Samaritan Sects

Samaritan Sects.

The most important information on the subject is given by Epiphanius (Hoeres. [1, 28], followed by John Damascus [ibid. p. 79], and Nicetas [Thesaur. 1, 35]). Epiphanius mentions four different sects — the Essenes, Sebuaeans, Gorthenians, and Dositheans. With regard to the first of these bodies nothing is known, nor is the information with regard to the Sebuaeans (Σεβουαῖοι, שבועאי) more satisfactory. They are said to have distinguished themselves by commencing the year in the early autumn; soon after this they held the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost later, and that of Tabernacles in the spring, when the Jews were celebrating their Easter. Of the Gorthenians, termed by Nicetas Sorothenians, nothing whatever is known. With regard to the last of the four sects and their leader Dositheus, it is impossible to reconcile the discordant testimony of Jewish, Christian, Mohammedan, and Samaritan writers. Epiphanius relates of them that they were believers in the resurrection and austere in their manner of life, avoiding animal food, some marrying but once, others not at all. As to the observance of circumcision, the Sabbath, avoiding contact with others, fasting and penance, they were not distinguished from the other Samaritans. Their founder was, he continues, a Jew who, for his learning, aspired to be chief among his party, but being disappointed in. his ambitious schemes, went over to the Samaritans and founded a sect: later he retired to a cave, and there starved himself to death out of affected piety.

What Epiphanius relates here concerning Dositheus fully accords with the account of Abfil-Fath concerning Dusis; but the austere life of his adherents can only refer to those of Dostan, of whom we shall have to speak further on. It seems that Epiphanius has confounded the two together, which has also been done by later writers. The statement of Abfil- Fath is that a sect appeared calling themselves Dostan, or "the Friends," who varied in many respects the hitherto received feasts and traditions of their fathers. Thus they held for impure a fountain into which a dead insect (שרוֹ) had fallen; altered the time for reckoning the purification of women and commencement of feasts; forbade the eating of eggs which had been laid, allowing those only to be eaten which were found inside a slain bird; considered dead snakes and cemeteries as unclean; and held any one whose shadow fell upon a grave as impure for seven days. They rejected the words "Blessed be our God forever" (ברואִלהינו לעול ם), and substituted Elolim for Jehovah; denied that Gerizim had been the first sanctuary of God; upset the Samaritan reckoning for the feasts, giving thirty days to each month, rejecting the feasts and order of fasts, and the portions (due to the Levites). They counted the fifty days to Pentecost from the Sabbath the day after the first day of the Passover, like the Jews;

not from the Sunday, like the other Samaritans. Their priests, without becoming impure, could enter a house suspected of infection as long as he did not speak. When a pure and an impure house stood side by side, and it was doubtful whether the impurity extended to the former as well, it was decided by watching whether a clean or unclean bird first settled upon it. On the Sabbath they might only eat and drink from earthen vessels, which, if defiled, could not be purified; they might give no food or water to their cattle: this was done on the day previous. Their high priest was a certain Zarf, who had been turned out of his own community for immorality.

At a later period lived Dusis. Being condemned to death for adultery, he was respited on the promise of sowing dissension among the Samaritans by founding a new sect. He went to Asker, near Nablus, and formed a friendship with a Samaritan, distinguished for his learning and piety, by the name of יחדו. Compelled, however, to fly for his life on account of a false accusation which he had brought against his friend, he took shelter at Shueike with a widow woman named Amentu, in whose house he composed many writings; but, finding that a hot pursuit after him was still maintained, he retired to a cave, where he perished of hunger, and his body was eaten by dogs. Before his departure, however, he left his books with his hostess, enjoining her to let no one read them unless he first bathed in the tank hard by. Accordingly, when Levi, the high priest's nephew — a pious, able man — arrived with seven others in search of him, they all bathed, one after the other, in the tank, and each, as he emerged from the water, exclaimed, "I believe in thee, Jehovah, and in Dfsis, thy servant, and his sons and daughters;" Levi adding, when his turn came, "Woe to us if we deny Dusis, the prophet of God." They then took the writings of DAsis, and found that he had made many alterations in the law — more, even, than Ezra. They concealed them, and on their return to Nablus reported that Duisis had disappeared before they arrived, they knew not whither. At the next Passover, Levi had to read out Ex 12:22 in the synagogue, but for "hyssop" (אזוב) he substituted "thyme" (צעתר). Corrected by the congregation. he still persevered, crying, "This is right, as God hath said by his prophet Ddsis, on whom be peace! Ye are all worthy of death for denying the prophetic office of his servant Ddfsis, altering the feasts, falsifying the great name of Jehovah, and persecuting the second prophet of God, whom he hath revealed from Sinai! Woe unto you that you have rejected and do not follow him!" Levi was stoned. His friends dipped a palm leaf in his blood, and ordained that whoever would read Dusis's writings and see the leaf must first fast seven days and nights. They cut off their hair, shaved their beards, and at their funerals performed many strange ceremonies. On the Sabbath they would not move from their place, and kept their feasts only on this day, during which they would not remove their hands from their sleeves. When one of their friends died, they would gird him with a girdle, put a stick in his hand and shoes on his feet, saying, "If we rise, he will at once get up," believing that the dead man, as soon as he was laid in the grave, would rise and go to Paradise. As to the age in which Dusis lived, it must have been long before Origen, for this father, in his Commentary on John 13, 27 (ed. Lommatzsch, 2, 49), tells us that a "certain Dositheus arose and claimed to be the Messiah; his followers are called Dositheans, who have his books and tell wonderful stories of him, as if he had not died and is still alive somewhere." This agrees with the statement of Abul-Fath concerning Dusis. According to Origen, Dositheus must have lived long before himprobably in the 1st, or at least in the 2d century of the Christian era. That he was the teacher or pupil of Simon Magus, as some have asserted, is an untenable conjecture. See Petermann in Herzog, 13, 387 sq.; Nutt, Samaritan History, p. 46 sq.; Basnage, Histoire des Juifs (Taylor's transl.), p. 94 sq.; Jost, Gesch. des Judenth. u. s. Secten, 1, 62 sq.; De Sacy, Chrestom. Aroabe, 1, 334 sq. (B.P.)

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