The Samaritans: A Profile

samaritansEerdmans have published a really interesting volume on the far too often neglected and overlooked Samaritans.  The title, The Samaritans: A Profile, fits well the publisher’s description:

Most people associate the term “Samaritan” exclusively with the New Testament stories about the Good Samaritan and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Very few are aware that a small community of about 750 Samaritans still lives today in Palestine and Israel; they view themselves as the true Israelites, having resided in their birthplace for thousands of years and preserving unchanged the revelation given to Moses in the Torah.

Reinhard Pummer, one of the world’s foremost experts on Samaritanism, offers in this book a comprehensive introduction to the people identified as Samaritans in both biblical and nonbiblical sources. Besides analyzing the literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources, he examines the Samaritans’ history, their geographical distribution, their version of the Pentateuch, their rituals and customs, and their situation today. There is no better book available on the subject.

Pummer’s treatment of the subject is just simply put, superlative.  No one I’ve read, with the exception of Ingrid Hjelm, has a deeper knowledge of the people and their traditions.  No book known to me in English or German scholarship grasps the topic more thoroughly.  Pummer can safely, it seems to me, be called THE expert on the issue.

Pummer begins his treatment with a look into the identity of the Samaritans and moves then quickly to the question of the presence of the Samaritans in the Hebrew Bible and then in the New Testament.

Next, readers discover, thanks to Pummer’s expertise, the influence and significance of Samaritanism in the Jewish writings of Antiquity.  Archaeological issues are next examined, swiftly followed up by discussions of Samaritan Sects, Samaritan history, the geographical distribution of Samaritan communities, the Samaritan Pentateuch (a particular favorite of the present reviewer), Samaritan literature, Samaritan rituals and customs, and the Samaritans today.

The volume ends with a chapter Pummer calls ‘New Challenges’ and an exceedingly extensive bibliography,  and the usual indices of sources, authors and finally, subjects.  Also within the covers of the work are a good number of photographs and illustrations.

Pummer’s volume is important not simply because he sat in a study somewhere and researched countless dusty volumes; rather, he left home, and spent time among the Samaritans.  His isn’t, accordingly, a second hand survey but instead it is an ‘eyewitness’ account.  The Samaritans are not simply an ancient curiosity who – for most – serve as foils against which the history of Israel or the Church can be played off of.  Instead, they are real people with real rituals and real spirituality.  They are a living vestige of the ancient past and their traditions and practices are virtually living evidence of ancient times.

Pummer may not here be intentionally offering an ‘apologetic’ for the Samaritans but at the end of the volume readers will be nearly forced to ‘care’ what happens to these people.  Not only must their culture be preserved, so must their traditions and religious practices.  The world would be a little poorer were they absent.  Substantial efforts, then, must be made on their behalf.

The subtitle of Pummer’s book is ‘A Profile’.  I disagree.  We see here not simply the vague outline of a shadow.  Instead, we see every line, crevice, crack, color, hair and feature.  Pummer’s work is extraordinary and his accomplishment peerless.  And that is simply no exaggeration nor does it contain a hint or a faint whisper of hyberbole.