ANAN BEN DAVID


ANAN BEN DAVID
ANAN BEN DAVID (eighth century), ascetic sage in Babylonia, founder of the sect of Ananites (Heb. עֲנָנִיִּים, Ananiyyim; Ar. ʿAnāniyya) and regarded by the karaites as their founder. A tenth-century Karaite account, related by al-kirkisani , places his appearance between 754 and 775. The report states that Anan was "the first to bring to light a great deal of the truth about the scriptural ordinances. He was learned in the lore of the Rabbanites… The Rabbanites tried their utmost to assassinate him, but the Almighty prevented them from doing so." Kirkisani always refers to him as the Exilarch (ra's al-jālūt). In the second half of the ninth century there were rabbanites who saw Anan as a heresiarch "who said to those who strayed… after him, 'Forsake ye the words of the Mishnah and of the Talmud, and I will compose for you a Talmud of my own' " (attributed to natronai Gaon). With various permutations, this tradition persists in the Sefer ha-Kabbalah of abraham ibn daud (1161) which adds that Anan was descended from the Davidic line, but as he showed heretical tendencies he was not named exilarch . A more detailed version of this story is quoted by the 12th-century Karaite elijah b. abraham who ascribes it to 10th century Rabbanites (probably Saadia). In this version the exilarchate was given to Anan's younger brother. Anan thereupon rallied a group of sectarians who set him up as their own exilarch. This led to his arrest. He was sentenced to death for defying the caliph's confirmation of his brother in the office. A fellow prisoner, identified in another Karaite work as the Muslim jurist-theologian Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 767), founder of the Hanafite school of Muslim jurisprudence, advised him to bribe the officials and to obtain a hearing before the caliph in order to claim that he represented a different faith distinct from that of his brother, and therefore was not guilty of the crime ascribed to him. According to this version, Anan stressed before the caliph that in matters pertaining to calculation of the calendar his method was akin to the Muslim system, namely it was based on observation and not on perpetual calculation. He was thus released. The last account may well be mixed of factual and legendary elements. The only proven historical fact about Anan's life seems to be that he was a learned Rabbanite of aristocratic descent, who for some reason founded a sect of his own. A reliable authority, although of a later period, states that Anan lived in Baghdad. Other facts combine to date the founding of his sect between 762 and 767. Anan's immediate followers, the Ananites, were never numerous. Not many remained by the mid-tenth century. By the tenth century they had probably developed a modest corpus of legal works written in Judeo-Arabic. Such are quoted by al-Kirkisani. None of them survived. The Ananites steadily decreased in number and were absorbed into the later Karaites. However, Anan's prestige among the Karaites increased until he was acknowledged by them as the founder of the Karaite sect itself. Anan's descendants claimed Davidic lineage. At some time during the tenth century they had been acknowledged by the Karaites as their leaders and accorded the honorific of nasi (which in the Middle Ages always indicated Davidic lineage). Individual Karaite scholars often criticized or rejected Anan's views on various matters of law. These somewhat contradictory attitudes arise from the recognition that Anan was the first learned and aristocratic figure to lend his prestige to Jewish groups who had been opposed to the authority of the Babylonian yeshivot. In addition, at some point in late tenth century, his major work, Sefer ha-Mitzvot ("Book of Precepts"), came to occupy an important place in Karaite literature. The Sefer ha-Mitzvot is a manual of religious law according to Anan's own teaching and his interpretation of the Torah, written in aramaic . As such it was a novelty, being an attempt to put to writing a systematic alternative to talmudic law. The portions so far discovered contain concise, if dry, expositions of the law on various subjects, as well as some homiletic sections. The guiding principles later ascribed to Anan's teaching include rejection of the talmudic tradition, a return to Scripture as the sole source of Divine Law, and repudiation of the authority of the geonic and exilarchic leadership. However, his extant writings demonstrate attempts to adapt the ancient biblical legislation to the changed circumstances of his day. His Rabbanite training ensured that his methods of biblical exegesis, as well as of formulation and interpretation of the law, were much the same as those adopted by the Talmud. But his conclusions were in some cases innovatory, in others he adopted positions ascribed to talmudic sages that had been rejected in the Talmud. His preferred method of deduction was by analogy (Heb. hekkesh; Arabic qiyās), also frequently applied in Muslim jurisprudence. Anan, however, applied it not only to situations in law, but also to single words or even letters of the biblical text. In line with talmudic exegetical tradition, Anan held that the rules of rhetoric and syntax do not apply to Scripture. If two biblical texts seemingly describe the same situation, but in slightly different words, or employing somewhat varying grammatical constructions, a new and variant rule must be applied to construe the second text.   