Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Deciphering Samaritan

On Thursday of hol haMoed Pesah, my family and I joined Jameel for a trip to the Samaritan community on Har Greizim, where we were given a fascinating tour of the Samaritan museum, and got a glimpse of a Samaritan synagogue. You can see some of the videos and photos that Jameel shot here and here.

My kids were curious about what was written on the various signs and inscriptions in the synagogue. I figured that if I took the time to sit and decipher them, I might find some interesting things. I wasn’t disappointed. It occurred to me that others might be interested too, so I’m sharing them here.

To interpret the text, I used this document ( a proposal for inclusion of the Samaritan alphabet in Unicode, accepted a few weeks ago), written by Michael Everson and Mark Shoulson. (Mark Shoulson, by the way, is an expert in Samaritan and Klingon – he is Assistant Director of the Klingon Language Institute, and once translated sefer Yonah into Klingon.)

First, let's take a look at the inscriptions above the doorway of the synagogue. (Click on the picture to see a higher resolution image.) These are verses from the Torah, placed above the doorway in accordance with the Samaritans' literal interpretation of the commandment "וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ" ("And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates") [Devarim 6:9 and Devarim 11:20]. The “mezuza” above the outer entrance contains two psukim, the top one in larger letters, and the lower one in smaller. The two verses are Shemot 25:8, and Shemot 20:20, both of which turn out to be good illustrations of the differences between the Samaritan text of the Torah, and our own Masoretic Text. For both verses, I show the Samaritan version as it appears on the synagogue’s “mezuza” above labeled as ש, and the Masoretic version below labeled as מ. The differences in the Samaritan text are highlighted:

  • “Mezuza” engraving above outer entrance, top:
ש  ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוככם
מ ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכ ם
[שמות כ"ה:ח']


  • “Mezuza” engraving above outer entrance, bottom:
ש  ובמקום    אשר אזכרתי את שמי, שם אבוא אליך וברכתיך
מ בכל המקום אשר אזכיר את שמי, אבוא אליך וברכתיך
[שמות כ':כ']
My 13-year-old daughter astutely pointed out that the difference in 20:20 is probably a subtle reflection of the Samaritans’ belief in the centrality of Har Greizim.


  • Stylized golden flame design beside outer entrance:
שמע ישראל
I found this particularly interesting. This is exactly the same sort of text-as-artwork design one often finds in modern Jewish synagogues – with the twist that this uses Samaritan paleo-Hebrew script instead of modern Hebrew. (Image at right added by Jameel.)



  • Golden menora plaque [“mezuza”?] above inner entrance:
מנורת אור
[?]


Now let's see what's on the synagogue's bulletin board. (Click for a higher resolution image.)


  • Bulletin board, top right [chart]:
פסח
[?]
חושך
ארבה
מצות

These seem to be decorative, Pesah-related words superimposed over the chart, which I suspect is a schedule for the korban Pesah.


Samaritan samekh
(singaat)

Also, get a load of the Samaritan letter samekh (or singaat, as they call it) in the word סח" ("Pesah"). It looks like a hieroglyphic bird, or one of the letters in Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra. (See here, particularly the letter glikk [U+E635] J )



  • Bulletin board, bottom right:
[סמל מדינת ישראל]

חג שמח וכשר ]באותיות אשוריות]

This appears to be an official letter of holiday greetings from an Israeli government ministry. At the top is the official emblem of the State of Israel, and in the text of the letter, most of which seems to be in Samaritan script, you can see the words “Hag sameah v’kasher” (“A joyous and kosher holiday”) in modern Hebrew letters.

  • Bulletin board, top middle:
שנת
3646 = ישראלי
5767 יהודהי
1428 ישמעאלי
2007 נוצרי

This lists the numbers of the current year (or last year, actually) on the Samaritan, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian calendars, respectively. The Samaritan year is shown here as 3646. They date their calendar from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel at the time of Yehoshua; as opposed to the Jewish calendar, which is dated from the creation of the world. Note that the Samaritan year is labelled as "ישראלי" ("Israelite"), and the Jewish year is labelled as "יהודהי" ("Judahite").

This one is a little weird. Firstly, why do they need a sign to remind people what year it is? Secondly, if they actually do need this, well, then they probably should update it to the current year already…


  • Bulletin board, bottom middle:
ש  את החג המצות תשמר, שבעת ימים תאכל מצות כאשר צויתיך
מ את חג המצות תשמר, שבעת ימים תאכל מצות אשר צוית ך
[שמות ל"ד:י"ח]
Note, once again, the variations in the text (Shemot 34:18).


