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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Karaites and Geonim (9th–11th Centuries)

Jewish scholars were doubtless aware of the importance of the Bible for Christians and its use as a source of inspiration and prooftexts. Indeed, Christians were already producing commentaries on biblical books in the 3rd century. However, only with the rise of Islam and the challenge posed by its claim of religious superiority did new approaches to the study of the biblical text seem imperative for Jewish scholars. The engagement of Muslim scholars in Quranic exegesis directly influenced the approach of their Jewish counterparts to the Hebrew Scriptures. The exposure to Islamic philosophy, especially rationalist Mutazilite Kalam, was also a powerful factor and left a distinct stamp of rationalism on the works of the period. Under the influence of Arabic philology and linguistics the serious study of the Hebrew language was undertaken, dictionaries were written, and rules, often derived from the Arabic grammarian's study of Quranic grammar, began to be defined for Hebrew grammar. One of the distinctive features of the commentary genre is the recognition that language follows specific rules and that these must be taken into account when explaining the text. Thus, although the message of the Bible is still seen as divine, the medium is human, and follows the conventions of human speech and communication.

It was at this time in Iraq, newly conquered by the Arabs from the Persians, that the Karaite movement began to take shape. By questioning the validity of the oral law and its supremacy over the written, and its sometimes idiosyncratic interpretations and occasional contradictions of the biblical text,this movement challenged the authority of the rabbinic leadership of the period. The Karaites advocated a return to Scripture and ridiculed the rabbinic readings of the text, which indeed were often difficult to justify on rational grounds. The movement's founding father, or better, precursor, was Anan ben David (mid‐8th century), who according to recent scholarship, was not really the first Karaite, but rather the founder of a rival legal school which promoted a different interpretation of the halakhah, while using the same techniques of midrash halakhah as the Rabbis. Anan promoted an extreme ascetical form of religion, which he buttressed with midrashic exegetical methods, and many of his views were rejected by later Karaites. Anan, at least according to later tradition, seems to have coined the slogan “search diligently the Scriptures and do not rely on my opinion,” thus inspiring an efflorescence of biblical scholarship in both the Karaite and Rabbanite (the term used for Rabbinic in Karaite contexts) camps that would reach its zenith in the 10th and 11th centuries.

The Karaites, who coalesced into a movement in the 10th century, were the first Jewish group to produce full‐fledged scriptural commentaries. The earliest exegete seems to have been the Karaite Benjamin al‐Nahawandi (first half of the 9th century), who wrote commentaries on the Torah and several other biblical books, of which only fragments remain. The earliest extant complete Jewish commentary is Daniel al‐Qumisi's commentary on the Minor Prophets, the only part of his oeuvre to have survived intact. Al‐Qumisi flourished in the last quarter of the 9th century, during which time he emigrated to Jerusalem where he helped found the Karaite community of Mourners of Zion. His commentary, written in Hebrew, bears a distinct authorial stamp, and presents a running verse‐by‐verse exposition of the biblical text, incorporating occasional Arabic and Persian glosses. Al‐Qumisi demonstrates a distinct awareness of the literary nature of the biblical text, pointing out connections between verses and sections, and offering philological analysis where necessary. On occasion he will apply certain prophetic statements to his own era, specifically engaging in polemics against the Rabbanites. But such interpretations are always offered as a second level of meaning after the verse has been subjected to philological and literary analysis. Take for example, Hos. 2.8–9 : “Assuredly, I will hedge up her roads with thorns and raise walls against her, and she shall not find her paths. Pursue her lovers as she will, she will not overtake them; and seek them as she may, she shall never find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then I fared better than now.’” After explaining the difficult words in the text and placing the verses in the general context of Hosea's prophecy, al‐Qumisi then applies these verses to the Karaite‐Rabbanite controversy, explaining that many will seek enlightenment through the teachings of the Rabbanites but will be disappointed (“seek them as she may, she shall never find them,” 2.8 ) and as a result, there will be some who wish to “return to the first husband” ( 2.9 ), i.e., to the proper worship of God as prescribed in the Bible (the Karaite way), while there are those who “pursue their lovers” (ibid.), i.e., en‐ gage in improper acts, as did the early nations, in which men would marry their nieces and sisters‐in‐law and perform other forbidden unions, use candlelight on the Sabbath, etc., as did the Rabbanites. But the shepherds who mislead their flocks (i.e., the Rabbanites) will be dismissed and Israel will not find them, as it is written “I will dismiss them from tending the flock” (Ezek. 34.10 ). While this type of exegesis is somewhat reminiscent of the pesharim of the Dead Sea sectarians, there is a wide gap between the latter, which use the biblical text as a key for predicting the future, particularly the fate of their community, and those Karaites like al‐Qumisi, who occasionally offer a midrashic type of gloss applying the text to their present situation. In general, in contrast with the Sages, who spoke of the multivalency of Scripture, al‐Qumisi insisted that every word in the Bible had butone true interpretation. Unfortunately, this interpretation was not always immediately obvious. Therefore, multiple meanings could vie with each other, until the true meaning would be clarified at the End of Days when the Teacher of Righteousness (moreh tzedek), a messianic figure who is also prominent in Qumran pesher texts, would clarify ambiguities and decide on the one true interpretation.

