This old manuscript is written in Hebrew, and is said by the Jews to be the work of a man whose name has already come before us in Nehemiah’s story. We saw that Eliashib, the high priest, had a grandson named Manasseh, that Manasseh married the daughter of Sanballat, the Samaritan governor, and that Nehemiah felt very strongly that the temple would never be cleansed, nor God’s blessing rest upon them as a nation, so long as one of their own priests had a heathen wife, and was in constant communication with Sanballat. Accordingly he chased Manasseh from him, he made him at once leave the temple and his high position there; and Manasseh, in disgust and indignation, went off to Samaria to his father-in-law, Sanballat, taking his heathen wife and family with him.
Now it is that very Manasseh who was, according to the Jews, the writer of the Samaritan Pentateuch, that old copy of the Books of Moses. The Samaritans themselves declare that it is far more ancient; that it was written soon after the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, by the great-grandson of Aaron; whilst some scholars think it is far more modern than some other copies of the Pentateuch which have been discovered; but the Jews pronounce it to have been the work of Manasseh, the grandson of Eliashib, the high priest of Nehemiah’s day.
Manasseh arrived in Samaria, indignant with Nehemiah, and determined to have his revenge. He and his father-in-law were resolved not to be outdone by the Jews. They in Samaria would build a grand temple, just as the Jews had done in Jerusalem. One hill was as good as another, so they thought; their own Gerizim, with its lovely trees and its sunny slopes, was as fair or fairer than Mount Moriah.
So they set to work with all their energy, to build the rival temple on the very hill where 1000 years before, in the time of Joshua, the blessings of the law had been read, whilst the curses were pronounced from the hill on the opposite side of the valley, Mount Ebal.
Here then, on Gerizim, the mount of blessing, rose the new temple, which was built with one object in view, that it might outvie in splendour the one in Jerusalem. When it was finished, Manasseh was made the rival high priest, and was able to do what he liked, and to exercise his authority in any way he pleased in his father-in-law’s province.
Nor was Manasseh the only priest in the Gerizim temple; many other runaway priests joined him, all who were angry with Nehemiah, all who were offended or touchy, all who thought themselves injured in any way, all who had been found fault with for Sabbath-breaking or for any other sin, left Jerusalem for Samaria—chose the temple of Mount Gerizim instead of the holy temple on Mount Moriah.
Yet of the Samaritans it is said:
‘They feared the Lord, and served their own gods.’
It was a half-and-half religion, Judaism and heathenism mixed up together, the worship of God and the worship of idols side by side.