  • Bulletin board, top left [beside red circle]:
הערב

I imagine this had been put up once about an event some evening, which had appeared below it. I have no idea what the big red ball with lines is supposed to be.


  • Bulletin board, bottom left:
ערב שבת החג המצות:
6:22

This one seems to be zman knissat Shabbat for the previous Shabbat. We would call it zman hadlakat neirot, except that the Samaritans don’t light Shabbat candles, of course. But why do they call it Shabbat Hag HaMatzot? Shabbat was Pesah (using their nomenclature); Hag HaMatzot didn’t start until motzaei Shabbat. Hmm…



Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד

18 comments:

Lion of Zion said...

just for the record, i did get 3 of the 4 words on the card with 6:22 in my comment here: http://muqata.blogspot.com/2008/04/thoughts-on-shomronim.html

Rafi G said...

am I the only one who was not invited along for this trip?

InternetFred said...

My Rabbi said the Jewish Calendar start from the Creation of humans. A few days later. The Creation of the Sun and Moon came in between the Creation of the universe and of humans. So the meaning of 'Day' is a little fuzzy there.

The fuzz is good.

Leora said...

Mark Shoulson
And he lives in Highland Park, NJ. Maybe I'll interview him sometime for my blog.

I wonder if some people object to showing children Samaritanism (or whatever it's called). Isn't that like showing them another religion? I like your openness in teaching your children.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Shoulson, BTW, has self-published an edition of the Torah with the Masoretic and Samaritan texts side-by-side. See here. Beautiful typography, I must say. I think you can download or view a few pages, including some interesting introductory info.

Also, you can view the entire Samaritan Chumash in regular Hebrew characters at this link, which gives images from the 1918 work "Der Hebräische Pentateuch der Samaritaner."

Mark Shoulson said...

Since my name's been mentioned, I should probably comment too...

I hope someday to be able to go to Har Gerizim for the Samaritan pesach; that would be amazing.

Yes, they put their "mezuzot" more concretely *on* the doors, though I think they do not have the same fixity regarding precisely which passages are to be used. That's pretty common in Judaism vs Samaritanism: Jews pin down the halacha with great detail (viz. the Talmud), and Samaritans seem to take a more intuitive view. It isn't quite fair to say that they are more literal-minded. After all, which one takes the verse about "binding the words upon your hand" literally and which takes it metaphorically?

Consistently through the Samaritan Pentateuch, whenever the Masoretic text says things like

במקום אשר יבחר ה׳ אלהיך לשכן שמו

the Samaritan text says

במקום אשר בחר ה׳ אלהיך לשכן שמו

the distinction being past tense ("the place where the LORD your God has chosen to set his name") as opposed to the Masoretic text's future tense ("the place where the LORD your God will choose to set his name"). This is definitely due to the primacy attached to Mt Gerizim in Samaritanism, since it is designated in their version of the Torah itself.

The שמע ישראל flame looks to me to be written in ordinary "Jewish" Hebrew letters, just stylized artistically as one might see in similar Jewish art. The `ayin is not closed, the mem has the wrong number of cusps on the top, the yod is a small letter... all Ktav Ashuri features.

The Singat is a pretty letter in that script (Samaritans also have another writing style that's sort of like Rashi Script is to regular Hebrew; scholars call it "minuscule" as opposed to the "majuscule" writing you see here). You can see, if you look closely, the primordial shape of the early Canaanite letter, three stacked horizontal lines, and how they joined up as people wrote them.

Yes, I have a comparing Torah; this link will redirect you there. Also read this article on my web site discussing the differences between the two.

Sorry, I talk a lot when I think people might listen.

Mark Shoulson said...

OK, looking at things again. I totally missed the point about the שמע flame. I was looking at the sample Jewish art and not at the sculpture in the picture of the entrance to the synagogue. You're right, it is Samaritan Hebrew, everything I said about it being Ktav Ashuri is wrong, because I was looking at the wrong picture.

Oops.

Lurker said...

Mark Shoulson: Since my name's been mentioned, I should probably comment too...

Thanks for dropping by! I had been thinking of trying to get in touch with you. (We have a friend in common, btw...)

Btw, I read your article on the differences between the Samaritan Torah and the MT prior to my visit to Har Greizim, and it provided a good deal of useful context for the things I saw. Thank you!

MS: Yes, they put their "mezuzot" more concretely *on* the doors, though I think they do not have the same fixity regarding precisely which passages are to be used. That's pretty common in Judaism vs Samaritanism: Jews pin down the halacha with great detail (viz. the Talmud), and Samaritans seem to take a more intuitive view. It isn't quite fair to say that they are more literal-minded. After all, which one takes the verse about "binding the words upon your hand" literally and which takes it metaphorically?

