Everyone has heard of the Samaritans, or Shomronim as they are called here in Israel, but I was interested in taking a closer look after hearing from a friend of their Passover sacrifice.
To experience a real Passover sacrifice sounded too good to be true so I marked the date in my diary- 17th April, 2011.
As the time approached I organized a group and a plan for the day. We would drive to Mt. Gerizim at 2pm, visit the community of Har Bracha, tour the Heartland winery there and continue to Kiriat Luza, the Samaritan town on Mt. Gerizim. There we would tvisit the ancient sites and observe the sacrifice.
We began our day by driving an hour from central Israel through the beautiful green mountains of the Shomron to Har Bracha. We thoroughly enjoyed the stop at the winery tasting the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and new 2010 Port. Realizing that we would be very early for the Samaritan Passover Sacrifice, traditionally held at sunset, we drove to a viewpoint above Nablus (also known as Shechem). Shechem is a city of great historical and biblical importance for many people. For Jews, the city is important because it is:
- Where Abraham made his first stop in the Promised Land and built an altar to G-d;
- Where Jacob came after returning from the House of Lavan, buying his first piece of property in the Promised Land and building an altar to G-d;
- Where Joshua, following a command from Moses, anchored stones and wrote down all the words of the Law;
- Where Joseph’s bones were ultimately buried (on the plot of ground that had been purchased centuries earlier by his father, Jacob).
Joseph’s Tomb (Kever Yosef) as seen from Joseph’s lookout on Mt. Gerizim
Shechem also has importance to Christians, as it is where Jesus made his first public convert and held his first two-day outdoor Evangelistic meeting.
Israelis are not allowed to travel into Shechem without receiving prior approval and therefore we drove to the closest viewpoint called Mitspe Yosef (Joseph’s lookout) to take in the view of Shechem and to see Joseph’s tomb.
We then drove to the Samaritan town and parked our car and walked to their old city. Walking through the town we headed to the high ground where we entered the ruins of their ancient town and temple. The ruins look familiar and seem to be a mix of Greek, Roman and Byzantine design.
We wandered around the ruins, peering into holes and small places hidden from view. There were no descriptions of what we were seeing so a good guide or book is recommended.
Mt. Gerazim ruins
We then made our way back to the center of town where the sacrifice would be held to find the best possible viewpoint. The town itself is well kept with approximately 50 homes and small apartment blocks, some of which look quite luxurious.
Homes at Mt. Gerazim
In the gardens of some of the houses tents were set up for the feast that would occur after the sacrifice.
The streets were full of action with sacrificial lambs literally being led to the slaughter by Samaritans dressed all in white each carrying the special knife that would be used shortly.
Sacrificial lambs being led by Samaritan
The elderly priests in their best outfits were escorted to their places.
Elderly Samaritan priests being led to the service at Mt. Gerazim
Inside the fenced area, the fire pits were alight and everyone was trying to get inside or as close to where the sacrifice would take place. We were told that inside was only for Samaritans but of course dignitaries and press were present in large numbers. The latest figures I have seen is that there are only 750 Samaritans left, having once numbered 1 million during Roman times. Of course this is the biggest day in the Samaritan calendar so it seemed all 750 of them were present as well as probably another thousand or so other onlookers. We chose the small-tiered rows of seats on the south side of the sacrificial arena and waited patiently for the action.
Samaritan community gathers before the service
Close to 6pm there was a lot of activity with lambs tied in place and families gathered around for the beginning of the service.
Even the children got involved, probably at the behest of the adults looking to ensure the ancient traditions were passed down to the next generation. Eventually the service started, led by one of the priests chanting in the ancient Hebrew language used by the Samaritans.Then the eagerly anticipated moment arrived. The High Priest adjusted his prayer shawl and stood up on the stand and pronounced the final words before the sacrifice.
High priest leading the service
Following this there was silence and the lambs were slaughtered. Ths was followed by loud praises of joy.
Each family continued with their chants but now it was interspersed with hugs and kisses. Everyone was joyous as the lambs were prepared for the fire pits.
We headed home after learning about and witnessing this very ancient ritual that is a custom of the Samaritan community. It is a ritual repeated year after year for at least the last 2500 years. For those interested in learning more about the Samaritan community, visit Mt. Gerazim including their local museum.
In 1997, on the top of Mount Gerizim, the first Samaritan museum was established. Their history is documented within the collection.
Visiting the Samaritan Museum:
Address: The Samaritan Museum.
Nablus, Mount Gerizim.
P.O. # 172.
Mobile: 0523545006 – Teli-fax: 2370249
e-mail : info@ Samaritans-mu.com
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Ari Briggs made aliyah to Israel from Australia. In addition to blogging on Travelujah, he writes on current events and local happenings in Israel and around the world at thetruthfrom.blogspot.com