Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 14 (2014) - Review

Knoppers, Gary N., Jews and Samaritans: The Origins and History of Their Early Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013). Pp. 326. Hardcover. US$55.00. ISBN 978-0-19532-954-4.

Gary N. Knoppers was formerly Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Religious Studies, and Jewish Studies at The Pennsylvania State University and is now John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University. He has written extensively on the Hebrew Bible and the history of Israel in the post-exilic period. This book summarizes much of his research on the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, and carries it further.

The introductory chapter reviews the issues at hand and deals with fundamental questions: the commonalities of Jews and Samaritans and their differences, the question of the ten “lost” tribes, issues related to nomenclature, and finally the scope of the book.

Chapter two reviews the archaeological reports on Samaria and neighbouring regions for the late eighth-century b.c.e., and concludes that there “are notable signs of an elite Assyrian presence at several sites, but not of a complete cultural transformation in the land, witnessing to the presence of several new alien nations…of those who survived and remained in the land, the majority were Israelite. Significantly, then, portions of ‘the ten lost tribes’ were never lost” (p. 9).

With this conclusion in mind, chapter three examines several texts from the Book of Kings, primarily 2 Kgs 17:24–41, a text on demographic developments in northern Israel following the northern exile in 722 b.c.e. The investigation of this text concludes that it is polyvalent with evidence of multiple layers of composition. Yahwism in northern Israel continued and evolved during Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian times, and there was transmission of literary traditions from Samaria to Judah and vice versa (pp. 69–70).

Moving on from the Book of Kings, in chapter four Knoppers deals with the Book of Chronicles, particularly the texts pertaining to northern Israel, and concludes that the book presents a nuanced point of view, with an open attitude towards communicating, cooperating, conducting business, and even intermarrying with the Yahwistic Samarians.

Chapter five reviews site surveys and archaeological reports for the period from 626–332 b.c.e., concluding that “Samaria had a substantially larger and more well-to-do population than Yehud did” (p. 11). Analysis of scripts, personal names, cultic figurines, and bilingualism shows common cultural features, as well as some differences between the two provinces. Excavations, in particular on Mount Gerizim, are further elements of the discussion.

The relevant texts in Ezra-Nehemiah are reviewed in chapter six, and Knoppers states that this work acknowledges numerous contacts between Samarians and Judeans, and “the struggles depicted in Ezra-Nehemiah testify to internal Judean debates about identity, ethnicity, and nationality. The very definition of ‘Israel’ becomes a contested topic” (p. 12).

An increasing estrangement between Samaria and Judah during the second and first centuries b.c.e. is described in chapter seven. A recalibration of power relations from north to south eventually resulted in the destruction of the temple and town on Mount Gerizim in 111–10 b.c.e. This chapter also focusses on the Samaritan Pentateuch, which is seen as a late version of a common text. “What had previously functioned…as a fundamental source of fraternal unity now became a fundamental source of division” (p. 13).

The situation in the Roman era is the topic of chapter eight. Sweeping statements should also be avoided here, according to the author, and a much more complex picture drawn. There are signs of occasional interaction: there were similar religious symbols, institutions, and literary genres. Ancient polemics mask some continuing interaction between the two communities.

Knoppers' book reviews many of the older and newer theories in the field and offers a synthesis of the more recent approaches. He focuses on the interdependence of the two religious communities in Judah and Samaria, and, in the vein of Richard Coggin's Samaritans and Jews: The Origins of Samaritans Reconsidered from 1975, describes it as a process of estrangement between the two communities.[1] The book will be especially helpful for an overview of, and an update on, present theories and scholarly results. An extensive bibliography, very helpful indices of scriptures, authors, and subjects round off this volume.

The present study will be useful to the many scholars who do not specialize in Samaritan studies, many of whom emphasize the differences, problems, and conflicts between the two communities. Knoppers' book is a welcome challenge to such approaches. However, the specialist in the field needs also to treat extensively evidence of tension, discussion and strife, admission of which will make the contribution more easily digested in circles used to presenting this conflict-oriented material to the exclusion of other evidence. For the last few decades, scholars dealing with Samaritan studies have focused on the commonalties between the communities, and this has been a sound reaction to earlier attitudes. Knoppers' present book raises the question of whether this addressing of the imbalance has perhaps been carried far enough, and if the time has come to enter into a deeper discussion over the evidence for tensions between the communities. After all, Jews and Samaritans emerged as different communities that often were inimical to each other. For instance, it needs to be investigated if the Pentateuch ever was “a fundamental source of fraternal unity” (p. 13). It can be hoped that the next book by Knoppers will do this in more detail.

Magnar Kartveit, School of Mission and Theology, Norway

[1] Richard J. Coggins, Samaritans and Jews: The Origins of Samaritanism Reconsidered (Growing Points in Theology; Philadelphia: John Knox, 1975). reference