Monday, August 31, 2009

A Karaite Questioning Exodus

Over the past twenty or so years I've travelled extensively, meeting and talking with distant members of the family that had become lost to my immediate family. Some of them thought they were the last of the family members, having lost contact with the other familial lines a hundred years or so ago. But what was most interesting was that even with this separation we shared many of the family stories and tales. Some are anecdotal, others historical, and others even border on the mythical. When writing Shadows of Trinity, it was from one of these encounters that the subject material of the story was revealed to me. Families are a treasure trove of information but too often the stories are lost long before one has the opportunity to write them down. Not only are they're entertaining, informative stories but they do provide insights into Karaism that I believe most of my fellow Karaites aren't even aware of because the identification of being Karaite comes entirely from a personal perspective. (See for more stories) These are stories that have been layered extensively until they no longer resemble the original story. They are essential pieces of history that have been concealed. I guess it's come to the time that I no longer think they should be kept under wraps. So I might as well start with the first one from the time of our beginnings. No greater man walked this earth than Moses. His influence 3000 years later can be seen amongst those practicing Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. He changed the world but do we really know who he was? Forget the rabbinic version and I'll let you in on the secrets of the Kahana family. Anan ben David would reaffirm that everything we need to know is in the Torah. It's up to us to know how to read it and find the knowledge.

The Name of Moses
The fable about Moses's name being Moshe, in Hebrew to draw out, as in to 'draw out of the water' a reminder of the baby in the basket inference of the Torah was a Rabbinic creation. In their commentaries to the Torah, they admit it freely that they knew that the word 'mehshitihu' only had the barest resemblence to the name Moshe and that an Egyptian princess would not use the Hebrew language but they refused to admit what the name really meant. It was told through the generataions in my family that his actual name was always known to us but the rabbis attempted to conceal it because they felt it reflected badly on the founder of our people, our lawgiver, and also upon the man whom the rabbis tell us was his brother, Aaron. In fact, the stories in my family say that much of the original details were purposely lost in order to provide a wholly Semitic overview of the Exodus. The accidental dropping of a word here or there from the text in order to serve a 'Holier' purpose.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning of this tale and make it clear that this story is an extension from the teaching of Anan ben David that in order to be Karaite you must make your own relationship with the Torah. And in that respect I will anticipate a tremendous amount of abuse from the Rabbanites as they will accuse me of slandering the name of our great religious founder Moses ben Amram. So be it. They will also have to explain the changes that they made to Torah in order to hide some of the details of this story if that be the case. Their sins are by far the greater. They will understand when I say that it has to do with the elevated or lowered letter 'nun' in the Torah that they added and I will also reveal why they thought it was perfectly alright to add this letter whenever and wherever they wished. This story has a special place for me because when I was a youngster in Hebrew school, my discussions of this particular point of objection led to my caning by the Rabbis. Every classroom had a wooden pointer but I don't recall ever once seeing it used to point to something on the board. But it did crash down on quite a few heads, shoulders and especially knuckles of those of us that dared to counter the rabbi's arguments. In their efforts to knock the Karaite out of me, or as they would say the 'Dybbyk', accusing me of being possessed, they only reinforced that the stories handed down to me were true and that they were aware of them and intended to deceive us all in the process. Especially those Christians that had the Bible translated from the Hebrew with all these additional letter 'nuns' in place. They would never know that the sacred text had been doctored and would pass on incorrect translations. The letter 'nun' was a pictographic representation of Moses. When spelt out the letters look like a man bent in prayer and a righteous one who is upright. The perfect man of which it is written and none have come after Moses that can even be compared to him. The Rabbinic sages say that the letter also represents faithfulness and the reward for faithfulness. Again a reference to Moses. Nun is also said to be a pictogram of a snake which when used as a final letter becomes a straight stick, again a reference to Moses with his staff that was both snake and rod and which God gave him the power to change it at will in Exodus 4:3-4. To give it special significance the Rabbinic scribes will place a special crown on the letter nun (known as the tagin) when written in the Torah to say that this is the king of all letters. Nun also represents the soul and is used to designate the Messiah, the one who will come next that is most like Moses. And numerically it represents the number 50, and even the rabbis say this is to remind us of the 50 references of the Exodus in the Torah and also the 50 days of Omer or the counting of days between the Passover and Shavuot, when Moses received the Torah. So as you can plainly see, the letter represented Moses and by placing it as an additional letter in the Torah, the Rabbis said, "we have done no wrong, we are only making a point that this is what Moses would have done, or Moses would have said." Sort of similar to initialling a contract. And when caught, as I confronted the Rabbis, they confessed that they made certain to elevate or lower the letter so it could be clearly seen that this was not part of the word but a reference to Moses. But then they would read it and translate it as if it was part of the word and that was never picked up by the rabbanite Jews they taught as students. They had a new name for me. I was no longer teh student possessed by a dybbyk, I was 'Aher', the 'other', and they knew they were dealing with a Karaite that could be the bane of the existence.

So why is this letter nun so significant? Because of what the rabbis were never wishing to reveal. That the Nun was the actual name of Moses, or in its entirity he was Nunmoses. Similar to other Egyptian names you would have seen, such as Ahmoses or Thutmoses, but in this particular case Moses was named after the celestial river god, the god that spanned the heavens and fathered the other gods. The father of Ra and the one that Ra replaced in the pantheon of Egyptian gods. He was the primordial river and source of the Nile, hence it was he that would have spat out a baby in a basket into the river to be found by the princess. So when you read the words of the princess in Exodus 2:10 what she was saying was, "I called his name Nunmoses beacause I drew him from the waters of the Nile." ie. he was born of the river God Nun.

The Power of a Name
For obvious reasons, the reference to his being the "Son of Nun" as an Egyptian prince had to be removed from a religion that was dedicated to monotheism. The bible still preserved the reference when Joshua became Moses's legal heir, and new leader of the Hebrew masses. He in turn became the son of Nun but this time it was in reference to Moses and not to a pagan god any longer. Since Nun was not an Ephramite name, nor a common name of any other Semites in the Exodus as seen by its absence of ever being used again for anyone else named in the Torah, it was clearly an Egyptian name and one intended for a very specific reference. Its failure to ever be used again was deliberate.

But then again, what is an Ephramite name exactly? Why are we given names sometimes and not other times in the Torah? As my family ancestors have taught, there are no oversights in the bible. Every word is chosen for a purpose and the bible is complete. There aren't riddles or hidden meanings or even absences of information. It is why it was said that the Torah is the complete word of God and there are no other words necessary. That is the fundamental difference between Karaites and the Rabbanites. The latter chose to say the Torah was incomplete and there were all these additional oral laws that Moses never bothered to write down. And only through their wisdom, foresight and guidance could these laws be preserved in the Talmud. Well, if that was the case then why did Moses say that the Torah was the complete work of God and that it requires nothing further to be added? Either the Rabbis are right and Moses was wrong, but then if that was the case the Rabbis would be defeating their own purpose because if they declare Moses as having been wrong, then who's to say he was right about the Torah in the first place. So in fact they have condemned themselves by condeming the Torah. Bottom line is that the Rabbis were wrong and their insistence on the Talmud is also wrong and they have perpetrated the enactment of their own laws and their own agenda on the people. But back to my original story.

Since the Torah is complete and everthing we have to know is already written there, then we can read Exodus 2:1 and recognize that it was written for a specific purpose. It tells us that a man from the House of Levi took a woman of the House of Levi and they had a son. There is no mention of any other son prior so we must assume this was the first son they bore and therefore the first one that was at risk because of Pharaoh's order to kill the male offspring. For those that are now questiong where was Aaron, there was no Aaron in this house. The father is not named, the mother is not named and the sister is not named. An oversight? No, this was intentional. What was more critical was that these two people were both of the House of Levi. Notice that the word House was chosen and not tribe. Remember that in ancient Egypt, Pharaoh was lord of the Great House as the word Pharaoh translates. This House of Levi was a lesser house but still an aristocratic house. Which brings us back to the name Ephraim, first presented in Genesis 51:52. Shame on the Rabbis who have given us a false translation. "Fruitful in the land of my affliction?" The word was not fruitful which is 'poireh' nor is it fruitful in the conotation of being impreganted which is 'hephrayah' which is actually closer to the Hebrew word used. The word used is completely Egyptian and is 'ephrati' which means a royal aristocrat. As an ancient word it was even adopted into the Hebrew, but the Rabbis chose to ignore this translation. The only question is why they did so? The epherates in ancient Egypt were the districts the land was divided into. Over each district there would be an Epher. In the sense he was a pharaoh but not of the Great House; more like a governor. So what Joseph was realing saying was that he named his son Ephraim, A plural of Epher, because God had made him a governor in the land of his affliction which was a true and accurate statement. As master of the horse and vizier, Joseph would have been governor over all of the districts. His children would have inherited as Ephers and governed many of the districts themselves. Which brings us back to Joshua the son of Nun the Ephramite except the first time we are introduced to him is Exodus 17:9 and it is as if he's always been with Moses and he is not referred to as the son of Nun nor as being an Ephramite. He just is Joshua in the same manner that Moses was also first introduced to us without a father or mother's name. Moses refers to the two of them as a team as he instructs "Choose for us". These are two men that have stood together, shared their thoughts, and have known each other's moves for a very long time. The next time Joshua is mentioned is in Numbers 13:16 when Moses changes his name from Hosea to Joshua. Accordingly he is referred to as Ho-shua the son of Nun with no reference to the tribe of Ephraim. It is no coincidence that in the Egyptian pantheon the god Nun raised the god Shu from the primeval abyss. Shu represented the space between heaven and earth, a link between men and God. Shu was considered the son of Nun in Egyptian mythology. Egyptian royals bearing the name of a praticular god would often name their own children according to the pantheon. Is this merely a coincidence, that Moses is Nunmoses and Joshua is Ha-Shu both bearing Egyptian god names corresponding to a father and son? Or is this telling us more about the relationship between Moses and Joshua that makes far more sense from a dynastic perspective? Just in the same way that the Egyptian god reference had to be removed from Moses' name, so too did the reference have to be removed from Joshua's. And Moses we are told is the one that made this alteration to Joshua's name and in all likelihood he was the one to drop Nun from his own name.

