Mosaic Samaritan Synagogue

Mosaic in Samaritan Synagogue. By Davidbena – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Does the Samaritan community in Nablus have a Torah Scroll written by Aaron’s great-grandson?

A small group of Samaritans—they now number fewer than 300—continues to live in ancient Shechem (modern Nablus on the West Bank) at the foot of their holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim. They claim to have the oldest Torah (the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses) in existence. It was written, they say, by Abisha,a the great-grandson of Aaron (1 Chronicles 6:50 [6:35 in Hebrew]), 13 years after the Israelite conquest of Canaan—more than 3,000 years ago!

And they can prove it. An almost unforgeable cryptogram embedded in the ancient text—known as the Abisha scroll—validates their claim.

The Samaritans have lived at Shechem/Nablus for at least 2,300 years. (Also, today, another 300 Samaritans live in Holon, south of Tel Aviv.) According to the latest scholarship, they separated from the Jews sometime between the fourth century B.C.E.b and the third century C.E. The schism seems to have had two complex phases—first, a political separation in the period of Ezra; second, a religious separation that began, in the late fourth century B.C.E., with the Samaritan construction on Mt. Gerizim of a rival sanctuary, or temple (the site of which has recently been verified by archaeologists), and culminated in the third century C.E. when the Samaritan legendary hero Baba Rabba had the Samaritan oral law taught and codified and, apparently, canonized the deviant Samaritan version of the Torah.

Read the rest of The Abisha Scroll—3,000 Years Old? in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.