>The Samaritan Pentateuch

>Photo: A Samaritan Pentateuch Scroll

Courtesy: Photo Courtesy of Haaretz.com

Haaretz has published an excellent review of The Pentateuch: The Samaritan Version and the Masoretic Version, edited and annotated by Avraham Tal and Moshe Florentin. Tel Aviv University Press (Hebrew),763 pages, NIS 149. The review was written by Yair Hoffman, Professor Emeritus of Bible at Tel Aviv University.

Below is an excerpt from the review by Professor Hoffman:

The Samaritan community is comprised today of fewer than 1,000 people, who live primarily in Nablus and Holon. During the Samaritan golden age in the fourth century, it had up to one million adherents, living in all parts of the country. The Samaritans revere the Pentateuch – they have their own version of it – as the sacred part of the Bible, and this serves as the sole source of religious law for them. They view the Masoretic text as a forgery created by Ezra Hasofer in the fifth century.

There are clear differences between the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch and the Masoretic text. The most conspicuous difference is the writing itself: Letters in the Samaritan Torah are similar to ancient Canaanite-Phoenician writing (an example of such lettering can be found on the NIS 10 coin, above the image of the palm tree ); scholars acknowledge that such letters represent the original writing of the Torah, which was subsequently replaced by our familiar Hebrew lettering. Another conspicuous difference between the Masoretic and the Samaritan texts is the lack of diacritical and cantillation marks in the Samaritan version.

Linguistically, the Samaritan text shares traits with other writings and cultural phenomena of the Second Temple period. “The Samaritan version went through a process of linguistic adaptation and adoption by members of the community; and it is no surprise that this version has features resembling language patterns in the Second Temple Period,” write Tal and Florentin.

In the preface to their book, the authors cite 6,000 differences between the Samaritan and Masoretic versions. They divide the discrepancies into two broad categories: unintentional ones, the category that most of the differences fall into, and deliberate ones, which are subdivided into linguistic editing and content editing. The main intention of linguistic editing is to “remove grammatical forms and structures that seem irregular,” the authors write. As for content editing, the authors describe several different forms, including “logical arrangement of the writing” and “religious-ideological revision.”

Most Christians have no knowledge of the Samaritan Pentateuch. For this reason, I encourage readers to read Hoffman’s review to gain an overview of the book and learn a little about the Samaritan Pentateuch.

You can read the review by visiting Haaretz online.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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