Responses to Islamic Awareness

The "Samaritan" Error In The Qur'an


Introduction

After we had published our response, the "Islamic Awareness" team [a total of five authors] re-wrote their essay The "Samaritan" Error In The Qur'an? Their updated version contains little new information – except for an attempt to criticize the historicity of 2 Kings in order to wiggle the Qur'an out of its historical contradiction of placing a Samaritan in the time of Moses and the Exodus. The authors prefer to recycle many of their old arguments, therefore, I inserted my responses, to what little new material was added, into this article.

In this wordy and convoluted essay, the "Islamic Awareness" team attempts to muddle the history of the Samaritans in order to make it appear that Samaritans, as a distinct ethno-religious group, existed at the time of the Exodus. According to the Qur'an, a Samaritan led the Hebrews into idol worship while Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai (Sura 20:85-87, 95-97). The problem with this claim is that the Samaritans were not known as a distinct ethno-religious group until around 722 B.C., when the term "Samaritan" was coined (cf. this short, introductory article). Therefore, the "Islamic-Awareness" team attempts to enlarge the possible definition of the term "Samaritan" to be broad enough to provide the possibility that a "Samaritan" could have existed during the time of the Exodus. Who were/are the Samaritans?

There are three ways in which the term "Samaritan" can be used:

1. The term "Samaritan" can be used to define a person in terms of geography. Samaritans were the inhabitants of the region of Samaria, an area north of Judea and south of Galilee on the western shore of the Jordan River. The capital of this region was also originally called Samaria – rebuilt and renamed "Sebaste", in honor of Augustus Caesar, by Herod the Great.

2. The term "Samaritan" can also be used to define a person in terms of physical descent and ethnicity. Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who made up most of the northern kingdom of Israel, with some blood from the Assyrians and Greeks. The "Islamic Awareness" team employs a bizarre version of this definition to attempt to place a "Samaritan" in the time of the Exodus.

3. "Samaritan" is also a term which describes/defines this group's religion. The Bible views the Samaritans mostly from the religious definition, but also refers to the Samaritans as a distinct group based on descent and ethnicity. The basic tenants of the Samaritan faith are:

1. There is One God.
2. Moses is the one and only Prophet.
3. The Torah.
4. Mount Gerizim [not Mount Zion] is the place of worship.
5. Belief in the Day of Judgement and Recompense [accepted as doctrine some time after 200 A.D.].

The most extensive Biblical discussion of the Samaritans is found in John 4, and perfectly demonstrates that the Bible defines Samaritans according to a definition based on their religion, as well as alluding to their national origins, or physical descent.

In this passage, Jesus was passing through the region of Samaria where he met a Samaritan woman. The story continues [John 4:7-22]:-

Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?" Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly." The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews."

This passage clearly defines Samaritans as a religious group [as opposed to showing them as a regional or ethnic group]. Jesus provides us with several Jewish opinions concerning the Samaritans: (1) the vessels of the Samaritans are ritually impure, (2) the Samaritans are sexually permissive [the woman in this passage had five husbands and a boyfriend], and (3) the religious rites and practices of the Samaritans were wrong – they prayed on the wrong mountain and worshiped in ignorance. The point of this particular story is that if a corrupt Samaritan recognized Jesus as a Prophet, then why don't the Jews?

It is also interesting to note that the Samaritan woman made a claim that is similar to one that the "Islamic Awareness" team makes for the Samaritan people [in her reference to "our father Jacob" in verse 12] that they are the true Israel, or "the observant" according to "Islamic Awareness". The "Islamic Awareness" team should note that Jesus rejected this claim by saying:-

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

In this passage, Jesus asserts the truth of the Jewish faith against the Samaritan religious system. Jesus also makes a distinction between the Jews and Samaritans based on their national origins. Jesus never made such a distinction with the Galileans, for example.

Samaritans Or Samarians?

The "Islamic Awareness" team attempts to unlink the connection between the "Samaritans" from the geographical region of Samaria. This is an attempt to wiggle the Qur'an out of the problem of having a Samaritan in the time of Moses – five to seven centuries before anyone could be called Samaritan. The anachronism clearly proves that the Qur'anic tale of the Samaritan tempting the Hebrews to worship a golden calf is historically and factually incorrect. Simply put, Samaria, as a geographical place name, did not exist during the time of the Exodus. Therefore, no one could have possibly been a citizen of a place that did not exist.

