Bulčʿan "Sabriel" al-Khazari (c.720 - d.) MP

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Nicknames: "Bulan", "Bolčan. King Bulan", "King of Khazaria", "Khazar"
Death: (Date and location unknown)
Managed by: Jaim Harlow
Last Updated:

About Bulčʿan "Sabriel" al-Khazari

Bulan was a Khazar king who led the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism. His name means "elk" in Old Turkic. The date of his reign is unknown, as the date of the conversion is hotly disputed, though it is certain that Bulan reigned some time between the mid-700s and the mid-800s. Nor is it settled whether Bulan was the Bek or the Khagan of the Khazars.

A K̲h̲azar invasion of the Abassid Empire took place in 183/799. Their king came as far as the bridge over the Kur and ravaged the country, but the taking of Tiflis is not mentioned by the Arab writers (Yaʿḳūbī, ii, 518; Ṭabarī, iii, 648) while the Georgian chronicle says that in the joint reign of the brothers Ioane and D̲j̲uans̲h̲er (718-86?) the K̲h̲āḳān’s general Blučan (in Armenian Bulčʿan) took Tiflis and conquered Kartli.

D. M. Dunlop was certain that Bulan was a Khagan; however, more recent works, such as The Jews of Khazaria by Kevin Brook, assume that he was the Bek due to references to him leading military campaigns. Khazar tradition held that before his own conversion, Bulan was religiously unaffiliated. In his quest to discover which of the three Abrahamic religions would shape his own religious beliefs, he invited representatives from each to explain their fundamental tenets. In the end, he chose Judaism. In the Khazar Correspondence, King Joseph traces his lineage back to Bulan. He refers to the reforming Khazar ruler Obadiah as being one of "the sons of the sons of Bulan". While Brook assumes this makes Obadiah Bulan's grandson, the Hebrew phrase is less definitive and may allude to a more remote descent. The royal descendants of Bulan are referred to by Khazar researchers as Bulanids, though their self-designation is unknown.

The name Sabriel is given in the Schechter Letter (roughly contemporaneous with King Joseph's letter) for the Khazar king who led the conversion to Judaism. The Schechter Letter also gives Sabriel at least a partial Jewish/Israelite ancestry. Sabriel is described as having waged successful campaigns in the Caucasus and Iranian Azerbaijan, possibly as part of the Khazar-Arab wars. His wife, Serakh, is described as a Jew and as encouraging him to study and adopt Judaism. The Schechter Letter is silent on the issue of whether Sabriel was in fact Bulan; in fact, the name Bulan does not appear in that document.

Khazar scholars sometimes refer to the king who led the Khazar conversion to Judaism as "Bulan Sabriel", though it is conceivable that they may have been different people. In The History of the Jewish Khazars, for instance, D. M. Dunlop examined (and ultimately rejected) the theory of other scholars that Sabriel in fact referred to Obadiah.

The Khagan Beks were warlords, military commanders who exercised considerable day-to-day authority, and were sometimes regarded by outsiders as the supreme lords of the Khazar nation. It is not entirely clear that the individuals listed before 737 AD were or were not Bulanids, or were Beks. They may have been simply warlords. Nevertheless, their activity parallels that of later Beks, and so are included.

Hazer's army was annihilated at Itil in 737 AD and the Caliphate imposed Islam upon the Khazars. Nevertheless, the Caliphs could not adequately garrison Khazaria, and within a few years the Khazars were once again independent. The famous conversion to Judaism seems to have occurred about this time. The date of the actual conversion to Judaism is a matter of some controversy. According to Yehuda Halevi in Kuzari, it occurred around 740 AD, though some Arab sources point to a date closer to the end of the 8th century or early 9th century, and more recent scholars postulated that 861 AD, the date of St. Cyril's visit to Khazaria, was the year of the conversion to Judaism.

The 2002 discovery of a coin hoard in Sweden further complicates the issue, as some of the coins bear dates from the early 9th century and the legends "Ard al-Khazar" (Land of the Khazars) and "Moses is the Prophet of God". Since the coins date from 837 AD or 838 AD, some scholars think the conversion occurred in 838 AD. Bulan Sabriel was the Khazar ruler at the time of the conversion, but in the below list all the dates up to Aaron I are based on a presumed 740 AD conversion date.

Bulanid dynasty

  • fl. c. 740 Bulan Sabriel
    • N ben Bulan (!)
      • c. 786-809 Obadiah /he was grandson or other relative of Bulan/ (!)
        • Hezekiah
        • Manasseh I
          • Chanukkah
            • Isaac
              • Zebulun
                • Manasseh II
                  • Nisi
                    • fl. c. 900 Aaron I
                      • Menahem
                        • fl. c. 920 Benjamin
                          • c. late 920s-940 Aaron II
                            • fl. 940-965 Joseph

(!) Note from FARKAS ------------------------------

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulan_(Khazar)

Bulan (Khazar)

Bulan was a Khazar king who led the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism. His name means "elk" in Old Turkic. The date of his reign is unknown, as the date of the conversion is hotly disputed, though it is certain that Bulan reigned some time between the mid-700s and the mid-800s. Nor is it settled whether Bulan was the Bek or the Khagan of the Khazars.

