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The bridge builders of Mount Jerzim

The Samaritans live on top of their holy Mount Jerzim, just a ten minute drive from Nablus city, and are viewed as a highly conservative society. Today 750 people constitute the little society on this shy mountaintop, the smallest sect in the world.

On the other hand, everything they believe in are the originals. Their Bible, their traditions, their feasts and their language are all still the same as it once were, conserved through ages of change in history. Even their birth line is conserved, and Atef Kaheen, curator of the Samaritan museum, represent generation number 162 after Adam.



When I visited their small remnants of the once millions strong society, he told me they believe in five things: God, the prophet Moses, the five books of Moses, mount Jerzim as the Holy Land and the arrival of the Messiah on the last day. Their holy day is Saturday, they still practice circumscription, and during the monthly period the women must spend seven days in isolation before doing the “mikwe” – a proper body wash.

They also celebrate all the seven holidays known through Judaism, like Yom Kippur and Soukot. Samaritans are actually Jews, though some core believes separate them from the majority. Most important in this respect is their belief in Mount Jerzim as the Holiest of the Holy, which most Jews believe lies on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.



The Old Testament is their Bible, and, according to Mr. Kaheen, their village holds the oldest book in the world, written by Moses and three of his descendants in the mother of all languages – ancient Hebrew. The holy book, or roll, in the museum, though, is only a mere 150 years old, and 25 meters long. 

Conservation or not, history has treated the Samaritans with a deadly hand. They once constituted a three million people strong society. In 1917 they were only 146 people left. Today, after extensive help from the British, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli governments, they have managed to grow a little. But he emphasizes that without more help, their community will, eventually, wither away and cease to exist.



But that is not the only worry Mr. Kaheen has for the future. He prays to God now, for peace. Without this, he says, the future is highly insecure. He tells me about the new Samaritan museum that is underway. Both Jews and Palestinians come here to visit, and the new museum, he proudly states, is therefore meant to be a bridge, a bridge to peace between the conflicting parties. We say good bye and I walk through the checkpoint that leads back down to Nablus city, thinking that building bridges is hard. I really hope he will succeed.



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