In order to accomplish this goal, the "Islamic Awareness" team provides us with the quote from The Interpreter's Dictionary of The Bible:

... the Samaritans prefer to style themselves 'Shamerim' i.e., "the observant" – rather than 'Shomeronim' i.e., "the inhabitants of Samaria."

The "Islamic Awareness" team distinguishes between the name shomronim, which appears in 2 Kings 17:29, and shamerim, meaning "keepers" or "observers", which the "Islamic Awareness" team claims is the name that the Samaritans use for themselves since it refers to their being the keepers or observers of the Torah.

What makes this position so ironic is that the "Islamic Awareness" team has basically proven that the Quran is incorrect for placing one of the shamerim at the time of Moses! The Quran expressly says that as-Samiri was there with the Israelites even before Moses was given the Torah:

(When Moses was up on the Mount, God said:) "What made thee hasten in advance of thy people, O Moses?" He replied: "Behold, they are close on my footsteps: I hastened to thee, O my Lord, to please thee." (God) said: "We have tested thy people in thy absence: the Samiri has led them astray." So Moses returned to his people in a state of indignation and sorrow. He said: "O my people! did not your Lord make a handsome promise to you? Did then the promise seem to you long (in coming)? Or did ye desire that Wrath should descend from your Lord on you, and so ye broke your promise to me?" They said: "We broke not the promise to thee, as far as lay in our power: but we were made to carry the weight of the ornaments of the (whole) people, and we threw them (into the fire), and that was what the Samiri suggested. "Then he brought out (of the fire) before the (people) the image of a calf: It seemed to low: so they said: This is your god, and the god of Moses, but (Moses) has forgotten!" Could they not see that it could not return them a word (for answer), and that it had no power either to harm them or to do them good? Aaron had already, before this said to them: "O my people! ye are being tested in this: for verily your Lord is (God) Most Gracious; so follow me and obey my command." They had said: "We will not abandon this cult, but we will devote ourselves to it until Moses returns to us." (Moses) said: "O Aaron! what kept thee back, when thou sawest them going wrong, "From following me? Didst thou then disobey my order?" (Aaron) replied: "O son of my mother! Seize (me) not by my beard nor by (the hair of) my head! Truly I feared lest thou shouldst say, 'Thou has caused a division among the children of Israel, and thou didst not respect my word!'" (Moses) said: "What then is thy case, O Samiri?" He replied: "I saw what they saw not: so I took a handful (of dust) from the footprint of the Apostle, and threw it (into the calf): thus did my soul suggest to me." (Moses) said: "Get thee gone! but thy (punishment) in this life will be that thou wilt say, 'touch me not'; and moreover (for a future penalty) thou hast a promise that will not fail: Now look at thy god, of whom thou hast become a devoted worshipper: We will certainly (melt) it in a blazing fire and scatter it broadcast in the sea!" But the god of you all is the One God: there is no god but He: all things He comprehends in His knowledge. S. 20:83-98

The Quran claims that As-Samiri was instrumental in leading the people to fashion and worship the golden calf. It was at this specific juncture that Moses came down from the mount with the stone tablets:

The people of Moses made, in his absence, out of their ornaments, the image of calf, (for worship): it seemed to low: did they not see that it could neither speak to them, nor show them the way? They took it for worship and they did wrong. When they repented, and saw that they had erred, they said: "If our Lord have not mercy upon us and forgive us, we shall indeed be of those who perish." When Moses came back to his people, angry and grieved, he said: "Evil it is that ye have done in my place in my absence: did ye make haste to bring on the judgment of your Lord?" He put down the tablets, seized his brother by (the hair of) his head, and dragged him to him. Aaron said: "Son of my mother! the people did indeed reckon me as naught, and went near to slaying me! Make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune, nor count thou me amongst the people of sin." Moses prayed: "O my Lord! forgive me and my brother! admit us to Thy mercy! for Thou art the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!" Those who took the calf (for worship) will indeed be overwhelmed with wrath from their Lord, and with shame in this life: thus do We recompense those who invent (falsehoods). But those who do wrong but repent thereafter and (truly) believe,- verily thy Lord is thereafter Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. When the anger of Moses was appeased, he took up the tablets: in the writing thereon was guidance and Mercy for such as fear their Lord. S. 7:148-153

In light of the foregoing discussion, how could there have been an "observer" or "keeper" of the Torah when there was, at that point in history, no Torah to "observe" or "keep"?

Moreover, liberal-critical scholarship dates the composition of the Torah, in its final form, sometime after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C. (Source).

Since the "Islamic Awareness" team likes to appeal to liberal-critical scholarship to undermine the Bible, they need to consistently apply their criticisms against the Qur'an. They must accept the fact that the Quran has committed a gross chronological error by placing the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place.

The "Islamic Awareness" team's attempt to convince us that the shomronim are the "keepers" and "observers" of the Torah simply fails to solve the Qur'an's anachronistic use of the term "Samaritan."

The Qur'an names the man who tempted the Israelites into worshiping the golden calf "as-Samiri" which, according to Muslim scholars, means "the Samaritan". If the Qur'anic "As-Samiri" is not a geographic appellation for the Samaritan, could it be a religious designation?

Surah 20:85 tells us:

(Allah) said: "We have tested thy people in thy absence: the Samiri has led them astray."

If were are to believe the "Islamic Awareness" claim that "as-Samiri" really comes from the term 'Shamerim', then how can the Qur'an call a man, who practices and leads others into the grave sin of idolatry, "the observant", or "keeper" of the Torah ignoring for the moment the fact that the Torah did not exist at that point in history? Also, in the interest of linguistic and historic accuracy, the Samaritans, according to Coggins an author quoted several times by the "Islamic Awareness" team – called themselves "Israel." [Samaritans, p. 10]. They also use the terms Myrim and Nyiram which they claim mean "keepers" or "observers" of the truth, or the Law of God. (Source)

So, where did Muhammad get the weird notion that a Samaritan was present during the Exodus? After all, the account of Exodus does not mention a "Samaritan". Muhammad's little tale is, however, half-correct. The Samaritans did, in fact, worship a golden calf, but not during the time of Moses.

According to 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam, who was the king of northern Israel, feared that:-

"The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam." [1 Kings 12:26-27]
In order to preclude this from happening, Jeroboam built a temple in Samaria [the capital of the Northern Kingdom] to draw the faithful away from the temple in Jerusalem. Jeroboam's temple had two statutes of golden calves.

1 Kings 12: 28-30 tells us:

"After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.

The Prophet Hosea also wrote about this northern temple:

They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction. Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity? They are from Israel! This calfa craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces, that calf of Samaria. [Hosea 8:4-6]

It is reasonable to conclude that Muhammad conflated two Biblical events – which occurred centuries apart – to form his Qur'an's odd, and historically and factually incorrect, little tale of the "Samaritan" who tempted the Hebrews into idol worship.

Surah 20:97 amplifies the aforementioned conclusion:-

(Moses) said: "Get thee gone! but thy (punishment) in this life will be that thou wilt say, 'touch me not'; and moreover (for a future penalty) thou hast a promise that will not fail: Now look at thy god, of whom thou hast become a devoted worshipper: We will certainly (melt) it in a blazing fire and scatter it broadcast in the sea!"

This passage tells us that the Samaritans were regarded as "untouchable", or spiritually unclean, by the Jews because of their worship of idols. However, Moses could not have placed this status on the Samaritans because there were no Samaritans in his time. The Jews gave the Samaritans this status many centuries later.

The Origin Of The Samaritans

There are three theories as to the origins of the Samaritans:-

The Jewish view. The Samaritans are the descendants of the colonists that King Shalmaneser, of Assyria, brought from Cutha, Babylon, Hamath, and other foreign regions after he conquered Samaria in 722 B.C.. King Shalmaneser then deported the native population according to 2 Kings 17.

Samaritan view: The Samaritans are remnants of the northern Israelite tribes who were left behind when their brethren were deported by the Assyrians.

Modern Scholars: The Samaritans are descendents of Mesopotamian tribes who were deported by the Assyrians and Babylonians to Samaria. This is, in part, the opinion of Shen et. al.'s genetic study of the Samaritan haplogroup, which the "Islamic Awareness" team cites.

It appears that all three explanations of the origins of the Samaritans are correct, at least to some degree. Foreign deportees did, in fact, mingle with the local Israelite remnants. This mixed community developed a divergent Jewish sect sometime between the 800 and 500 B.C.

The "Islamic Awareness" team objects to this conclusion. However, these theories are not mutually exclusive and do fit the genetic study, which the "Islamic Awareness" team cites, but does not link to the online version, which tells us:

Based on the close relationship of the Samaritan haplogroup J six-microsatellite haplotypes with the Cohen modal haplotype, we speculate that the Samaritan M304 Y-chromosome lineages present a subgroup of the original Jewish Cohanim priesthood that did not go into exile when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, but married Assyrian and female exiles relocated from other conquered lands, which was a typical Assyrian policy to obliterate national identities. This is in line with biblical texts that emphasize a common heritage of Jews and Samaritans, but also record the negative attitude of Jews towards the Samaritans because of their association with people that were not Jewish.

The "Islamic Awareness" team concludes:-

Until the middle of the 20th century it was commonly believed that the Samaritans originated from a mixed race people living in Samaria at the time of the Assyrian conquest (722-721 BCE). In recent years however, new research based on a more careful study of the Chronicles of the Samaritans has led to a re-evaluation of their origins. Specifically, with the publication of Chronicle II (Sefer ha-Yamim), the fullest Samaritan version of their own history became available.

First, in regard to the Chronicles of the Samaritans, we have a "chronic chronology" problem. Lester L. Grabbe, of the University of Hull says:

The Chronicles are a mine field of problems. On the one hand, they claim to trace the Samaritan religion back to Moses and to give an account of their history independently (at least, in part) of the OT. On the other hand, all the Chronicles are late, some of them from the 19th or even 20th century in their present form. Study of them is not far advanced, and Samaritan specialists have reached no consensus on their inter-relationships.

The "Islamic Awareness" team often attempts to discredit various Qur'an borrowing theories on the grounds that many of the parallels found in sources outside of the Qur'an exist in manuscripts written much later than the Qur'an, and conclude that the Qur'an could not have borrowed these tales. In this instance, the "Islamic Awareness" team demonstrates their hypocrisy by attempting to use a text dating from around the 19-20th century A.D. to discredit a text which has existed for over 2 thousand years!

The "Islamic Awareness" team concludes with their most bizarre and desperate explanation to wiggle the Qur'an out of its problem of having a Samaritan tempt the Israelites centuries before there were Samaritans:-

A historical analysis of this chronicle reveals that the Samaritans are the direct descendants of the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, and until the 17th century C.E. they possessed a high priesthood descending directly from Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas. The common ancestry of both the Jews and Samaritans was also established by recent genetic studies, going back to cohen or the Jewish priestly family. This study also validated both local and foreign origins of the Samaritans.

In the first place, no one has denied that the Jews and the Samaritans have common ancestors. The genetic studies [to which the "Islamic Awareness" team refers, but does not provide a link to the online version] confirms the Biblical view of the origins of the Samaritans:

Based on the close relationship of the Samaritan haplogroup J six-microsatellite haplotypes with the Cohen modal haplotype, we speculate that the Samaritan M304 Y-chromosome lineages present a subgroup of the original Jewish Cohanim priesthood that did not go into exile when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, but married Assyrian and female exiles relocated from other conquered lands, which was a typical Assyrian policy to obliterate national identities. This is in line with biblical texts that emphasize a common heritage of Jews and Samaritans, but also record the negative attitude of Jews towards the Samaritans because of their association with people that were not Jewish.

The "Islamic Awareness" team is attempting to imply that since the Samaritans are descendents of the Jewish Cohanim, then they must have been around during the time of the Exodus! This is a very incorrect and bizarre conclusion, to say the least.

All humans on this planet are descendents of people who were alive during the time of the Exodus, however, all of the ethno-religious groups, which developed over time, cannot/do not seriously claim to have been present at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses was receiving the law!

This "Islamic-Awareness" team did not like this argument, so they reach for the usual fallacies of the ad-hominem argument – accusing me of not reading the article although, unlike their article, my article links to the online version so that others can read it and reach their own conclusions. They also set up a straw-man argument [that I somehow believe that genetic information disappears when one changes religions]. Both of these fallacies are weak attempts to distract attention from the discussion at hand and to continue to imply that since the Samaritans are descendents of the Jewish Cohanim, then they must have been around, as a distinct group, during the time of the Exodus!

Another problem is that there are many other groups which carry the Cohen modal haplotype. Among the Bantu speaking Lemba of southern Africa nearly fifty-two percent of males carry the Cohen modal haplotype! The Cohen Modal haplotype is also found in significant numbers among Italians and Kurds.

So, if we wish to carry the "Islamic Awareness" team's implications to their illogical conclusion, we could also claim that the Bantu Lemba, Italians, and Kurds were, along with the Samaritans, also present during the Exodus!

This conclusion in nonsensical, as well as historically inaccurate. The Samaritans, Lemba, Italians, and Kurds did not exist as ethic groups until centuries later. In the case of the Samaritans, their ethnic identity was forged long after the time of the Exodus.

The "Islamic Awareness" team triumphantly concludes:

As we observed in this study, the Qur'anic mention of the name al-Samiri sometimes translated as "the Samaritan" (Qur'an 20:85, 87 and 95) is consistent with modern investigations into the origins of the Samaritan sect.

However, they have failed miserably to make the case. The Samaritans did not exist during the time of the Exodus and the Qur'an is in error by making such a claim. Scholars say that the term "Samaritan" has three major definitions:

Geographical: If the "Samaritans" were named after Samaria, the Qur'an is in error because no place called Samaria would exist for many centuries after the events of Exodus.

Physical Descent and Ethnicity: This appears to be the "Islamic Awareness" team's favorite definition. The Samaritans are a people of mixed stock according to the genetic studies cited by the "Islamic Awareness" team. The Samaritans came into being when Jewish males, who did not go into exile, mated with Assyrian female exiles relocated from other conquered parts of the Empire. These historic events, and hence the creation of a "Samaritan" people, took place long after the events of the Exodus.

Religion: The Holy Bible defines the "Samaritans" in terms of their religious beliefs and practices which are deemed incorrect, as well as their distinct ethnicity. There are four opinions concerning when the schism, which created the Samaritan religion, occurred.

1. The Samaritans claim that the schism occurred after Joshua's death when the priest Eli left the tabernacle, built by Moses, and established a new place of worship on Mount Gerizim and another in the hills of Shilo (see 1 Samuel 1:1-3; 2:12-17) – sometime around the 12th centutry B.C. According to the Samaritans, the event which formed the "Samaritans", as a distinct religious group, occurred after the events of Exodus. According to the Samaritan opinion, the Jews, whose numerous Prophets are recognized by both the Bible and the Qur'an, are the dissidents and heretics!

2. The Jews date the schism to the 8th century B.C., sometime after the Assyrian conquest of the region.

3. Some believe, based on an interpretation of passages from Ezra, Nehemiah, and Josephus, that the Samaritan schism took place in the Persian period.

4. Others contend that the Samaritan schism occurred in the early Greek period.

As for historic evidence, the Elephantine Papyri, which dates from the 5th century B.C., indicates that the schism between the Jews and the Samaritans already existed, but it wasn't very deep. The schism worsened later, due to the rival places of worship which were served by different priestly groups – one in Jerusalem, the other on Mount Gerizim.

By any of the above-mentioned definitions, it is clear that the Samaritans did not exist at the time of the Exodus.

So, how did Muhammad make such a mistake when he wove this tale into his Qur'an? The most reasonable explanation is that Muhammad confused [and conflated] the story of the golden calf made by the Hebrews of the Exodus [Exodus 32] with the golden calf made centuries later by the Samaritans according to 1 Kings 12 and Hosea 8.

(Some further remarks by the editor.)

A historical observation

At least two of the authors who have worked on the Samaritan paper of Islamic Awareness, M S M Saifullah and Muhammad Ghoniem, were able to see the obvious much more clearly before they confused themselves with reading a hundred articles about the Samaritans.

