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Subject: Samaritan error?
Date: 03 Jun 1999 00:00:00 GMT
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In article <7i5slt$fgj$>, wrote:

> In article <7hpeqh$r1i$>,
> "Dr. M S M Saifullah" <> writes:
>> Samarians or Samaritans? The Christian missionaries have
>> claimed that the mention of Samaritans during the time of
>> Moses and Aaron(P) in the Qur'an is a historical
>> contradiction.

> ...discussion snipped, we may pick it up at a later time...

>> If the Samaritans trace their origins from the time of
>> Joseph's(P) descendants, then they were certainly in
>> existence in the time of Moses(P)!

> Just for clarification let me ask this:
> The usual response by Yusuf Ali and Jamal Badawi on this
> issue has been to deny that this word refers to a
> Samarian/Samaritan (that is really insubstantial). Even
> though it is the exact same Arabic word as the one that
> is used for the Samaritans, it is supposedly not derived
> from it, but from some other entity, so goes the reasoning.

That is one possible line of reasoning. The Quran could refer
to a name or title that existed in the time of Moses which
was eventually applied to a group of people, the Samaritans.
Where did they get their name from? From where did the city
or area called Samaria derive its name? Do you wish to argue
that the name or title was unknown at the time of Moses(pbuh)
and could only have been invented at a much later time?

> Now, it seems to me that Saifullah does no longer want to
> hold to this kind of evasive explanation, but instead
> tries to prove that these Samaritans can already (by their
> own claim) be traced back far enough to make the Qur'anic
> mentioning valid, and no longer a contradiction.

That too is a possibility. The Samaritans trace their own
history to a period before Moses(pbuh).

> Before we discuss the issue, I would like to have this
> clarification:
> Does Saifullah agree with most non-Muslim writers now
> (and we agree too) that this Qur'anic verse talks about
> a Samaritan (i.e. a name for a people group or ethnic/
> tribal entity, just like saying "a German" or "an Arab"
> or "a Levite") and not about a man who for whatever reason
> had the personal name of "as-Samiri" but this has nothing
> to do with Samaritans.

It might refer to one or the other, both or neither.
As-Samiri might just have been the persons name, it might
have been a title used to refer to a group of people or it
might just be an attributive title the Quran employs to
describe the person in question.

> If we agree on this, then we have a basis for discussion.
> If he wants to play both sides of the issue, then there is
> no point of even discussing this. Can't have your cake and
> eat it too.

Your claim is that the Quran is in error. How can that be
when there are several very reasonable ways to remove the
alleged error?

> Is in your eyes, "as-Samiri" a proper personal name, or
> is it a term telling us about his belonging to the group
> of "Samari(t)ans" whether they existed at this time as
> Saifullah claims, or not as many other claim?
> Please commit yourself clearly to an interpretation and
> then we discuss the rest of the evidence. But first I want
> to know what exactly we are discussing.

I say we are discussing all possible interpretations. If
it is proven that a particular interpretation is incorrect
then we can dismiss it.

Personally, I think 'as-Samiri' was an attributive name
applied to the leader or the group among the Jews who
conspired and taught others to worship the calf-idol.

Referring to the Bible we can note two interesting facts.
First let's refer to Ezekiel:

"The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, confront
Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, 'This is
what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry
and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father
was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
[Bible, Ezekiel 16:1-3]

The chapter continues making much use of metaphorical
language to describe Jerusalem and it's adulterous practices
until we reach the following:

"You(Jerusalem) are a true daughter of your mother, who
despised her husband and her children; and you are a true
sister of your sisters, who despised their husbands and
their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father
an Amorite. Your older sister was Samaria,..."
[Bible, Ezekiel 16:45,46]

According to this Samaria is the older sister of Jerusalem.
Does the Bible then not recognise the antiquity of Samaria?
Jerusalem is a very old city and it appears Samaria is older.
We find that Jerusalem is indeed an old city when the Bible
refers to it in Genesis:

"After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the
kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet
him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley).
Then Melchizedek king of Salem [Jerusalem] brought out
bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High,"
[Bible, Genesis 14:17,18]

We find that, in his time, Abraham(pbuh) meets the King of
Jerusalem and the Bible suggests that Samaria is Jerusalem's
older sister. In other words it would be possible for the
Quran to refer to a Samaritan in the time of Moses(pbuh),
during the Exodus.

Now let's refer to the second passage of the Bible relevant
to our discussion:

"In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became
king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years, six of them
in Tirzah. He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for
two talents of silver and built a city on the hill, calling
it Samaria, after Shemer, the name of the former owner of
the hill." [ Bible, 1 Kings 16:23,24]

According to the above passage, Samaritans are named after
a city, named after a hill, named after a previous owner of
the hill whose name was Shemer. Thus we can suggest that the
names Shemer or even Samiri had been in use long before there
was a city built in the area.

For now, let us pretend that the Christian is correct and
there was no such thing as a Samaritan in the time of
Moses(pbuh) and let us pretend that the Quran is in fact
referring to a Samaritan.

