Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fourth Letter to My Christian Brethren

It's been some time since I first started this series and mentioned that it would delve into the book Hazuk Amunah (Testimony of Strength or Faith Strengthened) written some four hundred years ago. Since making that statement I've taken the reader on a somewhat convoluted course, weaving an intricate tapestry showing the connections between the rabbinical model of the messiah and the rise of two very different challengers, Christianity and Islam, both based on that model but as the rabbis desperately changed their story, so too did each one of these religions differ due to the interceding six hundred years of alteration. Or perhaps I should say adulteration, since the rabbinic model was never compliant with the established messianic expectations of the Torah. But remarkably, the relationship between Karaites and their Christian and Muslim neighbours never soured and this was most likely because Karaites never blamed either religion for following mistaken practices. In fact, it viewed each of these populations as victims of deliberate rabbinic distortions, fallacies and heresy. How could Karaites hold the victims responsible, simply because they wished to find a path to God and were intentionally misled. After all, as it's written in the Kitab al-anwar wa'l-maraqib, also known as the Code of Karaite Law, "And the Rabbanites conspired against him and offered him up to be killed just as they had sought to kill Anan also, but without success. This is their way with all would oppose them." Obviously the rabbanites did not perform the execution themselves but by offering Jesus to those that did, ie. the Romans, they acted as accomplices. One might say this is a terrible accusation for Karaites to make in our Code of Law but those are the facts and as one can find in The Caiaphas Letters ( there was a political game being played. One reads in the book that the Sadducees were definitely trying to manipulate Yeshua as well but their plans necessitated that he stay alive, a fact which their archrivals, the Pharisees or Rabbanites were well aware of and determined to stop. Nothing has really changed over the years. As Kirkisani, one of the great Karaite thinkers wrote, "The rabbis resort to murder and expulsion when their hegemony is threatened, even within their own ranks." As it was then, so it was seven hundred years later when Anan dared to speak up against them.

Even Anan ben David, the patriarch of Karaism understood that both Christians and Muslims were merely the victims of the political endgame played by the Rabbanites and therefore they were not responsible for the errors of their practices. In regards to Christians al-Shahrastani and al-Maqrizi wrote that Anan believed that Jesus had been a righteous man but never a prophet. The Gospels that were written long after his death could not have been divinely revealed since those that wrote them never had any direct connection to Jesus and therefore could not have been divinely inspired. As for Islam, al-Maqrizi wrote that Anan did recognize Mohammed as being divinely inspired but because he relied so heavily on the oral traditions of the rabbis, he had been deceived. Both these writers present an Anan ben David that hardly resembles the totalitarian, egotistical, power-seeking, intractable individual that the rabbis have portrayed him as being. In fact, what is seen is a tolerant, understanding and patient individual that felt given enough time, he'd be able to lead both his Christian and Muslim neighbours back to the true path.

Tolerance has always been the cornerstone upon which Karaism was built and this has also been a main point of differentiation from our Rabbanite brothers. No better example of this exists than a preserved text Sippur 'Aravi which records the sudden arrival of European Jews in Cairo in 1465. These foreign Jews had no connection with Rabbic tradtion and relied solely on the Torah but did not refer to themselves as Karaites. Whereas the Karaites welcomed the strangers with open arms, recognizing them merely as fellow Jews with their own set of beliefs, the Rabbanite community was up in arms. Either these strangers had to convert to rabbinic Judaism or they would have to leave. The matter ended up in the hands of the Muslim religious authorities, and it is their rulings which are recorded in the preserved text. The Rabbanite community was furious with what it considered an intrusion on their legal territory and subsequently, many of these Rabbanites found themsleves in prison and their property confiscated because of their altercations with Muslim authorities. In the end, the Muslim court permitted these foreign Jews to choose their own destiny and rather than remain aloof, they chose to convert to Karaism. To them it was a far more accepting and tolerant sect after what they had endured.

Hazuk Amunah

Now that the introductions are over, its time to start examining the main focus of this series of articles; the Hazuk Amunah. As I mentioned long ago in a previous article, these books in my possession are not kept under glass, controlled environments, etc., so if someone wishes to lecture me over my alleged mistreatment of these historic treasures, don't, books are made to be read, even three hundred year old books. And this particular book came into my posession with a purpose; to be used as it had been intended when Abraham Isaac of Troki wrote it. Not as a defence of the faith but a weapon. A sword designed to slash through the dogma and myths that arose as a result of the Rabbanite adulterations of the messianic tractate. To be used as Anan ben David would have wished; to highlight to his Christian neighbours where they had been led astray and show them how to return to the original path.

