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The story of the Tower of Babel in the Samaritan book Asatir as a historical midrash on the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century C.E.

The Samaritans produced a substantial body of literature which explains and elucidates their holy Pentateuch from various angles. Most of this exegetical literature was composed in Arabic and remains unpublished to this day. (1) Only two exegetical works written in Aramaic survive from earlier times, with substantial parts of them predating the tenth century c.e.: Tibat Marqe and the Asatir. (2) They contain homilies and teachings and retell biblical stories, adding many details and apparently incorporating folktales and lore, often resembling Jewish Aggadah. Though both works are available in critical editions, (3) there are only very few studies dealing with their content and exegeses. This is especially true of the Asatir. (4)

The Asatir relates stories and legends about biblical figures from Adam to Moses. While it is difficult to date the work with precision, Ze'ev Ben-Hayyim has suggested that the text known today was produced in the late tenth century. He based his assessment on the terminology used, which in some cases points to an Islamic environment, and on linguistic reasoning: the Aramaic language employed was clearly influenced by Arabic. (5) At the same time, Ben-Hayyim was well aware of the compilatory nature of the work and stressed that it probably contains older midrashic material. (6) We shall treat one such pericope here.

The short piece is based on the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In the first section of this article we shall discuss its literary structure and exegetical aim. Based on this analysis we can then, in section two, identify the historical context of the midrash and offer a tentative dating in section three. A fourth section will discuss possible echoes of the midrash in the Samaritan Targum. The concluding section offers a wider perspective comparing aspects of the work to other exegetical literature.


The narrative section of the Asatir dedicated to the Tower of Babel is preceded by a lengthy account of how Noah divided the earth among his offspring. It also incorporates remarks on chronology. The monotonous pattern of this account, reminiscent of Genesis 10 on which it is based, is interrupted for a short note on Nimrod, who is said to have ruled over the sons of Ham and to have built the city of Babel. While the immediately following sentences return to the main theme--Noah--and relate the circumstances and time of his passing, the topic of the settlement in Babel is resumed thereafter: (7)


   And they gathered in Babel. While journeying east they found a
   valley in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. It was like the
   valley of Shechem now, (8) and the mountain was like Hargerizim.
   And they said to one another: "Is the place we are traveling to
   identifiable (literally: known)? Come on, let us build for us a
   high building so we will not wander on the face of the whole
   earth." And they built for themselves a building on the mountain,
   and they set a beacon upon it; its light was seen in all four
   directions. And they called it "shem," and this is what is said:
   "and we will make for us a shem." (Gen. 11:4) And they finished
   building, but the building was shattered, and the people were
   scattered over the face of the earth, and one of them did not know
   the other's language. And this is the reason for wars.

In the following text, various wars between different peoples are enumerated, in which Nimrod took part. (9) Even though the pericope of the Tower of Babel as such is a self-sufficient story (as indeed is its biblical predecessor), it is clearly linked to its wider context in providing the reason for the wars mentioned afterward. Moreover, its first sentence resumes the topic of the sons of Ham gathering in Babel, thus forming a link to the preceding account which mentions that Nimrod built that city. The internal logic of the pericope itself and its exegetical aim are somewhat less clear, however.

In general, a midrash draws on its source text, usually the biblical text, and changes it or adds to it in order to create new meaning. Hence, an important step in uncovering the intention or exegetical aim of the midrash is the identification of additional, extra-biblical material contained in it. This additional information is likely to be indispensable for the exegetical aim of the midrash, and is thus vital for understanding the internal logic of the text. Our text contains seven pieces of information that are not found in the biblical account of the Tower of Babel:

1) The valley of Shinar is like the valley of Shechem now, and the mountain is like Hargerizim; 2) the place is not identifiable; 3) the tower was built on a mountain; 4) a beacon was placed on the tower; 5) the whole construction was called "shem"; 6) the building was shattered; and 7) these events were the cause for wars.

In terms of methodology, we must identify three basic functional elements in order to understand our midrash: 1.1) the textual tradition that serves as its starting point, its source text; 1.2) its exegetical aims, its purpose (what is it trying to tell us about the biblical text or about another context?); and 1.3) pieces of information that serve to link the source text to the purpose of the midrash (such links usually take the form of distortions of the source text). In what follows, we will investigate to which of these functional categories each of the seven extra-biblical pieces of information from the list above should be assigned.


We shall start our analysis with the tradition that serves as the source text of the midrash. Naturally, this will be either the biblical text itself, Gen. 11:1-9 as it appears in the Samaritan Pentateuch, (10) or a tradition resembling it closely. Among the pieces of additional information there are two items, 6) and 7), that can be regarded as natural extensions of the biblical story. They do not serve a literary purpose in the pericope and are therefore probably part of its source text. They are also found in other expanded versions of the story of the Tower of Babel.

The biblical text does not speak explicitly of the shattering of the Tower of Babel. It only mentions that mankind was scattered on the face of the earth and left off building the city, and that their language was confounded (Gen. 11:7-9). The destruction of the tower is only implied by the analogy employed throughout the biblical story between the tower and the language and unity of the people. Just as God scattered the people and put an end to their unity, he also destroyed the tower, the symbol of their unity. This analogy is also reflected in the choice of words in the Asatir. The two analogous events of scattering the people and shattering the tower are expressed by the same Aramaic Dt-stem (or Gt-stem) verb, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], literally 'to be scattered'. (11)

In Samaritan Aramaic this verb is commonly used with an animate object, such as "people," rather than an inanimate one. In our text, it is clearly the force of analogy that dictated the use of the verb for expressing the shattering of the tower. The tradition explicitly mentioning the shattering of the tower is also found in Jewish sources, namely Jub. 10:26 and Sib. Or. III 97-104, which predate the Asatir. (12) It would be far-fetched, however, to surmise a literary dependency here. The shattering of the Tower of Babel was probably part of an oral tradition common to both Jewish and Samaritan circles. (13) This tradition served as the starting point for the exegetical retelling of the story in the Asatir.

The connection made in the Asatir between the events surrounding the Tower of Babel and the ensuing wars can be explained in a similar manner. It too has its roots in the logic of the biblical story, which is an etiology of how the different languages of the world came into being. Even though this step is not taken in Genesis 11, one can easily proceed further in the direction of the biblical text: Different languages mean different cultures, different cultures mean misunderstanding on various levels, which would ultimately lead to war. Just like the tradition of the destruction of the tower, this reasoning too is found in the Jewish tradition preserved in Sib. Or. III 103, which explains that the events of the Tower of Babel lead to "strife" among mankind. (14)

The tradition that served as the starting point for the midrash in the Asatir apparently incorporated the extra-biblical elements 6) and 7) from the list above. Even though constituting information not explicitly included in Genesis 11, both the destruction of the tower and the suggestion that these events were the cause for wars are to a certain degree implied in the logic of the biblical story. They are therefore "natural" additions and do not contain exegesis. As "natural" additions, both elements are also found in other Jewish versions of the story of the Tower of Babel, and one can surmise that they were part of a slightly expanded tradition, probably oral in nature, that was commonly known in Samaritan as well as Jewish circles in Late Antiquity.


In terms of internal literary logic, the purpose of the piece is clear. There is only one item on the list of extra-biblical additions that has some relevance for the Samaritans and their creed: item 1), which equates the valley of Shinar with the valley of Shechem, and the mountain in that valley with Hargerizim. Because of the importance of Hargerizim and Shechem for the Samaritans, this equation was probably central for the midrash, and can therefore either be identified as its exegetical aim, or directly connected to it. Incidentally, the midrash does not equate the valley of Shinar with the valley of Shechem in general, but with "the valley of Shechem now," supposedly referring to the time of the composition of the midrash. This reference to the present of the author and/or his audience makes it even more likely that item 1) refers to the purpose of the midrash.

Even though the internal literary logic of the pericope strongly suggests that the equation of Babel with Shechem and Hargerizim is central to the midrash, it seems hard to reconcile this equation with Samaritan beliefs. For the Tower of Babel is associated with sin against God, with evil deeds, and with paganism, both in the underlying biblical story and in the Asatir, whereas Hargerizim is the single most holy place for the Samaritans, their religious center. Equating the Tower of Babel with Hargerizim would seem to make no sense in a Samaritan midrash. It would rather fit a Jewish or Christian work with an anti-Samaritan slant. We shall leave the puzzling issue of the purpose of the midrash for now and turn to the remaining items on our list of extra-biblical additions.


