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First-of-its-kind exhibition about Samaritans opens in Washington

The exhibition at the Museum of the Bible features some of the most important objects from Samaria’s history

Samaritan worshipers gather at dawn on top of Mount Gerizim near Nablus, June 5, 2022, during celebrations of the holiday of Shavuot. (Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., has launched a first-of-its-kind exhibition about the Samaritans, Israel’s smallest minority and one that most people outside Israel know very little about. 

The exhibition, titled “The Samaritans: A Biblical People,” opened to the public on Sept. 16. 

“Created in partnership with the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, directed by Dr. Steven Fine, the exhibition is the first of its kind,” the Museum of the Bible said on its website, noting that it “will offer unprecedented access to the life, culture and history of the Samaritans.”

There are just 850 Samaritans living in Israel today. Beyond the parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament, and the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, knowledge about the Samaritans as a people group is rare.

The exhibition features some of the most important objects from Samaria’s history, collected from museums and libraries around the world – the first time that all these objects have been assembled in one place. The museum describes them as “the most important artifacts [about the Samaritans] preserved in museums and libraries the world over.”

“These include paintings, manuscripts, priceless books, photography, ritual objects and significant archaeological discoveries from Greece, Italy and Israel,” the museum website elaborates.

Describing the event experience, the website noted that “guests will enjoy unique videos, some of which are filmed in familiar and home settings and focus on the different life experiences of the Samaritans, from Passover sacrifices to weddings. They will enjoy tales from the elders and a special sukkah [a temporary booth created for the festival of Sukkot] that will help illustrate religious life.” 

The Samaritans are a non-Jewish ethno-religious group that observes several Jewish religious rituals and traditions, such as Passover and Sukkot. The tiny minority lives in just two places in Israel – the Israeli city of Holon and Kiryat Luza, a small village under Palestinian Authority control on Mount Gerizim, located near Nablus in Samaria. 

The Samaritans claim to be descendants of the Israelites who lived in ancient Samaria and the root of Abrahamic religions. 

“We trace our roots back for 127 consecutive generations in the Holy Land,” the Samaritans write on their website, titled Israelite Samaritans: Ancient Tradition Thriving in the 21st Century. “Elements of our tradition are familiar to other cultures – for example Judaism, Islam and Christianity. … Samaritanism is the root of the Abrahamic religions in the region, including not only Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also the Druze and Bahai faiths.”

The main attraction at the Museum of the Bible exhibit is a limestone tablet with Samaritan inscriptions dating to medieval times, which is on loan to the museum from the Israeli president’s residence in Jerusalem. The tablet had to undergo conservation work in Jerusalem before being sent to Washington.

The tablet’s inscription confirms that a synagogue was built on Mount Gerizim, the Samaritans’ holiest site, and praises “Abraham, the son of Ebitarna of Bnei Bedua” for financing the building of the synagogue. 

According to Dr. Jesse Abelman, one of the curators of the exhibition, the limestone tablet “proves the enduring centrality of the Torah to the culture of the Samaritan people and their continuity throughout history.”

The exhibition features lectures, guided tours and a film by Fine and Jerusalem-born filmmaker Moshe Alafi. The film, “Samaritans: A Biblical People,” was five years in the making.

The exhibition will run until the end of 2022.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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