Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Was Hiwi Al-Balkhi's 'Book of Questions' Really a Surviving Copy of the Marcionite 'Antitheses'?

Now, if we examine our text carefully, we shall find that it contains thirty-one replies to as many questions, if not to more, since in one instance Saadia seems to have regarded four questions as one. If to this number we add nine of the twelve questions given in Saadia's philosophic work, but not found in our text, and seven of the ten questions arranged by Poznanski, not found in either of these sources, we get a total of at least forty-seven questions, or about one-fourth of the contents of Hiwi's Book of Two Hundred Questions. This should give us a clear idea of what Hiwi aimed at in his writings, and should enable us to understand his religious attitude, whether he was merely a rationalistic critic, or the founder of a sect, or simply a skeptic, who had no higher aim than to poke fun at the Sacred Writings.

Let us first state briefly the questions in the order indicated above.


1. Why did God withhold the Tree of Life from Adam? (1-4)
2. Why did God accept Abel's gift and reject that of Cain? (5)
3. Why did God ask Cain where Abel was? (6)
4. Why did not God save the life of Abel ? (7-9)
5. Why did God make man liable to suffering? (10, 11)
6. Why does not man live forever? (12-15)
7. Why was not man created holy and pure? (16-18)
8. Why has God implanted evil in man, and has not freed him from the Evil Yezer? (19, 20)
9. God seems to have regretted that He created man. (20, 21)
10. Since God blessed men with the power to subdue the earth, why did He destroy them afterward? (22, 23)
11. Why did not God rest from inflicting punishment? (24)
12. Why were the earth and all the animals destroyed, together with man, in the flood? (25)
13. Why did God save Noah? (26, 27)
14. Why should blood of animals be acceptable to God as an atonement? (28, 29)
15. Why should God have feared that the builders of the Tower of Babel would wage war against Him? (31-34)
16. Why has God chosen the Jewish people as His own portion and given the other nations into the care of the angels? (35-40)
17. Is not circumcision the same as mutilation? (41)
18. Did not God change the name of Abram to Abraham that it may act as a charm? (42)
19. Are not the verses in Gen. 22, 17, and Deut. 7, 7, contradictory to each other? (43)
20. What is the meaning of the vision of Abraham? (44-46)
21. Why did God inflict the Egyptian servitude upon the offspring of Abraham? (47-49)
22. If Ishmael had not been born would not the Jews have suffered less? (50)
23. Is not the Godhead represented as three? (50)
24. Is not God represented as eating and accepting bribes?(51-56)
25. Wherein was Sodom more iniquitous than other cities that it should have met with such severe punishment? (57, 58)
26. Were not the descendants of Lot forbidden to be admitted in the assembly of the Lord, because of the incest in which their first ancestors were born? (59, 60)
27. Was it not foolish of Isaac to yield himself as a sacrifice? (61, 62)
28. Why should God have needed to put Abraham to test, since everything is known unto Him? (63, 64)
29. Why has God made the children of Esau more prosperous than the children of Jacob? (65-68)
30. Would not the tribes have lived in peace among themselves if they all had one mother as they had one father? (69)
31. Why was Jacob subjected to so much suffering? (70-73)


32. Are not many commandments in the Bible stated without giving a reason for them? (1)
33. Are not the verses in 2 Sam. 24, 7, and 1 Chron. 21, 5 contradictory to each other? (2)
34. Does not the Bible contain also impossible statements? (3)
35. How is it that the Creator made His light to dwell among men and left the angels without light? (5)
36. What need has God for tabernacle and curtain, for burning candles and sound of song, for the show bread and the smell of incense, for the offering of flower and wine, oil and fruit? (6)
37. How is it that the ashes of the red heifer make unclean people clean and vice versa? (8)
38. How was it that a sacrifice was offered on the Day of Atonement to Azazel when that is the name of a demon? (9)
39. How could the breaking of the head of the heifer atone for the people when they committed no crime? (10)
40. Does not the Bible omit the mention of reward and punishment in the next world? (12)


41. Concerning the pre-existence of the world, (1)
42. If Adam had not answered where he was God would not have found him. (2)
43. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea without any miracle, because Moses knew the ebb and flow of the sea and the Egyptians did not. (3)
44. The Manna was not a miraculous food but the Persian Tarjabin found in those parts of the world. (4)
45. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai his face was so shrunken from long fasting that the people were afraid to look at him and therefore he was obliged to put on a veil. (7)
46. Since God first promised to give Palestine to the children of Israel, how is it that he swore afterward (Num. 14, 23) that He would not let them enter into it? (8)
47. The verses in 1 Kings 7, 13-14, and 2 Chron., 2, 13 contradict each other. (10)

If we carefully analyze the foregoing 47 questions, it will be seen that they may be classified under the following six heads:

I. God and His Attributes; The numbers in parentheses correspond to the order in which Poznanski has arranged them. II. God and Creation; III. The Worship of God; IV. Miracles; V. Bible Difficulties; VI. Bible Exegesis.

Under the first head would come the following ideas:

The Godhead is not one, but three (24); 48 God is not Omnipotent, else why was He afraid to allow man to live forever? (1, 6); and why did He fear lest men wage war against Him? (16). He is not Omniscient, else why should He have had to ask Adam where he was? (43); and why should He have had to inquire of Cain after Abel? (3); and why did He put Abraham to test to make sure of his implicit faith? (29). Sometimes God acts like man (25, 37). He even practices enchantments (19). God is not always impartial and just (2, 4, 5, 10, 12, 17, 22, 26, 32). Sometimes He does not even keep His promises (47).

Under the second head may be grouped the following ideas:

The World existed before Creation (42). God's Creation is so far imperfect that He himself had reason to regret it (7, 9, 36). God implanted evil in man (8, 15).

Under the third head come Hiwi's objections to the sacrifice of animals (14), circumcision (18), and the scapegoat (39).

The fourth group contains arguments against miracles (44-45).

The fifth group, or the group of Bible Difficulties, relates to the contradictions (20, 34, 48) and impossibilities (35) found in the Scriptures as well as to the laws for which no reason is given (33, 38, 40).

Under the last heading come the Biblical passages to which Hiwi seems to have given an interpretation of his own (11, 13, 21, 23, 27, 28, 31, 41, 46).

We see from this analysis that Hiwi was not merely a collector of Biblical inconsistencies but that he used the Bible as a basis upon which to build positive doctrines. His ideas about God in the main, and especially the emphasis he lays upon the fact that evil is inborn in man, and that God's work falls short of perfection, are in harmony with the statement of the author of the Kitab madni al-nafs that he was inclined toward the religion of Zoroaster, the fundamental idea of which is that at the beginning of things there existed two spirits, Ormuzd and Ahriman, representing good and evil, and that both possessed the power to create. Perhaps his objection to the sacrifice of animals may also be due to Zoroastrian influence, since the protection of useful animals assumes the dignity of a doctrine in the Vendidad.

Additional testimony that Hiwi was a follower of the Magi may be deduced from the following remark of Ibn Danan. In speaking of Hiwi, he says that "he was a philosopher and a magician." Harkavy, assuming positively that Ibn Danan had no other source before him but the Chronicle of Ibn Daud, ascribes this remark to gross carelessness or wilful distortion of facts. But in all possibility, Ibn Danan may have had other sources from which he learned of Hiwi's leaning toward the teachings of the Magi, and the term (for magician) is to be taken as the rendering in Biblical Hebrew of the word in its etymological significance of a follower of the Magi, not in its derived sense of enchanter. [Israel Davidson, Saadia's Polemic Against Hiwi Al-Balkhi p. 22 - 29]

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