Having identified items 1), 6), and 7) as expressions of the purpose and as parts of the source text of the midrash, respectively, we can surmise that the remaining extra-biblical pieces of information were introduced into the story in order to serve its literary purpose and in order to bring the source text into line with it. We shall now discuss each of these items for itself and try to establish its literary function. Why is the respective information given in the story and how does it relate to the purpose we identified?

Item 3), establishing that the Tower of Babel was built on a mountain, is directly connected to the purpose of the midrash. It fosters the equation of Babel and its tower with Hargerizim. According to Genesis 11, the parallelism between the two locations is partial at best. Certainly, both contain a valley: the valley in the land of Shinar mentioned in Gen. 11:2 and the valley of Shechem, respectively. In addition, adjacent to both locations there is a kind of elevation: the tower reaching to heaven (Gen. 11:4) in Babel and Hargerizim overlooking Shechem. While their height accounts for some sort of parallel between the Tower of Babel and the mountain next to Shechem, this parallelism is made more explicit by stating that the tower itself was built on a mountain. Item 3) thus twists the source text to bring it closer to the geographic reality of Hargerizim. The connection of the other pieces of extra-biblical information to the purpose of the midrash is far less obvious.

One can assume that item 4) is also directly connected to the equation of the Tower of Babel with Hargerizim. It describes one feature of the outer appearance of the tower in greater detail: A beacon was placed on it to be seen from all four directions. It is not at all clear, however, how this piece of information would facilitate equating the two locations, for neither is a beacon or any kind of fire mentioned in Genesis 11 in connection with the Tower of Babel, nor was Hargerizim usually associated with such a device. If one wanted to push it, one could think of the fire on the altar or--ven more hypothetically--of the fire of the Samaritan Passover sacrifice, but these could hardly be seen from a distance.

While it is difficult to grasp why the beacon was mentioned at all in the midrash, general considerations might at least provide a clue. As we have seen above, item 3) is introduced into the midrash in order to make the facts given in its source text compatible with the equation of the Tower of Babel with Hargerizim. It twists the biblical source text to make it resemble the geographic reality of Hargerizim, and not the other way around. Assuming that item 4) follows the same general direction of interpretation, the beacon on the Tower of Babel would be a similar literary alteration. The real beacon, the one that triggered the introduction of item 4) into the midrash, should then be looked for on Hargerizim. This line of thought is supported by the following analysis of items 2) and 5), for these depend on the mention of the beacon and go a long way in order to explain its existence, thereby clearly twisting the facts narrated in Genesis 11.

Item 2) spells out the incentive for building the tower according to the midrash. When the people first came to Babel, the place was in no way different from the surrounding landscape. It could not easily be identified by the passerby. The tower was therefore built as a landmark, making the dwelling place identifiable even from afar. This is how I interpret the direct speech, incorporating a partial translation of Gen. 11:4, at the beginning of the pericope: "Is the place we are traveling to identifiable? Come on, let us build for us a high building so we will not wander on the face of the whole earth."

The rhetorical question begs a negative answer. No, the place is not identifiable, but that can be changed by building the tower, which would make the place easily recognizable and prevent people from wandering around disoriented. The crux of this interpretation is the Aramaic word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which is to be analyzed as a G-stem passive participle of the root hkm and would be translated literally as 'known'. (15) Even though the meaning 'to recognize' for hkm is not recorded in the dictionary of Samaritan Aramaic, it does not seem too far-fetched to suppose that it existed, as indeed it did in the closely related Jewish Palestinian Aramaic. (16) Hence, I surmise that the passive participle [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] carries a slightly different though related meaning in our context: 'recognizable' or 'identifiable'. (17)

If this is indeed the meaning of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in our context, the relation of item 2) to the beacon of item 4) comes to the fore. In the internal literary logic of the midrash, item 2) provides the reason for the beacon that was placed on the tower. If the tower was built in order to make Babel recognizable from afar, as implied by 2), a beacon on top of it would surely have enhanced that purpose. It is thus obvious that items 2) and 4) are dependent on one another, but the direction of this literary dependency is still to be determined. Which of the two was the datum, the given information, and which was introduced by the author in order to prop up this datum?

The analysis of item 5) will hopefully provide the answer. It contains the only explicit piece of exegesis in the pericope. Quoting the Hebrew words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of Gen. 11:4 as proof text, it maintains that "they (the people) called it (the tower) shem." This is a rather strange understanding of the three words, which are simply rendered as "and let us make for us a name/reputation" in common Jewish and Christian translations, ancient and modern. In order to assess the implications of this exegesis for our midrash we have to establish how the Samaritans usually understood these words. Supposedly, the rendering would only be significant if the interpretation given in the Asatir deviates from the regular Samaritan understanding. What, then, is the traditional Samaritan understanding of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

According to the Samaritan Targum in all its recensions, the sentence was understood in its common sense: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "and let us make for us a name." (18) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was certainly not understood as a proper name by the Targum. One detail of the traditional Samaritan pronunciation of the Pentateuch points in the same direction. (19) The tradition sometimes employs different vowel patterns for one and the same word in order to express different shades of meaning. (20) This phenomenon is also attested with the noun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Wherever the literal meaning 'name' is intended, the word is pronounced as sam. The meaning 'reputation', however, is expressed by the pronunciation sem, which is the traditional pronunciation in Gen. 11:4. (21) Moreover, this is also how the word is vocalized in the Asatir manuscript published by Ben-Hayyim. (22) It is thus clear that the traditional Samaritan understanding of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was indeed "let us make for us a reputation." This interpretation echoes in the vocalization of DIP in the Asatir and was therefore in all likelihood known to its author. Why did he abandon it?

In the framework of the biblical story, Gen. 11:4 provides the reasoning of the people for building the tower: Building it, so they say, will earn them a reputation and will then prevent them from being scattered over the earth. But this reasoning contradicts item 2) from our midrash, which states that the tower was built in order to render the place identifiable. In the Asatir, the tower is built as a landmark, not for fame. I surmise that item 5) was introduced into the midrash in order to eliminate the "double" reason for building the tower, and to bring Gen. 11:4 into line with the new function of the tower given in the Asatir. Since the words supplying the biblical reason are plain and can hardly be understood in a manner different from the traditional one, the author of the Asatir takes the emergency exit: He suggests that sem is a proper name, the name given to the tower, and a mere homonym of the noun sem meaning 'reputation'.

This explanation of the wording of the biblical text is obviously forced. We may therefore assume that the author had a strong interest in introducing it nevertheless. Somehow this forced interpretation contained in item 5) was essential for the midrash. But this item has clear literary connections with items 2) and 4). To me, the internal logic of the midrash suggests the following chain of dependencies: Item 5), interpreting sem in Gen. 11:4 as a proper name, justifies item 2), adducing identifiability as the new reason for building the tower, which in turn justifies item 4), the fact that a beacon was placed on the tower. In other words, the author of the Asatir went a long way in order to explain the beacon, and items 2) and 5) are merely two steps on this journey. Apparently, the beacon is an essential datum in the midrash, although one whose connection to the overall purpose of the story remains unclear for now.

We have subjected the seven extra-biblical pieces of information from the midrash to a detailed literary analysis, determining their functions in the framework of the story. An expanded tradition of the biblical story, explicitly mentioning the facts that the tower was destroyed and that the events were the cause for war, serves as source text and starting point for the exegesis. The finish, the exegetical purpose of the story, is also clear; as clear, at least, as it can be, based on literary analysis alone. The midrash wants to equate the valley of Shinar with the valley of Shechem, and the mountain with Hargerizim. Methodologically, we would expect all other extra-biblical pieces of information to prop up this purpose. There are two such pieces: one stating that the Tower of Babel was built on a mountain and the other one mentioning that a beacon was placed atop the tower (which triggered two further additions). The first item does indeed support the equation of Babel and Hargerizim, but the literary role of the beacon remains shrouded in mystery, even though it definitely constitutes a key element in the story. We will follow its light in the next section.


The analysis in the preceding section provided us with a basic understanding of the internal literary logic of the midrash. Two enigmas remain, however, and it seems they cannot be solved by literary analysis alone. While it is clear that the literary purpose of the pericope is to equate Babel with Hargerizim, it is far less clear just why a Samaritan would want to make such an equation, likening his holiest place to a pagan structure. The second enigma is the beacon: It is apparently central to the midrash, but so far we have not succeeded in identifying the historical fire it refers to. We shall continue our inquiry by trying to match historical facts about Hargerizim with pieces of information supplied by the midrash which could possibly be references to real events and facts.

There are five pieces of information in the midrash that might reflect historical facts, a) There was a high building on Hargerizim. b) It had a beacon or another source of light attached to its top. Since there is no literary explanation for the beacon it is probably historical. c) The building was non-Samaritan; otherwise Samaritans would not have associated it with the negative image of the Tower of Babel, d) The building was destroyed, e) The building and/or its destruction was the cause for wars.

Once we assume that the purpose of the midrash is to equate a historical building on Hargerizim with the Tower of Babel, item c) narrows down our options drastically, for there were not many sizable non-Samaritan buildings on the mount. One could think of the temple of Zeus erected on the peak of the northern ridge of Hargerizim in the second century C.E. and presumably destroyed by the Samaritans in the fourth century. (23) The other option is the church of Mary Theotokos built on the summit by the Byzantine emperor Zenon around 489 C.E. (24) Both structures were high non-Samaritan buildings that were destroyed at some point during the Byzantine period. However, it is only the church that can be associated with a beacon and with ensuing wars. I propose that the Asatir equates the Tower of Babel with the church of Mary Theotokos on Hargerizim, and likens the events told in its source text--Gen. 11:1-9 and items 6) and 7) from our list above--to the historical events surrounding this church in the fifth and sixth centuries. In order to support this interpretation, I will first review the historiographical and archaeological evidence attesting to the outer appearance of the church. (25)

The sixth-century Byzantine writer Procopius relates that the church of Mary Theotokos was built by Zenon as punishment for a Samaritan uprising that erupted in Neapolis/ Shechem in the year 484. He goes on to give an account of the church's appearance: (26)

He drove out the Samaritans from Mt. Garizin and straightway handed it over to the Christians, and building a church on the summit he dedicated it to the Mother of God, putting a barrier, as it was made to appear, around this church, though in reality he erected only a light wall of stone. And he established a garrison of soldiers, placing a large number in the city below, but not more than ten men at the fortifications and the church. The Samaritans resented this, and chafed bitterly in their vexation and deplored their condition, but through fear of the Emperor they bore their distress in silence. (Buildings V 7)

Zenon knew that a Christian place of worship on their holy mount would enrage the Samaritans. Hence, he fortified the church and set up a small garrison of ten soldiers to guard it. The main imperial military force was stationed in the city below. The logic of Zenon's military strategy becomes more obvious when we combine Procopius' information with an account of the same events by the Samaritan author Abu 1-Fath. Based on earlier sources, he composed in 1355 C.E. the Arabic chronicle Kitab at-tarih, which contains a short report on the church: (27)

   He (Zenon) built a Church inside the Temple (28) and on the Church
   he constructed a very high Tower which he painted white and from
   which lamps were hung to glow in the night to let those in
   Constantinople and Rome see.

Apparently the soldiers stationed at the church used lamps--the beacon from our midrash--as signaling devices to alert the main garrison in the city below in the case of a Samaritan attack. (29) Fighting from inside their fortification, they could easily ward off potential attackers until re-enforcements were brought up from the city. This tactic aimed to keep the church safe from attack.

While archaeology cannot verify the existence of signaling devices on the church, the material remains fit well with the rest of the description. The church of Mary Theotokos was part of a building complex. It stood in a rectangular courtyard with a peristyle surrounded by a wall, seven meters high and fortified with six towers, one of which contained the single, gated entrance to the complex. The archaeological remains clearly suggest that the church, courtyard, and fortifications were built at the same time. (30) The church itself was octagonal and would have featured an oblate, dome-like roof considerably higher than the surrounding walls of the fortifications, thus resembling a huge tower. (31)

In fact, in describing Zenon's building activities on Hargerizim, the Samaritan chronicle Tulida from the middle of the twelfth century speaks of a tower, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], where the church of Mary Theotokos is meant. (32) If we are to trust Abu l-Fath's description of the use of the beacon, it was probably installed on the top of the church itself--the tower of the Tulida--not on a tower of the fortifications. For the Arabic word that is somewhat freely rendered as 'tower' in Stenhouse's English translation above is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'dome', (33) and it refers in all likelihood to the octagon centerpiece of the church with its domed roof.

In sum, the archaeological remains of the church of Mary Theotokos support the details of its design and defensive tactics as related by Procopius and Abu l-Fath. Their reports seem reliable. The signaling lamps mentioned in Abu l-Fath's report were part of the defensive strategy, which makes it likely that they, too, represent historically reliable facts. Accordingly, the fortified church of Mary Theotokos on Hargerizim, with its high, domed roof used for light signals, must have been the blueprint for the description of the Tower of Babel in the Asatir. Based on these historical facts, it becomes evident why the Asatir states that a beacon was placed on the tower to be seen from all four directions, and how the mention of the beacon would support the purpose of the midrash, equating the tower with a building on Hargerizim.

Thus far, we have shown that the church of Mary Theotokos matches three items from our above list of possible historical references: It was a high (a), non-Samaritan (c) building with a beacon on its top (b). But other historical circumstances fit this analogy as well. The church was attacked as least twice and perhaps demolished by the Samaritans before it was finally destroyed in the eighth century. Procopius tells of an unsuccessful Samaritan attempt to demolish the church in the reign of the Emperor Anastasius (491-518). (34) Even though a small group of Samaritans managed to overcome the few guards on the fortifications, they waited in vain for help from their coreligionists and were ultimately repelled by imperial forces, apparently before they could inflict serious damage on the church.

The evidence for the great Samaritan revolt of 529-530 is less decisive, but Procopius relates that Justinian, after having put down the uprising, rebuilt five Christian shrines on Hargerizim that had been torched by the Samaritans. (35) Because of the symbolic nature of the building, one may surmise that the church of Mary Theotokos was among these, but there is no absolute proof for this. (36) If the church was indeed demolished and later restored, this can have been only a partial destruction. For the archaeological evidence does not attest to renovations, and the demolishing cannot, therefore, have affected the foundations of the building. (37) Following these events the church stood on the mount until it was finally destroyed by a group of Samaritans implementing an order from a local Muslim governor. Based on the "Continuado" of Abu l-Fath's chronicle, this destruction can be dated to the reign of Caliph al-Mansur (754-775). (38)

Since the incident under Anastasius hardly affected the building proper, the destruction of the church implied by the Asatir must refer either to the events during the rebellion of 529-530 or to the church's final dilapidation in the eighth century. Indeed, both events were followed by violence. Justinian's "roaring rampage of revenge" left at least 20,000 Samaritans dead, and approximately twice as many fled their homeland.* * 39 Admittedly, the events under al-Mansur caused only slight immediate punishment by the Muslim rulers, but the Abbasid period as a whole was dire for the Samaritans, who suffered from heavy taxation, natural disasters, and constant raids by plundering and murdering bandits. Whoever survived the pillage of the countryside moved to Shechem/Nablus. Thus, the Samaritan community, which once inhabited numerous rural villages in Samaria, was essentially reduced to a few thousand townspeople. (40) Both events resemble items d) and e) from the list of possible historical references in the Asatir: destruction of the building and ensuing violence. But which identification is more likely?

