We continue onwards through our journey of the socio-political groups of Jesus’ day with this week’s group the Samaritans. You can find the audio online at the website of Prestoncrest Church of Christ and also on my Audio Lessons page (along with the handout).
One thing I was happily surprised to discover during my studies as I prepped for the class this past week was the similarities between much of Samaritan theology and that of the early Christians, especially regarding the Taheb, the Samaritan’s messiah. If you listen to the audio lesson I gave three examples of where the Samaritan theology is strikingly similar to the book of John, and if you haven’t listened to it yet I encourage you to do so because it blew me away when I first read it. There is one more comparison I’d like to make with the Samaritans and Jesus that I did not get the chance to make in class, so join me as we jump in.
The Samaritan text I quoted from in the lesson is the Memar, compiled by the Samaritan scholar Marqah. There is a rather lengthy debate among scholars about when the Memar was written, with most putting him at the same time as the Samaritan reformer Baba Rabba (lit. meaning “Great Gate”) who lived in the late 3rd century to early 4th century AD. Some writers put him during the time of Philo (20 BC – AD 50) which would obviously be much closer to the time of Jesus. Some scholars want to place him father out into Islamic times (8th century and onwards) but this is only a minority opinion. It is likely that Marqah lived around the first few centuries of our common era.
A strong theme in Samaritanism is the coming of the Taheb, which means “restorer.” They say he will be a prophet like Moses (based on Deut. 18:15,18) and so many times when they speak of the Taheb who will come they call him Moses. The entire below excerpt is about the Taheb who will come, and was written by a scholar who has pulled together from the Memar some relevant nuggets:
“Moreover, for the Samaritans, Moses is the Taheb (“Restorer”), the expected messiah-like eschatological figure who will bring about a golden age and will pray for the guilty and save them. The Samaritans alone give prominence to the title “man of God” for Moses…Moses is a second God, God’s vice-regent upon earth (Memar Marqah 1.2), whose very name includes the title “Elokim” (God) (Memar Marqah 5.4), so that he who believes in him believes in his LORD (Memar Marqah 4.7).” (p. 397, footnote 47, Feldman, Josephus’s interpretation of the Bible)
Notice that the Taheb, while called Moses, is still to come. They are still expecting him and looking forward to the golden age that he will bring, an age that has not already been brought. The Taheb who will be like Moses would be so much like God that anyone who believes in him believes in the Taheb’s Lord (God). Now compare to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John:
“Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.'” (John 12:44-45)
Do you find it strange that Jesus was fulfilling not only Jewish messianic expectations but also Samaritan? Regardless of when the Memar was written, most scholars agree that Marqah merely collected and penned Samaritan theology that was much older than the date he wrote it down. So it’s interesting to me that the Samaritans probably held this view during the first century and Jesus, being the master teacher that he was/is, spoke to the people in a way they could understand him, using their own terms and theological ideas to reach them. It’s no wonder that (as we talked about in class last night) some of the very first converts to come into the church are Samaritans found in Acts 8.
Peace to you,