The most prominent Rabbanite exegete of this period is Saadia Gaon (882–942), a polymath, who did pioneering scholarly work in many areas, including grammar and exegesis. Saadia was born in Egypt and later moved to Iraq, where he was eventually chosen to be gaon, or head of the Sura academy, the leading talmudic academy of his time. Saadia translated most of the Bible into Arabic and wrote commentaries on many books including the Torah, Isaiah, Proverbs, Job, and some of the Five Scrolls. He prefaced his commentaries with detailed introductions discussing grammatical, exegetical, and philosophical issues and polemicizing extensively against the Karaites. Saadia set down several principles of interpretation, which guided him in his work of translation and exegesis. These are most explicit in the introduction to his Torah commentary, where he affirmed the necessity of understanding the biblical text according to the plain meaning of the words, with the following exceptions: (1) if experience and sense perception contradict the plain meaning (e.g., that Eve was the mother of all living things [Gen. 2.20 ]); (2) if reason contradicts the plain sense (e.g., Deut. 4.24 , that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire,” which must be interpreted metaphorically); (3) when verses contradict each other (e.g., Mal. 3.10 , “thus put me to the test,” which must be interpreted so as not to contradict Deut. 6.16 , “do not test the LORD, your God,” which takes precedence); (4) when a verse contradicts established tradition (e.g., in the prohibition against seething a kid in its mother's milk [Exod. 23.19; 34.26; Deut. 14.21 ]). In the last case, an oral tradition (the complete separation of meat and milk products) was transmitted by the people, who saw how the prophets behaved in this matter. One of Saadia's key exegetical principles was maintaining a balance between the freedom of the interpreter and the authoritative tradition. This issue must have been heatedly discussed in Islamic circles as well, but for Saadia it was probably primarily motivated by the need to defend the oral tradition from the attacks of the Karaites. For Saadia unlimited freedom of interpretation, which the Karaites advocated, was unthinkable, since it would lead to religious anarchy. Exegetical freedom had to be limited by the dictates of tradition, which sometimes led to interpretations far from the plain sense.

Another important rabbinic exegete of this period was Samuel ben Ḥofni (d. 1013), gaon of Sura, who wrote an extensive commentary on the Torah in Judeo‐Arabic, only part of which survives. This commentary follows in Saadia's footsteps but has its own unique features as well. It takes a rationalistic approach to the text and features extensive excursuses on various topics, which go far beyond the explication of the text and for which he was criticized by later exegetes. For example, his comment on Gen. 41.49 (“So Joseph collected produce in very large quantity, like the sands of the sea”) includes a lengthy discourse on hoarding, and he appends to his commentary on the death of Jacob a long discussion of the laws of death and burial (Gen. 47.29 ).

One of the most prominent Karaite scholars of the period was Ya'qub al‐Qirqisani, a native of Iraq and a younger contemporary of Sa‐adia, who wrote two major works in Arabic, a legal code called Kitab al‐anwar wa’l maraqib (Book of Lights and Watchtowers), and a commentary on the Torah titled Kitab al‐Riyad wa’l ḥada'iq (Book of Gardens and Parks). These two works constituted a unified exegetical project encompassing the legal and narrative portions of the Torah. In the latter work he sets down thirty‐seven principles of exegesis and explains his exegetical aims and methods. Examples include the Mosaic authorship of theentire Torah and the necessity to interpret Scripture literally unless this would lead to a contradiction. Another important principle is that “Scripture addresses human beings in a manner accessible to them and about matters familiar to them from their own experience,” which is reminiscent of the rabbinic principle “Scripture speaks in human language” (e.g., b. Ber. 31 b). His works demonstrate a wide knowledge of contemporary philosophical and intellectual trends, as was typical for his time and environment.

