Help Now >
Samaritan Language and Literature
FREE Catholic Classes
The original language of the Samaritans was the vernacular of Palestine, that is Hebrew. This language was superseded later by Aramaic. One result of the domination of Islam there was the substitution of Arabic. Hebrew, as the idiom of the Pentateuch, both was and is for the Samaritans the sacred language; and even today some of them have a knowledge, although indeed a somewhat imperfect one, of it. The pronunciation differs considerably from that settled by the Masoretic text. As the Samaritans use neither vowels nor diacritical signs, the pronunciation has only been preserve by tradition; yet, notwithstanding isolated variations, it seems to have remained, on the whole, very much the same. Information on this point is given by H. Petermann in his "Versuch einer hebräischen Formenlehre nach der Aussprache der heutigen Samaritaner" (Leipzig, 1868). The colloquial language of the Samaritans from the last centuries before Christ up to the first centuries of the Arab domination was a dialect of western Aramaic largely peculiar to Palestine. What was formerly called the Samaritan language rested almost exclusively upon the polyglot edition of the Samaritan Targum (see below), and most of the lexical and grammatical peculiarities which were ascribed to this idiom have been deduced solely from the incredibly corrupt manuscripts of the Targum. They rest on corruptions, arbitrary spellings, mutilated Arabic idioms, and other errors of copyists who were unacquainted with the true idiom of the language. Consequently, the existing Samaritan grammars and lexicons are in the highest degree misleading to those who are not specialists. Among these works are, for example, Uhlemann, "Institutiones linguæ Samaritanæ" (Leipzig, 1837); Nicholls, "A Grammar of the Samaritan Language" (London, 1858); Petermann, "Brevis linguæ Sam. grammatica" (Berlin, 1873); Castelli, "Lexicon heptaglotton" (London, 1669). [Cf. Kohn, "Zur Sprache, Literatur und Dogmatik der Samaritaner" (Leipzig, 1876).] Apart from a decided intermixture of Hebrew idioms, as well as of words borrowed from the Greek and Latin, the real Samaritan language differed but little from the Aramaic spoken in the other parts of Palestine, especially from that of Northern Palestine, as, for example, it is found in the Palestinian Talmud. Owing to the secluded position of this people, its literature in the course of time must have become more and more isolated. No linguistic value can be attached to the writings in what is called the Samaritan language, produced after the extinction of Aramaic. The authors, accustomed to speak Arabic, strove to write in a language of which they had no mastery.
Leaving out later flourishes added to individual letters, Samaritan written characters represent a more ancient type than the square characters and resemble those found on Hebrew coins and the inscriptions of seals, but with a greater inclination to the cursive. The script appears to belong to a later development of the writing used in the old Hebrew codices, and, taken altogether, a type of writing common in a part of Palestine in the fourth century before Christ may be preserved in it. It would be well to replace the unsatisfactory Samaritan type used in printing with more suitable characters in closer agreement with the old manuscripts. Among the inscriptions written in Samaritan characters the two most important are those at Nablus, the one in the minaret wall of the mosque of El-Hadrâ, the other belonging to a private individual. [Cf. Rosen in "Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft" (hereafter to be cited as ZDMG), XIV (1866), 622. The first inscription is also discussed by Blau in ZDMG, XIII (1859), 275, the second is treated in Lidzbarski, "Handbuch der nordsem. Epigraphik" (Weimar, 1898), 440.] Both inscriptions belong apparently to the period before the destruction of the Samaritan Synagogue by Justinian I (529 B.C. ). The inscription on the building of the present synagogue (published by Rosen in ZDMG, XIV, 624) belongs to the year 1711. In regard to some other inscriptions, cf. B. Wright in "Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology", VI (1883), November, 25; Clermont-Ganneau in "Revue biblique" (1906), 84; Lagrange in "Revue illustrée de la Terre Sainte" (1890), 339 (1891), 83; also in "Revue biblique" (1893), 114; Sobernheim, "Samar. Inschriften aus Damaskus" in "Mitteilungen und Nachrichten des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins", VIII (1902), 70; Idem, "Sieben samarit. Inschriften aus Damaskus" (Vienna, 1903).
Samaritan literature consists of writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and for the Hellenistic period, Greek. The number of writings at present in the possession of the Samaritan community at Nablus is small. Barton has given in "Biblioth. Sacra", LX (1903), 612 sqq., a list of these books and manuscripts drawn up by Jaqûb, the priest at Nablus. From the seventeenth century on, manuscripts have been acquired by various European libraries. The number of these was considerably increased through the sale of manuscripts made in 1870 to the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg by the Karaite Abraham Firkovitch; these writings had been collected by him in the genisoth of the Samaritans at Cairo and Nablus.