Questions You Should Ask
Anan ben David was not opposed to questioning what was written in the Torah. In fact he encouraged it because he believed that over the centuries the Rabbis had dared to alter the sacred text rather than have the truth discovered. Truths which Anan believed would only enhance Judaism by the reader seeing human frailties and foibles. The rabbis on the other hand felt that the religious icons could not be seen with blemishes and attempted to conceal these by direct editing or instructing their followers that statements were merely metaphors that needed interpretation. Both practices were condemned by Anan and he believed that Karaites would be able to read the Torah and see the truth. We would not be deceived by the alterations and we would rejoice in the discovery of the Torah as it was origninally written. In that regard I ask you as readers the following questions just to emphasize the points made in this hub:

1. If Moses did have an Ethiopian Princess as his first wife, (See then wouldn't it have been natural that he had children by her? Since Moses was a Prince in Egypt and his wife a Princess of Ethiopia, that child would be an aristrocratic royal by birth. Wouldn't that child be an Epher in the Egyptian language? Wouldn't that child have been a leader amongst the Israelites?

2. If Moses was the ultimate leader of the nation, then why are his children in the Torah purposely excluded from any authority of the Israelites during and after his death as it now readss, based on the information given to us? Or is it there but cleverly concealed and Joshua is his son by his Ethiopian princess and therefore a descendant of Moses did lead the nation as would be expected?

3. If Moses was of the tribe of Levi, just like Aaron, and they were brothers, then why is the entire priesthood given to Aaron's descendants and none to those of Moses? We know from the Torah that there was a constant struggle between Moses and Aaron, was there more going on?

4. If Moses' father-in-law Jethro was the priest of Midian, then his children by Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer would be priests on both sides and more representative of religious cult of the Israelites. Why then are neither of his children given any role in the priesthood?

5. If Moses is in charge of picking his own successor, how is it that he picks a complete unknown who only appears once in the entire book of Exodus, yet in that one appearance the impression is given that he has always been Moses' right hand man? There was obviously a familiarity there that exceeded any great doings by Joshua prior to this event.

6. Why is it that the wording in Exodus in the early chapters refer to Houses, similar to the Egyptian connotation of Houses of the aristocracy and not to tribes? It says even the midwives were given Houses as their reward for saving the children. Only rulers could reward people with Houses in the sense of our knighthood. Who was this highly placed royal awarding midwives with aristocratic titles?

7. Why are the names of Moses' parents absent in Exodus II yet present in what is an obvious later addition by Levitical priests In Exodus 6:14-26? The repetition of 6:13 in 6:27 serves as a marker to not that the insertion took place between these two sentences; almost like quotation marks. The priest responsible was in a hurry to push the insertion through, giving only the generations of Reuben, Simeon and Levi and forgetting that there were at least nine other tribes that were to be brought out of Egypt as well. What was he covering up that he felt the insertion was necessary?

8. And even as a later addition, why does this Levite editor give the name of Moses' father in Exodus 6:20 as a conjunction of two royal Egyptian names, Amose and Ramses or AmRam?

9. And if Amram was the name of Moses' father then why is Amram marrying his aunt Jochebed in 6:20 which was a practice more customary of the Egyptian royal house? And how could Jochebed (Yah's Glory) be her name if worship of Yahweh hadn't been established until Moses received God's name much later?

10. And if Amram lived for 137 years according to Exodus 6:20, then why wasn't he present during the exodus from Egypt? His mother was and she was already much older than Amram being his aunt according to Exodus 6:20? So what is the real purpose of Exodus 6:20 if all it does is provide misinformation?

The questions are designed only to make you realize that there was an intentional effort to cover up the true history of Moses' origins. The additions in Exodus 6 that I pointed out were meant to be seen as obvious additions, the editor wanting his sentences to be discovered and not considered part of original Torah as handed down by Moses. But he in turn raised interesting issues concerning Jochebed and Amram, giving several hints as to their identity in the process. But these will be reserved for another hub at another time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Khazar Love Story

The following story is taken from my book Blood Royale with permission. ( Being my own book makes granting permission easy to acquire. It represents a chapter from what was a very turbulent time period in the history of my ancestors. Three cousins were raised and removed from the position of Exilarch in Baghdad in a matter of years. They were the pawns of the Caliphs and the rabbanites which had gained a position of power. The book primarily follows the adventures of one of these cousins as he makes his way to France in 769 but in the meantime other major events were taking place in the land of the Tartars. As mentioned in the other blogs regarding the Khazars there was a major conversion to Judaism by this Tartar Kingdom. Whereas there are numerous versions to explain through a variety of reasons why this occurred, several of them hint at the presence of a beautiful princess who was instrumental in the event. In my family's tales this princess had a name. It was Thaliah and this was her story.

Crimea 769 A.D.

From her perch between the two great rocks, Thaliah watched the procession of leather and steel plated riders saddled proudly upon their stocky steppes ponies; short maned and swift legged horses that were legendary for their ability to cross vast expanses without tiring or thirsting. The riders too had become the subject of many legends as they carved out an empire from the inhospitable wastelands between the two great inland seas. Long curved swords swung unerringly above their crested helms, slicing deadly swaths through imagined and long dead enemies that now hovered somewhere between heaven and earth.

Around and around they circled their mighty king as he posed triumphantly at the center of their spiraling masses, standing firmly upon a mountain of corpses heaped one upon the other as a stele to their victorious army.

"Savages! Barbarians!" she cursed under her breath. The thought of turning and fleeing back to whence she came crossed her mind repeatedly. How could the redemption of her people lie in the hands of this uncivilized people? If not for her promise she would have given the order for her servants to mount immediately and turn south upon the road back to Sura.

The king, bejeweled and crowned with a gold coronet encircling the low, flat cap he wore over braided black locks, began a merry little dance, balancing precariously upon the back of his slain enemies, much to the acclaim and applause of his men. Then, without a moment's hesitation he somersaulted into a forward twist, landing safely in the outstretched arms of his followers.

An order was given, and several men rushed forward, splashing naphtha over the mound of human flesh, all the while, dancing dervishly, and spinning wildly out of control. The king was presented with a flaming brand, and with a leisurely arc of his arm, the torch sailed through the air, turning end over end until it came to rest upon the crest of the pyre. At first, only the crackling and spitting of oil could be heard, but then suddenly, the entire pile erupted into a hissing pillar of flame. With each sputter of searing flesh, the army roared and cheered once more. Their nostrils flared as the black smoke spiraled in its path heavenward.

The horrific sights and sounds were too overpowering for Thaliah. Every now and then a faint, yet audible scream of sheer terror would surface from beneath the pyre, from the choking voices of the wounded and almost dead. The smoke churned faster and faster in the circling winds that raced about the foothills. The tears welled in her eyes and she was even more convinced her presence here had definitely been an error in judgment.

She felt the reassuring arm of her servant Eli come to rest upon her shoulder. "Come away mistress. This is no place for you." Thaliah let her eyes drop and turn from the foul desecration of human life. She looked into the soft brown eyes of her guardian. Eli held twenty years more than her and to his credit he appeared to those that saw them together to be barely a few years older. His hair had not grayed and his skin was still smooth to the touch. When she was a little girl, she had often fantasized that Eli would come in the dark of night, cast her over his broad shoulders and carry her off into the distant lands where they would live happily ever after. But all along she knew that it would never be more than a childish dream. Their castes were worlds apart. Royalty and servitude could never mix, only co-exist. No, her destiny had already been predetermined and here she was, in some nameless land, fulfilling a dream fueled by royal decree.

"Oh Eli, what have I've gotten myself into?" Her chest heaved with a sigh of defeat.

"Come mistress. The king's messenger awaits us. It is best he receives you before he and his men begin to celebrate too heartily." He flashed a smile that put her troubled heart at ease for the moment. Eli and Thaliah walked towards her entourage and the envoy that waited impatiently for her return.

As she approached, the messenger bowed courteously. "I hope that your highness found the view quite spectacular?"

Thaliah knew well enough not to answer truthfully. She glanced quickly at Eli, to reassure him that she would maintain proper protocol and decorum, and then trained her eyes upon the king's richly robed courtesan. "Your king was a most impressive figure and surely his victory shall be exalted and praised by the singers of far off lands. You may tell your king that this princess has truthfully never beheld such a spectacle as this in all her life."

"His majesty, Bosiah, thanks you warmly and requests the presence of your company at his tent, accompanied by your servants, of course."

"I am most grateful for your king's hospitality. Please inform him that I will attend his tent as soon as I am properly attired in clothes more deserving of this honor."

