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Karaite History: Chapter 2


Dr. Allen E. Goldenthal is the author of the Kahana Chronicles series of books available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions

Was 66 ACE The Starting Point?

Deliverance; Available from Amazon Books worldwide

Deliverance; Available from Amazon Books worldwide


To understand Karaism is to realize there would be no entity known as Karaites if there was no Oral Law. There would only be Jews. It was the advent or creation of the Oral Law or Talmud that in a sense created those of us that are referred to as Karaites, derived from those Jews that refused to accept the self-proclaimed and self-given authority of the Rabbis. Exactly when the Oral Law or these extended laws came into being is the subject of dispute. The Rabbanites claim they were provided at the time of Moses but as will be explained in this chapter the acutal date they arose was much later and for a specific purpose.

It should be pointed out that not even the Rabbanites dispute the fact that the Law as written in the Five Books of Moses is Divine Law as presented by YHWH himself. Those books in the Tanach, the prophets and histories of the Kings, the Psalms and Proverbs are divinely inspired. As such, they are also considered to be of divine authority and canonized. It is everything written after that upon which the sects of Karaites and Rabbanites diverge. Hence, as Karaites, we are the Sons of Scripture or the B’nei Mikra. Any others that try to call themselves by that title are guilty of cultural appropriation because it simply is not true. It can never be a case of saying, “We are the Sons of Scripture and by the way, we also believe according to the Talmud. Or we are the Sons of Scripture and by the way we also have this book called the New Testament.” It doesn’t work that way since the reference to the scriptures infers that it is only those books that have been directly given or directly inspired by God.

The Five Books Of Moses:

To have an appreciation of the Law, requires an understanding of the man Moses. In my book Once A God, I paint a picture of the man that is different from what is written in Exodus, because the historical Moses was markedly different from the traditional Moses of the Bible. But the differences are only concerns of biography, personal facts, and have nothing to do with the nature of the man himself. The Moses of history and the Moses of the Torah are identical in that sense. In both cases he executed God’s will, sometimes objecting as he did so, but still performing as required and ultimately proving to a very stubborn, stiff-necked people that God was with him at least 95% of the time. By following God’s will he was able to provide food, shelter, protection, guidance and ultimately victory to those that joined him in the Exodus. But the greatest achievement over the years of wandering was not taking possession of the land of Canaan under Joshua, but the giving of the Law. If there had not been the Law, there never would have been an Israelite nation. It would have disitntegrated soon after it entered into this new land, either absorbed into the surrounding population or defeated becaused they would have had no adhesive glue to bind them together.

Those that are from an Atheist bend of mind will argue as to what kind of laws could these be if the first book in the Scriptures is nothing more than myths and legends, having no grounding in science or historical fact. But what they are failing to see is the phenomenal truth and beauty of Genesis that God provided in all the stories of that first book. Let me explain what I mean. It was intended to provide moral laws, through the use of simplified examples of a story teller. One does not try to explain the workings of a combustion engine to a tribe in the jungle that just learned how to make fire. God could have spoken about the universal law of nature, how He exploded a universe from an infinitismly small particle through a pinhole in the fabric of the void in order to create what science has only come to grips with over the past fifty years as the Big Bang. You have to undestand that before the 1970s, science proudly proclaimed that it was impossible to create something from nothing, which is exactly what the Torah claimed God had done. They’ve now had to retract that statement as they realized not only was it possible but it is the only way they can explain an expanding universe, though they will still use terms like the ‘God Particle’ or ‘Quantum Fluctuation’ to try to account for it, rather than admit that perhaps there was a Creator.

So, as we start backing up the Five Books of Moses with scientific principles, with archeology and historical documentation, we begin to appreciate and undertand how a tribal people barely at the edge of the Bronze Age recognized that what Moses had given them was most assuredly divinely inspired. Some may scoff at such a concept, relying on our present day perspective of rockets to Mars and genetic manipulation, proclaiming that what is written in the Torah is primitive, archaic and obsolete for our time, though I personally don’t believe that it is, but to a people fleeing through the desert 3250 years ago, what they were given was rocket sicence, when we visualize it from their perspective. And I am currently working on a book from a purely scientific perspective that will demonstrate how correct in its assumptions many of the events occuring in Genesis actually were, especially when it comes to the Creation. I hope to have that published early next year. But until then, I need you to appreciate and have an understanding of how they were able to make a judgment as to what was divinely inspired and what was not.

A Political Divide:

Establishing an exact date as to when the schism that eventually resulted in Karaites and Rabbanites occurred is most likely impossible because it was not a singular event occuring on any particular day and accompanied by a Declaration of Independence. It was most likely a gradual development that began the day that the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon around 500 BCE and evolved over the following five hundred years. For those that remained behind in Judah after the Babylonian exile, times were difficult but they managed to survive and continue on with their lives as best they could, still practicing the religion but forced to engage to a much greater degree with the other nations that inhabited the land. Suddenly there was an infusion of an elite class that had been missing for seven decades but now wanting their power and authority back that had been their families’ inheritance since the time of the Exodus. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, he did not carry off the poor and the working class into exile. He took the princely families, the priesthood and the educators; the best that the Kingdom of Judah had to offer and now they had returned and they had demands as to how society was going to operate.

