According to a currently dominant interpretation, Ibn Da'ud's Sefer ha-qabbalah presents a chronologically symmetrical schema of Jewish history that is intended to convey an esoteric messianic speculation. This paper argues that Sefer ha-qabbalah is neither esoteric nor deliberately schematic. Rather, it is a compilation of material drawn from a large number of varied sources, which is consistently organized in order to forward Ibn Da'ud's primary polemical purpose of defending a particular historical narrative from competing claims put forth by Karaites, Christians, and others. The first part of this paper argues that the textual features underlying the esoteric interpretation can be better explained as reflections of Ibn Da'ud's polemical aims and eclectic use of source material. The second part traces these characteristics through a detailed analysis of a key passage in Sefer ha-qabbalah, which deals with the chronology of the First and Second Temples; this analysis also addresses the question of chronological schematism in the work, which is examined more systematically in an Appendix. Finally, the last section applies this analysis towards a redefinition of the literary character of Sefer ha-qabbalah, and discusses Ibn Da'ud's polemical use of history in relation to twelfth-century political circumstances and developments in historiography.