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Nature of the Samaritan Pentateuch
The nature of SP can best be described by a comparison with MT, from which it often deviates, and with several Qumran texts and the LXX, with which it often agrees in both major and minor details. Comparisons with the Qumran texts are embedded in the critical editions of these texts (below, III). In the period before the Qumran discoveries, SP was compared only with MT, but that comparison yielded mainly negative judgments regarding the characterization of SP, while a more balanced comparison should also involve the other texts. On the basis of such a comparison, it will be recognized that SP reflects a popular textual tradition of the Torah used in ancient Israel in the last pre-Christian centuries in addition to the texts of the MT family.
With the discovery of Qumran manuscripts that agree with SP in major details (named pre-Samaritan [see III below]), we can now distinguish between the substratum of SP that was current in ancient Israel in the last pre-Christian centuries and a thin second layer that was superimposed on this substratum. The criteria for the separation of the two layers are, on the one hand, the identified features of the pre-samaritan texts from Qumran that are also found in the substratum of SP and, on the other hand, the characteristics of the Samaritan religion and language as known from later sources. By means of these features, we can isolate the second layer of their Torah.
It seems that the Samaritans made but few ideological and phonological changes to the presumed base text. All other characteristics of SP were already found in early texts such as the so-called pre-Samaritan Qumran texts. At the same time, SP also differs in small details from these Qumran texts. The paucity of information on the pre-Samaritan texts does not allow us to make precise statements on all the types of differences.
What characterized the ancient scribes of SP and the pre-Samaritan texts is the freedom with which they approached the biblical text during the last pre-Christian centuries as opposed to the tradition of meticulous copying that characterized other texts. In contrast, at a second stage, after the content of the Samaritan tradition had been fixed, SP was copied with great precision, like the texts belonging to the MT group.
- Early (Pre-Samaritan) Elements in SP
The following discussion focuses on the elements in SP that were probably already found in the early text(s) used by SP.
- Editorial Alterations
Scholars recognized in the twentieth century that SP reflects editorial involvement in the text that is relevant to the literary analysis of Hebrew Scripture.
(1) Additions in Exodus and Numbers on the Basis of Deuteronomy 1–3; 9
The Torah provides many opportunities for comparing parallel texts, and apparent “disagreements” between such parallel narratives in the books of the Torah were sometimes removed at the last stage of its literary growth. This pertains especially to the narrative sections of Deuteronomy compared with their parallels in the earlier books. In the course of a complicated editorial process, the authors/editors of the pre-samaritan texts and the source of SP duplicated almost all segments of Deuteronomy 1–3, Moses’ first discourse, in Exodus and Numbers.
The background of these additions is the fact that Deuteronomy (mishneh torah, the “repetition of the Law,” in Jewish tradition) formally repeats the stories and laws of the earlier books. Accordingly, if the elements of Deuteronomy 1–3 were found to differ from the parallels in Exodus and Numbers, sections of Deuteronomy were inserted into the earlier books, so that in the new version Deuteronomy “accurately” quoted the earlier stories. As a result of this repetition, the formal differences between the books were removed while other, literary, difficulties were created in Exodus and Numbers due to the very repetition of these passages.
(2) The Addition of a “Source” for a Quotation
Since Deuteronomy was expected to “repeat” the content of the preceding four books, the technique of inserting verses from Deuteronomy in the earlier books can also be described as the providing of a “source” for a quotation, especially in the divine speech in Deuteronomy 1–3. A similar technique was applied to relatively small details in sections that are not parallel.
(3) Commands and Their Fulfillment
It is characteristic of the style of the biblical narrative to relate commands in great detail, while their fulfillment is mentioned only briefly, with such formulations as “… and he (etc.) did as …” Some editors/scribes must have felt that this concise style left important details unmentioned, and accordingly the execution of such commands is often emphasized in SP and pre-Samaritan texts by repeating the wording of the command. This pertains, for example, to some of the divine commands in the first chapters of Exodus, namely, the commands telling Moses and Aaron to warn Pharaoh before each plague.
- Small Harmonizing Alterations on the Basis of the Context
The term harmonizing alteration or harmonization involves alterations made in accordance with another element in the text. The harmonizations in SP reflect a tendency to remove internal contradictions or irregularities from the Pentateuchal text that were considered harmful to its sanctity. This feature, which scholars often describe as characteristic of SP, was actually already found in all the pre-Samaritan texts (see III below). By the same token, small harmonizations are also evidenced in the LXX to the same extent, if not more frequently. In other words, these harmonizing changes, often described as typical of SP, should no longer be considered typical of that version only.
- Linguistic Corrections
It appears that most linguistic corrections in SP were already found in its pre-samaritan substratum, as can be exemplified from 4QpaleoExodm.
(1) Removal of Orthographical Peculiarities
Unusual spellings are often corrected in the texts under consideration.
