Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Intrigue of the Samaritan Scrolls
The term "Good Samaritan" is used often in our culture and there are even Good Samaritan laws in some jurisdictions requiring bystanders to help people in distress. The term comes from the illustrative story Jesus tells in the gospel of Luke of a man from Samaria who goes out of his way to help an injured man after two pious Jews pass on by without offering assistance. It's a parable of living God's grace rather than religious observance without compassion. Jesus is specific in mentioning that the kindness comes from a Samaritan, because of the antagonism between Samaritans and Jews in that time. It's no accident that Jesus puts a Samaritan in the centre of his story.
Samaritans were and still are a sect of Judaism which has existed apart from the mainstream for thousands of years. Centuries ago there were as many as a million Samaritans. Today there are only 800 or so, a religious endangered species. It appears to be quite patriarchal with lots of photos of men and hardly any of women.
Samaritans claim that their tradition predates that of other Jews, even though in Jesus' time they were considered an aberration and suspect in terms of orthodoxy.
Samaritans argue that their place of worship, Mt. Gerazim, goes back to Moses while Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Torah. They have a number of ancient and precious biblical documents which has led to an interesting, cloak and dagger mystery.
Twenty-odd years ago two of those documents were stolen from the community. One was a sheepskin scroll written around 1360 and kept in a slender copper case. The other was a codex, a thick book, probably from the 15th century and bound in a maroon leather cover. The thief or thieves snatched the manuscripts, escaped through the synagogue's arched doorway, discarded the copper case in a stairwell, and vanished.
The community is still trying to get them back, and those who stole them first demanding $7 million in ransom, now dropped to $2 million. Still a significant chunk of change! There was even a ransom video for the two precious documents. Who knows if these holy books will come home again.
I read about all this and I'm reminded that the bible isn't some sort of fantasy theme park. There are still Samaritans and, of course, Jews in what we call the Holy Land. Jesus' language of Aramaic still exists in pockets. We can learn and deepen our understanding, if we are willing to do so.
I'm working on my Samaritan beard, bye the way.
Will you be dancing around the Maypole today? No? Well read my Groundling blog and maybe you'll reconsider!