There are pros and cons for both positions. The fact that the final destruction of the church occurred in the eighth century would be an argument for identifying the events in the Abbasid period as the blueprint for the story in the Asatir. On the other hand, the dire circumstances of the Samaritans in this period are hardly a direct outcome of the destruction. This is not the case with the events in the years 529-530. Even though the destruction of the church in the course of the Samaritan rebellion was only temporary, these events and the violence and death that were inflicted on the community during the crushing of the revolt are clearly connected with the building. (41)

Hence, Justinian's military campaign, which suppressed the uprising, constitutes a good parallel to the war caused by the destruction of the Tower of Babel according to the Asatir. Furthermore, not only did this campaign leave thousands of Samaritans dead, it also caused many more to flee the country, and yet others were taken as booty and sold as slaves. (42) One could argue that these refugees and exiled slaves are "the people scattered over the face of the earth," who are mentioned in the biblical story and in the Asatir. These parallels tip the scales in the direction of the Samaritan rebellion of 529-530. (43)

The assumption that the events of 529-530 were the blueprint on which the midrash in the Asatir was modeled fits in well with another piece of evidence. In the Asatir, Nimrod is associated with building the Tower of Babel and he participates in at least some of the wars that follow its destruction. (44) Based on folk etymology, the Samaritans derived Nimrod's name from the root [square root] mrd and saw him as a 'rebel'. Thus, his Hebrew epithet [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] from Gen. 10:9 is rendered as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'mighty rebel/oppressor' in the Samaritan Targum. (45) Nimrod's deeds were rebellious acts against God and this was made explicit in his name. The topos of revolt and rebellion is relevant for the events of 529-530, too. For the term "Samaritan Rebellion" employed by modern historians is by no means anachronistic. It was already used in contemporaneous Christian historiography, such as the Chronographia of John Malalas, where the rebellion is once referred to by this very term: 'rebellion of the Samaritans'. (46)

To Samaritan ears, the mentioning of Nimrod, "the mighty rebel," in the midrash of the Asatir would have sounded like a pun on the official Christian view of the events of 529-530. Whereas according to the Byzantine perception it was the Samaritans who rebelled, the Asatir--when read with an understanding of the folk etymology of Nimrod's name--has it the other way around: The builder of the tower/church, the emperor Zenon, and the one responsible for the ensuing violence, the emperor Justinian, are depicted as Nimrod, the rebel. It is not the Samaritans who rebel against the emperors, but rather the emperors who rebel against God.

All in all, the midrash in the Asatir thus rests on the following analogies between the events surrounding the Tower of Babel and those surrounding the church of Mary Theotokos:

Babel, in the valley of Shinar  =  Shechem, in its valley
Tower                           =  Church of Mary Theotokos
 On a Mountain                  =    On Hargerizim
 With a beacon                  =    With a beacon
 Built by sinners under Nimrod  =    Built by Byzantine emperor
 Destroyed by God               =    Destroyed by Samaritans
Cause for wars involving        =  Cause for wars involving the emperor

The crucial point in this analogy is the equation of the tower with the church. In order to make this equation work, the midrash alters the biblical source text significantly and ascribes characteristics of the latter to the former. As a result, a very favorable and comforting narrative of the events of the Samaritan revolts in 484 and 529-530 unfolds: In an attempt to defy God, the contemporaneous version of the rebel Nimrod, the emperor Zenon, builds a church on Hargerizim. The Samaritans cannot let this stand and destroy the church, thereby executing God's will. After the destruction, another Nimrod, the emperor Justinian, takes bloody revenge on them. To the Samaritan survivors of the devastation inflicted by Justinian it must have been comforting to know that the war from which they suffered was inevitably connected to the righteous act of destroying the church. The loss in lives and property that the community had to bear were the price for fulfilling God's will.


In the preceding section we established the historical context to which the Asatir most probably refers. The most recent event, the Samaritan rebellion of 529-530, is the terminus post quern for the dating of the pericope. But is it possible to date its composition more precisely? For the midrash to work, it is necessary that the addressee understand the subtle historical references in the text. Checking these against the historical reality can therefore help us to establish a terminus ante quern. Once the architectural reality on Hargerizim no longer resembled the tower described in the Asatir, the text became enigmatic. (47) We shall concentrate here on two essential features: the existence of a high building on Hargerizim and the beacon.

As explained above, the church of Mary Theotokos itself was burned during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur (754-775). However, there remained high structures on the mountain that could have evoked the association intended by the Asatir even after the eighth century. Even though they were lower than the church proper, the fortifications originally surrounding it would be a candidate. They were standing seven meters high and incorporated towers. According to the Continuado of Abu l-Fath's chronicle, they were destroyed in the reign of the Caliph al-Ma'mun (813-83 3). (48) Another, less probable candidate would be the Wali Sayh Ganim, which was erected on whatever remained of the northeastern tower of the church fortifications in the twelfth century, and which still stands today. (49) The reference to a high building on Hargerizim could thus be understood until at least the ninth, perhaps even after the twelfth century.

On the other hand, it is difficult to reconcile the reference to the beacon with a date later than the Byzantine period. One can surmise that the signaling device mentioned by Abu l-Fath was reinstalled when the church was restored under Justinian and probably remained in use until the Muslim conquest. Theoretically, the new rulers of Nablus might have continued a similar practice, but the Continuatio clearly connects the light with the Byzantines when talking about the final destruction of the church, (50) which makes it unlikely that by the eighth century there was still a beacon on the mount. The reliance of the Asatir on architectural elements that disappeared from Hargerizim between the seventh and ninth centuries clearly suggests an earlier date for the composition of the midrash.

Byzantine environment is also implied by the pun on the official designation of the events of 529-530 as the "Samaritan Rebellion," although the midrash as a whole is not rendered incomprehensible if the wordplay is missed. Indeed, one could argue that the pun is accidental and was not intended by the author. The overall intention of the midrash is more decisive for dating. If indeed it was composed in order to reconcile the Samaritan survivors of Justinian's revenge with their fate, it can hardly postdate the year 600 or so. Given the inherent uncertainty in identifying the intention of literary compositions, it is perhaps best to retain the seventh century as terminus ante quem, even though an earlier date is probable.

The little we know about how the Asatir was understood by the Samaritans in the Muslim period confirms an early date for the pericope. There are two Arabic treatises--part translation, part explanation--that were written to elucidate the Aramaic text of the Asatir. The earlier does not predate the twelfth century, and the other is even later. Although these texts are not available in critical editions, it is clear from the published translations that they did not recognize the historical background of the story of the Tower of Babel in the Asatir. (51) Once the distinctive architectural features were removed from the mountain in the seventh century, the midrash became incomprehensible.


In a comment that accompanies his English translation of the Asatir, Gaster noted that the gloss 'lighthouse' is already found in the Samaritan Targum to Gen. 11:4. (52) As often, Gaster did not state precisely which word his remark referred to, but a glance at the then-available editions of the Targum turns up [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as a likely candidate. (53) This word is a Samaritan Aramaic hapax of uncertain meaning, which translates the Hebrew in MS A of Tal's edition. (54) One may surmise that Gaster connected it with the Aramaic root [square root] yqd 'to burn' and thus arrived at the meaning 'lighthouse'. This etymology receives some support from another Targum rendering in the preceding verse, where the Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "let us burn (bricks) thoroughly" is glossed by the same Aramaic root [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (55) Could [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] be a defective spelling of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], with the initial [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] taken as part of the word? The fact that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] from v. 3 is not found in MS A, the manuscript that has [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in v. 4, makes this reasoning unlikely. But even if we grant such influence, there remains a wide semantic gap between [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'burning' and 'lighthouse'. The Aramaic hapax thus remains enigmatic and cannot be read as a hint as to the midrash in the Asatir. (56)

It seems, however, that Gaster was not altogether wrong in directing our attention to the Samaritan Targum. Even though [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in v. 4 cannot be connected to the Asatir, two other renderings of Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Gen. 11:5 and v. 8 can. (57) Targum MS A reads [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in v. 5 and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in v. 8. The former word designates an 'elevated structure' or 'tower' in Samari tan Aramaic. (58) The meaning of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], once again a hapax, has not yet been determined with certainty. (59) I propose that this is a corrupted spelling of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], literally 'the firmament of heaven'. (60) This is one of the renderings of Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Samaritan Targum MS E (Gen 1:20), (61) the others being [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Gen. 1:14.15) and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Gen. 1:17). Thus, both Aramaic terms which render [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Gen. 11:5.8, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], also appear in the Targum to Genesis 1, where they translate [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the phrase [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Given that this particular phrase is found in the Samaritan Pentateuch only in the four verses indicated, it is very likely that the translator of Targum MS A Genesis 11 picked the words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] deliberately in order to evoke Gen. 1:14, 15, 17, 20. (62) He could have done so in order to liken the height of the tower in Genesis 11 to the firmament. Note, however, that in Gen. 1:14.15.17 the "firmament of heaven" is the place where "the two big lights" are placed, to shine on the earth. (63) The translator of Genesis 11 in MS A thus glossed the Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the Tower of Babel, with terms that designate a high structure with lights on it. If indeed the lights from Gen. 1:14, 15, 17 were crucial for his choice of words, this would imply that he associated the Tower of Babel with lights, and consequently that he knew the midrash tradition preserved in the Asatir. There is no evidence, however, that he would also have known of the underlying identification of the Tower of Babel with the church on Hargerizim.


