Stephen, Session #12 (All quotes generally ESV
WHAT IS THE ABISHA SCROLL? DID STEPHEN KNOW THIS SCROLL?
The “Abisha Scroll” is an ancient scroll kept by the Samaritans in the Synagogue in Nablus (Shechem). Samaritans claim it is the oldest copy of the five books of Moses (The Torah) in existence, and was written by the great grandson of Aaron, the first High Priest and brother of Moses. (I Chronicles 6:50 “These are the sons of Aaron: Eleazar his son, Phinehas his son, Abishua his son…”) (also spelled “Abisha,a”)
The claim that the scroll is over 2600 years old has been widely disputed among scholars—this is no surprise—but the scroll is not shown to anyone. Several people have claimed to have seen it, but the Samaritans have another ancient scroll from the 1400’s (one which they call “the TOURIST Abisha Scroll”) which can sometimes be shown, if the price is right!
The Abisha Scroll has been faithfully copied over the centuries, although the “real one” has a cryptogram embedded in it which the Samaritans say cannot be faked and which proves it is authentic. (Huh? I cannot comment on that.)
The Abisha Scroll, for all intents and purposes, purports to be the “original Mosaic version” of the first five books of the Bible. It varies from the Hebrew text (Masoretic Text) in 6000 places; the Greek (Septuagint) translation agrees with the Samaritan version of things about half the time! Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls also partially agree with it.
Modern scholars did not even know such a “Samaritan version” existed until the late 17th century, although there is a hint that some of the Early Church Fathers knew about it. Origen, who assembled six parallel Greek columns of the Old Testament into a book called The Hexapla, alludes to such a scroll.
As pointed out in earlier sessions, Stephen clearly knows about the Samaritan version of Moses’ books, but did he have a copy of the Abisha scroll? That we do not know. If Stephen was the second man on the road to Emmaus, is THIS the version which Jesus told Stephen was the correct version of God’s Word?
WHY IS THE SAMARITAN VERSION DIFFERENT?
The question must be asked: WHY is the Samaritan Pentateuch different than the Jewish one? A very strong possibility is hinted at in one of the Old Testament history books. Josiah, King of Judah from 640-609 B.C., was a “righteous king” says the Bible. Josiah was only 8 years old when he became King in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 34 is worth reviewing to read about his reign.
Josiah was the son of King Amon, a king who was so evil and full of idolatry that the people revolted against him and assassinated him. Josiah, on the other hand, after he had torn down the altars to false gods throughout the land and, when he was 26 years old, ordered that the Temple be cleaned up and renovated—it hadn’t been used for years. While they were shoveling out the debris in the treasury room, they found what the Bible calls “the Book of the Law.” Scholars have generally described this as the book of Deuteronomy, although it could well have been the entire five books of Moses.
At any rate, this discovery called for a Kingly Degree! “We have not been doing what God wants, and we’re going to start!”
Now, in order for you to understand what is coming, please notice that this is taking place in about 622 B.C. This is AFTER the northern kingdom had fallen to the Assyrians in 721 B.C., and with that fall SUPPOSEDLY the 10 tribes of the north were lost and gone forever! This is BEFORE the Babylonian Captivity of the people in Jerusalem!
In order to fulfill King Josiah’s decree, the priests started collecting money to help put the temple back together. Here’s how the Bible describes it:
2 Chronicles 34:9 “They went to Hilkiah the high priest and gave him the money that had been brought into the temple of God, which the Levites who were the gatekeepers had collected from the people of Manasseh, Ephraim and the entire remnant of Israel and from all the people of Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
“Judah and Benjamin” we understand: these are the people who will be hauled off to Babylon in a few years (587 B.C.) But “Manasseh and Ephraim?” These are two of the “lost 10 tribes.” APPARENTLY NOT SO LOST!
But it gets better! Who do the Samaritans claim to be descended from? Manasseh and Ephraim! The Jews of the southern Kingdom claim that the Samaritans are just half-breeds, rejects, local yokels, etc., because the 10 northern tribes are gone.
According to our Bible, there are remnants of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim still around, and they are calling themselves not “Samaritans” but “Shamerim”—the “Guardians of the Law.” They would have desired—and surely received—a fresh copy of the “Book of the Law” which was found in the Temple during the reign of Josiah. Prior to the Babylonian Captivity, these were genuine children of Israel in good standing, and, with Josiah’s reforms, they had abandoned their idolatrous ways and were dedicated to serving the true God!
Did they receive an unaltered copy of the Law from King Josiah 100 years before the people returning from Babylon became “Jews” and reinterpreted the whole Torah to suit their understanding of why God had allowed this to happen? There is no reason that the Shechem Synagogue would not be entitled to a copy.
Are the Samaritans the ones who are in possession of an “unaltered” copy of Moses’ books? Is this what the “Abisha Scroll” originally was? Was it the Jerusalem Jews who later changed the wording to make the Samaritans look like nut cases?
HOW DID THE SAMARITANS BECOME ENEMIES OF THE JEWS?
The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell us about Zerubbabel the new governor, Nehemiah a leader in the rebuilding, and Ezra a priest/scribe.
Two problems greet the returnees: 1) there are people (Samaritans and others) living in Jerusalem and 2) their “Back to the Bible” program was going to be a problem because the Books of Moses were written in Hebrew, and the common people couldn’t read Hebrew anymore.
The Samaritans living in Jerusalem say (Ezra 4:2-4) “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
The Samaritans, insulted by the returning Jews from Babylon, started building their own Temple on Mount Gerizim (where else?) in 533 B.C. near the location of Joshua’s Altar, near Jacob’s Well, and on the place where Abraham had received his Covenant with God and built his altar to thank God. This act, of course, insulted the Jews, because they believed they were building on the only “correct” place for God’s house.
EZRA: I HAVE AN IDEA TO SOLVE BOTH PROBLEMS AT ONE TIME!