2014 / 5 / 16
The Israelite Straying in the Sinai Peninsula by Cohen Ḥ-;-usnī-;- (Yefet) ððWā-;-ṣ-;-if (Asher) the Samaritan. The Good Samaritan Center, Nablus - Gerizim Mountain, Palestine. Jerusalem - Beit Ḥ-;-anina, Palestine, Al-Quds University Publishing House, 1st ed. 2012, 287 pp. ISBN-13, 078-9950-384-00-2 (in Arabic).
Prof. Haseeb Shehadeh
Recently, an extraordinary book, written by a Samaritan about Samaritanism, has been added to the Arabic library. Its six chapters are preceded by three prefaces: one by the president of Al-Quds University, a second by the lecturer in history at the same university and a third by the author himself. In addition there is a brief survey on Samaritans (pp. 270-276), a list of abbreviations, a glossary of selected terms, a bibliography, an index of the 43 maps and a list of contents, all of which appear at the volume’s end (pp. 277-287).
Chapter one (pp. 3-44) serves as an introduction to the rest of the book. It deals with the “Hebrews” from the time of Abraham until the Exodus. The next four chapters include the 42 stations of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The last chapter divides those stations into six stages and explains the historical and geographical settings. Jacob’s male family members, numbering, about 70 in all, went to Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century BC and lived there about two centuries-;- by the time they started their 40- year trip to the Land of Canaan (Numbers 14: 29-30 ), Jacob’s descendants had grown to some two million.
The book’s author, Cohen Ḥ-;-usnī-;-, born in 1944 (and often known as Husney Cohen), is an active figure in his community on Mount Gerizim. He founded the Samaritan Youth Club in 1968 and the Good Samaritan Center in 2011-;- he is currently the -dir-ector of the Samaritan Museum established in 1997 and of its library. He has spent time and effort in preparing this volume. The primary source used by the author, as he states several times, is the Samaritan Pentateuch. This version of the Torah differs from the Masoretic text in over than 6, 000 instances. Astonishingly, the Arabic translation of the Torah used by the author is a modern Christian translation, not a Samaritan version. Although there is no mention of such a usage in the book, anyone who undertakes a painstaking comparison of the plethora of Pentateuchal quotations in Arabic with modern Christian Arabic translations would come to this conclusion. Nor has the author always followed the Samaritan version of the Torah. It seems that he intended to present a better style and language of Arabic to Arabic readers, as was done earlier with regard to Arabic translations of the Torah. Although the Arabic of this book is Modern Standard Arabic and is clear and eloquent as a whole, there are numerous linguistic mistakes –over 350 – a tremendous number, especially given that that, according to the first preface, the book was checked by a language examiner. Furthermore, the differences between the two versions of the Torah, the Samaritan and the Masoretic, has not been dealt with sufficiently.
The Samaritan Arabic version of the Torah indicated in the bibliography was not used. In fact, the version cited in the bibliography is the publication of a single manu-script- erroneously attributed to Abū-;- al-Ḥ-;-asan al-Ṣ-;-ū-;-rī-;- (Av Ḥ-;-isda) and published in Nablus and Cairo in 1978. The bibliography of 40 items is not presented as it should be. In some cases basic details are lacking, especially where manu-script-s are concerned. In many cases an inaccurate reference is given. And fundamental sources are missing, including the following: Z. Ben-Ḥ-;-ayyim’s The Literary and Oral Tradition of Hebrew and Aramaic Amongst the Samaritans-;- A. Tal’s Critical Edition of the Samaritan Targum and H. Shehadeh’s Critical Edition of the Arabic translation of the Torah. In addition the wealthy Pentateuchal Samaritan commentary preserved in manu-script-s has remained almost untouched in this volume. The author, who is well versed in this material, could have brought an original contribution to this area.
I expected to find at least a short discussion of the term tiih (not attested in the Qur˒-;-ā-;-n) in the title, since it has several meanings and perhaps does not fit this context. In the wilderness the children of Israel were guided by God through his prophet Moses and his brother Aaron. I also believe that a suitable place for a survey of the Samaritans is at the beginning of the book rather than at the end. Such a survey is required for Arabic readers whose knowledge of Samaritans, as a rule, is meagre. In this survey as well as in the other chapters, the book fell short, with errors and other faults. Some examples: Torah does not mean ‘pun’ but ‘teaching’, the word being derived from yrh, horah-;- the claim that the Samaritan language is the most ancient in the world is false as is the statement that the Jewish language is an Assyrian one altered by Ezra the scribe-;- also incorrect is the assertion that Samaritan music has over one thousand melodies. The great number of Pentateuchal quotations could have been considerably reduced by summarising the contents and referring to additional sources for comparison. The author’s point of view is obvious and understandable from the beginning, namely, that the Samaritan Torah is the authentic text. Such a belief is a matter of faith, but the author has not made any serious attempt to refute other opinions and interpretations put forward by other scholars and archeologists.
Ultimately, this book is characterised by two features: the frequent use of folk etymology and the use of gematria (or gimatia = assigning numerical value to a word´-or-phrase)-;- both have a little place in scientific writings. One of the lessons of the Exodus as stated on the book’s page 29 perhaps depicts the present situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Among other things, the author writes: “Power is not with those having a weapon and might, but with those having great patience-;- … the right way to solve a problem is by peaceful means … what is significant in the end is to reach a decision and a satisfactory result, whether peacefully´-or-militarily”.