To those that had remained behind, this would have been seen more as an invasion, an intrusion into their lives, and now these returnees were insisting on being given back what may have been legally theirs but after seventy years, may no longer have been rightfully theirs. There was a new religious leader, a man named Ezra that they had never met before, demanding that they divorce their heathen brides, abandon their half-breed children, and separate themselves from their pagan neighbours, the same neighbours that had befriended them and supported them in troubled times. Ezra demanded that they return to a strict adherence of the Torah, laws that most of them had forgotten to a degree, but of which he made a point to make them all stand before him while he read the entire five books for their benefit. And then he appointed levites or lay priests into positons of Cohenim as a result of the few actual high priests that had returned from exile. This fact alone must have made some of the common people begin to realize that if Ezra, a man, could override God’s rule as to who were the rightful high priests that would serve in the Temple and in the synagogues, then why couldn’t some of them also rise to positions of religious authority. Thus were planted the first seeds of what would become the Pharasaic movement and by the time of Aleander Jannai, approximately 130 BCE, who served as both King and High Priest of Israel, the Pharisees were now a political movement that needed to be reckoned with. In fact, it was Alexander Jannai’s wife, Salome Alexandra, a supporter of the Pharisees, that forced his hand to finally give the Pharasaic Party legitimate power by appointing their leader, Simon ben Shetah as his chief minister. Once the Pharisees had this taste of power, there was no turning back the clock.

I will not say the Sadduccees, this aristocracy of priests and princes, were without sin. In their desire for power, they committed a bounty of sins, including murder within the sacred boundary of the inner court of the Temple, as brother fought against brother in order to claim the High Priesthood. The Macabbees declared themselves to be kings, when in actuality they were only of a smaller line of the the high priesthood and not even entitled to name themselves as high priests.

But many of the Sadduccees did see what had befallen their party and were disgusted by its disintegration in values and somewhat hypocritical adherence to the laws as they were written. At the same time they saw the power grabbing Pharisees, men that wished to elevate themselves for the purpose of self-glorification and that also disgusted them. One of their leaders, spoke up, Boethus, critical of all that was being done in God’s name and he became the herald for those that wished a return to the strict adherence of the scriptures.

The Boethians And The Chasidim:

Boethus gathered to him those of the Sadduccees that saw that society was spiralling downward and moving farther and farther away from the traditional path as defined by Moses. They disagreed with the ruling parties in Judea that felt the best way to deal with the issues was to create new laws and supplementary injuctions to force the people to adhere to the Law. Boethus pointed out that new laws served no purpose other than to give the people more rules to break and insisted instead that the Sanhedrin should enforce the Laws as they were written and by all of them living discipined lives and thus setting an inspirational and holy example for others to follow.

But while the Boethians advocated setting a true example of what God wished, the Pharisees pressed for more laws, claiming that the additional laws adopted by the Sanhedrin did not go far enough in curtailing the sins of the people. Those in the Pharasaic party that demanded the laws be supplemented referred to themselves as devotees of a voluntary religion, ‘the Chasidim’. They praised themselves as being ‘Oimkim Berebit HaTorah’ or ‘Studious of the Increased Law’, which likely accounts for the reference as Rabbanim or ‘Increasers’. And that is a most important distinction as most scholars today believe the reference to the mainstream Jewish population as Rabbanites has something to do with Rabbis. That is an error. It comes from their self appointed epitath over two thousand years ago as ‘increasers’ or expanders to the Torah. Not that they had decided to write down the oral law that they falsely claimed had been given to Moses at Sinai, which they claimed four hundred years later, but admitting that they were actually supplementing, rewriting, and in fact editing God’s Laws. They deliberately warped the Torah through supplementation and in so doing overlooked many of the original commandments.

So it is clear that it was at this point, around the time that Hyrcanus was King in Israel, just before the Herodians with the aid of the Romans seized the throne that the birth of mainstream Judaism under the Rabbanites took place. Are we able to therefore declare officially that this was also the timepoint where Karaite Judaim originated. Perhaps not, because those that advocated strict adherence to the Torah as it had been written were still fractionated into several groups referred to as the Boethians, the Zadokites and the Essenes. None of the three were dominant and until the opportunity arose for one to become the actual foundation stone of Karaism, we cannot state with precision that the Karaite religion had come into being.

The Wooden Kenessa

Where my Family prayed back in Piatra Neamt

Where my Family prayed back in Piatra Neamt

In Conclusion:

I will end Chapter Two at this point, a clear defining point as to when the Rabbanites came into being but the waters are still muddy as to Karaite origins. In order to appreciate the birth of Karaism we must look at the beliefs and differences of the three aforementioned Sadduccee reformist groups in order to envision that Karaism may have been more the result of a selective process than an actual evolution of any one particular group.

May YHWH be with you,

Dr. Allen Goldenthal

Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana