Visit to Samaritan Passover Sacrifice

Yesteday (28/4/10) as part of a Departmental field trip, I had the opportunity to visit the fascinating Samaritan Passover Sacrifice on Mt. Gerizim, just next to Shechem/Nablus. Without getting into the very complicated, and controversial, history of the Samaritans, the Samaritans celebrated their traditional Passover (on a different day from the Jewish Passover) and include in it, as their central act, a very impressive sacrifice of many sheep. The whole process, besides being quite breathtaking (and at times, quite gory), is a real “time tunnel” back to methods of sacrifice and ritual of ancient times. In fact, standing there and watching the various parts of the ceremony, one can almost see a visual representation of portions of the biblical texts on sacrifice (as in, e.g., Leviticus), or other ancient near texts on sacrificial practices.
It is definitely something that everyone dealing with ancient cultic practices should see.

Here are some pictures from the ceremony. Please note – some are rather gory.

Here is the chanting recited prior to the slaughtering of the sheep

Here is a picture of a little boy, reading from the text that is being chanted with his father. Note that the text is in Samaritan alphabet and is a portion of the Samaritan book of Exodus

Here is one of the sheep being slaughtered…

And here is one of the sheep after slaughter

The Samaritans put a bit of blood of the sacrificed sheeps on their foreheads

The carcasses being washed and salted and the entrails removed

One of the carcasses being placed on a spit

The entrails, which are not eaten, are burnt over one of the pits

The spits with the meat about to be placed in the pit

After the spits are placed, standing up, in the pit, the pit is covered with a metal cover and mud.

After this, the meat is roasted in the pits for about 3 hours.
When it is removed, it has to be eaten within a few hours, and whatever is left is burnt (thrown away; as in Exodus 12:8-10).

I did not stay for the last part, since a) I would not eat the meat since it is not kosher by Jewish standards; b) They would not give any of it to someone who was not Samaritan…

Wow – that was quite a scene…


23 thoughts on “Visit to Samaritan Passover Sacrifice

  1. dannyfrese

    Great post; I appreciate the sequential pics and walk-through of the procedure. A couple of comments:
    – What’s with the white jumpsuits? It looks like a painter’s convention
    – Deep pit BBQ!? Does that really satisfy the “roasted” requirement? Also, I thought the pesah requirement was that the animal be roasted with the intestines still in. Is there a different textual tradition for the Samaritans?


    1. arenmaeir

      They all have to wear white – I think the jump suits (which only some are wearing) is a new addition, simply not to get their clothes all covered in blood.
      As to the differene between this and Exod 12:9 (with entrails) – I’m not why – and I don’t have at home access to the Samaritan torah.


  2. Louise Hitchcock

    Aren, Fantastic that you got to go. It is quite an experience. I give a published account of the sacrifice from the standpoint of Bataille, embodiement and performativity:
    HITCHCOCK, L.A. “Architectures of Feasting,” in L.A. Hitchcock, R. Laffineur, and J. Crowley (eds) DAIS: The Aegean Feast, Proceedings of the 12th International Aegean Conference University of Melbourne, Cemtre for Classics and Archaeology, 25-29 March 2008. (Aegaeum 29): pp. 317-326 (2008).



    1. arenmaeir

      Dear whomever you are,
      If you are against the eating (and slaughtering) of animals, this is not the forum to discuss this. As anyone can see, I did not abuse (and in fact, dot even touch) any of those animals. If you have complaints, write to the Samaritan community. Please don’t mix issues.



  3. Pingback: Samaritan Passover Sacrifice 2010 « Biblical Paths

  4. Achish Melek Gat

    Aren – Ah, the Samaritan Passover! Glad you got to go. Excellent description. I went to the Samaritan Passover on Mt. Grizim in 1993, and found it as fascinating as you have described it here. I also visited Samaritan homes in the Grizim village during their Sukkot festival in that same year. They build their Sukkot inside their homes, and utilize fresh fruit as part of the canopy of the sukkah. Also, it is interesting that they hold the festivals one month after the occurance of the Jewish festivals (cf. 1 Kings 12:32). BTW, of the two links you embedded on Samaritans, one (Wikipedia) is, for my taste, poorly done, but the other ( isn’t even about the Samaritans in Israel, it’s about some British aid society. May want to delete that one. Anyway, and notwithstanding, a superb post! AMG


  5. Liz Fried

    Hi Aren, thanks for the pics.
    I’d love to go sometime, but I didn’t see any women there, were they not allowed or just not in the picture?
    Also, how is their slaughtering different from Jewish kosher slaughtering? What particularly was not kosher about it? Don’t they slit the throat and drain the blood?
    All the best,


    1. arenmaeir

      There were plenty of women there, although they did not actually take part in the sacrifice, but were on the site. In addition, there were numerous women visitors. The do slit the throat and drain the blood, but from what I see, they were not as careful where and how they cut the throat, and some of the sheep were alive for a few minutes after their throats were slit. T’was not a very nice scene….


  6. Louise Hitchcock

    Liz, When I attended in 2007, not only were there many women, everyone was able to mingle in the courtyard both before and after the sheep were dispatched. It was an unforgettable experience.


  7. Erin Zimmerman

    Dear Mr. Maeir,
    Great blog – I’ve seen you on the History Channel quite a bit, and I admire your work.

    I write and produce historical/archaeological documentaries, and I would love to produce one on the Samaritans, both on the archaeological site on Mt. Gerizim and on the people themselves. I understand that the archaeological site is currently closed to the public. Do you have a contact for filming permissions for this site, as well as for filming next year’s Passover ceremony? I would appreciate any help you could give me.

    Erin Zimmerman


    1. arenmaeir

      Hi! Although the archaeological site of Mt. Gerizim is “officially” closed, it is possible to visit the site and walk through the ruins. If you contact Dr. Itzhaq Magen, Staff Officer for Archaeology of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, he might even be willing to give you a guided tour.
      As to the Samaritans. I suggest you contact the Samaritan community, either in Holon or Nablus, and ask for their help.



      1. Erin Zimmerman

        Wow – thank you so much for your quick reply. That’s a huge help, and I really do appreciate it. I’m glad I found your blog; it’s very interesting. Best of luck on your current excavations!


      2. arenmaeir

        Pleasure – why don’t you come to the dig and make a documentary about something related? Philistines, Israelites, Canaanites, Crusaders – you name it!



  8. Erin Zimmerman

    Dear Aren,
    I just saw your reply, and I have actually been following the Gath dig a bit. I will be in Israel shooting stories from July 17-30, and a month after that, I will be helping to start a biblical archaeology section of my network’s website (CBN News). So… I am greatly in need of new material.

    I was going to ask you (objectively… I know it’s your dig :) If I came to Tell es-Safi for a day, would there be any significant “finds” to show on camera? I’d love to interview you onsite if you can spare the time — I’ve seen you on the History Channel. I love the idea of a Philistine story — the Goliath angle and all that.

    Let me know what you have, and what would be a good day to come. I’m booked the 21st for the reopening of the Israel Museum’s archaeology wing.

    Thanks again, and I hope to meet you!

    Erin Zimmerman


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