So what exactly was this Hazuk Amunah, that it sent shock waves through the Church? Unlike other polemics used through the centuries the approach of Hazuk Amunah was quite different. Rather than criticize and condemn as an outsider looking in, it used Christianity's own doctrines and words to make its arguments, so in effect critiquing from within. In fact, unlike most polemics which often bordered on emotional diatribes, the approach by Issac ben Abraham Troki was quite logical making the author quite unique for his time having been born in 1533 and passing away in 1594 in the city of Troki, Lithuania. Troki's Karaite teacher was the scholar Zephaniah ben Mordecai but following the age old advice of Anan ben David to read everything and then make up your mind, Troki also studied Latin and Polish literature under the tutelage of Christian clergy. In fact he was so immersed in the Christian world that he studied Christian theology and religious philosophy as well. But the more he studied the more he found fault with the Christian teachings and when he no longer could accept Christian attempts to refute Judaism, that is when he sat down and wrote his greatest work, the Hazuk Amunah.

Having heard all the arguments, Troki simplified the divinity of Jesus down to a simple logical equation. That being that Jesus (A) either permitted the Jews and the Romans to torment, persecute and then execute himself according to his own wishes or (B) Jesus was crucified against his own will and he was powerless to stop them. If (A) then why was he so filled with self doubt and trepidation when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and if (B) then how can someone save the world if he can't even save himself. It wasn't as if these questions were new to the anti-Christian writers of the past, but it was the way in which Troki handled the subsequent answers, building upon each as a stepping stone until there was no defense reamaining against his logic.

The work was never published during Troki's lifetime, but passed through the hands of numerous copyists over the next century. Unfortunately, one of these was a Rabbanite and he felt perfectly entitled to start inserting quotes from the Talmud, which immediately lessened any of Troki's purely logical arguments. Then the manuscript had the misfortune or good fortune, depending on how you look at it, to fall into the hands of Johann Christoph Wagenseil, an anti-Jewish writer who took great delight in publishing the book in 1681 along with his very pro-Christian refutation in Latin. He even gave it the very appealing name of Tela Ignea Satanae which translates as the Fiery Darts of Satan. But Wagenseil's version backfired on him. In spite of his best efforts, his rebuttals weren't enough to diffuse Troki's well shaped arguments and instead of dealing a death blow to Torki's work, Wagenseil ensured that it became exceedingly popular. So popular, that even Voltaire praised it as an extraordinary piece of work.

A Message from Isaac ben Abraham Troki

Before I engage in writing my dissertations on the Hazuk Amunah and hopefully lend my own humble views to this exceptional document without diminishing I hope Troki's masterpiece in any way I think it would be opportune to let the original author speak on behalf of himself. I take liberties in enclosing parts of Troki's own preface to his book but I don't think anyone could say it as well as he did when he speaks of the universality of mankind.

"My religious zeal was aroused, on finding that the name of the Supreme Being was dishonored, and our Holy Law profaned by the very people who had been appointed to be the guardians of faith and the witnesses of those grand truths which make the simple man wise, the sorrowing heart glad, and the dim eyes bright. To my grief, I found that the inquisitive and indefatigable study of religion which yields due reward to its zealous followers was not cultivated among us as in former days and am persuaded that ignorance and growing misapprehensions have added mental to physical burdens. Persecutions arising from religious hatred were heaped upon the children of my faith in all quarters of the globe and were ever increasing in acrimony, not less in consequence of the low state of knowledge possessed by the Jews in matters of theological controversy than by the confused and mistaken notions which Christians had formed of Judaism. But it is absolutely imperative on man to be at all times prepared to repel any attack made on his belief. In conformity with this observation, our sages have recorded their opinion in the following axiom: "Man ought assiduously to study his own faith and be competent to give a proper reply to his antagonists," more particularly when we consider that in the majority of Scriptures of which we alone are the legitimate heirs and expounders.

Seeing that our Holy Scriptures contain immutable truths revealed to us for the benefit of the whole human race, I have presented in this work such biblical passages as serve to illustrate the genuineness of Judaism and also such as require elucidation in order that the reader may fully perceive that, whatever seems obscure or tending to support Christianity, is indeed merely so in form and relates wholly and exclusively to the sacred cause of Judaism; a cause which no argument whatever can depreciate for the leading object of our faith is to make erring men look up to the unerring Deity and inspire the belief that one indivisible God rules over the destinies of all, requiring no mediator or intercessor to obtain remission for our sins."

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