A Contract of Sale and Purchase of an Orchard Between Two Samaritans in Damascus in 1584
Prof. Haseeb Shehadeh
Recently while I have been working on the publication of some similar Samaritan contracts that are housed in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, I came across several ambiguous legal terms such as “darak, tabi‘a”. The attempts to understand them fully led me to find an essential book available on the internet that deals with contracts: Akram Ḥ-;-asan al-˓-;-Ilbī-;-, The Jews in Damascus in the Ottoman Period on the Basis of Records of the Islamic Courts in the Centre of Historical Documents in Damascus, 991 H.-1336 H, 1583-1909 A.D. Damascus: Publications of the Syrian General Organisation for the Book, Ministry of Culture, 2011, 344 pp (in Arabic).
Two hundred seventy contracts are included in this book, the lion’s share of which is concerning the Rabbinic Jews. In addition, Karaites are involved in numerous cases, whereas a few contracts belong to Christians. One single contract is Samaritan which goes back to the year 1584 and so only two Jewish contracts are older than it by one year. This Samaritan contract is the oldest one known to us today, since the most ancient contract in Abraham Firkovitch’s collection (1786-1874) of Samaritan manu-script-s preserved in the above-mentioned library dates back to 1639. A wide range of subjects and disputes are discussed and solved in these contracts that have titles such as: the Jew, the Muslim, and the red mule (the earliest in the book, 1583)-;- taxes among Christians and Jews-;- turning down a suit of a Jew who became a Muslim-;- a doubtful man-;- a purchase of a house in Safed-;- dispute between neighbours-;- American consul in Damascus-;- Jews of Russian nationality.
The Samaritan contract consisting of 146 words is given above followed by my Hebrew translation and accompanied with some clarifications. Before that a detailed background of the pivotal role of Damascus for the Samaritans in the Middle Ages was presented. Samaritans lived in Damascus since the ancient times until the riots of 1625 which caused the well known family the Denfi also to immigrate to Nablus. The Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, (1130-1173) reports that approximately 4,00 Samaritans lived in Damascus whereas only 2,00 were found in each of Nablus and in Caesarea. In addition, a High Priest -function-ed in Damascus and the city witnessed a scientific and literary renaissance during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that led to the emergence of a new manifestation of language known in present scholarly circles by the designation ‘Neo-Samaitan Hebrew’ (see the Arabic book on physicians by Ibn Abī-;- UṢ-;-aibi˓-;-a, d. 1269). Therefore, no wonder that a great number of Samaritan manu-script-s scattered throughout the world estimated at more than 4,000, originate from Damascus and Cairo. It sufficies here to mention that the Samaritan Torah published in Paris polyglot in 1632 and in London polyglot in 1657 stems from a Damascene manu-script- purchased by the Italian traveller Pietro della Valle in 1616. Some Syrian families such as Naḥ-;-ḥ-;-ā-;-s, al-Rumailī-;-, al-˓-;-Asalī-;- and al-Ğ-;-a˓-;-farī-;- have been originally Samaritan.
In this context, it is worthy of note the discovery of a Samaritan prayer niche (Miḥ-;-rā-;-b, Mihrab) made of marble, various kinds of limestone, and mosaic in a private house belonging to Sheikh Moḥ-;-ammad al-Qirbī-;-/al-Qurbī-;- in the neighbourhood of al-Ẓ-;-ā-;-hir Baybars in Damascus. It seems that the Mihrab goes back to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, the sixteenth century. Its sizes: height: 302 cm, width: 225 cm, depth: about 70 cm and there are in-script-ions taken from the Samaritan Torah, such as Exodus 32: 25-26. The Mihrab was sold in 1907 and now it is found in the Muslim Museum of Art in Berlin under and number I 583, (See: http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object-;- ISL-;- de-;- Mus01-;- 32-;- ar).
The Samaritan contract is entitled “The Jews of Samaria 1584 A.D. and it tells that the Shaikh Surū-;-r ben al-Shaikh Ghazā-;-l al-Sā-;-mirī-;- bought through the legal proxy of the Samaritan Steitah the daughter of al-Shaikh Yū-;-suf al-Rabbī-;-s an orchard of various fruit trees from the Shaikh Ibrā-;-hī-;-m ben Ṣ-;-adaqa known as Bunduq al-Sā-;-mirī-;-, the attorney-at-law of his two paternal uncles, Yū-;-suf and Lā-;-wī-;-, the sons of Bahna/Bihna the Samaritan. The location of the orchard is defined/indicated from its four sides and the price was 1,00 Sultani gold, the course of each Sultani was eight Shā-;-hiyas. Two names of witnesses are stated, one is a Muslim named Ḥ-;-asan ben Ḥ-;-asan the muezzin (announcer of Muslim time of prayer) and the other one was Shams al-Dī-;-n ben ˓-;-Abdallah al-Samarī-;- (perhaps a mistake and it should be ‘al-Sā-;-mirī-;-’-‘the Samaritan’. Unfortunately no photocopy of this contract is attached to the book as is the case with regard to some other contracts. The name of the judge (Qadi) is Luṭ-;-f Allah al-Ḥ-;-anafī-;- and, as a rule, each court included four judges who belong to the four Islamic legal schools, al-Ḥ-;-anafī-;-, al-Mā-;-likī-;-, al-Shā-;-fi˓-;-ī-;-, and al-Ḥ-;-anbalī-;-.
On the basis of what was said above concerning the central role of Damascus in the history of the Samaritans it is really surprising that no more Samaritan contracts have been discovered. I believe that many Samaritan manu-script-s and documents are still hidden in public as well as in private libraries in Syria. Scholars have to look for such material in every possible occasion. As a Hebrew saying runs ‘nothing is got without pains-;- no pains, no gains’. Personally, my search of Samaritan manu-script-s in Old Jerusalem few years ago is still fresh in my mind. At the beginning only three such manu-script-s have been located but some detective work has led to the discovery of thirteen additional manu-script-s.