LET’S START WITH A TIME TABLE

Some of this material gets overwhelming, especially since Christians rarely know very much about the Old Testament.  I’m providing a timeline to help you picture the series of events in your mind.  If you review these materials, this time table might help you sort out the different important occurrences.  Scholars, remember, argue over EVERYTHING;  most of the dates I am providing are considered the “reasoned and conservative” dates:

 DATE                                                       EVENT

 1957 B.C.The Call of Abraham
 1446 B.C.Moses leads children of Israel out of Egypt
 1406 B.C.Joshua worships at Shechem
 1010 B.C.King David rules all of Israel—north and south
   721 B.C.Fall of the Northern Kingdom—the 10 tribes are “lost forever” (or not?)
     ???(2 Kings 17:27-28)  Assyrians let Samaritans come back home to Shechem
   624 B.C.King Josiah finds the “Book of the Law” in the Jerusalem Temple
   623 B.C.Samaritan claim:  The Abisha Scroll is written in Samaritan Hebrew
   587 B.C.Southern Kingdom falls, Temple destroyed—the Babylonian Captivity begins
   536 B.C.Cyrus of Persia decrees that Israelites may go home
   533 B.C.Building of Second Temple begins in Jerusalem (dedicated 515 B.C.)
   533 B.C.Samaritans, rejected, start building their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim
   457 B.C.Ezra’s reforms—including translation of OT into Aramaic
   132 B.C.Septuagint finished:  70 Scholars translate Ezra’s OT into Greek
     63 B.C.+-Dead Sea Scrolls written
     30 A.D.Jesus’ death and resurrection
 c. 35 A.D.Stephen becomes the first martyr
 c. 65 A.D.Luke writes the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles

EZRA TRANSLATES THE BOOKS OF MOSES INTO ARAMAIC

There is only one temple as far as the Jewish people are concerned.  But there are a lot of “community centers” called Synagogues.  Every Synagogue needed a copy of the books of the Bible in order to read sections to the people.  (The Scriptures were NOT read at the Temple—just prayers and sacrifices!)

Ezra knows that there are two problems plaguing the Jews who have returned:  

  1. They speak Aramaic now—they picked it up in Babylon.  They can’t speak or read Hebrew, so their Bible is inaccessible to them.
  2. Their idiot neighbors, the Samaritans, have been gigantic pests, claiming they are part of the children of Israel, and that they are the ones who are worshiping God in the place which God prefers:  Mt. Gerizim.

The solution is simple:  Ezra will translate the Bible into “Aramaic Hebrew” (Hebrew language but using Aramaic letters) so that it can be read in the Synagogues, AND he will deliberately change some of the verses in the Bible so that the Samaritans can’t make their Gerizim claim anymore.  “Who would know the difference?  Naturally, there are copies of the ‘Samaritan Bible’ which read differently, but we can always claim that WE JEWS have the right version!”

Did he REALLY do this?  For years it has been believed that the Samaritans had the phony version of the Old Testament, but recent discoveries point to a Jewish hoax about Mt. Gerizim.  Some Dead Sea Scroll fragments, along with Stephen’s speech, are supporting the Samaritans!

Here are a few  examples of the Samaritan Bible vs. Ezra’s Bible:

  1. Deuteronomy 27:4  (Background:  God is giving orders to Joshua when he conquers the land.)  Samaritan version:  When you cross the Jordan, you shall set up an altar on Mt. Gerizim.”  Ezra’s version:  When you cross the Jordan, you shall set up an altar on Mt. Ebal.”  (Check your English Bible—any version—and you will find “Ezra’s version.”
  2. Deuteronomy 12:11 (Background:  God had chosen Gerizim as a worship site for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob many years before the conquest.)  Samaritan:  The place in which the Lord your God has chosen for His name to dwell.” vs. Ezra:  The place in which the Lord your God will choose for His name to dwell.”  There are 21 places where Ezra apparently changed the verb tense to a future:  Deut. 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 26:2; 31:11.
  3. Leviticus 26:31 Samaritan: “I will lay your cities waste; I will make your temple desolate.”  Ezra: “I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your temples desolate.”  But in Lev. 21:23, Ezra AND the Samaritan versions say: “…he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my temple.”   

There was no reason to change it—it proves nothing, and the Samaritans couldn’t read Aramaic Hebrew and the Jews couldn’t read Samaritan Hebrew!  Nothing generates hatred like being separated by language!

What Ezra created was what we today call “the Masoretic Text” (MT) which is the standard text of the Old Testament for us as it was in Jesus’ time.

In a private conversation with James Voelz on May 26, 2020, he pointed out that Ezra’s text (the Masoretic Text) has always had

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…“two competitors”: on the one hand is the Samaritan Pentateuch (abbreviated SP), written in Hebrew and used by the Samaritan (not Jewish) religious communities in Israel….the other is the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX…), which is the Greek translation of the OT begun in Alexandria in Egypt…. Both of these textual traditions comprise manuscripts that have different readings (i.e., different words and/or different orders of words) in numerous places, when compared to the readings of the manuscripts of the MT.”

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THE HISTORY OF SAMARITAN/JEWISH RELATIONS 

It was the building of the Temple at Mt. Gerizim which cemented the hatred between the two groups.  John Hyrcanus, a Jewish High priest, tried to enlarge Judea by attacking Samaria.  He besieged Shechem and was finally able to destroy the Temple at Gerizim in 111-110 B.C.  That made John Hyrcanus a “hero” among the Jewish population.  You can read about him in the apocryphal books I and II Maccabees.