I was asked to state what arguments and replies I could bring to bear against the attacks of philosophers and followers of other religions, and also against [Jewish] sectarians who attacked the rest of Israel. This reminded me of something I had once heard concerning the arguments of a Rabbi who sojourned with the King of the Khazars. The latter, as we know from historical records, became a convert to Judaism about four hundred years ago. To him came a dream, and it appeared as if an angel addressed him, saying: ' Thy way of thinking is indeed pleasing to the Creator, but not thy way of acting.' Yet he was so zealous in the performance of the Khazar religion, that he devoted himself with a perfect heart to the service of the temple and sacrifices. Notwithstanding this devotion, the angel came again at night and repeated: 'Thy way of thinking is pleasing to God, but not thy way of acting.' This caused him to ponder over the different beliefs and religions, and finally become a convert to Judaism together with many other Khazars. As I found among the arguments of the Rabbi, many which appealed to me, and were in harmony with my own opinions, I resolved to write them down exactly as they had been spoken.
When the King of Khazar (as is related) dreamt that his way of thinking was agreeable to God, but not his way of acting, and was commanded in the same dream to seek the God-pleasing work, he inquired of a philosopher concerning his religious persuasion. The philosopher replied: There is no favour or dislike in [the nature of ] God because He is above desire and intention. A desire intimates a want in the person who feels it, and not till it is satisfied does he become (so to speak) complete. If it remains unfulfilled, he lacks completion. In a similar way He is, in the opinion of philosophers, above the knowledge of individuals, because the latter change with the times, whilst there is no change in God's knowledge. He, therefore, does not know thee, much less thy thoughts and actions, nor does He listen to thy prayers, or see thy movements. If philosophers say that He created thee, they only use a metaphor, because He is the Cause of causes in the creation of all creatures put not because this was His intention from the beginning. He never created man. For the world is without beginning, and there never arose a man otherwise than through one who came into existence before him, in whom were united forms, gifts, and characteristics inherited from father, mother, and other relations, besides the influences of climate, countries, foods and water, spheres, stars and constellations. Everything is reduced to a Prime Cause; not to a Will proceeding from this, but an Emanation from which emanated a second, a third, and fourth cause.
The Cause and the caused are, as thou seest, intimately connected with one another, their coherence being as eternal as the Prime Cause and having no beginning. Every individual on earth has his completing causes; consequently an individual with perfect causes becomes perfect, and another with imperfect causes remains imperfect, as the negro who is able to receive nothing more than the human shape and speech in its least developed form. The philosopher, however, who is equipped with the highest capacity, receives through it the advantages of disposition, intelligence and active power, so that he wants nothing to make him perfect. Now these perfections exist but in abstraction, and require instruction and training to become practical, and in order that this capacity, with all its completeness or deficiencies and endless grades, may become visible. In the perfect person a light of divine nature, called Active Intellect, is with him, and its Passive intellect is so closely connected therewith that both are but one. The person [of such perfection] thus observes that he is the Active Intellect himself, and that there is no difference between them. His organs -- I mean the limbs of such a person -- only serve for the most perfect purposes, in the most appropriate time, and in the best condition, as if they were the organs of the Active Intellect, but not of the material and passive Intellect, which used them at an earlier period, sometimes well, but more often improperly. The Active Intellect, however, is always successful. This degree is the last and most longed for goal for the perfect man whose soul, after having been purified, has grasped the inward truths of all branches of science, has thus become equal to an angel, and has found a place on the nethermost step of seraphic beings. This is the degree of the Active Intellect, viz. that angel whose degree is below the angel who is connected with the sphere of the moon. There are spiritual forces, detached from matter, but eternal like the Prime Cause and never threatened by decay. Thus the soul of the perfect man and that Intellect become One, without concern for the decay of his body or his organs, because he becomes united to the other. His soul is cheerful while he is alive, because it enjoys the company of Hermes, Asclepios, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; nay, he and they, as well as everyone who shares their degree, and the Active Intellect, are one thing. This is what is called allusively and approximately Pleasure of God. Endeavour to reach it, and the true knowledge of things, in order that thy intellect may become active, but not passive. Keep just ways as regards character and actions, because this will help thee to effect truth, to gain instruction, and to become similar to this Active Intellect. The consequence of this will be contentment, humility, meekness, and every other praiseworthy inclination, accompanied by the veneration of the Prime Cause, not in order to receive favour from it, or to divert its wrath, but solely to become like the Active Intellect in finding the truth, in describing everything in a fitting manner, and in rightly recognizing its basis. These are the characteristics of the [Active] Intellect. If thou hast reached such disposition of belief, be not concerned about the forms of thy humility or religion or worship, or the word or language or actions thou employest. Thou mayest even choose a religion in the way of humility, worship, and benediction, for the management of thy temperament, thy house and [the people of thy] country, if they agree to it. Or fashion thy religion according to the laws of reason set up by philosophers, and strive after purity of soul. In fine, seek purity of heart in which way thou are able, provided thou hast acquired the sum total of knowledge in its real essence; then thou wilt reach thy goal, viz. the union with this Spiritual, or rather Active Intellect. Maybe he will communicate with thee or teach thee the knowledge of what is hidden through true dreams and positive visions.
2. Said to him the Khazari: Thy words are convincing, yet they do not correspond to what I wish to find. I know already that my soul is pure and that my actions are calculated to gaiI1 the favour of God. To all this I received the answer that this way of action does not find favour, though the intention does. There must no doubt be a way of acting, pleasing by its very nature, but not through the medium of intentions. If this be not so, why then do Christian and Moslem, who divide the inhabited world between them, fight with one another, each of them serving his God with pure intention, living as either monks or hermits, fasting and praying? For all that they vie with each other in committing murders, believing that this is a most pious work and brings them nearer to God. They fight in the belief that paradise and eternal bliss will be their reward. It is, however, impossible to agree with both.
3. The Philosopher replied: The philosophers' creed knows no manslaughter, as they only cultivate the intellect.
4. Al Khazari: What could be more erroneous, in the opinion of the philosophers, than the belief that the world was created in six days, or that the Prime Cause spoke with mortals, not to mention the philosophic doctrine, which declares the former to be above knowing details. In addition to this one might expect the gift of prophecy quite common among philosophers, considering their deeds, their knowledge, their researches after truth, their exertions, and their close connexion with all things spiritual, also that Renders, miracles, and extraordinary things would be reported of them. fret me find that true visions are granted to persons who do not devote themselves to study or to the purification of their souls, whereas the opposite is the case with those who strive after these things. This proves that the divine influence as well as the souls have a secret which is not identical with what thou sayest, O Philosopher.
After this the Khazari said to himself: I will ask the Christians and Moslems, since one of these persuasions is, no doubt, the God-pleasing one. As regards the Jews, I am satisfied that they are of low station, few in number, and generally despised.
He then invited a Christian scholastic, and put questions to him concerning the theory and practice of his faith.
