Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles, Tradition Kept: The Literature of the Samaritans (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005).  Pp. xvi + 432.  Cloth, US $34.95. ISBN 1-56563-747-X.

The present volume represents the second attempt by Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles to remedy a widespread scholarly neglect in the study of Samaritan history and literature.  In The Keepers: An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002), Anderson and Giles drew upon a wide range of literary and archaeological sources to reconstruct the historical development of the community and some salient features of Samaritan religion and culture (see the review in JHS 4 by I. Hjelm).  Tradition Kept: The Literature of the Samaritans, as a sequel to that earlier book, brings together in one volume a wealth of Samaritan literature (in translation) composed by the community throughout their long history. 

In deciding which Samaritan documents to include in this collection, Anderson and Giles employ three criteria: 1) how important is the work for the Samaritan community itself; 2) how accessible is the text to a general audience; 3) how helpful is the document for a beginning student (p. xiii).  Tradition Kept divides Samaritan literature into two larger sections.  The first part, “The Samaritan Story,” containing texts relating to the history of the Samaritan community, is divided into four chapters treating the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Samaritan book of Joshua, Kitab al-Tarikh (The Annals of Abu’l Fath), and various additional Samaritan chronicles (The New Chronicle, Sepher ha-Yamim).  Section two is entitled “Samaritan Theology and Worship” and as its name suggests, includes portions of Samaritan theological treatises and liturgical documents.  This section consists of three chapters. One contains excerpts from the Tibat Marqe (Memar Marqe), another documents concerning Samaritan liturgy, and a third, miscellaneous texts (inscriptions, amulets and astronomical texts).  The volume also contains a bibliography, as well as three useful indices (modern authors, subject, and ancient sources). 

Based on the criteria they employ in their selection of texts, Anderson and Giles intend this book to be an introduction for an audience with little or no background in Samaritan history and literature.  How well does Tradition Kept fulfill this goal?

In labeling the first section “The Samaritan Story,” this initial collection of texts is intended to introduce the reader to the history of the community as told through their own writings.  In the first chapter, Anderson and Giles discuss the various literary features that mark the sectarian character of the Samaritan Pentateuch and its importance for text critical study of the Hebrew Bible (though they do not present the actual text in full).  In this sense, the Samaritan Pentateuch really does not belong in this section of the book, since it was not composed in its entirety by the Samaritan community.  Only the sectarian textual variants are the product of Samaritan scribal intervention.  It would have been better to treat this document within a larger framework of “Samaritan Scripture” or perhaps in the second half of the book as representative of the theological and ideological perspective of the Samaritan community.  Notwithstanding these organizational shortcomings, this chapter is a very clear and readable introduction to the origins and textual character of the Samaritan Pentateuch.    

The Samaritan “story” really begins with the Samaritan book of Joshua, which is presented here in its entirety (ch. 2).  The biblical material found in this document is filtered through the interpretive lens of later Samaritan history.  More importantly, the document moves into the post-biblical period where it is singularly focused on the fortunes of the Samaritan community.  The full Samaritan book of Joshua is complemented by a series of excerpts from additional Samaritan chronicles (chs. 3-4).  In excerpting these long documents, Anderson and Giles carefully chose those portions which highlight well the critical points and personalities in the Samaritan view of its own history and the manner in which Samaritan chroniclers conceptualized events outside of their own community (i.e. Christianity).  A reader desiring a full synthesis of the historical data in order to reconstruct the “Samaritan story,” however, will not find it in these chapters.  For this, the reader must consult the authors’ earlier work.    

The second half of the volume does provide the synthesis that is lacking in the first half.  Chapter five contains a collection of excerpts from the Tibat Marqe, the central document of Samaritan theology.  Anderson and Giles frame the excerpts around their own analysis of the principal features of Samaritan theology and cosmological speculation.  In doing so, Anderson and Giles strike a delicate balance between allowing the document to speak for itself and sensing when the reader may become lost in the complexity of the material. 

The following chapter on “Samaritan Liturgy” takes the form of an extended essay on Samaritan liturgical practice accompanied by citations of a selection of documents employed by the Samaritans in the liturgical cycle.  Here as well, the reader is provided with a portrait of the Samaritan liturgical process through Anderson’s and Giles’ carefully constructed synthesis in dialogue with the primary Samaritan documents.  In the final chapter, Anderson and Giles round out the volume with a collection of additional sources such as inscriptions and amulets.  Following the format of the previous chapter, they present these texts within an examination of their contribution to the Samaritan theological perspectives.                       

In constructing an introduction to Samaritan literature, Anderson and Giles are successful in their stated goals.  Tradition Kept is an attractive and accessible collection of often hard to find Samaritan literature that will likely become a standard tool for undergraduate students and educated individuals wishing to consult a wide range of Samaritan literature in translation.  The various texts that Anderson and Giles include present the Samaritan community’s view of its own history and greatly illuminate the theological and liturgical framework of Samaritan religion and culture. 

Alex Jassen
New York University