A 15th-century copy of the commentary on Joshua by the famed Karaite biblical commentator – Japheth ben Ali ha-Levi (lived in the 10th century CE).
Who are the Karaites?
The Karaites were a Jewish religious sect founded in the 8th century CE in Babylonia by Anan ben David. They rejected rabbinic tradition and recognised the Hebrew Bible as the sole source of religious law. This led to a concentration on the study of the text of the Bible, on its ‘correct’ pronunciation, translation and interpretation. There is no certainty as to why the Karaites transcribed the Hebrew Bible into Arabic, but this may have represented an attempt to arrive at a correct reading tradition for the Bible, which they considered superior to the masoretic text of the Rabbanites (rabbinical Jews).
Following the destruction of the Karaite centres of scholarship in Palestine by the Crusaders in 1099 CE, the Karaite movement declined; its main centre moved to Turkey and, later, to Lithuania and the Crimea. Nowadays communities of Karaite Jews live in Israel, particularly in Ramla, and in the USA.
The text was neatly penned on paper by a skilled scribe whose identity is unknown. His handwriting can be nonetheless regarded as typically Karaite. He employed two distinct kinds of script: punctuated square script for the biblical text, and semi-cursive script without vowel points, for the Judeo-Arabic translation.
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.