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The Bible Read through the Prism of Theology

The Medieval Karaite Tradition of Translating Explicit Anthropomorphisms into Arabic

In: The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
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The paper demonstrates that when translating explicit anthropomorphisms in Scripture, medieval Karaites are neither particularly more nor less literal than their rabbinic counterparts. Indeed, they often propose translations similar to those of Targum Onqelos and Saʿadyah Gaon. Moreover, although their lines of argument are different, both Saʿadyah and the Karaites insist that human language is responsible for corporeal descriptions of God in the Bible, and they resort to the linguistic conventions of figurative language and extension of meaning (majāz, ʾittisāʿ) to justify these theologically disturbing expressions. The Karaites’ contribution consists of advancing and refining these linguistic justifications by introducing, for example, the concept of polysemy (or homonymy) to account for certain kinds of problematic formulations. In addition, they are probably the first commentators in the history of Jewish Bible exegesis to cite the rabbinic dictum, “the Torah speaks in the language of man” to explain the presence of anthropomorphisms in Scripture.

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