I guess if brother Omar was to be compared to anyone in the story of the cow it is by no means Moses. Actually, in the story of Moses with the Jews, he might be compared to a knowledgeable student of Moses that took the opportunity of the absence of his Master to misguide a whole nation into worshiping the golden calf. Although As-Saamiri (the Samaritan) had learnt a lot of things from his Prophet (Moses), he managed to go astray and lead his people far from the path drawn by Moses before his departure. (Mohammad Ghoniem, newsgroup posting on soc.religion.islam (SRI) on 27 April 1998; source)

Of course, the "i" in the end of As-Saamiri makes it likely (though not necessary) that it refers to an origin. (Mohammad Ghoniem, posted on SRI on 2 June 1999; source)

as-Samiri, as far as, my personal opinion goes is a title rather than a name. Further investigations need to be carried out on this issue. It is just like al-Aziz in the story of Yusuf(P). Even a better example would be al-Dimashiqi or al-Hindi which are used as titles for a person from Damascus and India. Similarly as-Samiri would mean the Samaritan. And Allah knows best! (M S M Saifullah, posted on SRI on 25 May 1999; source)

Today they no longer want to accept the most natural and straight-forward explanation that as-Samiri is a Samaritan and this name is derived from the city of Samaria, as are many similar names in Arabic that refer to geographic origin. Instead they want to argue that it comes from the religious self-understanding of the Samaritans. But are they gaining anything by it? Not at all ...

Going from bad to worse

On 12 July 2006, "Islamic Awareness" announced that their article on the Samaritan error in the Qur'an "is now almost completely re-written with new information." It is rather amazing to see that in their revision they completely ignored, and still ignore to this day, our observation that their thesis conflicts with the Qur'an and produces glaring contradictions (see the above section under the subheading Samaritans Or Samarians?) Even if the argument of the IA team had been correct (and it is not), and they had been able to separate the Samari(t)ans from the city/region of Samaria, their definition based on the religious self-understanding of the Samaritans contradicts the Qur'an in several points.

The Muslim authors tried to save the Qur'an from the anachronistic reference to a Samaritan before the existence of Samaria, but as the fruit of their labor they now have "Torah observers" before there was a Torah, and the fact that the Qur'an depicts this "Torah observer" as an idolater who led Israel astray, and who already stood in opposition to Moses before the Torah was completed. Despite producing several dozens of pages of text and 55 footnotes to support their argument, Islamic Awareness merely managed to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

There is, however, one small indication that the Muslim authors have realized there are problems. Note how they have slightly changed the concluding sentence of their article:

The Qur'anic mention of the name al-Samiri sometimes translated as "the Samaritan" (Qur'an 20:85, 87 and 95) is entirely consistent with modern investigations into the origin of the Samaritan sect. (until 11 July 2006)

As we observed in this study, the Qur'anic mention of the name al-Samiri sometimes translated as "the Samaritan" (Qur'an 20:85, 87 and 95) is consistent with modern investigations into the origins of the Samaritan sect. (since 12 July 2006)

Notice how the word "entirely" was removed from their conclusion. This is one very small step into the right direction.

Contradicting the spirit of the Qur'an

Besides contradicting the Qur'an in these very specific points mentioned above, the thesis of the IA team is not in line with the spirit of the Qur'an in general.

The authors defend the name "as-Samiri" by referring to the religious self-understanding of the Samaritans as "Torah observers". They take great efforts to justify their acceptance of the Samaritan religious self-understanding as historically correct.

However, can the Muslim authors name for us just one example of a religious group (other than the Muslims) whose self-understanding the Qur'an describes correctly, let alone accepts as correct? Is there any religious group which the Qur'an refers to in an accurate way, and based on this accurate description of their beliefs then (accepts or) rejects their beliefs?

Just a few out of many examples that could be given: The Qur'an teaches that Jews worship Ezra as the son of God, a claim that is entirely wrong (*). The Qur'an misrepresents the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (*) in several ways, but most drastically by including Mary into it, and it misrepresents the meaning of the biblical title "Son of God" (1, 2). The Qur'an does not even accept the name that the Christians use for themselves; it uses the word nasara ("Nazarenes") for them instead of maseehi, the Arabic word for Christians (al-masih = the Christ, maseehi = Christians).

But when the Qur'an distorts and misrepresents the beliefs of Jews and Christians according to their self-understanding, and Muslims to this day hardly ever accept any description of the Christian or Jewish faith based on their own self-understanding, why then would the authors suddenly find the religious self-understanding of the Samaritans trustworthy?

