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Khazars in fiction

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Khazars in fiction

This article discusses the fiction relating to the Khazar people. Historians have only been able to piece together an incomplete picture of Khazar society and chronology of its history.


Conversion to Judaism

Their allure as the most famous group of mass proselytes to Judaism has resulted in many works of speculative fiction dealing with the Khazars, their dealings with other nations, their society and their religion.

The Khazar Correspondence, the Schechter Letter & the Mandgelis Document

Some historian have taken the view that the Khazar Correspondence, the Schechter Letter, and the Mandgelis Document are works of fiction or forgeries. While the Mandgelis Document's authenticity is unknown (see that article for information on the controversy), the consensus among scholars is that both the Khazar Correspondence and the Schechter Letter are authentic tenth-century documents relaying what the authors understood to be Khazar history, so they are not fictional works.

The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith AD 1140

The first known work giving a fictional description of the Khazars, and in many ways still the most important and influential of them, is The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith by Yehuda Halevi (1140). Many translations into English, French, German, and other languages, including the English translation by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1998). A Khazar king debates religion with a Neo-Platonic philosopher, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jewish rabbi, and chooses Judaism. Originally written in Arabic. There has been speculation that Yehuda Ha-Levi based the Kuzari on surviving Jewish accounts, no longer extant, of the Khazar conversion, or at least on conversations with Khazars living in Spain. This is supported by Abraham ibn Daud's statement (see above) that Khazar students were studying at Spanish yeshivot during the 12th century. Whatever the actual historical information at Yehuda Halevi's disposal, the writer's main aim was to use the Khazar's king's penetrating questions as to the principles of Judaism and the Rabbi's cogent answers in order to compose a comprehensive description of his religion and rebut the arguments of Christians and Muslims against it. As such, the book became – and remains – a major textbook for Jewish scholars up to the present. Its lasting widespread circulation helped set in the Jewish collective memory the fact of the Khazars having converted, which might otherwise have been lost in oblivion.

Povest’ o tsare Kazarine i o gene ego 15th century

Povest’ o tsare Kazarine i o gene ego (The Tale of king Khazar and his wife) is the 15th-century Russian story of Byzantine Emperor Justinian II.

Ma'aseh Hashem 18th century

An apocryphal account in the 18th century Yiddish book Ma'aseh Hashem claimed that Abraham ibn Ezra traveled to Khazaria, where he married the daughter of Judah ha-Levi. While other sources do report the marriage of ibn Ezra and ha-Levi's daughter, no other source contains the Khazar connection; moreover, the notion that ibn Ezra was ha-Levi's son-in-law is dismissed by most modern scholars as a later invention.

Die Geheimnisse der Juden 1856

"The Letter" in Die Geheimnisse der Juden (The Mysteries of the Jews) by Herman Rakendorff (Reckendorf) (Leipzig, 1856–1857).

A German story about contacts between Hasdai ibn Shaprut and the Khazars. Abraham Kaplan's Hebrew translation of the collection, Mistere ha-Yehudim, published in Warsaw in 1865.

Shnei ha-Mikhtavim

Shnei ha-Mikhtavim (The Two Letters), in Shivat Tsiyon: al pi Zikhronot le-Vet David by Abraham Shalom Friedberg (Warsaw: Ahiasaf, 1893–1895; reprint: New York: Hotsaat La-dor shele-yad Vaad ha-hinukh ha-Yehudi bi-Nyu York, 1968).

A short story in which a descendant of King David is sent by Hasdai ibn Shaprut to Khazaria and is a witness to the Rus' destruction of Khazaria. This is an adaptation of Reckendorf's Geheimnisse der Juden. Also translated into Arabic and Persian.

Im Judenstaat der Chasaren: historischer Roman aus dem achten Jahrhundert 1920

Im Judenstaat der Chasaren: historischer Roman aus dem achten Jahrhundert (In the Jewish Kingdom of the Khazars) by Selig Schachnowitz (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag des "Israelit", 1920). Samuel Leib Zitron's Hebrew translation Be-mamlekhet Kuzar ha-Yehudit published in 1922 or 1923 by Hotsaat "Omanut", Frankfurt am Main; reprinted by Jerusalem: Hosa'at "Ne`urim", 1980. Zalmon Rayzen's Yiddish translation In der medine fun di Kuzarim: Yidisher historisher roman fun dem akhtn yorhundert (In the Kingdom of the Khazars) published in 1924 by B. Kletskin, Vilnius, Lithuania. Yidisher historisher roman fun dem akhtn yorhundert.

A Jew visits Khazaria and witnesses its destruction.