"A word of wisdom your highness,” the messenger overstepped the bounds of his position. “When the king makes a request, it is considered to mean immediately." Another bow, followed by a graceful leap onto the back of his horse and the envoy was ready to proceed back to the camp.

“Then the king will have to receive me as I am,” she shouted at the envoy’s back. “How dare they treat me in this manner!” she muttered as she turned to face her servant.

Eli helped his mistress into the ornate silver and leather saddle that nestled between the humps on her camel's back. Her mount had been the gift of the Caliph of Baghdad. He probably would have reconsidered his generosity had he known that his prized animal would now be making its way towards the camp of a most hated enemy. Thaliah handed the reins over to the messenger who had turned and coached his horse along side. Demonstrating his gifted horsemanship, he walked the beast slowly down the side of the hill towards the encampment. Camel and horse pacing side by side was no mean feat and he did it expertly.

Her caravan of camels and donkeys followed a respectful distance behind, framed by the glow of the setting sun as she glanced back towards them. A glance that in some way said, this would be the last time she would see any of her family again.

"He's fascinated with you."

The sound of the envoy's voice caught her by surprise as she turned her head forward in response. "Pardon me. What was that you said?"

"You fascinate him. The king does not quite know what to make of your visit."

Thaliah cocked her head slightly, a look of bemusement crossing the lines of her face. Such forwardness by a servant was quite unusual. "How so?"

"Well, your highness. Firstly you must understand, we don't receive many visitors, let alone royal caravans in these parts. The mountainous regions of the Caucasus are treacherous and are not part of any established trade route. Those that do make it this far from the normal trade routes, we usually attack, not welcome." The messenger flashed a warm, jocular grin. "Secondly, not many women lead a caravan into parts unknown. One might say that you are either very brave or very, how should I say this kindly, stupid. Please pardon my openness but it is what he himself had said. "

Squinting her pale hazel eyes, she looked him squarely in the face. "For a mere courtesan, you would appear to know a lot of what the king has to say! And which one do you think I am?"

The messenger cleared his throat, his face flushed by the question. After a slight pause he responded. "I think that you are very beautiful. Therefore the other question does not matter."

Now it was Thaliah's turn to blush. She laughed. Perhaps this land populated by savages was not as bad as she had originally thought. They did have a natural charm about them. "Do you often pay such compliments to visiting princesses who have come specifically to see your king? I would think you could be put to death for such brashness."

"I have a certain amount of latitude as you might have guessed with Bosiah," his perfect white teeth flashed a devilish grin. "As his brother, he has grown use to my lack of decorum. I should have introduced myself sooner. I am Yusef, the son of Marzuk and inheritor of the kingdom of the eastern steppes. But I prefer to stay in my brother's court. He has more interesting visitors." Yusef winked.

The caravan quickly drew into a line circling the outside perimeter of the camp. Gray billowing smoke had replaced much of the fierce flames that had been so apparent but mere minutes ago. The sickly sweet smell of charred flesh filled their nostrils. Thaliah fought desperately to force the bile from the back of her throat. This was not the way of her people or the Arabians. It was forbidden to burn a corpse except under dire conditions. But even in that case, no one living in Sura could remember the last time such a detestable act had to be performed. She prayed that the pyre would quickly extinguish itself, in fear that she would embarrass herself before the king. As if in response, the breeze shifted to the east, blowing the smoke away from the camels and their riders. Thaliah wiped the sweat from her brow, thankful for the instantaneous relief.

"This is no sight for a Babylonian," Yusef commented as he watched the princess's face change from the white contorted illness back to its healthy glow. "My brother should have known better. Our ways sometimes appear brutal, but the cleansing flames prevent the spread of disease. There is some foresight behind our actions. I hope you understand."

"Please...," Thaliah apologized. "There is no need to make excuses. This is your land, your customs. I am merely a visitor. Do not feel that I have the right to judge you and your people."

"I don't,” he dismissed her concerns. “I'm just trying to explain our differences. We are primarily a nomadic people. We have our cities but they are few. Burying of the dead would serve no purpose if you never return to the grave site. Not to overlook that the winds and the rains on the steppes would uncover their bodies in very little time. Cremation is the only logical solution. But I understand that your beliefs do not permit you to cremate."

"The body is a gift of God." Looking away from the pyre in the distance, Thaliah waited for her lungs to clear once and for all. "That which God has given us we have no right to destroy. As we come into this world, so shall we leave it. And if you knew all this, then why did you ask me if I found the view spectacular?" She looked into his azure eyes, waiting, searching for a response. His chestnut hair fell in ringlets about his bronzed features.

"No," she repeated over and over in her mind as she studied his handsome features. "This cannot happen. I cannot let it happen." She felt a strange heaviness fall upon her chest, her nostrils sucking back deep breaths as she struggled to calm herself. She quickly averted her eyes from his, breaking the spell in which he had enthralled her.

Yusef saw that the situation called for an abrupt change. He had seen that look in a woman's eyes before. Most often it would have been a signal for him to press the advantage, but this woman was very different. Not just because she was a princess of a people whom he had only heard of through the vaguest rumors, but she had been betrothed to his brother. Silence would be their downfall; an open invitation to think the impossible.

"Ah, yes, your God, of which we have heard so much about." It was a little lie. Like her people, her God was but one more tale heard told over a roaring fire, with eyes half closed after a night of heavy drinking. His people knew all the tales of all the great religions but chose instead to worship the almighty skyfather. "Though we have a belief in a creator, there are those amongst us that claim there are many gods, and even those which say there are none at all. Living in the steppes, it makes very little difference whether we believe or not. Life here holds its own rewards. You live, you die, and it’s as simple as that. As for the spectacle, the term is without reference to good or evil. In your case, you've seen us at our worst. Our relationship can only improve from here."

Thaliah waved a finger of disapproval. "Then you have nothing to look forward to. Life is nothing more than a string of momentary pleasures and pains, leading nowhere. Our beliefs are very different. I shall have to tell you of them at some time." Her lips remained thin and taut, turned down ever so slightly at the corners.

"Our beliefs perhaps differ but our faith that tomorrow the sun will rise again are the same. That alone sustains us." Yusef looked satisfied with his answer.

"In Babylon, so little to look forward to would be considered depressing." She lowered her eyes, her lips now formed into a beguiling pout.

"In Khazaria, we consider Babylon depressing," he huffed.

She narrowed her eyes. Perhaps he wasn't as enchanting as she first thought. "My, you do have a tongue on you. Do you despise all of civilization or just Babylon?" Her arms were now subconsciously drawn tight into her body.

They had ridden wide around the smoldering pyre of fleshless bones. "Have you thought at all about how these bones came hence? That is what remains of civilization's threats." Yusef's response was very calm, his voice carefully modulated so as not to upset the princess. "The Magyars considered us no more than barbarians. Why? Because we would not accept their Christian faith and by so doing, they declared war upon us. A blight upon their plans to expand their empire. Our way of life was unimaginable to them. Where they build roads, we know no boundaries. Why should we feel forced to become as they are?

Once they were like us, but the lure of civilization turned them on a different path and now they despise us because we remind them of their origins. Civilization is nothing more than a chasm of hates and prejudices. What's there for us to envy?"

"Forgive me," Thaliah bowed her head. "It is not my place to make comment on your ways. I overstepped myself. I am your guest and I have behaved improperly once again." A shadow fell upon her countenance.

"Take heart, fair lady, there is nothing to forgive. I am not here to judge you either. You may possess your beliefs without fear of retribution. But I would suggest that you don't discuss your concept of civilization with my brother. There is no love for Babylon there either.

Know this, that you are welcome here not as a courtesan of the Caliph's court but as a princess of a dethroned people. A once ancient kingdom held captive by a brutal regime that spreads itself through terror. Bosiah empathizes with your plight, though you may not consider yourself to have one." Extending his arm in supplication, Yusef warned, "I suggest that you do."

"I am grateful for your suggestion, Yusef. Contrary to appearances, my family has certainly fallen into disfavor at the Caliph's court. The king is very astute to see the truth of our situation.”

“We have had our own disagreements with the Caliphate,” Yusef clarified his standpoint. His reduction of three major wars to nothing more than disagreements proved that he was a master of the understatement.

“And here I am now,” She explained, “Because one cousin has been sent into the unknowns of the Western sea and another has spent five years in prison. We are at the twilight of our existence and my family truly does seek your brother's aid. I don’t know how we are to survive without his protection."

The words had stolen some of the fire from her eyes. Suddenly, Yusef saw not the obstreperous, proud royal princess as he imagined nestled in the lap of luxury in Babylon, but instead a true damsel in distress. His heart went out to her and her obvious need.

"My lady, I am truly sorry. I have misjudged your circumstances. I did not intend to upset you."

Thaliah suddenly bolted upright on the camel's back, reassuming her proud and majestic airs that she had originally displayed. "Well, was that humble and beseeching enough for you," she inquired. "Will that be convincing enough for the mighty Bosiah? Never underestimate us, Yusef. We are a captive people but we are also a proud one. I come not begging but offering!"

Yusef clapped his hands in obvious delight. "A wonderful performance," he lauded. "Truly an effort worthy of myself I admit. I am afraid your highness that I am falling rapturously in love with you." The words rolled effortlessly across his tongue. He waved his index finger naughtily at her, entertained by the deception she had played upon him.