In this paper I have presented a close literary analysis of the pericope of the Tower of Babel in the Samaritan book Asatir. Based on this analysis, I established that historical events from the fifth and sixth centuries that affected the church of Mary Theotokos on Hargerizim served as a blueprint for the midrash. We have tentatively dated the composition between 531 and sometime in the seventh century. Echoes of the text can possibly be identified in one manuscript of the Samaritan Targum. I will now place our findings in a wider perspective.

The midrash as I read it can be discussed under three aspects. First, one can compare it to other interpretations of Genesis 11, especially contemporary Jewish ones. Second, taking a methodological and taxonomical approach, one can classify the method of exegesis and look for interpretations (not restricted to Genesis 11) employing a similar methodology. And third, one can assess the midrash as a historical source for the Samaritan revolts in the sixth century.

As for the first category, a comparison with Jewish material shows the Asatir to be unique in almost every respect. Jewish midrashim on Genesis 11 retain the general motif of the biblical text and read the story of the Tower of Babel as an etiology on how the different languages of the world evolved. They embellish the biblical text but do not alter its overall character and intention. (64) In the Asatir, on the other hand, the confusion of languages is mentioned only in passing as a marginal detail.

The text is only at first sight a midrash on the Tower of Babel. Quite the other way around, it uses Genesis 11 and adapts its text to fit the events of 529 and explain them theologically. The text represents pure eisegesis of Genesis 11 (or, if one prefers, exegesis of the historical events). Hence, comparing the story in the Asatir to Jewish midrashim on Genesis 11 is to compare apples and oranges. While there are superficial similarities in detail, such as the association of the tower with military purposes also found, for example, in Targums Neophyti and Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. 11:4, the Asatir is fundamentally different. This difference is inherently connected to its exegetical methodology, our second category.

All but strictly literal exegesis reads new content into the text to be interpreted, thus contextualizing it. Midrashim differ in the extent to which they do so, from adding or adjusting minor details to outright and extensive eisegesis. The midrash in the Asatir represents such eisegesis in extremo. In addition, it has two other characteristics that set it off from most midrashim: It refers to specific historical events as an intrinsic part of the interpretation, and its proof text for this contextualization is not prophetic. (65)

It is hard to come by Jewish or Samaritan texts that share these two characteristics. (66) The pesher exegesis of the Qumran community could be adduced as a parallel. It contextualizes scripture, just as the Asatir does. (67) But in most cases it refers only to general historical circumstances and not to specific events. (68) Additionally, the texts explained by the pesher are usually prophetic and clearly refer to the future. Contemporaneous events could thus easily be interpreted eschatologically as fulfilling these predictions. This is different in the Asatir, which interprets a non-prophetic text that speaks about the past.

There is, however, one piece of historical pesher exegesis that does relate to specific historical events and resembles more closely the kind of interpretation employed in the Asatir. In 4QpIsaa, the prophecies of Isa. 10:24-34 are interpreted as reflecting the military campaign of Ptolemy Lathyrus in 103-101 B.C.E. and his march on Jerusalem, which was stopped before he could conquer the city. (69) Thus far, the exegetical methodology does not differ from other pesharim that evoke contemporaneous circumstances.

In this case, however, it is most likely that the author of the pesher considered Isaiah's original prophecy as having already been fulfilled by Sennacherib's military campaign and siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.GE. (70) In applying Isa. 10:24-34 to events from 101 B.C.E., the author of the pesher was therefore not only claiming the fulfillment of a prophecy, as is usually the case in this genre. He was rather supposing a reenactment of the historical events to which Isaiah's prophecy originally referred: Ptolemy Lathyrus was stopped short of conquering Jerusalem, just as Sennacherib had been earlier. It is in that sense that this particular piece of pesher exegesis parallels the method of interpretation in the Asatir. In both cases "historical" events related in scripture are read as a blueprint for contemporaneous events and are used to make sense of the latter. The exegete assumes that history repeats itself and that historical events from his days follow patterns revealed in scripture.

Even though we could adduce one pesher parallel for the method of exegesis employed in the Asatir, the fact remains that in terms of interpretative methodology the pericope is unique. While Jewish and Samaritan exegesis constantly engages in contextualization in order to make the stories of scripture understandable for contemporary audiences or to make Halakha applicable in changed circumstances, the extent to which this is done in this midrash in the Asatir is extraordinary. It sets this piece apart from other midrashim. Typologically, it represents eisegesis in extremo, to an extent that one could speak of the inversion of interpret anclum and interpretans: The biblical story is adduced to explain the historical events of 529.

This leads us to a third important aspect of the pericope: its relevance as a historical source. We do not possess Samaritan literary works composed in the period between the fifth and tenth centuries GE. (71) While it has always been assumed that parts of Tibat Marqe and the Asatir might originally date from this period, the midrash discussed in this article is the first text that we can ascribe to it with reasonable certainty. As such, it is a most important historical source. (72)

But not only do we lack Samaritan texts from the fifth to tenth centuries; even later Samaritan historiographical works remain silent on major events during that period, most conspicuously on the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century. In the Tulida, in the Chain of High Priests, in Abu 1-Fath's chronicle, and in the New Chronicle, Zenon is presented as the last Byzantine emperor before Muhammad appears on the scene. (73) The uprisings of the Samaritans against Byzantium and the bloody punishment inflicted upon them in return are glossed over in these sources. (74) The silence is conspicuous and probably results from selective retention and the deliberate attempt by later generations to cope with the horrible events by suppressing all memory of them. (75) The midrash represents an earlier Samaritan attempt to consolidate the community and restore confidence in their faith in the wake of the revolt of 529, an attempt that probably dates to a time when eye-witnesses or their immediate offspring were still alive and struggling to come to terms with their experiences. The pericope in the Asatir is the only source that presents a Samaritan view of the revolt.

A recent anthology edited by Martin Goodman and Philip Alexander sets out to demonstrate what Rabbinic sources can contribute to the history of Israel in the late Roman and Byzantine period. (76) I hope to have shown that Samaritan texts too--Aramaic as well as Arabic--are worth considering in this context.

The basic idea presented here was first developed for the Samaritan section of the course "Receptiegeschiedenis van de hebreeuwse bijbel: De toren van Babel" taught in the spring semester 2012 at Leiden University. I thank Steven E. Fassberg, who read an earlier draft of this article.

Christian Stadel Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

(1.) For a general overview of Samaritan Midrash and exegesis, see Alan D. Crown, "Samaritan Midrash," in Encyclopaedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism, ed. Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 762-77. For an overview of commentary literature in Arabic, see Haseeb Shehadeh, "Commentaries on the Torah," in A Companion to Samaritan Studies, ed. Alan D. Crown et al. (Tubingen: Mohr, 1993), 59-61, and the excellent recent survey by Frank Weigelt, "Die exegetische Literatur der Samaritaner," in >>Durch dein Wort wand jegliches Ding!<< 2. manddistische und samaritanistische Tagung, ed. Rainer Voigt (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013), 343-90 (esp. 353-69).

(2.) Another work, the Molad Moshe, might also contain early midrashic material. One manuscript of the text has been published by Selig J. Miller, The Samaritan Molad Mosheh: Samaritan and Arabic Texts Edited and Translated (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949). Its language, however, represents the artificial Hybrid Samaritan Hebrew rather than Aramaic; see Moshe Florentin, Late Samaritan Hebrew: A Linguistic Analysis of Its Different Types (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 280-334, who discusses two lexical items.