(2) Removal of Unusual Forms
Just as the contents of the narratives are smoothed out in SP, unusual forms in the text are often replaced with regular ones. This applies especially to archaic forms.
(3) Grammatical Adaptations
Many forms are adapted in SP to a more formal conception of the grammar, as if with the intention of correcting incorrect forms, for example, the nonagreement of the predicate with the subject in number and gender.
- Small Content Differences
Many of the readings of SP differ from MT with regard to their content. These are interchanges of single letters and whole words.
- Samaritan Elements
The main ideological change in SP concerns the central place of worship. In every verse in the Torah in which Jerusalem is alluded to as the central place of worship, the Samaritans have inserted in its stead, sometimes by way of allusion, their own center, Mount Gerizim, הרגרזים (one word in their orthography). This change is particularly evident in both versions of the Decalogue with the Samaritan tenth commandment referring to the sanctity of Mount Gerizim. The commandment is made up entirely of verses occurring elsewhere in the Torah: Deut. 11:29a; Deut. 27:2b–3a; Deut. 27:4a; Deut. 27:5–7; Deut. 11:30—in that sequence in SP (Exodus and Deuteronomy). The addition includes the reading of SP in Deut. 27:4 “Mount Gerizim,” instead of “Mount Ebal” in most other witnesses, as the name of the place where the Israelites were commanded to erect an altar after the crossing of the Jordan.
The same change based on the Samaritan ideology pertains to the frequent Deuteronomic formulation המום אשר יבחר יהוה, “the site which the Lord will choose,” alluding to Jerusalem. From the Samaritan perspective, however, Shechem had already been chosen at the time of the patriarchs (Gen. 12:6; Gen. 33:18–20), and therefore from their point of view the future form “will choose” needed to be changed to a past form בחר, “has chosen.” See, e.g., Deut. 12:5, 14.
III. Pre-Samaritan Texts
Even before the discoveries made at Qumran, the medieval manuscripts of SP were conceived of as reflecting an ancient text whose nature could not be easily determined. However, this situation has changed since the discovery at Qumran of texts that are very close to SP in significant details. These texts probably preceded the creation of the SP, and they are now called pre-Samaritan on the assumption that one of them was adapted to suit the views of the Samaritans. The use of the term pre-Samaritan (others: harmonistic or Palestinian) is thus based on the assumption that while the connections between SP and the pre-Samaritan texts are exclusive, they reflect different realities. The so-called pre-Samaritan texts are not Samaritan documents, as they lack the specifically Samaritan readings. In our view, the pre-Samaritan texts formed a relatively sizable group that may well have been a popular textual tradition of the Torah used in ancient Israel in the last pre-Christian centuries in addition to texts of the MT family. It is reflected in 4QpaleoExodm, 4QExod-Levf, 4QNumb and secondarily also 4QDeutn and possibly 4QLevd (it is also found in a recently found fragment of Deut. 27:4–6 that is still under investigation). It is also reflected in 4QRPa (4Q158) and 4QRPb (4Q364), which were previously considered to be rewritten Bible texts, and it is used by 4QTest (4Q175) in the quotation from Exodus (see below) and by the author of the Jubilees manuscripts.
The best-preserved pre-Samaritan text is 4QpaleoExodm, of which large sections of forty-four columns from Exodus 6–37 have been preserved. Significant sections of several additional texts have also been found (see below). For all these texts, the DJD editions should be consulted.
The main feature characterizing these texts is the appearance of exclusively shared editorial additions in Exodus and Numbers that repeat sections of Deuteronomy, and, as a result, the group as a whole is named “harmonistic” by Esther Eshel. In addition, the pre-Samaritan texts usually also agree with regard to the details themselves.
All these sources reflect a uniform textual character with regard to their readings and their approach to the text of the Bible. The main characteristic of this group is the insertion of editorial additions and small harmonizing additions. The pre-Samaritan texts lack the distinguishing Samaritan characteristics, that is, the ideological and phonological changes. However, they share linguistic corrections, harmonizations in minutiae, and various readings with SP.
The English version of The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah by Benyamim Tsedaka represents a milestone in the investigation of that version for scholars and the general public alike. This English version is a precise presentation of the contents of the Hebrew text of the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) and allows the reader to study its features. The reader can now see where the Samaritan Pentateuch differs from the Jewish version, the Masoretic Text (MT), and it provides also information on the agreements between SP and the Septuagint (LXX). In addition, very detailed indexes of proper names in SP allow for elaborate study of features in that version. The readings of the versions are laid out graphically, facilitating a comparison of the divergence between the texts (pluses, minuses, differences).
The publication of this version comes at an opportune time, since it has become clear from the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the SP is not only of significance within the framework of Samaritan studies but also within that of biblical studies. The SP represents an ancient text of the Hebrew Bible, an earlier form of which is well represented among the Qumran scrolls, as suggested in the following brief summary. In this summary, it is suggested that the SP has bearing not only on the textual and linguistic study of Hebrew Scripture but also on its literary analysis.