In the remainder of this article a condensed sketch will be given of the most important writings contained in the Samaritan literature.
The most important of the works belonging to Samaritan literature is the Samaritan Pentateuch, that is the Pentateuch written in the Samaritan character in Hebrew, which is not to be confounded with the Samaritan Targum (see below). In the early Christian centuries this Pentateuch was frequently mentioned in the writings of the Fathers and in marginal notes to old manuscripts, but in the course of time it was forgotten. In 1616 Pietro della Valle obtained a copy by purchase at Damascus ; this copy came into the possession of the library of the Oratory at Paris and was printed in 1645 in the Paris Polyglot. At the present time the manuscript, which is imperfect and dates from 1514, is in the Vatican Library. From the time of this publication the number of codices, some much older, has been greatly increased, and Kennicott was able to compare in whole or part sixteen manuscripts ["Vet. Test. Hebr." (Oxford, 1776)]. The views of scholars vary as to the antiquity of this Samaritan recension. Some maintain the opinion that the Samaritans became acquainted with the Pentateuch through the Jews who were left in the country, or through the priest mentioned in 2 Kings 17:28 . Others, however, hold the view that the Samaritans did not come into possession of the Pentateuch until they were definitely formed into an independent community. This much, however, is certain: that it must have been already adopted by the time of the founding of the temple on Garizim, consequently in the time of Nehemias. It is, therefore, a recension which was in existence before the Septuagint, which fact makes evident its importance for the verification of the text of the Hebrew Bible.
A comparison of the Samaritan Pentateuch with the Masoretic text shows that the former varies from the latter in very many places and, on the other hand, very often agrees with the Septuagint. For the variant readings of the Samaritan Pentateuch see Kennicott, loc. cit., and for the most complete list see Petermann, loc. cit., 219-26. A systematic grouping of these variants is given by Gesenius, "De Pentateuchi Samaritani origine indole et auctoritate" (Halle, 1815), p. 46. Very many of these variations refer to orthographic and grammatic details which are of no importance for the sense of the text; others rest on evident blunders, while still others are plainly deliberate changes, as the removal of anthropomorphisms and expressions which seemed objectionable, the bringing into conformity of parallel passages, insertion of additions, large and small, different members in the genealogies, corruptions in favour of the religious opinions of the Samaritans, among them, in Deut., xxvii, 4, the substitution of Garizim for Ebal’ , and other like changes. Although, in comparison with the Masoretic text, the Samaritan Pentateuch shows many errors, yet it also contains readings which can be neither oversights nor deliberate changes, and of these a considerable number coincide with the Septuagint in opposition to the Masoretic text. Some scholars have sought to draw from this the conclusion that a copy of the Old Testament used by Samaritans settled in Egypt served as a model for the Septuagint. According to Kohn, "De Pentat. Samar." (Breslau, 1865), the translators of the Septuagint used a Græco-Samaritan version, while the same scholar later claims to trace back the agreements to subsequent interpolations from the Samareiticon [Kohn, "Samareiticon und Septuaginta" in "Magazin für Gesch. und Wissenschaft des Judentums" (1894), 1 sqq., 49 sqq.]. The simplest way of explaining the uniformity is the hypothesis that both the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint go back to a form of text common to the Palestinian Jews which varies somewhat from the Masoretic text which was settled later. However, taking everything together, the decision must be reached that the Masoretic tradition has more faithfully preserved the original form of the text.
The most celebrated of the manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch is that in the synagogue at Nablus. It is a roll made of the skins of rams, and written, according to the belief of the Samaritans, in the thirteenth year after the conquest of Canaan at the entrance to the Tabernacle on Mount Garizim by Abisha, a great-grandson of Aaron. Abisha claims for himself the authorship of the manuscript in a speech in the first person which is inserted between the columns of Deut., v, 6 sqq., in the form of what is called a tarikh . This is of course a fable. The age of the roll cannot be exactly settled, as up to now it has not been possible to examine it thoroughly.B. The Samaritan Targum
In addition to the Hebrew Pentateuch, the Samaritans had also a translation of this in the Samaritan-Aramaic idiom, the Samaritan Targum. According to their own account this was written by Nathanael, a priest, who died B.C. 20. In reality, it probably belongs to the beginning of the third century after Christ; in any case it cannot be put earlier than the second century of our era. In all the manuscripts the text is hopelessly garbled, and what has been published up to the present time as the Samaritan Targum proves in reality to be a text frequently corrected, altered, and corrupted, both in language and contents, at various times, in various localities, and by various hands, a text that is constantly farther removed from the original which in the end is almost lost sight of. An approximate idea of what the original may have been is presented in the St. Petersburg fragments published by Kohn, Zur Sprache, Literatur und Dogmatik der Samaritaner" (Leipzig, 1876), p. 214. According to Kahle, "Textkritische und lexikalische Bemerkungen zum samaritan. Pent.-Targum" (Leipzig, 1898), there had never been a universally acknowledged original Targum, but only partial translations made by various priests for practical purposes. On the point cf. E. Littmann in "Theol. Literatur-Zeitung" (1899), No. VI. So far as it is possible to judge, the original Targum was a fairly literal translation from the Samaritan Pentateuch, but a translation made without any real comprehension of the sense and with a defective knowledge of the Hebrew language.
Greek readings designated as tò Samareitikó are frequently quoted in old hexaplaric scholia and by some Fathers. These readings nearly all agree with the Samaritan Targum. This Samareitikó was probably nothing more than a Greek translation of the Samaritan Targum made in Egypt for the use of the Samaritan communities there [Kohn in ZDMG, XLVII (1893), 650 sqq.; Idem, "Samareiticon und Septuaginta" (see above)].
The translation of the Pentateuch into Arabic that passes under the name of Abu Sa‘id appeared in the eleventh or twelfth century, probably to drive out the translation by Saadja (d. 924). Abu Sa‘id, who lived in the thirteenth century, was the reviser of the Arabic Pentateuch ; formerly he was incorrectly regarded as its translator. Bloch and Kahle have lately demonstrated that this translation has absolultely no uniform character, that two, if not more, recensions are to be accepted. The translation is, in general, an exact one, although now and then an effort is evidently made to bring the Biblical text into conformity with the religious opinions of the Samaritans. The work used in preparing it is of course the Samaritan Pentateuch, but it can be proved that Saadja's translation was also used.
Thus the succession in order of time of the translations of the Samaritan Pentateuch coincides with the historical facts: Samaritan Targum or translation into the Aramaic vernacular; Greek translation ( Samareitikón ) for the diaspora ; Arabic translation from the time of the sovereignty of the Arabs.D. Exegetical and Theological Literature
To this belongs above all the haggadic commentary on the Pentateuch written by Marqa in pure Aramaic and generally ascribed to the fourth century. It contains chiefly edifying meditations on selected portions of the Pentateuch in six books. The copy of it which Petermann had made from a manuscript at Nablus in 1868 is at Berlin. Portions of this have been published: Heidenheim, Books I, II, IV, and extracts from the other books in "Biblioth. Samar.", III, Pts. 5 and 6 (Weimar, 1896); Baneth, "Des Samar. Marqah an die 22 Buchstaben anknüpfende Abhandlung" (Berlin, 1888); Munk, "Des Sam. M. Erzählung über den Tod Moses" (Berlin, 1890); Emmerich, "Das Siegeslied, eine Schrifterklärung des Sam. M." (Berlin, 1897); Hildesheimer, "Marqahs Buch der Wunder" (Berlin, 1898). The most prosperous period of Samaritan theological learning was that of the Judæo-Arabic literature, the pioneer in which was Saadja, while the path he opened was zealously followed by Rabbinists and Karaites. A number of Samaritan-Arabic commentaries on the Pentateuch belong to the three centuries succeeding that in which Saadja lived. Among these belongs, for example, a commentary on Genesis dated 1053, of which Neubauer publishes a fragment ( Genesis 1-28:10 ) in the "Journ. Asiat." (1873), 341. Ibrahim of the tribe of Jaqûb, who probably did not live before the sixteenth century, wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, planned on a large scale. A manuscript copy of the first four books made at Nablus through the efforts of Petermann is at Berlin. Publications from it are: Klumel, "Mischpatim, Ein samarit.-arab. Commentar zu Ex. xxi-xxii, 15, von Ibrahim ibn Jakub" (Berlin, 1902); Hanover, "Das Festgesetz der Samaritaner nach Ibrahim ibn Jakub" (Berlin, 1904). Various extracts are given by Geiger in ZDMG, XVII (1863), 723; XX (1866), 147; XXII (1868), 532. Other commentaries are to be found in manuscript in libraries ; the titles of a number of them are known. Works on smaller portions of the Pentateuch were also not unusual.
