Karaite scholar and philosopher; flourished at Nahawend, Persia, at the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the ninth. According to the Karaite historian Solomon ben Jeroham—the contemporary of Saadia Gaon—Karaism began properly with Benjamin, who surpassed even Anan in learning (Solomon ben Jeroham's commentary on Psalm lxi. 1). But this assertion can not be verified. Benjamin's work is, for the most part, known only in quotations made by subsequent Karaite writers. But his personality must have been very important, since he was considered by all the Karaites to be as great an authority as the founder of Karaism, Anan himself.

His Works.

As stated by Japhet ben Ali in the introduction to his commentary on the minor prophets, Benjamin wrote the following works, mostly in Arabic: (1) a commentary on the Pentateuch, in which he frequently refers to Oriental customs; (2) a commentary on Isaiah; (3) a commentary on Daniel, in which the word "yamim" (days)—in the verse "Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days" (xii. 12)—is explained by "years," pointing thus to the year 1010 as the epoch of the arrival of the Messiah; (4) a commentary on Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, or, as Pinsker thinks, on all the Five Rolls; (5) "Sefer Miẓwot" (Book of Precepts); (6) "Sefer Dinim," or "Mas'at Binyamin" (Book of Laws, or Gift of Benjamin), written in Hebrew, and published at Koslov (Eupatoria) in 1834—containing civil and criminal laws according to Holy Writ.

Adopts Rabbinical Ordinances.

In the last-named work Benjamin approached in many points the Rabbinites. He adopted many rabbinical ordinances, which, however, he left to the free choice of the Karaites to reject or adopt. In order to enforce obedience to the laws, Benjamin introduced a special form of interdict, differing but slightly from the excommunication of the Rabbinites. When an accused person refused to obey the summons served on him he was to be cursed on each of seven successive days, after which excommunication was to be pronounced on him. The interdict consisted in the prohibition of intercourse with all the members of the community, who were also forbidden to greet him, or to accept anything from him ("Mas'at Binyamin," 2a).

His Biblical Exegesis.

Benjamin at times approached the Rabbinites in Biblical exegesis also, and combated Anan's interpretations. Thus he maintained with the Rabbinites, against Anan, that the obligation to marry the widow of a childless brother extended only to the brother of the deceased and not to his further relations. He adopted the Talmudical interpretation of the Biblical words concerning the Sabbath—"Abide ye every man in his place" (Ex. xvi. 29)—maintaining that the prohibition herein expressed has reference, not to the residence, but to a distance beyond 2,000 yards of the town (compare Elijah Bashyazi, "Adderet," p. 63).

Freedom in Thought.

However, in spite of many concessions to Rabbinism, Benjamin adhered firmly to the principle, expressed by Anan, of penetrating research of the Scripture. In Benjamin's opinion one ought not to tie oneself down to the authorities, but to follow one's own convictions: the son may differ from the father, the disciple from the master, providedthey have reasons for their different views. Inquiry is a duty, and errors occasioned by inquiry do not constitute a sin (compare Japhet's commentary, cited in Dukes's "Beiträge," ii. 26).

Philosophy of the Bible.

Benjamin seems to have written a work in which he expounded the philosophical ideas contained in the Bible. Judging from the quotations made by later Karaite writers, such as Jacob al-Ḳirḳisani, Japhet ben Ali, and Hadassi, Benjamin betrayed the influence of Philonic ideas, while he adopted the Motazilite theories on the divine attributes, free-will, and other questions of a like character expounded before by Anan. God, he holds, is too sublime to mingle with the material world; and the idea that matter proceeded directly from God is inadmissible. God created first the Glory ("Kabod"), then the Throne ("Kisse"), and afterward an Angel. This Angel created the world, in which he is the representative of God. God Himself never came in contact with men, nor did He speak to Israel on Mt. Sinai. The Law and the communications to the Prophets proceeded from the Angel, to whom are referable all the anthropological expressions concerning God found in the Bible (Hadassi, "Eshkol," 25b). The soul forms a part of the body, and is therefore perishable. The Biblical references to reward and punishment can be applied only to the body (Saadia, "Emunot we ha-De'ot," vi. 4).

This theory of an intermediary power, and the system of allegorizing all the Biblical passages concerning God, upon which Benjamin insists again and again in his commentaries on the Bible, were borrowed from the writings of the sect Magâriyah (Men of the Caves). This sect, the establishment of which, in consequence of a confusion in the text of Shahrastani, has been wrongfully attributed to Benjamin, is identified with the Essenes by Harkavy, who shows that they were called "The Men of the Caves," because they lived in the desert ("Le-Ḳorat ha-Kittot," in the Hebrew translation of Grätz, iii. 497). Benjamin wrote his halakic works in Hebrew, his commentaries probably in Arabic.

  • Fürst, Gesch. des Karäerthums, i. 71-76;
  • Pinsker, Liḳḳuṭe Ḳadmoniot, pp. 44, 72, 199;
  • Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, ii. 344;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, v. 191-192;
  • Neubauer, Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek, pp. 6, 107;
  • Frankl, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopädie, xxxiii. 14, 15;
  • Steinschneider, Polemische und Apologetische Literatur, p. 335;
  • Shahrastani, German translation, i. 257;
  • Dukes and Ewald, Beiträge, ii. 26;
  • Munk, in Jost's Annalen, 1841, p. 76.
K. I. Br.
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