The Samaritan Torah

The IA team makes the following statement:

Unlike the claim of the Christian missionaries, there is nothing to suggest in the Samaritan Chronicles that they adopted a syncretism between the religion of the Jews and their own polytheistic background. On the contrary, the Chronicles clearly affirm their monotheism during the Assyrian rule. It must be emphasized that the Samaritans' devotion to the Torah was already recognized from the fact that it alone constituted their canon of Scripture. This is further emphasized by the word shamerin - the keepers of the Torah. This very name implies a group which maintained the traditional ways and was suspicious of change.

Given that the Muslim authors hold the Samaritan writings in such high esteem, and they are trustworthy because their very name suggests so, I want to ask them a couple of questions.

Does the Islamic Awareness team accept the Torah of the Samaritans as authentic? If not, i.e. if not even their central Scripture is to be trusted – despite their name "keepers of the Torah" which is central to their very identity – why would they be willing to trust the other Samaritan books, and in particular the Samaritan Chronicles? But does a rejection of the authenticity of the Samaritan version of the Torah not lead their article ad absurdum?

If, however, they are willing to accept the Samaritan Pentateuch as being the faithfully kept Torah of Moses, what are they doing with the many contradictions between it and the Qur'an?

Muslims make the steep claim that the Jews corrupted their Scriptures, including the Torah. Given that the Jews and the Samaritans have been opposing each other for so long, and Islamic Awareness wants to see the Samaritans as a distinct group going back even to the time of Moses, it is rather unthinkable that both groups would sit down together to corrupt both the Jewish and the Samaritan version of the Torah in exactly the same way. Even if the Muslim authors do not want to accept either the Jewish Torah as fully authentic or the Samaritan Torah as fully authentic (as both groups could have introduced some corruption to their texts), are they at least willing to accept those parts of the text in which the Jewish and the Samaritan versions of the Pentateuch agree?

Let's look, in particular, at the story in the Torah that is the reason for this discussion, namely the story of the fashioning and worship of the golden calf. Does either the Jewish or the Samaritan version know anything of a Samaritan as the one who created this idol to lead Israel astray? If neither version of the Torah knows anything about a Samaritan in this incident, how credible is the introduction of this character into the Qur'anic version of the story?

Indeed, the Jewish and the Samaritan Torah agree that it was Aaron who fashioned the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-6), and neither version mentions anything about a Samaritan existing at this time, let alone contributing to the Golden Calf.

Doesn't this observation send the team of Islamic Awareness right back to square one?

Jochen Katz


2 Kings 17:18-24 – A Historical Narrative or a Historical Absurdity?

Unable to defend the absurdities of the Qur'an, the "Islamic Awareness" team attacks the book of 2 Kings, which provides the earliest historical reference to the Samaritan people. According to the "Islamic Awareness" team, there were between 560,000 and 800,000 people living in the northern kingdom of Israel, however, an Assyrian inscription from the time of Sargon II records that this leader deported 27,290 people from Samaria. So, is the Bible wrong and the Qur'an accurate by default? Does this prove that a Samaritan lived during the time of Moses?

There are a number of theories and opinions among Bible scholars. Some scholars challenge the Bible's claim that the entire population of the northern kingdom of Israel went into Assyrian captivity. There are a number of scholars who argue that the leaders of the northern kingdom of Israel fell into the captivity of the Assyrians, while the majority either fled south to Judah or were assimilated into the alien populations transplanted in the northern kingdom by the Assyrians – as described in 2 Kings 17:24. Other scholars believe that the entire northern population of Israelites were enslaved and deported. Before the Assyrian invasions, many people from the northern kingdom moved south after the separation of Israel from Judah in protest of the practices of Jeroboam I [see 1 Kings 12:25-33; 13:33 and 2 Chronicles 11:13-16]. Many more would leave during the reigns of Ahab and Jezebel [1 Kings 16:28-33; 18:3-4, 18]. Also, it is likely that many fled to Judah to escape the invading Assyrian army.