(3.) Ze'ev Ben-Hayyim, Tibat Marqe: A Collection of Samaritan Midrashim (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1988) (Hebrew); idem, "The Book Asatir (with Translation and Commentary)," Tarbiz 14 (1943): 104-25, 174-90; 15 (1944): 71-87, 128 (Hebrew).

(4.) A lengthy commentary accompanies the editio princeps by Moses Gaster, The Asatir: The Samaritan Book of the Secrets of Moses together with the Pitron or Samaritan Commentary and the Samaritan Story of the Death of Moses (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1927). The edition is unreliable, however, and this also affects the commentary. Only four articles treat individual aspects of the Asatir at some length: Stephen Gero, "The Enigma of the Magician Lopates (Pliny, Naturalis Historia XXX, 11)," JSJ 27 (1996): 304-23 (esp. 313-23); Lester L. Grabbe, "Jubilees and the Samaritan Tradition," in Enoch and the Mosaic Torah: The Evidence of Jubilees, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini and Giovanni Ibba (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009), 145-59; Jean-Marie Duchemin, "La question des sources de L'Asatir: L'exemple des recits antediluviens," in Die Samaritaner und die Bibel: Historische und literarische Wechselwirkungen zwischen biblischen und samaritanischen Traditionen, ed. Jorg Frey et al. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), 323-38, and Christophe Bonnard, "Targums samaritains et tradition du Second Temple," in The Targums in the Light of Traditions of the Second Temple Period, ed. Thierry Legrand and Jan Joosten (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 84-94. The commentary attached to Ben-Hayyim's edition "Asatir" is mainly concerned with linguistic issues.

(5.) Ben-Hayyim, "Asatir," 109-12, cited approvingly by Abraham Tal, "Samaritan Literature," in The Samaritans, ed. Alan D. Crown (Tubingen: Mohr, 1989), 413-67 (at 466), and Crown, "Samaritan Midrash," 771.

(6.) Ben-Hayyim, "Asatir," 111.

(7.) The Aramaic text follows Ben-Hayyim, "Asatir," 118, but I have omitted the occasional vowel signs. The English translation is mine.

(8.) The Aramaic translates literally as 'immediately', but is also used as a conjunction expressing simultaneity; Abraham Tal, A Dictionary of Samaritan Aramaic (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 881. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] regularly translates Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Samaritan Targum (Jean Margain, Les particules dans le Targum samaritain de Gen'ese-Exode [Geneve: Droz, 1993], 256-58), and the same word is rendered [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'now' in the Samaritan Arabic translation; Hasseb Shehadeh, The Arabic Translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch. Vol. I: Genesis-Exodus (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1989) (Hebrew), e.g., in Gen. 12:13, 13:8. Hence, there is good reason to translate [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as 'now', following Ben-Hayyim, "Asatir," 185.

(9.) Actually, the Asatir (Ben-Hayyim, "Asatir," 119, 10b) mentions at least two Nimrods.

(10.) The text is essentially the same in the Masoretic text and the Samaritan Pentateuch; see The Pentateuch: The Samaritan Version and the Masoretic Version, ed. Abraham Tal and Moshe Florentin (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Univ. Press, 2010), ad loc. (Hebrew).

(11.) See Tal, Dictionary, 82-83, who parses the forms as Dt-stems.

(12.) The connection with the Sibylline Oracles was first noted by Gaster, Asatir, 11-15. For a translation of the relevant passage of the Oracles, see Rieuwerd Buitenwerf, Book III of the Sibylline Oracles and Its Social Setting (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 153. Buitenwerf suggests a date between 80 and 40 B.C.E. for the text (ibid., 387).

(13.) Buitenwerf, Sibylline Oracles, 171, 326, argues that this piece of information was part of an established oral tradition in Jewish circles by the first century b.c.e., and that the oracle is not directly dependent on the Book of Jubilees. This tradition survived into later times; the partial destruction of the tower is also mentioned in Gen. Rab. par. 38:8. The Arabic version of the Samaritan book of Joshua preserves the tradition as well: Theodor W. J. Juynboll, Chronicon samaritanum arabice conscriptum cui titulus est Liber Joshuae (Leiden: Luchtmans, 1848), 29 (Arabic pagination) last line.

(14.) Once again, the motive is also found in later Jewish sources: Tg. Ps.-J. to Gen. 11:8; Pirqe R. El. par. 24 toward the end.

(15.) See Tal, Dictionary, 268.

(16.) Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period, 2nd ed. (RamatGan: Bar-Ilan Univ. Press 2002), 200-201.

(17.) The connection between passive participles and adjectives expressing ability is found in other languages, too. In German, for example, adjectives ending in -bar (like erkennbar: 'recogizable') can replace passive constructions: "Der Turm ist erkennbar" equals "Der Turm kann erkannt werden." The situation is similar with English adjectives ending in -able. Compare also Modern Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "The door is lockable."

(18.) See the text and variants provided by Abraham Tal, The Samaritan Targum of the Pentateuch: A Critical Edition (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Univ. Press, 1980-1983), ad loc. The different recensions of the Targum are characterized in vol. 3.

(19.) The Samaritan pronunciation is transcribed in Ze'ev Ben-Hayyim, The Literary and Oral Tradition of Hebrew and Aramaic amongst the Samaritans. Vol. IV: The Words of the Pentateuch (Jerusalem: Academy of the Hebrew Language, 1977) (Hebrew). This stable reading tradition is to the Samaritan Pentateuch what the Masoretic pointing is to the Masoretic Text. It supplies additional information on how the written consonantal skeleton is to be understood.

(20.) A description of the phenomenon as well as examples can be found in Moshe Florentin, "Distinctions between Various Meanings and Their Phonological Notation in Samaritan Hebrew," in Studies in Hebrew Language in Memory of Eliezer Rubinstein, ed. Aron Dotan and Abraham Tal (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Univ. Press, 1995), 107-16 (Hebrew), and idem, "Studies in the Morphology of Samaritan Hebrew," Les 59 (1996): 217-41 (Hebrew).

(21.) Ze'ev Ben-Hayyim, A Grammar of Samaritan Hebrew (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2000), 76. sem 'reputation' is attested in four verses: Gen. 11:4, Num. 16:2, Deut. 22:14.19 (Ben-Hayyim, Literary and Oral Tradition, IV, 288).

(22.) As noted in n. 7 above, the manuscript occasionally employs vowel signs. For these, see Ben-Hayyim, Grammar, 6-7. Sign no. 5 in Ben-Hayyim's list, designating an e-vowel, is found on the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(23.) Reinhard Pummer, "Samaritan Material Remains and Archaeology," in The Samaritans, ed. Alan D. Crown (Tubingen: Mohr, 1989), 135-77 (esp. 168-69). See Yitzhak Magen, "Samaritan Synagogues," in The Samaritans, ed. Ephraim Stem and Hanan Eshel (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2002), 391 (Hebrew), on the destruction date, which he assigns to the Samaritan renaissance under Baba Rabba.

(24.) For an overview of the archaeological remains, see Yitzhak Magen, "The Church of Mary Theotokos on Mount Gerizim," in Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land: New Discoveries: Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, ed. Giovanni C. Bottini et al. (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1990), 333-42. The church was built as a reaction to the Samaritan revolt of 484 and before Zenon's death in 491. Alan D. Crown, "The Samaritans in the Byzantine Orbit," BJRL 69 (1986): 96-138 (esp. 131), suggested the year 489. Rafal Kosinski, "Samarytanie w cesarstwie rzymskim w drugiej polowie V wieku," Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagielloriskiego, pt. 1318 (2010): 25-39 (esp. 33), attempts to re-date the uprising to the late seventies, based mainly on the order of events as given by Malalas. If he is correct, the church could have been built earlier, but this is far from certain.

(25.) I cite the historiographical evidence selectively. See Magen, "Church of Mary Theotokos," 333, for other material that is not relevant to our present discussion.

(26.) Procopius, Buildings, tr. Henry B. Dewing (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1940), 351-53.