The Lost Kingdom, or the Passing of the Khazars 1926

The Lost Kingdom, or the Passing of the Khazars by Samuel Gordon (London: Shapiro, Vallentine, 1926).

A novel about the destruction of Khazaria by the Rus'.

The Jewish Kingdom of Khazar

The Jewish Kingdom of Khazar: The Rise and Fall of the Legendary Country of Converts by Rabbi Zelig Shachnowitz, Frankfurt-On-The-Main, 1928. Currently reprinted by Feldheim Publishers.

A fact based novel about the history of Khazaria.

Das Volk des harten Schlafs: Roman 1937

  • Das Volk des harten Schlafs: Roman (Sleeping Nation a.k.a. A Nation Veiled in Slumber) by Oskar Baum (Vienna: Löwit, 1937). Hebrew translation Am Nesuch Tardema published in 1949.
  • A novel about the Khazars and their time. Baum portrays the Khazars as tolerant and civilized.

    Ha-Kuzar Ha'acharon 1940

    Ha-Kuzar Ha'acharon (The Last Khazar) by Shaul Tchernichovsky (1940).

    A beautiful and moving Hebrew ballad about the fate of the last Khazar king after his defeat by the Rus' army of Svyatoslav. Only one Khazar remains free, and he is wounded and tired. He encounters several animals that are willing to fight a larger, stronger enemy. With courage and determination, the Khazar decides to turn his horse around and charge at the Rus'. The theme clearly reflects the desperate plight of European Jews at the time of writing, with Nazi persecutions building up towards the actual extermination.

    Lost Nation 1940

    Lost Nation by Noah E. Aronstam (Detroit: Duo-art Press, 1937; New York: Behrman's Jewish Book House, 1940).

    A Jew, Emanuel Lindner, discovers a lost African Jewish community that descends from Khazars. The book blends fiction with real historical events. Many of the circumstances and cultural observations on the Khazars are not authentic. However, the author has a sympathetic view of the Khazars and presents the stories of King Bulan's conversion by Yitzhak ha-Sangari, King Obadiah's Jewish renaissance, and Svyatoslav's conquest of Sarkel in a mostly truthful manner.

    Hisday Ben Shaprut 1952

    Hisday Ben Shaprut by Jacob Weinshall (Ya`akov Vinshal), in his collection of stories Anakim ba-midbar (Giants in the Desert) (Tel Aviv, Israel: Hotsa'at sefarim Shelah, 1952). A story about Hasdai's attempts to contact the Khazar king.

    Di Kuzarim: historisher roman 1960

    Di Kuzarim: historisher roman by Shloyme Rosenberg (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Yidbukh, 1960).

    Dictionary of the Khazars 1984

    Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić (New York: Knopf, November 1988). Originally published in Serbo-Croatian as Hazarski Rečnik: roman leksikon u 100,000 reči (Belgrade: Prosveta, 1984). Also translated into French, Russian, Greek, Korean, Danish, Dutch, Romanian, Czech, Hebrew, Swedish, and other languages.

    Imaginative hypertext novel presenting the religious disputations in the Khazar king's court through Islamic, Christian, and Jewish lenses. A Khazar envoy in the story has Khazarian history and topography tattooed on his body. Pavić's other inventions include a "Khazar jar", "Khazar dream-hunters", and "Khazar dictionaries". Main characters: Princess Ateh, Kaghan, Mokadessa, Saint Cyril, Farabi Ibn Kora, Rabbi Isaac Sangari, and others. The "Khazars" in this story bear little resemblance to the historical Khazars.

    Chernye Strely Vyaticha 1989

    Chernye Strely Vyaticha by Vadim Viktorovich Kargalov - the 4th section of his book Istoricheskie povesti (Moscow: Det. lit., 1989). Story about Rus'-Khazar relations in the 10th century, including conflicts with Svyatoslav's soldiers in the Volga and at Sarkel, with some imaginary dialogs. Part 8 of the story, "Itil' - Zhestokiy gorod", gives basic and somewhat distorted overview of Khazaria, describing Atil, the kagan, and the Khazar way of life.

    Russka: The Novel of Russia 1991

  • Russka: The Novel of Russia by Edward Rutherfurd (New York: Ivy Books, 1991).
  • Series of short stories tracing the history of several families in a fictional Russian village. Some of the characters are Khazar Jews or their descendants (One character is "Zhydovyn the Khazar"). Its novela "The River" covers the years 1066-1113 and deals among other things with the relationship between Khazars and Christian Russians.

