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Scholars consult the Samaritan Pentateuch when trying to determine the meaning of text of the original Pentateuch and to trace the development of text-families. Scrolls among the Dead Sea scrolls have been identified as proto-Samaritan Pentateuch text-type.
Samaritan practices are based on their version of the Five Books of Moses, which is slightly different from the Jewish or Christian texts. Some differences are minor, such as the ages of different people mentioned in genealogy, while others are major, such as the commandment to be monogamous which appears in the Samaritan text. (cf )
Special importance is attached to the Abishua Scroll, which is used in the Samaritan synagogue of Nablus, and the Samaritans claim was penned by Abisha, great-grandson of Aaron, ( ) the brother of Moses thirteen years after the entry into the land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua, son of Nun. Modern scholars, however, have observed that the scroll appears to include scraps of work by different scribes from different centuries, with the oldest texts dating to the 12th century A.D.
Samaritans claim that they are descended from the northern Israelite kingdom of Israel. There was a political division between the southern kingdom of Judah and northern kingdom of Israel, which took place after the death of King Solomon (see 1 Kings 12). They maintain that the northern kingdom, the capital of which was Samaria, never joined the kingdom of David and Solomon. Eventually the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians, and the southern by the Babylonians.
Today's Samaritans identify as the remnants of those who were not exiled from the land during the Assyrian period, and continuously practiced the ancient religion of Moses and passed it down even in the most difficult oppressed times.
Jews have never accepted this account of Samaritan origins, relying instead on the account given in II Kings 17:24-41:
24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: "The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires." 27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: "Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires." 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD. 29 Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. 30 The men from Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men from Cuthah made Nergal, and the men from Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They worshiped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
- ↑ The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 6: Questions of Canon through the Dead Sea Scrolls by James C. VanderKam, page 94, citing private communication with Emanuel Tov on biblical manuscripts: Qumran scribe type c.25%, proto-Masoretic Text c. 40%, pre-Samaritan texts c.5%, texts close to the Hebrew model for the Septuagint c.5% and nonaligned c.25%.