Since, Samaria is named after a hill, which is a location,
we can refer to people who lived in the vicinity as Samaritans
whether or not Samaria actually existed at their time or not.
For example, if I say that in 1000 AD the main source of
food for Native Americans was buffalo and fish, have I made
some sort of mistake? After all, the name "America" did not
even exist at that time. No, it might be proper to refer to
them by that name as it signifies the area or geographical
location in which they lived.

So, if a person was from an area that was later called Samaria,
would it be wrong to refer to that person as a Samaritan? If
the Samiri of the Quran simply lived in the area that later
became known as Samaria, there should be no harm in referring
to him as a "Samaritan" in the same way one might refer to
Native Americans. In fact, that is exactly what the Bible
itself appears to do in the above quoted passage. The hill is
called Samaria before that name actually existed. Unless we
assume the hill or area was already called Samaria and the
Bible is wrong that it was named after the man who sold it.
(I think that is likely)

Now let us turn to the Quran and the Arabic word "as-Samiri"
which appears to be derived from "samar". One possible
derivation is "Se-me-ra" which means to pass the night
in conversation. The word has been used in the Quran in this

"My communications were indeed recited to you, but you used
to turn back on your heels, In arrogance; talking nonsense
about the Quran, and left him like [one telling fables by
night.](Sa-mar-an)" [Quran 23:66,67]

Another derivative of "Samar" is "Samra" which means "to nail
something. "Samir" is a "person who nails". The word "Samir"
(one who nails) can be used to refer to those who carry on
the profession of blacksmiths or carpenters.

Now if we examine the passage of the Quran that refers to
as-Samiri we find that both interpretations would fit the
person who led the people of Moses(pbuh) astray with the
golden calf. The Quran states:

"Allah said, 'WE have tried thy people in thy absence, and
the Samiri has led them astray.' So Moses returned to his
people,... They said, 'We did not break our promise to thee
of our own accord; but we were laden with loads of people's
ornaments and we threw them away, and likewise did the
Samiri cast.' Then he produced for them a calf..."
[Quran 20:85-88]

We see that it was the Samiri who used the ornaments to
create the calf suggesting that he was some sort of artisan
or blacksmith. We also see that it was the Samiri who led the
people astray. According to the Quran, Aaron tried to guide
his people but they would not listen because they had been
beguiled by the Samiri. When confronted by Moses(pbuh), the
Samiri states he was more insightful than the other people;
claiming he saw or understood what they could not.

This appears to establish both senses of the word. As-Samiri
was a capable blacksmith or artisan and he was someone who
lead people astray through vain talk or discourses. That we
should be aware of such arrogant dealers of deception among
us, appears to be the purpose of including this event in the
Quran. It is most fitting that the Quran closes the affair
with the following words:

"Thus do WE relate to thee the tidings of what has happened
before. And WE have given thee from US a Reminder."
[Quran 20:99]

The verse is in one sense a prophecy; That Muhammad(pbuh) and
the Muslims would face similar conditions and people like
as-Samiri. Wasn't it a person much like as-Samiri, Abdullah
bin Saba, who stirred up revolt against the third Khalif,
Uthman, which ended in Uthman's assassination and the split in
Islam? Wasn't Ali accused of being an accomplice in the
assassination? Compare to how the Christians and Jews still
accuse Aaron(pbuh) of creating the golden calf when in fact
it was the doing of as-Samiri. Had the Samiri had his way it
would surely have caused a split between the Israelites.
It is interesting to note that much later in time some
Israelites did split away from the rest of the Israelites
and became known as a distinct community, the Samaritans.

These Samaritans claim that they have existed from a time
before the Exodus. If the Christian wishes to cast doubt on
the Quran by interpreting it as referring to a Samaritan
during the Exodus he will have to prove that the Samritans
are lying or wrong when they state they existed at the time.

Finally, if the Christians wishes to argue about something,
why doesn't he argue about the more important issue about
which the Quran and Bible are in conflict? The Bible accuses
Aaron of creating the idol while the Quran states Aaron tried
to stop them. I doubt the Chritian would want to pursue this

"Other scholars, such as Sigmund Mowinckel, believe that the
narrative about the golden calf, which presents Aaron in an
unfavourable light, was part of the ancient tradition in
the Yahwist work, being the only passage in it that mentions
him. This narrative, according to these scholars, originally
came from the northern kingdom of Israel and described Aaron
as the ancestor of the priests in northern Israel; later it
was rewritten in a way defamatory to Aaron. But there are
also features in the narrative that may indicate that a later
source (or traditionist), the Elohist, tried to excuse Aaron
and to put the main responsibility on the people."
[Aaron, Enc.Britannica online]

The Bible scholars appear to be uncertain about Aaron's
involvement in the affair. If only they could see the truth
as found in the Quran. I may bring this up again under the
discussion on apostasy.

Saqib Virk

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