D. M. Dunlop was certain that Bulan was a Khagan; however, more recent works, such as The Jews of Khazaria by Kevin Brook, assume that he was the Bek due to references to him leading military campaigns. Khazar tradition held that before his own conversion, Bulan was religiously unaffiliated. In his quest to discover which of the three Abrahamic religions would shape his own religious beliefs, he invited representatives from each to explain their fundamental tenets. In the end, he chose Judaism.

In the Khazar Correspondence, King Joseph traces his lineage back to Bulan. He refers to the reforming Khazar ruler Obadiah as being one of "the sons of the sons of Bulan". While Brook assumes this makes Obadiah Bulan's grandson, the Hebrew phrase is less definitive and may allude to a more remote descent. The royal descendants of Bulan are referred to by Khazar researchers as Bulanids, though their self-designation is unknown.

The name Sabriel is given in the Schechter Letter (roughly contemporaneous with King Joseph's letter) for the Khazar king who led the conversion to Judaism. The Schechter Letter also gives Sabriel at least a partial Jewish/Israelite ancestry. Sabriel is described as having waged successful campaigns in the Caucasus and Iranian Azerbaijan, possibly as part of the Khazar-Arab wars.

His wife, Serakh, is described as a Jew and as encouraging him to study and adopt Judaism. The Schechter Letter is silent on the issue of whether Sabriel was in fact Bulan; in fact, the name Bulan does not appear in that document.

Khazar scholars sometimes refer to the king who led the Khazar conversion to Judaism as "Bulan Sabriel", though it is conceivable that they may have been different people. In The History of the Jewish Khazars, for instance, D. M. Dunlop examined (and ultimately rejected) the theory of other scholars that Sabriel in fact referred to Obadiah.

The Khazars (called Kuzarim in Hebrew and Kazarn in Yiddish) were a civilized, semi-nomadic Turkic-speaking people who founded an independent kingdom in about the year 652 in southern Russia near the Caspian Sea. Before the establishment of Khazaria, the Khazars appear to have lived in the Terek and Sulak river valleys of the northern Caucasus for several centuries, but their earliest history is still obscure. Their closest relatives appear to have been the Turkic Bulgars and Sabirs. Writers such as Theophanes, Judah ben Barzillai al-Barsaloni, Martinus Oppaviensis, and the authors of the Georgian Chronicle and the Chinese chronicle T'ang-shu explicitly referred to the Khazars as Turks. However, according to the Schechter Letter, compiled in the 940s by an unknown Khazarian author, Khazarian women intermarried with Jewish men migrating northward from Armenia, and Jewish legends claimed that the Khazars were descended from the Hebrew tribe of Simeon. In an unusual section in the letter of the Spanish Jewish diplomat Hasdai ibn Shaprut to King Yosef, Hasdai referred to a claim he had heard that the Khazars were originally from Mount Seir, a place in the Middle East where the Edomites dwelled. The seventh-century Armenian historian Bishop Sebeos and the Arab geographer Dimashqi alleged that the Khazars were of Armenian descent. But the predominant Turkic ancestry of the Khazars is generally acknowledged among modern scholars.

The Khazar state employed many thousands of paid soldiers on a permanent basis at a time when, according to al-Masudi, no other standing armies existed in eastern Europe. Their military might was well-known to their neighbors, such as the Armenians and Georgians. The Khazarian army affected the future course of European history by holding back the Arabs from invading eastern Europe during the seventh and eighth centuries. In that respect, their vigorous defense of their kingdom's independence was similar to the way in which the Franks defended the West from the Arab conquests.

It is now known that the Khazars had an indigenous manufacturing industry that created many products for export, including jewelry, pottery, and other crafts. The Khazars were also agriculturalists and harvested such crops as barley, wheat, rice, melons, and cucumbers. Khazaria hosted traders from all over Europe and Asia who had arrived via the west-east Silk Road and the north-south Silver Route. The principal cities and towns of Khazaria included Atil, Samkarsh al-Yahud, Kerch (Bospor), Samandar, Sarkel, and Kiev. Atil, situated at the mouth of the Volga, was settled by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans and had many shops, baths, and mosques as well as the kagan's palace. Samkarsh al-Yahud (“Samkarsh of the Jews”), on the Taman peninsula, was given its name due to its large Jewish population, which caught the attention of the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes. Kerch, ruled by an archon, was the Khazar center of the Crimea. Samandar, ruled by a Jewish governor, was settled by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans and also contained shops, gardens, vineyards, and mosques. Sarkel, a city near the River Don, was the site of a large fortress built with limestone bricks. Part of Kiev was founded by the Khazars under the name “Sambata,” and a Khazarian section called “Kozare” existed in the commercial district of Kiev, Podol.

