Very Good. Octavo in dust jacket, xiv, 346 pp., bibliography, general index, index to Citations from Biblical and Rabbinic Literature. "Notions of history and the past contained in literature of the Karaite Jewish sect offer insight into the relationship of Karaism to mainstream rabbinic Judaism and to Islam and Christianity. Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding describes how a minority sectarian religious community constructs and uses historical ideology. It investigates the proportioning of historical ideology to law and doctrine and the influence of historical setting on religious writings about the past. In the present volume, Fred Astren discusses modes of representing the past, especially in Jewish culture, and then poses questions about the past in sectarian, particularly Judaic sectarian, contexts. He contrasts early Karaite scripturalism with the literature of rabbinic Judaism, which, embodying historical views that carry a moralistic burden, draws upon the chain of tradition to suppose a generation-to-generation transmission of divine knowledge and authority. Karaites in the medieval Islamic world eschewed historical thinking, in concert with their rejection of the rabbinic concept of tradition. One important medieval Karaite, al-Qirqisani, however, constructed a sophisticated historical argument as part of his philosophical exposition of Karaism, demonstrating theological and philosophical strategies common in Islam and Christianity. The center of Karaism shifted to the Byzantine-Turkish world during the twelfth through sixteenth centuries, when a new historical outlook unoblivious of the past accommodated legal developments influenced by rabbinic thought. Reconstructing Karaite historical expression from both published works and previously unexamined manuscripts, Astren shows that Karaites relied on rabbinic literature to extract and compile historical data for their own readings of Jewish history, which they recorded in an encyclopedic literature similar to contemporary Byzantine Christian Orthodox writing. Astren documents how as the Karaites moved toward a concept of tradition and echoed rabbinic historical formulations, they developed a version of the chain of tradition to link archaic biblical history to their own community. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Karaite scholars in Poland and Lithuania collated and harmonized historical materials inherited from their Middle Eastern predecessors. Astren portrays the way that Karaites, with some influence from Jewish Renaissance historiography and impelled by features of Protestant-Catholic discourse, prepared complete literary historical works that maintained their Jewishness while offering a Karaite reading of Jewish history. "-from U of South Carolina Press website.
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