If only he had looked deeper, further into the limpid pools of her silver hued eyes, he would have seen the effect those words had upon her. She whispered unspoken psalms of the enduring warmth which engulfed her whenever she looked upon his handsome, rugged features. Love at first sight? A childish notion and yet she knew there was no other explanation for the feelings she was experiencing. There was an instantaneous bond that existed between them and she knew he felt it too. It had been there the first time they exchanged greetings. As he led her towards the king’s tent she had but one plaguing thought, “What was she going to do?”

The tent that served as both domicile and great hall for the king of the Khazars was enormous. It had been designed with all the best materials that the trade routes had to offer. Silks from the East, flowed from ceiling to floor, bestowing a rainbow of hues and colors that seemed to dance and change with the slightest breeze. It was a truly magnificent structure, rimmed in gold brocade and silver tassels. Huge brass candelabrums hung from the towering cedar poles, illuminating the interior with the brightness of an afternoon sun.

Thaliah let her mind wander back to the stories she had heard as a child about the Tabernacle that the prophet Moses had erected in the desert. Could it have been possibly as ornate or even as large as the house of Bosiah? She doubted it. A kingdom of tents, she mused, and this one truly befitting of an emperor. What would the wives’ tent look like? Like so many other Eastern despots, Bosiah would have a separate tent to house his wives, concubines and children. Would she have her own or would she merely take her place in his harem?

Just as it was traditional in her homeland, every inch of the floor was concealed by the artistry of hand knotted carpets. Only in this case they hid the earthen floor beneath rather than the marbled halls of Babylon. There were only few pieces of furniture, and those that were present were dwarfed by the immensity of the tent’s chambers.

A small, low table, made from a black wood that she had never seen before, stood in one area, surrounded by an ocean of pillows, some tasseled, and others cross-stitched with beautifully designed animal motifs. But it was the table that held her enthralled. Its top was carefully carved and painted with scenes from the daily life of a people she had also never seen before. There was a noticeable resemblance to the Tartars but the features of that particular heathenish tribe seemed to lie somewhere between her own and those that were carved into the table. But most striking of all was the serenity that seemed to surround this unknown race. There existed a gracefulness and placidity etched into every knitted brow and almond eye. There was so much of the world she did not know and having been forbidden by religious law to have any images of people within her home meant that her knowledge of mankind was limited to only those she met at her family’s estate. Though she hated to admit it, as much as she thought of her visit to the Khazarim as a journey to a lesser civilized corner of the world, she now realized that Bosiah and his people had a far broader perspective of the globe than she had ever known. They were a doorway to unknown worlds that lived in the lands far beyond. Yusef may have been right; civilization can build walls within the mind just as easily as it does from mortar and clay.

The princess stood in awe of the elaborate surroundings and had become so preoccupied that she was oblivious to the movement coming from behind, as Bosiah and his advisors took their positions in the great hall. "I take it that the Princess Thaliah is comfortable with her arrangements," the king interrupted, causing her to jump to the impact of the unexpected voice.

"The Princess has not yet had the opportunity to visit her tent but knowing of the King’s generosity I can assure you that she is most grateful and delighted with her accommodations," Eli replied, recovering quickly.

“Do you always answer the questions directed to the princess?” the King’s voice crackled with a hint of disapproval.

“Forgive me your Majesty,” Eli immediately apologized. “We are used to the Caliph’s court where he does not expect women to speak at all.”

“Hah!” the laugh burst from the King’s lips. “The Caliph is more of a fool than I thought. How does he think you can silence the chirping of birds? Is not a woman’s voice like the sounds of the birds in the treetops? You must let them sing because it is the natural way of the world. But only when you ask them to, otherwise they will sing constantly.” Bosiah bid the princess and Eli to sit around the low table while dismissing the rest of the attendants with a wave of his hand to seat themselves elsewhere in the chamber. Demonstrating how to pile the pillows properly, Bosiah adopted a reclining position. “I must ask the princess to forgive my lack of consideration of not even allowing her an opportunity to settle her belongings before my summons.” The guests all followed the king’s example, reposing around the table of carved figures of a people from unknown lands.

Staring at the king, the princess noticed how much he resembled his younger brother Yusef, and yet how dissimilar they were as well. Bosiah was heavier set, built like a bull, much thicker browed and definitely hairier. Thick tufts of his mane flowed down the back of his neck and across his shoulders. The same sparkle glinted in his eyes as those of Yusef, but where Yusef appeared the mischievous scholar, Bosiah was most definitely a tactful and skilful warrior. And where Yusef's smile flashed warmth, Bosiah’s smile could be cold; as frigid as ice.

"As King of Khazaria, I can tell you how pleased we are to have you as our honored guest. Your father's letter and offerings were most welcome. I send warmest regards to King Judah Zakkai, exilarch of the Jewish nation. May his days be long and honored."

"His majesty, King Judah, extends his warmest regards and appreciation to the great King Bosiah and entrusts the care of his most favored daughter to the great king's care and mercies.", Eli responded. All the guests sitting at the table nodded in affirmation.

"Tell your good King Judah Zakkai, that the king of the Khazars is most pleased with his offering and shall welcome his daughter into my household with open arms."

Eli bowed his head in gratitude. "Speaking for the King of the Jews, I can tell the great King Bosiah how grateful we are that he is pleased with our gifts. The princess's dowry shall be found on the back of seven golden camels, all which are given freely to the great king in appreciation of his acceptance and ratification of a treaty between us.”

“Answer me this,” Bosiah interrupted the introductions, “How is it that your King was able to seek this alliance while under the watchful eye of the Caliph?”

Wise with age, Eli knew immediately that the king of the Khazars was fishing for a hidden trap in the arrangement. There must have been those in his court that were suspicious that the alliance would be taken advantage of by the Caliph of Baghdad. He had already prepared his answer for such suspicions. “There are those that think of my king as a puppet of the Caliph and a servant to the rabbinate but all along he has been an independent ruler, merely abiding his time, waiting for this opportunity to give you his heart and hand in friendship."

“But to do so would make him an enemy of the Caliph and at odds with his own religious leaders,” the King’s curiosity was peaked.


“I would have it no other way,” Bosiah insisted.

“He lied,” Eli confessed. “He assured the Caliph that any trade agreements would be made on his behalf. The Caliph knows that you will not deal with him directly so he desperately wanted to believe that you wished to deal with him through an intermediary in order to save face.”

“Shrewd, but what of these rabbis that have gained control of your people?”

“My king is well aware that they have their own agenda which is to undermine the authority of the House of David and the House of Aaron. He secretly works with his cousin Anan ben David to see that this will never happen. Your acceptance of the Princess Thalia into your household will ensure that this will not occur.”

"Then let us drink to our mutual good fortune and acceptance of the contract between us," Bosiah raised his cup to toast in final acceptance.

At that moment, Thaliah stood defiantly and raised her voice above the conversation between the king and her guardian. "And when do I get a say in all this?"

There was a mutual gasp of disbelief from Bosiah’s cabinet. Never had a woman had the effrontery to interrupt the court in this manner.

Eli tugged at her dress, urging her to sit down. "Please mistress,” he pleaded, “For your own sake, sit down! Do not show disrespect to the Great King." The more he tried to get her to sit, the more adamant she became in saying her piece. "Thaliah, please, in the name of your father, restrain yourself."

"Let her speak!" a familiar voice beckoned from behind.

"This is most unusual," one of the king's advisors commented. "A woman may only address the king in the great hall when spoken to first! This is an insult to our king and not even you, Yusef, can dismiss this act of discourtesy."

"And how many of those women to which this rule applies, also have been of royal birth, Vashni? I say, let her speak. If she truly pleases the king, then he will welcome her words." Yusef strode defiantly forward towards the table. “Is that not so, brother?”

"Yes, Vashni, my brother is right," Bosiah commented, "let her speak. She is a warrior born. I wish to hear what she has to say." The king waved his advisor's concerns away.

"Most unusual," Eli tutted, just audible enough for his mistress to hear. As he relinquished his grip from her dress, she pushed his hand away.

Yusef stood beside the princess in silent support. "Your majesty," she responded. "I am most honored that you are pleased with my father's gifts and his deliverance of his daughter into your hands. I beg you though, please do not lock me away in your harem, never to be seen or heard from again. I could not bear to be shunned from the courts.

What my courtesan has failed to mention was that my father saw our survival not only through my marriage into your household but by a mutual acceptance of our customs so that essentially we become as one people. That is why of all his daughters he picked me as I am well versed in the languages and literature of my people. I can be of great service to you in areas of diplomacy. Though my skills in mathematics and astrology have not been tested in quite a long time, I am certain that they too will be of value if I am given the opportunity. In theology I can provide you with all that is written in the Books of Moses in both Greek and Hebrew. Let me be a teacher to your court and your people.”

Bosiah laughed at the suggestions. "Please Princess; do I look like a scholar?"

All of the King's attendants joined in the mirthful laughter.

"Perhaps not, Great King, but you do look wise to me. And wisdom outshines knowledge in any event. There is no reason that your court could not rival any in the world."

Bosiah nodded with approval. "A good dream Princess and what price am I to pay for your tutelage in my court besides the adoption of your customs?”