The Scholastic replied: I believe that all things are created, whilst the Creator is eternal; that He created the whole world in six days; that all mankind sprang from Adam, and after him from Noah, to whom they trace themselves back; that God takes care of the created beings, and keeps in touch with man; that He allows wrath, pleasure, and compassion; that He speaks, appears, and reveals Himself to his prophets and favoured ones; that He dwells among those who please him In short [I believe] in all that is written in the Torah and the records of the Children of Israel, which are undisputed, because they are generally known as lasting, and have been revealed before a vase multitude. Subsequently the divine essence became embodied in an embryo in the womb of a virgin taken from the noblest ranks of Israelitish women. She bore Him with the semblance of a human being, but covering a divinity, seemingly a prophet, but in reality a God sent forth. He is the Messiah, whom we call the Son of God, and He is the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We condense His nature into one thing, although the Trinity appears on our tongues. We believe in Him and in His abode among the Children of Israel, granted to them as a distinction, because the divine influence never ceased to be attached to them, until the masses rebelled against this Messiah, and they crucified Him. Then divine wrath burdened them everlastingly, whilst the favour was confined to a few who followed the Messiah, and to those nations which followed these few. We belong to their number. Although we are not of Israelitish descent, we are well deserving of being called Children of Israel, because we follow the messiah and His twelve Israelitish companions who took the place of the tribes, many Israelites followed these twelve [apostles], and became the leaven, as it were, for the Christians. We are worthy of the degree of the Children of Israel. To us was also granted victory, and expansion over the countries. All nations are invited to this religion, and charged to practise it, to adore the Messiah and the cross on which He was put, and the like. Our laws and regulations are derived from the Apostle Simon, and from ordinations taken from the Tora, which we study. Its truth is indisputable, as is also the fact that it came from God. It is also stated in the New Testament: I came not to destroy one of the laws of Moses, but I came to confirm and enlarge it.
5. Then said the Khazari: I see here no logical conclusion; nay, logic rejects most of what thou sayest. If both appearance and experience are so palpable that they take hold of the whole heart, compelling belief in a thing of which one is not convinced they render the matter more feasible by a semblance of logic. This is how natural philosophers deal with strange phenomena which come upon them unawares, and which they would not believe if they only heard of them without seeing them. When they have examined them, they discuss them, and ascribe them to the influence of stars or spirits without disproving ocular evidence. As for me, I cannot accept these things, because they come upon me suddenly, not having grown up in them. My duty is to investigate further.
He then invited one of the Doctors of Islam, and questioned him regarding his doctrine and observance.
The Doctor said: We acknowledge the unity and eternity of God, and that all men are derived from Adam-Noah. We absolutely reject embodiment, and if any element of this appears in the Writ, we explain it as a metaphor and allegory. At the same time we maintain that our Book is the Speech of God, being a miracle which we are bound to accept for its own sake, since no one is able to bring anything similar to it, or to one of its verses. Our prophet is the Seal of the prophets, who abrogated every previous law, and invited all nations to embrace Islam. The reward of the pious consists in the return of his spirit to his body in paradise and bliss, where he never ceases to enjoy eating, drinking, women's love, and anything he may desire. The requital of the disobedient consists in being condemned to the fire of hell, and his punishment knows no end.
6. Said to him the Khazari: If any one is to be guided in matters divine, and to be convinced that God speaks to man, whilst he considers it improbable, he must be convinced of it by means of generally known facts, Which allow no refutation, and particularly imbue him with the belief that God has spoken to man. Although your book may be a miracle, as long as it is written in Arabic, a non-Arab as I am, cannot perceive its miraculous character; and even if it were read to me, I could not distinguish between it and any other book written in the Arabic language.
7. The Doctor replied: Yet miracles were performed by him, but they were not used as evidence for the acceptance of his law.
8. Al Khazari: Exactly so; but the human mind cannot believe that God has intercourse with man, except by a miracle which changes the nature of things. We then recognizes that to do so He alone is capable who created them from nought. It must also have taken place in the presence of great multitudes, who saw it distinctly, and did not learn it from reports and traditions. Even then they must examine the matter carefully and repeatedly, so that no suspicion of imagination or magic can enter their minds. Then it is possible that the mind map grasp this extraordinary matter, viz. that the Creator of this world and the next, of the heavens and lights, should hold intercourse with this contemptible piece of clay, I mean man, speak to him, and fulfil his wishes and desires.
9. The Doctor: Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favour, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath. Then came the manna and the quails during forty years, His speaking to Moses on the mount, making the sun stand still for Joshua, and assisting him against the mighty. [Add to this] what happened previously, viz. the Flood, the destruction of the people of Lot; is this not so well known that no suspicion of deceit and imagination is possible?
10. Al Khazari: Indeed, I see myself compelled to ask the Jews, because they are the relic of the Children of Israel. For I see that they constitute in themselves the evidence for the divine law on earth.
He then invited a Jewish Rabbi, and asked him about his belief.
11. The Rabbi replied: I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having made them traverse the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way; who sent Moses with His law, and subsequently thousands of prophets, who confirmed His law by promises to the observant. and threats to the disobedient. Our belief is comprised in the Torah -- a very large domain.
12. I had not intended to ask any Jew, because I am aware of their reduced condition and narrow-minded views, as their misery left them nothing commendable. Now shouldst thou, O Jew, not have said that thou believest in the Creator of the world, its Governor and Guide, and in Him who created and keeps thee, and such attributes which serve as evidence for every believer, and for the sake of which Re pursues justice in order to resemble the Creator in His wisdom and justice?
13. The Rabbi: That which thou dost express is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and thou wilt find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.
14. Al Khazari: That which thou sayest now, O Jew, seems to be more to the point than the beginning, and I should like to hear more.
15. The Rabbi: Surely the beginning of my speech was just the proof, and so evident that it requires no other argument.
16. Al Khazari: How so?
17. The Rabbi: Allow me to make a few preliminary remarks, for I see thee disregarding and depreciating my words.
18. Al Khazari: Let me hear thy remarks.
19. The Rabbi: If thou wert told that the king of India was an excellent man, commanding admiration, and deserving his high reputation, one whose actions were reflected in the justice which rules his country and the virtuous ways of his subjects, would this bind thee to revere him?
20. Al Khazari: How could this bind me, whilst I am not sure if the justice of the Indian people is natural, and not dependent on their king, or due to the king or both?
21. The Rabbi: But if his messenger came to thee bringing presents which thou knowest to be only procurable in India, and in the royal palace, accompanied by a letter in which it is distinctly stated from whom it comes, and to which are added drugs to cure thy diseases, to preserve thy health, poisons for thy enemies, and other means to fight and kill them without battle, would this make thee beholden to him?
22. Al Khazari: Certainly. For this would remove my former doubt that the Indians have a king. I should also acknowledge that a proof of his power and dominion has reached me.
23. The Rabbi: How wouldst thou, then, if asked, describe him?
24. Al Khazari: In terms about which I am quite clear, and to these I could add others which were at first rather doubtful, but are no longer so.
25. The Rabbi: In this way I answered thy first question. In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him:'The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,' viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: 'The God of heaven and earth,' nor 'my Creator and thine sent me.' In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel:'I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,' but He did not say:'I am the Creator of the world and your Creator. Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these, things. first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.
26. Al Khazari: If this be so, then your belief is confined to yourselves?
27. The Rabbi: Yes, but any Gentile who joins us unconditionally shares our good fortune without, however, being quite equal to us. If the Law were binding on us only because God created us, the white and the black man would be equal, since He created them all. But the Law was given to us because He led us out of Egypt, and remained attached to us, because we are the cream of mankind.
28. Al Khazari: Jew, I see thee quite altered, and thy words are poor after having been so pleasant.
29. The Rabbi: Poor or pleasant, give me thy attention, and let me express myself more fully. 30. Al Khazari: Say what thou wilt.
31. The Rabbi: The laws of nature comprise nurture, growth, and propagation, with their powers and all conditions attached thereto. This is particularly the case with plants and animals, to the exclusion of earth, stones, metals, and elements.
32. Al Khazari: This is a maxim which requires explanation, though it be true.
33. The Rabbi: As regards the soul, it is given to all animated beings. The result is movement, will power, external as well as internal senses and such like.
34. Al Khazari: This, too, cannot be contradicted.
35. The Rabbi: Intellect is man's birthright above all living beings. This leads to the development of his faculties, his home, his country, from which arise administrative and regulative laws.
36. Al Khazari: This is also true.
37. The Rabbi: Which is the next highest degree?
38. Al Khazari: The degree of great sages.
39. The Rabbi: I only mean that degree which separates those who occupy it from the physical point of view, as the plant is separated from inorganic things, or man from animals. The differences as to quantity, however, are endless, as they are only accidental, and do not really form a degree.
40. Al Khazari: If this be so, then there is no degree above man among tangible things.
41. The Rabbi: If we find a man who walks into the fire without hurt, or abstains from food for some time without starving, on whose face a light shines which the eye cannot bear, who is never ill, nor ages, until having reached his life's natural end, who dies spontaneously just as a man retires to his couch to sleep on an appointed day and hour, equipped with the knowledge of what is hidden as to past and future: is such a degree not visibly distinguished from the ordinary human degree?
42. Al Khazari: This is, indeed, the divine and seraphic degree, if it exists at all. It belongs to the province of the divine influence, but not to that of the intellectual, human, or natural world.
43. The Rabbi: These are some of the characteristics of the undoubted prophets through whom God made Himself manifest, and who also made known that there is a God who guides them as He wishes, according to their obedience or disobedience. He revealed to those prophets that which was hidden, and taught them how the world was created, how the generations prior to the Flood followed each other, and how they reckoned their descent from Adam. He described the Flood and the origin of the 'Seventy Nations' from Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah; how the languages were split up, and where men sought their habitations; how arts arose, how they built cities, and the chronology from Adam up to this day.
44. Al Khazari: It is strange that you should possess authentic chronology of the creation of the world.
45. The Rabbi: Surely we reckon according to it, and there is no difference between the Jews of Khazar and Ethiopia in this respect.
46. Al Khazari: What date do you consider it at present?
47. The Rabbi: Four thousand and nine hundred years. The details can be demonstrated from the lives of Adam, Seth and Enosh to Noah; then Shem and Eber to Abraham; then Isaac and Jacob to Moses. All of them represented the essence and purity of Adam on account of their intimacy with God. Each of them had children only to be compared to them outwardly, but not really like them, and, therefore, without direct union with the divine influence. The chronology was established through the medium of those sainted persons who were only single individuals, and not a crowd, until Jacob begat the Twelve Tribes, who were ail under this divine influence. Thus the divine element reached a multitude of persons who carried the records further. The chronology of those who lived before these has been handed down to us by Moses.
48. Al Khazari: An arrangement of this kind removes any suspicion of untruth or common plot. Not ten people could discuss such a thing without disagreeing, and disclosing their secret understanding; nor could they refute any one who tried to establish the truth of a matter like this. How is it possible where such a mass of people is concerned? Finally, the period involved is not large enough to admit untruth and fiction.
49. The Rabbi: That is so. Abraham himself lived during the period of the separation of languages. He and his relatives retained the language of his grandfather Eber, which for that reason is called Hebrew. Four hundred years after him appeared Moses at a time when the world was rich in information concerning the heavens and earth. He approached Pharaoh and the Doctors of Egypt, as well as those of the Israelites. Whilst agreeing with him they questioned him, and completely refused to believe that God spoke with man, until he caused them to hear the Ten Words. In the same way the people mere on his side, not from ignorance, but on account of the knowledge they possessed. They feared magic and astrological arts, and similar snares, things which, like deceit, do not bear close examination, whereas the divine might is like pure gold, ever increasing in brilliancy. How could one imagine that an attempt had been made to show that a language spoken five hundred years previously was none but Eber's own language split up in Babel during the days of Peleg; also to trace the origin of this or that nation back to Shem or Ham, and the same with their countries? Is it likely that any one could to-day invent false statements concerning the origin, history, and languages of well-known nations, the latter being less than five hundred years old?
50. Al Khazari: This is not possible. How could it be, since we possess books in the handwriting of their authors written five hundred years ago? No false interpolation could enter the contents of a hook which is not above five hundred years of age, such as genealogical tables, linguistic and other works.
51. The Rabbi: Now why should Moses' speeches remain uncontradicted? Did not his own people raise objections, not to speak of others?
52. Al Khazari: These things are handed down well founded and firmly established.
53. The Rabbi: Dost thou think that the languages are eternal and without beginning?
54. Al Khazari: No; they undoubtedly had a beginning, which originated in a conventional manner. Evidence of this is found in their composition of nouns, verbs, and particles. They originated from sounds derived from the organs of speech.
[55. The Rabbi: Didst thou ever see any one who contrived a language, or didst thou hear of him?]
56. Al Khazari: neither the one nor the other. There is no doubt that it appeared at some time, but prior to this there was no language concerning which one nation, to the exclusion of another, could come to any agreement.
57. The Rabbi: Didst thou ever hear of a nation which possessed different traditions with regard to the generally acknowledged week which begins with the Sunday and ends with the Sabbath? How is it possible that the people of China could agree with those of the western islands without common beginning, agreement and convention?
58. Al Khazari: Such a thing would only have been possible if they had all come to an agreement This, however, is improbable, unless all men are the descendants of Adam, of Noah, or of some other ancestor from whom they received the hebdomadal calculation.
59. The Rabbi: That is what I meant. East and West agree on the decimal system. What instinct induced them to keep to the number ten, unless it was a tradition handed down by the first one who did so?
60. Al Khazari: Does it not weaken thy belief if thou art told that the Indians have antiquities and buildings which they consider to be millions of years old?
61. The Rabbi: It would, indeed, weaken my belief had they a fixed form of religion, or a book concerning which a multitude of people held the same opinion, and in which no historical discrepancy could be found. Such a book, however, does not exist. Apart from this, they are a dissolute, unreliable people, and arouse the indignation of the followers of religions through their talk, whilst they anger them with their idols, talismans, and witchcraft. To such things they pin their faith, and deride those who boast of the possession of a divine book. Yet they only possess a few books, and these were written to mislead the weak-minded. To this class belong astrological writings, in which they speak of ten thousands of years, as the book on the Nabataean Agriculture, in which are mentioned the names of Janbushar, Sagrit and Roanai. It is believed that they lived before Adam, who was the disciple of Janbushar, and such like.
62. Al Khazari: If I had supported my arguments by reference to a negro people, i.e. a people not united upon a common law, thy answer would have been correct. Now what is thy opinion of the philosophers who, as the result of their careful researches, agree that the world is without beginning, and here it does not concern tens of thousands, and not millions, but unlimited numbers of years.