Actually, that's what I had originally thought myself. But when we were at the museum, Jameel asked Yefet HaKohen about why Samaritans don't have tefillin, or something akin to it. I had fully expected Yefet to answer that they understand those verses metaphorically (just as the Karaites do). But to my great surprise, Yefet indicated that the Samaritans may indeed have had something like tefillin in the distant past, that was lost over the generations!

If you think about it, it makes sense: The Samaritans, do, in fact, interpret the directive to "write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates" literally, just as we do (although you are right that they didn't "pin down the halacha" to the extent that rabbinic Judaism did). So if the context of the commandment is seen as literal, then it follows that the previous verse ("bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes", which appears in the same context, must be literal as well.

I am actually quite curious to find out more (if that's possible) about the supposed ancient Samaritan tefillin.

MS: Sorry, I talk a lot when I think people might listen.

Not to worry, I (for one) find it extremely interesting. (And I share the same fault... :-) )

MS: I hope someday to be able to go to Har Gerizim for the Samaritan pesach; that would be amazing.

If you're ever here in Israel around Pesah, why don't you drop me a line, and maybe we can go there together. (Sukkot is an interesting time to visit Har Greizim, too.)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Mark: Thanks for dropping by! I'd be happy to go with you and Lurker to Har Greizim the next time you're here!

As an FYI; 2 years back, I visited homes of Shomronim on Har Greizim, and the majority of them did not actually have their "mezuzot" on top of their doors, but rather next to the door or opposite the door.

While they claim to interpret literally, the actual mezuzot are located with rather liberal leeway.

Yochanan said...

There should be a revival of the pre-Babylonian exile Hebrew script.

Mark Shoulson said...

The Samaritan calendar is very similar to the Jewish calendar in terms of structure and length (not month-names or year-start), except (a) they don't have the funky rule about Rosh HaShanah not being on Sunday/Wednesday/Friday, which messes with the Jewish calendar fiercely, and (b) their leap-year structure is a little different. The practical upshot being that dates in the Jewish and Samaritan calendars are usually either exactly aligned or only a day or two off, except that every so often they're a month off, when one has a leap year and the other doesn't. I think last year was such a year, but we're aligned again now since it was a Jewish leap year. The relevance to this discussion is that a year when they aren't aligned would make for a great time to go to the Samaritan pesach, since you wouldn't have Jewish Yom Tov getting in the way.

Quoth Lurker:
Thanks for dropping by! I had been thinking of trying to get in touch with you. (We have a friend in common, btw...)

I assume you met Benny Tsedaka during your visit. When I was researching how to find out stuff about Samaritan for the Unicode proposal, near as I could tell just about everything done with the Samaritan community for the last 30-odd years was done through Benny. So I've met with him a few times; he passes through Brooklyn every fall and I head out to talk with him, etc.

Regarding literal tradition: I had heard that Samaritans took the same metaphorical view as the Karaites, but if you have heard differently your source is more direct than mine. I don't know anything about Samaritan tefillin, but yes, I would be fascinated to find out.

I suppose the thing is that there is no such thing as "literal interpretation." The Karaites and the Samaritans have traditions of interpretation just like we Rabbanite Jews have. Ours are maybe a little more detailed and canonized, but then there have been more of us working on them. Sometimes one tradition is perhaps closer to the "obvious literal" meaning, sometimes another. But there's always some interpretation going on.

Quoth Yochanan:
There should be a revival of the pre-Babylonian exile Hebrew script.

Could be neat; I've seen pictures of it in use in sculptures and things like that, and it is sometimes to be found on Israeli coins. This is because the designs on those coins are based on designs found on old Judean coins. At the time those coins were minted, the "pre-exile" script was already out of use and the more familiar Ktav Ashuri was common, but they used the older script for precisely the same reason that the modern State of Israel used Hebrew for its language: nationalism. The square Hebrew was a script of exile, based on Aramaic scripts. The pre-exile script was natively Hebrew and spoke more to the uniqueness of the Jews as a people, just as the Hebrew language does today. Apparently the main motivation for finally dropping pre-exilic script once and for all was a desire for distance and distinction from... the Samaritans! (After all, they hadn't been through the same exile).

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>The pre-exile script was natively Hebrew and spoke more to the uniqueness of the Jews as a people, just as the Hebrew language does today.

I would qualify that. The pre-exile script was essentially the same all over what is today Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and part of Syria. It even migrated to North Africa (Carthage). It was far from uniquely Jewish - it was uniquely Eretz Canaanite!

