Kirkisānī, Jacob al-

views updated


KIRKISĀNĪ, JACOB AL- (Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq ibn Sam ʿawayh al-Qirqisani ; first half of tenth century), Karaite scholar. His surname has been variously derived from Qirqīsīyā, the ancient Circesium, in the Midrash (Lam. R. 1:18, no. 53), Kirkesyon, in Upper Mesopotamia, and from Qarqasān, a small town in the vicinity of Baghdad. The sequence of his names implies that he was called Jacob, his father Isaac, and his son Joseph, reproducing the sequence of the biblical patriarchs. Later Karaite authors thought erroneously that his forename was Joseph and confused him with the Karaite scholar Joseph b. Abraham ha-Ro'eh (Yūsuf *al-Baṣīr) who lived a century later.

Nothing is known of al-Kirkisānī's personal life beyond what may be inferred from his own works. He was thoroughly acquainted with the contemporary Arabic theological, philosophical, and scientific literature, and had a substantial knowledge of the Mishnah, the Gemara, some midrashic works, and the *Rabbanite liturgy. He also read the New Testament and the Koran, and perhaps some of the Christian patristic literature. Of his non-Karaite associates he mentions the Rabbanite scholar *Jacob b. Ephraim and the Christian "bishop," or rather deacon, Yasʿu Sekhā, with both of whom he was on terms of personal friendship. Unlike some Karaite fanatics, he avoided personal vituperation in his anti-Rabbanite polemics. Al-Kirkisānī let the logic of his thought and the range of his learning speak for themselves, so that he was by far the most formidable champion of Karaism of his age. Since he was a firm believer in the use of reason and intelligence in theology and jurisprudence, his views in this field are characterized by common sense and moderation, although he did not hesitate to ally himself with the partisans of such rigoristic laws as the catenary (rikkuv) theory of forbidden marriages.

Al-Kirkisānī's principal work is divided into two parts, of which the first, entitled Kitāb al-Anwār wa-al-Marāqib ("Book of Lights and Watch-Towers"), is a systematic code of Karaite law, while the second part, entitled Kitāb al-Riyāḍ wa-al-Ḥadāʾiq ("Book of Gardens and Parks"), is a commentary on the non-legal parts of the Torah, prefaced by a detailed discourse on the methods of biblical exegesis. The "Book of Lights" is divided into 13 discourses:

(1) history of the Jewish sects;

(2) on the validity of the application of rational investigation to theology and jurisprudence;

(3) refutation of the doctrines of the various sects, including Christianity and Islam;

(4) treatise on the methods of interpretation of the law;

(5) on circumcision and Sabbath;

(6) on commandments, other than the Sabbath, including a detailed treatise on the liturgy;

(7) on new moons;

(8) on the Feast of Weeks;

(9) on the remaining holy days;

(10) on cleanness and uncleanness;

(11) on incest;

(12) on dietary law;

(13) on inheritance.

Throughout Kirkisānī makes constant reference to the views of other Karaite jurists, particularly Anan and Benjamin b. Moses *Nahawendi, as well as those of the Rabbanites. Its erudition, detail, and excursuses on various subjects (e.g., on dialectics, witchcraft, the psychopathology of sleep and dreams, suicide, the varying pronunciation of Hebrew words) give the "Book of Lights" permanent importance as a source book.

Several smaller works of al-Kirkisānī, now untraceable, are cited in the "Book of Lights." They include (1) extensive philosophic-exegetical commentaries on Genesis, Job, and Ecclesiastes; (2) a tract in refutation of Muhammad's claim to prophecy Kitāb fi Ifsād Nubūwat Muḥammad; (3) an essay on the art of interpretation, Al-Qawl ʿalā al-Tafir wa-Sharḥ al-Maʿānī; (4) an essay on the art of translation, Al-Qawl ʿalā al-Tarjamah; (5) a treatise on the principles of faith (literally, "on the oneness of God") Kitāb al Tawḥīd, perhaps intended as a Karaite reply to Saadiah's Emunot ve-De'ot.

The Kitāb al-Anwār is the only work of Kirkisānī which has been published in its entirety (by L. Nemoy, 5 vols., 1939–43). The first discourse was translated into English by L. Nemoy (huca, (1930), 317ff.), who also translated several chapters from other discourses (for example in jbl, 57 (1938), 411ff.; 59 (1940), 159ff.). An abridgement of it (Mukhtaṣar al-Anwār) is extant in manuscript. The introduction to the Kitāb al-Riyāḍ was published by H. Hirschfeld (Qirqisānī Studies, 1918). A revised translation of part of the first discourse and of Hirschfeld's text is found in L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952), 42ff.


G. Vajda, in: rej, 106 (1941–45), 87–123, 137–40; 107 (1946–47), 52–98; 108 (1948), 63–91; 120 (1961), 211–57; 122 (1963), 7–74; Mann, Texts, index; Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium (1959), index, s.v.Jacob [al] Kirkisani; Steinschneider, Arab Lit, 79ff.; S. Poznański, Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon (1908), 8ff.

[Leon Nemoy]

About this article

Kirkisānī, Jacob al-

Updated About content Print Article