63. The Rabbi: There is an excuse for the Philosophers. Being Grecians, science and religion did not come to them as inheritances. They belong to the descendants of Japheth, who inhabited the north, whilst that knowledge coming from Adam, and supported by the divine influence, is only to be found among the progeny of Shem, who represented the successors of Noah and constituted, as it were, his essence. This knowledge has always been connected with this essence, and will always remain so. The Greeks only received it when they became powerful, from Persia. The Persians had it from the Chaldaeans. It was only then that the famous [Greek] Philosophers arose, but as soon as Rome assumed political leadership they produced no philosopher worthy the name.
64. Al Khazari: Does this mean that Aristotle's philosophy is not deserving of credence?
65. The Rabbi: Certainly. He exerted his mind, because he had no tradition from any reliable source at his disposal. He meditated on the beginning and end of the world, but found as much difficulty in the theory of a beginning as in that of eternity. Finally, these abstract speculations which made for eternity, prevailed, and he found no reason to inquire into the chronology or derivation of those who lived before him. Had he lived among a people with well authenticated and generally acknowledged traditions, he would have applied his deductions and arguments to establish the theory of creation, however difficult. instead of eternity, which is even much more difficult to accept.
66. Al Khazari: Is there any decisive proof?
67. The Rabbi: Where could we find one for such a question? Heaven forbid that there should be anything in the Bible to contradict that which is manifest or proved! On the other hand it tells of miracles and the changes of ordinary, things newly arising, or changing one into the other. This proves that the Creator of the world is able to accomplish what He will, and whenever He mill. The question of eternity and creation is obscure, whilst the arguments are evenly balanced. The theory of creation derives greater weight from the prophetic tradition of Adam, Noah. and Moses, which is more deserving of credence than mere speculation. If, after all, a believer in the Law finds himself compelled to admit an eternal matter and the existence of, many worlds prior to this one, this would not impair his belief that this world was created at a certain epoch, and that Adam and Noah were the first human beings.
68. Al Khazari: Thus far I find these arguments quite satisfactory. Should we continue our conversation, I will trouble thee to adduce more decisive proofs. Now take up the thread of thy earlier exposition, how the great conviction settled in thy soul, that the Creator of body and spirit, soul, intellect and angels-- He who is too high, holy and exalted for the mind still less for the senses to grasp--that He holds intercourse with creatures made of low and contemptible material, wonderful as this may seem. For the smallest worm shows the wonders of His wisdom in a manner beyond the human mind.
69. The Rabbi: Thou hast forestalled much of my intended answer to thee. Dost thou ascribe the wisdom apparent in the creation of an ant (for example) to a sphere or star, or to any other object, to the exclusion of the Almighty Creator, who weighs and gives everything its due, giving neither too much, nor too little?
70. Al Khazari: This is ascribed to the action of Nature.
71. The Rabbi: What is Nature?
72. Al Khazari: As far as philosophy teaches, it is a certain power; only we do not know whet it really is. No doubt philosophers know.
73. The Rabbi: They know as much as we do. Aristotle defined it as the beginning and primary cause through which a thing either moves or rests, not by accidents, but on account of its innate essence.
74. Al Khazari: This would mean that the thing which moves or rests on its own account has a cause through which it moves or rests. This cause is Nature.
75. The Rabbi: This opinion is the result of diligent research, criticism, and discrimination between accidental and natural occurrences. These things astonish those who hear them, but nothing else springs from the knowledge of nature.
76. Al Khazari: All I can see is, that they have misled us by these names, and caused us to place another being on a par with God, if we say that Nature is wise and active. Speaking in their sense, we might even say: possessed of intelligence.
77. The Rabbi: Certainly; but the elements, moon, sun and stars have powers such as warming, cooling, moistening, drying, etc., but do not merit that wisdom should be ascribed to them, or be reckoned more than a function. Forming, measuring, producing, however, and all that shows an intention, can only be ascribed to the All-wise and Almighty. There is no harm in calling the power which arranges matter by means of heat and cooling, 'Nature,' but all intelligence must be denied it. So must the faculty of creating the embryo be denied to human beings, because they only aid matter in receiving human form from its wise Creator. Thou must not deem it improbable that exalted divine traces should be visible in this material world, when this matter is prepared to receive them. Here are to be found the roots of faith as well as of disbelief.
78. Al Khazari: How is this possible?
79. The Rabbi: These conditions which render man fit to receive this divine influence do not lie within him. It is impossible for him to gauge their quantity or quality, and even if their essence were known, yet neither their time, place, and connexion, nor suitability could be discovered. For this, inspired and detailed instruction is necessary. He who has been thus inspired, and obeys the teaching in every respect with a pure mind, is a believer. Whosoever strives by speculation and deduction to prepare the conditions for the reception of this inspiration, or by divining, as is found in the writings of astrologers, trying to call down supernatural beings, or manufacturing talismans, such a man is an unbeliever. He may bring offerings and burn incense in the name of speculation and conjecture, whilst he is in reality ignorant of that which he should do, how much, in which way, by what means, in which place, by whom, in which manner, and many other details, the enumeration of which would lead too far. He is like an ignoramus who enters the surgery of a physician famous for the curative power of his medicines. The physician is not at home, but people come for medicines. The fool dispenses them out of the jars, knowing nothing of the contents, nor how much should be given to each person. Thus he kills with the very medicine which Should have cured them. Should he by chance have effected a cure with one of the drugs, the people will turn to him and say that he helped them, till they discover that he deceived them, or they seek other advice, and cling to this without noticing that the real cure was effected by the skill of the learned physician who prepared the medicines and explained the proper manner in which they were to be administered. He also taught the patients what food and drink, exercise and rest, etc., was necessary, likewise what air was the best, and which place of repose Like unto the patients duped by the ignoramus, so were men, with few exceptions, before the time of Moses. They were deceived by astrological and physical rules, wandered from law to law, from god to god, or adopted a plurality at the same time. They forgot their guide and master, and regarded their false gods as helping causes, whilst they are in reality damaging causes, according to their construction and arrangement. Profitable on its own account is the divine influence, hurtful on its own account the absence thereof.
80. Al Khazari: Let us now return to our subject, and explain to me how your belief grew, how it spread and became general, how opinions became united after having differed, and how long it took for the faith to lay its foundation, and to be built up into a strong and complete structure. The first element of religion appeared, no doubt, among single individuals, who supported one another in upholding the faith which it pleased God should be promulgated. Their number increases continually, they grow more powerful, or a king arises and assists them, also compels his subjects to adopt the same creed.
81. The Rabbi: In this way only rational religions, of human origin, can arise. When a man succeeds and attains an exalted position, it is said that he is supported by God, who inspired him, etc. A religion of divine origin arises suddenly. It is bidden to arise, and it is there, like the creation of the world.