(27.) Paul Stenhouse, The Kitab al-tarikh of Aba 'l-Fath Translated into English with Notes (Sydney: Mandelbaum, 1985), 241. For the Arabic original, see Eduard Vilmar, Ahulfathi anuales samaritani quos arabice edidit cum prolegomenis latine vertit et commentario (Gotha: Perthes, 1865), 171 11. 14-17 (page numbers for this edition always refer to the Arabic pagination). For every part of Abii 1-Fath's chronicle and its "Continuado" referred to in this article I have checked A. S. Zamkocjan, Earliest Fragments of Samaritan Arabic Chronicles in the Russian National Library (Moscow: Center for Strategic and Political Research, 2003) (Russian), for possible variants, but found none.

(28.) As Stenhouse explained in his notes, the temple', simply signifies a Samaritan place of worship, not an actual building. Note that Magen, "Church of Mary Theotokos," 341, assumes that the church was indeed built on such a place of worship or very close to one.

(29.) This interpretation was first put forward by Crown, "Byzantine Orbit," 131, and repeated in his "The Byzantine and Moslem Period," in The Samaritans, ed. idem (Tiibingen: Mohr, 1989), 55-81 (esp. 73-74).

(30.) Magen, "Church of Mary Theotokos," 340, argues convincingly for the unity of the complex. The estimated height of the walls is given on p. 335.

(31.) See the reconstruction drawing, ibid., 338.

(32.) Moshe Florentin, The Tulida: A Samaritan Chronicle (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1999), 93 1. 147 (Hebrew). Florentin correctly identifies the tower as the church, see his note ad loc. The date for the relevant part of the chronicle is given on p. 45. The "New Chronicle" from the end of the nineteenth century has 23 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'big building', apparently for the same structure; see Elkan N. Adler and M. Seligsohn, "Une nouvelle chronique samaritaine," REJ 44 (1902): 188-222; 45 (1902): 70-98, 223-54; 46 (1903): 123-46, quote on p. 236.

(33.) For the word, see Joshua Blau, A Dictionary of Mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic Texts (Jerusalem: Academy of the Hebrew Language, 2006), 522 (Hebrew).

(34.) These events are related immediately after the piece quoted above. For a translation see Procopius, Buildings, 353.

(35.) Translation: Procopius, Buildings, 355. For an overview of the classical sources on the rebellion see Leah Di Segni, "Samaritan Revolts in Byzantine Palestine," in The Samaritans, ed. Ephraim Stern and Hanan Eshel (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2002), 454-80 (esp. 467-76, Hebrew), and Sabine Winkler, "Die Samaritaner in den Jahren 529/30," Klio 43-45 (1965): 435-57, though the latter is biased as to the causes of the revolt and therefore less successful in her overall assessment.

(36.) Crown, "Byzantine Orbit," 134, also suggests that the church was attacked during the rebellion. This supposition can be supported by the following three hints from historical sources: 1) The general fact that the Samaritans burned churches during the rebellion is related by three Christian writers: Malalas (Johannes E. K. Thum, Joannis Malalae Chronographia [Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000], 373 1. 53), Cyril of Scythopolis, "Life of Sabas" (Eduard Schwartz, Kyrillos von Skythopolis [Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1939], 172 11. 4-5), and Pseudo-Zacharias (J. P. N. Land, Zachariae Episcopi Mitylenes [Leiden: Brill, 1870], 262).

2) Di Segni, "Samaritan Revolts," 464-65, shows that Malalas' account of the Samaritan uprising in 484 incorporates material from the revolt of 529. General similarities between the events (both involve a chariot race and the names of the protagonists Justasas and Julian) led Malalas to transfer details of 529 to his account of 484. Perhaps the burning of the church of St. Procopius in Caesarea in 484 and the alleged burning of the church of Mary Theotokos in 529 provided another such similarity that resulted in the likening of the two events in Malalas' chronicle.

3) The story of the bird talisman related in the Arabic chronicle of Abu l-Fath (Vilmar, Abulfathi annales samaritani, 139-45) and in the Arabic version of the Samaritan book of Joshua (Juynboll, Chronicon samaritanum, 54 [Arabic pagination] 1. 5 until end) probably incorporates historical material that relates to the church of Mary Theotokos (Paul Stenhouse, "Fourth-Century Date for Baba Rabba Re-examined," in Essays in Honour of G. D. Sixdenier: New Samaritan Studies of the Societe d'e'tudes samaritaines, ed. Alan D. Crown and Lucy Davey [Sydney: Mandelbaum, 1995], 325; idem, Kitab al-tarikh, lx n. 904).

To this one may add that the brazen bird talisman can be understood to have been used as a military signaling device reflecting sunlight, according to the version in the book of Joshua; Juynboll, op. cit., 54 1. 5. In this story, the church on Hargerizim was burned by the Samaritans (Vilmar, op. cit., 143 11. 9.11; the version in the book of Joshua is truncated and the end does not survive).

(37.) This is clear from Magen, "Church of Mary Theotokos," passim.

(38.) Thus Alfons M. Schneider, "Romische und byzantinische Bauten auf dem Garizim," ZDPV 68 (1946-1951): 211-34 (esp. 218), and Karl Jaros and Brigitte Deckert, Studien zur Sichem-Area (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977), 49. For the Arabic text mentioning the destruction see Vilmar, Abulfathi annales samaritani, 182 11. 2-6; for an English translation see Milka Levy-Rubin, Continuado of the Samaritan Chronicle of Abu l-Fath al-Samiri al-Danafl (sic) (Princeton, N.J.: Darwin, 2002), 58-59.

Apparently, the destruction is mentioned a second time in the same passage of the Continuado. I. R. M. Boid, "Social Anomie in the First Three Centuries of Islam, By a Native of Nablus: Some Cautions on the Recent Publication of the Account," BO 66 (2009): 20-40 (esp. 28-29), supplies and discusses the correct reading [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (par. Vilmar, op. cit., 182 II. 11-12 and Levy-Rubin, op. cit., 60). The sentence is obviously truncated and Boid surmises that it was taken over from a partly illegible source, skipping parts of the original. His supposition (p. 29) that these words form an interpolation would explain why the destruction of the church is mentioned twice in this passage of the Continuatio. The two references stem from different sources that were combined to yield the present text.

Boid's text-critical argument is of course valid irrespective of the precise meaning of the term [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. While we interpret the word as another reference to the church of Mary Theotokos, which was designated by the same term in Abu l-Fath's chronicle (Vilmar, op. cit., 171 1. 15, the passage discussed above in the body of the text), Boid (pp. 26, 28-29) renders it as 'pavilion' and equates it with a Dosithean structure otherwise called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Vilmar, op. cit., 161 1. 7; Boid's second reference is but an emendation). Levy-Rubin's attempt to identify the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is mere guesswork (op. cit., 60 n. 108). The terminology used in the chronicle supports our understanding, which fits in nicely with Boid's textual criticism.

(39.) Crown, "Byzantine Orbit," 134-35; Winkler, "529/30," 444.

(40.) Nathan Schur, History of the Samaritans, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt: Lang, 1992), 95-97; idem, "Persecutions of the Samaritans by the Abbasids and the Disappearance of the Samaritan Rural Population," in The Samaritans, ed. Ephraim Stem and Hanan Eshel (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2002), 587-90 (Hebrew).

(41.) Magen, "Church of Mary Theotokos," 333-34, assesses the connection of the church with the Samaritan uprisings: "The construction of the Byzantine church was therefore a stage in the violent and uncompromising struggle between the Byzantine rulers and the Samaritans during which a large part of the Samaritan community was exterminated."

(42.) For the latter fact see Crown, "Byzantine Orbit," 134.

(43.) Since the rebellion of 529-530 is closely linked to another Samaritan revolt against Justinian which occurred in 556 (Crown, "Byzantine Orbit," 135), it is even possible that the violent revenge that followed both uprisings was conflated in the memories preserved in the Asatir.

(44.) Ben-Hayyim, "Asatir," 118ff. 8b.9b.

(45.) For the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] see Tal, Dictionary, 653; the quotation is from MS C as recorded by Tal, Samaritan Targum, ad loc. On other, equally negative renderings of Nimrod's epithet, see Abraham Tal, "The Samaritan Targum of the Pentateuch," in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin J. Mulder (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1988), 189-216 (esp. 208).