What about King Sargon II's claim to have taken 27,290 captives from Samaria? This number is very small when compared to the total population of the northern kingdom of Israel. History provides us with some insight. Shalmaneser V conquered Samaria in the last year of his reign. Sargon II is considered, by some scholars, to be a usurper who ruled Assyria from 722-705 B.C. Sargon claimed that he, and not Shalmaneser V, conquered Samaria so that the annals of the first year of his reign would record a victory. Sargon took advantage of the circumstances of the time – the fact that Shalmaneser V was deposed before his military exploits were fully recorded by history.

Therefore, Sargon may have honestly and accurately recorded the results of his invasion of Samaria during the first year of his reign. However, it is obvious that Sargon omitted the history of the larger deportations of the people of the northern kingdoms of Israel, carried out by his predecessors, leaving the false impression that his own campaigns of destruction and deportation were greater than they actually were.

In other words Sargon's small number of deportees is significant in that it matches both Assyrian history and the Biblical account of history. The thousands of deportees recorded by Sargon do not include the large deportations committed by his predecessors, Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V.

The "Islamic Awareness" team also appeals to the Samaritan Chronicle to somehow prove that this group was not polluted by syncretism. The Samaritan Chronicle, as previously mentioned dates from recent times, some texts are from the 19th or even 20th century in their present form.

The "Islamic Awareness" also appeals to R.J. Coggins' statement [in his book Samaritans] that II Kings 17 says nothing about the origin of the Samaritans. This is simply not true.

The Bible describes the rejection of the Samaritans by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah because of their heathen ancestry. This ancestry, and the commencement of Samaritan worship on Gerizim, were two major issues which led to the schism with the Jews, and began the process of the theological development of the Samaritans as a religious sect.

According to the New Testament, the Samaritans trace their origins to the importations of foreigners by Assyria into the region of Samaria. In Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus said:

"Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

It is clear that Jesus did not consider the Samaritans a part of the "house of Israel", in spite the fact that the Samaritans worshiped the God of Moses and kept, what they believed to be the pure Law. This confirms the account of II Kings 17s description of the origins of the Samaritans.

Additional evidence comes from Luke 17:18, where Jesus calls the Samaritan who returned to thank Him for healing him a "foreigner". Jesus' comment in this passage, as well as in other passages concerning the Samaritans, clearly shows that He considered the Samaritans to be non-Israelites, as well as religious heretics.

Conclusions

The "Islamic Awareness" team has not provided an adequate defense for the Qur'an's anachronistic use of the term Samaritan in the time of Moses and the Exodus.

First, the "Islamic Awareness" team attempted to unlink the Samaritans from the geographic regions of Samaria, claiming that the Samaritans prefer to call themselves 'Shamerim', or the "keepers" or "observers" of the Torah, rather than 'Shomeronim' – "the inhabitants of Samaria." This defense is refuted, not only by history, but also by the Qur'an itself since the Torah did not exist at the time when the Samaritan of the Qur'an was said to have led the Israelites into the sin of idolatry.

The second line of defense for the "Islamic Awareness" team is to cite a genetic study which shows that the Samaritans carry the Cohen modal haplotype [as do a number of other population groups]. However, according to the genetic studies cited by the "Islamic Awareness" team, the Samaritans are a people of mixed stock, and this study concludes that its findings are "in line with biblical texts". The Samaritans came into being when Jewish males, who did not go into exile, mated with Assyrian female exiles relocated from other conquered parts of the Empire. These historic events, and hence the creation of a "Samaritan" people, took place long after the events of the Exodus, so this defense fails to defend the Qur'an's anachronistic use of the term Samaritan in the time of Moses.

The third, and final argument made by the "Islamic Awareness" team is an attack on the historicity of 2 Kings, claiming that an inscription from the time of Sargon II refutes the Biblical claim that the population of the northern kingdom was deported. However, a critical examination of both Israelite and Assyrian history, as opposed to selective quote mining in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion, easily solves this problem.

Andrew Vargo


Links and Resources for Samaritan Studies

The Samaritan Chronicle I

The Samaritan Chronicle II

The Samaritans the earliest Jewish sect their history, theology, and literature

The Samaritans in the Hasmonean Period

The Emergence of the Samaritan Community

The Origin and Nature of the Samaritans and their Relationship to Second Temple Jewish Sects

Manners of the Ancient Israelites

THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE SAMARITANS


Responses to Islamic Awareness
Answering Islam Home Page