82. Al Khazari: Thou surprisest me, O Rabbi.
83. The Rabbi: It is, indeed, astonishing. The Israelites lived in Egypt as slaves, six hundred thousand men above the age of twenty, descendants of the Twelve Tribes. Not one of them had separated or emigrated into another country, nor was a stranger among them. They looked forward to the promise given to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the land of Palestine should be their inheritance. At that time it was in the power of seven mighty and prosperous nations, whilst the Israelites sighed in the depths of misery under the bondage of Pharaoh, who caused their children to be put to death, lest they should increase in number. Notwithstanding their lowly position as compared to the tyrant in his might, God sent Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh with signs and miracles, allowing them even to change the course of nature. Pharaoh could not get away from them, nor harm them, neither could he protect himself from the ten plagues which befell the Egyptians, affecting their streams, land, air, plants, animals, bodies, even their souls. For in one moment, at midnight, died the most precious and most beloved members of their houses, viz. every firstborn male. There was no dwelling without dead, except the houses of the Israelites. All these plagues were preceded by warnings and menaces, and their cessation was notified in the same way, so that every one should become convinced that they were ordained by God, who does what He will and when He mill, and were not ordinary natural phenomena, nor wrought by constellations or accident. The Israelites left the country of Pharaoh's bondage, by the command of God, the same night and at the same moment, when the firstborn died, and reached the shores of the Red Sea. They were guided by pillars of cloud and fire, and led by Moses and Aaron, the venerated, inspired chiefs, then about eighty years of age. Up to this time they had only a few laws which they had inherited from Adam and Noah. These laws were not abrogated" by Moses, but rather increased by him. when Pharaoh pursued the Israelites they did not have recourse to arms, being unskilled in their use. God, however, divided the sea, and they traversed it. Pharaoh and his host mere drowned, and the waves washed their corpses towards the Israelites, so that they could see them with their own eyes. It is a long and well-known story.
84. Al Khazari: This is, in truth, divine power, and the commandments connected with it must be accepted. No one could imagine for a moment that this was the result of necromancy, calculation, or phantasy. For had it been possible to procure belief in any imaginary dividing of the waters, and the crossing of the same, it would also have been possible to gain credence for a similar imposition concerning their delivery from bondage, the death of their tormentors, and the capture of their goods and chattels. This would be even worse than denying the existence of God.
85. The Rabbi: And later on, when they came to the desert, which was not sown, he sent them food which, with the exception of Sabbath, was crested daily for them, and they ate it for forty years.
86. Al Khazari: This also is irrefutable, viz. a thing which occurred to six hundred thousand people for forty years. Six days in the week the Manna came down, but on the Sabbath it stopped. This makes the observance of the Sabbath obligatory, since divine ordination is visible in it.
87. The Rabbi: The Sabbatical law is derived from this circumstance, as well as from the creation of the world in six days, also from another matter to be discussed later on. Although the people believed in the message of Moses, they retained, even after the performance of the miracles, some doubt as to whether God really spake to mortals, and whether the Law was not of human origin, and only later on supported by divine inspiration. They could not associate speech with a divine being, since it is something tangible. God, however, desired to remove this doubt, and commanded them to prepare themselves morally, as web as physically, enjoining them to keep aloof from their wives, and to be ready to hear the words of God. The people prepared and became fitted to receive the divine afflatus, and even to hear publicly the words of God. This came to pass three days later, being introduced by overwhelming phenomena, lightning, thunder, earthquake and fire, which surrounded Mount Sinai. The fire remained visible on the mount forty days. They also saw Moses enter it and emerge from it; they distinctly heard the Ten Commandments, which represent the very essence of the Law. One of them is the ordination of Sabbath, a law which had previously been connected with the gift of the Manna. The people did not receive these ten commandments from single individuals, nor from a prophet, but from God, only they did not possess the strength of Moses to bear the grandeur of the scene. Henceforth the people believed that Moses held direct communication with God, that his words were not creations of his own mind, that prophecy did not (as philosophers assume) burst forth in a pure soul, become united with the Active Intellect (also termed Holy Spirit or Gabriel), and be then inspired. They did not believe Moses had seen a vision in sleep, or that some one had spoken with him between sleeping and waking, so that he only heard the words in fancy, but not with his ears, that he saw a phantom, and afterwards pretended that God had spoken with him. Before such an impressive scene all ideas of jugglery vanished. The divine allocution was followed by the divine writing. For he wrote these Ten Words on two tablets of precious stone, and handed them to Moses. The people saw the divine writing, as they had heard the divine words. Moses made an ark by God's command, and built the Tent over it. It remained among the Israelites as long as prophecy lasted, i.e. about nine hundred years, until the people became disobedient. Then the ark was hidden, and Nebuchadnezzar conquered and drove the Israelites into exile.
88. Al Khazari: Should any one hear you relate that God spoke with your assembled multitude, and wrote tables for you, etc., he would be blamed for accusing you of holding the theory of personification. You, on the other hand, are free from blame, because this grand and lofty spectacle, seen by thousands, cannot be denied. You are justified in rejecting [the charge of] mere reasoning and speculation.
89. The Rabbi: Heaven forbid that I should assume what is against sense and reason. The first of the Ten Commandments enjoins the belief in divine providence. The second command contains the prohibition of the worship of other gods, or the association of any being with Him, the prohibition to represent Him in statues, forms and images, or any personification of Him. How should we not deem him exalted above personification, since we do so with many of His creations, e.g. the human soul, which represents man's true essence. For that part of Moses which spoke to us, taught and guided us, was not his tongue, or heart, or brain. Those were only organs, whilst Moses himself is the intellectual, discriminating, incorporeal soul, not limited by place, neither too large, nor too small for any space in order to contain the images of all creatures. If we ascribe spiritual elements to it, how much more must we do so to the Creator of all We must not, however,:endeavour to reject the conclusions to be drawn from revelation. We say, then, that we do not know how the intention became corporealised and the speech evolved which struck our ear, nor what new thing God created from nought, nor what existing thing He employed. He does not lack the power. We say that He created the two tables, engraved a text on them, in the same way as He created the heaven and the stars by His will alone. God desired it, and they became concrete as He wished it, engraved with the text of the Ten Words. We also say that He divided the sea and formed it into two walls, which He caused to stand on the right and on the left of the people, for whom He made easy wide roads and a smooth ground for them to walk on without fear and trouble. This rending, constructing and arranging, are attributed to God, who required no tool or intermediary, as would be necessary for human toil. As the water stood at His command, shaped itself at His will, so the air which touched the prophet's ear, assumed the form of sounds, which conveyed the matters to be communicated by God to the prophet and the people.
90. Al Khazari : This representation is satisfactory.
91. The Rabbi: I do not maintain that this is exactly how these things occurred; the problem is no doubt too deep for me to fathom. But the result was that every one who was present at the time became convinced that the matter proceeded from God direct. It is to be compared to the first act of creation. The belief in the law connected with those scenes is as firmly established in the mind as the belief in the creation of the world, and that He created it in the same manner in which He--as is known--created the two tablets, the manna, and other things. Thus disappear from the soul of the believer the doubts of philosophers and materialists.
92. Al Khazari: Take care, O Rabbi, lest too great indulgence in the description of the superiority of thy people make thee not unbearable, causing thee to overlook what is known of their disobedience in spite of the revelation. I have heard that in the midst of it they made a calf and worshiped it.
93. The Rabbi: A sin which was reckoned all the heavier on account of their greatness. Great is he whose sins are counted.
94. Al Khazari: This is what makes thee tedious and makes thee appear partial to thy people. What sin could be greater than this, and what deed could have exceeded this?
