The New International Encyclopædia/Samaritan Language and Literature

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SAMARITAN LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE. The Samaritan belongs to the Semitic languages and may be grouped with the western Aramaic dialects, although it contains strong admixtures of Hebrew. It is no longer spoken, but is still studied by a few priests in the small Samaritan community (see Samaritans) at Nabulus, where the common speech is now Arabic, The dialect is interesting from a philological point of view, both because of its antiquity and of its ‘mixed’ character. Its history may be traced back to the fourth century B.C., but its beginnings belong to a still earlier date. That it survived the Arabic conquest is due to the sacred character which it acquired in the eyes of the Samaritans by virtue of the translation of the Pentateuch into their dialect. The alphabet is a direct derivation of the Phoenician and more antique in character than the ordinary Hebrew letters. Its phonology presents some peculiar characteristics, the most pronounced being the practical loss of guttural sounds, which leads to considerable confusion in the writing of words containing guttural letters. Its morphology presents no unique features, while its vocabulary contains many foreign words borrowed from Arabic, Latin, and Greek. The literature is of small extent and of little value. Besides the Samaritan Pentateuch and Targum (see Samaritan Pentateuch), it consists of chronicles, liturgies, and hymns. The chronicles include: (1) The Samaritan Book of Joshua, an Arabic chronicle, ascribed by critics to the thirteenth century, taken in part from the canonical Book of Joshua, with legendary additions, that charge the Jews with being oppressors of the Samaritans, and, after the time of Eli, apostates from the faith. The narrative is continued to A.D. 350, when it abruptly ends. (2) The Chronicle of the Generations, professedly written by Eleazer ben Amram, 1142, and afterwards continued by many hands; it gives a calculation of sacred times, the age of patriarchs, and a list of high priests. (3) The Chronicle of Abulfath, written about the middle of the fourteenth century, is drawn from the two previous works, with additional legendary matter. The liturgies and hynms belong to different periods. The Samaritans have also produced a number of commentaries, theological tracts, and grammatical works, written in Arabic. Consult: Petermann, Brevis Linguæ Samaritanæ Grammatica (Berlin, 1873); Kohn, Zur Sprache, Litterratur und Dogmatik der Samaritaner (Leipzig, 1876); id., Samaritanische Studien (Breslau, 1868); Nutt, Fragments of a Samaritan Pentateuch (London, 1874).