Saul (fl. 9th century) was the grandson of ʿAnan ben David
, said to have founded the proto-Karaite Ananite sect in the eighth century. The Jacobite Syrian historian Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286), basing himself on earlier Syriac chronicles, recounts that in 825 a battle over the office of exilarch
broke out between Daniel and David ben Judah
. Bar Hebraeus asserts that Daniel was an adherent of the Ananite heresy. Since this conflict had repercussions for Christians in the Abbasid caliphate, it attracted the attention of Christian chroniclers. According to their accounts, the dispute was brought before the caliph al-Ma'mūn (r. 813–833), and he ruled that every group of ten people among the ahl al-dhimma
had the right to form their own sect. The Epistle of Sherira Gaon
states that the power of the exilarchs declined during the exilarchate of David ben
Judah, an assertion repeated by the gaon of the Baghdad yeshiva,Samuel ben
Eli. Both geonim may have been referring to the dramatic outcome of the struggle between the two figures who according to the Syrian chronicles were contending for the position of exilarch.
Sherira Gaon was interested in the struggle over the exilarchate because it caused a split in the Pumbedita yeshiva. By his account, the conflict broke out during Abraham ben
Sherira’s incumbency as gaon of Pumbedita (816–828). A competitor for the exilarchate appointed theav bet din
(chief judge) of the academy to the post of gaon as a quid pro quo for the av bet din
’s support; this gave rise to a situation in which two geonim were serving simultaneously. Sherira failed to mention who it was that the av bet din
had backed. As for the rival candidates for the exilarchate, Sherira merely gave the name Daniel (without patronymic) as the rival ofDavid ben
Judah. The responsa of the gaon of Sura, Naṭronay bar Hilay
(853–861), preserved in the siddur
(prayerbook) of Rav Amram Gaon
(861–872), note that Anan ben David
had a grandson named Daniel.
That a grandson of Anan ben David
could have received support from one of the gaonic academies in a contest for the exilarchate caused scholars to question the identity of David ben
Judah’s rival. Jacob Mann claimed that this Daniel could not have been the grandson of the man who according to early Karaite sources had founded the Ananite movement. He found it inconceivable that a member of this family would have had supporters in the bastion of the Babylonian Rabbanite establishment. With respect to the assertion of Bar Hebraeus, Mann maintained that he had conflated two notables who were both active at that time, one of them being Daniel the exilarch, a Rabbanite, and therefore supported by members of the Rabbanite camp, and the other Daniel ben
Saul, the grandson of Anan
, who was obviously in the Karaite camp.
A recently discovered document from the Cairo Geniza
indicates that the Daniel who was striving to become exilarch was indeed the grandson of Anan
and was supported by a faction in the Sura yeshiva. No less surprising, another Geniza document, dealing with the history of the Palestinian gaonate, reveals that Anan’s great-grandson, Ṣemaḥ ben
Saul benAnan ben David
(the son of Daniel’s brother), served as head of the Palestinian yeshiva for thirty-one years, till about 893. Ṣemaḥ was apparently not the only gaon from the House ofAnan
in the Palestinian yeshiva. According to Moshe Gil, an anonymous letter written by a Babylonian exilarch indicates that there was an alliance between the Palestinian yeshiva headed by the House of Anan
and Daniel the exilarch. This letter, which Gil ascribes to Daniel, deals with the calendrical arrangements for the year 835, and in it the exilarch declares that the sages of Palestine support him on issues related to the calendar. It should be noted that scholars are still divided about the identity of this exilarch.
The Muslim historian al-Bīrūnī (d. after 1050) states that Daniel ben
Saul’s son, whose name was Anan
, was the person who founded the Ananite movement in about 890. According to Gil, the exilarchic branch of the House of Anan
only joined the Karaites and became their leaders in the second half of the ninth century, the period when Daniel and his son Anan
II) were active. In Gil’s opinion, the fact that both Daniel and Ṣemaḥ held leadership positions in the Rabbanite establishment demonstrates that it was only in a later period that Anan ben David
could have been credited with establishing the Ananite movement. André Paul assumed, even before Gil, that the Rabbanite source recounting that Anan ben David
managed to get out of prison during his struggle over the exilarchate with his brother, the exilarch Ḥananiah, by claiming that he was not rebelling against him but rather establishing a new Jewish sect, fits the period of al-Ma'mūn, during whose reign Daniel was trying to attain the exilarchate. Thus the story should not be attributed to the era of al-Manṣūr’s caliphate, when Anan ben David
In summary, the sources indicate that Daniel, Anan’s grandson, was the person who engaged in a struggle over the office of exilarch around the year 825. The outcome was significant for all the dhimmī
communities in the Abbasid caliphate. The support Daniel received from factions in the Rabbanite establishment and the fact that his nephew Ṣemaḥ served as the head of the Palestinian yeshiva have posed difficult questions about the origins of the Karaite movement. A final verdict is not yet possible. As for Anan
II, Daniel’s son, there is only uncorroborated evidence from a single Muslim source that credits him with founding the Ananite movement. His descendants, if there were any, disappeared from the historical arena.
Abramson, Sheraga. In the Centers and in the Diaspora (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 9–20 [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe. Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 105–111, 221-223.
Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies, vol. 2 (New York: Ktav, 1972), pp. 128–131.
Paul, André. Ecrits de Qumran et sectes juives aux premiers siècles de lʿIslam (Paris: Letouzey & Ané, 1969), pp. 15-24.