|Samaritan High Priest||Aabed-El ben Asher ben Matzliach|
|Language||Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic|
|Separated from||Judaism, Yahwism|
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Samaritanism is the Abrahamic, monotheistic, ethnic religion of the Samaritan people, an ethnoreligious group who originate from the ancient Israelites. Its central holy text is the Samaritan Pentateuch (or Torah), which Samaritans believe is the original, unchanged version of the Torah.
Samaritans describe their religion as the holy faith that began with Moses, unchanged over the millennia that have since passed. The holiest site for Samaritans in their faith is Mount Gerizim near Nablus.
Samaritanism holds that the summit of Mount Gerizim is the true location of God's Holy Place. Samaritans trace their history as a separate entity to a period soon after the Israelites' entry into the Promised Land. Samaritan historiography traces the schism itself to High Priest Eli leaving Mount Gerizim, where stood the first Israelite altar in Canaan, and building a competing altar in nearby Shiloh. The dissenting group of Israelites who had followed Eli to Shiloh would be the ones who in later years would head south to settle Jerusalem (the Jews), whereas the Israelites who stayed on Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, would become known as the Samaritans.
Abu l-Fath, who in the 14th century wrote a major work of Samaritan history, comments on Samaritan origins as follows:
A terrible civil war broke out between Eli son of Yafni, of the line of Ithamar, and the sons of Pincus (Phinehas), because Eli son of Yafni resolved to usurp the High Priesthood from the descendants of Pincus. He used to offer sacrifices on an altar of stones. He was 50 years old, endowed with wealth and in charge of the treasury of the Children of Israel. ...
He offered a sacrifice on the altar, but without salt, as if he were inattentive. When the Great High Priest Ozzi learned of this, and found the sacrifice was not accepted, he thoroughly disowned him; and it is (even) said that he rebuked him.
Thereupon he and the group that sympathized with him, rose in revolt and at once he and his followers and his beasts set off for Shiloh. Thus Israel split in factions. He sent to their leaders saying to them, Anyone who would like to see wonderful things, let him come to me. Then he assembled a large group around him in Shiloh, and built a Temple for himself there; he constructed a place like the Temple [on Mount Gerizim]. He built an altar, omitting no detail—it all corresponded to the original, piece by piece.
At this time the Children of Israel split into three factions. A loyal faction on Mount Gerizim; a heretical faction that followed false gods; and the faction that followed Eli son of Yafni in Shiloh.
Further, the Samaritan Chronicle Adler, or New Chronicle, believed to have been composed in the 18th century using earlier chronicles as sources, states:
And the Children of Israel in his days divided into three groups. One did according to the abominations of the Gentiles and served other gods; another followed Eli the son of Yafni, although many of them turned away from him after he had revealed his intentions; and a third remained with the High Priest Uzzi ben Bukki, the chosen place.
Modern genetic studies (2004) suggest that Samaritans' lineages trace back to a common ancestor with Jews in the paternally-inherited Jewish high priesthood (Cohanim) temporally proximate to the period of the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel, and are probably descendants of the historical Israelite population. The religion of the proto-Samaritans at this time was probably no different than that of their southern counterparts in Judea. This likely remained the case for several centuries after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel, as Judean cultic reforms instituted by the kings Hezekiah and Josiah experience little opposition extending to the Samarian people in the north, according to the biblical text.
Though Samaritans certainly had cultural uniquities, they were closely intertwined with the Jews to the south. As such, Samaritanism likely did not emerge as a distinct tradition until the Hasmonean and Roman era, by which point Yahwism had coalesced into Second Temple Judaism. The temple on Mount Gerizim, the central place of worship in Samaritanism, was built in the 5th century BCE, as one of many Yahwistic temples in Samaria. However, the temple precinct experienced a centuries-long period of large-scale construction beginning around the 4th century BCE, which indicates that its status as the pre-eminent place of worship among Samaritans had only just been established. Likewise, theological debates between Jews and Samaritans are attested as early as the 2nd century BCE, indicating that the Samaritan Pentateuch had already taken shape, in some form.
The Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus destroyed the Mount Gerizim temple and brought Samaria under his control around 120 BCE, which led to a longlasting sense of mutual hostility between the Jews and Samaritans. From this point, the Samaritans likely sought to consciously distance themselves from their Judean brethren, and both peoples came to see the Samaritan faith as a religion distinct from Judaism.
The relationship between Jews and Samaritans only further deteriorated with time. By the time of Jesus, Samaritans and Jews deeply disparaged one another, as evinced by Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Following the failed revolts, Mount Gerizim was rededicated with a new temple, which was ultimately again destroyed during the Samaritan revolts. Persecution of Samaritans was common in the following centuries.
The principal beliefs of Samaritanism are as follows:
The Samaritans preserve the proto-Hebraic script, conserve the institution of a High Priesthood, and the practice of slaughtering and eating lambs on Passover eve. They celebrate Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot but use a different mode from that employed in Judaism in order to determine the dates annually. Yom Teru'ah (the Biblical name for "Rosh Hashanah"), at the beginning of Tishrei, is not considered a New Year as it is in Rabbinic Judaism.
The Sabbath is observed weekly by the Samaritan community every Friday to Saturday beginning and ending at sundown. For twenty-four hours, the families gather together to celebrate the rest day: all electricity with the exception of minimal lighting (kept on the entire day) in the house is disconnected, no work is done, and neither cooking nor driving is allowed. The time is devoted to worship which consists of seven prayer services (divided into two for Sabbath eve, two in the morning, one in afternoon and one at eve of conclusion), reading the weekly Torah portion (according to the Samaritan yearly Torah cycle), spending quality time with family, taking meals, rest and sleep, and visiting other members of the community.
Passover is particularly important in the Samaritan community, climaxing with the sacrifice of up to 40 sheep. The Counting of the Omer remains largely unchanged; however, the week before Shavuot is a unique festival celebrating the continued commitment Samaritanism has maintained since the time of Moses. Shavuot is characterized by nearly day-long services of continuous prayer, especially over the stones on Gerizim traditionally attributed to Joshua.
During Sukkot, the sukkah is built inside houses, as opposed to outdoor settings that are traditional among Jews. Samaritan historian Benyamim Tsedaka traces the indoor-sukkah tradition to persecution of Samaritans during the Byzantine Empire. The roof of the Samaritan sukkah is decorated with citrus fruits and the branches of palm, myrtle, and willow trees, according to the Samaritan interpretation of the four species designated in the Torah for the holiday.
Samaritan law differs from Halakha (Rabbinic Jewish law) and other Jewish movements. The Samaritans have several groups of religious texts, which correspond to Jewish Halakha. A few examples of such texts are: