Hundreds of people from throughout Israel arrived on Sunday to watch as Samaritan elders performed sacrifices of sheep in celebration of their Passover holiday on Mount Gerizim Sunday evening.
Hundreds of men, women and children from the sect joined together at a courtyard where male representatives of each household slaughtered sheep, following a prayer service led by the Samaritan high priest, who shook as he shouted out Aramaic verses, including biblical descriptions of the Passover offering.
A bit of blood was symbolically placed on the foreheads of the wives and children of those who brought the sacrifices. The sheep were prepared in festive holiday cuisine.
Samaritans believe they are descendants of the sons of the biblical Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe, and say their tribe withstood the numerous exiles of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim is the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua brought the Israelites from the Egyptian exodus and conquered the land.
By the time the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile, they no longer considered the Samaritans co-religionists.
The Samaritan religion today draws heavily from Judaism, but does not include the Talmud.
The Samaritan population has shrunken considerably since the Roman era, when it numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Today, approximately 800 members live either on Mount Gerizim in Samaria or in the Israeli city of Holon.
The group continues to celebrate the main pilgrimage holidays, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot.
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