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.