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Founder of the Jewish sect of Akbarites; flourished in the time of the calif Al-Mu'taṣim (833-841). He was a native of Akbara, in Irak, ten parasangs from Bagdad. He is reputed to have been very vain, and is said to have directed that the words "The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (II Kings ii. 12) should be inscribed on his tombstone. Nothing is known of the principles of his sect; and of his opinions that differed from the traditional doctrine only a few have been preserved. It is an interesting fact that he essayed Biblical criticism; he held, for instance, that in Gen. iv. 8 the words "Arise, let us go to the field" () should be added after "and Cain said to Abel his brother"; that ib. xlvi. 15 the copyists wrote "thirty-three" () in place of the original reading "thirty-two"; that in Ex. xvi. 35 "and the children of Israel ate manna" was originally "and the children of Israel shall eat manna" (reading instead of , probably on the ground that otherwise the verse could not have been written by Moses); that ib. xx. 18 "and the people saw [] the thunderings" should be "and the people heard [] the thunderings." The first and last of these emendations are also found in slightly different forms among the Samaritans, from whom Ḳirḳisani thought that Ishmael had borrowed them. This assumption also explains the fact that Hadassi, who got his information concerning Jewish sects chiefly from Ḳirḳisani, erroneously ascribed ("Ha-Eshkol," alphabet 97) Ishmael's opinions to the Samaritans, but did not quote the emendations correctly. However, it is not yet certain that Samaritans were at that time in Irak (see Büchler in "R. E. J." xliii. 67), or that Ishmael had access to Samaritan texts, especially as two of his readings do not appear in the Samaritan at all, while the other two, as mentioned above, appear in a different form ( instead of in Gen. iv. 8 and instead of in Ex. xx. 18).

A Vegetarian.

It must be assumed that Ishmael did not hesitate, in order to remove difficulties from the Bible, to attack the Masoretic text; he furthermore preferred the "ketib" to the "ḳeri" in all cases, for which he was attacked by Ḳirḳisani in the second section of his "Kitab al-Anwar." Ishmael, like most sectarians, did not recognize the existing calendar, insisting that the new month begins with the conjunction of the sun and moon (or rather an hour later, when the moon begins to move away from the sun), and that then prayers and sacrifices for New Moon should begin, even if the sun is about to set. He relaxed the laws for the Sabbath (in contrast, for instance, to the Karaites), and permitted on that day the eating of food prepared by non-Jews. The owner of a bath-house or a ship in continual use is enjoined to divide with the poor the profits of the seventh and the fiftieth days, just as was done with the fruits of the earth in the seventh and the fiftieth years; Ishmael relaxed the law on this point also. However, he added an onerous restriction by forbidding in the Diaspora the use of meat. He bases this restriction on Deut. xii. 20-27, where the permission to eat meat is, as it were, conditioned upon the bringing of sacrifices; these having ceased, meat may no longer be eaten. Ishmael also attacked Anan, whose opinions he characterized as "stupid" and "foolish"; his own opinions, in turn, being attacked by Ḳirḳisani as "injurious" and "ignorant." Hence it is wrong to class Ishmael among the Karaites, as does Harkavy. As to the sect of the Akbarites, nothing is known of its numbers or as to the precise period in which it flourished. By the time of Ḳirḳisani, in the first half of the tenth century; it had ceased to exist. The sectary Musa of Tiflis was a pupil of Ishmael.

  • Harkavy, Ḳirḳisani, section i., pp. 268-269, 284-285, 314, 317;
  • Maḳrizi, in De Sacy, Chrestomathic Arabe, 2d ed., i. 116;
  • Grätz, Gesch. v., note 18;
  • Harkavy, in Voskhod, pp. 6-10, Feb., 1898;
  • Poznanski, in R. E. J. 1897, xxxiv. 162.
K. S. P.
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