Bulan (Khazar)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Khagan of Khazaria
Reign740 - 786
PredecessorHazer Tarkhan
Kawthar (General)
BornEarly 700s
Diedc. 786
later Judaism

Bulan was a Khazar king who led the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism. His name means "elk"[1] or "hart" in Old Turkic. The date of his reign is unknown, as the date of the conversion is hotly disputed, though it is certain that Bulan reigned some time between the mid-8th and the mid-9th centuries. Nor is it settled whether Bulan was the Bek or the Khagan of the Khazars.

The scholar D. M. Dunlop thought that Bulan and his royal descendants, including Aaron II and Joseph, were Khagans because of the hereditary nature of this lineage and his interpretation of the word "priest" (Kohen) in Sefer ha-Ittim by Judah ben Barzillai.[2] However, more recent scholars, such as Dan Shapira[3] and Kevin Brook,[4] assume that Bulan was the Bek due to references to him leading military campaigns. Khazar tradition held that before his own conversion, Bulan was religiously unaffiliated. In his quest to discover which of the three Abrahamic religions would shape his own religious beliefs, he invited representatives from each to explain their fundamental tenets. In the end, he chose Judaism.

In the Khazar Correspondence, King Joseph traces his lineage back to Bulan. He refers to the reforming Khazar ruler Obadiah as being one of "the sons of the sons of Bulan". While Dunlop allowed for the possibility that Obadiah could have been Bulan's grandson,[5] the Hebrew phrase is less definitive and may allude to a more remote descent. The royal descendants of Bulan are referred to by Khazar researchers as Bulanids, though their self-designation is unknown.

The name Sabriel is given in the Schechter Letter (roughly contemporaneous with King Joseph's letter) for the Khazar king who led the conversion to Judaism. The Schechter Letter also gives Sabriel at least a partial Jewish/Israelite ancestry. Sabriel is described as having waged successful campaigns in the Caucasus and Iranian Azerbaijan, possibly as part of the Khazar-Arab wars.

His wife, Serakh, is described as a Jew and as encouraging him to study and adopt Judaism. The Schechter Letter is silent on the issue of whether Sabriel was Bulan; the name Bulan does not appear in that document.

Khazar scholars sometimes refer to the king who led the Khazar conversion to Judaism as "Bulan Sabriel", though it is conceivable that they may have been different people. In The History of the Jewish Khazars, for instance, D. M. Dunlop examined (and ultimately rejected) the theory of other scholars that Sabriel referred to Obadiah.[6]

Stanford Mommaerts-Brown, a genealogist, historian and also a convert to Judaism, would point out that it is common for Jews, whether born among gentiles or converts, to have two names. One is of the nomenclature of the people among whom (s)he lives, (or was born), and a Hebrew name. Mr. Mommaerts-Brown's name is Yonathan Micah Hillel. 'Bulan' is clearly a Turkic name. After conversion he would have taken a Hebrew or Jewish name. 'Sabriel' looks very much to be a Turkic idiomatic variation of 'Gabriel'.

Dan Shapira introduced the hypothesis that the names Bulan and Sabriel actually mean the same thing. He wrote that the Hebrew word at the root of Sabriel means "to think, hope, believe, find out, understand" while bulan was a word in the language of the Oghuz Turks that meant "one who finds out".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Erdal, Marcel (2007). "The Khazar Language". In Golden, Peter B.; Ben-Shammai, Haggai; Róna-Tas, András (eds.). The World of the Khazars: New Perspectives - Selected Papers from the Jerusalem 1999 International Khazar Colloquium. Brill. p. 79.
  2. ^ Dunlop, Douglas M. (1954). The History of the Jewish Khazars. Princeton University Press. pp. 132, 145–146.
  3. ^ Shapira, Dan (1998–1999). "Two Names of the First Khazar Jewish Beg". Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi. 10: 237. To sum up: under the names of Bulan and Sabriel the same person is meant, the legendary first Khazar Beg, and both names refer to his conversion to Judaism.
  4. ^ Brook, Kevin (2018). The Jews of Khazaria (3rd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 84–85.
  5. ^ Dunlop, Douglas M. (1954). The History of the Jewish Khazars. Princeton University Press. p. 144.
  6. ^ Dunlop, Douglas M. (1954). The History of the Jewish Khazars. Princeton University Press. p. 158.
  7. ^ Shapira, Dan (2008). "Jews in Khazaria". In Ehrlich, M. Avrum (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture. Vol. 3. ABC-CLIO. p. 1102.


  • Kevin Alan Brook. The Jews of Khazaria. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2018.
  • Douglas M. Dunlop, The History of the Jewish Khazars, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954.
  • Norman Golb and Omeljan Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982.
  • Vladimir Petrukhin, "Sacral Kingship and the Judaism of the Khazars," in Conversions: Looking for Ideological Change in the Early Middle Ages, edited by Leszek P. Słupecki and Rudolf Simek, pp. 291–301. Vienna: Fassbaender, 2013.
  • Dan Shapira, "Two Names of the First Khazar Jewish Beg," Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi vol. 10 (1998-1999), pp. 231–241.
  • Boris Zhivkov, Khazaria in the 9th and 10th Centuries, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2015.