Nahʾāwendī (Nahāwandī), Benjamin ben Moses Al-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

NAHʾĀWENDĪ (Nahāwandī), BENJAMIN BEN MOSES AL-

NAHʾĀWENDĪ (Nahāwandī), BENJAMIN BEN MOSES AL- (mid-ninth century), *Karaite scholar, surnamed after the city of *Nehāvand (Nahavand, Nihavand), in Persia. He probably lived in Persia or Iraq, since Karaite settlement in Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem, did not begin until after Nahʾāwendī's death. In the official Karaite memorial prayer he is ranked next to *Anan's son Saul, and in medieval Arabic accounts the Karaites as a group are sometimes referred to as "the followers of Anan and Benjamin." Al-*Kirkisānī, who lived a century later and whose information is usually highly reliable, states that Nahʾāwendī was "learned in the lore of the Rabbanites and strong in Scripture, and served for many years as a judge." Karaite tradition regards Nahʾāwendī as the person who established early Karaite teaching on a firm footing by purging it of Anan's supposedly excessive leaning toward Rabbanite doctrines. It is true that Nahʾāwendī disagreed with Anan on many points of law, but at the same time he appears to have been rather tolerant; he not only had no objection to adopting Rabbanite legal ordinances, including some which have no direct support in Scripture, but is even said to have declared that every person may be guided in legal matters by his own judgment and is not obliged to submit to the decisions of commonly acknowledged authorities. On the other hand, later Karaites rejected some of Nahʾāwendī's views, particularly his theory that the world was not created immediately by God, but that God created an angel who, in turn, created the world. Further, he was of the opinion that the Law was revealed by an angel, not by God, and the prophets received their prophecy from an angel. The purpose of this theory was to refer all the anthropomorphic passages in Scripture, or those which might be contrary to pure monotheism, to this angel-creator, and not to God Himself. This theory presumably represents an adaptation of a Gnostic idea, subsequently modified into the Philonic-Christian doctrine of the *logos (creative word). Nahʾāwendī's borrowings from Rabbanite law seem to testify to his realization that the cry "Back to the Bible!" raised by Anan and earlier pre-Karaite schismatics, while tactically useful for their purpose of basing their laws solely on the Bible, was impractical, since biblical legislation alone could not efficiently govern the Karaites' social and economic life a thousand years later, in the vastly different conditions prevailing in the Muhammadan empire. Hence he was forced to provide guidance for his coreligionists (probably out of his own experience as a practicing judge) in such matters as identification of witnesses, loans, agency, conjugal property rights, revokable gifts, and inheritance and wills, for which Scripture supplies only vague guide rules or none at all. Unlike Anan, who wrote (so far as is known) only in Aramaic, and unlike his own successors who wrote in Arabic, Nahʾāwendī wrote (again, so far as is known) in clear and fluent Hebrew, sharply distinct from the stilted Hebrew of later Karaite scholars and translators in the Byzantine Empire. His legal works comprise Sefer Mitzvot ("Book of Precepts") and Sefer Dinim ("Book of Rules"), both presumably parts of a comprehensive code of Karaite law. The Sefer Dinim, dealing with civil and criminal law, was published by A. Firkovich under the title Masat Binyamin (1835); extracts in English translation are found in L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952). Fragments, presumably of the Sefer Mitzvot, were published by A. Harkavy (Studien und Mittheilungen, 8 (1903), 175–84).

Nahʾāwendī also wrote commentaries on some of the books of the Bible (the Pentateuch, Isaiah, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel), which were highly regarded even by an authority like Abraham ibn Ezra. The colophon of the Sefer Dinim contains the earliest-known occurrence of the term "Karaites."

bibliography:

Baron, Social2, 5 (1957), 223–6; H. Wolfson, in: jqr, 51 (1960–61), 89–106; Guttmann, Philosophies, 58–59.

[Leon Nemoy]