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Article: A Proud Minority in the Middle East

מיעוט גאה במזרח התיכון

A Proud Minority in the Middle East

Yael Okun


The Arhuta Kadishta is the Samaritan term for the Pentateuch or the Torah. Today, the Samaritans — an ancient religious minority — are concentrated in Mount Gerizim, Kiryat Luza, and Holon. Mount Gerizim, where Joshua built the Tabernacle, is considered the holiest site for Samaritans.

Unlike traditional Jews and Karaites, the Samaritans believe only in the Arhuta Kadishta and not the other biblical books. Their version of the Torah differs from the Masoretic text in 6,230 places. The most significant discrepancy relates to the location of the Temple, identified by the Samaritans as Mount Gerizim. In addition, the Samaritan version of the Ten Commandments states: “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving to you as a heritage…you shall build an altar there…by the terebinths of Moreh facing Shechem.”

The Samaritan Pentateuch is written in an ancient Hebrew script, with each word marked off by a period and the end of a sentence marked by a colon. The letters mem, nun, tzadi, peh, and kaf do not take on final forms at the end of the word.

This manuscript of the Arhuta Kadishta was copied between 1215 and 1216 and is one of the most ancient extant copies. It resembles a singular group of manuscripts referred to as the Pinhasia, a term for the Samaritan bibles written by their priestly leadership. The artistic role of the scribe is evident in several places. For example, in verses from Numbers 34:1–12 and 35:1–8, which deal with the borders of the Land of Israel, the scribe depicted a map by forming a circle out of some of the letters and leaving gaps between it and the rest of the text, which is in the shape of a square.

This manuscript testifies to the mighty efforts of a religious minority to maintain its distinctive identity and beliefs in the Holy Land.