“I ask only that I hold position as a court princess. If I am to aid my people then it is necessary that I have access to the courtesans that pass through this chamber. My father has explained to you how the Caliph has taken control of the Exilarchate, placing my uncle Anan in custody all those years and divesting our inherited power to the rabbinate. In order to preserve our rightful privilege to rule we have sought this alliance with you, great king. But if I have not your ear, then I have failed in my own duty to my family and my people.”

“I do understand, but how am I to explain to my most favored wife, the princess of Cathay, that she is being replaced by another princess? She has sat by my right side for two years now. Her father, the Sian Emperor would find it a great and terrible insult. I do not wish to insult the Emperor. ”

“Then don’t brother. I have a solution that all might find satisfactory.” Yusef leaned over his brother, placing his hand upon his shoulder.

Bosiah reached across his chest to clasp his brother’s hand. “As usual, my younger brother will find a solution.” The king’s cabinet laughed along with their ruler.

“So, Yusef, what would you suggest.”

“I would suggest that it is time I live up to our father’s expectations and rule the land that he gave me. I have been negligent in my duties.”

Bosiah’s hand quickly dropped from his brother’s. “What are you talking about? You belong here with me. Have I not been a good provider and protector to you? Marzuk only said that when it came time for you to establish a royal line was it necessary for you to leave the court. You are my only brother, my only sibling and you have no wife. So of what foolishness do you speak?”

Yusef threw himself to the ground in front of the king and lowered his forehead to the carpeted ground. “Oh Great King Bosiah, I have a request. A request so great that never has a brother asked for such a thing before. Please show me favor in your heart. Though you may be offended by the effrontery of my request, please remember the love in your heart that you hold for me and which I hold for you.”

“Get up brother. You embarrass me to humble yourself thusly. Have I ever denied you in all the years you have lived beneath the roof of my tent? You are blood of Marzuk. Blood of my blood, I can deny you nothing. Quickly rise before you lose face before our guests. So what is this solution you spoke of?”

“I ask that you present me with a royal wife.”

“Brother, do not suggest this! I would gladly provide you with the freedom to select any girl from my harem, but to take from the royal wives, how would I explain such an affront to my allies. They have entrusted their daughters to my care and I would do irreparable harm to cast one out from my household. How could I retain my honor, having broken my sacred pledge to cleave them to me?”

Rising to his feet, Yusef grew in stature, his jaw squared as he stood firm and proud. “I have but one wife in mind, brother, which would solve your present problem and a proposition to solve the dilemma you would encounter. I ask for the princess Thaliah since she is not yet betrothed to you and therefore your break no sacred vows of marriage. But rather than have you give her to me, I would ask for her hand directly and she would choose whether she leaves your court of her own accord.”

“And this solves my problem? Am I to explain to her father that the princess chose to leave the court of the King of the Khazars after he bound our agreement with his honor. Her father would be humiliated and be shamed the rest of his life.”

“She asked for a court in which to reign as a queen but you cannot have the Princess of Sian forfeit her position lest you offend the Great Emperor. She’s requested that you and your court adopt her customs and I know that to do so would also offend those rulers that have added their daughters to your harem. But I can give the Princess Thaliah a court to reign over and I have no courtesans at the moment to take issue if I was to impose my wife’s customs and faith upon them. You wish not to break the promises made between yourself and the kings that have sent their daughters to cement their treaties with you and that is also resolved if the princess and yourself choose to extend the treaty to include a third kingdom within the alliance.

You have the right to use the princess as the bargaining price for that treaty. Her father has placed her fate in your care. Not only shall Khazaria be an ally to the Exilarchate, but so shall be the Tartar Kingdom.”

“Brother, you have been absent from the eastern steppes a very long time. Calling it a kingdom may be an exaggeration. You would seriously want to be king of that unruly mob?”

“If the Princess Thaliah was by my side, I would even rule in Siberia.”

“But the court is a shambles. The Kaghan barely keeps any control. As our governor, he hardly met the task. For you to establish yourself after so many years of absence would be a formidable task.”

“But not impossible! Not if I was to become Kaghan and therefore all authority still stems from you, their Great King. They say that the blood of the Princess Thaliah’s family has already been intermingled with the dynasties of the East centuries ago. She will be received as a returning monarch. From the ashes a kingdom can be rebuilt.”

Bosiah thought long and hard about the request. “A task suitable for a son of Marzuk, brother. It has its merits. Would the world expect any less of us? Perhaps we have grown too fat in the luxury of Khazaria. Maybe this is the time to re-establish our dominion east of the Caspian?”

“And how say you Princess Thalia? Would you follow my brother on this mad dream of his?”

Eli started to answer. “The princess does not know what to say. This is a very unusual situation. She must consult with her father. This is hardly what King Judah expected when he signed the arrangement.”

“Oh, hush Eli. I can make my own decisions.” Thaliah brushed her advisor aside. “If I was to marry Yusef, would I be recognized as the majestrix of his kingdom? Would I have the right to speak in the court of Bosiah?”

Bosiah leaned over his brother and whispered in his ear. “I think you have met your match with this one brother. The tongue on her is sharp with wit and wisdom. Beware of which one rules and which one is ruled. I like her very much. I'll regret giving her up.” Patting his brother on the back, Bosiah waved the princess closer. “You would be queen of this Tartar kingdom my brother has chosen to take as his rightful possession. He is a king by birth but he refused to rule until he had a proper queen. He has chosen you. As favored wife, actually only wife, you would bear all the rights and honors of that status, including being a most welcome guest in my court. Though he chooses to call himself Kaghan he is still no less than a king.”

Thaliah fell to her knees before Bosiah and stretched out her hands beseechingly, “Great King, you who have wisdom beyond the grasp of most men, I humble myself before you with but one question more to ask.”

“See, it is like I have told you,” the king proclaimed to all in attendance. “A woman is like the birds. If you let them, they will sing endlessly.”

Everyone laughed at the King’s joke.

“Sing away little bird,” Bosiah grinned.

“If you were me, would you accept your brother’s proposal?”

Yusef shot an alarmed glance at his brother. Bosiah smiled warmly at his brother and nodded. “Dear Thaliah. It is not a question that I ever dreamed I would ever be asked. If you are looking for a life without hardship, the comforts of Babylon, the luxurious gardens of the Euphrates, then the eastern steppes are not going to offer you that life. But on the other hand, I can clearly see the future, and in it you and my brother will build a kingdom to rival any other. For my brother to undertake this course of action, for him to seek a wife after having had the opportunity to have had so many in the past, then I know that he has offered you more than a kingdom, he has offered you his heart. Can you give him your heart in return? If your answer is yes, then you do not need my wisdom.”

Thaliah looked towards Yusef and she immediately knew the answer for herself. “I will gladly accept.”

“My princess,” Eli interjected, “I really do believe we should send word to your father.”

Bosiah did not wait for the princess to respond. “Eli, let me extend some of this great wisdom I am rumored to possess. I do not believe that there is anything that you or King Judah Zakkai could say that would change the princess’s decision. My advice to you is to help my staff prepare a wedding like none that has ever been seen before in Khazaria. My little brother is getting married to your charge!”

Eli fell silent. He knew not how he was going to explain any of this to Thaliah’s father.

Thaliah wrapped her arms around her trusted advisor, speaking softly so that none but he could hear. “Do not fret so, dear guardian. My father will be very proud of me. It will be his seed that spawns a new Jewish kingdom in Khazaria.”

Eli urged his princess to take care in what she said. “My child, you may be somewhat premature to speak of Jewish kingdoms. The Khazarim have no state religion. And they have shown no urgent desire in the past to have one. You will only have a small kingdom to the east to start with and no guarantee that Bosiah’s kingdom will follow suit.”

“Oh, but it will, dear friend. My king and I will see that it will.” With a smile she released her advisor and ran into the waiting arms of her future husband.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Khazar Polemic

In my last blog on the Khazar I discussed the later editing which occurred to the original Khazari document starting in the eleventh century. Whether the original document will ever be uncovered will have to wait to be seen. Until that time we have to contend with the fact that there are four different versions of the Khazar Polemic. The most widely circulated and well known version is the one that I discussed in the earlier blog that has been attributed over the last few hundred years to the Sephardic poet and scholar, Judah ha-Levi. The other three version never made it to the top of the best sellers list. There are some obvious reasons for this which I'll mention.
Because the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism is a well known historical fact, two of the other versions did not particularly make a lot of sense and therefore they never were universally read. One of these is the Muslim version, the other a Christian version. In both of these there is acknowledgement that the Khazars did accept Judaism but only for a time until they found the one true religion which was their own respectively. You can see why these two versions weren’t widely accepted since both Islam and Christianity suffered terribly in their wars against the Khazars and to suddenly claim that they eventually converted to each one after having killed so many Christians and Muslims in tens of thousands just doesn’t mesh with the actual facts.
The remaining two versions were both Jewish but they were as different as night and day. One had an obvious Rabbinic Judaism influence and became the polemic that Judah ha-Levi widely circulated. But the other had definite Karaite overtones and if I may say so was unabashedly a love story. Coincidentally, both the Christian and Muslim versions do touch to a degree on the love story and therefore provide it with support from unexpected sources. I tend to believe what is likely a Karaite version, not only because that is my faith but because women have always had the greatest influence on history whether they were directly responsible or the one standing behind the man that supposedly made it.