Among the codifications of the Law the most important is the "Kitâb al-Kâfi" written about 1050 by Yûsuf ibn Salâmah; the work is a kind of Samaritan Schulchan aruch, made up of the explanations of the most distinguished Samaritan teachers of the law. Of this work Kohn has edited the tenth chapter, "Die Zaraath-Gesetze der Bibel nach dem Kitab al-Kafi des Jusuf ibn Salamah" (Frankfort on the Main, 1899). Munajja ibn Zadaka, an important and prolific writer, taught in the eleventh or twelfth century. Various writings of his are quoted; the most widely known was his Kitâb al Khilaf", a more exact title of which would be, "Investigations and Controversial Questions between the two Sects of Jews and Samaritans". The work is divided into two parts; a manuscript copy of the second part, obtained by Petermann in 1868 at Nablus, is to be found at Berlin. Further information concerning this second part is given by L. Wreschner, "Samaritanische Traditionen" (Halle, 1888). Six small fragments of this work are at Breslau and have been published by Drabkin, "Fragmenta commentarii ad Pentateuchum Samaritano-Arabici sex" (Breslau, 1875). In addition to these many theological works are cited or are to be found in manuscript in libraries. Cf. Nutt, loc. cit., 131 sqq.; Steinschneider, "Die arabische Literatur der Juden" (Frankfort-on-Main, 1902), 319 sqq.E. Liturgy and Religious Poetry
A large number of the manuscripts are liturgical texts. They contain prayers and hymns for various feasts and occasions in Aramaic and Hebrew. The majority belong to a fairly late period, as the numerous Arabic idioms show. In some of them, each Hebrew or Aramaic strophe is followed by an Arabic translation. The earliest and most celebrated liturgical poet is Marqa; next to him comes his contemporary Amram. Later poets are, for example, Abu’l Hasan (eleventh century) and his son Ab-Galuga; the high-priest Pinehas ben Joseph (fourteenth century), his son Abisha, the latter's contemporary Abdallah ben Salâmah; further, Abraham al-Qabasi (sixteenth century) and others. The British Museum has a complete manuscript of the Samaritan Liturgy in twelve quarto volumes.F. Chronicles and other Forms of Secular Literature
A distinct branch of the literature is formed by the Samaritan chronicles. Among these are: (a) the Book of Joshua, in Arabic, the main part of which probably belongs to the thirteenth century, even though here and there it may be based on earlier records. In thirty-eight chapters it treats, somewhat in the manner of a Midrash, the history from the death of Moses to the death of Josue, with many apocryphal additions. An appendix to the ninth chapter carries on the recital to Alexander Severus. The sole manuscript in Samaritan characters came from Cairo and is to be found now at Leyden. It was published in Arabic with a Latin translation by Juynboll, "Chronicon Samaritanum" (Leyden, 1848). A Hebrew translation was issued by Kirchheim, (Frankfort on the Main, 1855); an English one by O. T. Crane, "The Samaritan Chronicle or the Book of Joshua" (New York, 1890). Gaster believed he had discovered the Hebraico-Samaritan "Book of Josue ", and published it in square characters, with a German translation, in the ZDMG, LXII (1908), 209 sqq., 494 sqq. He was, however, the victim of a mystification. Cf. Kahle, loc. cit., 250 sq.; Dalmann in "Theol. Literaturzeitung" (1908), 533, 665; Fraenkel, loc cit., 481 sqq.; Yahuda in "Sitzungsber. d. Akad. d. Wissensch. in Berlin ", XXIX (1908), 887 sqq. (b) The Arabic Chronicle of Abu’l Fath.–According to the statement of the author this chronicle was written at Nablus in the year 756 of the Hegira or A.D. 1355, at the request of the high-priest Pinehas. It relates the course of events from the time of Adam to that of Mohammed, using older chronicles as a basis. Some manuscripts give a continuation up to Harun-al-Rashid. The work contains numerous anachronisms and fables; it is intended to magnify the Samaritans in an unfair manner, and passes over whole periods of time. It was edited by Vilmar, "Abulfathi annales Samaritani" (Gotha, 1856). The Latin translation that was announced has not yet appeared. (c) El Tolide, known as "the Neubauer Chronicle".–A copy of this chronicle, made in 1859 by the high-priest Jaqub ben Aaron, was published by A. Neubauer in the "Journal Asiatique" (1869), 385 sqq. The chronicle is written in Hebrew and is acompanied by a literal Arabic translation. The main part, written in 1149, is the work of the high-priest Eleazar ben Amram, the continuation, written in 1340, is that of Jaqub ben Ismael. Other writers have brought the chronicle down to 1856. It contains hardly more than bare chronologies from Adam on, together with brief historical notices, and is in reality little more than a catalogue of the high-priests and of the most important Samaritan families. (d) A chronicle edited by E. N. Adler and M. Seligsohn, "Une nouvelle chronique samaritaine" in the "Revue des études juives", vols. XLIV, XLV, XLVI; also printed separately (Paris, 1903). It comes down to the year 1899. With exception of a few Samaritan words and two liturgical portions in the Samaritan dialect, the language is a corrupt Hebrew full of Arabic expressions. Besides the chronicles which have become known up to now, there must have been, at least in former times, many other works of historical and legendary character. Cf. for example, "Buch Josua", c. lxvii at close, and Abu’l Fath, in his introduction.
