Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Samartin High Priest in Green

Hello My Friend and Welcome.
If you’ve been following our series of Lenten/Easter posts, you may recall the one on how the date of Easter is determined. (If you missed it, you can find it HERE.) In the post we pointed out that the Western Church adheres to the Gregorian calendar when calculating the date of Easter. In contrast, the Eastern Church uses the Julian, or Roman, calendar. Because of this difference, some years both branches of Christianity celebrate Easter on the same day and other years the dates are widely divergent.

It so happens that a similar situation exists with our Jewish brethren. This year, the Jews celebrated Passover on April 6th, whereas the Samaritans will celebrate on May 4th. There still exists today a small group of Samaritan Jews. These Samaritans adhere to the Torah – the first five books of the bible – but end up celebrating the Passover on a different date than the Jewish people who follow rabbinic laws. Still, one suspects the Samaritan traditions may possibly resemble the ancient traditions to a greater degree than those of the rabbinical Judaism.

Gathering the Lambs for Passover
Any reader of the Bible is surely aware of the animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans in the First Century. Actually, the ill feelings between them can be traced all the way back to the lost tribes. Following Solomon's death his son, Rehoboam (Hebrew: רְחַבְעָם‎, Rehav'am, meaning “he who enlarges the people”) became  king of the United Monarchy of Israel. The ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled in 932/931 BC to form the independent Kingdom of Israel and invited Rehoboam's brother, Jeroboam (Hebrew: יָרָבְעָם‎, yarobh`am, meaning “he pleads the people's cause”) to be their king. Rehoboam retreated and resurrected his grandfather David’s Kingdom of Judah (in Latin Judaea).

Fast forward a couple of hundred years and the Assyrians invade the Northern Kingdom, carry away the people into captivity, and force them to intermingle with other peoples under their control. Hence, the famous lost tribes of Israel. To destroy any remnant and prevent the Jews from ever reclaiming the territory, the Assyrians moved other alien races into the area. [This is not unlike what the Chinese are currently doing by flooding Tibet with Han Chinese.] These new people eventually adopted the beliefs and practices of the Jews, becoming, in effect, converts to Judaism. Because of the method by which they came to the faith, the Jews refused to accept them and banned them from worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans responded by building their own Temple at Mt Gerizim.

All of this is back story to introduce the irony of today's post. Nearly two millennia after the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod's Temple it is the Samaritans, not the Jews, who still adhere to the old sacrificial laws. Some forty miles north of Jerusalem, an annual event occurs that transports the modern person thousands of years back in history. The Samaritan Passover has, for over two thousand years, been observed on Mt. Gerizim and Samaritans still continue to gather there to offer the sacrifices prescribed in the Torah (Pentateuch).

Preparing the Lambs
The Jewish people celebrate Passover each year, of course, but since the temple in Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans in A.D. 70, they have not offered the biblically mandated sacrifices. The Samaritans, by contrast, owed no allegiance to the Jerusalem Temple and held their sacrificial services on Mt. Gerizim. A reference in the New Testament makes this clear when the woman at the well asked Jesus if worship should be held on Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem (John 4:20). Excavations are now underway on the Samaritan temple that was constructed in the 4th century B.C. and destroyed in the 2nd century B.C. Even after their temple was destroyed, the Samaritans continued to offer sacrifices on Mt. Gerizim, and do so to this day.

People come from all over the world to witness the Samaritan Passover. If you can get beyond the crowds and the noise, you can almost imagine yourself back in Second Temple period and feel like you are actually present at the sacrifices as they once were. Come to think of it, keep the crowds and the noise and the experience would probably be closer to how it really was. 

The service begins at sunset. The Samaritan men dress in white garments, the leaders wear red hats, and the priests wear a distinctive turquoise-green garb. The Samaritans begin chanting and praying. When the signal is given, the head of each household reaches for his knife to slice the throat of his family’s lamb. As soon as the deed was done, the Samaritans begin celebrating. Recently, about thirty-five sheep were slain, about one for each larger family unit (no more than 600 Samaritans remain ). Then the sheep are skinned and put on a pole and carried over to one of the roasting pits to be cooked for most of the night.  

A sacrifice is a bloody process and the men end up with blood on their hands and all over their clothes. To the Samaritan or the ancient Israelite, the Mosaic statement, "the life is in the blood," must have left a profound impression of the cost of the sin which required such a sacrifice. Christians today in the sterile environment of the sanctuary may miss the benefit of understanding the gravity of sin that was such an integral part of the life of the Israelites.  

Drop by tomorrow for a special, money-saving announcement. On Friday, we’ll resume our series on Foods of the First Century with a look at salad greens and ancient recipe for Columella’s salad. 
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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