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Notes from the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society

The Samaritan Temple and the Sons of Joseph

Prof. Hugh Williamson

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed; where I quote from the Torah I use the Masoretic text where differences with the Samaritan recension are not significant.]

This talk takes knowledge of who the Samaritans are for granted; if you don't have it, read my Limmud notes on the subject.

Until Prog. Magen excavated on Mt Gerizim 20 years ago, it was thought the Samaritan sanctuary was elsewhere. This whole picture has now changed very much. He has excavated an extensive site. [photos] There is a Byzantine sanctuary (church), and Hellenistic remains around it. Magen claims that in the middle there is an earlier, Persian period (Achaemenid) sanctuary. Until he came up with this, we didn't know the Samaritans had a temple this early.

[To which my reaction was: Huh? Josephus says it was! I put this to the speaker, who said the Americans had previously excavated at Tel El-Arash, and declared that to be the Samaritan temple; and Josephus' declaring that the temple was built in the Achaemenid period was the result of his getting Sanballaṭ I mixed up with Sanballaṭ III. Josephus talks about the temple being built in the time of Neḥemiah with the permission of King Darius, but he also has the story involve the coming of Alexander the Great, so he's foreshortened history. I pointed out the former part of this; the speaker responded with the latter. Anyhow, Magen's excavation proved the Tel El-Arash theory wrong.]

The square tower in the middle is Islamic, and the "active" part of the site. The Byzantine church ruins are at its foot. [photos] The Hellenistic settlement was very extensive. [photos] There's not much to see of the Persian period ruins. [An audience member suggested the altar of the Byzantine church is probably on the site of the Holy of Holies of the Samaritan temple.]

As far as the speaker is concerned, Magen has made his case that there was a sanctuary in the post-exilic period. (Two or three scholars have written rude articles saying there was no Achaemenid period, that it's all Hellenistic, but they have built their entire reputation on it all being Hellenistic, so they have their own axe to grind. The speaker takes it that the case is made.)

Magen puts the building in the fifth century BCE which might be a bit early; maybe it's actually the fourth century. There's nothing with a date on it; there's various arguments for and against the various dates. At any rate, it dates from the second half of the Achaemenid period.

What is the significance on our interpretation of our familiar texts if there was a Samaritan Temple this early when the Hebrew Bible was still very much in production?

Working backwards, we begin with the fourth century CE Samaritan text called the Memar Marqah, in six books. Originally thought to be a single piece; Ben-Haim has shown it grew over many centuries. Only the first two books are early material. The main hero of this Aramaic midrashic work, as for the Samaritans in general, is Moses. But there seem to be a number of places where Moses was overlaid on something earlier.

Now the angels who appeared to the rightous came for only about an hour and that was enough.
Three such angels appeared to Abraham and announced tidings to him; they walked during the day.
Two such angels appeared to Lot round about the evening time; they did what they had to and were gone in the the night.
One appeared to Joseph, who was in the fields at the time, and showed him the way, appearing to him no more.
Likewise there was an angel who appeared in the bush sent by God with a message for the prophet.

For the speaker, this was evidently originally a passage build around the sequence 3, 2, 1 ending with Joseph; then an extra bit was added to the end to ensure Moses doesn't get left out.

There are about fifty such chains in the book running through the Patriarchs either ending with Joseph or originally doing so. Here's another:

It is good that you should realise that Adam prostrated in its* direction;
that Enosh proclaimed in the name of the Lord on it;
and Enoch knew it and hastened towards it.
Noah built an altar in front of it and stood on it...
thus it is said concerning him, just as with Abraham (Gen 8.20):
Noah built an altar to the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. וַיִּבֶן נֹחַ מִזְבֵּחַ לַה׳ וַיִּקַּח מִכֹּל הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהֹרָה וּמִכֹּל הָעוֹף הַטָּהוֹר וַיַּעַל עֹלֹת בַּמִּזְבֵּחַ׃

[My notes here say "Gen 22.0", I think this must be a typo for:]

Genesis 22:9 בראשית כב ט
They came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר־לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּבֶן שָׁם אַבְרָהָם אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיַּעֲרֹךְ אֶת־הָעֵצִים וַיַּעֲקֹד אֶת־יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתוֹ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מִמַּעַל לָעֵצִים׃
...exactly as Noah did...
Isaac saw it.
Jacobn knew it,
Joseph posessed it.

* Mt Gerizim, which is where everything happened, including the Binding of Isaac, for the Samaritans.

In Book IV:

Behold two who were coupled together: the one founded a place and the other founded a place. Joseph founded the place of his father and received what was his and acquired it for himself so that it became his portion. The great prophet Moses founded the place of his Lord which He had chosen. God chose both places and rewarded both men.

Why say there were two places?