(46.) Thurn, Chronographia, 375 1. 72. Other terms used are [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'rebellion' (ibid., 374 1. 63), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'rebel' (ibid., 374 11. 57.66), and the verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'to rebel' (ibid., 373 1. 51; 375 I. 81). For the meaning of these terms in Byzantine Greek, see E. A. Sophocles, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (from B.C. 146 to A.D. 1100) (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1900), 1099-1100, and see the translation of the respective passage in Elizabeth Jeffreys, The Chronicle of John Malalas (Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1986), 260-61.

(47.) Note once more that the equation is not simply between Babel and Shechem, but between Babel and Shechem "now"; see the translation above.

(48.) Levy-Rubin, Continuatio, 79. Thus also Jaros and Decked, Sichem-Area, 49.

(49.) For a tentative dating of the wali see Jaros and Decked, Sichem-Area, 54. Contemporary Jewish and Samaritan traditions connect it with Hamor ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the father of Shechem (Gen. 34:2), which seems to be half etiology, half pun on the Arabic name. According to Robed J. Bull, "A Preliminary Excavation of an Hadrianic Temple at Tell er Ras on Mount Gerizim," AJA 71 (1967): 387-93 (esp. 387), the wali was originally a watchtower from the sixteenth century. If this was correct, the structure would be too late to provide the background for understanding our midrash.

(50.) Vilmar, Abulfathi annales samaritani, 182 11. 2-6; Levy-Rubin, Continuatio, 58-59.

(51.) See M. Leitner, "Die samaritanischen Legenden Mosis: Aus der arab. Handschrift des Britischen Museums iibersetzt," Vierteljahresschrift fur deutsch- und englisch-theologische Forschung und Kritik 4 (1871): 184-212, for the earlier text; the relevant section is on pp. 193-94. A Hebrew translation of the later text was published by Gaster, Asatir, with the relevant sections on pp. 219-21. The modern Samaritan commentary on the Asatir, which claims to rely on Arabic sources, also does not identify the tower; see Pinhas ben Abraham HaKohen and Ratson Tsedaqa, Commentary on the Book Asatir (Holon: A. B. Hadashot HaShomronim, 1972) (Hebrew).

(52.) Gaster, Asatir, 238 n. on 1. 4.

(53.) Gaster probably drew his material from either Heinrich Petermann, Pentateuchus Samaritanus, fase. I, Genesis (Berlin: Moeser, 1872), or Adolf Brull, Das samaritanische Targum zum Pentateuch. Vol. I: Genesis (Frankfurt: Erras, 1873).

(54.) Tal, Samaritan Targum, ad loc. On the word see Tal, Dictionary, 443.

(55.) Tal, Samaritan Targum, ad loc. MS J and others, but not MS A! Petermann, Pentateuchus, ad loc. records the reading [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(56.) On the phenomenon of obscure words in late manuscripts of the Samaritan Targum see Abraham Tal, "The So-called Cuthean Words in the Samaritan Aramaic Vocabulary," Aramaic Studies 2 (2004): 107-17. Cf. Samuel Kohn, Zur Sprache, Literatur und Dogmatik der Samaritaner: Drei Abhandlungen nebst zwei bisher unedierten samaritanischen Texten (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1876), 153, for a different, far-fetched explanation of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

(57.) The Samaritan Pentateuch adds [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] at the end of v. 8.

(58.) Tal, Dictionary, 864-65. The word is related to Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (and Rabbinical Hebrew) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'dovecote'; Sokoloff, Dictionary, 539.

(59.) Tal, Dictionary, 687, refers to Kohn, Zur Sprache, 153, who derives the word from Arabic [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'fortress, citadel', which is a far-fetched etymology and hardly correct.

(60.) Simeon Lowy, The Principles of Samaritan Bible Exegesis (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 190 n. 519, was on the right track but he identified only the first half of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. For the two nouns see Tal, Dictionary, 272, 682-83. Rudolf Macuch, Grammatik des samaritanischen Aramaisch (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1982), 19-24, gives several examples of the transposition of letters in Samaritan Aramaic words. This phenomenon must be ascribed to copyists who did not understand Aramaic.

(61.) MS E preserves a Targum tradition close to that of MS A, which is not extant for Genesis 1-3. Kohn, Zur Sprache, 202-3, already mused about the different words for 'firmament' employed in the Targum to Genesis 1.

(62.) In Gen. 1:6-8, where Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used on its own and not in the phrase "firmament of heaven," it is rendered as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Targum MS E. The reference in Genesis 11 is thus clearly to the verses mentioned above.

(63.) The exact parallel of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Gen. 11:8 is only found in Gen. 1:20, the very verse that does not mention the lights. Still, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a common translation for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'heaven' in the Targum; see Tal, Dictionary, 272. This fact would thus hardly spoil our argument.

(64.) See the overview by Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. I (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947), 179-81, and the Targumim ad loc.

(65.) That the Samaritan proof text is non-prophetic is not surprising as such, given that the Pentateuch does not contain many passages that can be counted as prophecies. Rather, the point is made here in light of comparable Jewish material: Contextualizing Jewish exegesis is often eschatological and uses mainly prophetic proof texts, whereas the Asatir does not.

(66.) Reference to historical events is not mentioned in the surveys of Samaritan exegetical methods by Lowy, Samaritan Bible Exegesis, and I. R. M. Bdid, "Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Samaritan Tradition," in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin J. Mulder (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1988), 595-633. Paul Mandel, "Midrashic Exegesis and Its Precedents in the Dead Sea Scrolls," DSD 8 (2001): 149-68 (esp. 163), offers a comprehensive explanation of why such "historicizing" interpretations (he lists examples on p. 155 n. 17) are very rare in rabbinical literature but much more common in the Qumran material.

I owe thanks to Matthew Morgenstem, who pointed me to bMeg 6b for another possible example in a later, rabbinic text: Ps. 140:9 is read as referring to the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII], who stopped Rome from destroying the whole world. Is this a reference to the Germanic (i.e., Gothic) invasion of Rome in the fifth century?

(67.) For contextualizing interpretation in the pesharim, see Shani L. Berrin, "Pesharim," in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam (Oxford: Oxford Univ Press. 2000), 644-47 (esp. 645). Pesharim do on rare occasions refer to identifiable historical events; see Hanan Eshel, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 63-87, 117-31.

(68.) Still less "historical" are the fulfillment citations in the gospels, which could otherwise be compared.

(69.) See the analysis in Eshel, Dead Sea Scrolls, 91-100. The connection between the pesher and the historical events was first proposed by Joseph D. Amoussine.

(70.) That Isaiah's words refer to Sennacherib's campaign is evident from the biblical passages that relate the events. The non-sectarian text 4Q448 from Qumran attests that this was also understood by Qumran contemporaries; see the discussion of the text by Eshel, Dead Sea Scrolls, 101-15.

(71.) See Christian Stadel, The Morphosyntax of Samaritan Aramaic (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 2013), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII] (Hebrew).

(72.) Whether or not the text in its present form represents sixth/seventh-century Samaritan Aramaic is another question. It might have undergone linguistic updating. However, the language does not display overt Arabic influence, with the possible exception of the asyndetic relative clause [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII] "the place we are traveling to"; see Stadel, Morphosyntax, [section] 40.

(73.) Florentin, Tulida, 93; Moses Gaster, "The Chain of Samaritan High Priests," JRAS 1909: 393-420 (esp. 407); Vilmar, Abulfathi amales samaritani, 182 11. 9-10; Adler and Seligsohn, "Nouvelle chronique," 236.

(74.) This remains true even as occasional references to the events of 529 have tentatively been identified in legendary material in Abu 1-Fath's chronicle (the seventh sect; see Stenhouse, Kitab al-tarikh, lxx n. 1073, followed by Crown, "Byzantine Orbit," 134) and in the Arabic book of Joshua (the bird talisman incident related also by Abu 1-Fath; see n. 36 above). Kosinski, "Samarytanie," 33, opines that Abu 1-Fath's description of the suffering of the Samaritans under Zenon might incorporate memories of the events following 530. This is hard to prove, however, since the description of the hardships does not contain identifiable events.

(75.) Similarly Winkler. "529/30," 435.

(76.) Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011).
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Author:Stadel, Christian
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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