Tag Archives: Samaritans

A synagogue on the island of Delos

In the previous post we mentioned that there were numerous synagogues used by Jews of the Diaspora. Paul visited synagogues in many of the cities where he preached.

During his Spring travels, Dr. Carl Rasmussen visited the Greek island of Delos. Delos is one of those places that can only be reached with much effort. Carl has graciously granted permission for me to use a couple of his photos here. The first one shows a view to the west, southwest, showing various rooms of the synagogue. Note the “Moses Seat” in the upper right of the photo. The entrance is visible in the lower left.

Delos synagogue. Photo by HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

The second photo shows a close up of the “Moses Seat” and the marble seats on each side. You may click on the photos for larger images provided by Dr. Rasmussen at the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

This large synagogue dates to the mid-second century B.C. Two inscriptions found in 1979-80 indicate that the worshipers here (Israelites) were likely Samaritans who revered Argarizein (Mount Gerizim). (See Kraabel, “New Evidence of the Samaritan Diaspora has been Found on Delos.” BA 47:1; 1984).

The Moses Seat. We commonly identify a special seat like the one in this synagogue as the Seat of Moses. Jesus may have made reference to such a seat (Matthew 23:2-3). For more information about the “Moses Seat” see here. Michael White suggests at least the possibility that this seat may be a “Proedrion, either for the major donor (or patron) or for the leader of the group” (HTR 80:2 (1987). I don’t see that this changes the fact that a reader and teacher of the Law might sit here.

If you have any interest in the synagogues scattered over the Mediterranean world, you will want to visit the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog here.

Tradition has it that Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, the son of Zeus, and his twin sister Artemis.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the Antalya Archaeological Museum.

An article by Gordon Franz a few years ago piqued my interest in Delos. He wrote on “The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos And The Epistle Of James” in Bible and Spade (18:3; 2005). Franz provides the history and geography of the island. He includes a photo of the “Samaritan inscription,” and then proceeds to use the synagogue of Delos to illustrate two passages from the Epistle of James. He discusses James 2:2-4 and selected verses from James 3.

For those who have an interest in visiting Delos, Prof. Rasmussen explains exactly how to reach the synagogue from the Delos Museum. Rasmussen is author of the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, and provides nearly 4000 thousand photos at the Holy Land Photos archive.

The theater at Beth-shean — a show of history

Beth-shean is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament. The English Standard Version uses both Beth-shan and Beth-shean for this town. Other English versions use a variety of spellings including Bethshan.

During one of my recent trips to Beth-shean I sat in the Roman theater and thought about the show of history that passed before my eyes. In the distance was the ancient tell, called Tell el-Husn or Tel Beth She’an, from which one has an impressive view of the area. Occupational levels date back at least to 3000 B.C. Artifacts from Canaan, Egypt, Anatolia, north Syria, and Mesopotamia have been uncovered from the mound.

For many Bible students the first event that comes to mind is the defeat of King Saul at the hands of the Philistines. After his death on nearby Mount Gilboa, Saul’s body was taken to Beth-shean and fastened to the wall of the city (1 Samuel 31).

View of Bethshan from the Roman theater. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Tel Beth-Shean from the Roman theater. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

During the Greek period the city was named Scythopolis (city of the Scythians) and expanded to the foot of the tell.

In 63 B.C. the Romans, under the general Pompey, made the city part of the Decapolis (a league of ten cities; Matthew 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:21). This was the only city of the Decapolis west of the Jordan River. The city was populated by gentiles, Jews and Samaritans.

The city grew to its largest size during the Byzantine period as a “Christian” city. It came under Muslim control in A.D. 636, and was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 749.

The destroyed Byzantine city lies between the theater and the mound. That’s a lot of history in one small place.

Visiting Mount Gerizim

Today we rented a car that could be driven in the West Bank and drove north to Nablus (site of ancient Shechem) and Mount Gerizim, the home of the Samaritans. Samaritans believe the temple was to be built on Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. They think Abraham offered Isaac on the mountain. They accept only the first five books (the Pentateuch) of the Old Testament.

The blessings and curses of the Mosaic Law were to be read on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal once the children of Israel crossed into the promised land.

“It shall come about, when the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.” (Deuteronomy 11:29 NAU) cf. Joshua 8:33-35.

It is fairly easy to get to the new archaeological park except for a few bad places in the road in the modern Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza.

Rather than deal with the archaeological information, I thought I would share a couple of photos of some places of significant to the Samaritans. These are within the park.

The first photo shows what according to Samaritan tradition is the altar on which Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:1-3). Remember that the Samaritans believe that this is Mount Moriah.

Altar of Isaac on Mt. Gerizim (Samaritan View). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaritan tradition identifies this rock as the Altar of Isaac where Abraham began to offer Isaac. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows what the Samaritans call the “Twelve Stones.” Samaritans says that the Israelites built the altar they were commanded to built when they crossed the Jordan (Deuteronomy 27:4).

The Twelve Stones, according to Samaritan tradition. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Twelve Stones, according to Samaritan tradition. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For more information about the archaeological park and the Samaritans see here. The park is under the direction of the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration and the (or of the) Israel Nature and Park Authority.

If you have an interest in the historical information about the temples on Mount Gerizim, check this article by Yitzhak Magen, the recent excavator, here. An attractive brochure is available at the entrance to the park with text by Magen. It is a pleasure to see a brochure written by a knowledgeable person.

Mount Gerizim archaeological excavation site now open

Last year I visited Mount Gerizim and the Samaritan Museum. Husney W. Cohen, a priest and director of the Museum, explained the Samaritan viewpoint about several biblical events. Samaritans believe the temple was to be built on Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. They think Abraham offered Isaac on the mountain. They accept only the first five books (the Pentateuch) of the Old Testament.

