The King of Khazars, a man of piety and of fervent devotion to his religion, was told in a dream that his intentions were agreeable to God, but not his actions. The King therefore obtained an interview with a philosopher in order to ascertain his opinions about God, the world, and mankind. The explanations of the philosopher, based as they were upon the eternity of the world, the perfection to be attained by men through philosophic meditation, and the exaltation of God above all individual providence, did not satisfy him; and he decided to seek for further enlightenment from a Christian and a Mohammedan, thinking in himself that one of these two must be right--as for the Jew, it was sufficient to notice in what a depressed condition the Jews were, reduced in numbers and despised by every one. He accordingly called one of the most learned Christians and asked him about the belief and practises of his religion.
The Christian replied: "I believe that all things are created: that God is eternal, and that he created the whole world in six days, and that all men are descended firstly from Adam, and secondly from Noah, to whom they are accordingly related. God provides for all his creatures, but entertains special relations toward man: with him are wrath, mercy, and favor: he speaks with his prophets and his saints: he appears and reveals himself to them, dwelling amongst those that please him. I believe in general that all that is written in the law, and all the traditions of the children of Israel, are facts which it is impossible to doubt, since they are so fully known, so imperishable, and were so loudly proclaimed before a great multitude. Then afterwards, however, the Godhead was incarnate, and took flesh in the womb of a virgin, one of the noblest women in Israel, who bore him in semblance human, in mystery divine--in semblance a prophet, in mystery God. This was the Messiah, called the
Son of God, and this is the mystery of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, although when we proclaim the Trinity it is really the Unity only which we believe. 1 I believe further that the Messiah dwelt amongst Israel for their glory, so long as they adhered to the idea of the Godhead, manifest in him, but that at last they rebelled against him and crucified him. From that time till now the wrath of God has continued against the multitude of the rebellious, but his grace has been upon every one of those that followed the Messiah, as well as upon the nations which have followed them, and to which we belong. We are not, indeed, descendants of the family of Israel, but we are worthier than they to bear their name, because we have followed the Messiah and the twelve apostles who represent the twelve tribes. A great number of Israelites followed the Twelve: these formed the nucleus of the Christian people, and well did they deserve the rank and title of Israel's sons. We have become powerful in different lands: and all nations are invited to attach themselves to this creed, and enjoined to glorify the Messiah and his cross. Our laws and customs are derived partly from the commandments of the Apostle Simon (Peter), partly from the Torah, which we read, and the truth of which is beyond question: for the Gospel itself relates what the Messiah said: 'I came not to destroy one tittle of the law of Moses, but to confirm and explain it.'" 2
The King replied: "To argue on this subject is quite useless: for reason rejects most of what thou hast said. Only when the evidence and proof of a fact is so manifest to all that every man, from utter inability to confute it, is bound to accord belief, can reason come in to explain any part of it which may appear strange. In fact, this is the method pursued by scientific men for explaining the wonderful occurrences of nature which, so long as they are simply related without having been seen, they ignore; but after having examined them, they express a definite opinion and
try to assign their causes, either in the stars or in the winds, inasmuch as the evidence for them can not be denied. Moreover, thy words are new to me: and as I have not been trained up in them, I am disinclined to accept them without a thorough investigation."
The King called next a learned Mohammedan to inquire concerning the belief and practises of Mohammedanism. His answer was as follows: "We affirm the unity and eternity of God, the creation of the world, and the descent of the whole human race from Adam and from Noah. 3 We deny in general the corporeality of God, endeavoring to explain any difficulty which may here meet us by saying that the expression which occasions it is only metaphorical or approximately true. We are bound to confess that the Koran is the Word of God: for the Koran is in itself a miracle, inasmuch as no man could compose such a book as it is, or even a single chapter of it, and we are therefore, of course, compelled to accept it even for its own sake. I believe further that our prophet is the last of the prophets, that he annulled all the laws in existence before him, and that he invites all nations to attach themselves to Islam. The recompense of the obedient will be that in Paradise his soul will return to his body and there he will live in the midst of delights, with plenty to eat and to drink, and every other pleasure he may desire: the punishment of the rebellious will be the condemnation to dwell after death in a fire where his pains will never cease."
The King of the Khazars answered. "One who undertakes to guide a man in the right way concerning the knowledge of God, and to convince him of what he denies, namely, that God has held intercourse with flesh, can only do so successfully with the help of irrefragable evidences: only thus, I repeat, could one who doubts be persuaded that God has held intercourse with flesh. If your book is a miracle because it is written in Arabic 4 it certainly can not be regarded
as such by a foreigner like myself: if read to me, it makes no other impression upon me than any other book in the same language."
The Mohammedan replied: "Miracles were indeed wrought by the Prophet, but they are not given as a reason for accepting his law."
The Khazar said: "A man can only be led to believe that God entertains relations with the flesh through some miracle by which the nature of a thing is changed, and in which he may be enabled to perceive that the change could only have been caused by him who created all things out of nothing: moreover, this change must have been seen by a multitude, and not known merely from tradition and tales: and it must have been submitted to a searching examination, else it might be accounted for by the power of imagination or by collusion. These great principles, viz., that God who has created both this world and the next, the angels, the heavens, and the light, entertains relations with man, who is a piece of impure clay, that he speaks with him and answers his requests and wishes, might be believed on the evidence of miracles, but in no other way."
The learned Mohammedan answered: "Is not our book filled with narratives respecting Moses and the children of Israel? No one is able to deny what God did unto Pharaoh; how he divided the sea, and saved those whom he loved, but drowned those with whom he was wroth, how he gave them manna and quails during the space of forty years, and spoke with Moses upon Sinai; how he made the sun stand still for Joshua, and helped him against the giants. Neither, again, is it possible to deny what he did at the time of the deluge, and how he destroyed the people of Lot. 5 All this is sufficiently clear, and there can be no suspicion of the operation of imagination or of collusion."
The King of the Khazars then said: "There can be no longer any doubt that I must inquire of the Jews, who are
the remnant of the ancient Israelites: for I see that all the proofs for the existence of God's law upon earth are derived ultimately from them." He accordingly called a learned Jew and questioned him about the principles of his faith.
363:1 This was one of the chief points of discussion between the Jews and the Christians in the Middle Ages.
363:2 Matt, v. 17.
364:3 This point is one that was adhered to by both Christians and Mohammedans, in opposition to the opinion of the philosophers that the world and man had both existed from eternity.
364:4 Since it was generally believed that Mohammed could neither read nor write, the beautiful and elegant language in which the Koran was composed was thought to be a proof of its miraculous origin.
365:5 The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are by Mohammedan writers termed "the people of Lot."