Ishmael of ʿUkbara

views updated


ISHMAEL OF ʿUKBARA (Ar. Ismāʿīl al-ʿUkbarī ; ninth century), sectarian teacher from ʿUkbarā, near *Baghdad. *Al-Qirqisānī asserts that Ishmael dubbed *Anan b. David, the titular founder of *Karaism, an ass, yet some of his own teachings were so absurd as to cause ridicule. Nevertheless, when he felt his end approaching, he instructed his followers to inscribe upon his tombstone "The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof " (ii Kings, 2:12). Ishmael did not recognize the Masoretic emendations (keri) in the biblical text, and ruled that it should be read as written (ketiv), yet at the same time he asserted that some passages reflect a corrupt reading. He permitted the consumption on the Sabbath of food cooked or gathered on that day by persons of other faiths. He permitted a person to use the income of a business operating seven days a week, such as a bathhouse or a shop, provided he devoted the proceeds of each seventh and forty-ninth or fiftieth day for charity (on the analogy of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years for agricultural produce). He also prohibited the consumption of meat.

His followers appear to have been comparatively few, and Al-Qirqisānī states that in his day (tenth century) none was left. They were presumably absorbed in the slowly consolidating Karaite sect. In ʿUkbarā, Ishmael was succeeded by Mīshawayh al-ʿUkbarī, who organized a separate group of his own disciples.


L. Nemoy, in: huca, 7 (1930), 329, 388; idem (ed.), Karaite Anthology (1952), 52, 335.

[Leon Nemoy]