The Rabbinical Jewish Version of the Polemic
Since Judah ha-Levi’s version of the Polemic is the one that history has accepted, I might as well discuss it first and then dismiss it first as well. You see, in any version that would have been touted by the Rabbinical colleges, there could be no mention of a woman as the central figure. That would have to be expunged from the story even if it meant reinventing the story from scratch. According to all the Polemics there was a political motivation behind the conversion of the Khazars. They ruled a great empire stretching from west of the Black Sea to east of the Caspian Sea; from the steppes of central Russian to the northern regions of Mesopotamia. They controlled the flow of goods and traffic across the known routes and grew rich in the taxes they charged the caravans for safe passage. Empires need allies and yet, to choose the Byzantine over the Arab empire or vice versa would have meant a possible interruption to the flow of goods and a cessation of trade. A wise king would choose a religion that presented a threat to neither of the two empires. And although Judah ha-Levi would like to convince the reader that decision was based on a careful assessment of religious law and devotion to God by the Khazar king, the reasons were more likely to have to do with political astuteness.
The Khazari as I mentioned previously is divided into five books. It goes on for hundreds of pages and although the debater, attributed as being Rabbi Isaac Sangari in ha-Levi’s version does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Judaism and the spirituality of Jewish beliefs the fact is that the shorter version problem hit closer to home. The short version goes like this; the Khazar king invited scholars from all three of the religions to tell him why he and his people should convert to their respective religion. And after each went on for days explaining the advantages and beauty of their own religion he would ask them a single hypothetical question.
To the Muslim scholar he asked, “If you could no longer follow Islam, which would you choose, Christianity or Judaism?” The Muslim scholar never hesitated stating immediately that he would become a Jew. When asked why by the King he responded as follows:
“Christianity fails to accept that there is one God. Though they try to make themselves believe that the Trinity can be a single manifestation of God the fact is that they pray to all three separately. They think of all three as being separate versions and even have all three communicate with one another as distinct entities. Therefore no matter how much they try to deny it they are pagans and only Muslims and Jews are true followers of the one and only God. The Prophet never denied that the Jews had a place in God’s heart only that they had turned from him and he waits patiently for them to return. Therefore I could be a Jew.”
After the Christian scholar had spoken for days, the King of the Khazars asked him the same question. “If you could no longer follow Christianity, which would you choose, Islam or Judaism?” The Christian scholar never hesitated stating immediately that he would become a Jew. When asked why by the King he responded as follows:
“Islam spread its word by the sword. It is a religion that sees God as wrath and vengeance. They have no tolerance and know not to turn the other cheek. Jesus, our Lord, said that there would come those after him that spread false words and proclaim themselves to be prophets of God. But they are liars for Jesus was the last and stated there were none to follow. But all that proceeded him he declared to be the words of God and even proclaimed that he had not come to change the Laws of Moses but to affirm them. All our apostles were Jewish and Jesus too was born as a Jew. Therefore I could be a Jew.”
After the Jewish scholar of the Rabbinical version of the Polemic had spoken for days, the King asked him the question. “If you could no longer follow Judaism, which would you choose, Islam or Christianity?” The scholar replied simply, “I would be dead.” When asked by the King to explain, he said the following:
“When a Jew is told that he can no longer be a Jew, he is given only two options. Either convert to the religion of the person posing the threat, whether he be Christian or Muslim, or die. If I was to say to the Christian with a sword to my throat, that I agree to be a Christian, then he would follow me all the days afterwards to see if I betray the new faith. And the moment he suspects that I still practice Judaism he will kill me. And if I was to say to the Muslim with a scimitar to my throat, that I agree to be a Muslim, then he too would follow me all the remaining days of my life to see if I betray my new faith. And the moment he too suspects that I still practice Judaism he will kill me. And since both Christianity and Islam have branched off from Judaism there will be at some point in time something I do that I perform in the Jewish way rather than in the manner they have changed it. And when that happens they will kill me. So you see, rather than live all my remaining days in fear of death, I would be better off to choose it immediately and thereby never betray myself or God.”
As the Rabbinical version of the Polemic would have us believe, the King saw the Jewish scholar’s logic as impeccable and made his choice immediately following the explanation. Perhaps it was but what isn’t logical is for a King to choose that he and his people follow a religion that was obviously despised by the two other religions. As the Jewish scholar had made it clear, to choose Judaism would have been the equivalent to putting a noose around your neck. So at first, it would appear to be a foolish and reckless decision made by the king. But the more you examine the choice, even from this simple version you can eventually appreciate the King’s wisdom. It was obvious from all three scholars’ answers that Judaism could survive and be accepted throughout the other Empires. Although it was not looked upon kindly, it was still permitted to exist though highly restricted. Both other religions were willing to trade with Jews and often used Jews as their intermediaries even if they considered them a despised race. But more importantly both the Byzantine and Muslim Empires usually had highly placed Jews in their governments that were responsible for keeping the machinery of government operational. Often these ‘Royal Jews’ would attain the second highest position in both of the Empires. That being the case, being an intermediary Jewish empire made both good political and business sense, making it possible to have both of the other Empires as trading partners and allies.

The Christian Version of the Polemic
It might appear strange that there even would be a Christian version of the story considering that the Khazars became Jews. Even the burial sites at Chelarevo Yugoslavia demonstrate that the Khazars had adopted Judaism. The graves in this cemetery which dates from the 7th to the 11th century have menorahs and other Jewish symbols engraved as well as Hebrew lettering but there is a definite Tartar influence that suggests Khazars. So it should have been obvious to most Christians of the time that the Polemic of the Khazars did not have a Christian ending but nevertheless the story exists. Sources say that the Christian scholar of the polemic was Constantine of Thesalonica (826-869 A.D.) who was the seventh child of Leo the Drungar. According to the story he refuted both the arguments of the Rabbi and of the Dervish representing Islam and won the King over to Christianity.
We are fortunate that the Christian version of the Polemic has some secondary information that does record something about a woman being influential in the matter of the conversion. Unlike the Jewish Rabbinic version, the Christian writers were not afraid to speak of this woman and her breathtaking beauty. They referred to her as Ateh, saying that she lived in the 9th century and was a Khazar Princess. There is a claim that she was a pious woman and that she took on the Jewish scholar in the debate and defeated him when Constantine of Thessalonica was failing. This report was written in Daubmannus and in some respects it is reminiscent of the political advantage I mentioned in regards to the Rabbinic version. Apparently the Rabbi says to the King, “Of the three of us the only one you have no need to fear is me. For neither a Caliph with the green sails over his fleet, or the Byzantine Emperor with the red cross over his armies stands behind the Jews. Behind Constantine of Thessalonica comes spears and cavalry but the only thing that trails behind me is a prayer shawl.” So once again the argument that as Jews they could deal with both Empires freely would appear to have been very convincing. Fearing that the Rabbi had won the debate it is then that Princess Ateh interferes by alluding to the fact that the Jews are abandoned by God and live in misery. That God has punished them and scattered them across the world. The argument is the traditional Christian condemnation of the Jews and nothing new or startling that would have swayed the king. But the story goes that she then adopted Christianity and had the King do so as well with all the remainder of the court. Well, history proved that was false but we do at least learn that in some way there was a princess involved and she was important to the conversion of the Khazars.
There is another story amongst the Christian version that gives us a further insight. It continues on from the previous paragraph in that it says Constantine wins the argument and the King accepts that Christianity was superior but to everyone’s surprise he goes to war against the Byzantines instead of adopting their faith. They say the King explained his controversial actions by saying, “you do not beg for faith, you obtain it by the sword.” After winning the battle the Khazar King then asks for the daughter of the Greek Emperor to take as his wife. The Byzantine Emperor apparently says yes but only on the condition that the Khazar king accepts Christianity. He does so and everyone lives happily ever after. This is our first hint that the Princess of the Polemic actually was from the faith that eventually the Khazars converted to. It would suggest that Ateh was actually a Jewish Princess.

The Muslim Version of the Polemic
Not to be outdone, Islam also has its own version of events at the Khazar Polemic. According to this version the Khazar king or Kaghan had a female relative at the palace who was renowned for her beauty. Her name was Ateh and she had silver colored eyes. She was highly intelligent but could never converse on a single subject for very long always flitting from one thing to another. They wrote that she could not differentiate between important and marginal subjects but when it came to the polemic they say she wrote love poems in reference to it. Similar to the Christian version she came to the rescue of the Islamic representative, Farabi Ibn Kora, out-arguing the Jewish and Christian scholars in his behalf. The King then decided that everyone would convert to Islam, which made the Christian and Jew so irate that they used their magical powers and condemned the princess to the two hells, that of Belial and Satan.
Besides this fantastic version of the Polemic there are other Muslim writings which have a more historical and researched perspective. One of the is by Masudi the Elder and in it he writes that during the reign of Harun al-Rashid (786-809 A.D.) the Jews were being expelled from the Byzantine Empire and from the Caliphate as well. The Jews migrated north to Khazaria where they were welcomed. They came in such numbers that all of Khazaria became Jewish.
Another Arab historian, Ibn Rustah mentions that Khazaria was a two-fold kingdom with those who followed the Kaghan becoming Muslim and those that followed the Khazar King becoming Jewish. It is the first time that there is mention that there were two rulers in Khazaria and that the King and the Kaghan were not the same person. Historically this may have been true with the Kaghan being a governor appointed by the King.
Al-Bakri gives us another very important clue. He writes that the conversion to Judaism occurred in 763 under the Kaghan known as Sabriel-Obadiah which just happen to be Hebrew names. Perhaps these were the names by which the Kaghan called himself after the conversion. He claims that they chose Judaism only because the Islamic representative failed to attend the polemic because he was poisoned on route. He doesn’t even consider Christianity as having been a possibility. Al-Bakri did claim that in the final days of the Khazar kingdom they all converted to Islam. The date mentioned around 760 is the earliest for the polemic but is significant to the final version of the Polemic that I will soon discuss.
Another Islamic story of the Polemic suggested that the Jewish scholar was a Jew that had been associated with the Caliph but expelled from Baghdad. This would indicate that the individual was highly placed politically and had to be an aristocrat to be associated with the Caliph. In this same version it remarks that Princess Ateh had instructed some of her people to carry boundary stones as she intended to set up a new region or province would be marked by these frontier stones once the new faith had been chosen. Though this even would appear completely irrelevant you will see how this correlates with the final version of the Polemic that I will discuss.

The Karaite Jewish Version of the Polemic
Of course I’ve saved the best for last. Even though the Rabbinical Jewish version promulgated by Judah he-Levi has become the standard version there are still hints and traces of an earlier version having more similarities to the Christian and Muslim versions than to that later one. At no time does it specifically mention Karaites but there are enough indicators that there was Karaite involvement and for this reason these earlier traces were expunged by the Rabbinical version.
This older tale does talk of Princess Ateh. The name is meaningless in that it merely translates as “You” in the feminine from the Hebrew, similar to other cultural stories that refer to “She with no name,” or “Her”. Whatever the reason that her name has been obliterated even that has been lost to us. These older tales also say that the Princess was punished for supporting the Jewish scholar. Firstly she was punished by an Islamic demon that made her forget how to speak the Khazar language. A clear indication that the real story was that this princess was not Khazar at all and spoke an entirely different language. These old tales also say that she was a protectoress of the powerful sect of Khazar priests and that her lover was a celebrated member of this sect. He was young and his eyes were still new according to the description of him. The Christian scholar was jealous of this love affair and sought to have the priest and the Princess punished, pleading to the Kaghan that the competition was unfair since the Princess had other motives for her choice. At that point the Jewish representatives (it is now plural indicating a delegation) interceded and the pair was banished but the Kaghan remained firm in his selection of Judaism.
According to this older tale as well, the Kaghan was only given that title after the polemic and it was derived from the Hebrew word “Kohen” or priest. This we know to be inaccurate since reference to Kaghanate exist long before this but it is interesting that there would be reference t the old priesthood which would be contrary to Rabbinical efforts of conversion where they had created their teaching of Judaism without dependency on the priesthood. This tale also claims the name of the Kaghan was Sabriel, his wife was Sara and their daughter was Ateh.
In the year 800 Druthmar of Aquitane refers to the Khazars as a people that are circumcised, living by the laws of Moses and strong warriors. This is confirmed by Cinnamus in the 12th century who claims they live only by the laws of Moses but not the Orthodoxy of the rabbinical Jews.
So what do we have that supports that the conversion that took place was to Karaite Judaism? From the Rabbinic Jewish version we have the complete exclusion of the female component. If ever there was an attempt to obliterate the existence of the Princess from the record of history, this was it. The attempt only confirms that she played a far more vital role than could ever be imagined and the male dominated rabbinate resented this fact. The Christian version tells us that the Princess was not Khazar at all but the daughter of the Emperor of the faith he eventually selected. Since we know the Khazars adopted Judaism, the Christian version may be masking the fact that she was a Jewish princess. The Christian version also gives indication that the conversion may have been both politically and strategically motivated, which also would support that the alliance through marriage was a major component of the polemic.
From the Muslim version we have a date. It’s around the 760’s. We know also from this version that she played a major role which was worthy of condemnation by the other religions. She was punished though the punishment in the Islamic version is in the realm of the fantastical and not the historical. Fortunately the Islamic historians do provide us with enough information to know that the Jews came in numbers or a delegation and that they came from the Caliphate. We also hear that the leader may have been an associate of the Caliph and appears to have been banished. The princess goes with the delegation carrying boundary stones to carve out a new nation or province. And that the King and Kaghan were two entirely different people, the last being a governor reliant on the approval of the King but having almost equal authority.
And lastly we have from older Jewish legends, predating the polemic of the Rabbinate that there was a love affair that resulted in the Princess and her lover being forced to leave the land of the Khazars. That she was in charge of the priests of the religion which possibly indicates that it was she that brought this new religion to the Khazar which just happens to be described as being dependant on the Laws of Moses only; very Karaite. The punishment by the Islamic demon suggests she knew not the Khazar language at all, again a major hint suggesting she was a foreign princess. And finally there is one more mysterious comment that the term Kaghan only arose after the polemic and was directly tied to the new Jewish faith being a reference to the priesthood.
If we put all these together we have the following: A Jewish Princess came with a delegation to the Khazars in the 760’s and not only brought the new religion with her but set up her own kingdom with the Kaghan with whom she fell in love with. That she had to set up this kingdom outside of the King’s region, setting her own boundary stones and the religion she established followed the traditional priestly Judaism and not the more modern rabbinical Judaism of that time. Do we have any indication of such a person? As I have always mentioned in my blogs, I am descended from a very old Karaite family with numerous stories and traditions that have been passed on. One such story concerns the Princess Thaliah, daughter of the Exliarch. But in the later 760’s the Rabbis had created quite a problem. There were suddenly three Exilarchs all trying to rule at the same time. The one with the legitimate claims to the Jewish throne was sitting in the Caliph’s prison. The next in line was even more despised by the Rabbis because he refused to obey their commands, especially those of his father-in-law who was the Chief Rabbi in Baghdad. And finally their cousin, whom was less entitled to the throne but was smart enough to also recognize when he was being used as a tool of the rabbinate.
Thalia, whose actual name was most likely Nataliah meaning a gift from God, has her own story which I will take directly from Blood Royale and print in my next hub. . It is a tale of love and courage and you won’t want to miss it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Khazar Enigma

The Khazarim are an enigma. From what we understand of ancient Khazaria, it was a Tartar Kingdom on the borders of the Black and Caspian seas that thrived between the eighth and tenth centuries and as quickly as it arose, it vanished even more spectacularly by the late twelfth century. During its existence it minted its own currency, controlled the trade routes from East to West and back again, and was responsible for stopping the spread of Islam into Europe by defeating the Muslim armies in fiercely fought battles.
During the 7th and 8th centuries the Khazars fought several battles against the Umayyad Caliphate, which was attempting to expand its domination into the Caucasus. The first war was fought in the early 650 and ended with the defeat of the Arab forces led by Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rabiah just outside the Khazar town of Balanjar. But once again the Caliphate tried to expand through conquest between 710 and 730 but finally the Khazars, led by a prince named Barjik, invaded northwestern Iran and defeated the Umayyad forces at Ardabil in 730. The Arab governor Al-Djarrah al-Hakami was killed and the Khazars occupied the town. But Arab armies led by Prince Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik and later Caliph Marwan ibn Muhammad crossed the Caucasus and eventually defeated a Khazar army led by Hazer Tarkhan in 737, briefly occupying the Khazar city of Atil. But shortly afterward the Arab armies were forced back and Khazar independence was re-established. The last major battle between Khazar and Arab forces took place in 758, when the Khazar army under Ras Tarkhan invaded and occupied parts of Azerbaijan and Arran. The Arab pursuit of a Muslim empire through warfare never managed to penetrate into Khazaria after that. There are records that by the tenth century King Joseph of the Khazars reported to the Jewish histographer Hasdai ibn Shaprut that the Khazars had established trade relations with the Caliphate suggesting that the state of war had ended. King Joseph also indicated in his communications that his Kingdom practiced Judaism as its state religion which immediately led to rumors that it was one of the lost tribes of Israel.
That in itself was a mystery and it was later discovered through subsequent communications between Khazaria and Jewish scholars that there had been a mass conversion in the eighth century to Judaism, the story of which has been told in many books, the most famous being The Khazari which appeared in the twelfth century and was widely known a few hundred years later.
It is strange that events which are a thousand years old have now come back to haunt us today. Besides the Khazars being one of the most feared enemies of the Muslim world and still held in much disdain by that population, seeing them as the reason that Islam failed to stretch across the known world, they are now being revived into the Islamic propaganda machine for an entirely different purpose. It is the argument today, in regards to the Mid –east crisis that the Ashkenazi Jews that formulated the Zionist philosophy for the reestablishment of Israel, ethnically weren’t Jews at all, and therefore were never entitled to have the restoration of their ancient homeland. What these Muslim propagandists are claiming is that the Ashkenazi Jews are nothing but the descendants of the Khazars and they never actually disappeared as a civilization, merely migrated westward into Europe where they became recognized as being the Jewish populations of Poland, Ukraine and Romania that manifested in the twelfth century. Hence their new argument that Israel should not exist since it was established by a race that weren’t Jews. Of course the corollary would then be true that if they were Jews then the State of Israel has the right to exist and they have to realize that showing a picture of an Israeli soldier and writing on it that this is a Khazar does not mean he is any less entitled to live in the land of his religious beliefs. But for all others, whether they be Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Karaite, Bene Israel or Fellashim, they are entitled to live in the land of their origins. A land where they have been a continuous presence for three thousand years in one form or another even though Muslim historians attempt to gloss over that fact.
I am surprised at how many adherents this faulty theory of Ashkenazi being Khazars has garnered over the last couple of decades. Despite the genetic typing of Ashkenazi Jews as Semites, not to mention phenotypic characteristics which are more common to the eastern Mediterranean than to the Caucasus, there would still appear to exist this determination of these Muslim propagandists to insist that their flawed theory is the truth. One of their arguments being that amongst the Jew’s own books there was nothing but Sephardic Jews (North African and Spanish) in existence in the late eleventh century or why else would the meeting with the King of Khazaria have to be conducted by Sephardic Jews if he had close by Ashkenazi neighbours? Conveniently they choose to ignore the Mizrahi Jews in Arab lands who were very much a presence in that part of the world and who now live predominantly in Israel.
But let’s deal with the misconception of Ashkenazi’s not being descendants of original Jewish stock. I will admit that this book, The Kazari, does give that impression on first reading, and the emphasis that it was a great Sephardic sage from Toledo Spain that had to travel all the way to Khazaria to conduct the interview would suggest that there was an absence of East European Jews at the time. Hopefully, this is where I can put an end to any misconceptions that the Ashkenazi Jews were only the product of Khazars that had migrated west. Some probably were but far more Khazars probably became Karaites due to the similarities in language and beliefs between the two populations. A commentary amongst the Karaite authors lists the population of our people measuring around 400,000 at the time of Saadiah Gaon. This sudden burst in Karaite population made the Gaon furious as he considered the battle for Jewish minds being lost by the Rabbinate. I would think that the most likely explanation for this population explosion in the tenth century was the fact that the Khazars were being numbers amongst the Karaites.
One of the advantages of descending from a very old family is that in my personal library I happen to have some very old books that have been passed down into my possession from various family members. This one I’m about to discuss in particular was printed in Berlin in 1795. I know some of you are probably looking at the photographs of this book and probably cursing me for not taking better care of a two hundred plus year old book and keeping it under sealed glass, etc, etc, but books are meant to be held, to be touched, to be read. I have some even older than this one and I’m not ashamed to say that I finger through them often. But that is not the point of this article and any bibliophiles that wish to admonish me on proper book care please save it for another time. The point I wish to make is that the beauty of these older books is that they have not undergone the distortions and alterations of later translations. As much as old books should be considered sacred and should not be subject to adulteration, sadly that is not the case. In later attempts to embellish and perhaps even clarify as may have been the belief of these latter day editors the fact is that with every change something is actually lost, not gained.
For example, I have enclosed the front page of my book and what should be the identical front page from a copy over a hundred years later from Warsaw which I’ve taken off the web.
The translation of my older Berlin copy of the title and first paragraph is roughly as follows:

