The Samaritans and Early Judaism: A Literary Analysis

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The Samaritans and Early Judaism: A Literary Analysis, by Ingrid Hjelm. JSOTSup 303. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000. Pp. 318. $85.00.

All tradition is, of course, story. As such, it involves the coherent retelling of beginnings, other past events, and even future ones, interpreted from the center of a people's experience in the world at a particular time and place. Then again, the story may be told from an outsider's point of view. Hjelm's excellent monograph on the historically elusive Samaritans provides yet another lesson that the prevailing tradition offers merely a collective perspective (albeit an ultimately meaningful one for those who celebrate it) on "what actually happened," and that sometimes other meaningful perspectives are required for bringing a clearer view of historical reality into focus.

Hjelm asserts that the origin and history of the Samaritans cannot be drawn at face value from the accounts of Josephus, the literature of the prevailing Pharasaic-rabbinic Jewish tradition, the NT, or even the Samaritan sources themselves. Rather, a critical evaluation of authorial intent must be made on the basis of all available sources in order to determine where and to what extent authors and editors have accommodated historical realities for ideological purposes. Carefully applied, this methodology results in a historian's perspective of the traditions in question, relatively free of the biases produced by meaningful stories competing for preeminence or, as our author puts it, "the problematic presence of past traditions over against present innovations, and two groups who claim authority for each of their own" (. 266).

Hjelm's thesis in nuce is that the prevailing view of Samaritan origins and history, often described in terms of questionable heritage, expulsion, and dissidence, must be abandoned. Underlying this view is the ideologically revisionist standpoint of a relatively late, Jerusalem-centered Judaism. Indeed, the historical hot-spot for any real Jewish-- Samaritan conflict is to be found in the second and first century B.c.F., with the emergence and maintenance of an independent Judaean temple state campaigning for political consolidation in the region. On the other side of the polemic, the Samaritan historiography, Hjelm rightly notes, "is as little reliable at face value as the similar Jewish historiography. We cannot simply read such `historiographies, independently of each other" (p. 272). The methodology is theoretically sound, but it still leaves much to the reader for testing the weight of Hjelm's assertions.

The chapters of the book follow in logical order. Chapter 1 provides the necessarily selective overview of a century of scholarship on the Samaritan question, beginning with variations of the paradigm that viewed Samaritan origins on the basis of the Assyrian resettlements (2 Kgs 17); one or another later accounts (a priestly expulsion in Neh 13, the accounts of Josephus, or the books of Maccabees concerning the Hellenistic period); and, finally, the irreconcilable break resulting from John Hyrcanus's second-century B.C.E. destruction of the Samaritan temple. Chapter 2 provides the current state of Samaritan studies, focusing especially on alternative theories that, on the one hand, posit a relatively later date for the origin of a distinctive Samaritan tradition or, on the other hand, view the Samaritans as original Israelites. The most notable champion of the latter view is E. Nodet of the Ecole Biblique, whose influence on Hjelm's own work is apparent.

The next three chapters offer a broad but cursory overview of relevant Samaritan and non-Samaritan primary texts. …