan Pentateuch represents the authentic word of God – the holiest book of their faith.
Scholars debate exactly when the Samaritan and Jewish Torah texts diverged. Traditional Samaritan belief holds that their version of the Torah is older and more original than the Jewish Torah. However, most scholars believe the Samaritan Pentateuch branched off from the Jewish textual tradition at some point. There are a few main theories about when this schism occurred:
- Hasmonean period (2nd century BCE) – Tensions between Jews and Samaritans led to the Samaritans breaking off and developing their own textual traditions.
- Early post-exilic period (4th century BCE) – The Samaritan text branched off shortly after the Jews returned from Babylon.
- Pre-exilic period – The schism between the textual traditions occurred before the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE.
The Samaritan Pentateuch provides valuable evidence for textual scholars studying the transmission history of the Torah. By comparing it to other Torah texts like the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls, researchers can analyze how the biblical text developed over centuries. This allows scholars to better understand the complex evolution of the Torah tradition.
Here is a more detailed overview of some of the key differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Jewish Masoretic Text:
Theology and Interpretation
One of the most significant differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and Jewish Masoretic Text is in the theological and interpretative stance. The Samaritan version contains several textual adaptations that align more closely with Samaritan theology and practices:
- It contains additions and changes that enhance the status of Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshiped. Deuteronomy 27:4 is changed to command building an altar on Mount Gerizim.
- References to a messianic figure are removed or downplayed.
- Anthropomorphic descriptions of God are removed or rewritten to avoid possible misunderstandings.
- Changes are made to remove suggestions that angels or messengers, rather than God, spoke to individuals.
- Later Jewish prophetic books are not acknowledged.
These types of adaptations reflect the Samaritans’ distinctive theological perspective and divergence from mainstream Judaism after the schism between the communities.
There are also several narrative differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text. For example:
- The Samaritan Pentateuch says Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Gerizim rather than Mount Sinai.
- The Samaritan version records Moses constructing an altar on Mount Gerizim, not Mount Ebal as in the Masoretic Text.
- In the Samaritan Pentateuch, Shechem is the eternal city of the Israelites, not Jerusalem.
- The Samaritan Pentateuch says Joshua’s altar was built on Mount Gerizim, not Mount Ebal per the Masoretic Text.
These narrative differences reflect the elevated status of Gerizim in Samaritan tradition, as opposed to Jerusalem in Jewish tradition.
There are chronological differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Jewish Masoretic Text, including:
- The Samaritan Pentateuch adds roughly 640 years to the chronologies in Genesis 5 and 11.
- As a result, from the Creation to the birth of Abram is 2,666 years per the Samaritan Pentateuch, versus 1,460 in the Masoretic Text.
- The flood chronology differs, with the Samaritan Pentateuch having the flood start in the year 3050 BCE versus 1656 BCE in the Masoretic Text.
Scholars debate the origin of these expanded chronologies, but they may relate to the Samaritan desire to push back the age of their Torah versus the Jewish textual tradition.
There are also numerous small linguistic and stylistic differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text, including:
- Grammatical changes, like adding additional conjunctions or changing verbal forms and tenses.
- Vocabulary differences, like substituting synonyms.
- Phonetic changes, including the Samaritan pronunciation and spelling of Hebrew words.
- Stylistic changes, like adding explanatory phrases or reworking sentence structure.
Overall, the language of the Samaritan Pentateuch is recognizably similar to, but divergent from, the language and style of the Jewish Masoretic Text. This reflects the linguistic evolution in the communities following the schism.
Some other differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text include:
- The 6th commandment prohibits the sacrifice of animals outside of the Holy Temple, reflecting Samaritan anti-sacrifice views.
- The Samaritan Pentateuch lacks references to Jerusalem as God’s chosen city.
- The mater lectionis system for marking vowels is not used.
- There are paragraph divisions between sections, unlike the continuous text of the Masoretic Text.
Overall, scholars have identified over 6,000 variations between the Samaritan Pentateuch and Jewish Masoretic Text. Studying these differences provides insight into the textual transmission of the Torah and the theological divides between the Samaritan and Jewish communities over time.
Theories on the Origin of the Samaritan Pentateuch
There are several theories proposed by scholars about when and how the Samaritan Pentateuch emerged as a distinct textual tradition from the Jewish Torah:
- Hasmonean origin theory – The most widely held view is that Samaritan Torah traditions originated following tensions between the Samaritans and Jews during the Hasmonean period in the 2nd century BCE. The Samaritans allegedly rejected the Jewish Torah and made their own adaptations.
- Earlier divergence theories – Some scholars believe the schism between the textual traditions occurred much earlier, either in the late pre-exilic or early post-exilic period when the Samaritans were established as a rival to the Jews.
- Pre-Samaritan Israelite text theories – A minority of scholars think the Samaritan Pentateuch may derive from pre-Samaritan northern Kingdom of Israelite textual traditions with ancient roots.
No consensus has emerged, but most scholars agree the Samaritan and Jewish Torah texts clearly diverged at some point, leading to the differences seen today between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Jewish Masoretic Text. But the exact date and circumstances of the schism are still debated.
Samaritan Pentateuch Manuscripts
Some key Samaritan Pentateuch manuscripts that have survived to today include:
- Nablus Scroll (c. 1120-1250 CE) – One of the oldest surviving manuscripts held in Nablus.
- Abisha Scroll (c. 1390 CE) – Very early scroll named after the high priest who commissioned it.
