Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles, The Keepers: An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, 2002), pp. xvi, 165 incl. bibliography and index. ISBN: 1-56563-519-1. $ 29.95.

The Keepers consists of ten chapters supplied with maps, an epilogue, bibliography, and index. From a short introduction in chapter one, the book moves on quickly to describe a history of the Samaritans, such as one might create it from "archaeological and literary evidence" (chapters 2-7). Chapter 8 deals with the Samaritan Pentateuch and chapter 9 with Samaritan religion. The final chapter 10 rounds the book off by focusing more explicitly on the Chamberlain-Warren Collection at Michigan State University, presented already at its introduction and used throughout the book as a basic source for "the story of the Samaritans." The collection, achieved by the wealthy American business and churchman E. K. Warren and brought from Palestine to Michigan after his death in 1921, remained almost unnoticed in museum and university storage until R. T. Anderson's first examination of it in 1968. The symbolic value of Warren's (and others, e.g., Moses Gaster's) support of the Samaritans at a critical time in the community's life (around 1900-1930), and the rediscovery of these Samaritan artifacts at the time of renewed interest in Samaritan history, nurse the awe felt by The Keepers' authors.

The book is conservative and cautious. As an introduction, it presents, rather than examines Samaritan and Jewish origin narratives of the formation of the "proto-Samaritans," which the authors claim are not to be identified with the Cuthaeans of 2 Kings 17, but with the remaining population after the Assyrian conquest of the Northern kingdom. These people had lived for centuries in tension with the south -- going back "at least to the so-called monarchy, and perhaps to the period of the judges" (p.16) -- until a final schism occurred in the second century BCE at the time of John Hyrcanus. Like much writing on Samaritan origins in the Assyrian-Hellenistic period (ch.2-3), also this presentation shows a select mixture of biblical and non-biblical material and it authenticates as contemporary and reliable whatever material fits the hypothesis, while it assigns to a biased presentation of later days whatever conflicts with it. Thus, the prophetic books, "Isaiah through Malachi," in which reunification of all Israel is anticipated (sic, p. 18), are taken as evidence that the schism had not yet taken place by the sixth and fifth centuries. The "anti-samaritan" polemic of certain passages in Isaiah, Haggai, and Zechariah are ascribed to "divisions occurring within Judaism" and does not fit "the characteristics of the Samaritans." The "Samarian aristocracy," who had been killed in the caves of the Wadi-ed-Daliyeh (375-337 BCE), "cannot be termed Samaritans," because of their "religious syncretism," which is reflected in onomastica (p.26). However, similar problems exist in defining the religious "ethnicity" of the "Jews" at Elephantine. A comparison of the quality of religious or "ethnic" affiliation implied by both these groups is certainly desirable. 

With the arrival of Alexander the Great, The Keepers' unidentifiable "proto-Samaritans" appear almost over night as "Samaritans." Without further identification than accepting  yet, not presenting Josephus' Alexander story --although the opposite is claimed (pp. 25, 129-131, cf. p. 29: the destruction of the Samaritan sanctuary constructed "in the early years of Alexander the Great"), with F. M. Cross' construction -- although no direct reference is made to him regarding the issue (p.25) --, the "Samaritans" come to life as a group (and a people). In the treatment of the next two centuries, however, no clear profile is given of these Samaritans, which as a "religious sect at Samaria was not yet distinct from the Judaism of Jerusalem" in the time of Antiochus IV. This restatement of the conclusion of R. J. Coggins (1968) is highly problematic, based as it was on a paradigmatic biblical all-Israel with a centralised cult in Jerusalem before the 2nd century BCE. From recent works we know that before and after the Hasmonaeans, decentralisation was the norm, not centralisation. It was only with the demand of submission to Jerusalem, that a schism could be observed, which, however, does not imply that The Keepers' distinctive "Samaritanism," implying a distinct Samaritan Pentateuch with preference for Mt. Gerizim (p.9), could not have developed earlier, such as claimed by The Keepers' authors (p. 115). Both Samaritan and Jewish tradition, in fact, place that development in the time of the otherwise legendary figure of Ezra (5th-4th cent. BCE), as the authors notice without consequence (pp. 22-24).

From the history of the Roman period (ch. 4), the Samaritans are described primarily on the basis of Josephus, New Testament and "second century rabbinic literature," most of which have been presented in J. A. Montgomery (1907). Chapters 5-7, the Hstory of the Samaritans in the Byzantine, Islamic, and Modern Periods, function as a fine and very interesting introduction to the Samaritan religion and literary tradition. Especially useful is the demographic information, which enables readers to understand where and how the number of Samaritans diminished or increased over the course of their often very turbulent history, as they were oppressed by either Christian or Muslims. The western interest in Samaritans from the period of the Crusades, and the post-reformation search for the Samaritan Pentateuch for textual criticism of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible are presented with details about the hopes and disappointments such contacts have caused the Samaritans. For western scholarship the contacts have been, and are invaluable. Not because Samaritans survived as a people, however small, but because their traditions have implications for how we understand our biblical traditions in which they took greater part than most biblical scholars and the present book acknowledge. However, serving its purpose of bringing to the attention an all too ignored group, The Keepers is a very fine introduction for scholars and non-scholars alike.

Ingrid Hjelm
University of Copenhagen