Jacob Qirqisani (Heb. Ya'akov ben Ephraim ha-Tzerqesi; Arab. Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Qirkisani) was a Karaite dogmatist and exegete who flourished in the first half of the tenth century. He was a native of Circassia, which at the time probably still fell under Khazar overlordship ( his nickname Qirqisani means "man from Circassia"). He seems to have traveled throughout the Middle East, visiting the centers of Islamic learning, in which he was well versed. In 937 Qirqisani wrote an Arabic work on the Jewish precepts—under the title Kitab al-Anwar wal-Marakib (known in Hebrew as Sefer ha-Me'orot, or Sefer ha-Ma'or), with the subtitle Kitab al-Shara'i' (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol)—and a commentary entitled al-Riyad wal-Hada'iq (Sefer ha-Gannim we-Pardesim, or Sefer ha-Nitztzanim), on those portions of the Pentateuch which do not deal with the laws.
Of these two volumes the more important is the former, which not only provides valuable information concerning the development of Karaism, but throws light also on many questions in rabbinical Judaism. It comprises thirteen treatises, each divided into chapters, and the first four treatises form an introduction to the whole work. In the first treatise, of eighteen chapters, Qirqisani gives a comprehensive survey of the development of the Jewish sects, the material for which he drew not only from the works of his predecessors, as David ibn Merwan al-Muqammash, whom he mentions, but also from his personal experiences in the learned circles in which he moved. The enumeration of the sects is given in chronological order, beginning with the Samaritans, and concluding with the sect founded by Daniel al-Qumisi. Qirqisani declares the Rabbinites to be a Jewish sect founded by Jeroboam I, although it did not make its appearance until the time of the Second Temple. Zadok, the founder of the Sadducee sect, in his excursuses against the Rabbinites, revealed part of the truth on religious subjects, while Anan ben David disclosed the whole. However, in spite of Qirqisani's admiration for Anan, he often disagrees with him in the explanation of the precepts.
View of Christianity
In the third treatise (ch. xvi.) he says that "the religion of the Christians, as practised at present, has nothing in common with the teachings of Jesus." According to Qirqisani, the Christianity of his day originated with Paul, who ascribed divinity to Jesus and prophetic inspiration to himself. It was Paul that denied the necessity of carrying out the Commandments and taught that religion consisted in humility; and the First Council of Nicaea adopted precepts which occur neither in the Law, nor in the Gospels, nor in the Acts of Peter and Paul.
Philosophy and Theology
Qirqisani devotes a great portion of the first treatise to attacks upon the Rabbinites, in which he does not show himself impartial; but he is not blind to the faults of the Karaites. In the last chapter he draws a sad picture of the spiritual condition of Karaism in his time. "You can scarcely find two Karaites of one and the same opinion on all matters; upon almost any point each has an opinion different from those of all the rest." He deplores the neglect by the Karaites of the study of rabbinical literature, which, according to him, would furnish them with weapons for their controversies with the Rabbinites. Here Qirqisani is referring to the discrepancies frequent in haggadic and mystic literature, such as the "Shi'ur Qomah," which, indeed, he often uses in his attacks against the Rabbinites.
The second treatise, of twenty-eight chapters, discusses the duty of applying critical methods to the study of religious matters. Qirqisani is the first Karaite known to have been a firm believer in the study of the sciences, and he criticizes those who, although accepting the fundamental principle of independent inquiry and research, are against the demonstrative sciences of dialectics and philosophy. Reason is the foundation upon which every article of faith is based, and from which all knowledge flows. The third treatise, of twenty-three chapters, is a critical review of adverse religious sects and Christianity. In the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters Qirqisani refutes the doctrine of metempsychosis, though among its exponents was Anan, who wrote a work on the subject. For Qirqisani, the solution of the question, much debated by the Mu'tazili Kalam, concerning the punishments inflicted upon children is not to be found in the doctrine of metempsychosis, but in the belief that compensation will be given to children in the future world for their sufferings in this.
In the fourth treatise Qirqisani expounds, in sixty-eight chapters, the fundamental principles leading to the comprehension of the particular religious prescriptions. The remaining treatises are devoted to the precepts themselves, which are arranged in systematic order. Qirqisani quotes the views of the earliest Karaite authorities (as Anan, Benjamin Nahawandi, Daniel al-Qumisi, etc.), which he often refutes. Belonging to the Ba'ale ha-Rikkub, he is particularly severe in his views on the laws of Incest, and he combats the opinion of his contemporary Jacob ben Ephraim al-Shami, who permitted marriage to the daughter of one's brother or sister.
Most of the "Kitab al-Anwar" and the beginning of the "Al-Riyad wal-Hada'iq" are still extant in manuscript, in the Firkovich collection in the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg (Nos. 1142-1444). The first treatise of the "Kitab al-Anwar," dealing with the Jewish sects, was published by Abraham Harkavy in the memoirs of the Oriental section of the Archeological Society (viii. 1849). Various fragments of seven treatises (ii.-vi., viii., ix.-xii.) are found in the British Museum (Oriental MSS. Nos. 2,524, 2,526, 2,578-2,582). They were analyzed by Samuel Poznanski, who published the text of chapters xvii. and xviii. of the third treatise, dealing with the doctrine of metempsychosis, and chapter xxxv. of the fifth treatise, in which Qirqisani discusses the question whether it is permitted to read on the Sabbath books written in other than Hebrew characters (Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 435–462; "Steinschneider Festschrift," pp. 195 et seq.). The text of the sixteenth chapter of the third treatise, dealing with the criticism of Christianity, was published by H. Hirschfeld in his chrestomathy. A dissertation on the Decalogue by Qirqisani, and which Steinschneider supposes to be the first chapter of the sixth treatise, beginning with proofs of the existence of God, is found in the Bibliothèque Nationale (No. 755). Both the "Kitab al-Anwar" and the "Al-Riyad wal-Hada'iq" were abridged, the former by a certain Moses ben Solomon ha-Levi. Harkavy deduces from quotations that Qirqisani translated the Bible into Arabic, wrote commentaries on the Book of Job and on Ecclesiastes, and wrote a work on the unity of God("Kitab al-Tauhid").
- "Ḳirḳisani, Abu Yusuf Ya'ḳub al-". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906, which contains the following bibliography:
- Geiger, Melo Chofnajim, p. 74;
- Munk, in Israelitische Annalen, iii. 76, 93;
- Delitzsch, to Aaron ben Elijah's 'Etz ha-Hayyim, p. 313;
- Dukes, Beiträge, i. 28;
- Steinschneider, Cat. Leyden, pp. 181, 185;
- idem, Hebr. Bibl. xx. 107, xxi. 13;
- idem, Hebr. Uebers. p. 449;
- idem, Die Arabische Literatur der Juden, § 43;
- Pinsker, Liqkuṭe qadmoniyyot, i. 169, ii. 201;
- Fürst, Gesch. des Karäert. ii. 140;
- Firkovich, Bene Reshef, pp. 20, 21;
- Harkavy, Meassef Niddahim, pp. 2, 16;
- idem, Studien und Mittheilungen, iii. 44;
- idem, in Memoiren der Orientalischen Abtheilung der Archœologischen Gesellschaft zu St. Petersburg, 1894, viii.;
- Poznanski, Die Qirqisani Handschriften im Brit. Mus. in Steinschneider Festschrift, 1896, pp. 195-218;
- idem, "Aus Qirqisani's Kitab al-Anwar", in Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 435-462;
- idem, "Jacob ben Ephraim", in Kaufmann Gedenkbuch;
- Bacher, in J. Q. R. vii. 687 et seq.