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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 95a

O poor Anathoth? — Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, from Anathoth, is destined to prophesy thereon, [sc. concerning Jerusalem],1  as it is written, The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.2  But what comparison is it? there3  [Nebuchadnezzar is called] 'ari,' whilst here 'laish' [is written]? — R. Johanan answered: The lion has six names, viz. ari,4  kefir,5  labi,6  laish,7  shahal,8  and shahaz.9  But if so, there were less [than ten]? — [i] They are gone over, [ii] the passage, implies two.

What is meant by, As yet shall he halt at Nob that day?10  — R. Huna said: [Only] that day was left for [the punishment of] the crime [committed] in Nob.11  So his soothsayers said to him, 'If thou proceedest now [to attack], thou wilt conquer it; if not, thou wilt not conquer it.' Therefore the journey that should have taken ten days to make he completed in one day.12  When Jerusalem was reached, mattresses were piled up for him until, by ascending and sitting on the uppermost, he saw the whole of Jerusalem. On beholding it, it appeared small in his eyes. 'Is this the city of Jerusalem,' he exclaimed, 'for which I set all my troops in motion, and conquered the whole country? Why, it is smaller and weaker than all the cities of the nations which I have subdued by my might!'13  Then he arose and shook his head and waved his hand to and fro contemptuously toward the Temple in Zion, against the [Temple] Court in Jerusalem.14  They [the astrologers] urged, 'Let us attack immediately.'15  'Ye are too worn out,' he replied, 'but to-morrow let each of you bring me a stone, and we shall stone it.'16  Straightway, And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.17  R. Papa said: Thus men say: If the verdict is postponed overnight, it comes to nought.18

And Ishbi-benob, which was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David.19  What is meant by 'And Ishbi-be-nob'? — Rab Judah said in Rab's name: A man who came on account of Nob.20  [For] the Holy One, blessed be He had said to David, 'How long will this crime be hidden in thy hand. [i.e.. unpunished]. Through thee Nob, the city of Priests, was massacred; through thee Doeg the Edomite was banished; and through thee Saul and his three sons were slain:21  wouldst thou rather thy line to end, or be delivered unto the enemy's hand? He replied: 'Sovereign of the Universe! I would rather be delivered into the enemy's hand than that my line should end.'22  One day, when he [David] ventured forth to Sekhor Bizzae,23  Satan appeared before him in the guise of a deer. He shot arrows at him, but did not reach him, and was thus led on until inveigled into the land of the Philistines. When Ishbi-benob espied him, he exclaimed, 'It is he who slew my brother Goliath.' So he bound him, doubled him up and cast him under an olive press; but a miracle was wrought, and the ground softened under him. Hence it is written, Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.24  Now that day was Sabbath Eve, and Abishai the son of Zeruiah,25  washing his head in four gribahs26  of water, remarked some blood-stains [therein]. Others say a dove came and beat [its wings] before him. Thereupon he reasoned: Israel27  is likened to a dove, as it is written, ye are as the wings of a dove covered with silver;28  this must be an intimation that David is in trouble. So he went to his house, but did not find him. Now, said he, we learnt, One may not ride upon his [sc. a king's] horse, nor sit upon his seat, nor use his sceptre:29  but how is it in a time of danger? So he went and propounded the question in the schoolhouse, and was answered, 'In time of danger, it is permitted.' He then mounted his [sc. David's] mule and rode off,30  and the earth contracted under him.31  Whilst riding, he saw Orpah his [sc. Ishbi-benob's] mother spinning. On descrying him, she broke off [the thread of] the spindle and threw it [the spindle] at him, intending to kill him. Then she said, 'Young man, bring me the spindle.'32  but he threw it on the top of her head instead, and killed her. When Ishbi-benob beheld him, he said [to himself], Now that there are two they will slay me. So he threw David up [in the air] and stuck his spear [into the earth], Saying. 'Let him fall upon it, and perish;' but Abishai pronounced the Divine Name, by means of which David was held suspended between heaven and earth. (Why did not David pronounce it himself? — Because 'a prisoner cannot free himself from prison.') [Abishai] then enquired of him, 'What dost thou here?' — 'Thus did God speak unto me,33  and thus did I answer Him,' replied he. 'Reverse thy prayer.' said he: 'let thy grandson sell wax rather than that thou shouldst suffer.'34  'If so,' said he, 'do thou aid me [to reverse it].' Hence it is written, But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him,35  upon which Rab Judah commented in Rab's name: He succoured him in prayer. Abishai then [again] pronounced the Divine Name and brought him down36  [from midair, where he was still suspended]. Now Ishbi-benob was pursuing them. When they reached Kubi37  they said to [each other], 'Let us stand [and fight] against him.' [But they were still afraid, and proceeded further.] When they reached Bethre38  they said, 'Can two whelps kill a lion?'39  So they taunted him, 'Go and find thy mother Orpah in the grave.' On their mentioning his mother's name to him40  his strength failed, and they slew him. Hence it is written, Then the men of David sware unto him, saying, Thou shalt no more go out with us unto battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel.41

