Skip to main content

Pentateuch, Samaritan


PENTATEUCH, SAMARITAN , Hebrew text of the Pentateuch used by the *Samaritans. The first copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch to reach the hands of Western Bible scholars was that obtained in Damascus by Pietro della Valle in 1616. Subsequent travelers brought to Europe other copies of the Samaritan Pentateuch, Targum, and other Samaritan literature. The interest created among Bible scholars was considerable, and for a long time hopes were high that at last an older version or recension of the Hebrew Bible than that of the Masoretic Text had been recovered. The first edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch to be printed was that in the Paris Polyglot Bible of 1629–45 and the London Polyglot of 1657. These earliest editions and the improved one of Blayney (Oxford, 1790), based on several manuscripts, proved inadequate for the purpose of precise textual criticism. The edition of A.F. von Gall (Geissen, 1918, repr. 1966), based on a large number of manuscripts, made the task of careful textual study much easier. From the Polyglot editions until the time of W. *Gesenius (see below), there grew up a lively debate about the relative merits of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text. Several attempts to draw conclusions from detailed comparative analysis of the two versions were made, but it was the monumental examination of them by Gesenius in 1815 (De pentateuchi samaritani origine, indole et auctoritate commentatio philologico-critica) that produced the most lasting effect. From then, and for a century thereafter, his verdict that the Masoretic Text was superior and prior held sway. Gesenius listed and analyzed the roughly 6,000 textual differences in terms of eight categories or classes:

(1) grammatical revision by the Samaritan;

(2) glosses and explanations introduced into the text;

(3) emendation of words;

(4) additional or corrected readings supplied from parallel passages;

(5) larger additions and interpolations;

(6) emendation of place names;

(7) adjustment of forms of expression to the northern (Samaritan) dialect of Hebrew; and

(8) a special category, which included emendation of the verb (sing. or plur.) occurring with the Divine Name, removal of anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms, etc.

In addition he regarded the Samaritan orthography (especially the gutturals) as inadequate and due mainly to scribal carelessness.

[John Macdonald]

The dictum of Gesenius holds true in its main points to this day. The text of the Samaritan Pentateuch always presents the lectio facilio against the more archaic and difficult forms of the Masoretic Text. Even a seemingly early form like ʾatti is in reality a late Aramaism. The Samaritan pronunciation of their Pentateuch, which is a sacred and zealously guarded tradition of the sect, shows clear affinity to the language of the Qumran Scrolls:

(1) The above-mentioned personal pronoun ʾatti, which is the equivalent of ʾat in the Masoretic Text, is ʾatti also in the Scrolls;

(2) The masoretic suffixes -kem, -tem are -kemmah, -temmah in the Scrolls. In the Samaritan Pentateuch they are spelled in the masoretic way but always pronounced like the longer forms found in the Scrolls;

(3) The stress in the Samaritan pronunciations is penultimate (not ultimate like that denoted by the Tiberian tradition), which causes sewa-vowels of Masoretic Text to become full vowels like in the text of the Scrolls, e.g., Sedom (mt) = Shadem (Samaritan) = Sodom (Scrolls). From all this it can be concluded that the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch in its present form presents a later stage of development than the Masoretic Text. Its peculiarities do not reflect a special Ephraimitic dialect but represent the common Hebrew prevalent in Palestine between about the second century b.c.e. and the third century c.e.

[Ayala Loewenstamm]

The best-known difference of substance is the additional text regarded by the Samaritans as the tenth command of the Decalogue. After Exodus 20:14 [17] (and Deut. 5:18) the Samaritan Pentateuch has a lengthy addition which consists in the main of Deuteronomy 27:2, 3 (part), 4–7, and 11:30. This, it is generally agreed, is a deliberate Samaritan interpolation designed to provide support for their claim that Gerizim is "the chosen place." Connected with this is the Samaritan Pentateuch variant רחב (baḥar) against the Masoretic Text's רחבי (yivḥar), which occurs in all the relevant passages in Deuteronomy 12:5ff. – the claim being that Shechem had been chosen as the place of the Lord's sanctuary. On the other hand, R.H. Pfeiffer (in bibl., 102) represented the viewpoint of many students of Samaritanism when he cited the probability of a Judean attempt to minimize biblical support for the Samaritan claim for the priority and legitimacy of their temple on Gerizim. He also asserted that in their scrupulous regard for the sacred text the Samaritans left anti-Samaritan (pre-schism) additions untouched. "With utter disregard for geographical reality, the gloss in Deuteronomy 11:30 removes Gerizim and Ebal from the vicinity of Shechem (still attested in the reference to the terebinth of Moreh) to the Jordan Valley at Gilgal, near Jericho (cf. 27:12, 'when you have crossed over the Jordan'); similarly in Joshua 8:30–35 the altar was built on Gerizim [sic!] while the Israelites were still encamped at Gilgal." His explanation is that "The early account of the origin of the cult at Shechem (Deut. 11:29; 27:11–26) was thus first given a Deuteronomistic interpretation (in 11:26–28, 31–32; 27:7–10); then the scene was removed to Gilgal and connected with the famous stones there (27:1–4, 8), and finally, after the Samaritan schism, 'Gerizim' was changed to 'Ebal' in Deuteronomy 27:4 (where the Samaritan Pentateuch still reads 'Gerizim') and in Joshua 8:30." This assessment of a problematic Samaritan Pentateuch passage is supported by several scholars (e.g., O. Eissfeldt, in bibl.), who agree that both Judeans and Samaritans were forced to take defensive measures in order to maintain the supremacy of their rival claims. Another problem concerns the fact that the Septuagint often agrees with the Samaritan Pentateuch against the Masoretic Text. Some examples of this agreement are: Genesis 4:8, "Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Come, Let us go out into the field'" (the Masoretic Text lacks Cain's words); Genesis 47:21, "As for the people, he made slaves of them" (mt "As… he removed them to the cities"); in Exodus 12:40 the 430 years of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt include their sojourn in Canaan as well (sp-lxx add "and their fathers"). However, in most cases the Samaritan text agrees with the Masoretic against the Septuagint, as shown by B.K. Walthe. The following example of agreement between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint introduces a type of the former's variant from the Masoretic Text that was used by Samaritan exegetes and theologians in later times as proof texts for their distinctive credal statements. Deuteronomy 32:35 contains the words "against the day [םויל] of vengeance and recompense" in contrast to the Masoretic Text's "vengeance is mine [יל] and recompense," in a difference comprising a masoretic omission or Samaritan addition of two Hebrew letters. This "proof text" is used for the Samaritan belief in the Day of Vengeance and Recompense after the Resurrection. An example of this sort of Samaritan Pentateuch variant is Genesis 3:19 (against mt); the latter reads "and to dust you shall return," while the former has "and to your dust Thou shalt return," a difference of one Hebrew letter (kaf). This variant is a "proof text" for the Samaritan teaching about the Resurrection. (The principal sp variants are included in bh in the apparatus criticus.)


Most authorities agree that the Samaritan Pentateuch, with its approximately 2,000 agreements with the Septuagint against the Masoretic Text, existed in the third century b.c.e., and it is likely that the old or proto-Palestinian text-type came to exist in three recensions, a Judean and a Samaritan soon after the time of Ezra (or a little earlier), and a Greek (lxx) in the third century. Pfeiffer (in bibl., 101) expresses a widely held view of the dating of the Samaritan Pentateuch when he writes: "We may infer… that the Samaritan community adopted the Pentateuch as its Bible soon after its canonization about 400 b.c.…" The Masoretic and Samaritan texts (in spite of their variants) were recensions of the final edition of the Pentateuch, as also the Septuagint. Evidence that the Samaritan Pentateuch existed in b.c.e. times is provided from another source. Among the Qumran discoveries from 1947 onward the text of some fragments of biblical manuscripts clearly resembles the Samaritan text-type. Here are some Samaritan-Qumran agreements occurring in the Book of Exodus: to the Divine Command in 7:16–18 the Samaritan text adds its execution by Moses and Aaron; the Qumran text has the latter statement. In 7:29 the Qumran text has the start of the Samaritan text's expansion. Similar textual traits are found in 8:19; 9:5; 9:19; and 11:2. The Samaritan and the Qumran text add "and he smote them" in 17:13. The omission of 29:21 and 30:1–10 is a feature of both texts. However, the Qumran fragment texts sometimes agree with the Samaritan, sometimes with the Septuagint against the Samaritan, and sometimes with the Masoretic against either or both the Samaritan and the Septuagint.


The best-known copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch is the so-called "Abishʿa (עשיבא) Scroll," for which the Samaritans, since medieval times, have claimed a very ancient origin. The oldest part of this text was edited in 1959 by Pérez Castro. According to the colophon of the scroll itself the text was written by Abisha son of Phinehas, the great-grandson of Moses, in the 13th year after the Israelite conquest of Canaan. However, it is generally agreed that the scroll cannot have been written before the 12th century c.e. A fine scroll written in 1227 c.e. is a model exemplar of the best copies known. Written in gold letters, the scroll (roll) is wound around rollers of silver and has three parallel columns setting out the Hebrew, Aramaic (Targum), and Arabic versions in the one Samaritan script. The best-known manuscripts otherwise are not in roll form, but in book form, written on vellum or paper. There are no indications of vowel signs, but the text is divided into sentences and the whole into 964 paragraphs (Kiẓẓim = םיצק; in other codices they number 966).


On paleographic grounds, according to J. Purvis's investigation (1968), "the ancestry of the Samaritan script is to be traced ultimately to the cursive paleo-Hebrew of the sixth century b.c.e., although the direct percentage is the paleo-Hebrew of the late Hasmonean period" (in bibl., 36). There is no general accord about this, for there is a lack of evidence for the paleo-Hebrew script used in Samaria (or, for religious purposes, by the Samaritans) before the earliest-known Samaritan epigraphic materials, so that a complete history of the Samaritan script going back before Hasmonean times is not available. The Samaritan script, which is known in both uncial and cursive form, must have been in use at the time when Ezra introduced the "square" (ירושא) script for the Judean Bible. The Samaritan alphabet is the only descendant of the early Hebrew script which is still in use.


There seems to have once existed a Greek translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch (see Glaue and Rahlfs, in bibl.). Known as the Samareitikon, it was written after the Septuagint, by which it was influenced, but before Origen who refers to it. Its place of origin is unknown. A copy of the Samaritan Aramaic Targum was acquired for the first time by Pietro della Valle, along with the Hebrew text, in 1616. The Samaritans believe it to have been composed by Markah, i.e., in the fourth century c.e. According to J. Nutt (in bibl.), the Samaritans of his day believed it to have been the work of Nethanel (לאנתנ; first century b.c.e.), but as there was a high priest of that name in the fourth century c.e., local tradition has probably confused the identification. The text is unsatisfactory in many respects, particularly in the orthography, and there are too few complete copies available for collation. The edition of Peterman-Vollers (1872) is the only complete one which is based on a number of manuscripts. The Aramaic of the Targum is similar to that of Markah's Memar and of the Defter (fourth century c.e.) of the Liturgy, and is undoubtedly Palestinian in type. The translation is literal and therefore comparable to the Targum of *Onkelos. The Arabic translation was made probably in the 13th century by Abu Said or (if he was only the reviser, as some think) by *Abu al-Ḥasan of Tyre in the 11th century (A.E. Cowley, in bibl., xxiv). This translation exists in several manuscripts. It is a fairly literal translation of the Hebrew (not the Targum), and some scholars have seen in it possible dependence on *Saadiah, but this is uncertain. The chief evaluation of the available texts was made by P. Kahle (in bibl., and subsequent articles) and L. Goldberg (in bibl.).

See also *Samaritan Language and Literature.

[John Macdonald]


J.H. Peterman and C. Vollers, Pentateuchus Samaritanus (1872–91); J. Nutt, Fragments of a Samaritan Targum (1874); P. Kahle, Die arabischen Bibelübersetzungen (1904), x–xiii; A.E. Cowley, The Samaritan Liturgy (1909), xxiii–xxiv; P. Glaue and A. Rahlfs, Fragmente einer griechischen Übersetzung des samaritanischen Pentateuchs (1911); A.F. von Gall, Der hebräische Pentateuch der Samaritaner (1914–18, 19633); Ch. Heller, The Samaritan Pentateuch, an Adaptation of the Massoretic Text (1923); L. Goldberg, Das samaritanisch Pentateuchtargum (1935); R.H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (1948), 101–2; P. Kahle, in: Studia Orientalia Ioanni Pedersen (1953), 188–92; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, an Introduction (1965), 694–5, 782; J. Purvis, The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Origin of the Samaritan Sect (1968); R. Macuch, Grammatik des samaritanischen Hebräisch (1969); Ẓ. Ben-Ḥayyim, Ivrit ve-Aramit Nosaḥ Shomron, 1 (1957), xxvii–xxviii. add. bibliography: B. Waltke, in: abd, 5:932–40; A. Tal, The Samaritan Pentateuch edited according to ms 6 (C) of the Shekhem Synagogue (1994).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Pentateuch, Samaritan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 16 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Pentateuch, Samaritan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (August 16, 2018).

"Pentateuch, Samaritan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 16, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.