Living with Unanswered Questions: The Meaning of the Queries about the Book of Job in Isaac Nathan’s Ḥazut Qashah (“Grievous Vision”)

in Medieval Encounters
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Hazut Qashah (Grievous Vision) is one of a number of studies on the Hebrew Bible by the fifteenth-century Jewish intellectual Isaac Nathan of Arles. This peculiar Hebrew text is composed of a list of thirteen questions about the book of Job without answers. An analysis of this work on the backdrop of Christian and Jewish scholasticism along with possible Eastern precedents such as Masaʾail, demonstrates its literary innovation, which is derived not from the questions it poses, but rather, from the author’s willingness to acknowledge that the Bible had failed to provide adequate answers to them. Some of the questions were liable to provoke skepticism and raise doubts, but in contrast to the corpus of critical and heretical Jewish literature, Nathan had no interest in destroying the foundations of Judaism by attacking the biblical infrastructure. The significance and power of Hazut Qashah does not issue from any theological insights, but from its novel format. There is no similar medieval text, be it Jewish or Christian, which presents a set of theological problems without offering any corresponding explanations. As such, living with an open question—the existential solution presented in Hazut Qashah—becomes just one more facet of Nathan’s own rich intellectual project.

Living with Unanswered Questions: The Meaning of the Queries about the Book of Job in Isaac Nathan’s Ḥazut Qashah (“Grievous Vision”)

in Medieval Encounters




See for instance J. GuttmannDie Religionsphilosophischen Lehren des Isaak Abravanel (Breslau: M&H Marcus1916) 6.


See M. Saperstein“The Method of Doubts. Problematizing the Bible in Late Medieval Jewish Exegesis,” in With Reverence for the Word: Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism Christianity and Islamed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe Barry Walfish and Joseph W. Goering (Oxford: Oxford University Press2003) 133–156.


See H. MackJob and the Book of Job in Rabbinic Literature: “Ela Mashal Haya” (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University2004) (in Hebrew).


Jacob ben Solomon Ha-ZarfatiAvel Rabati83–84.


EisenBook of Job222–223.


See MackJob and the Book of Job in Rabbinic Literature48. Job is referenced fifty-four times in the book that bears his name and twice more in Ezekiel (14:14 20). Never once however are his father’s name his family name or his origins ever discussed.


See H. Mack“The Dead Children of Job,” Yearbook for the Study of Bible and the Ancient East 12 (1999): 221–239 (in Hebrew); Mack Job and the Book of Job in Rabbinic Literature 62–67. In his interpretation of the Book of Job Nahmanides makes note of the possibility that the children did not die but that Satan sent them away to a distant place and that they returned at the time of the restoration of Job’s fortunes as well. Nahmanides clearly struggled with the same question that posed problems to Isaac Nathan. It would be interesting to know if the latter was acquainted with the former’s reading of Job.


See M. GilHiwi Ha-Balkhi: The Appostate from Khorastan (Merkhavya: Sifriat Poʾalim1966) (in Hebrew); I. Davidson Saadia’s Polemic Against Hiwi al-Balkhi (New York ny: Jewish Theological Seminary of America 1915). A. Fleisher “Characterizing ‘Ancient Questions’ and the Problems of Identifying their Authors” Hebrew Union College Annual 38 (1967): Hebrew 1–23 (in Hebrew); A. Fleisher “Identifying the Copier of ‘Ancient Questions’” Kiryat Sefer 56.1 (1999): 183–190 at 183–184 (in Hebrew). The rhymed anonymous ‘Ancient Questions’ from the Cairo Genizah was according to Sonne and Fleisher an introduction to an interpretative treatise with answers. See I. Sonne “Biblical Criticism in the Middle ages” in Freedom and Reason—Studies in Philosophy and Jewish Culture in Memory of M. R. Cohen ed. S. W. Baron et al. (Glencoe il: The Free Press 1951) 438–446; R. Drory The Emergence of Jewish-Arabic Literary Contacts at the Beginning of the Tenth Century (Publications of the Porter Institute Tel Aviv University: Tel Aviv 1988) 185–189 annex 1 (in Hebrew) rejects their assertion. Drory claims that ‘Ancient Questions’ belongs to the Hebrew genre of Hasagot (=disagreements) and its aim is to refute the Scripture’s perception of the Karaites. In accordance with the rules of this Genre based on the tradition of Muʿtazila and Kalam it is the opponent’s role to answer all author’s questions. See also U. Simon The Ear Discerns Words: Studies in Ibn Ezra’s Exegetical Methodology (Bar-Ilan University Press: Ramat Gan 2013) 299–306 (in Hebrew). On The Ten Questions (AsharMasaʾil) of Samuel ben Hofni which was written against the Karaites see D.E. Sklare Samuel ben Hofni Gaon and his Cultural World: Texts and Studies (Leiden: Brill 1996) 237–297. The pronunciation Haioi (and not Hiwi) is based on G. Vajda Deux commentaries karaites sur l’Ecclésiastes (Leiden: Brill 1971) 63 n. 1.


See J. Davis“The ‘Ten Questions’ of Eliezer Eilburg and the Problem of Jewish Unbelief in the 16th Century,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 91 (2001): 293–336.


Ben-Shalom“The First Jewish Work”; Ram Ben-Shalom, “A Minority Looks at the Mendicants: Isaac Nathan the Jew and Thomas Connecte the Carmelite,” Journal of Medieval History 30 (2004): 213–243.

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