Thursday, May 30, 2013

Karaite Attitudes Towards Jesus (not Ben Sirach) Part 1

Ever since the Karaite movement burst onto the scene in the Late to Early Middle Ages, their attitude towards Jesus (not neccesarily Christisanity) was nothing less than ambivalent.

Not long ago the current Chief Rabbi of the Karaites of Israel, Moshe Firrouz commissioned a conference at the Ben Gurion University of The Negev on the history and current situation of the Karaite Jews of Israel and the Diaspora. Among the speakers was Modern Orthodox Professor at BGU, Daniel J. Lasker who laid out a brief history of the Karaite Jews. He mentioned that in the past Karaite Hakhamim were reluctant about some of the things he said in his lectures that reflected innacurately (in their view) on Karaite hakhamim of the past. Lasker points out that former Karaite Chief Hakham Emanuel Massuda , unlike other Orthodox Rabbis, did not forbid his disciples from attending his lectures and was open minded enough to entertain differing viewpoints. 

In Lasker's excellent book From JudahHadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval KaraitePhilosophy, Lasker outlines the evolution of Karaite Jewish philosophy from the Medieval Period until Modern times.

Among other things, Lasker mentioned the 'tender' attitude exhibited by the early Karaite sage Judah Hadassi towards Jesus. In his seminal work Eshkol Hakofer Hadassi refers to Jesus as
ישוע. איש. מתוקן. וחכם. וצדיק. בדבריו.

Literally: Jesus was a decent person, a wise man and and righteous in his words. (deeds?)1

Many-if not most-contemporary Israeli Karaites are understandably uncomfortable with such characterizations and proclaim Jesus to be a false prophet. From the research of experts on the subject, such as Professor Moshe Gil and others, we learn that early Karaites and Ananaites exhibited attitudes towards Jesus that ranged from hostility, to ambivalence, to outright glorification (although never deification).1

Let me quote from an article that appeared in The Jewish Quarterly Review Vol. 83 , No. 1/2, entitled Karaite Piyyut in Southeastern Europe :

The Karaite poets, like their Rabbanite counterparts, prayed for relief from domination from Christian and Muslim powers. Some of the prayers reflect the tension between master and subject and the Karaites' intense longing for redemption. In his supplication for the Ten Days of Mercy Aaron b. Joseph asks:
ועד מתי מחרף לא ירפני עד בלתי רקי/באמור אלי כי עבר זמן חקי.
"and how long will the blasphemer persist in not allowing me to swallow my spittle. He keeps telling me that my fixed time has already passed"

The reference is to the Christian argument that the Messiah had already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, In the same poem, Aaron, following the model of Abraham Ibn Ezra prays:

מי יתנני בקבר איש חמודות וקיץ חזיוני יבנני
Would that you would allow me into the grave of the precious man (Daniel) so that he make me under stand the prophecy of the end time

Caleb Afendopolo is more forceful in his condemnation of Israel's masters. In a hatanu for The Ten Days of Mercy he asks:

איך סגולתך ונחלתך אשר בחיקך שועה
ימצאהו איש והנה תועה
How sad for your treasure and your possesion (i.e. Israel) who turn to your laws, that a man who has gone astray has laid claim to them

The term איש is a metonymy for Jesus and the reference is to Christian power.

c.f. the Qedushta of Benjamin b. Samuel Arukha me'eres middah in Anthology of Hebrew Poetry, p. 42:

לא יהיה לך גיעול סבלים בתבנית איש עמולים 
you shall not have loathsome symbols made in the image of [the] man  


veim bben sirach askinan...

Attitudes on seeing a physician at all (Anan and his followers apparently forbid it, see Cahn, The Rise of the Karaite Sect) as an infraction of the verse that appears in Exodus (courtesy of Mechon Mamre):

כו  וַיֹּאמֶר אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע לְקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְהַאֲזַנְתָּ לְמִצְו‍ֹתָיו, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ כָּל-חֻקָּיו--כָּל-הַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם, לֹא-אָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, רֹפְאֶךָ.  {ס}26 and He said: 'If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His eyes, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD that healeth thee.'

Interestingly enough some Rabbanites likewise  forbid seeing a physician on account of this same verse. So what is the connection to Ben Sira, you might ask? well, Ben Sira extols the virtues of the Physician (in marked contrast to some early Rabbinic attitudes such as 'hatov sh'brofoim l'gehenom'). In chapter 38 of his book, entitled "In Praise of the Physician" (see also here), he writes:

1 Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; 2 for their gift of healing comes from the Most High, and they are rewarded by the king. 3 The skill of physicians makes them distinguished, and in the presence of the great they are admired. 4 The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and the sensible will not despise them. 5 Was not water made sweet with a tree in order that its power might be known? 6 And he gave skill to human beings that he might be glorified in his marvelous works. 7 By them the physician heals and takes away pain; 8 the pharmacist makes a mixture from them. God's works will never be finished; and from him health spreads over all the earth. 9 My child, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. 10 Give up your faults and direct your hands rightly, and cleanse your heart from all sin. 11 Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of choice flour, and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford. 12 Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; do not let him leave you, for you need him. 13 There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, 14 for they too pray to the Lord that he grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life. 15 He who sins against his Maker, will be defiant toward the physician

In the original Hebrew it appears in 2 different translations from the Greek:

Isaac Fraenkel:

א) הדר פני רופא וכבדהו, כי יקום לך בעת צרה.
(ב) הרופא והמרפא יצרם ה', ומלכים יכבדוהו.
(ג) חכמת רופא תרוממנו, ונגידים עליו יתמהו.
(ד) סמים הצמיח ה' מן האדמה, ונבון לא יקוץ במו.
(ה) הלא המתיק במו מים המרים, להודיע כוחם לבני אדם.
(ו) וחכמה אצל לילודי אישה, להתפאר ברוב נפלאותיו.
(ז) למרקחת ירקחם הרוקח, אך קצרה ידו לרפא, אם ה' לא ייתן חיים על פני הארץ.
(ח) לכן כי חלית בני, העתר מהר אל ה' והוא ירפאך.
(ט) סור מרע והרחק מאון כפך, וזכך לבך אל ה'.
(י) והקטר קטורת לאזכרה, והקרב סולת למנחה, והסך נסך שכר לה' כמתחטא.
(יא) ואז הפקד ביד הרופא נפשך, כי מאת ה' הוא, ולא תשלחנו עד כי נרפאת.
(יב) יש רופא אשר תעלה לך על ידו ארוכה, כי יקרא אל ה' לעזרו למען החיות נפשך.
(יג) החוטא לאלוהים, ייפול בידי רופא.

Avraham Kahana (partially reconstructed from findings of the original Hebrew text from The Cairo Geniza The DSS and other):

א) רעי רופא לפני צרכו, כי עם אותו חלק אל.
(ב) מאת אל יחכם רופא, ומאת מלך ישא משאות.
(ג) דעת רופא תרים קרנו, ולפני נדיבים יתיצב.
(ד) אל מארץ מצוציא תרופות, וגבר מבין אל ימאס בם.
(ה) הלא בעץ המתיקו מים, בעבור להודיע כל אנוש כחו.
(ו) ויתן לאנוש בינה, להתפאר בגבורתו.
(ז) בהם רופא יניח מכאוב, וכן רוקח עושה מרקחת.
(ח) למען לא ישבות מעשהו, ותושיה מבני אדם.
(ט) בני בחולי על תתעבר, התפלל אל אל כי הוא ירפא.
(י) נום מעול ומהכר פנים, ומכל פשעים טהר לב.
(יא) הגש ניחוח אזכרה, ודשן ערוך בכנפי הוניך.
(יב) וגם לרופא תן מקום, ולא ימוש כי גם בו צורך.
(יג) כי יש עתם אשר בידו מצלחת, כי גם הוא אל אל יעתיר.
(יד) אשר יצלח לו פשרה, ורפאות למען מחיה.
(טו) אשר חואט לפני עושהו, יתנכר לפני רופא.


At Sunday, June 02, 2013 12:32:00 AM, Blogger Shawn Lichaa said...

Excellent post, chaver. I can't wait to see more. I have Lasker's book. It is excellent and I recommend it for anyone who already has a good grasp of Karaite Judaism and wants to deepen his/her knowledge.


At Sunday, June 09, 2013 2:50:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Thanks Shawn. I don't know why but I found your comment in my spam folder. I am very glad that I checked it and I was able to post it.

At Saturday, November 02, 2013 3:06:00 PM, Blogger James Jordan said...

"Jesus (not Ben Sirach)" -- have you ever read the Didache? It an early Christian document. It begins quoting Jesus of Nazareth, but sneaks in a quote of Jesus Ben Sira representing it as one of Jesus of Nazareth. It quotes JC from the gospels "Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back" but apparently not being satisfied with such bad advice also quotes Ben Sira "Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give."

As to Karaite view on Jesus, I was reading yesterday Weider's "The Judean Scrolls and Karaism" or maybe it was Karaite Anthology, one or the other, and noticed one Karaite author said something like "The Rabbanites killed Jesus." I think probably they saw Jesus as an early Karaite whose message was distorted by Paul just like the Torah is distorted by the Rabbanites. If you understood the Torah from the Talmud you would think it was vile, just as understanding Jesus through Christian tradition and editing makes him look so. So its probably a benefit of the doubt, he didn't really say these bad things but he did say these good ones, kind of thing.

At Monday, November 04, 2013 7:05:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Thanks for the comment James.
The man who 'deflected' the blame for Jesus' death on the Rabbanites, was the eccentric but brilliant 19th century Karaite scholar and bookman, Avraham Firkovich. The accusation was included in his virulently antirabbinic book Ḥotam Tokhnit published in Gözleve, Crimea in 1834. Firkovich didn't stop there and further accused the Rabbanites of killing Anan ben David, the Babylonian Jewish scholar and founder of the anti-rabbinic Ananite sect.

The book caused such a stir in both the Rabbanite and Christian communities, that he eventually recalled it and apparently recanted the accusations contained therein. One must remember that Firkovich was close friends with the Rabbinic Maskilim of his day and even expressed his great admiration for the founder of Haskala, Moses Mendelsohn in his poems.

The book was probably the result of a fit of rage on the part of Firkovich. The latter would often come under sharp attack by the Orthodox, especially Hassidim who obviously considered him a unrepentant heretic (if they considered him a Jew at all..).

Also check out Avraham Firkowicz in Istanbul: 1830-1832 : paving the way for Turkic nationalism By Dan Shapira

At Monday, November 04, 2013 7:11:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

What is sort of ironic about all this is that many Maskilim deflected the blame for Jesus' death on the ancient (and extinct) Sadduccee sect.

In a series of historical articles, featured in the Maskilic journal Hamelitz, the author recounts the events leading up to Jesus' death and blames his execution on the priestly Sadduccees led by their High Priest, Caipha. It was a conscious attempt (although not exactly crowned with success) to absolve the Jews from charges of deicide leveled at them (and the resultant harsh Czarist discriminatory laws).

According to German-Jewish Wissenschaft scholars, Zunz and Geiger however, the Karaites are the spiritual and even physical descendants of the ancient Sadduccees!

You can say many things about God, but lacking a sense of humor is certainly not one of them :)


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