הַדָּת הַשּׁוֹמְרוֹנִית
Samaritan mezuzah in the city of Nablus, 2013
TypeEthnic religion
ScriptureSamaritan Pentateuch
High PriestAabed-El ben Asher ben Matzliach
LanguageSamaritan Hebrew and Samaritan Aramaic
TerritoryLand of Israel
FounderAbraham (traditional) Moses (traditional, lawgiver)
Originc. 6th–3rd century BCE
Separated fromYahwism
Members~900 (Samaritans)

Samaritanism (Hebrew: הַדָּת הַשּׁוֹמְרוֹנִית; Arabic: السامرية) is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, and ethnic religion.[1] It comprises the collective spiritual, cultural, and legal traditions of the Samaritan people, who originate from the Hebrews and Israelites and began to emerge as a relatively distinct group after the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire during the Iron Age. Central to the faith is the Samaritan Pentateuch, which Samaritans believe is the original and unchanged version of the Torah.[2]

Although it developed alongside and is closely related to Judaism, Samaritanism asserts itself as the truly preserved form of the monotheistic faith that the Israelites adopted under Moses. Samaritan belief also holds that the Israelites' original holy site was Mount Gerizim, near Nablus,[3] and that Jerusalem only attained importance under Israelite dissenters who had followed Eli to the city of Shiloh; the Israelites who remained at Mount Gerizim would become the Samaritans in the Kingdom of Israel, whereas the Israelites who left would become the Jews in the Kingdom of Judah. Mount Gerizim is likewise revered by Samaritans as the location where the Binding of Isaac took place, in contrast to the Jewish belief that it occurred at Jerusalem's Temple Mount.


Israelite-era schism

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.[4]

Abu l-Fath, who in the 14th century wrote a major work of Samaritan history, comments on Samaritan origins as follows:[4]

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 New Chronicle or Adler, named after its editor Elkan Nathan Adler (1861-1946), which is 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.

Jewish–Samaritan relations

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.[5][6] 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.[7]

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.[8][page range too broad] The temple on Mount Gerizim, the central place of worship in Samaritanism, was built in the 5th century BCE,[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]


The principal beliefs of Samaritanism are as follows:[13][better source needed][14][15]

"Shema Yisrael" written in Samaritan Hebrew calligraphy is the official symbol of the Samaritans.

Festivals and observances

The Samaritans preserve a form of 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, and Sukkot,[18] but use a different mode from that employed in Judaism in order to determine the dates annually.[19][page range too broad] 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, two 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.[20]

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.[21] Samaritan historian Benyamim Tsedaka traces the indoor-sukkah tradition to persecution of Samaritans during the Byzantine Empire.[21] 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.[21]

Religious texts

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:

Samaritan High Priest Yaakov ben Aharon and the Abisha Scroll, 1905

See also


  1. ^ Sela, Shulamit (1994). "The Head of the Rabbanite, Karaite and Samaritan Jews: On the History of a Title". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 57 (2): 255–267. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00024848. ISSN 0041-977X. JSTOR 620572. S2CID 162698361.
  2. ^ Tsedaka 2013, p. xxi.
  3. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre. "Mount Gerizim and the Samaritans". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  4. ^ a b Anderson & Giles 2002, p. 11–12.
  5. ^ Shen, P; Lavi, T; Kivisild, T; Chou, V; Sengun, D; Gefel, D; Shpirer, I; Woolf, E; Hillel, J (2004). "Reconstruction of patrilineages and matrilineages of Samaritans and other Israeli populations from Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA sequence variation" (PDF). Human Mutation. 24 (3): 248–60. doi:10.1002/humu.20077. PMID 15300852. S2CID 1571356. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 April 2020. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  6. ^ Kiaris 2021, p. 14.
  7. ^ Knoppers 2013, pp. 82–85.
  8. ^ Knoppers 2013, pp. 125–133.
  9. ^ Knoppers 2013, pp. 178–179.
  10. ^ Knoppers 2013, p. 177.
  11. ^ Knoppers 2013, pp. 173–174.
  12. ^ "Samaritan | Definition, Religion, & Bible | Britannica". Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  13. ^ "Religion of the Israelite Samaritans : The Root of all Abrahamic Religions". 13 April 2020.
  14. ^ "Religion of the Israelite Samaritans".
  15. ^ "Samaritan -".
  16. ^ "History of the Samaritan Israelites". 17 August 2023.
  17. ^ Sassoni, Osher (12 December 2019). "Reflections on Relationship between Qumran and Samaritan Messianology". The Samaritans. Retrieved 11 February 2024.
  18. ^ de Hemmer Gudme 2013, p. 52.
  19. ^ Powels 1989, pp. 691–741.
  20. ^ "Sabbath Observance: How Israelite Samaritans Keep the Sabbath". Israelite Samaritan Information Institute. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  21. ^ a b c Lieber, Dov; Luzi, Iacopo (19 October 2016). "Inside the Samaritan high priest's fruity sukkah, literally". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  22. ^ VanderKam & Flint 2005, p. 95.
  23. ^ Law 2013, p. 24.
  24. ^ Seeligmann 2004, p. 64.
  25. ^ Bowman 1977, p. 331.
  26. ^ Tsedaḳah 1958.

Works cited

General references