In the 10th century Jerusalem became the spiritual center of Karaism. The greatest Karaite exegete was Japheth ben Eli, who flourished in the second half of the 10th century and was part of this Jerusalem school of Karaite scholars. He is the only exegete to have translated and commented on the entire Bible. He seems to have undertaken this task in order to provide the Karaite community with an adequate treatment of Scripture, which could hold its own against traditional rabbinic exegesis, especially the sophisticated treatment of his formidable Rabbanite opponent Saadia Gaon. While not as sophisticated and well developed in his understanding of Arabic linguistics and Mutazilite (rationalist Islamic) philosophy as his 11th‐century successors, such as Yusuf al‐Basir, Jeshuah ben Judah, and Abu'l‐Faraj Harun, his originality and literary‐contextual approach set the tone for succeeding generations of exegetes and were profoundly influential. Japheth's Karaite successors used his commentaries as the foundation for their remarks, expanding and elaborating upon them, and his comments also found their way into the rabbinic peshat tradition, mainly through the mediation of Abraham Ibn Ezra.

Japheth's commentaries are divided into two sections. Each biblical book begins with a programmatic introduction, followed by a section‐by‐section translation and commentary. The translation and commentary are intimately related: The translation represents the distillation of the exegete's understanding of the meaning of the text, while the commentary discusses in depth the various options for its interpretation. Like Daniel al‐Qumisi, Japheth also interpreted the text according to two methods, one the linguistic‐contextual, the other, the pesher‐like or prognostic, in which allusions are sought in the text to the exegete's own time, and to the struggle of the Karaite movement against its opponents. For Japheth and other Karaite members of the Mourners of Zion, such as Salmon ben Jeroḥam (mid‐10th century), this second method, which had a strong messianic tone to it, replaced the rabbinic method of midrash, which they had rejected. However, this method was used selectively, only on works or verses deemed appropriate for such treatment (e.g., the poetic passages in the Torah and Early Prophets, Psalms, Daniel, Song of Songs).

In the late 10th century the Karaite Abu Ya'aqov Yusuf Ibn Nuḥ published a grammatical commentary on the Bible, the Dikduk (Grammar), which bears witness to an early Karaite tradition of Hebrew grammatical thought which originated in Persia and Iraq in the 8th to 9th centuries and was at first shared by Rabbanites and Karaites alike. The intention of this work was to use the tools of grammar and linguistics to elucidate the biblical text; it is thus distinguished from the grammars of Saadia and the Karaite Abu'l‐ Faraj Harun, which were more theoretical grammars arranged systematically. Ibn Nuḥ also wrote a long commentary on the Torah, only part of which survives.

The most important Karaite exegete of the 11th century is Jeshuah ben Judah, author of several exegetical works, including long and short commentaries on the Torah, and Genesis Rabbah, a theological commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis (not to be confused with the rabbinic midrash of the same name). His commentaries, scholastic in nature, are imbued with the teachings of Mutazilite Kalam and include lengthy halakhic discussions. They also include extensive quotations from rabbinic literature, some of them cited approvingly.

By the 11th century a Karaite community had taken hold in Byzantium, and soon Karaites from this community were traveling to Jerusalem to study at the feet of the great sages of the Jerusalem school. Led by Tobias ben Moses, these Byzantine sectarians translated into Hebrew and epitomized large portions of the Karaite exegetical and halakhic tradition of the time and brought them back to Byzantium. Thus were the Arabic works of Japheth, Jeshuah, and the great theologian Yusuf al‐Basir salvaged and transmitted to new generations of students, albeit in rather inferior translations that did not do justice to the eloquence of their authors.

The geonim and their Karaite contemporaries are the pioneers of Jewish biblical exegesis, the first to produce systematic biblical commentaries. They influenced succeeding schools of interpretation, especially those in the Arabic sphere: e.g., exegetes such as Judah Ibn Bal'am and Abraham Ibn Ezra (Muslim Spain), Abraham Maimonides (Egypt) and the Yemenite midrashic commentaries such as Midrash ha‐gadol.

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