As for the idea that "the main motivation for finally dropping pre-exilic script once and for all was a desire for distance and distinction from... the Samaritans!," it's worth citing BT Sanhedrin 21b, which calls the paleo-Hebrew script that used by 'hedyototh.' As you of course know, the paleo-Hebrew script lived on in some form during the Hasmonean period, as it appears on coins (and even in some scrolls from Qumran), as well as in coins as late as the Bar Kokhba period.

According to the sources James Purvis cites, the Samaritan script descends from the Hasmonean era script and NOT directly from the pre-exile script, which might have fascinating implications regarding the correct period in which the schism, so to speak, really occurred.

Let me please tell you directly יישר כחך for your beautiful Chumash edition and informative writings!

Mark Shoulson said...

Thus Mississippi Fred:
>The pre-exile script was natively Hebrew and spoke more to the uniqueness of the Jews as a people, just as the Hebrew language does today.

I would qualify that. The pre-exile script was essentially the same all over what is today Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and part of Syria. It even migrated to North Africa (Carthage). It was far from uniquely Jewish - it was uniquely Eretz Canaanite!

Wellllll.... Not strictly true; any world-famous top-of-the-profession alphabet genius worth his salt can take a glance at an inscription written in any of those bazillion different local hands and immediately comment on the large-headed Edomite mem, or all kinds of other features. At least, that's what I read in books by people like Joseph Naveh. But you are substantially right; they were all pretty similar alphabets, whereas the Aramaic branch had evolved very rapidly and changed forms quite a bit.

Similarly, it isn't like the Samaritans now use precisely the same alphabet as "pre-exilic" whatever that is. Like all things, the letters have changed and evolved in their hands, albeit slowly (the Hebrew branch of the development of the alphabet is distinctive in the slowness of its changes, while the Aramaic branch is distinctive for the rapidity of its changes).

It was from Naveh, I think, that I got the idea that separation from the Samaritans was a motivating force for abandoning the paleo-Hebrew alphabet. And to be sure, the Gemara cites the opinion that Ktav Ivri was reserved for the "hedyotot", who are in fact specifically identified as the Samaritans.

The Hasmoneans used paleo-Hebrew on their coins for nationalistic purposes mostly, but you're right that it couldn't be completely dead, because people could still read it, and because it was still used in some of the DSS. Some of them are particularly interesting in that they are written in "square" script *except* for the Tetragrammaton, God's name, which is written in paleo-Hebrew (which disagrees with the Mishnaic rulings in Yadayim that Ktav Ashuri is of greater sanctity). cf. the proposal by me and Michael Everson to encode the Tetragrammaton in Unicode as its own codepoint. (it was rejected, but the more I look at the data out there, the more I see that something has to be done to handle these strange symbols that are used)

Does the Samaritan derive from the Hasmonean paleo-Hebrew, or were both the Hasmoneans and the Samaritans using the current state of development of the Hebrew script, as it was normally developing? Who's to say? At any rate, whichever is true, the Samaritan script is definitely directly descended from (but not the same as) pre-exilic Hebrew (possibly by way of the Hasmonean style). That is, "directly" in the sense of linearly, though maybe not proximally.

Isn't there some evidence of the schism happening already in the time of the Bible? The Samaritans are described as Cutheans being settled in the area, hence the Talmudic term for them, Kutim. Both the Bible and the Talmud have their motivations for diminishing the heritage of the Samaritans, so make of that what you will. Certainly the Samaritans themselves maintain that they are of Israelite descent (even to the extent of tracking which tribe, Menashe or Ephraim. I think the last descendant of Benyamim [sic] among them died in the last few hundred years).

Thanks for your kind words; I'm glad my work is helping someone out!

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

it was still used in some of the DSS. Some of them are particularly interesting in that they are written in "square" script *except* for the Tetragrammaton, God's name, which is written in paleo-Hebrew (which disagrees with the Mishnaic rulings in Yadayim that Ktav Ashuri is of greater sanctity)

When i first learned about that i decided that i need to one day scribe my own siddur that follows the same method :-) except with all Names, not just The Name, in Ketav ‘Ivri

(because it looks cool)

Anonymous said...

The Samaritan year is shown here as 3646. They date their calendar from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel at the time of Yehoshua; as opposed to the Jewish calendar, which is dated from the creation of the world.

fascinating post, thanks for that. personally i don't know what to make of the "the world was created 5768 years ago" idea - perhaps this date has some other kind of significance. one thing we can be certain of is that the Israelites did enter the land 3646 years ago.

Michael Everson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Everson said...

You might be interested to learn that a revised edition of Mark's comparison of the Samaritan and Hebrew Torahs has been published by Evertype.

Kamagra said...

It was from Naveh, I think, that I got the idea that separation from the Samaritans was a motivating force for abandoning the paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

Search the Muqata

Loading...

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails