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Samaritan Tabernacle Drawings

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Drawings of the Israelite tent sanctuary, the Tabernacle, and its implements are the main expression of representional art among the Samaritans. They are based on the descriptions in Exodus and are expressions of central tenets of the Samaritan faith—belief in the special status of Moses, in the Tabernacle as the only legitimate sanctuary in the history of Israel, and in the end times for which the restoration of the Tabernacle is expected. The paper is an attempt to probe the question of the age of the Samaritan tradition of depicting the Tabernacle in different media.

Archaeological excavations have revealed synagogue mosaics and clay lamps from the Byzantine period that represent various elements of this artistic tradition. However, the main specimens date from the early sixteenth to the early twentieth century. It is these representations, executed on metal, cloth, parchment and paper, which are the focus of this article. The discussion is based on an examination of all extant and publicly accessible samples (see the Inventory at the end of this article).

A great chronological and artistic gap separates the representations on the mosaics and oil lamps of the Byzantine period from the drawings of modern times. No continuous line exists between the two groups. The parchment in Moscow that allegedly dates from 32 A.H., i.e., 652/653 C.E., must be assigned to a much later period.

There are obvious similarities of the Samaritan drawings with Jewish representations of the Tabernacle/Temple, yet it is impossible to identify a time or place where cross-fertilization may have taken place.

At the present state of our knowledge, therefore, neither the mosaics from the Byzantine period nor the similarities with Jewish representations enable us to determine the time at which the Samaritan tradition of making Tabernacle drawings may have originated. It is probable, though, that the tradition had its beginnings well before the oldest extant samples from the early sixteenth century.

Affiliations: 1: University of OttawaDepartment of Classics and Religious Studies 70 Laurier St., P.O. Box 450, Stn. AOttawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada


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