[b-hebrew] Samaritan script/proto-hebrew

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Fri Mar 18 11:16:20 EST 2005

On 18/03/2005 13:33, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

>The claims of the Bible of massive almost complete resettlement of 
>non-Israelites in Israel and deportations of Israelites, and the claims 
>by later Jews that the Samaritans represent these "non-Israelites"
>are problematic and are a different issue for history.  Based on
>language, scripts, their version of the Torah, and other factors,
>I think the "split" between Samaritans and Jews is usually dated
>to the 2nd century BCE.  I have considered it interesting that it
>is about this time that various elements of Rabbinic Judaism
>appear to develop in the Jewish community so it could be
>considered less of a "split" and more of a divergence of two sects
>from one common unified community.

Yitzhak, I don't want to open up another long discussion on this issue. 
My rather quick reply to Chris was based more in the terms which I think 
he would understand i.e. taking the text of the book of Kings fairly 
literally. And I realise that this is not an entirely safe thing to do. 
Even in 2 Kings itself e.g. 23:15-20 there is evidence that the Samaria 
district was under the control of Jerusalem after the end of the 
northern kingdom.

On the other hand, there is evidence for separate Samaritan development 
much earlier than what you mention here, in the Elephantine letters from 
the 5th century BCE which mention a separate temple in Samaria I think. 
And 2 Kings 17 itself is evidence that at the time when it was written 
(whenever that might have been, but only minimalists put it as late as 
the 2nd century) there was at the very least a deep distrust between the 
Jerusalem and Samaritan religious authorities, to the extent that the 
Samaritans were effectively described as not true Jews. Now this split 
may have been healed and then opened up again, but I would in fact think 
it more likely that there was a north-south religious split from very 
early times, from the division of the kingdom, or even before that to 
the centralisation of the cult in Jerusalem, attributed to the time of 
David, which has never been healed. The modern Samaritans date the split 
to the time of Eli, and they may not be far out.

>As for the script, the alphabetic script began as Phoenician,
>and it quickly diverged into three main lines - Aramaic, Hebrew,
>and Phoenician.  The script used in both the North (Israel) and
>the South (Judea) was the Hebrew script. ...

I understand what you are saying, but your terminology is highly 
confusing, because what you call the Hebrew script is what western 
scholars and script experts call palaeo-Hebrew (although of course it 
was not palaeo- originally but the regular script of the Israelites), 
and your Jewish is what is now known as Hebrew script, i.e. the letter 
forms in current use, especially the more formal printed varieties. Also 
I don't think there was ever a real difference between Phoenician and 
palaeo-Hebrew script beyond slight letter shape distinctions - at least 
if the divergent Punic or Carthaginian variety of Phoenician is not 

>... The Samaritans, believing
>they are the real descendants of the Israelites, kept the Hebrew
>script. ... The earliest Samaritan script is from a probable 1st
>century inscription that does not differ from other inscriptions of
>the First Revolt.  The special characteristics of the Samaritan
>script appear only from the 3rd century onwards.  This is why
>Albright suggested to date the Samaritan split to the 1st century
>BCE when Samaria and Shekhem were conquered by the Jews.

This is perhaps a latest possible date for the split, but it is not an 
earliest one. There is no particular reason why the already separated 
Judeans and Samaritans could not have used the palaeo-Hebrew script in 
parallel from say the 5th to the 1st century BCE, at least for religious 
puposes to preserve the already centuries-old tradition. In fact it 
seems that the Judeans came to prefer the Aramaic-based Hebrew script at 
least towards the end of this period, perhaps simply because it was 
different from the Samaritans' preferred script.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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