Friday I traveled to their village — Kiryat Luza — to witness their Biblical observation of Passover. It occurred a month after the Jewish Passover because of a difference in calendar.
Paul tell us that Yeshua is our Passover lamb (I Cor. 5:7) sacrificed for us. Even when doing the modern, Rabbinical Jewish seder, one sees Messiah all over it. But in the Samaritan Passover we get the closest to seeing what an observant Jew would have practiced and seen through the Temple periods. When Paul says Jesus is our Passover, when John the Baptist introduces his cousin as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), this is what they were visualizing.
New Testament readers will recognize the Samaritan people from the Gospels. Yeshua, an observant Jew, dared to not only walk in their territory but to speak to the lone woman at Jacob’s Well (John 4). “Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each others’ territories or even to speak to one another.” (Wikipedia) That prohibition also makes the parable of the Good Samaritan quite shocking.
The short explanation of the antagonism is that the Jews of Judea were wary of the Samaritans’ idolatrous beginnings (2 Kings 17); and the Samaritans’ rejected Jerusalem as God’s resting place, even changing the location of the binding of Isaac by Abraham to Mount Gerizim (Wikipedia) and building a temple there.
Much of that antagonism has now faded, as evidenced by the thousands of Jews, Christians and other onlookers at the ceremony.
Down one height, up another
A friend and I piled into a bus hired by Project Reformation, a member of the Evangelical Alliance — Israel, at Jerusalem Prayer Center. We quickly passed from Jerusalem into the disputed territory (also known as the West Bank) and rode up Highway 60 into Samaria (Shomron).
The buses left us at the entrance of Har Bracha, a Jewish village, and we walked the last mile up to the Samaritan Temple ruins.
A composite image of the Samaritan Temple ruins on Mount Gerizim. The intact structure on the left is the tomb of an Arab sheikh.
After an explanation of the area and the history by the tour guide, we hiked back down into the village to find a place to watch the ceremony. Places at the fences were limited, so some climbed on roofs. Others find their way into buildings to watch from windows high above the village plaza. The rest of us jostled for position at the fences. Media tried to push their way through the gate only to be rebuffed.
A disjointed procession
The road in front of the gate to the plaza was crowded with tourists and Samaritans making their way to the ceremony site. Men and boys dressed all in white, some with rubber boots, dragged their Passover offerings bleating down the street. Israel army officers talked with priests. Catholic priests and nuns were given entry into the plaza. Photographers would flock to photo opportunities. Samaritan women arrived separately, dressed in their best dresses and high heels.
Inside the plaza, the roasting pits were already hot, heating the air so that the view beyond them was wavy. The men checked the sheep and goats, marking them. Then the boys went and played with the offerings, mounting them, poking them. The priests sat in the shade and talked as photographer after photographer ran up to them to take photos.
What we came to see
As the sun reached its apex overhead and then took its first step down toward the west, the Samaritans began to chant. The animals had all been gathered, and the men had their knives ready.
After several minutes of chanting and singing, a cheer went up. The deed had been done. The offerings were slaughtered and quickly drained of their blood and deprived of their fleeces.
The fleeces were put at the edges of the fire pits to burn. The internal organs were removed and set aside. The intact carcasses were mounted on long roasting stakes then rinsed and salted.
Usually, all this takes place as the sun sets, as prescribed in Scripture (Exodus 12, Deuteronomy 16). But because Passover fell on a Sabbath this year, the ceremony was moved to noon.
Also because it was Friday, our group did not stay for the rest of the ceremony because we had to get back to Jerusalem before the Sabbath began. According to Travelujah (via the Jerusalem Post), when the lambs are cooked:
“Each extended family claims its lamb and everyone tears a piece of meat from the sacrifice, standing while eating it quickly together with matza and bitter herbs to symbolize the hasty departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt and the bitterness of slavery. In compliance with biblical law, not one bone of a paschal lamb may be broken. All the bones and any leftover meat are heaped on the embers to ensure that nothing remains by morning.
After everyone has hastily eaten, the pilgrims circle the sacred precinct in a procession symbolizing the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. … The pilgrims then sit down to a full festive meal. Any leftovers are burned.”
The execution stake
In the Jewish New Testament, translator Dr. David H. Stern, renders the Greek stavros as execution stake rather than cross. (See notes on Matthew 10:38 in the “Jewish New Testament Commentary” for his reasons.) The point I’m making is here we have a visual representation of a sacrifice on a stake. This is but a dim picture of what it cost for us to be able to know God, to know Him even as Adam knew Him before the Fall.
Following is a slideshow of the day’s events as I witnessed them. Scroll past the video for more information on Samaritan Passover. I highly recommend the last link, which gives a history of the city of Shechem (modern day Nablus) and how the history gives us a fuller understanding of what Jesus and the Samaritan woman were discussing.
- Re-enacting Passover Exodus at Mt. Gerazim — Jerusalem Post
- Photo-op on Mount Gerizim — Haaretz
- Shechem: Its Archaeological and Contextual Significance — Associates for Biblical Research