- Cairo Damascas Scroll (c. 1225-1275 CE) – Early scroll in a synagogue in Cairo.
- Scroll of Fire (c. 1100-1300 CE) – Scroll that may have been hidden during a revolt against the Byzantines.
- Ben Asher Scroll (c. 1204-1232 CE) – An example of the Ben Asher text type.
There are about 25 ancient manuscripts and some 300 late manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch preserved today. The manuscripts show a very consistent textual tradition with only minor variations between copies. This demonstrates the careful preservation of the sacred Samaritan text through many centuries.
Samaritan Focus on Mount Gerizim
One of the most notable elements of the Samaritan Pentateuch is its focus on Mount Gerizim as the sacred elevation chosen by God. For instance:
- The Samaritan Pentateuch changes the location of the altar commanded by Moses to Mount Gerizim instead of Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:4).
- It states that after crossing the Jordan, Joshua built an altar on Mount Gerizim, not Mount Ebal as in the Masoretic Text.
- The Samaritan Pentateuch records the blessings spoken from Mount Gerizim and curses from Mount Ebal, emphasizing Gerizim as the favored site.
- The 10th century CE Samaritan Book of Joshua elaborates further on the role of Gerizim.
This reflects the centrality of Gerizim for Samaritan worship, as opposed to the Jewish focus on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The differences highlight competing claims over sacred topography.
Samaritan View of Their Pentateuch
The Samaritans consider their version of the Pentateuch to be the original and authoritative Torah, given by God through Moses:
- They believe Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Mountain where God intended his Temple to be built.
- The Samaritan Pentateuch represents the true Mosaic tradition, uncompromised by errors or falsifications.
- Later Jewish prophetic books are rejected and not considered canonical.
- Only the Samaritan High Priest could make a copy of the Pentateuch scroll.
For the Samaritan community, the Pentateuch thus holds even greater significance as the sole sacred scripture and direct representation of the Mosaic revelation. It links them to their ancient Israelite heritage.
History of the Samaritan People and Religion
To understand the origins of the Samaritan Pentateuch, it is helpful to know the history of the Samaritan people and religion:
- The Samaritans claim descent from the northern tribes of Israel who survived the Assyrian conquest in 722 BCE.
- People from other nations settled in the north under Assyria, mixing with Israelites to become the Samaritans.
- The Samaritans had their own temple on Mount Gerizim which was destroyed in 128 BCE by the Jewish Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus.
- This caused a schism between the Samaritans and Jews that persists to this day.
- The Samaritans later built a new temple in the 2nd century BCE but this was also destroyed.
- Today, only the Samaritan community in Holon, near Tel Aviv, continues to practice the ancient traditions.
This history helps explain the divergence between Samaritan and Jewish scriptural traditions, with the Samaritan Pentateuch reflecting uniquely Samaritan interpretations and beliefs.
Status of Samaritan Pentateuch in Christianity
In Christianity, the Samaritan Pentateuch is valued by scholars for textual analysis but is not considered canonical scripture. Key facts include:
- No mainstream branch of Christianity accepts the Samaritan Pentateuch as authoritative scripture.
- However, scholars consult it when trying to establish the original text of the Torah.
- Christian textual scholars analyze differences between the Septuagint (Greek Torah), Dead Sea Scrolls, Masoretic Text, and Samaritan Pentateuch to trace textual transmission.
- A few Gnostic sects in the early centuries CE may have used the Samaritan Pentateuch.
- Today, academics study the text but it does not hold religious authority in Christianity.
While an important resource for scholarship, the uniquely Samaritan perspectives in the Pentateuch mean it does not align fully with Christian Old Testament theology. But it provides valuable evidence for biblical textual criticism.
Relationship to Other Pentateuch Texts
The Samaritan Pentateuch is closely related to, but divergent from, other Pentateuch texts including:
- Dead Sea Scrolls – Many Dead Sea Scroll Pentateuch fragments follow the Samaritan text rather than the Masoretic Text. This suggests multiple textual traditions were in use at the time.
- Septuagint – There is significant agreement between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek Septuagint translation. But the Septuagint also shows reliance on the proto-Masoretic tradition.
- Latin Vulgate – Jerome initially relied on a Samaritan type text for his Latin translation but later switched to the Masoretic Text, noting its divergences.
- Masoretic Text – The Masoretic Text of the Jewish Torah differs significantly from the Samaritan Pentateuch, reflecting the schism between the groups.
Analysis of how these texts relate tells scholars much about how the Pentateuch was transmitted in ancient times and when the textual split occurred between Jewish and Samaritan communities.
Significance of the Samaritan Pentateuch
Some key reasons why the Samaritan Pentateuch is significant include:
- It represents the sacred scripture of the Samaritan religious community.
- It is a crucial source for biblical textual criticism and analysis of Torah transmission.
- It reflects the textual and interpretative divergence between Samaritans and Jews.
- It provides unique chronological perspectives compared to other Pentateuch manuscripts.
- It shows the competition between Jewish and Samaritan groups for religious authority and status.
- It demonstrates how scriptural texts evolve to align with a group’s theological views.
For these reasons, the Samaritan Pentateuch remains an invaluable resource for scholars seeking to understand biblical textual traditions and the historical development of scripture.
The Samaritan Pentateuch provides an intriguing window into an alternative version of the Torah that branched off from Jewish textual traditions in ancient times. While divergent, study of this text enriches our understanding of how the Bible took shape and reminds us of the diversity within biblical manuscript histories.