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Prince of the Jews

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There are those that will insist that the split between Karaite Jews and Rabbanite Jews is nothing more than a religious squabble. It's usually the Rabbis that are making that claim because if they were to let everyone know how culpable they actually were for the split it would betray them as not being spirtually minded righteous individuals but as a religio-political group no different from the corrupt hegemonies that have controlled and manipulated organized religion as soon as someone noticed they could all be turned into big business. What is true now was not any different a thousand years ago. Wherever there is power there are those that will seek to obtain it even if it was not rightfully theirs. And in the pursuit of this power they will use every conceivable means to get it. Even if it should mean going against the prophecies, the future safety of the people, and even against God. You see, Karaism wasn't only developed to protect the original Judaism, it was also designed to protect the Prince of Judah whom the Rabbis were intent on destroying. I wasn't certain when I was going to get around to writing this hub but today I had a little breakthrough in my research. While going through old manuscripts, I came across a refrence in print that I had been searching to find for years. I found Anan's own reference to being Prince of the Jews.

A Page from Anan Ben David

A Page from Anan Ben David

A House Divided

Now according to Rabbinical statements, there was never a reference to Anan ben David as being descended from the House of David or the Exilarchate. That the failure for even Kirkisani, one of the most brilliant of Karaite writers to refer to Anan with the title of Nasi or Prince was proof that the story was fabricated. But considering at that time most Karaites would have been in possession of the Book of Commandments by Anan ben David the Prince or Sefer Hamitzvot Shel Anan Ben David haNasi, adding the title would never have been necessary. The simple mentioning of the name Anan would receive automatic recognition. As the page from Anan's writing in the attached picture demonstrates, his commandments were widely circulated. What the Rabbis fail to realize it would be no different than mentioning the name "Elvis" and everyone for the last 40 years automatically says to themselves, "Yes, the King of Rock." Why bother to state the obvious.

But Anan was born at a time when the Muslim government had given judicial powers to the Rabbinical colleges far in excess of what had been originally intended. The fact that these rabbinical colleges were actually set up by the Exilarchs (or princes in exile) in the first place was forgotten. During the Sassanid reign of Persia, which was a rocky time for Jews living in that part of the world, the Exilarchs knew that their hold on power was tenuous and left to the whim of the Great Shah as the Sassanid Emperor was known. At any moment, a ruler could arise that decided the Exilarchs were a threat to his power and have them executed. And execution in the Sassanid Empire usually meant that even your most distant relatives joined you on the chopping block. Recognizing that the Jews of Persia would be lost if their ruling judiciary and religious leaders were to suddenly disappear in a purge, they decided that a second tier of government was essential. They set up the Gaonate, or religious governors appointed from the chief Rabbis to fill this gap. In its structuring, much of the day to day legislation and judicial hearings were moved into the realm of the Gaons, with the Exilarch retaining the final say on all matters that were in dispute. The Exilarch reserved the right to appoint and dismiss anyone to the Gaonate and thereby retained the ultimate authority of the community. But as I mentioned earlier, those that gain a little power tend to become greedy and consumed with the pursuit of gaining even more power. The Rabbis waited patiently for the opportunity and when it finally appeared in the fall of the Sassanids and the rise of the Islamic Empire, they seized that opportunity.

The House of Bustenai

The House of Bustenai

Bustenai The Great

In the middle of 7th Century Othmar finally defeated the Sassanid King Khusroe II and his Arab armies took all of their prize. Khusroe entrusted the safety of his four children from his primary wife to the care of his Visier, the Jewish Exilarch Bustenai ben Haninai. Bustenai confronted Othmar and although he was unable to save the princes of the Sassanid Royal family he was able to convince the Caliph to spare the princesses. And as can be read in my book Blood Royale ( it was not without the Caliph having the last word. Calling on the pact of blood relatives, Othmar ensured that Bustenai, nor any of the offspring from these two princesses would ever be a threat to his authority. By forcing Bustenai to take Princess Izdurdad, the daughter of Ardashir, as his second wife, and by his own taking of Princess Sheherezad, the daughter of Yhosdegerd for himself he ensured that no hand could ever be raised against him as they were now one family. And as Othmar was an old man by the time this contract was arranged, Sheherezad passed on to the next Caliph, Al-Husain to ensure the pact stayed in place. Some of you may recognize the name Sheherezad but just can't place it. Think 1001 Arabian Nights and you'll remember. In order to avoid being killed by Al-Husain the legends go that she told him stories every night for three years. Portrayers of the story now place her two centuries later for some reason but the real Princess Sheherezad was most likely telling her stories in the 650's A.D.

