The Samaritan Renaissance of Late Antiquity and the
Encounter with Rabbinic Judaism
Sefer Peliatah de-Markah (Markah's Book of Wonders)
Scribe: Abraham ben Phineas ha-Kohen Nablus, 1898
After the Samaritan temple at Mt. Gerizim was destroyed, Samaritan life was
characterized by declining political fortunes under a succession of foreign regimes
— the Romans, the Byzantines, and various Islamic empires. At the same time,
the literary record testifies to continuing and even intensified cultural productivity,
often paradoxically in conjunction with particularly difficult periods of oppression.
Throughout late antiquity, the Roman and Byzantine rulers of Neapolis (as Shechem
was now called) sometimes treated the Samaritans on a par with the Jews and at
others singled them out for particularly harsh treatment. The period of Christian
rule in Palestine (324-634 CE) saw expropriations of land, the reduction of Samaritan
farmers to tenancy under Christian landholders, and confiscations of Samaritan
property by the Church. Many Samaritans took refuge in Sasanian Iran (talmudic
Babylonia), while others converted or were forcibly converted to Christianity.
The result was a drastic decline in the Samaritan population.
At the same time, this period saw a renewal of Samaritan literary, religious,
and political creativity, resulting in sweeping ritual and administrative consolidations
that both systematized and transformed Samaritan communal and religious life.
It was the era of the Aramaic Targum (translation) of the Samaritan Pentateuch,
of midrashic expansions on biblical narratives, of permanent additions of liturgical
poetry to the prayer book, and of a renewed sense among the Samaritans of their
importance as political actors on the world stage. The two figures most closely
associated with the developments of this period are Baba Rabbah ("the Great
Gate"), a religious and political reformer of the third or fourth century
CE, and Markah, the great Samaritan midrashist of the fourth century.