Institut für den Nahen und Mittleren Osten



Independence and Diversity: Unknown Karaite Bible Commentaries in Judeo-Arabic from the Early Classical Age


This project, a joint effort of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, focuses on the origins and history of Karaite exegesis from its emergence in the 10th century onwards, considering in particular the diversity within the exegesis, the mutual relationship between the different geographic centers (Jerusalem and Iraq), and their differences in the interpretation of creation, history, revelation and law. Research on early Karaite exegesis has concentrated almost entirely upon the commentaries of the school of the Mourners of Zion in Jerusalem, particularly those of Yefet ben ʿEli and Salmon ben Yeruḥim, with very little attention given to the commentaries of Iraqi Karaites. Furthermore, almost no attention has been paid to investigating and understanding the diversity of exegetical concerns, techniques and styles among the Karaites of this period.

The project will provide an edition and translation of Yaʿqūb al-Qirqisānī’s commentary on the books of Genesis and Exodus from his Kitāb al-Riyāḍ wal-Ḥadāʾiq. In order to provide a contrastive perspective, the second major textual focus of the project will be the Pentateuch commentary by the Jerusalem Karaite Sahl ben Maṣliaḥ, from which we will also edit and translate the commentaries on Genesis and Exodus. Sahl ben Maṣliaḥ was one of the most important figures of the Jerusalem school, however his commentary differs greatly in content and style from the commentaries of Yefet and Salmon. An edition of Sahl’s commentary will thus broaden our knowledge and appreciation of the exegesis of the Jerusalem school and its internal dynamics. The new editions and translations will also allow us to contrast the two schools of Karaite exegesis, in Iraq and Jerusalem, and better understand the development of Karaite exegesis as a whole.

The second major objective of the project is to carry out a comparative analysis. That analysis will involve examining points such as the nature of the exegetical issues that concern each author, their various techniques for resolving these exegetical questions, the technical and conceptual vocabulary that they employ, and how each of them views the nature of the biblical text (for example, whether they concentrate on the individual verse or look instead at the larger context). We will consider the organizing principles of each author in his writing, as well as each author’s writing style. Furthermore, we will investigate how each author deals with the theological issues that arise from the biblical text and how these ideas are incorporated into the exegesis. This analytic comparison is an approach that has not yet been attempted in this field of research, and working on the basis of our edited texts, the analysis will add a new and important dimension to the study of Karaite exegesis. In addition, it will provide a deeper understanding of the two schools of Karaite exegesis, in Iraq and in Jerusalem, and, in turn, a fuller understanding of the overall development of Karaite exegesis.