Bustenai not only retained his position as vizier for the new Caliphs but his second wife Izdurdad ultimately became primary wife displacing his first wife Adai who was the daughter of one of the chief Rabbis of Baghdad. It is the latter event which probably became the motivating factor for the Gaons to begin challenging the Exilarchs for the ultimate rule over the Jewish community. With Izdurdad becoming favourite wife, her children became the future Exilarchs to the detriment of the lineage through Adai. That is not to say that some of them didn't rule as the occasional Exilarch, but in general the descendency as prince was through Izdurdad's son Shahriyar. Fortunately the rabbis recorded their resentment for this mumzar (bastard) Prince and his children, so we do have proof that this was a motivating factor in their attempt to dethrone the House of David. As more and more Caliphs seized the peacock throne, the easier it became for the Rabbis to work their coup, making promises to each new Arab ruler that they would provide them with gifts and loyalty if they should see fit to strip the powers away from the rightful exilarchs. And these caliphs were no different than any other despotic ruler, they saw disention amongst the ethnic groups they ruled worked to their advantge. People busy undermining themselves don't have the time to stir a rebellion, so they took the offers from the Rabbis and bit by bit they stripped the powers away until the Exilarch no longer even had the authority to appoint neither the Gaons nor the next exilarch that would rule in their stead.

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Too Many Kings

For a hundred years after Bustenai, the Gaons and their Rabbanite colleagues schemed and plotted on how to wrest the remaining power from the House of David. It was when the Exilarch David ben Judah Solomon died around 765 A.D. that they saw the opportunity to make their move. By birthrite, the eldest son, Anan ben David was rightfully the next Exilarch. He was bright, religiously astute, a powerful speaker and most of all popular. But the Rabbis also knew that he was arrogant and possessed a heated temper. If they could manipulate the situation that the Caliph Al-Mansur saw this temper as a threat to his own rule, then they knew they could finally break the back of the Exilarchate. Anan made it easy for them. Exercising the powers they had gained over the years, the Gaons chose Anan's younger brother Josiah to rule instead. As expected, Anan made his feelings quite public, calling for the people to revolt against the Rabbis and take back control of their destiny. Being a powerful orator, Anan quickly swayed people to his side and Al-Mansur recognized that what might at first start as a simple disturbance within a community could ultimately light the fires of revolt throughout an Empire. He had his men arrest Anan and throw him in prison. Perhaps if the Rabbis had just let the situation die down there they may have ultimately had their way and not caused the split within the community that lead to Karaism. Seeing a chance to exercise power over life and death and convincingly prove that the Exilarchate was a doomed entity at their discretion, they laid charges against Anan of treason, protesting to the Caliph that it was Anan ben David's intent to start a rebellion that would overthrow the Islamic regime. What these Rabbis failed to appreciate was that Anan's grandfather Judah Solomon was still very much alive and known by his Arabic name Rosbihan was still friend and confidant to the Caliph. Although there is some story conconcted by the Rabbis that Anan was to be hanged in three days of his charges, the fact was, he was never in threat of losing his life. The only question was to how long he would remain in prison. No one seems to know the answer to that question. Stories circulating in my family say it was as long as five years. But whatever the amount of time may have been it was sufficient for Anan ben David to prepare his religious instruction for his new religious order known as B'nai Mikra. Though most will translate it as the Children that Read The Torah, I had one relative that claimed that we were interpreting it wrong and that it was a reference to Anan having what he perceived as a "Calling" while he was in prison. And that it really should be read as Children From the Calling. In many ways the latter interpretation makes far more sense.

But while Anan sat in prison, the Gaons and rabbis were far from idle. They had other plans on how to fulfill the demise of the Exilarchate. One of the chief protagonists of Anan was the Rabbi Natronai Kahana, son of Rav Nehemiah. Related to the Exilarchs through marriage of his his grandfather Mar Rav Achunai to the daughter of Bustenai and his wife Adai, he adopted the cognomen Kahana, based on the fact that he was Bustenai's great-grandson and his family lineage was Kohenim or high priests. I won't argue with his taking the surname or title of Kahana because he is for better or worse, my paternal ancestor. Rabbi Natronai Kahana had a grandaughter Ruth and he made certain that she married a male decendant of Bustenai's and Adai's, known as Makhir Natronai. Thinking that he now had the perfect Exilarch that he could manipulate, not only free of the Persian infestation existing in Izdurdad's descendants but no allegiance to Rosbihan either, Rabbi Natronai started the first challenge on the position of Exilarch recorded. In the ensuing accusations of Josiah, Anan's brother, also not being worthy of the position, Makhir Natronai attained the throne of David. The situation became quite ugly with Josiah refusing to vacate the seat and Makhir Natronai exercising independance from both his wife's grandfather and her father Amaniah in an attempt to rule properly. Suddenly Makhir Natronai found himself as the target of Rabbinical abuse and the Caliph Al-Mansur was faced with a dilemma of Rabbis screaming to have two Exilarchs removed, a people demanding that a third be release from prison and the Rabbis placed their instead, and a revolt in his western provinces of Northern Africa and Spain. At the same time, there were Frankish ships sailing towards his Empire claiming to come as allies to aid in his putting down the unrest in Spain, but they could have just as easily been hostile. How Al-Mansur dealt with this situation can be read in Blood Royale, which without giving too much of the plotline away was rather unique and shaped French history in more ways than other historians are willing to admit. Let me just say that in Baghdad the solution was to take the Exilarchate away from all those involved and give it instead to Anan ben David's second cousin, Judah Zakkai. You have to agree the Rabbis created a fine mess.

