There is little doubt that the ancient Samaritans reflected the Sadducean position with regard to the timing of byn ha-arabim (twilight after sunset).
To support this detail, we retain one piece of evidence from an ancient Samaritan writer, Ezekielos the Tragedian, in his work titled ἐζαγωγή (Exagoge; Deliverance).1
This work was composed sometime between the first part of the second century until about 90 B.C.E.,2 i.e., as early as the outbreak of the Hasmonaean Revolt or as late as the first decade of the next century.
Clement of Alexandria calls Ezekielos “the poet of Jewish tragedies.”3 Important fragments of the Exagoge have survived in the works of Eusebius.4
Internal evidence from this tragic drama reveals that the author belonged to the ancient Samaritan sect, which used the Aristocratic method.5 As we shall demonstrate, the ancient Samaritans held that byn ha-arabim begins the day and that the entire Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread lasts only seven days, beginning with the 14th.
These Samaritans (called “Kuthim” by the Judaeans) were a mixture of foreign peoples, largely from the Babylonian, Median, and Persian regions, who had been forcibly settled in the country of Samaria, north of Judah, after the northern Israelites were deported out of their homeland by the powerful Assyrian empire in the late eighth until the mid-seventh century B.C.E.6
Ancient Samaritans Were Foreign Converts
Finding it difficult in their new home, and believing that their problems stemmed from their failure to worship the deity of the land, the Samaritans sent for a Levitical priest who converted them to the religion of Yahweh.7
Though they were not actually descendants of the Israelite people, these foreigners made claim to being descendants of the Israelites when the circumstances suited them—a point of great irritation to and a source of condemnation by the first century Judahites of Judaea.8
Later, in the year that Alexander the Great invaded Samaria and Judaea (332 B.C.E.), Manasseh—a Levitical high priest of the Zadok (Tsadoq) line of Aaron, and brother of Jaddua,9 the high priest of Yahweh at Jerusalem—married Nikaso, the daughter of Sanaballetes, king of the Samaritans.10
As the result of this marriage, Manasseh was made high priest of a new Temple of Yahweh built for the Samaritan people on Mount Gerizim, situated in Samaritan territory.11 Manasseh would have brought with him the Aristocratic view of Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
Connection to Zadokite Priesthood
Our first proof of the relationship between the conservative Zadokite priests and the Samaritans is found in the works of Hippolytus (early third century C.E.), who writes that a sect of the Sadducees “had its stronghold especially in the region around Samaria.”12 Epiphanius and John of Damascus likewise identify the Samaritans with the Sadducees.13
Next, these Samaritans followed only the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua, discounting even the Old Testament books of the Prophets, and like the Sadducees they dismissed any need to observe the oral laws of the Pharisees.14
The Samaritans, from the latter part of the second century B.C.E., differed from the Sadducees in that they argued that the high priest and the priesthood at Jerusalem, as well as the Temple built there, were not legitimate.15
The high priests of Jerusalem had been dominated for years by the Hasmonaeans and others who were appointed by the Herods or controlled by the Pharisees.
On the other hand, the priesthood established among the Samaritans claimed Zadokite heritage through Manasseh, the brother of Jaddua. Also in their eyes, the holy mountain was not Mount Zion but Mount Gerizim.16
The Sadducees and early Samaritans were politically opposed to one another. Therefore, the many points of agreement they shared in reference to the issues about Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread along with the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) must all have come from a previous long-standing practice prior to their schism.
Since the schism between the two parties was among the ruling priests and occurred in the later half of the fourth century B.C.E., this information indicates that the Aristocratic practice for these festivals was both dominant and very early.
Ancient Samaritan Understanding
With the fact that the high priests of the Samaritans were derived from the conservative Zadokites and were so similar to the Sadducees that they were called by that name, we can now examine the ancient Samaritan beliefs about Passover as revealed in the record from Ezekielos.
In Ezekielos’ drama of the Exodus, Yahweh tells Moses:
And you shall say to all the people, The full moon of the moon of which I speak, having sacrificed the Passover to the deity τῇ πρόσθε νυκτὶ (te prosthe nukti; before night), touch the doors with blood, which sign the fearsome angel will pass by. But you shall eat the roasted flesh by night.17
The Greek phrase τῇ πρόσθε νυκτὶ (te prosthe nukti) refers to the time in front of and immediately preceding the dark of night,18 i.e., the period of twilight after sunset. To this passage we add another that makes reference to the separation of the Passover lamb on the tenth of the moon. Ezekielos writes:
And when the 10th day of this moon is come, let Hebrew men by families thus select unblemished sheep and calves, and keep them until the 14th ἐπλάμψει (epilampsei; has fully come in) and sacrifice it προς ἑσπέραν (pros hesperan; at twilight).19
The Passover victim was kept until the 14th day ἐπλάμψει (epilampsei; has fully come in).20 R. G. Robertson translates ἐπλάμψει (epilampsei) to mean “has dawned,” i.e., the 14th day had just begun.21
It has been known for some time now that the Hebrew-Aramaic word אור (aur; to illuminate)22 is a technical term used for the twilight after sunset (a type of dawning light of a new day) which comes before the dawn of daylight (since in Hebrew and Samaritan time-reckoning the night precedes daylight).23
This usage is well-attested in the Mishnah,24 and, as Jehoshua M. Grintz so poignantly notes, “in the Gemara there is a discussion about the exact meaning and origin of this strange usage: ‘light’ is an euphemistic surrogate for ‘night.’”25
This same Hebrew phrasing is found behind the Greek of Matthew, 28:1.26 Ezekielos was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans spoke a form of Hebrew-Aramaic. His Greek tragedy about the Exodus merely reflects this old Hebrew-Aramaic thought and usage.
In effect, from his perspective, the twilight (dawn) coming after sunset begins a 24-hour day, just as much as the twilight (dawn) before sunrise begins the daylight portion of a common day.
It is within this context that the Greek expression προς ἑσπέραν (pros hesperan; at twilight),27 being the time of the sacrifice, must be understood.
When these thoughts are all placed together, it shows that the sacrifice was made προς ἑσπέραν (pros hesperan; at twilight), just when the 14th ἐπλάμψει (epilampsei; had dawned, had fully come in), yet τῇ πρόσθε νυκτὶ; (te prosthe nukti; before night).
Therefore, the Passover was sacrificed at twilight, just before nightfall, on the 14th day of the first moon; it was then eaten on that same night, on the 14th day of the moon.
Finally, Ezekielos states, “You shall keep this festival to the master (Yahweh) seven days unleavened. Leaven will not be eaten.”28
For the early Samaritans, these seven days of Passover were counted “from the morn in which you fled from Egypt, and did journey seven days, from that same morn.”29 This passage is only correctly understood from the ancient Aristocratic viewpoint.
It is more fully expressed in the Samaritan Commentary to the Asatir, which notes, “The sacrifice of the Passover was from arab until the break of the first dawn. And the festival is from the break of the first dawn to the setting of the sun.”30
This statement reveals that, for those of the Aristocratic school, like the ancient Samaritans, byn ha-arabim—being the time when the lamb was sacrificed—and the nighttime period when the lamb was consumed were both part of the first half of the 14th day.
The remains of the lamb were burnt in the morning, thereby ending that part of the festival. Meanwhile, sunset ended the second half of the day.
The seven days are thereby divided so that the first day of Unleavened Bread consists of the sacrifice and Passover supper, lasting from the period immediately following sunset (= arab) until the dawn of the first day.
The Khag of Unleavened Bread follows in the second half of the first day, from the dawn until sunset of the 14th, and then continues six more days.
It was a technical way for the early Samaritans to explain the superimposition of the one-day Khag of Passover atop the seven-day Khag of Unleavened Bread at the time of the Exodus.
The day of the Passover, accordingly, was the same day as first of the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
Except for Ezekielos the Tragedian and the later Commentary to the Asatir, we know little more of how the ancient Samaritans kept the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread.
Nevertheless, we cannot fail to realize that the neo-Samaritans, who are a much more recent sect, would not have held on to their Aristocratic interpretation of byn ha-arabim (= twilight after sunset), neither would they have resisted the pressure from the more powerful Pharisees to adopt the Hasidic view, unless the Aristocratic approach was indeed their own original understanding.
The records show that the Samaritans were first taught by the early Levitical priests and, in the days of Alexander the Great, established Manasseh (the brother of Jaddua, the conservative Zadokite high priest of Jerusalem) as the founder of their own high priest line.
As a result, ancient Samaritan ideas about the Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread paralleled the conservative Aristocratic understanding.
Aristocratic System More Ancient
The evidence also proves that the Aristocratic system was in practice long before the founding of the Hasidic school.
Therefore, the ancient Zadokite priests and their spiritual brothers and descendants the Sadducees, ancient Samaritans, and Boethusian Sadducees retained a more ancient view of byn ha-arabim.
In their understanding byn ha-arabim meant the period between sunset and dark.
In turn, the earlier Aristocratic groups, including the Sadducees and ancient Samaritans, kept only a seven-day festival, lasting from the beginning of the 14th until the end of the 20th.
This point is demonstrated even further in our post dealing with the Quartodeciman Christians, who followed the Aristocratic system. See 21. Passover – The Quartodecimans I and 22. Passover – The Quartodecimans II.
For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
1 Fragments are quoted by Eusebius P.E. 9:28f; Clement Strom. 1:23:155f; and Ps.-Eustathius (PG, 18, p. 729).
2 OTP 2 p. 804, “perhaps the first part of the second century B.C.”; AOASH 2 p. 148, suggests that Ezekielos flourished about 90 B.C.E.
5 This evidence comes from two details. First, Ezekielos shows a clear bias toward the Aristocratic view that byn ha-arabim begins the day and that the entire Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread lasts only seven days, beginning with the 14th. Second, Ezekielos regards the ordinances from the time of the Exodus out of Egypt—that is, the selection of the Passover victim on the 10th day, the smearing of the blood of the Passover victim, and the special wardrobe worn—as binding on later generations. Only the Samaritans are known to have continued these customs (see REJ 46, pp. 174ff; THP pp. 24f). The fact that Ezekielos is a Samaritan yet is called a Jew is easily explained. The Samaritans were considered a Jewish sect by ancient writers (Eusebius H.E. 4:22:7; Socrates Schol. 5:22), and the Samaritans (Kuthim) often made the claim that they were descendants of the ancient Israelites who had originally settled in the districts of Samaria (see below n. 8). Also see SHDL pp. 143f.
6 2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:8-10; Jos. Antiq. 9:14:1, 3, 11:4:3, cf., 11:7:2.
7 2 Kings 17:24-34; Jos. Antiq. 9:14:3.
8 E.g., Jos. Antiq. 9:14:3, 10:9:7, 11:2:1, 11:4:3f, 9, 11:7:2, 11:8:6, 12:5:5; John 4:9; Luke 9:51-56; Shebi. 8:10, “one who eats the bread of the Kuthim is as if he eats swine’s flesh.”
9 Jos., Antiq. 11:7:2-11:8:4, cf., 20:10:1f.
10 Jos. Antiq. 11:7:2, 11:8:2-4.
11 Jos. Antiq. 11:7:2, 11:8:2-4, 13:9:1.
12 Hippolytus Ref. Her., 9:24.
13 Epiphanius Pan., 1:14; John Dam. 16.
14 SEJS pp. 225f; BJK p. 387; DB p. 584; EBD p. 907; cf., Jos. Antiq. 13:8:6, 18:1:4. John Dam., 14, states that the Samaritans “reject the post-Mosaic prophecies.” The statements asserted by Epiphanius (Pan., 14), Origen (Celsus, 1:49), and Jerome (Com. Matt. 3, on 22:31-33), that the Sadducees rejected the prophets and Hagiographa, and relied upon the Pentateuch, refer only to the Samaritans and not to the Judahite Sadducees (cf., CBTEL 9, pp. 235f).
16 SHDL pp. 7, 55–57; SEJS pp. 234–239; SAJ pp. 142–144.
17 Eusebius P.E., 9:28:16 (lines 156–160).
18 For the Greek term πρόσθε (prosthe) see GEL 1889, p. 691, “of Time, before”; and for νυκτὶ (nukti), a form of νύζ (nuks), see GEL 1889, p. 536, “night.”
19 Eusebius P.E., 9:28:19 (lines 175–179).
20 The Greek term ἐπλάμψει (epilampsei) means to “shine after or thereupon” and in the case of ἡμέρης ἐπιλάμψάσης, “when day had fully come,” i.e., when a day had fully begun (GEL 1889, p. 295).
21 OTP 2 p. 816 (line 178). The Syrian Christian writer Aphraates (Dem. 12:12, cf., v. 6-8, 12-13) similarly follows this Aristocratic interpretation and places the correct observance of the Passover supper on the “dawn of the 14th,” equating it with the time of night that the messiah kept his Last Supper with his disciples.
22 SEC Heb. #215.
26 JBL 79, pp. 37–39. In the case of Matt. 28:1, the Greek term ἐπιφωσκούσῃ (epiphoskouse) was used, meaning “to begin to grow light:—begin to dawn” (SEC Gk. #2020).
27 The term πρὸς (pros), when used with ἑσπέραν (hesperan), means “at” or “on the side of” the time of hesperan (GEL 1889, pp. 684, 318). More exactly, this phrase refers to the very beginning time or just upon the time of hesperan (= arab). The Greek phrase πρὸς ἑσπέραν (pros hesperan) is used in the LXX as the equivalent of the Hebrew לעת ערב (la-ath arab; at the time of arab), cf., LXX at Gen. 8:11; 2 Sam. (MT 2 Kings) 11:2; Isa. 17:14; and the Hebrew בין הערבים (byn ha-arabim), cf., LXX at Exod. 12:6, 16:12; Num. 9:3, 11, 28:4, 8. This detail seems to indicate that the original thought in this passage was the time byn ha-arabim. The Samaritans considered the time of byn ha-arabim to be two minutes past sunset (PHT p. 81.), therefore just at the beginning of twilight.
28 Eusebius P.E., 9:28:19 (lines 188f). Line 189 literally states, “Seven days (of eating) unleavened (bread), and you will not eat leavened (bread).” An alternate form of punctuation links the first part of this line with the preceding line, resulting in the translation, “You will keep this festival to the master, seven days unleavened. Leaven will not be eaten” (OTP 2, p. 816, n. b3).
29 Eusebius P.E., 9:28:17 (∞. 168f).