As regards other branches of secular learning, fragments or titles are known of works on astronomy, medicine etc. A few writings on grammar have been preserved, especially on that of the Hebrew language ; among these authors are Ibrahim ben Faray of the twelfth century, Eleazar ben Pinehas about 1400, Abu Sa’id, apparently the same as the one who wrote the translation of the Pentateuch. These works are to be found in manuscript at Leyden. Noeldeke investigated them carefully and published the results in the "Göttinger Gelehrte Nachrichten", nos. 17 and 20 (1862). These writings give sufficient information as to the position of the Samaritan in regard to grammar and show that they did not advance beyond an uncertain groping. Of particular interest is the little treatise of Abu Sa’id on reading Hebrew, which Noeldeke gives in the original and in a translation (loc. cit., 387 sqq.). There are also manuscripts of lexical character, which are, however, of little value. A manuscript written by a priest named Pinehas in the Bibliothéque Nationale at Paris contains the verb and noun forms in parallel columns of Hebrew, Samaritan, and Arabic; a copy of this manuscript is at Christ's College, Cambridge. Cf. Nutt, loc. cit., 150, and Harkavy, loc. cit., in appendix, p. 161.G. Epistles
The correspondence between Samaritans and European scholars which began at the end of the sixteenth century and was continued, with occasional interruptions, up to a recent date, offers an essential contribution to the knowledge of Samaritan conditions. These letters of the Samaritans are either in Arabic or in a more or less correct Hebrew written in Samaritan characters; the latter are generally accompanied by an Arabic translation. The first European scholar to enter into correspondence with the Samaritans was Joseph Scaliger. In 1589 he addressed letters to the Samaritan communities at Nablus and Cairo; but no answer was sent until after his death (1609). This was followed by the correspondence (1672-88) carried on with Thomas Marshall, Rector of Lincoln College at Oxford, through Huntington, the Anglican preacher at Aleppo, and the correspondence (1684-1691), with the German Hiob Ludolf. After a long suspension the correspondence was resumed (1808-26) by Silvestre de Sacy. As regards a further scatterred correspondence see the bibliography below.H. Secular Literature of the Hellenistic Era in Greek
In closing, something should be said of the secular literature written during the hellenistic era in Greek. The chronicler Thalus (about 40 B. C. was probably a Samaritan. His work appears to have been a chronicle of the world. The majority of fragments of and references to it relate to the mythological period; a few to the history of Cyrus. The mixture of Oriental and Greek mythological stories is in entire agreement with the manner of the hellenizing Jews of his era. For the fragments see C. Müller, "Fragm. hist. Græc.", III, 517-519. Among the citations made by Alexander Polyhistor one from an unknown person is preserved in Eusebius, "Præp. Evang.", IX, xviii. This agrees in matter with a longer quotation (ibid., IX, xvii) erroneously ascribed to the Jew Eupolemos. Both citations are plainly to be traced to one original which must have been the work of a Samaritan of whom no further particulars are known; for example Garizim is explained as ’óros ùphístou. The fragments are to be found in C. Müller, loc. cit., III, 214. The Samaritan Theodotus, who lived about 200 B. C. , wrote an epic on Sichem of which forty-seven hexameters are preserved in Eusebius, "Præp. Evang.", IX, xxii; see C. Müller, loc. cit., 217. He also seems to have embellished sacred history with scraps of Greek mythology. Freudenthal also thinks that Cleodemus, or Malchus (200 B.C. ), was a Samaritan, on account of the syncretic fusion of Greek mythology with narratives of Biblical origin. However, this is not a necessary conclusion.
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.