Quranic Errors – Moses and the Samaritan?



The Qur’an says that the calf worshipped by the Israelites at mount Horeb was molded by a Samaritan.

He [Allah] said, “We have tempted thy people since thou didst leave them. The Samaritan has led them into error.” Then Moses returned …… and we cast them [(gold) ornaments], as the Samaritan also threw them, into the fire.” (Then he brought out for them a Calf, a mere body that lowed; and they said, “This is your god, and the god of Moses, whom he has forgotten.”) …
Moses said, “And thou, Samaritan, what was thy business?” …
— surah 20:85-88, 95

How can a Samaritan (or people of Samaria) have led the Israelites astray at the time of Moses [about 1400 B.C.] when the city of Samaria was founded only founded few hundred of years after Moses’ death? We know that King Omri founded Samaria during his reign and he reigned between 876 – 869 B.C.

(1 Ki 16:23-24 NIV)  In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years, six of them in Tirzah. {24} He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver and built a city on the hill, calling it Samaria, after Shemer, the name of the former owner of the hill.

The city of Samaria was first built on a hill overlooking a main road to Jerusalem, the capital of King David. It was chosen by Omri, king of Israel (reigned 876-869 BC), who made it the capital of the northern kingdom. (Source : Encarta encyclopedia)

Hence, it is historically impossible that someone from Samaria could have led the Israelites into idolatry in the time of Moses.

The first Muslim response to this difficulty is to change the word “Samaritan” to “Samiri”.

It is interesting to notice that while Yusuf Ali attempts to change this word to “Samiri” and Pickthall to “As Samirii.” Arberry in the English, and Kasimirski in the French both translate it “Samaritan.” Yusuf Ali, in his footnotes, stretches his explanation and say that the name could mean “Shemer,” which denotes a stranger, or “Shomer,” which means a watchman, the equivalent of “Samara” in Arabic, which he implies is close enough to the “Samari” he is looking for. But the Arabic simply does not give Ali the leeway to concoct other meanings for this word. To be consistent with the Arabic he should keep his translation consistent with the text, as Arberry and Kasimirski have done.

Even the Dictionary of Islam agrees that the term refers to someone from Samaria. According to Thomas Patrick Hughes’ “Dictionary of Islam”, page 564, al-Baidawi says [about as-Samiri] that his name is Musa ibn Zafar, of the tribe of Samaritans.

If “as-Samirii” does not mean “the Samaritan”, how else would you express “Samaritan” in Arabic? There is still to this day a small Samaritan community in the Middle East. How are they called in Arabic? Every once in a while, knowledgeable Arab Muslims who have not yet been exposed to this apologetical argument naturally confirm that “as-Saamiri” indeed means “the Samaritan”. It never crossed their mind that this would mean anything else.

The second Muslim reponse states that the origin of the word “samartan” cannot be determined even from the Bible. Muslims quote the Encyclopaedia Judaica which states that  “Little guidance is obtained from the name of the Samaritans. The Bible uses the name Shomronim once, in II Kings 17:29, but this probably means Samarians rather than Samaritans. The Samaritans themselves do not use the name at all; they have long called themselves Shamerin; i.e., “keepers” or “observers” of the truth = al ha-amet, both the short and long forms being in constant use in their chronicles. They take the name Shomronim to mean in habitants of the town of Samaria built by Omri (cf. I Kings 16:24), where the probable origin of the word Shomronim is to be found).

This argument, however, misses the point. Even if it is true that 2 kings 17:29 should not have used “samaritan” but rather “samarian” or a more generic “people of Samaria”, it does not avoid the problem. The problem is that the city of Samaria did not exist until around AD 870 and whether you call the people “Samaritan” or “Samarian” or “people of Samaria” is irrelevant because they simply did not exist before AD 870.

The third Muslim response tries to prove that the Samartans existed as early as the 17th century B.C. The Encyclopaedia Judaica (under Samaritans) states “that until the middle of the 20th century it was widely believed that the Samaritans originated from a mixed race people living in Samaria at the time of the Assyrian conquest (722 B.C.). In recent years however, new research based on the study of the Chronicles of the Samaritans has led to a re-evaluation of their origins:

Until the middle of the 20th Century it was customary to believe that the Samaritans originated from a mixture of the people living in Samaria and other peoples at the time of the conquest of Samaria by Assyria (722/1 B.C.E.). The Biblical account of in II Kings 17 had long been the decisive source for the formulation of historical accounts of Samaritan origins. Reconsideration of this passage, however, has led to more attention being paid to the Chronicles of the Samaritans themselves. With the publication of Chronicle II (Sefer ha-Yamim), the fullest Samaritan version of their own history became available: the chronicles, and a variety of non-Samaritan materials.

According to the former, the Samaritans are the direct descendants of the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, and until the 17th century C.E. they possessed a high priesthood descending directly from Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas. They claim to have continuously occupied their ancient territory in central Palestine and to have been at peace with other Israelite tribes until the time when Eli disrupted the Northern cult by moving from Shechem to Shiloh and attracting some northern Israelites to his new cult there. For the Samaritans, this was the ‘schism’ par excellence.

If the Samaritans trace their origins from the time of Joseph’s descendants, then they were certainly in existence in the time of Moses! Furthermore, even to this day the Samaritans still claim descent from the the tribe of Joseph.

The reasoning in the paragraph above is flawed. If I find a person that can trace his roots right back to the prophet Muhammad, it is not the same as saying that that person existed during the time of prophet Muhammad. Similarly, just by saying that the Samaritans trace their roots back to Joseph is not at all proof that the Samaritans existed during the time of Joseph in the 17th century B.C.

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