The Khazar kingdom was organized as a dual-monarchy, with power split between two kings called the kagan and the bek. These kings collected tribute from many of the East Slavic tribes as well as from traders traversing their country. Khazaria also had a supreme court consisting of representatives of multiple religions (paganism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity). The emperors of Byzantium regarded Khazaria as a formidable military and diplomatic power, which explains Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus' statement that correspondence he sent to the Khazars was marked with a gold seal worth three solidi—a greater value than the two solidi that accompanied letters to the Pope of Rome, the Prince of the Rus, and the Prince of the Hungarians.

King Yosef's letter to Hasdai ibn Shaprut related the story of a predecessor of his, King Bulan, a wise and just ruler. Yosef said that an angel of the Lord appeared to Bulan in a dream, asking him to follow the commandments and laws of the Jewish God. Then the highest official of Khazaria also met the angel in a dream. “The Khazar king then gathered all of his officers and servants, along with the entire nation… [and] the people accepted the religion… and entered under the Wings of the Divine Presence.” The neighbors of the newly-Judaized nation heard of Bulan's great reputation and invited him to convert to Islam or Christianity. But the king was not easily persuaded by their promise to give him precious metals and other gifts. He arranged to hold a debate between a Christian priest and a Muslim judge. Already familiar with many of the tenets of his new Jewish faith, yet still willing to consider alternatives, Bulan asked the Christian for his view of Judaism: “Which is better—the religion of Israel or the religion of Ishmael?” The Christian admitted the truth of Judaism by stating, among other things, that God had taken the Jews out of Egyptian slavery, provided the Jews with manna and water during their wanderings, and given them the Torah and the land of Israel. By contrast, the Christian had nothing but harsh words for the perceived beliefs and way of life of the Muslims. Next, the judge of the Muslim king was asked “The Christian or the Jewish religion—which one is better in your eyes?” The Muslim judge replied that Judaism encompasses God's Torah and righteous statutes and commandments, whereas the Christians eat pig meat and other impurities and are idolaters. King Yosef quoted King Bulan's concluding remarks: “If so, then you have admitted with your own mouths that Judaism is honorable. I have thus chosen Judaism, the religion of Abraham….”

The Schechter Letter, whose author is unknown except that he was a Khazarian Jew who lived during the time of his master King Yosef, indicated that a king of the Khazars had some Jewish ancestry and began to gain interest in the Jewish religion. His new devotion to Judaism concerned the rulers of the Byzantines and Arabs, who questioned his decision. After hearing of these complaints from his officers, the king decided to send for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sages to describe their respective religions. Each debated the merits of his own faith, but when the Jewish sages described the Torah's account of the six-day creation of the world, God's saving of the Jews from slavery, and the settlement of ancient Israel, the Greek and Arab sages confirmed that what they said was right. However, some issues were still not resolved, so the Khazar officials asked for the Torah scrolls that were kept in a cave in the plain of Tizul, somewhere north of the Caucasus. After the Jewish sages explained these books, the Khazars fully embraced Judaism, and their king adopted the Jewish name Sabriel. Once again, the Jewish representatives appeared to gain the upper hand by virtue of the shared Jewish root of the three competing faiths.

Bibliography

Brook, Kevin A., The Jews of Khazaria (Northvale, 1999).

Brook, Kevin A., “The Origins of East European Jews,” in Russian History/Histoire Russe 30:1–2 (2003), pp. 1–22.

Golb, Norman, and Omeljan Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century (Ithaca, 1982).

Golden, Peter B., “Khazaria and Judaism,” in Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 3 (1983), pp. 127–156.

Kovalev, Roman K., “What Does Historical Numismatics Suggest About the Monetary History of Khazaria in the Ninth Century?—Question Revisited,” in Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 13 (2004), pp. 97–129.

Mason, Richard A.E., “The Religious Beliefs of the Khazars,” in The Ukrainian Quarterly 51:4 (Winter 1995), pp. 383–415.

Citation Brook, Kevin Alan. " Khazars and Judaism." Encyclopaedia of Judaism. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-judaism/khazars-and-judaism-COM_0108>

  1. Kevin Alan Brook. The Jews of Khazaria. 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2006.
  2. Douglas M. Dunlop, The History of the Jewish Khazars, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954.
  3. Norman Golb and Omeljan Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulan_(Khazar) -------------------- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Khazar_rulers