Stephen, Session #11 (All quotes generally ESV)

DID THE SAMARITANS CHANGE THE BIBLE WORDS—OR DID SOMEONE ELSE?

NOTE:  You’re probably going to need to read this several times to understand

what the Jews did to make enemies of the Samaritans!

Listen to Deut. 11:26-29:  “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.  When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.”  

This passage, written by Moses, tells us that God wanted Joshua and the children of Israel, when they entered the promised land, to go to Shechem (between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal where Jacob’s Well is located).  On Mount Gerizim, they were to set up a place of worship where God’s blessings would be pronounced over the people.  On Mount Ebal the priests and prophets would announce curses against the people of God if they disobeyed His will and followed other gods.  To us, that’s a little weird, but that’s what Moses told them to do (remember that Moses had never been there, so he was basically telling them what God had told him to say!). 

If you remember the photograph to which I referred you in the last session, there is even today an archeological site on the top of Mount Gerizim where the Samaritans had a Temple built to announce the blessings to the people.  The Samaritan Pentateuch (their “books of Moses”) says—20 times at least!—that Mount Gerizim “is the place which Yahweh has chosen.”  They believed that their Temple was in the place where Joshua built his altar.  We can’t fault them on that point—it seems, even in our Bibles today, to be quite true!

But now look CLOSELY at Deut. 27:4-6 in our English Bibles:  “And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God.” 

Compare that with the Samaritan Pentateuch’s version of the same verses:  “When you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Gerizim, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster.   Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones.  Do not use any iron tool upon them.  Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones , and offer burnt offerings upon it  to the Lord Your God.”

WHO CHANGED THESE WORDS?

Think about this: Deut. 11 says the exact same thing—in ANY Bible, Hebrew, Samaritan, Greek, English, etc.—it doesn’t matter which one you use.  Moses clearly says that Ebal is the “curse mountain” and Gerizim is the “blessing mountain.”

Do you think Joshua and the children of Israel would have been told to cross the Jordan River, conquer the land, and then worship God on the “curse mountain?”  And would the Samaritans, who built a Temple on Mount Gerizim, be so stupid as to build their Temple on the “wrong” mountain?  (They claimed that their Temple was on the site that was also the site of the Joshua altar foretold in Deut. 11.)  No matter how you read this, Deut. 27 does NOT agree with Deut. 11.

I ASK AGAIN:  WHO CHANGED THESE WORDS?

For centuries, we have thought that it must have been the Samaritan Bible which changed the words of Deut. 27:4-6 to say “Build the Temple on Mount Gerizim!”  Why did we think that?  The Masoretic text (Hebrew) in Deut. 27:4-6 says “Build the Temple on Mount Ebal!”  So does the Septuagint (Greek)!  So does our English Bible!  ONLY the Samaritan Bible says “Mount Gerizim!”  The Samaritans changed the words to make their Temple more important and to agree with their version of the Old Testament.  Right?

Not so fast!  The Dead Sea Scrolls, fragment 17, shows the reading as “Mount Gerizim”—and this scroll has no connection to the Samaritans.  It is an ancient copy 2100 years old; it is older than any others we have of Deuteronomy.  

THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY CREATES A NEW RELIGION:  JUDAISM

In 587 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, the last stronghold of the Jews, and deported the population to their capital, Babylon (modern day Iraq—just a few miles south of Bagdad).  This was the third and final attack and deportation.

In 539 B.C., the Persians conquered the Babylonians.  The Persian capital was Susa in modern day Iran.  After the dust settled, the Persians under King Cyrus let the Jews start returning home in 537 B.C.  The Bible book of Ezra tells the story.

It was not until 515 B.C. that the “Second Temple” was completed in Jerusalem.  But during these decades after the return, the Jews faced several problems:

  • Jews couldn’t speak Hebrew anymore.  They had picked up Aramaic while in Babylon.  Aramaic was a wide-spread Semitic language, versions of which were spoken in Assyria, Arabia, Babylon, Syria and Persia.  By the time of Jesus, everyone was speaking a slightly more modern version of Aramaic, and no one could even read the ancient Hebrew.  Much of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in “middle” Aramaic or else the Samaritan version of Aramaic.
  • The priesthood had a hard time explaining how God could let this “Babylonian Captivity” happen to “his people.”  Theology became very legalistic.  God had punished his children for not behaving properly.  The Jews were God’s chosen people but they needed to observe all the Mosaic commands faithfully.  The books of Moses were edited to reflect this.  Society’s sense of community, rather than individualism, demonstrated commitment to God’s covenant and sovereignty. Instead of being called “the children of Israel,” the people were now known as “Jews.”  The “religion of Israel” had become “Judaism.”
  • The peoples who inhabited the Holy Land were “undesirables.”  Samaritans who lived in the Jerusalem area wanted to help the Jews rebuild the Temple.  They had returned to strict monotheism and had given up idolatry.  Apparently, they had made a serious offer to join with the returning people, but were literally run out of town!  Read Ezra, but especially chapter 4, where Ezra the Priest reports on what happened.  The Samaritans were friendly and wanted to help, but they were rebuffed severely.  The Jewish leaders created enemies of the Samaritans.  Chapter 5 of Ezra shows the consequences—the Samaritans were so threatening  then that the Jews were afraid to continue work on the Temple.
  • The land of Israel becomes central to the Jewish people.  Judaism taught that the world was created from Mount Zion.  The Talmud (their law and history with commentary) says that just walking on the Holy Land gives the Jew a place in the hereafter!  Living anywhere else is abnormal.  This is the sacred land God gave to Abraham and the place where Jews are meant to live with God!

THIS WASN’T STEPHEN’S RELIGION!