95. The Rabbi: Bear with me a little while that I show the lofty station of the people. For me it is sufficient that God chose them as His people from all nations of the world, and allowed His influence to rest on all of them, and that they nearly approached being addressed by Him. It even descended on their women, among whom were prophetesses, whilst since Adam only isolated individuals had been inspired till then. Adam was perfection itself, because no flaw could be found in a work of a wise and Almighty Creator, wrought from a substance chosen by Him, and fashioned according to His own design. There was no restraining influence, no fear of atavism, no question of nutrition or education during the years of childhood and growth; neither was there the influence of climate, water, or soil to consider. For He created him in the form of an adolescent, perfect in body and mind. The soul with which he was endowed was perfect; his intellect was the loftiest which it is possible for a human being to possess, and beyond this he was gifted with the divine power of such high rank, that it brought him into connexion with beings divine and spiritual, and enabled him, with slight reflection, to comprehend the great truths without instruction. We call him God's son, and we call all those who were like him also sons of God. He left many children, of whom the only one capable of taking his place was Abel, because he alone was like him. After he had been slain by Cain through jealousy of this privilege, it passed to his brother Seth, who also was like Adam, being [as it were] his essence and heart, whilst the others were like husks and rotten fruit. The essence of Seth, then, passed to Enoch, and in this way the divine influence was inherited by isolated individuals down to Noah. They are compared to the heart ; they resembled Adam, and were styled sons of God. They were perfect outwardly and inwardly, their lives, knowledge and ability being likewise faultless. Their lives fix the chronology from Adam to Noah, as well as from Noah to Abraham. There were some, however, among them who did not come under divine influence, as Terah, but his son Abraham was the disciple of his grandfather Eber, and was born in the lifetime of Noah. Thus the divine spirit descended from the grandfather to the grandchildren. Abraham represented the essence of Eber, being his disciple, and for this reason he was called Ibri. Eber represented the essence of Shem, the latter that of Noah. He inherited the temperate zone, the centre and principal pare of which is Palestine, the land of prophecy. Japheth turned towards north, and Ham towards south. The essence of Abraham passed over to Isaac, to the exclusion of the other sons who were all removed from the land, the special inheritance of Isaac. The prerogative of Isaac descended on Jacob, whilst Esau was sent from the land which belonged to Jacob. The sons of the latter were all worthy of the divine influence, as well as of the country distinguished by the divine spirit. This is the first instance of the divine influence descending on a number of people, whereas it had previously only been vouchsafed to isolated individuals. Then God tended them in Egypt, multiplied and aggrandised them, as a tree with a sound root grows until it produces perfect fruit, resembling the first fruit from which it was planted, viz. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brethren. The seed further produced Moses, Aaron and Miriam, Bezaleel, Oholiab, and the chiefs of the tribes, the seventy Elders, who were all endowed with the spirit of prophecy; then Joshua, Kaleb, Hur, and many others. Then they became worthy of having the divine light and providence made visible to them. If disobedient men existed among them, they were hated, but remained, without doubt, of the essence inasmuch as they were part of it on account of their descent and nature, and begat children who were of the same stamp. An ungodly man received consideration in proportion to the minuteness of the essence with which he was endowed, for it reappeared in his children and grandchildren according to the purity of their lineage. This is how we regard Terah and others in whom the divine afflatus was not visible, though, to a certain extent, it underlay his natural disposition, so that he begat a descendant filled with the essence, which was not the case with all the posterity of Ham and Japhet. We perceive a similar phenomenon in nature at large. Many people do not resemble their father, but take after their grandfathers. There cannot, consequently, be any doubt that this nature and resemblance was hidden in the father, although it did not become visible outwardly, as was the nature of Eber in his children, until it reappeared in Abraham.
96. Al Khazari : This is the true greatness, which descended direct from Adam. He was the noblest creature on earth. Therefore you rank above all the other inhabitants of the earth. But what of this privilege at the time when that sin was committed ?
97. The Rabbi: All nations were given to idolatry at that time. Even had they been philosophers, discoursing on the unity and government of God, they would have been unable to dispense with images, and would have taught the masses that a divine influence hovered over this image, which was distinguished by some miraculous feature. Some of them ascribed this to God, even as we to-day treat some particular spots with reverence, going so far as to believe ourselves blessed by their dust and stones. Others ascribed it to the spiritual influence of some star or constellation, or of a talisman, or to other things of that kind. The people did not pay so much attention to a single law as to a tangible image in which they believed. The Israelites had been promised that something visible would descend on them from God which they could follow, as they followed the pillars of cloud and fire when they departed from Egypt. This they pointed out, and turned to it, praising it, and worshipping God in its presence. Thus they also turned towards the cloud which hovered over Moses while God spake with him; they remained standing and adoring God opposite to it. Now when the people had heard the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, and Moses had ascended the mount in order to receive the inscribed tables which he was to bring down to them, and then make an ark which was to be the point towards which they should direct their gaze during their devotions,* they waited for his return clad in the same apparel in which they had witnessed the drama on Sinai. without removing their jewels or changing their clothes, remaining just as he left them, expecting every moment to see him return. He, however, tarried forty days, although he had not provided himself with food, having only left them with the intention of returning the same day. An evil spirit overpowered a portion of the people, and they began to divide into parties and factions. Many views and opinions were expressed, till at last some decided to do like the other nations, and seek an object in which they could have faith, without, however, prejudicing the supremacy of Him who had brought them out of Egypt. On the contrary, this was to be something to which they could point when relating the wonders of God, as the Philistines did with the ark when they said that God dwelt within it. We do the same with the sky and every other object concerning which we know that it is set in motion by the divine will exclusively, and not by any accident or desire of man or nature. Their sin consisted in the manufacture of an image of a forbidden thing, and in attributing divine power to a creation of their own, something chosen by themselves without the guidance of God. Some excuse may be found for them in the dissension which had broken out among them, and in the fact that out of six hundred thousand souls the number of those who worshiped the calf was below three thousand. For those of higher station who assisted in making it an excuse, might. be found in the fact that they wished to clearly separate the disobedient from the pious, in order to slay those who would worship the calf. On the other hand, they sinned in causing what was only a sin of intention to become a sin in deed. This sin was not on a par with an entire lapse from all obedience to Him who had led them out of Egypt, as only one of His commands was violated by them. God had forbidden images, and in spite of this they made one. They should have waited and not have assumed power, have arranged a place of worship, an altar, and sacrifices. This had been done by the advice of the astrologers and magicians among them, who were of opinion that their actions based on their ideas would be more correct than the true ones. They resembled the fool of whom we spoke, who entered the surgery of a physician and dealt out death instead of healing to those who came there. At the same time the people did not intend to give up their allegiance to God. On the contrary, they were, in theory, more zealous in their devotion. They therefore approached Aaron, and he, desiring to make their plan public, assisted them in their undertaking. For this reason he is to be blamed for changing their theoretical disobedience into a reality. The whole affair is repulsive to us, because in this age the majority of nations have abandoned the worship of images. It appeared less objectionable at that time, because all nations were then idolators. Had their sin consisted in constructing a house of worship of their own, and making a place of prayer, offering and veneration, the matter would not have been so grave, because nowadays we also build our houses of worship, hold them in great respect, and seek blessing through their means. We even say that God dwells in them, and that they are surrounded by angels. If this mere not essential for the gathering of our community, it would be as unknown as it was at the time of the kings, when the people were forbidden to erect places of worship, called heights. The pious kings destroyed them, lest they be venerated beside the house chosen by God in which He was to be worshiped according to His own ordinances. There was nothing strange in the form of the cherubim made by His command. In spite of these things, those who worshiped the calf were punished on the same day, and three thousand out of six hundred thousand were slain. The Manna, however, did not cease falling for their maintenance, nor the cloud to give them shade, nor the pillar of fire to guide them. Prophecy continued spreading and increasing among them, and nothing that had been granted was taken from them, except the two tables, which Moses broke. But then he pleaded for their restoration; they were restored, and the sin was forgiven.