Our Rabbis taught: For three did the earth shrink: Eliezer, Abraham's servant, our father Jacob, and Abishai the son of Zeruiah. Abishai the son of Zeruiah, as has just been narrated. Eliezer, Abraham's servant, as it is written, And I came this day unto the well,42  implying that he had set out on that day.43  Our father Jacob,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. 'O poor' [H], is thus derived from [H], to answer, and thence to prophesy.
  2. Jer. I, 1. Thus viii, ix, and x must be deducted. The Talmud objects further that in that case there are less than ten, but it first questions the identification of laish with Nebuchadnezzar.
  3. In Jer. IV, 7.
  4. Gen. XLIX, 9.
  5. Judges XIV, 5.
  6. Gen. ibid.
  7. Isa. XXX, 6.
  8. Ps. XCI, 13.
  9. Job XXVIII, 8.
  10. Isa. X, 32.
  11. When the priests of Nob were massacred (I Sam. XXII, 17-19). God set a term for punishment, of which that day was the last. The verse is thus interpreted: 'That day yet remained (of the fixed term) on which (Sennacherib) might stand (against Jerusalem) on account of Nob.'
  12. These are the ten marches referred to above.
  13. Lit., 'the might of my hand.'
  14. Zion was one of the hills-which is a matter of dispute-upon which Jerusalem was built. By a synecdoche, it is often, though not here, used for Jerusalem itself.
  15. Lit., 'stretch forth a hand against it.'
  16. So Jast., whose reading differs slightly from our text. Rashi: Bring you each a portion of the wall, i.e., any weak stone you may find which can easily be dislodged. [Another rendering: Bring me as much mortar as is necessary to seal a letter (v. Levy, s. v. [H]].
  17. II Kings XIX, 35.
  18. I.e., what is not done immediately may never be done.
  19. II Sam. XXI, 16.
  20. As an avenger, Ish = a man.
  21. When David, on his flight from Saul, received succour in Nob, (I Sam. XXI.) he was seen there by Doeg the Edomite. On the latter's reporting this to Saul, he slew all the priests of Nob for treason (Ibid. XXII, 17-19), Doeg being his instrument. For this Doeg was banished from his portion in the future world (the phrase may also mean lost his life — [H]; v. II Sam. I, 2; Pesik. ed. Buber III, 28b) and the defeat and death of Saul and his three sons at Mount Gilboa (I Sam. XXX, 1, 6) was a punishment for the same. Thus all this was indirectly caused by David.
  22. Lit., 'thy seed to cease'.
  23. The name of a place (Rashi). Other interpretations: 'to fill up breaches'; ['to limit', the word being a composite: 'net and falcon' (Levy)].
  24. Ps. XVIII, 37.
  25. David's sister's son, and brother of Joab, and one of the captains of David's army.
  26. A gribah = one se'ah.
  27. Lit., 'The Assembly of Israel.'
  28. Ibid. LXVIII, 14; v. Ber. 53b.
  29. V. supra 22a.
  30. Hoping that the animal's instinct would lead it to its master.
  31. That he might cover the distance quickly.
  32. Pretending that it had merely fallen out of her hand.
  33. The alternative mentioned above.
  34. [Juvenal, Saturnalia, 6, 542. alludes to the Jews selling wax-candles in Rome. V. Ginzberg, Legends. VI, 264, n. 87.]
  35. II Sam. XXI, 17.
  36. At some distance from where Ishbi stood (Rashi).
  37. A town near the border. [Horowitz, Palestine, p. 158 identifies it with El-Kabbu S.W. of Bethar.]
  38. Bethar, where the last stand in the Bar Cochba revolt was made (Neubauer, op. cit. 103).
  39. Surely not; i.e., 'we are too weak, even combined, to slay him.' The remark was suggested by the place name Bethre, which means 'by two', as previously 'let us arise' — [H] — was suggested by [H].
  40. I.e., that she was dead.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Gen. XXIV, 42.
  43. Since the journey could not be normally done in a day, the earth must have shrunk for him.