This insistence on Joseph w[lacuna]

Adam arran[?g]ed it,
Noah laid its foundations,
Abraham built it,
Isaac renewed it,
Jacob dedicated it,
Joseph possessed it.

Why this emphasis on possession? Is this a memory of the time that the Samaritans were still hoping for some sort of political autonomy; the emphasis on Joseph being because they lived on the land, and identified themselves as the descendants of, the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, the two sons of Joseph?

If so, this would be quite early because John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple in the second century BCE after which there was never any hope of autonomy.

In the fourth century CE:

Men have also said in connection with Joseph that he was the one who pronmounced the [priestly] blessing. When they were asked about this statement, they said concerning Joseph that he was the owneer of the place. In reply to what they said, it was remarked "It is the statement of men who know, who understand it, that Josesph is blessed and his land is blessed. The ownership is his, but not the priesthood."

It appears the writers are struggling with the legacy of a time when Joseph pronounced the Priestly Blessing. For the Samaritans Joseph was an important lay founding figure. Eventually they got a proper priesthood, and eventually Moses grew in importance to exclipse him.

Can we find evidence for this earlier?

Yes, in Josephus. Some of the things he says about the Samaritans are quite nice; others are not. Jewish Antiquities IX 291:

οἳ πρὸς μεταβολὴν συγγενεῖς μὲν ὅταν εὖ πράττοντας βλέπωσι τοὺς Ἰουδαίους ἀποκαλοῦσιν ὡς ἐξ Ἰωσήπου φύντες καὶ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐκεῖθεν τῆς πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἔχοντες οἰκειότητος, ὅταν δὲ πταίσαντας ἴδωσιν, οὐδαμόθεν αὐτοῖς προσήκειν λέγουσιν οὐδ᾽ εἶναι δίκαιον οὐδὲν αὐτοῖς εὐνοίας ἢ γένους, ἀλλὰ μετοίκους ἀλλοεθνεῖς ἀποφαίνουσιν αὑτούς. And when they see the Jews in prosperity, they pretend that they are changed, and allied to them, and call them kinsmen, as though they were derived from Joseph, and had by that means an original alliance with them; but when they see them falling into a low condition, they say they are no way related to them, and that the Jews have no right to expect any kindness or marks of kindred from them, but they declare that they are sojourners, that come from other countries.
Antiquities XI 341:
εἰσὶν γὰρ οἱ Σαμαρεῖς τοιοῦτοι τὴν φύσιν, ὡς ἤδη που καὶ πρότερον δεδηλώκαμεν: ἐν μὲν ταῖς συμφοραῖς ὄντας τοὺς Ἰουδαίους ἀρνοῦνται συγγενεῖς ὁμολογοῦντες τότε τὴν ἀλήθειαν, ὅταν δέ τι λαμπρὸν περὶ αὐτοὺς ἴδωσιν ἐκ τύχης, ἐπιπηδῶσιν αὐτῶν τῇ κοινωνίᾳ προσήκειν αὐτοῖς λέγοντες καὶ ἐκ τῶν Ἰωσήπου γενεαλογοῦντες αὑτοὺς ἐκγόνων Ἐφραίμου καὶ Μανασσοῦς. For such is the disposition of the Samaritans, as we have already elsewhere declared, that when the Jews are in adversity, they deny that they are of kin to them, and then they confess the truth; but when they perceive that some good fortune hath befallen them, they immediately pretend to have communion with them, saying that they belong to them, and derive their genealogy from the posterity of Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh.

The same idea is known in many other places, including amongst the Christian community. Eusebius mentions it; here is a quotation from Origen:

And when the Samaritans boast of the patriach Joseph, I wonder whether some of them take both the blessing of Jacob on Joseph and that of Moses to have reference to the coming of Christ.

On to the Dead Sea Scrolls. 4Q372 and the three surrounding parts of the manuscript (4Q371-4) are all parts of the same text, and copied from an earlier text. It talks about a group being reviled and called fools. Ben Sira talks [50:25–25] about the foolish people who dwell in Gerizim; this is probably an allusion to that. They are the enemies of the people writing this text; they are contrasted with Jacob and Judah; they are anti-Zion. They must be Samaritans; who else could fit the bill?

10-11: in all this, Joseph was cast into lands he did not k[now...] among a foreign nation and dispersed in all the world.
14-15: And in all this Jospeh [was given] into the hands of foreigners, who were devouring his strength and breaking all his bones until the time of the end for him.

Why all this dissing Joseph? The Samaritans are claiming to be the people of Joseph; but from the Jewish perspective they're not: the true Josephites have been exiled and not come back.

Continuing backwards, Prof. Stefan Schorch (inheriter of the chair of Gesenius) is preparing a new critical edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Samaritans share with the Jews veneration for the Pentateuch/Torah. The study of the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch is a very interesting and long-standing study. (Indeed, Gesenius made his name studying it in a systematic manner.)

