Saturday, April 26, 2008

"It was probably like this in the time of the temple"

West Bank Samaritans mark Passover with blood and fire

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank (AFP) — Men chant in ancient Hebrew over the sheep, their white garments and knives lit by the fading dusk as they ready a sacrifice for the God of Israel in the heart of the West Bank.

The voice of the high priest crackles from a megaphone, the chanting reaches a climax and they wrestle dozens of animals to the ground, slitting their throats in a 5,000 year-old Passover ritual that may predate Judaism.

The faithful are Samaritans, a community of 710 people living in Israel and the occupied West Bank who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelites Moses led out of Egypt, an event they remember every year on a grassy hilltop near the Palestinian town of Nablus.

...As the men skin the carcasses and sprinkle them with salt, others light bonfires in sunken cauldrons, flames licking at the darkening sky as wood smoke and burning entrails mingle with the cool spring air.

The Samaritans believe they are the inheritors of the religion of Moses as laid down in the Torah, that the God of Abraham lives on Mount Gerizim, and that they can be modern ambassadors of peace in a troubled region.

...Those who have come to view the ceremony -- Christians, Muslims, and Jews -- look on with a mixture of horror and wonder at the ancient wellspring of their three faiths, a primordial sacrifice on a holy mountain.

"It was probably like this in the time of the temple," says Yigal Kann...

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