    The Prince and the Scholar 1992

  • The Prince and the Scholar by S. J. Revich (Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Bristol, Rhein, and Englander, June 1992).
  • A children's novel about Khazaria. The Ancient Storyteller of Kalim, Morocco takes his avid listeners on an exciting journey back in time to the powerful Jewish Khazar kingdom. Many of Khazaria's tales live on in the memories of storytellers like Old Machlouf of Kalim. As the story unfolds, young Prince Cusar and his clever friend Issac join a Khazarian expedition to the frontiers of the kingdom, with quite unexpected results. Revich provides a delightful and colorful tale, full of heroes and villains, and clever youths whose courage and resourcefulness save the day.

    Khazary 1995

    Khazary by Aleksandr Baigushev (Moscow: Izdatelskii dom "Drofa": Izd-vo "Lirus", 1995). Historical fiction about Khazars and Kievan Rus in Russian.

    Nashestvie khazar: istoricheskii roman v dvukh knigakh 1996

    Nashestvie khazar: istoricheskii roman v dvukh knigakh by Vladimir Afinogenov (Moscow: Gepta-Treid, 1996). A novel in 2 volumes.

    Makom katan im Debi 1996

    Makom katan im Debi (A Little Place with Debi) by Meir Uziel (Ouziel) (Tel Aviv, Israel: Modan, 1996). Humorous, anachronistic novel that explores parallels between Khazaria and modern Israel.

    Justinian 1998

    Justinian by H.N. Turteltaub (Harry Turtledove) (New York: Tor Books, 1998).

    First-person account of Byzantine Emperor Justinian II and his bodyguard, Myakes, including their exile in Cherson and their dealings with Khazar Khagan Busir Glavan.

    El ha-Rakia ha-Shevii 1998

    El ha-Rakia ha-Shevii (Into the Seventh Sky) by Hary Bar-Shalom (Jerusalem: Masadah, 1998). Story begins in Khazaria and ends in the far future and deals among other things with the search for the last Khazar king's treasures.

    Ha-Meruts 1999

  • Ha-Meruts (The Race) by Hary Bar-Shalom (Tel Aviv, Israel: Hitahdut agudot ha-sofrim bi-medinat Yisrael, be-shituf im Masadah, 1999).
  • Collection of stories translated from Romanian, including a story about the Khazars. *Khazary by Mikhail Alshevskii (Moscow: TERRA, 1999). Historical fiction about Khazars in Russian.

    The Rabbi King:David of Khazaria 2001

  • The Rabbi King:David of Khazaria by Monroe S. Kuttner (Xlibris, 2001).
  • A tale set in Khazaria's twilight years; follows the career of a Khazar prince sent to study in Spain who has to return to claim his father's throne. Over the next several years he is forced to flee Khazaria and wander throughout the Middle East, attempting to marshall support for his triumphant return. He gets involved in many historical events in the Middle East. This novel was favorably reviewed in "The Jerusalem Post" and "The Historical Novels Review". It has been translated into Turkish and published twice, first as "Haham Kral Hazarli Davut"(2004) and as "13 Kabalenin Sirri" (2011). It is also available as an E-book.

    The Wind of the Khazars 2003

    The Wind of the Khazars by Marek Halter (New Milford, Connecticut, USA and London: The Toby Press, October 2003; translation by Michael Bernard). Originally published in French as Le Vent des Khazars (Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, April 2001). Also translated into Spanish, German, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, and Turkish.

    Marc Sofer, a 20th-century novelist, investigates Khazarian history and ends up in Azerbaijan. In the 10th century, a young Jew named Isaac is sent to Khazaria by the head rabbi of Cordoba. Halter's novel not only involves two very different time periods but also mingles many genres including historical fiction, contemporary thriller, and love story.

    Son Hazaryalı 2004

  • Son Hazaryalı by Cahit Ülkü (İstanbul: İnkılap Kitabevi, 2004).
  • A Turkish tale about descendants of Jewish Khazars in the Ottoman Empire who wish to revive their language and identity.

    Gentlemen of the Road 2007

  • Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon.
  • This novel was serialized in the New York Times Magazine over the course of early 2007, and was published in book form by Del Rey Books in October 2007. Set in the 10th century, two Jewish mercenaries hear of, and travel to, Khazaria.

    The Oathsworn Trilogy by Robert Low

  • The Whale Road (2007)
  • The Wolf Sea (2008)
  • The White Raven (2009)
  • Set in the 10th century, these novel focuses on a felag of oathsworn Varangians searching for the treasure of Attila the Hun in the Pontic steppe. Along the way the protagonists fight alongside the army of Sviatoslav I of Kiev at the battle of Sarkel. In the third novel, they are joined in their quest by a pair of Khazar Jews.


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