Friday, November 23, 2007

A 17th century meeting with the Samaritan high priest

In 1697 an Englishman named Henry Maundrell (1665-1701), was elected Chaplain at the Levant Company in Aleppo. That year he embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Easter. The trip was chronicled by him and published in 1703 as Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter, A.D. 1697. The book went through many printings, as well as translations into other languages.

There is an interesting part about his visit to the Samaritan כהן גדול while in שכם.

Leaving Sebasta we passed in half an hour by Sherack, and in another half hour by Barseba, two villages on the right hand; and then entering into a narrow valley, lying east and west, and watered with a fine rivulet, we arrived in one hour at Naplosa.

Naplosa is the ancient Sychem, or Sychar, as it is termed in the New Testament. It stands in a narrow valley between Mount Gerizim on the south, and Ebal on the north, being built at the foot of the former; for so the situation both of the city and mountains is laid down by Josephus, Antiq. Jud. lib. v. cap. 9. Gerizim, says he, hangeth over Sychem; and lib. iv. cap. ult. Moses commanded to erect an altar toward the east, not far from Sychem, between Mount Gerizim on the right hand (that is, to one looking eastward on the south,) and Ebal on the left (that is on the north); which plainly assigns the position of these two mountains. From Mount Gerizim it was, that God commanded the blessings to be pronounced upon the children of Israel, and from Mount Ebal the curses, Deut. xi. 29. Upon the former, the Samaritans, whose chief residence is here at Sychem, have a small temple or place of worship, to which they are still wont to repair at certain seasons, for performance of the rites of their religion. What these rites are I could not certainly learn: but that their religion consists in the adoration of a calf, as the Jews give out, seems to have more of spite than of truth in it.

Our company halting a little while at Naplosa, I had an opportunity to go and visit the chief priest of the Samaritans, in order to discourse with him, about this and some other difficulties occurring in the pentateuch; which were recommended to me to be inquired about by the learned Monsieur Job Ludolphus, author of the Ethiopic history, when I visited him at Frankfort, in my passage through Germany.

As for the difference between the Hebrew and Samaritan copy, Deut. xxvii. 4, before cited; the priest pretended the Jews had maliciously altered their text, out of odium to the Samaritans; putting, for Gerizim, Ebal, upon no other account, but only because the Samaritans worshipped in the former mountain, which they would have for that reason, not to be the true place appointed by God for his worship and sacrifice. To confirm this, he pleaded that Ebal was the mountain of cursing, Deut. xi. 29, and in its own nature an unpleasant place; but on the contrary Gerizim was the mountain of blessing by God's own appointment, and also in itself fertile and delightful; from whence he inferred a probability that this latter must have been the true mountain, appointed for those religious festivals, Dent, xxvii. 4, and not (as the Jews have corruptly written it) Hebal. We observed that to be in some measure true which he pleaded concerning the nature of both mountains : for though neither of the mountains has much to boast of as to their pleasantness, yet as one passes between them, Gerizim seems to discover a somewhat more verdant fruitful aspect than Ebal. The reason of which may be, because fronting towards the north, it is sheltered from the heat of the sun by its own shade: whereas Ebal looking southward, and receiving the sun that comes directly upon it, must by consequence be rendered more scorched and unfruitful. The Samaritan priest could not say that any of those great stones, which God directed Joshua to set up, were now to be seen in mount Gerizim; which, were they now extant, would determine the question clearly on his side.

I inquired of him next what sort of animal he thought those Selavae might be, which the children of Israel were so long fed with in the wilderness, Num. xi. He answered, they were a sort of fowls; and by the description, which he gave of them, I perceived he meant the same kind with our Quails. I asked him what he thought of Locusts, and whether the history might not be better accounted for, supposing them to be the winged creatures that fell so thick about the camp of Israel? but by his answer, it appeared, he had never heard of any such hypothesis. Then I demanded of him, what sort of plant or fruit the Dudaim or (as we translate it) Mandrakes were, which Leah gave to Rachel? he said they were plants of a large leaf, bearing a certain sort of fruit, in shape resembling an apple, growing ripe in harvest, but of an ill savor, and not wholesome. Of these plants I saw several afterwards in the way to Jerusalem; and if they were so common in Mesopotamia, as we saw them hereabout, one must either conclude that these could not be the true mandrakes (Dudaim) or else it would puzzle a good critic to give a reason, why Rachel should purchase such vulgar things at go beloved and contested a price. This priest showed me a copy of the Samaritan pentateuch, but would not be persuaded to part with it upon any consideration. He had likewise the first volume of the English Polyglot,which he seemed to esteem equally with his own manuscript.

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