[* editor's note: In the original, a clause is inserted which I place here in order to facilitate the reading: In this was the divine covenant and God's last creation, the tablets. To it also belonged the cloud, the Urim, and all miracles by its instrumentality]
98. Al Khazari: The theory I had formed, and the opinion of what I saw in my dream thou now confirmest, viz. that man can only merit divine influence by acting according to God's commands And even were it not so, most men strive to obtain it, even astrologers, magicians, fire and sun worshippers, dualists, etc.
99.The Rabbi: Thou art right. Our laws were written in the Torah by Moses, who had them direct from God, and handed them down to the masses assembled in the desert. There was no necessity to quote any older authority with regard to the single chapters and verses, nor with regard to the description of sacrifices, where and in what manner they were to be offered up, and what was to be done with the blood and the limbs, etc. Everything was clearly stated by God, as the smallest matter missing would interfere with the completeness of the whole thing. It is here, as in the formations of nature, which are composed of such minute elements that they defy perception, and if their mutual relation suffered the smallest change, the whole formation would be damaged, that plant or animal, or limb, would be imperfect and nonexisting. In the same manner the law prescribes how the sacrificed animal should be dismembered, and what should be done with each limb, what should be eaten and what burnt, who should eat and who burn, and which section of priests should have the charge of offering it up, and which dared not. Il also prescribed in what condition those who brought the offerings must be, so that they should be faultless, both as regards appearance and apparel, especially the High Priest, who had the privilege of entering the place of Divinity which enclosed God's glory, the ark and the Torah. To this are attached the rules for cleanliness and purity, and the various grades of purification, sanctification, and prayer, the description of which would lead us too far. In all these matters they had to rely on the reading of the Torah, combined with the traditions of the Rabbis, based on God's communications to Moses. In the same manner the form of the Tabernacle was shown to Moses on the mountain, viz. the tabernacle, the interior, the candlestick, the ark, and the surrounding court, with its pillars, coverings, and all appurtenances, were caused by God to appear to him in their real shape, in the form in which He commanded to have them executed. In the same way was the temple of Solomon built according to the model revealed to David. 80 also mill the last sanctuary promised us be shaped and arranged according to the details seen by the prophet Ezekiel. In the service of God there is no arguing reasoning, and debating Had this been possible, philosophers with their wisdom and acumen would have achieved even more than Israel.
100. Al Khazari: Thus the human mind can accept the Law cheerfully and unhesitatingly, without doubting that a prophet would come to the oppressed and enslaved people, and promise them that they would at an appointed time, thus and without delay, be delivered from bondage Moses led them to Palestine against seven nations, each of which was stronger than they were, assigned to each tribe its portion of the land before they reached it. All this was accomplished in the shortest space of time, and accompanied by miraculous events. This proves the omnipotence of the Sender as well as the greatness of the Messenger, and the high station of those who alone received this message. Had he said: 'I was sent to guide the whole world in the right path,' and would only have partially fulfilled his task, his message would have been deficient, since the divine will would not have been carried out completely. The perfection of his work was marred by the fact that his book was written in Hebrew, which made it unintelligible to the peoples of Sind, India, and Khazar. They would, therefore, be unable to practise his laws till some centuries had elapsed, or they had been prepared for it by changes of conquest, or alliance, but not through the revelation of that prophet himself, or of another who would stand up for him, and testify to his law.
101. The Rabbi: Moses invited only his people and those of his own tongue to accept his lam, whilst God promised that there should at all times be prophets to expound his law. This He did so long as they found favour in His sight, and His presence was with them.
102. Al Khazari: Would it not have been better or more commensurate with divine wisdom, if all mankind had been guided in the true path?
103. The Rabbi: Or would it not have been best for all animals to have been reasonable beings z Thou base, apparently, forgotten what we said previously concerning the genealogy of Adam's progeny, and how the spirit of divine prophecy rested on one person, who was chosen from his brethren, and the essence of his father. It was he in whom this divine light was concentrated. He was the kernel, whilst the others were as shells which had no share in it. The sons of Jacob were, however, distinguished from other people by godly qualities, which made them, so to speak, an angelic caste. Each of them, being permeated by the divine essence, endeavoured to attain the degree of prophecy, and most of them succeeded in so doing. Those who were not successful strove to approach it by means of pious acts, sanctity, purity, and intercourse with prophets. Know that he who converses with a prophet experiences spiritualization during the time he listens to his oration. He differs from his own kind in the purity of soul, in a yearning for the [higher] degrees and attachment to the qualities of meekness and purity. This was a manifest proof to them, and a clear and convincing sign of reward hereafter. For the only result to be expected from this is that the human soul becomes divine. being detached from material senses, joining the highest world, and enjoying the vision of the divine light, and hearing the divine speech. Such a soul is safe from death, even after its physical organs hare perished If thou, then, findest a religion the knowledge and practice of which assists in the attainment of this degree, at the place pointed out and with the conditions laid down by it, this is beyond doubt the religion which insures the immortality of the soul after the demise of the body.
104. Al Khazari : The anticipations of other churches are grosser and more sensuous than yours.
105. The Rabbi: They are none of them realized till after death, whilst during this life nothing points to them.
106. Al Khazari: May be; I have never seen any one who believed in these promises desire their speedy fulfilment. On the contrary, if he could delay them a thousand years, and remain in the bonds of this life in spite of the hardship of this world, he would prefer it.
107. The Rabbi: What is thy opinion concerning him who witnessed those grand and divine scenes?
108. Al Khazari: That he, no doubt, longs for the perpetual separation of his soul from his material senses, in order to enjoy that light. who would desire death.
