the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Modern. As already stated (under SAMARITAN), a small remnant of the old nation still dwell in their ancient capital, Shechem. There existed a tradition among them, which has yet hardly died out, that large numbers of their brethren were dwelling in various parts of the world — in England, France, India, and elsewhere — and they have instituted inquiries from time to time in the hope of becoming acquainted with these their brethren. In past ages we do find them not only inhabiting various cities in Palestine, but even in Egypt and Constantinople (El-Masudi, Hist. Encycl. 1, 114; Rabbi Benjamin, Itinerary). They are now, however, confined to Nablus, the ancient Shechem, and their sacred city through all ages. Here they live together, Ghetto-like, on the southwestern side of the town, at the very foot of Gerizim, their sacred mount. They have dwindled down to a very small number, consisting only of some forty families; and before many generations more have passed away, the ancient Samaritan nation will have become extinct. In 1872 they numbered 135 souls, 80 of whom were males; by the defection of Jacob Shellaby and his family, they have been reduced to a total of 130 souls. Perhaps no people have been persecuted and oppressed from age to age more than they have, yet it has served to knit them the more closely together. In appearance they are superior to their circumstances, as also to all others around them — a straight and high forehead, full brow, large and rather almond-shaped eyes, aquiline nose, somewhat large mouth, and well-formed chin are their chief physiological characteristics; and, with few exceptions, they are tall and of lofty bearing. If the present small community is a fair specimen of what their nation was in ancient times, they must have been a fine race.
A deep interest is attached to this people, not only because they are the oldest and smallest sect in the world, but principally because they retain the opinions, ceremonies, and habits of their forefathers, and are, like their Jewish brethren, a living evidence of the truth of Bible history, especially that of the Pentateuch. Our object will be, therefore, to give a summary account of all the principal features of their life and manners, as exhibited by these remaining votaries; and for this purpose we chiefly follow Mills's abridgment (in Fairbairn's Dictionary) of his larger account (Three Months in Nablus, Lond. 1864).
I. Domestic Life and Duties. —
1. Circumcision. — The first and most important is to admit the male child into the Abrahamic covenant by circumcision. This ceremony must be performed on the eighth day, even should that be the Sabbath, as it was undoubtedly the practice of the Jews of old (John 7:22); and not in the synagogue, but always in the house of the parents. The performance of the rite devolves upon the priest; but should he happen to be absent, any one acquainted with the mode of operating may do it. During the celebration of the ceremony the name of the child is announced, as of old (Luke 1:59), and, when over, they celebrate it (as the Jews do) by a feast, enlivened by Arab music and singing. If the child be female, the only observance is that of naming, which takes place on the third day at the parents' house, without any particular rite or gathering of friends, the priest simply announcing it in the hearing of those who may happen to be present. Formerly, they used to redeem the first-born child, as the Jews still do, according to the commandment (Exodus 13:13), but now the ceremony is discontinued on account of the poverty of their people.
2. Marriage. — Like most Easterns, the Samaritans have a strong desire for offspring, a feeling which is probably intensified by the paucity of their number. This, together with an early development in such a climate, leads them, like all their neighbors, to marry at a very early age, the males being eligible at fourteen and the females at ten years of age. But they never intermarry with persons of another creed, whether circumcised or uncircumcised; and never marry but on a Thursday, this in their estimation being a peculiarly propitious day. They have no betrothing, and the marriage rite is very simple. Upon the appointed day, two men who are witnesses of the agreement conduct the bride and her friends at midday to the bridegroom's house, where the ceremony is performed by the priest. The service is in Hebrew — an unknown tongue to those most concerned — and consists of portions of the law interspersed with certain prayers; and the marriage agreement is read, by which the young bridegroom has to pay a fixed dowry to the father of the bride. In the evening a feast is made, followed by music, singing, and dancing, performed, however, not by themselves, but by hired Mussulmans. Here we may observe that they are not given to polygamy. There is nothing in their theology prohibiting it, but this virtue has grown upon them from necessity, on account of the unequal distribution of the sexes. Their present rule, and one which has existed for some ages past, is that any one may take an additional wife if the first wife be willing, but on that condition only.
3. Divorce. — The Samaritans are not given to divorcement, and in this matter they stand in singular contrast to their Jewish and Mohammedan neighbors. Their modern theology at least forbids it, except only for the cause of fornication, but their strict conformity to this dogma under all circumstances is very doubtful.
4. Purifications. — There are seven things that particularly defile a person, four of which relate to both sexes, the remaining three pertaining to the female: (1) the conjugal act; (2) nocturnal pollution; (3) touching any dead body; (4) touching unclean birds, quadrupeds, or reptiles; (5) a female from hemorrhage; (6) a female's menstrual discharge, when she remains unclean for seven days; (7) childbirth, when the mother is accounted unclean for forty-one days if the child be male, but if female for eighty days. On account of these defilements they purify themselves most scrupulously. Formerly, when sacrifices used to be offered, the ashes of a burned heifer were kept to be mixed with running water and sprinkled on the unclean person by one that was clean according to the law (Numbers 19:17-19). Now running water only is used. The washing of hands as a rite of purification at rising and before eating, etc., as the Jews do, is never observed by the Samaritans; they simply do it for the purpose of cleansing, and not as a religious ceremony (comp. Mark 7:3-4).
5. Morning and Evening Prayer. — The first duty on rising is to repeat the morning prayer, which is long and tedious. It is generally offered by each individual in private, although there is no law against its being performed in the presence of the family. Any one is at liberty to repeat this or any other prayer as often as he pleases during the day, but the morning and evening orisons must on no account be neglected, and must be said in the early morning and at sunset. This, like all their other prayers, is a set one in the Hebrew tongue, and consequently not understood except by some one or two besides the priest. Still, the sacredness of the language, combined with the antiquity of the formula, imparts to it a kind of hallowedness, which has a strange hold upon the conscience of the people. During the prayer they always turn towards Mount Gerizim.
6. Food. — When they sit to eat, a blessing is pronounced before the food is served. This duty devolves upon the head of the family. They make the broadest distinction in articles of diet; adhering faithfully to the law of Moses, and attaching the greatest importance to its observance. They never eat the flesh of any beast that does not chew the cud and divide the hoof (Leviticus 11:3-8; Deuteronomy 14:6-8), and swine are held in the greatest detestation. All kinds of poultry, except those notified as unclean (Leviticus 11:13-25), are considered lawful, as well as all fish that have fins and scales (Leviticus 11:9-12). Like the Jews, they never partake of flesh and butter (or milk) at the same meal, nor do they even place them on the table at the same time. Six hours must elapse after partaking of meat before milk or butter can be taken. The Jews found this custom on the passage, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19), but the Samaritans refuse it the importance of a law of Moses, and only observe it as a sanatory rule laid down by their sages. They hold it unlawful to eat anything prepared by either Jews or Gentiles, therefore they make their own bread, cheese, butter, etc. Cattle and poultry too must be slaughtered by their own shochet, or killer, who has to pass through a course of study and training before he is qualified to kill according to the numerous rules prescribed by their sages.
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