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4 December 2018

Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures

Lot 39

Leaf from a Bible (Pentateuch), in Samaritan, from a manuscript codex on parchment [Israel (perhaps Mount Nablus), probably thirteenth or fourteenth century]

Estimate £8000 - £12000 + fees

Leaf from a Bible (Pentateuch), in Samaritan, from a manuscript codex on parchment [Israel (perhaps Mount Nablus), probably thirteenth or fourteenth century]



Single large square leaf, with double column of 31 lines of main text (27 on reverse with a further 3 lines in the bas-de-page), prick marks from ruling frame visible, one large tear across base, tears to edges with loss to text in upper and lower corners on one side, a small hole in middle of second column, some folds and small scuffs, else in good and presentable condition, 285 by 263mm.


Samaritan is one of the very rarest of Biblical scripts. The Samaritans themselves broke away from the religious practices that would later crystallise into Judaism, some two and a half millennia ago. The historical writings of the Samaritans claim that they are descended from the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who after the twelve tribes of Israel conquered the land of Canaan, split from this group to follow a priest named Eli who established a tabernacle on Mount Gerizim separate from that erected by Moses in the desert. Archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim indicate that a Samaritan temple was built there c. 330 BC. as a rival to that in Jerusalem, and the schism was certainly complete by the end of that century. The mountain of Gerizim in Israel is still home to the surviving adherents of the sect, now less than a thousand in number, and the mountain continues to be central to their worship and beliefs.


Like the Jews, the Samaritans venerate the Torah, but with a text with many textual variants from the Masoretic one. The Dead Sea Scrolls bear witness to the existence of at least three textual Pentateuch traditions in these centuries, and that now seen in the Samaritan Pentateuch broke away from the other traditions in the Hasmonean period (second century BC). This recension differs on numerous occasions from the Masoretic text, and interestingly, in approximately two thousand of these instances the Septuagint agrees with the Samaritan text, not the Masoretic one. Samaritan script itself is directly derived from the paleo-Hebrew alphabet used in the days of the First Temple, and the decisive break between it and modern Hebrew happened by the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.


As is suggested by the lowliness of the Good Samaritan in Christs parable, the subsequent history of the Samaritans is mainly one of persecution. They suffered under Roman rule as Samaria fell under Judean control, endured massacres and mass enslavements under the Byzantines, and Mamluk invasion of some of their sacred lands. By 1300 the numbers of the Samaritan community appear to have dwindled to about a thousand people in the city of Nablus at the foot of Mount Gezarim. Paradoxically, it was this period when they faced near-extinction that saw intense religious and literary activity.


They are of great rarity on the market, with recent examples in Sothebys, 29 June 2007, lot 31 (parallel Hebrew-Arabic Pentateuch codex in Samaritan script, dated 1504; sold for £81,600), the Schøyen sale, 10 July 2012, lot 13 (two bifolia with Leviticus, probably of late twelfth century; est. £15,000-20,000), Sothebys, New York Judaica sale, 19 December 2007, lot 124 (fourteenth-century codex of Homilies and Sermons, with some written in Paleo-Hebrew/Samaritan; sold $25,000); and most recently the Valmadonna Sale, 22 December 2015, lot 1 (mid-twelfth-century Torah Scroll in Samaritan script; sold $162,500), and lot 2 (fifteenth-century Pentateuch codex; sold $87,500); and only a tiny handful remain in private hands.