A New Exhibit Brings the Samaritan Past and Present to Life

Sept. 21 2022

To Christians, the word “Samaritan” evokes the famous parable in the gospel of Luke—and has thus given its name to the “Good Samaritan” laws that exist in all 50 states, not to mention a recent movie starring Sylvester Stallone. To learned Jews, Samaritans are a quasi-Jewish group mentioned in the latter books of the Bible and in the Talmud who had an often-adversarial relationship with ancient Jews. At present, there are nearly 800 Samaritans in Israel, where their ancestors have lived since the 5th century BCE. Menachem Wecker describes the new exhibit on their history at the Museum of the Bible.

The Museum of the Bible exhibit, which includes artifacts spanning from the 2nd century before the Common Era to contemporary paintings made in the past couple of years, notes that Samaritans, who are mentioned in both Jewish and Islamic texts, have often clashed with both.

One wall text tells of the 16th-century Huguenot Hebraist Joseph Scaliger, who requested texts from an Egyptian Samaritan community, only to have those texts lost in a shipwreck. They were recovered, sparking further Christian interest in Samaritans.

Another vitrine contains the custom typewriter that Rabbi Moses Gaster (1856–1939) used to correspond with Samaritans living in Nablus, at the base of Mount Gerizim, [which is the site of their temple]. When he typed in Jewish Hebrew letters, the text was printed in Samaritan Hebrew letters. His pen pal, Jacob, son of Aaron, the [Samaritan] high priest, “saw an opportunity to harness Gaster’s academic platform and reputation to amplify Samaritan culture,” the wall text states.

The show highlights many Samaritan religious practices, which often resemble Jewish ones. Samaritans sacrifice paschal lambs annually, drawing many outside spectators. It is the only monotheistic group that still sacrifices animals, according to the documentary.

Read more at Religion News Service

More about: Hebrew Bible, Museum of the Bible, New Testament, Samaritans


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount