254 PICTURESQUE PALESTINE.
lighted by a circular aperture in the vaulted roof, as is also the north-east transept through
which we enter. On the south-east side, which is in the direction of the" Holy Place" on
Gerizim, there is a veiled recess to which the priests alone have access. The veil which is
commonly used consists of a large square curtain of white damask linen, ornamented very
skilfully with applique work, apparently of the sixteenth century, though the Samaritans
regard it as much older; pieces of red, purple, and green linen cut into various forms are
sewn on to it so as to form a complete and harmonious design.
Within the veil are preserved with jealous care, among other literary treasures, three
very ancient copies of the Samaritan Pentateuch, one of which is said to have been written
by Abishua, the great-grandson of Aaron. This celebrated Roll of the Law, which is probably
of the third century of our era, is preserved in a cylindrical silver gilt case, opening as a
triptych does on two sets of hinges. The outside of the case is embossed, and in some
parts engraved. On one of the divisions there is a representation of the Tabernacle of the
Wilderness with the Ark of the Covenant, altars, candlesticks, trumpets, and various sacrificial implements, with explanatory inscriptions. The two other divisions of the cylinder are
ornamented with conventional designs in repousse work. This case is said by experts to
be Venetian work of the fourteenth or fifteenth century. The Samaritans regard it as
much older. The roll itself is composed of prepared goat-skins twenty-five inches high and
about fifteen feet wide ; they are neatly joined together, but in many places have been torn
and rather clumsily repaired with parchment of various qualities. This much-prized volume
is exhibited to the congregation once a year by the chief priest and his assistant the
ministering priest. The ceremony takes place on their only fast day, the Day of Atonement,
and then the people, young and old, are permitted to kiss that part of the roll on which the
Aaronic blessings are inscribed; the consequence is that the blessings are by degrees
disappearing. A crimson satin cover, on which Samaritan inscriptions are embroidered in
gold thread, envelopes the treasure (see page 251).
The Torah (Pentateuch) is the only portion of the Bible which the Samaritans hold
sacred. It is their sole guide and rule of life. Their version differs in many points from
the Hebrew version. The other historic portions of the Hebrew Scriptures they regard
as spurious, and especially resent the account given therein of their origin. They describe
themselves as " Children of Israel," but trace their origin chiefly to the two sons of Joseph.
They date their separation from the Jews from the time of Eli the priest, whom they regard
as a usurper, he not having been of the priestly family of Eleazar, but a descendant of
Thamar, Aaron's fourth son. According to the Samaritan Chronicle their high priests were
true descendants of the sacredly appointed branch of the family until a.d. 1624, when the
last male representative of the line died. Then, as it is recorded, " the consecration of
Levites commenced ;" sacrifices ceased to be offered up, and the ministrations were limited to
such services as may legally be performed by them.
Selameh al Kohen, the correspondent of Baron de Sacy, was the chief priest of the