Prester Drop | Ānān “ben David” ibn Habibi, Founder of ʿĀnāniyya – Karaism

About ??n?n “ben David” ibn Habibi, Founder of ??n?niyya – Karaism


?Anan ben David

?Anan ben David was active in Baghdad during the reign of the city’s founder, the second Abbasid caliph, al-Man??r (r. 754–775). Starting in the twelfth century, Karaite historiography held that ?Anan was an Exilarch and credited him with founding the Karaite movement in IraqIraq/Babylonia and the Karaite community in Jerusalem. Prior to the twelfth century, however, Karaites made a definite distinction between themselves and ‘ Anan. They described him as having founded the ?Ananites (Heb. ?ananiyyim; Ar. al-?ananiyya), one of the many religious sects in Babylonia and Persia (Iran/Persia) at the beginning of the gaonic period. The early Karaites held that the community in Jerusalem was founded in the last quarter of the ninth century by the Mourners of Zion (Heb. aveley ?iyyon), who originally came from Iraq and Persia.

Early Karaite sources referred to ?Anan as an exilarch, but while he was indeed a member of the Davidic house, he never held that lofty office. The early Karaites saw ?Anan as a forerunner of their movement, an innovator who first propounded the idea that the Oral Law was created by men and, concomitantly, rejected the rabbinic chain of tradition extending back to Sinai, arguing that it only distanced people from the Bible. According to Karaite tradition, the Rabbanites tried to kill him, but were unsuccessful

?Anan rejected the Rabbanite laws (Heb. halakhot) based in the Talmud and wrote his own law book in Aramaic, Sefer ha-Mi?vot (The Book of Commandments). In his commentary on Psalms 69:1, the Karaite Salmon ben Jeroham (10th century) maintained that since ?Anan was the first to return to the Bible, his path was not easy, and in many halakhic areas he continued to follow the practices of the talmudic sages. The Karaite scholar and encyclopedist Jacob al-Qirqis?n? (10th century) stressed that the members of his movement were not the only ones who acknowledged ?Anan’s close affinity to the teachings of the talmudic rabbis. According to al-Qirqis?n?, Hayy Gaon (apparently Hayy ben Nahshon, 886–896) and his father found that only one of the halakhot in ?Anan’s Sefer ha-Mi?vot did not have a source in the rulings of the talmudic sages, and they eventually discovered the basis for that exceptional one in the piyyu?im (Heb. liturgical poems) of Yannai, who was active in Palestine at the end of the Byzantine period. The adoption of Palestinian halakhot that had been rejected in Babylonia was also a characteristic of early Karaite halakha. An entirely different picture of how the geonim related to ?Anan’s law book is found in the prayerbook of Amram ben Sheshna Gaon, which cites Na?ronay bar Hilay Gaon (853–861) as stating that ?Anan told his students: “Leave aside the words of the Mishna and the Talmud, and I will make you a Talmud of my own.” Na?ronay denounced Sefer ha-Mi?vot as Sefer To’evot (Book of Abominations), and ruled that ?Anan’s followers should be ostracized.

It is difficult to form an opinion about ?Anan’s teachings because only fragments of his Sefer ha-Mi?vot are extant. Most of what is known about his teachings is second-hand, derived from Karaite works, Rabbanite polemics, and some scant references by Muslims. It is important to note that the early Karaites criticized ?Anan for so closely following the Rabbanite halakha on many issues. Daniel al-Q?mis?, a founder of the Karaite movement and one of its first adherents to settle in Jerusalem, was a very harsh critic of ?Anan within the Karaite camp. In his commentary on the Book of Daniel, he claimed that if ?Anan was indeed an “enlightener” (Heb. maskil), then he was a failed enlightener, “because he was the first.” But al-Q?mis? doubted whether ?Anan was actually an enlightener at all. According to al-Qirqis?n?, al-Q?mis? initially admired ?Anan as the “head of the enlighteners” but later changed his mind and referred to him as “head of the benighted.” As it happens, some of the Qumran scrolls were discovered around the time al-Q?mis? arrived in Palestine. If he had an opportunity to read them, perhaps they were what led to his separation from ?Anan. Influenced by the scrolls that had fallen into his hands, he developed a messianic doctrine and in addition adopted some of the halakhot he found in the scrolls.

A study of early Karaite writings shows that the halakhic rulings ?Anan made in light of his biblical interpretations were the basis for the discussion of almost every halakhic issue. Often ?Anan’s stand would be challenged or condemned; nonetheless, the fact that such deliberations began with a representation of his method demonstrates that his teachings were part of the Karaite curriculum.

The Karaites’ reliance on ?Anan did not escape the notice of their Rabbanite rivals. In the Kuzari, Judah ha-Levi Judah ha-Levi wonders how the Karaites could have abandoned the venerable majority tradition of the talmudic sages with its reliance on the prophets in favor of the later tradition of a few individuals like ?Anan and Benjamin al-Nah?wand?. Interestingly, despite the importance of ?Anan’s doctrines to the Karaites of the tenth and eleventh centuries, it is obvious that many of them, in both Iraq and Palestine, did not have direct access to his writings until the mid-eleventh century, and that they referenced his statements from secondary sources. Only the Karaite Jeshua ben Judah, who was active in Jerusalem in the mid-eleventh century, actually quoted directly from Sefer ha-Mi?vot. A further confirmation of the Karaites’ lack of access to ?Anan’s writings is the statement by al-Qirqis?n? attributing a book on transmigration of souls to ?Anan but admitting that he himself had never seen it.

As mentioned, Karaite sources referred to ?Anan as exilarch. However, an anonymous Rabbanite source, which should almost certainly be ascribed to Sa?adya Gaon, claimed that ?Anan founded his own movement out of resentment because the rabbis of his generation had not appointed him to the exilarchate, selecting his brother Hananiah instead. The Karaite genealogical record affirmed that ?Anan was the grandson of ?isday and the great-grandson of Bustanay, the first exilarch after the Muslim conquest. Bustanay had two wives, one Jewish, and the other of Persian origin. Since ?isday was the son of the Jewish wife, ?Anan’s enemies could not claim that he was not a Jew, an allegation opponents often hurled at the descendants of Bustanay’s Persian wife generations after Bustanay’s death.

According to the Epistle (Iggeret) of Sherira Gaon, Solomon ben ?isday (?Anan’s uncle) was exilarch from 730 to 757. Na?ronay ben ?avivay, Bustanay’s great-grandson by his Jewish wife, was deposed from the exilarchate before 771, in favor of a descendant of his Persian wife. Moshe Gil has posited that ?avivay, Na?ronay’s father, was in fact ?aninay, that is, Hananiah, ?Anan’s brother, who was appointed exilarch instead of ?Anan and who served in office for about two years (760–762). The certainty that ?Anan was a member of the exilarchic house is reinforced by Rabbanite sources, which recount that his grandson Daniel was a Rabbanite exilarch in the first quarter of the ninth century, and that his great-grandson ?ema? ben Josiah (Josiah was Daniel’s brother) served as gaon of the Palestinian yeshiva for thirty-one years, until about 893. ?ema? held the title of nasi, signifying that he was a member of the Davidic house. The fact that ?Anan’s descendants held these distinguished positions within the Rabbanite establishment until the end of the ninth century led Gil to cast doubt on the early Karaite statements crediting ?Anan with founding the ?Ananite movement.

The Muslim scholar al-B?r?n? (d. after 1050) attributed the founding of the ?Ananites to another ?Anan (?Anan II) who was the son of the exilarch Daniel, ?Anan ben David’s grandson. According to al-B?r?n?, ?Anan II was active at the end of the ninth century. To date, this is the only source referring to him, and nothing whatsoever is known about his offspring. Gil believes that the descendants of the exilarch from ?Anan’s branch of the family only joined the Karaites in the ninth century, beginning with Daniel and ?Anan II. The offspring of ?ema? and Jehoshaphat ben Josiah are known to have headed the Karaite community in Jerusalem and to have had the title of nasi. Gil maintains that they inflated ?Anan’s contribution to the Karaite movement even though it had no basis in historical fact. In a Judeo-Arabic letter by a Rabbanite in Jerusalem, dated 1057, the author, referring to the Karaite Mourners of Zion community there, claims that the Karaites in his city were adopting the laws of ?Anan, “the head and ancient founder of the Karaites (Heb. qadmon ha-qara’im),” in matters of incest, but could not explain why they were doing so. This may be the first solid evidence that the Mourners of Zion community in Jerusalem already viewed ?Anan as their founder.

If we accept the contention of the early Karaites that ?Anan did indeed establish a movement, then the assertion of the Rabbanite polemicist that ?Anan’s sole reason for doing so was because he had not attained the coveted title of exilarch is nothing more than polemics, pure and simple. The founding of the ?Ananites should be considered within the context of the unrest that pervaded the Jewish communities conquered by the Muslims. ?Anan was active at a time when Muslim religious law was taking shape. Minor circles within Islam opposed the idea of basing Muslim religious law on oral tradition, the ?ad?th, maintaining that the Qur’?n was the sole source for religious law. In orthodox Muslim circles, too, a struggle arose over the status of the oral tradition. The Rabbanite narrative about ?Anan’s struggle with his brother Hananiah reported that the caliph, viewing this conflict as a revolt against the caliphate, imprisoned ?Anan and condemned him to death. ?Anan was saved, according to this account, by a Muslim scholar who told him that if he claimed to have founded a new sect in Judaism, his sentence would be commuted and he could go free. A Karaite source no earlier than the fourteenth century claims that this Muslim was none other than Ab? ?an?fa, the founder of the Hanifi legal school and one of the scholars who relegated the ?ad?th to a lower status within Islam. He called upon Muslim judges to use discretion (Ar. ra’y) based on wisdom. Furthermore, he made analogy (Ar. qiy?s) a juridical tool of the utmost importance in legal reasoning. Whether or not ?Anan actually met Ab? ?an?fa, it seems that Muslim circles like his had some influence on ?Anan’s doctrine. In Moses Zucker’s opinion, ?Anan’s method of analogy is not based on the traditional talmudic method, but rather upon Ab? ?an?fa’s. The idea of applying intellect to the study of the Bible, which in many instances means the use of the method of analogy, can be discerned in ?Anan’s teachings and from the saying the Karaites ascribed to him: “It is best to search in the Torah.” According to Saadya,
as cited by al-Qirqis?n?, the scriptural proof-text used by ?Anan and
Benjamin al-Nah?wand? justifying the use of analogy for determining
halakhot was: “If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as
for hid treasures” (Proverbs 2:4).

Islamic influences were much more profound among the Karaites who came after ?Anan, and this is one of the factors that led to the divergence between their doctrines and his. ?Anan still wrote in Aramaic, whereas the Karaites wrote primarily in Judeo-Arabic. Under the influence of Arabic linguistic culture, the Karaites made Hebrew grammar a major tool, unavailable to ?Anan, of their biblical exegesis. The Karaites adopted the Muslim Mu’tazilite rational method, whose impact was not confined to theology, but was extremely significant in their scriptural interpretations. Like ?Anan, the later Karaites adopted analogy in their biblical exegesis, but their method was much more sophisticated due to the development of the “principles of jurisprudence” (Ar. u??l al-fiqh) in Islam, which were unknown to ?Anan.

The similarities and differences between the exegetical methods of ?Anan and the early Karaites can be seen in their commentaries on the verse “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk,” which occurs three times in the Torah (Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21). This verse is the basis for the talmudic prohibition of mixing milk and meat. Since the beginning of the two verses in Exodus deals with the bringing of the first fruits to the Temple, ?Anan also linked the end of the verses to this theme, concluding that the “kid” is merely megadim, that is, a fruit. Therefore, the verse is instructing us not to bring the first fruits to the priest in a tardy manner. With the development of Hebrew grammar in the tenth century, the argument that gedi (a kid) is derived from the word meged (choice fruit) would not have been acceptable. Thus al-Qirqis?n? stated that the gloss of the word gedi as meaning a fruit was a nonliteral interpretation (Ar. ta’w?l). A study of the exegesis of Japheth (Ab? ‘Al? ?asan) ben Eli indicates that he remained faithful to ?Anan’s method of interpreting the verse according to its context. Since the beginning words of both verses in Exodus deal with bringing first fruits, which are plants, the closing words of the two verses relate to the firstborn of undefiled cattle, represented in the verse by the kid. We are instructed to bring the firstborn animal to the priest without delaying until it is fattened by its mother’s milk. According to Japhet, the verse “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” in Deuteronomy 14:21 deals with another commandment, because the context in which it is found is different. Here the verse instructs us not to cook in its mother’s milk any undefiled cattle that has been slaughtered, and not just the firstborn cattle.

The Rabbanites of Iraq considered ?Anan a revolutionary not only because of the influence of Islam on his legal rulings, but also because they rejected the Palestinian halakha, whereas ?Anan did not hesitate to adopt it. Evidence of his use of Palestinian halakha can be found in the halakha he adopted from the piyyu?im of Yannai, as mentioned above. He established the rule that candles should not be kindled on the eve of the Sabbath, relying, inter alia, on the School of Shammai’s definition of labor (Heb. melakha). In light of this definition, no work should be started on Sabbath eve if it is clear that it will continue into the Sabbath (Mishna Shabbat 1:5–6).