Book of the Khazari
Between the king of the nation of the Khazars and between the (associate/colleague/partner) whose name is blessed many times in heaven in dialogue about the details (history) of the king and his people.
The ancient and wise Judah son of Saul the Levite, knowledgeable of the languages of the Arabs recording and guarding that all is correct.

Whereas the same section translated from the younger Warsaw copy is as follows:
Book of the Khazari
Rabbi Isaac the Sangari whose name is blessed in heaven in honest dialogue.
Translated from the Arabic by Rabbi Judah Ha Levi the Sephardi

Immediately it can be seen that these two opening paragraphs, although having some words in common are for the most part entirely different. Judah Ha Levi was a famous Jewish poet, scholar and writer in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Born in Spain, he was naturally Sephardic and would have spoken Arabic fluently, living in an Arabic ruled society. Because he was famous, his name would lend authenticity to any book and it would appear that is what the later editors were trying to achieve. Without a high profile name, there would have been the fear that the book, the Khazari would have been accused of being a fake, or even worse, a fairy tale. My German copy of the book if you notice mentions a Judah ha Levi but he is the son of Saul. The father of the famous Judah ha Levi of Spain was named Samuel, not Saul. This would have created an immediate problem if someone was trying to attribute the original book to Judah ha Levi of Spain. We do know that Judah did write his own version of the Khazari and we also know that he based his book on earlier versions that he had come across. I would postulate that my German copy is based on one of those earlier versions. There is no mention of a Rabbi Isaac Sangari in its cover page because the person discussing the issues with the King of Khazaria was far greater than any rabbi. The word actually used in my older version of the book is suggestive of someone who could sit across from a king and be considered an equal or as a partner, colleague, etc. This individual’s name was blessed numerous times in heaven suggesting that he was a great leader of the Jews. Multiple blessing would infer that he was carrying an inherited blessing which I’ll discuss later in this article. As for Judah ben Saul the Levite, he was there for one reason only; his ability to translate everything both fluently and accurately between Arabic and Hebrew. He was a scribe and translator with no mention of him being the great poet and scholar, nor is there any mention of this person being Sephardic. Why? Because all that was a later addition and deliberate alteration in an attempt to have the book gain recognition by attributing it to someone famous at that time. As for Isaac of Sangari, it is thought this may be a reference to the region in Turkey known as Sangaros, but no one knows for certain. His addition to the manuscript came much later and the only letters or poems proving his existence were held in the possession of Avraham Firkovich, a leading Karaite scholar which only further emphasizes the Khazar-Karaite connection.
Therefore, my older version of this famous book would suggest that the Sephardic connection was a later addition and that it may have been Karaite influences on the Khazarim that actually took place in the eight century as the development of Karaite teachings were occurring simultaneously at that time.
Even in Judah ha-Levi, the Sephardic poet’s version, he admits that there were many things that the Jewish sage in discussion with the King of Khazaria said that were in common with his own beliefs. This would also imply that there were many things the sage said in the original document that weren’t. The Sephardic poet therefore decided to exclude these points of difference from his version. In itself this would imply that the Sage of the story had certain beliefs and practices that were contrary to Judah ha-Levi’s rabbinic Judaism. The act of exclusion is an admission by the poet that the original story wasn’t rabbinic. Although Judah ha-Levi does let it slip that the King of the Khazars only follows the Torah and the Prophets (Book 2 first paragraph) suggesting that his beliefs were more in line with Karaite doctrine as there is no belief in the Talmud he never bothers to expand on this statement.
Another point of interest is the division of the Khazari into five chapters or books. Each book focusing on a different aspect of the dialogue. These roughly correspond to the five books of Moses in the Torah, looking first at the reasons for Monotheism with similarities to Genesis, then a History of the Khazar Nation with similarities to Exodus, then religious outline as defined by a pious man similarities to Numbers, then the requirements of God and religious laws similar to Leviticus and finally the laws of Jewish practices and philosophies similar to Deuteronomy. This parallel to the adherence of the Torah as the main article of faith is quite enlightening and despite numerous comments that are considered anti-Karaite these would appear to have been added by ha-Levi to the original book in the twelfth century as in many cases their insertion seems out of context.
It is also very interesting that the Judah ha-Levi version concludes with the following Blessing:
Completed is the book with the help of God and His assistance. Praise without end be to the Giver of Help
This is very different from the Berlin version in my possession which concludes with the following:
Blessed is He who has a contract with Holy Israel
Who has gifted it with active salvation
Although complete with the welfare of the Lion of God,
There were speakers without wisdom desired by a foreign invitee.

There is obviously a considerable difference between the two conclusive blessings. Judah ha-Levi removed almost all the reference from those present in my version.
Why would he change it so dramatically? Because of what it inferred. Following the adoption of Judaism, there was a contractual obligation in one form or another. The king of the Khazars made this contract with the representative of Holy Israel. It was an actual contract between men, not with God as ha-Levi has tried to alter. And finally we have a reference to who the Jewish representative in the debate may have been. The reference is an old one. Much in the way my Hebraic name is Aryeh-Zuk meaning the Lion of Righteousness, this person was Aryeh-El, the Lion of God. Aryeh has been used often in the family of the Kahana. It was originally used as a name of honor by those in the Kahana that achieved a status of greatness an honor which this person richly deserved as the representative of Holy Israel. Even that title is quite unique, being all inclusive of Judaism across the globe and not rabbinic in nature. The Rosh Gelutha was the representative of Holy Israel. The Rosh Gelutha was the monarchical and spiritual head of Israel as a unified entity. He was both king and priest. He was the Exilarch, the descendant of King David ruling in exile. If we look at the time of the conversion, the initial similarities to Karaism and the fact that this person moved freely between the Islamic speaking world and Khazaria, these would point to Anan ibn David as the likely spokesperson. This would be in accordance to the mysterious reference world that he was a colleague or partner of the King of Khazaria. Who else but another King could be an equal?
So, in reference to the original premise that the Khazari implied that only Sephardic Jews existed at the time and that there was no Ashkenazi presence indirectly assumed from the exclusion of any mention of them in the book, a device which as absurd as it might sound is now being used in a very active propaganda campaign by Muslim clerics, the truth of the matter is that there wasn’t even an original reference to Sephardic Jews. The universal representative of Holy Israel is the only indicator of a Jewish presence and therefore the well established existence of this community world-wide was implied. A universal community that infers that there are many Jewish communities and sects and that they are all being represented here at the time of the discussion with the Khazar King. Whether some Khazar became Ashkenazi later on is not an issue. Some probably became Muslim too.
I think that I’ll follow this hub with several more on the Khazar history. The next article will be on the original adoption of Judaism by the Khazars. Several stories exist in that respect and two of them concern a woman, which is very contrary to the Judah ha-Levi version. I’ll call it A Khazar Love Story.