Samaritans Exhibition at the Museum of the Bible

The Museum of the Bible hosts a new exhibition with unprecedented access to the life, culture and history of the Samaritans, a 2,000-year-old community. 

The exhibition is on view until April 12, 2023.

The Jewish Art Salon is excited to have been a partner with The University Center for Israel Studies, under the direction of Dr. Steven Fine, Dean Pinkhos Churgin Chair in Jewish History, in the creation of this first of its kind exhibition, The Samaritans: A Biblical People, with its Jewish Art Salon’s contribution Jewish Artists Encounter Samaritan Culture.

The Samaritans have lived in the land of Israel, beside their sacred mountain, for
millennia. They trace their lineage back to the Israelite tribe of Ephraim. They are
mentioned in biblical and rabbinic texts, but few people know that this ancient people
still exists as a micro-community today in the modern world.

“Our exhibition is an extraordinary opportunity to encounter the Samaritans as real
people, from earliest biblical history to the present,” said Dr. Fine. “Fascinating artifacts and exquisite media create a truly memorable experience of the Samaritans and their relations with Jews, Christians and Muslims over millennia.”

“The Samaritans are a unique people whose story also reflects universal questions about identity, belonging and tradition,” said Dr. Jesse Abelman, curator of Hebraica and Judaica at Museum of the Bible. David Selis is assistant curator.

Opening night images here

Jewish Artists Encounter Samaritan Culture

Eight Jewish Art Salon artists, Americans and Israelis, studied the history of the Jewish-Samaritan relationship and created art for this exhibition:

Andi Arnovitz, Judith Joseph, Richard McBee, Mark Podwal, Archie Rand, Joel Silverstein, Hillel Smith and Yona Verwer.

From top left

Yona Verwer, Tabernacles; Mark Podwal, Samaritan Alphabet;

Judith Joseph, Voice of the Bell; Hillel Smith, Hineni;

Archie Rand, Samaritans; Andi Arnovitz, Palimpsest;

Richard McBee, Akeidah The Encounter; Joel Silverstein, Death of Shobach

About the art

Excerpts from Contemporary Jewish Artists Encounter Samaritan Culture: A Visual Essay by Steven Fine and Richard McBee

Members  of  the  Jewish  Art  Salon studied  textual,  historical  and  visual  sources  with  Professor Steven Fine via  zoom  over  several  weeks. 

Many of the works focus on the parallel paths taken by Samaritans and Jews. 

In The Samaritan Series, Mark Podwal sets Samaritan iconography in conversation with his earlier work on Torah imagery, Hebrew  calligraphy  (here,  Samaritan),  the  flora  and  geography  of  the  Land  of  Israel  and  the  menorah  as  lighting  fixture  (a  double  entendre  in  Hebrew).  The  Abisha  Scroll  is  particularly  prominent  in  his effervescent  images.

In  Tabernacles, Yona  Verwer  set  imagery  drawn  from  Samaritan  Tabernacle  drawings  in  conversation with  medieval  Jewish  depictions  of  the  Tabernacle. She  printed  her  two  tabernacles  on  a vertical  blind,  so  that  each  could  be  seen  to  varying  degrees  simultaneously— or separately. 

Andi Arnovitz created Palimpsest as  an  assembly  of  (almost)  identical  Samaritan  and  Jewish  Torah  texts printed  back  to  back  on  rice  paper  then  bound,  rolled and shelved.

Hillel  Smith,  Richard  McBee  and  Archie  Rand  interpreted  the  Samaritan-Jewish  relationship  in  figurative  terms.  

Smith  drew  on  the  visage  of  Jacob  son  of  Aaron,  creating  a  contemporary  legend  in  Samaritan Hebrew that Samaritans can read, but others can only recognize.

In The Encounter McBee presents the Binding of Isaac, with two “Abrahams”— an American Orthodox Jew and a Samaritan. The Samaritan “Abraham” bears the iconic features of high priest Jacob son of Aaron. Each  ascends  the  mountain  to  sacrifice  his  only  son,  Isaac, as described in Genesis 22. 

In  The  Samaritans,  Archie  Rand  creates  an  iconic  association  between  a  Jewish  and  a  Samaritan  man,  each  in  ritual garb and both set at the time of religious focus.

Judith Joseph created a homage to Badri Cohen’s Passover tale, creating a bell reminiscent of those worn by the  sheep  titled  The  Voice  of  the  Bell,  Joseph’s  bell  is  engraved with flora typical of plants on Mount Gerizim.  Leather  strands  dangle  small  bells  that  tinkle  in  the  wind,  each  strand  punched with Samaritan script.

In  The  Death  of  Shobakh,  Silverstein  engages  the  “Epistle  of  Joshua Son of Nun,” a story preserved in the Samaritan chronicles that  was  absorbed  into  Jewish  literature  during  the  Early  Modern  period. Drawing on comic book and other pop culture imagery,  Silverstein  tells  the  story  of  Shobakh,  king  of  Armenia,  who led a great legion to the valley of Shechem to take back the Land from  Joshua  and  the  children  of  Israel.  

Museum of the Bible, September 16-January 1, 2023

400 4th St. SW, Washington, DC 20024

1-866-430-6682 Daily 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

Opening Events September 15

A First Look at The Samaritans 
Exhibition is open to guests registered to attend the panel discussion. 
5:30–6:30 p.m., Floor 5

Panel Discussion: The Samaritans: Ancient and Modern virtual and in-person program
6:30–8:00 p.m., Floor 6

Get Tickets: Virtual or In Person

On September 16 and 18: screening of the documentary The Samaritans: A Biblical People, which reveals Samaritan life through interviews with several members of the community.

The exhibition is accompanied by an exquisitely illustrated 240 page publication, edited by Steven Fine.