109. The Rabbi: Now all that our promises imply is that we shall become connected with the divine influence by means of prophecy, or something nearly approaching it, and also through our relation to the divine influence, as displayed to us in grand and awe-inspiring miracles. Therefore we do not find in the Bible:'If you keep this law, I will bring you after death into beautiful gardens and great pleasures.' On the contrary it is said:'You shall be my chosen people, and I will be a God unto you, who will guide you. Whoever of you comes to me, and ascends to heaven, is as those who, themselves, dwell among the angels and my angels shall dwell among them on earth. You shall see them singly or in hosts, watching you and fighting for you without your joining in the fight. You shall remain in the country which forms a stepping-stone to this degree, viz. the Holy Land. Its fertility or barrenness, its happiness or misfortune, depend upon the divine Influence which your conduct will merit, whilst the rest of the world would continue its natural course. For if the divine presence is among you, you will perceive by the fertility of your country, by the regularity with which your rainfalls appear in their due seasons, by your victories over your enemies in spite of your inferior numbers, that your affairs are not managed by simple laws of nature, but by the divine Will. You also see that drought, death, and wild beasts pursue you as a result of disobedience, although the whole world lives in peace. This shows you that your concerns are arranged by a higher power than mere nature.' All this, the laws included, is closely connected with the promises, and no disappointment is feared. All these promises have one basis, viz. the anticipation of being near God and His hosts. He who attains this degree need not fear death, as is clearly demonstrated in our Law. The following parable will illustrate this: One of a company of friends who sought solicitude in a remote spot, once journeyed to India, and had honour and rank bestowed on him by her king, who knew that he was one of these friends, and who had also known their fathers, former comrades of his own. The king loaded him with presents for his friends, gave him costly raiment for himself, and then dismissed him, sending members of his own retinue to accompany him on his return journey. No one knew that they belonged to the court, nor that they travelled into the desert. We had received commissions and treaties, and in return he had to swear fealty to the king. Then he and his Indian escort returned to his companions, and received a hearty welcome from them. They took pains to accommodate them and to show them honour. They also built a castle and allowed them to dwell in it. Henceforth they frequently sent ambassadors to India to wait upon the king, which was now more easy of accomplishment, as the first messengers guided them the shortest and straightest route. All knew that travelling in that country was rendered easier by swearing allegiance to his king and respecting his ambassadors There mas no occasion to inquire why this homage was necessary, because it was patent that by this means he came into connexion with the monarch--a most pleasing circumstance Now these companions are the Children of Israel, the first traveller is Moses, the later travellers are the prophets, whilst the Indian messengers are the Shekinah and the angels. The precious garments are the spiritual light which dwelt in the soul of Moses on account of his prophetship, whilst the visible light appeared on his countenance. The presents are the two tables with the Ten Commandments. Those in possession of other laws saw nothing of this, but were told:'Continue in obedience to the King of India as this company of friends, and you will after death become the associates of the king, otherwise he will turn you away, and punish you after death.' Some might say: No one ever returned to inform us whether, after death, he dwelt in paradise or in hell. The majority were satisfied with the arrangement, which coincided with their views. They obeyed willingly, and allowed themselves to entertain a faint hope, which to all appearance was a very strong one, as they commenced to be proud-and to behave haughtily towards other people. But how can they boast of expectations after death to those who enjoy the fulfilment already in life a Is not the nature of the prophets and godly men nearer to immortality than the nature of him who never reached that degree?
110. Al Khazari: It does not agree with common sense that when man perishes, body and soul should disappear at the same time, as is the case with animals, and that the philosophers alone will--as they believe --escape. The same applies to the statement made by believers in other faiths-that man, by the pronunciation of one word alone, may inherit paradise, even if, during the whole of his life, he knew no other word than this, and of this did not even understand the great significance, viz. that one word raised him from the ranks of a brute to that of an angel. He who did not utter this word would remain an animal, though he might be a learned and pious philosopher, who yearned for God all his life.
111. The Rabbi: We do not deny that the good actions of any man, to whichever people he may belong, mill be rewarded by God. But the priority belongs to people who are near God during their life, and we estimate the rank they occupy near God after death accordingly.
112. Al Khazari: Apply this also in the other direction, and judge their degree in the next world according to their station in this world.
113. The Rabbi: I see thee reproaching us with our degradation and poverty, but the best of other religions boast of both. Do they not glorify him who said: He who smites thee on the right cheek, turn to him the left also; and he who takes away thy coat, let him have thy shirt also."' He and his friends and followers, after hundreds of years of contumely, flogging and slaying, attained their well-known success, and just in these things they glorify. This is also the history of the founder of Islam and his friends, who eventually prevailed, and became powerful. The nations boast of these, but not of these kings whose power and might are great, whose walls are strong, and whose chariots are terrible. Yet our relation to God is a closer one than if we had reached greatness already on earth.
114. Al Khazari: This might be so, if your humility were voluntary; but it is involuntary, and if you had power you would slay.
115. The Rabbi: Thou best touched our weak spot, O King of the Khazars. If the majority of us, as thou sayest, would learn humility towards God and His law from our low station, Providence would not have forced us to bear it for such a long period. Only the smallest portion thinks thus. Yet the majority may expect a reward, because they bear their degradation partly from necessity, partly of their own free will. For whoever wishes to do so can become the friend and equal of his oppressor by uttering one word, and without any difficulty. Such conduct does not escape the just Judge. If we bear our exile and degradation for God's sake, as is meet, we shall be the pride of the generation which will come with the Messiah, and accelerate the day of the deliverance we hope for. Now we do not allow any one who embraces our religion theoretically by means of a word alone to take equal rank with ourselves, but demand actual self-sacrifice, purity, knowledge, circumcision, and numerous religious ceremonies. The convert must adopt our mode of life entirely. We must bear in mind that the rite of circumcision is a divine symbol, ordained by God to indicate that our desires should be curbed, and discretion used, so that what we engender may be fitted to receive the divine Influence. God allows him who treads this path, as well as his progeny, to approach Him very closely. Those, however, who become Jews do not take equal rank with born Israelites, who are specially privileged to attain to prophecy, whilst the former can only achieve something by learning from them, and can only become pious and learned, but never prophets. As regards the promises at which thou are so astonished, our sages, long ago, gave descriptions of paradise and hell, their length and width,: and depicted the enjoyments and punishments in greater detail than is given in any later religions. From the very beginning I only spoke to thee of what is contained in the books of the Prophets. They, however, do not discuss the promises of after-life with so much diffuseness as is done in the sayings of the Rabbis. Nevertheless the prophetic books allude to the return of the dust of the human body to the earth, whilst the spirit returns to the Creator who gave it. They also mention the resurrection of the dead at some future time, the sending of a prophet called Elijah AlKhidr, who had already been sent once, but who was taken away by God in the same way as another said that he never tasted death. The Torah contains the prayer of one who was especially privileged to become a prophet, and he prayed that his death might be made easy, and his end be as the end of the Children of Israel. After the death of Samuel King Saul invoked his aid, and he prophesied for him concerning all that would happen to him in the same way as he had prophesied to him whilst living. Although this action of Saul, viz. consulting the dead, is forbidden in our law, it shows that the people at the time of the prophets believed in the immortality of the soul after the decay of the body. For this reason they consulted the dead. All educated people, including women, know by heart the opening prayer of our morning liturgy, which runs as follows: O Lord, the spirit which Thou hast breathed into me is hallowed; Thou hast created it, Thou guardest it, and Thou wilt after a time take it from me, but wilt restore it to me in tie other world. As long as it is within me, I praise Thee, and am grateful to Thee, O Lord of the universe. Praise be to Thee who restoreth the spirit unto the dead. The notion of 'Paradise' itself, of which people often speak, is derived from the Torah, being the exalted abode which was intended for Adam. Had he not been disobedient, he would have remained in it for ever. Similarly 'Gehinnom' was nothing but a well-known place near the Holy House, a trench in which the fire was never extinguished, because unclean bones, carrion and other impurities used to be burned there. The word is a compound Hebrew one.
116. Al Khazari: If that is so, then there has been nothing new since your religion was promulgated, except certain details concerning paradise: and hell, their arrangement, and the repetition and enlargement of these.
117. The Rabbi: Even this is not new either. The Rabbis have said so much on the subject that there is nothing thou couldst hear concerning it which could not be found in their writings, if thou didst but search for it.
Sources: Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Copyright by Paul Halsall, 1999.