Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Karaite Looking Beyond Exodus

As the title would suggest, this hub is a continuation of the previous one on the Exodus story which I was reminded by a Rabbanite reader that I had not yet provided the rest of the story I was telling. He didn't exactly say it in that manner. It was more in the vein of "You have nothing to support your information and I demand that you remove your hub immediately!" Typical Rabbanite although he had the audacity to say that he has some Karaite leanings. That's like saying you're a little bit pregnant, or some of my best friends are '______' , well you can fill in the ethnic slur. How typical of rabbanites not to debate, not to try and see perspectives other than their own narrowminded vision but to actually make demands on everyone else to either agree with them or get off the planet. And that has exactly been their attitude from Saadiah Gaon, their great rabbinical scholar who physically persecuted us to the point of slaughter and the Great Maimonides who branded us heretics and therefore deserving of death. So what should I expect from this modern version of hate and prejudice? Well, I'll just do one better, I'll provide the rest of the story so he and those like him can struggle with their own conscience and beliefs. And they have a lot to struggle with and be accounted for. Even something as simple as lighting of candles on the Sabbath, a practice which Karaites do not follow because of the prohibition of making fire on the Sabbath, they will denounce us for and then justify their practice of doing so by giving it greater sanctity and holiness from their Talmud than the rituals which were ordained within the Torah. You can view rabbinic justification on sites such as . If it was really that important to enjoy your food by seeing it then try eating before sunset. But to condemn and ridicule another sect because they wish to follow the Torah literally, that is not acceptable. Not a thousand years ago and certainly not now. But if you'd like to read how a Rabbi admits that they falsified the ritual to make it appear as if it was ordained in the Torah then you can read where Rabbi Scheinerman does just that.

The High Priest Karaite View of History
It should be mentioned that the Karaite view of history is very different from that of the Rabbinic view. Whereas Rabbanites have always given the historical record a practically sacred status, Karaites have viewed them as stories with moral lessons. Whereas to a Karaite the laws and commandments in the Tanach are irrefutable and non-transmutable, the historical record was always viewed as something that had been edited over time. This is confirmed by modern studies which confirm there were several editors and redactors, often referred to as the P (Priestly) editors, J (Yahwist) editors and M (time of Moses) editors. Yet, the Rabbanites will stand their ground and insist that the Torah was never tampered with even though as I inferred in my first article on the Exodus, they have knowledge that the editing has taken place many times, and not necessarily for the better. It is fortunate that because Karaites have always viewed the historical documentation as being prone to editing, we have preserved many of the stories as we knew them in the 8th century. So the natural question to follow would be how do Karaites know what is historically accurate and what isn't. Professor Fred Asten from San Francisco State University described Karaites' ability to draw historical conclusions as the result of the interaction of historiosophic assumptions, sectarian apologetics, and external influences. In otherwords the insights we have gained form our knowledge of the past and our freedom to read and explore the texts of other religious and non-religious sects. By drawing on points of intersection we can establish historical likelihoods. This was expressed by Asten in his statement that "Karaite historical pronouncements offered variations and alternative readings to what were understood as historical materials derived from the Mishnah, Talmud, and other works of the rabbinic canon, as if to say that the rabbis simply did not understand their own texts." And he was right, that is exactly what we were saying then and saying now.

The Exodus story that I began last blog is one such example. The editors have left obvious markers of their handiwork. The question I last raised was in regards to the children of Moses or more specifically the absence of his children from the Torah. We are given a brief glimpse of what my have been it it wasn't for the fact that Numbers 3:1 got edited. It opens with saying that "These are the generations of Aaron and Moses..._ Sentences 2 through 39 provide the details of Aaron's sons and their official positions as well as all the other Levites and how they would officiate under Aaron's sons. But any record of Moses's sons is completely eliminated which in respect of the first sentence we know that at some point in time these details were present. Modern researchers would say that this was likely the handiwork of the P editor. But why would a Levitical editor wish to bury any evidence of Moses' children and their roles? At first reading it would appear that we are at an impass. Because there is no other references in the Torah referring to Moses' children after the Exodus, the natural assumption is that they never performed any task worthy of recording. Quite astonishing since even the most inferior child of a great man is often placed in a role of great importance as a sign of respect for his father. This is simply a fact of life and a reality of succession.

I wouldn't have obviously raised this scenario unless I had an alternative to present to this impasse. And this alternative is directly related to the issue of the addition of the letter 'nun' that I mentioned in the previous hub. Since the nun was a marker that signified Moses, then it's addition could hardly be considered an alteration of the Torah as long as it was clear to all that it had been added. This addition in particular has to do with Judges Chapter 18. In Hebrew versions of this story insert the letter nun in line 30 in the name of the priest's grandfather. The nun is elevated above the letters in the rest of the name so that it is clearly marked that it was an insertion. If the word is read without the inserted letter, then the grandfather's name is Moses. And suddenly we recognize that the priest in question is no other than Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses. And all his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the day of captivity. Because the inserted nun made the grandfather's name Manasseh, this obvious fact was overlooked. The indicators were always there. First of all, the priest was a Levite and as you move through the Levite names in the earlier mentioned list, there is no priestly house of Manasseh. Secondly we know it can't be Manasseh, son of Joseph, since that was not a priestly Tribe and even Manasseh's descendants in the list in the next paragraph have no sons named Gershom. Thirdly the name Gersom was unique to Moses son. Any one else in the Torah is named Gershon, But more importantly is how the Danites came upon this priest Jonathan. They recognized him in sentence 3, indicating that he was a person of note that had become separated from the rest of Israel. He was suddenly serving in the house of Micah, a Zidonian, and an individual living outside the tribal territories, who had actually hired Jonathan as his own personal priest. All indications are that this particular priest had become an outcast from the other Levites, stricken from their register of those serving the tribes, but yet of a high enough parentage that he was instantly recognized. As an exile, he hired himself out as a priest, his stature great enough that even a Zidonian would hire him. And he had enough clout that he had his own Ephod, the priestly tunic of the high priest having properties of divination. But he also had teraphim and graven images both forbidden possessions for a high priest. This Jonathan saw himself of such high standing that he considered himself the Cohen Gadol and above the scriptural laws. Who other than a son of Moses would consider himself the equal of Aaron and his children. The Danites obviously thought him worthy of this position and pledge their allegiance to him so that he would become the independent high priest of their tribe, taking his ephod and images with him.

From Numbers 26:29 onwards we know the sons of Manasseh were Machir who had a son Gilead and Gilead had sons named Iezer, Helek, Azriel, Shechem, Shemida and Hepher. Hepher had a son named Zelophehad who had no sons but daughters. From Numbers 36:1-12 we know that these daughters had cousins from their father's brothers offspring, so there are names absent from this list but for the most part it is an indication of all the tribal chieftains in the Tribe of Manasseh. This is a further indication that this Jonathan son of Gershom was a true Levite and not descended from Manasseh, nor was their anyone named Manasseh of a priestly position in the tribe of Levi. This truly was Moses' grandson.

Is there any indication of what may have caused the friction between the sons of Moses and the sons of Aaron in the first place? For Jonathan to be in exile in the lands outside of the tribal boundaries would suggest whatever his crime it had to be great enough to warrant expulsion. The answer appears to lie in Judges chapters 19, 20 and 21. The priest of these chapters is most likely Jonathan and the order of the chapters may have been switched in order to hide this fact. Four chapters in judges dedicated to one person, who obviously ranked so high that it was not considered out of proportion to those that actually were judges of the nation. Four chapters to someone that was referred to simply as a Levite. Extraordinary, unless he was the son of Moses. And in these three chapters we discover a man of great power that exercised this authority over a country possibly in excess. It is interesting that it is said this Levite had a concubine and servants. Not what you would expect from a Levite. But with marriages of the high priest restricted as indicated in Leviticus 21, it makes sense that if the woman was a harlot he could not make her his wife lest he lose his position as a high priest. Therefore she remains a concubine but this would have been a point easily condemned by his adversaries, whom were most likely the priestly descendants of Aaron. He obviously loved the woman that he chased after her but this was his downfall. As a result of the events in those chapters this Levite was responsible for the death of thousands and practically wiped the Tribe of Benjamin from existence. In light of these events it might be understandable how he became exiled in the first place.

From Judges 18 we learn that this Jonathan fathered a line of priests that served within their own House of God from Shiloh for the next four centuries. So we do have a clue as to what happened to the sons of Moses but because they were in direct conflict or competition with the sons of Aaron they have been practically wiped from recorded existence.

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