The Persian House of Sharijar

The Persian House of Sharijar

A Curse Upon the Family

One might think from my admission in the preceding paragraph that my paternal decent was from Natronai Kahana that I would be the most unlikely candidate to be a practicing Karaite. On and off from the time of Natronai to myself there were numerous Rabbis in the family tree, but then there were just as many that reverted back to Karaite practices. And although I make references to Anan ben David as being an ancestor, he was only so in the context of being an ancestral cousin. That is not to say that some of his female decendants would not have married back into my line of the family, which was a fairly common practice, but the names of those that may have done so have been lost over time. The fact is, like Makhir Natronai, the members of my family were intelligent enough to see when the word of God was being manipulated and used by individuals for their own gain. And it became clearly evident in the tenth century. Something happened at the end of the ninth century; most likely a plague but the rabbinical colleges in Mesopotamia were suddenly depleted of learned men and the positions of Gaon were open but with no one to fill them. Al-Mansur's decision almost two hundred years earlier to place Judah Zakkai into the throne of David had ended the family squabbles and his decendants were still in charge at this time. With so few rabbis to challenge him, David ben Zakkai, the seventh generation decendant of Judah Zakkai had regained much of the earlier authority of the family and appointed a new Gaon in Sura. He looked within the distant lines of his own family and selected Jacob ben Natronai an ancestor of mine through the Mar Pappa line. It was neither one of the more reputable families and far from the wealthiest, and perhaps not even the most knowledgable but Jacob served from 911 until 924 without too many detractors simply because most of them were dead from the aforementioned plague. It is of interest that you can find some rabbinical texts that mark this period when Jacob took over as the start of the decline of the Sura Yeshivah. When Jacob died, David ben Zakkai comfortable with selecting members of his distant family to serve under him, appointed Jacob's son Yom Tov Kahana to take over as the Gaon of Sura. Though not well documented there appears to have been an outrage started by the Rabbis over the appointment. Accusastions of Yom Tov being nothing but a simple weaver to his not being educated enough to operate an institution of learning were brandished. In 928, having served as Gaon for less than four years, David ben Zakkai was forced to remove Yom Tov from office under pressure by his financiers Natira Sahl and Isaac. Needing their continued finances he had no choice. When he wanted to appoint the very concilatory Nissim al-Nahrawani as the new Gaon, knowing that Nissim could bring about peaceful coexistence between the Rabbis and the family of the Exilarch, he was again pressured by his financiers to elect Saadiah, an Egyptian to the position. Selecting someone from outside the Babylonian community was unheard of, but the screws were tightened and the Exilarch conceded. Nissim advised David ben Zakkai to be ware of Saadiah saying that he was reputed to be arrogant, loud, a braggart, with a long tongue like a serpent. The last comment was most likely metaphorical but effectively conveyed the character of the man.  He warned that this Egyptian would be ruthless to anyone he considered a transgressor. Nissim suggested that Semah ben Shahin would be preferable but Semah being from the same family branch as Anan ben David would only lead to accusations that a Karaite was holding the Gaonite position. Reluctantly David ben Zakkai agreed to Saadiah taking the role of Gaon of Sura. He regretted his decision immediately and within two years of his appointment Saadiah was trying to have David removed and replaced by his brother Josiah Hasan II. Further confrontations betwen Saadiah and the Exilarch actually forced the Gaon to flee for fear that the Exilarch would have him killed. It may have been an unfortunate circumstance that he wasn't because when Saadiah returned to power he pronounced what was considered the most evil edict against Karaites ever perpetrated by our Rabbanite brothers. "To kill a Karaite was not different than killing a dog", and saddly he found enough followers to take him up on his pronouncement. You will be hard pressed to find the pronouncement as most of the rabbinical texts have made certain that its been erased to cover their sins. After all, Saadiah was their poster boy for Judaism. Of the thousands of Karaites that died because of his vile hatred of anyone that didn't believe as he did, he ensured that there would always be a rift between the two religious groups. As Nissim, described, a long serpentine tongue which really meant neither rabbi nor man but a demon in disguise. And in memory of my ancestors, Yom Tov Kahana, and Yakov Kahana whose life I describe in Shadows Of Trinity, ( it is to them that I give my respect and honour by remaining true to my Karaite heritage.



Kahana (author) on March 20, 2010:

There is no denying that Anan was 'skipped' over. The Rabbis record that they considered him arrogant, argumentative and stubborn. In other words, he wouldn't agree with them. Are we to assume that anyone that acts as a counterbalance, a contrary opinion, or a source of alternative opinion should be thrown into prison under a sentence of death? That is what the rabbis did. So in that context, who were the ones that were actually trying to preserve the hold over the followers and retain power?

"Protect Prince of Juda" on March 20, 2010:

I would say the situation with Anan was more like Henry 8th... Anan got skipped over to Exilarch so he started his own sect so he could have followers and maintain power.

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