A new landmark exhibit at the Museum of the Bible that traces the lineage of the Samaritans of biblical days to the Samaritan community of modern times should serve as an illustration of peace and coexistence for the rest of the world, say scholars who helped launch the exhibit.
The Samaritans trace their lineage back to the Israelite tribe of Ephraim and still live within modern Israel but on a much smaller scale than in Old Testament times, with a micro-community of about 850 Samaritans currently claiming the ancient land as their home.
The D.C.-based Museum of the Bible opened on Friday the special exhibit, The Samaritans: A Biblical People. It offers what the museum is calling "unprecedented access" to the "life, culture and history" of the Samaritans.
It was created in partnership with Yeshiva University's Center for Israel Studies, which is directed by professor Steven Fine.
Jesus encountered a Samaritan in the "woman at the well." The story of the Good Samaritan also involves the Samaritan community.
"One of the purposes of our project is not just to make nice, but to make a point," Fine said Thursday during a preview session. "And that is that there are two lobes to the people of Israel – the people of Israel of the flesh, if you will, the Jews and the Samaritans, the Judaeans and the people of the north. And for 3,500 years, they weren't always friends – sometimes they were friends, sometimes they were not friends.
"But in the modern period, there's been real effort to come together in important ways that serve as a kind of model for the rest of us who sometimes can't talk to each other."
The Museum of the Bible Samaritan exhibit, he said, "can serve as a place" for the rest of the world "to think about ourselves – whomever we are – about our past, our present, our relationships with other people."
"It's more than just history," Fine said.
The exhibition includes, according to the museum:
- Unique videos "filmed in familiar and home settings" that "focus on the different life experiences of the Samaritans," from "Passover sacrifices to weddings."
- Stories "from the elders and a special sukkah [hut] that will help illustrate religious life."
- Paintings, manuscripts, books, photography, ritual objects, and major archaeological discoveries from Greece, Italy and Israel.
Yuval Baruch of the Israel Antiquities Authority made a similar point as Fine, saying the "story of the Samaritan" is more than an "exotic story about biblical nations." It actually is an "allegory about nations," Baruch said.
"And who knows?" Baruch asked. "Maybe this exhibition will be" a step toward "uniting" people.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alex Wong/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.