In more recent years, discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls have found that what Gesenius found was already the case: some of the differences found there [from the Masoretic Text] are attested more widely: It's not just the Samaritans being corrupt; it's that the text is wide circulation; sometimes these differences are also found in the Septuagint.

The Samaritan Pentateuch is therefore an important witness to the text of the Torah. Which is not to say the Samaritans haven't changed the text, for example the addition to the Ten Commandments to worship God on Mt Gerizim. But sometimes the differences may be the other way around, and the Masoretic Text diddled with. [See my notes on the differences for examples.]

The blessing of Joseph in Gen. 49:26:

The blessings of your father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors בִּרְכֹת אָבִיךָ גָּבְרוּ עַל־בִּרְכֹת הוֹרַי

The Samaritan text here reads [and this is a difference I missed, because without the vowels it's not obvious]:

The blessings of your father and your mother have prevailed above the blessings of my mountain בִּרְכֹת אָבִיךָ וְאִִמֶךָ גָּבְרוּ עַל־בִּרְכֹת הַרִי

Of course, this refers to Mt Gerizim.

On Mt Gerizim, over three hundred inscriptions have been found, mostly very short. [The speaker showed a second century BCE example referring to the descendants of Phinehas the priest.]

A second example: "That which Joseph offered for his wife and his sons before the Lord in the Temple."

Now, you might say: So what? Anyone can name their son Joseph. But there are six Josephs mentioned in the inscriptions. In Jewish tradition, though Joseph became a popular name in the last century BCE onwards, it was not really used beforehand. So it was evidently a reasonably popular name amongst the Samaritans.

The case the speaker has tried to make, though it does not go all the way back to the Achaemenid period, is that Joseph is a central figure in the Samaritans' self-identification. How do they refer to themselves? Thhey don't call themselves Samaritans. They call themselves the children of Joseph.

1 Chronicles 5:1-5:3 דברי הימים א ה א-ה ג
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's:) The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel were, Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן בְּכוֹר־יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי הוּא הַבְּכוֹר וּבְחַלְּלוֹ יְצוּעֵי אָבִיו נִתְּנָה בְּכֹרָתוֹ לִבְנֵי יוֹסֵף בֶּן־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא לְהִתְיַחֵשׂ לַבְּכֹרָה׃ כִּי יְהוּדָה גָּבַר בְּאֶחָיו וּלְנָגִיד מִמֶּנּוּ וְהַבְּכֹרָה לְיוֹסֵף׃ בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן בְּכוֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲנוֹךְ וּפַלּוּא חֶצְרוֹן וְכַרְמִי׃

The first nine chapters of Chronicles are genealogies. The first genealogy, and one of the longest, is Judah. This isn't surprising, because it takes you to David, who is very important. After that you get to Simeon, who is linked with Judah, then the sons of Reuben.

If Reuben is firstborn, oughtn't he to come first? This passage explains why he does not. That's all the author needed to say. We know the parenthesised material is added because v. 3 repeats v. 1. This is how footnotes were done before the invention of footnotes. But why does he go on to say that Reuben's birthright was given to the sons of Joseph?

There's a lot of argument about whether this text has become corrupted, but the speaker is convinced this is the correct text, so will be taking this for granted.

There is no genealogy given for Joseph; there's genealogies for his two sons, E and M. But here we say the birthright was given to Joseph, not his firstborn son.

This is quite striking, because Chronicles as far as possible misses out everything in the Book of Kings concerning the northern kingdom, of Israel; it only includes it when the two kingdoms were doing something together. So all the more so why did he include this bit about the birthright being given to Joseph?

Although the Chronicler was interested in what went on in Jerusalem, he was here making an important concession to another group of people who call themselves the Sons of Joseph, to say you are not excluded from the people of God; you have an honourable part, because the birthright is given to you.

When was Chronicles written? The speaker reckons ca. 350 BCE, in the late Achaemenid period; a time by which we now know tha the Samaritans had a temple that was a rival to the Temple in Jerusalem. In this time, they were outsiders, and Neḥemiah tried his best to exclude them. This would have been reinforced by the building of a temple.

The Chronicler is saying that the temple that counts is the Temple in Jerusalem. The speaker says he is not being completely anti-Samaritan, nevertheless the people who perhaps misguidedly have built a temple on Mt Gerizim, have not excluded themselves; they remain the Children of Joseph.

[Postscript: An audience member asked about the NT, and raised the subject of the Samaritan woman in John 5; the speaker said Acts 7 is more interesting; the Biblical quotations there agree more with the Samaritan version than the Masoretic. There's also also something interesting in Psalms 78.]

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