Eldad Ha-Dani

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[pp. 60-64]


(about 883 A.D.)

A Jewish traveller who sent to Spain a report on a journey he claimed to have undertaken for the purpose of discovering "the ten lost tribes". Eldad's report is preserved in several MSS (A, B, D, Petersb., R, H, J, Elh.) with some discrepancies among them. MS A contains a letter from the Jewish community of Qairawan to the Jews of Sura in Babylon, asking their opinion about Eldad’s veracity.

Lit.:D.H. Müller, Denkschriften d. kaiserl. Ak. d. Wiss., Phil.- Hist. Kl. 41 Bd.,Wien 1892; A. Neubauer, (transl.),The Jewish Quarterly Review, 1, London 1889, pp. 99-104; A.D. Goitein, A Note on Eldad the Danite, ibid. N.S. 17, 1926/27; The Jewish Encycl. s.v. "Eldad Ha-Dānī".

T.: MC 537 (which published extracts from various MSS). H:1

From the letter of the Jewish community of Qairuwan (MS A).

This is the request [addressed] by the people of Qairawan to Rabbi Semah Gaon Yaqub concerning Eldad Ha-Dānī, who arrived among them for the purpose of enquiring about the tribes hidden in ancient Hawila,<ref>Eldad and related documents make use of biblical place names. Different readings from the other MSS are given between brackets.</ref> in the land of Kūsh.

We bring to the knowledge of your lordship that a man called Eldad Ha-Dānī of the tribe of Dan, dwelt among us and [told us] that there are four tribes, viz. the Dan, [p. 61] the Naphtali, the Gad and the Asher, living in the same place. The name of the place is the ancient Hawila,<ref>cf. note 1</ref> where gold is found. They have a chief named Abdon and in their courts they make use of the four [ways of] capital sentence.<ref>I.e. stoning, burning, slaying and strangling. [Talmud].</ref> They live in tents and are nomads who move from place to place and fight against the five kings of Kūsh. The extension of their territory, is a five-months' journey. Yet the five kings surround them from the rear and both flanks and wage war against them continuously. The cowardly among them [lit. "those who have a weak heart"] are given, as Inheritance, to the Lord.

[Extracts of Eldad's letter (MS D)]

God gave them [i.e. the ten tribes] courage and support. They went into a direction upstream of the river Pishōn (Fison, the Nile) on camel. At last they arrived in the land of Kūsh, which they found fertile and good, with flelds and vineyards and all kinds of gardens. The inhabitants allowed the Danites to settle among them. [The Danites] lived in accord with them for many years until they multiplied and became very numerous. Then three tribes of Israel, viz. the Naphtali, the Gad and the Asher, migrated. They travelled across the desert until they reached their [present] territory. They fought many battles with the people of Kūsh, on a land that ex-tended a four days' Journey both in length and width, and they are still at war with seven kingdoms.

These four tribes, viz. the Dan, the Naphtali, the Gad and the Asher, were living in the ancient Hawila, where gold is found ... Every year they have fights against the seven kingdoms and seven languages, which are so called:

[p. 62]

1. the Land of Tusina (other readings: Adra, Arda, Arwa);

2. Qamtū (Qamtana, Tisqa, Tar’ah);

3. Qūba (Tuqra);

4. Mar'ūjiya (Taryūjī);

5. Taqul (Tiqowa);

6. Bakma (Karma, Tadma, Huham, Qalmah);

7. Qaqū (Qaquah).<ref>These are the readings given by the different MSS: MS Petersb.: Tusina, Qamtana, Quba, Masunia, Taqul, Bakma, Qaqau; MS B: Tusina, Qamtu, Quba, Taryuji, Taqula, Karma, Qa’lum; MS R: Adra, Tsqa, Tuqra, Tika, Tadma, Ququ, Sadmutan; MS H: Arda, Tisqa, Sarma, Qa’qi, Huham, Rumrum; MS J: Arwa, Tisqa, Qamsuwa, Tiquwa, Karma, Qaquwa; MS Elh: Tisqa, Tar’ah, Tiquna, Qalmah.</ref>

... There is also the tribe of Moses, our righteous master, the servant of God. It is called "the tribe of Yanos" [= the one which fled away] because it avoided idolatry and kept the fear of God. The river surrounds them over an area that extended a three months' journey, both in length and width. They never see a human being, nor do [other] men see them, except those four tribes who live on the opposite bank of the river of Kūsh. They see each other and talk between them, but the river Sabatyon (Sambatyon) flows between them.

... The river Sabatyon is two hundred ells in width, the distance of an arrow shot. The river is full of sand and stones. The noise of the [water rushing through the] stones is like the noise of a strong voice or like the waves of the sea or like a sea tempest; during the night, [p. 63] this noise is heard at a distance of about half-a-day's journey. There are springs, the water of which flows into a reservoir; with it they used to water their land.

Fish swarm there and all kinds of clean birds fly around. The river of sand and stones flows during the six working days, but it stops on the Sabbath day. Then a fire rises around the river, from the beginning to the end of the Sabbath, and during all this time the fire keeps burning. No human being can approach the river for a distance of more than half-a-mile on either side. The fire sweeps over all the vegetation around the river and leaves the ground bare.

These four tribes, viz. the Dan, the Naphtali, the Gad and the Asher, gather on the river banks with their flocks, for it is a flat land without thorns or other plants. When the tribe of Moses see them gathered on the river bank, they call them and says - ’Brethren, tribe of Yeshūrūn, show us your camels, dogs and asses!' And they exclaim: "What a big camel! What a long neck and what a short tail it has!" And they greet each other.

[Another redaction of Eldad’s journey]

To us came this righteous man, by name Eldad, of the tribe of Dan, who undertook a long journey to inform all the Israelites scattered upon the earth and to bring them good tidings. When he left "the island between the rivers of Kūsh, he travelled by sea together with a man of the tribe of Asher for the purpose of trading with the people of the vessel and of obtaining clothes and jewels from them. They travelled together with their servants in a small vessel, but in the middle of the night the vessel was wrecked. God provided these two men with a plank on which they drifted the sea until they landed among a people called Amarnūm (Rumranūs, Dumrūm, Rumrūs, Kushīm), who are Kushites, as black as crows, have a tall build [p. 64] and besides, are cannibals. They got hold of these two pious men, one of whom was fat and in excellent health. They immediately took hold of him and devoured him alive, while he cried and shouted: 'Curse on my mother who brought me into existence! Curse on my Creator who reserved so cruel a fate for me, for the Kushites are eating my flesh!" After they had devoured this pious man, they took the pious Eldad Ha-Dānī and put a chain round his neck so that he might recover his health and become fat [for he was sick and weak], and they gave him food. He remained a long time among them, but, at last, God worked a miracle for him. In fact, some armed men arrived from another place, attacked the Kushites, made them prisoners, pillaged and killed them. Among the prisoners there was this pious Danite. These ill-mannered people were worshippers of fire. The pious man remained for years with them; then they took him to the town of ʿAsin (Aden? other readings: ʿAsis, ʿAsim, Sin, Alusim) where a Jew bought him for thirty-two gold pieces. He took him to the tribe of Yessakhar, who lived on the mountains of Tehom, in the land of the Medes and Persians. (MC fol. 537 r-v).