Samaritanism is a religion that derives its name from the region north of Jerusalem called Samaria. Samaritanism is based on the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament—although the Samaritan Pentateuch or Samaritan Torah is written in the Samaritan script for the Samaritan people. It is the only text the Samaritans consider inspired, rejecting the rest of the Hebrew Bible and the entire New Testament. Faithful Samaritans emphasize the role of Moses as a prophet and lawgiver, and they honor the location of the Samaritan temple that was built in Samaria at Mt. Gerizim. As in Judaism, Samaritanism does not allow images of Yahweh, and it keeps many of the same feasts that the Jews observe.
A brief history of the Samaritans will help understand Samaritanism. Here are some highlights:
• after the reign of King Solomon, Israel is divided into north and south in 931 BC
• in 722 BC, the Assyrians conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, including the city and region of Samaria
• the Assyrians leave a remnant of Israelites and import foreigners to settle the region; these emigrants bring many foreign gods to worship (2 Kings 17:29)
• in 586 BC, the Babylonians conquer the southern kingdom of Judah
• the Judeans return to their land and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem in 515 BC
• the people of Samaria oppose the rebuilding of the Jewish temple (Ezra 4; Nehemiah 4)
• the Samaritans build an alternate temple on Mt. Gerizim in their own territory
• in c. 128 BC, during the Maccabean Period, Jewish forces destroy the Samaritan temple
Thus, by the time of Christ, there existed a continuing animosity between Jews and Samaritans. It was a rift rooted in race and religion and a lot of bad blood through history.
The Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim because they believed that on this mountain Moses told the Israelites to build an altar to the Lord. However, Deuteronomy 27:4–5 actually says that Mt. Ebal was the place God chose for an altar. The Samaritans consider “Mt. Ebal” to be a corruption of the text made by Ezra to favor the Jews. According to Josephus, the Samaritan temple was destroyed by Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus I (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, Chapter 10, § 2–3). The temple and the nearby city were never rebuilt, so the temple is not in use today. The ruins have been the subject of archaeological projects and are a national park in Israel.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks for a drink of water from a woman in Samaria. She is astonished that He would do this, asking him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9, ESV). To make the point clear for his readers, John then adds this comment: “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:10).
Samaritanism holds to four principles of faith:
1) There is one God, the God of Israel.
2) There is one prophet, Moses.
3) There is one holy book, the Torah handed down by Moses.
4) There is one holy place, Mt. Gerizim.
(www.israelite-samaritans.com/religion, accessed 3/1/22)
Samaritanism observes the Sabbath and follows the laws of purity in the Torah. They also sacrifice lambs at Passover and look for the coming of the Taheb (the Returning One or the Restorer) who will fulfill Deuteronomy 18:15, judge the earth, and restore true religion in the end times (see the Samaritan woman’s expectation in John 4:25).
Today there are around 800 Samaritans who keep the religious practices of Samaritanism. They comprise one of the oldest and smallest religious groups in the world (www.bbc.com/travel/article/20180828-the-last-of-the-good-samaritans, accessed 3/1/22).