An issue interesting in itself is the extent to which ?Anan was influenced by the halakhot of the Jewish sects of the Second Temple period. More particularly, one wonders whether he learned of them from talmudic literature in which these usages were debated, or from other sources. The Rabbanite polemicist who recounts ?Anan’s struggle for the exilarchate pointedly notes that remnants of the Sadducees and Boethusians joined him.

Yoram Erder

While ??n?n rejected specifically the authority of rabbinic tradition (which was accepted by the Rabbanites, whence their name) in favour of an alternative tradition, the early Karaites rejected in principle the authority of all traditions. While all the surviving fragments of ??n?n’s Book of laws are in Aramaic and are restricted to matters of law or exegesis, the quotations ascribed (anonymously) to members of the ??n?niyya are in Judaeo-Arabic and relate to legal and theological matters Albert Harkavy, Aus den ältesten karäischen Gesetzbüchern des ‘Anan, Beniamin Nahawendi und Daniel Kummissi, St. Petersburg 1903 (with Hebrew translation, repr. 1970); Solomon Schechter, Documents of Jewish Sectaries, 2, Cambridge 1910.

Many members of the ??n?niyya, including direct descendants of ??n?n, seem to have been integrated into the Karaite movement by the end of the third/ninth century. A small number survived as an independent group until the fourth/tenth century in the Fertile Crescent (according to al-Qirqis?n?, who wrote in the 930s), and even a century later in Spain (as attested in the document published by Gil, Palestine during the first Muslim period).

Muslim authors, beginning in about the middle of the fourth/tenth century, seem to have taken much of their information about ??n?n and his group from Karaite sources, especially al-Qirqis?n?, and some information also from Rabbanite sources, but they have used only a small part of that information and tend to blur the differences between the ??n?niyya and the Karaites. Most Muslim authors, with the exception of al-Mas??d? (d. 345/956) and al-B?r?n? (d. after 442/1050), use the term “??n?niyya” for Karaites. Al-Mas??d?, in his al-Tanb?h wa-?l-ishr?f, and al-Mu??ahar b. ??hir al-Maqdis?, in his al-Bad? wa-l-ta?r?kh (c. 355/966), represent ??n?n and the ??n?niyya as Mu?tazil?s of a sort, who profess the divine unity and justice and reject anthropomorphism. In the discussion of Jewish groups (a?n?f) in his Maf?t?? al-?ul?m, Ab? ?Abdall?h al-Khw?rizm? (d. 997/8) mentions the ??n?niyya as the followers of ??n?, with no further specification and without mention of the Karaites. This reference may be true of the ??n?niyya or the Karaites or both, but does not relate to ??n?n himself.

Ibn ?azm (d. 456/1064) discusses the ??n?niyya in his polemic against the authenticity of the text of the Hebrew Bible. He knows of the controversy between Karaites and Rabbanites concerning the authority of the rabbinic tradition (the “oral law”) and gives information about settlements of ??n?niyya/Karaites in Spain in his time. Al-Mas??d? and, to an even greater extent, al-B?r?n? are interested in the ??n?niyya’s particular views regarding the calendar. Al-Shahrast?n? (d. 548/1153), in addition to mentioning briefly their calendar and their dietary prohibitions—in the edition of Mu?ammad Badr?n, of the Milal, the texts includes consumption of locust (jar?d), whose authenticity is rejected in the translation by Monot and relegated to a footnote—comments on their favourable attitude toward the person of Jesus (??sa). This may result from a confusion of the ??n?niyya with the ??sawiyya sect.

Later Muslim sources throw no new light on the subject, with one exception, that of Samaw?al al-Maghrib? (d. 570/1175), a Jewish convert to Islam. Because of his Jewish background he calls them Qarr??iyy?n rather than ??n?niyya and refers to them as the followers (a???b) of ??n?n and Biny?m?n (al-Nah?wand?); he presents the Karaite rejection of rabbinic tradition as stemming from their rationalistic views. No Muslim author mentions the meeting alleged to have taken place between ??n?n and Ab? ?an?fa in the prisons of the caliph al-Man??r (r. 136–58/754–74) (quoted in J. Mann, Texts and Studies, 2 (Cincinnati 1935), 108, from a 14th century Judaeo-Arabic Karaite source). Although qiy?s (analogical reasoning) is recognised as a source of the law by both the Karaites and the ?anaf?s, there is nothing to suggest that the latter influenced the former.

Georges Vajda , revised by Haggai Ben-Shammai

Leave a Reply