Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding

Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding

by Fred Astren
Pub. Date:
University of South Carolina Press

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Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding

Notions of history and the past contained in literature of the Karaite Jewish sect offer insight into the relationship of Karaism to mainstream rabbinic Judaism and to Islam and Christianity. Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding describes how a minority sectarian religious community constructs and uses historical ideology. It investigates the proportioning of historical ideology to law and doctrine and the influence of historical setting on religious writings about the past.

Fred Astren discusses modes of representing the past, especially in Jewish culture, and then poses questions about the past in sectarian—particularly Judaic sectarian—contexts. He contrasts early Karaite scripturalism with the literature of rabbinic Judaism, which, embodying historical views that carry a moralistic burden, draws upon the chain of tradition to suppose a generation-to-generation transmission of divine knowledge and authority. Karaites in the medieval Islamic world eschewed historical thinking, in concert with their rejection of the rabbinic concept of tradition. One important medieval Karaite, al-Qirqisani, however, constructed a sophisticated historical argument as part of his philosophical exposition of Karaism, demonstrating theological and philosophical strategies common in Islam and Christianity.

The center of Karaism shifted to the Byzantine-Turkish world during the twelfth through sixteenth centuries, when a new historical outlook unoblivious of the past accommodated legal developments influenced by rabbinic thought. Reconstructing Karaite historical expression from both published works and previously unexamined manuscripts, Astren shows that Karaites relied on rabbinic literature to extract and compile historical data for their own readings of Jewish history, which they recorded in an encyclopedic literature similar to contemporary Byzantine Christian Orthodox writing. Astren documents how as the Karaites moved toward a concept of tradition and echoed rabbinic historical formulations, they developed a version of the chain of tradition to link archaic biblical history to their own community.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Karaite scholars in Poland and Lithuania collated and harmonized historical materials inherited from their Middle Eastern predecessors. Astren portrays the way that Karaites, with some influence from Jewish Renaissance historiography and impelled by features of Protestant-Catholic discourse, prepared complete literary historical works that maintained their Jewishness while offering a Karaite reading of Jewish history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781570035180
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Publication date: 09/28/2004
Series: Studies in Comparative Religion Series
Pages: 424
Sales rank: 1,081,045
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Table of Contents

Series Editor's Prefaceix
Representing One's Past1
Jewish Tradition and the Past2
Describing Sectarianism and Karaite Judaism5
History and Sacred History10
Studying Karaite History and Karaite Notions of the Past13
Jewish History beyond Sect17
Some Notes on Terminology and Transliteration19
Part 1
Chapter 1The Islamic Context of Jewish History, Seventh through Eleventh Centuries23
Lack of Documentary Sources25
Unification of the Jewish World26
Increased Dominance of the Talmudic System and Rabbinic Leadership29
The Legal Context: Increased Individuality in the Expression of the Law30
The Long-term Challenge of Islamization32
Notions of the Past40
Chapter 2The Past in Early Karaite Judaism65
Palestino-centrism, Scripturalism, Quasi-ascetic Piety, and Messianism in Islamdom66
Polemic and Halakhah: The Karaite Struggle against Rabbinic Tradition72
Karaite Approaches to the Past in Medieval Islam76
Ya'qub al-Qirqisani: Heresiography and Rationalism in a Karaite Construction of History98
Chapter 3Confronting the Past: Karaite Historical Thought in the Byzantine Empire, Twelfth through Thirteenth Centuries124
Early Byzantine Karaism: Tobias ben Moses and the Karaite Hebrew Literary Project125
Encyclopedism and Judah Hadassi130
Hilluk ha-Kara'im veha-Rabbanim: A Byzantine Karaite Claim to History141
Conclusion to Part One158
Karaite Legal Theory, Notions of Tradition, and the Reading of Rabbinic Literature158
Part 2
Chapter 4The Problem of a Karaite Chain of Tradition185
Three Yefets: The Problem of Authorship185
Killing the Scholars: Judah Halevi and the Origins of Karaism192
The Chain of Tradition in the Matteh 'Elohim of Moses Bashyachi201
Chapter 5Mobilizing the Past: Later Byzantino-Turkish Karaism, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries217
Prelude to Reflorescence: Thirteenth through Fifteenth Centuries217
Halakhah and the Past: Elijah Bashyachi228
Pieces of a Metanarrative: Caleb Afendopolo232
First Attempts at Narrative History: Moses Bashyachi240
Chapter 6The Narrative Past: Karaite Apologetic Historiography in Eastern Europe, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries244
Declining Social Conditions and the Christian Renaissance-Reformation Discourse245
Invitation to Historiography: Solomon ben Aaron Troki and Mordecai ben Nisan252
The Creative History of Simhah Isaac Lutzki259
Conclusion to Part Two274
The Meaning of Karaite Historical Narrative274
AppendixThe Chains of Tradition Published by Pinsker in Der Orient283
General Index323
Index to Citations from Biblical and Rabbinic Literature343

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