I was asked to state what arguments and replies I could bring to bear against the attacks of philosophers and followers of other religions, and also against [Jewish] sectarians who attacked the rest of Israel. This reminded me of something I had once heard concerning the arguments of a rabbi who sojourned with the king of the Khazars. The latter, as we know from historical records, became a convert to Judaism about four-hundred years ago. Once while he was dreaming, it appeared as if an angel addressed him, saying: "Your way of thinking is pleasing to the Creator, but not your way of acting." Yet he was so zealous in the performance of the Khazarian religion that he devoted himself with a perfect heart to the service of the [shamanist] temple and sacrifices. The angel returned to the king on another night and repeated: "Your way of thinking is pleasing to God, but not your way of acting." This caused the king to consider the different beliefs and religions and to finally become a convert to Judaism together with many other Khazars. As I found among the arguments of the rabbi many which appealed to me and were in harmony with my own opinions, I resolved to write them down exactly as they had been spoken.
When the king of Khazaria (as is related) dreamt that his way of thinking was agreeable to God, but not his way of acting, and was commanded in the same dream to seek the God-pleasing work, he asked a philosopher about his religious persuasion. The philosopher replied: "There is no favor or dislike in [the nature of] God, because He is above desire and intention. A desire intimates a want in the person who feels it, and not until it is satisfied does he become 'complete'. If it remains unfulfilled, he lacks completion. In a similar way He is, in the opinion of philosophers, above the knowledge of individuals.... If the philosophers say that He created you, they only use a metaphor, because He is the Cause of causes in the creation of all creatures, but not because this was His intention from the beginning.... For the world is without beginning.... The Active Intellect, however, is always successful. This degree is the last and most longed-for goal for the perfect man whose soul, after having been purified, has grasped the inward truths of all branches of science, and has thus become equal to an angel.... Thus the soul of the perfect man and that Intellect become One, without concern for the decay of his body or his organs, because he becomes united to the other. His soul is cheerful while he is alive, because it enjoys the company of Hermes, Asclepios, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; he and they, as well as everyone who shares their degree, and the Active Intellect, are one thing. This is what is called 'Pleasure of God'. Endeavor to reach it and the true knowledge of things, so that your intellect may become active, not passive...."
The Khazar king responded: "Your words are convincing, yet they do not correspond to what I wish to find. I already know that my soul is pure and that my actions are intended to gain God's favor. To all this I received the answer that this way of action does not find favor, even though the intention does. There must, no doubt, be a certain way of acting, pleasing by its very nature, but not through the medium of intentions. If this is not the case, then why do Christians and Muslims, who divide the inhabited world between them, fight with one another, each of them serving his God with pure intention, living either as monks or hermits, fasting and praying? Yet they go against each other and commit murders, believing all the while that this is a most pious work and that it brings them closer to God. They fight in the belief that paradise and eternal bliss will be their reward. It is, however, impossible to agree with both."
The philosopher replied: "The philosophers' creed knows no manslaughter, as they only cultivate the intellect."
....After his discussion with the philosopher, the Khazar king said to himself: "I will ask the Christians and Muslims, since one of these persuasions is, no doubt, the God-pleasing one. As regards the Jews, they are low in status, few in number, and generally despised." He then invited a Christian scholar, and asked him questions concerning the theory and practice of his faith....
Then the Khazar king said: "I do not see any logical conclusion here; indeed, logic rejects most of what you have said.... I cannot accept these things... My duty is to investigate further." He then invited an Islamic mullah [to his court], questioning him regarding his doctrine and observance....
The mullah said: "Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favor, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath...."
The Khazar king said: "Indeed, I see myself compelled to ask the Jews, because they are the relic of the Children of Israel. For I see that they constitute in themselves the evidence for the divine law on earth." He then invited a Jewish rabbi [to his court] and asked him about his belief.
The rabbi replied: "I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having made them traverse the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way; who sent Moses with His law, and subsequently thousands of prophets, who confirmed His law by promises to the observant, and threats to the disobedient. Our belief is comprised in the Torah - a very large domain." (A long conversation between the rabbi and the king follows)
After this [conversation] the Khazar king, as is related in the history of the Khazars, was anxious to reveal to his vizier in the mountains of Warsan [Varshan, near Balanjar] the secret of his dream and its repetition, in which he was urged to seek the God-pleasing deed. The king and his vizier travelled to the deserted mountains on the seashore, and arrived one night at the cave in which some Jews used to celebrate the Sabbath. They disclosed their identity to them, embraced their religion, were circumcized in the cave, and then returned to their country, eager to learn the Jewish law. They kept their conversion secret, however, until they found an opportunity of disclosing the fact gradually to a few of their special friends. When the number had increased, they made the affair public, and induced the rest of the Khazars to embrace the Jewish faith. They sent to various countries for scholars and books, and studied the Torah. Their chronicles also tell of their prosperity, how they beat their foes, conquered their lands, secured great treasures, how their army swelled to hundreds of thousands, how they loved their faith, and fostered such love for the Holy House that they erected a tabernacle in the shape of that built by Moses. They also honored and cherished the Israelites who lived among them. While the king studied the Torah and the books of the prophets, he employed the rabbi as his teacher, and asked him many questions on Hebrew matters. The first of these questions referred to the names and attributes ascribed to God and their anthromorphistic forms, which are unmistakeably objectionable alike both to reason and to law....
Illustration by Ginger Baker, used with permission