Anan's procedure often seems to be a deliberate construction of proof, by forced interpretation of Scripture, for an Ananite preformulated rule. His rigorous, ascetic approach moved him to postulate the principle that the strict and prohibitive must always take precedence over the lenient and permissive, wherever both alternatives are equally admissible. Accordingly Anan also championed the rikkuv ("restrictive catenary") theory of forbidden marriages (extending the forbidden degrees of marriage), a 70-day fast (from the 13th of Nisan to the 23rd of Sivan evidently involving daytime fasting only, in the manner of the Muslim fast of Ramadan), and prohibition of the practice of medicine as incompatible with faith in the Divine healing power. There is no evidence that Anan insisted on basing the calculation of the calendar on lunar (or other) observation. The reference to such a position in the reports on his secession may be a back-projection of later polemicists, Rabbanites and Karaites. From the surviving sections on liturgy it emerges that Anan saw the synagogue as an imitation of the Temple. Various earlier and contemporary rigoristic and ascetic trends may have influenced Anan. His teaching indicates the inception of institutions for the separate existence of his sect. Rabbanite writers often accused Anan of leaning toward the doctrines of the sadducees , but since the available information is meager and partly contradictory, the extent of Sadducean influence, if any, remains in doubt. The same uncertainty also prevails regarding his probable espousal of religious customs current among certain Jewish groups in the talmudic period. These had been subsequently dropped in favor of those approved by the majority and incorporated in the Talmud. References to some such superseded customs seem to be discernible in the talmudic discussions, and are paralleled in some of Anan's rulings. Certain of Anan's doctrines coincide with those upheld by nearly all other schisms. They presumably represent a long-persisting dissident Jewish tradition, possibly harking back to pre-mishnaic times. An example is the rule that the festival of Shavuot should always fall on a Sunday, and perhaps also the prohibition on having any fire burning on the Sabbath (which had later become a hallmark of Karaites) and the literal interpretation of the lex talionis ("an eye for an eye"). It has been suggested that there is some connection between Anan's teaching and that found in the dead sea scrolls . The picture of Anan as an inflexible ascetic presented by his teaching may be modified to some extent in the light of the maxim ascribed to him, "Search diligently in Scripture, and rely not on my opinion." The earliest attestation of this maxim is found in a commentary by japheth ben eli (late tenth century), where only the first half (in Aramaic) is quoted. It may well be that this half is original, while the second half represents tenth-century Karaite tendencies (notably daniel al-qumisi ). While Anan preached engagement in the study of the Torah and its interpretation he considered his interpretation to be definitive. Some modern scholars find parallels between the central position given by Anan to the biblical text, as a source of law and a subject of study, and the attitudes of some Muslim groups ("scripturalists") towards the Koran. Accordingly it is not a coincidence that Anan emerged at his particular period of time. Later reports that Anan acknowledged the prophetic mission of Jesus and Muhammad and accepted the doctrine of transmigration of souls seem to lack any factual basis. The text of Sefer ha-Mitzvot le-Anan was published by A. Harkavy, in: Studien und Mitteilungen, 8 (1903; with Hebrew translation, repr. 1970); S. Schechter, Sectaries, 2 (1910); Mann, in: Journal of Jewish Lore and Philosophy, 1 (1919), 329–53. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952), index (bibliography, 395); idem, in: HUCA, 7 (1930), 328–9, 383–6; idem, in: Semitic Studies in Memory of Immanuel Loew (1947), 239–48; Ibn Daud, Tradition, index; Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium (1959), index; J.N. Epstein, in: Tarbiz, 7 (1935/36), 283–90. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. Ben-Shammai, in: B. Lewis and F. Niewoehner (eds.), Religionsgespräche im Mittelalter (Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien), vol. 4 (1992), 11–26; M. Gil, Palestine during the First Muslim Period (634–1099), (1992), index; M. Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources (2003), index; Y. Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls (2004), index. (Leon Nemoy)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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