Cohen used a large mural to explain the Biblical account of the blessing and the curse.

“It shall come about, when the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.” (Deuteronomy 11:29 NAU) cf. Joshua 8:33-35.

Notice Jacob’s well in the lower right hand corner of the mural (John 4:5-6).

Samaritan priest explains the Samaritan view of the reading of the blessings and curses of the Law. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaritan priest, Husney W. Cohen, explains the Samaritan view of the reading of the blessing and curse of the Law. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At one point during the visit the priest, who said he was third in line to become high priest, took us to an open window where we could see Mount Ebal across the valley to the north.

View of Mount Ebal from a window of the Samaritan Museum on Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Mount Ebal from a window of the Samaritan Museum on Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Robert J. Bull of Drew University excavated a site called Tell er Ras on Mount Gerizim between 1964 and 1968 when it was under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. His work uncovered evidence of Hadrian’s temple in the early second century A.D. In more recent excavations Y. Magen claims to have discovered the Samaritan temple destroyed by John Hyrcanus.

In 1982 I visited the archaeological site on Mount Gerizim. In 2011 the road to the site was closed. In 2009 it was possible to drive to the site, but it was closed to visitors. Here is a photo I made of some of the excavation and a Samaritan village on Mount Gerizim.

Archaeological site and Samaritan village on Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Archaeological site and Samaritan village on Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Two years ago we reported that the Samaritans wanted the archaeological site opened. See here. Now comes word that the site has been opened. No hours are given. See the Arutz Sheva article here.

This whole area is of great significance to students of the New Testament. The conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria dealt with this issue.

“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20).

Information about the Samaritan Passover may be found here, and here.

HT: Joseph Lauer.

Samaritan synagogue discovered near Beth-shean

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a 1,500 year old Samaritan synagogue southwest of Beth-shean (Bet She’an).

The remains of a synagogue and farmstead that operated in the Late Byzantine period, which were unknown until now, were exposed in an archaeological excavation conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, prior to enlarging a residential quarter south of Bet Sheʽan, c. one half kilometer west of the Jordan Valley highway (Route 90).

According to Dr. Walid Atrash and Mr. Ya’aqov Harel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery of another Samaritan synagogue in the agricultural hinterland south of Bet She’an supplements our existing knowledge about the Samaritan population in this period. It seems that the structures uncovered there were built at the end of the fifth century CE and they continued to exist until the eve of the Muslim conquest in 634 CE, when the Samaritans abandoned the complex. The synagogue that is currently being revealed played an important part in the lives of the farmers who inhabited the surrounding region, and it served as a center of the spiritual, religious and social life there. In the Byzantine period (fourth century CE) Bet She’an became an important Samaritan center under the leadership of Baba Rabbah, at which time the Samaritans were granted national sovereignty and were free to decide their own destiny. This was the case until the end of the reign of Emperor Justinian, when the Samaritans revolted against the government. The rebellion was put down and the Samaritans ceased to exist as a nation.”

The building, facing Mount Gerizim, had a mosaic floor. The last line of a Greek inscription was revealed. According to the report, the inscription reads,

T[ ]OUTON NEWN — meaning “This is the temple.”

There will likely be other suggestions on the reading of the inscription.

Samaritan Synagogue Inscription. Photo by Tal Rogovski, IAA.

Samaritan Synagogue Inscription. Photo courtesy IAA.

This is the third Samaritan synagogue to be found in the vicinity of Beth-shean.

The full report may be read here.

Bible students know that the Samaritans play an important role in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Follow these references for some information: 2 Kings 17:29; Luke 9:52; John 4; Acts 8;25.

HT: Joseph Lauer; Todd Bolen, Bible Places Blog.

Samaritan Passover is today

The Samaritans celebrate passover today, April 28, 2010. Lambs will be sacrificed and roasted in the pits seen here on Mount Gerizim.

Pits used by Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim at Passover. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pits used by Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim at Passover. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

See old photos at Life in the Holy Land here. Todd Bolen has some nice photos and explanations at Bible Places here, and another article here. A website provided by the Samaritans is available here.

Passover is a celebration that originated as the Israelites prepared to depart from Egypt.

And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 12:26-27 ESV)

The Samaritans are a curiosity in the modern world. The men and boys wear a dress-like robe, while many of the women dress in modern fashions. We have written more about the Samaritans here.

Samaritan man and woman on Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell  Jenkins.

Samaritan man and woman on Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jesus paused in the valley below Mount Gerizim at Jacob’s well. He discussed the issue of worship in “this mountain” with the woman of Samaria (John 4:1-42).

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:20-24 ESV)

The Samaritans

Samaritan Priest with Samaritan Pentateuch Scroll. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaritan Priest with Samaritan Pentateuch Scroll. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

“Samaritans use modern means to keep ancient faith” is the title of an informative article about the modern Samaritans on Mount Gerizim at Reuters. A slide show of 10 good photos is included. I especially liked the one showing the priest in the museum with a painting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

We recently wrote about the meeting of Jesus with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s Well here. We wrote about Jesus passing through Samaria here.

Todd Bolen’s article on the Samaritan Passover may be read here.

Years back I made black and white photos for use in publications. This one shows a Samaritan priest displaying a copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch. He said it was the oldest book in the world. Textual scholars think it is no older than the 12th century A.D.

A Reuter’s Blog here gives some additional information about how the reporters got to Mount Gerizim. Check the video at the bottom of the page.

HT: Joseph Lauer; Paleojudaica.