Sanhedrin 95b

as it is written, And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went to Haran;1  which is followed by and he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set.2  For when he reached Haran, he said [to himself], 'Shall I have passed through a place in which my fathers prayed, without doing so likewise!' He wished therefore to return, but no sooner had he thought of this than the earth contracted, and immediately he lighted upon a place [the objective of his journey]. An alternative exegesis is this: Pegi'ah3  can only mean prayer, as it is written, Therefore pray thou not for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession4  to me.5

And tarried there all night, because the sun was set. Having prayed, he wished to proceed: thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said: This righteous man has come to my habitation:6  shall he depart without a night's rest? Immediately the sun set [before its time].7  Hence it is written, [And as he passed over Penuel,] the sun rose for him.8  Now, had the sun risen for him alone: surely it had risen for the whole world! But, said R. Isaac, the sun which had [prematurely] set on his account, now rose [prematurely] on his account too.

Now, whence do we know that David's seed ceased?9  — From the verse, And when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal.10  But was not Joash left? — There too Abiathar was left, as it is written, And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped.11  Rab Judah said in Rab's name: Had not Abiathar been left of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, not the slightest remnant12  would have remained of David's seed.

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The wicked Sennacherib advanced against them13  with a force consisting of forty-five thousand princes, each enthroned in a golden chariot and accompanied by his ladies and harlots, eighty thousand warriors in coat-of-mail, and sixty thousand swordsmen of the front line, the rest cavalrymen. A similar host attacked Abraham ,14  and a like force will accompany Gog and Magog.15  In the Baraitha it was taught: The length of his army was four hundred parasangs, the horses standing neck to neck formed a line forty parasangs long, and the grand total of his army two million, six hundred thousand less one. Abaye inquired: Less one ribbo [ten thousand], one thousand, one hundred, or one? The question stands over.

A Tanna taught: The first company swam across, as it is written, he shall overflow and go over;16  the second walked across,17  as it is written, he shall reach even to the neck; the third cast up the dust [of the river bed] with their feet and found no water in the river to drink, until it was brought from elsewhere and they drank, as it is written, I have digged, and drunk water.18

But is it not written, Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the mornings behold, they were all dead corpses?19  — R. Abbahu replied: These were the army captains. R. Ashi said: This may be deduced too, for it is written, [Therefore shall the Lord … send] among his fat ones leanness,20  meaning, amongst the cream [i.e., the leaders] of them. Rabina said: This may be also deduced, for it is written, And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the men of valour, and the leaders and the princes in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shamefacedness to his own land. And when he entered into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.21  This proves it.

Wherewith did he [the angel] smite them? — R. Eliezer said: He smote them with his hand, as it is written, And Israel saw the great hand,22  implying the hand that was destined to exact vengeance of Sennacherib.23  R. Joshua said: He smote them with his finger, as it is written, Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God,24  implying this is the finger destined to punish Sennacherib. R. Eliezer, the son of R. Jose, said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel, 'Is thy sickle sharpened [to mow down the Assyrians]?' He replied: 'Sovereign of the Universe! It has been sharpened since the Six days of Creation', as it is written, For they fled from the swords, from the sharpened sword etc.25  R. Simeon b. Yohai said: It was the time for the ripening of fruits, so the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel, 'When thou goest forth to ripen the fruits,26  attack them, as it is written, As he passeth27  he shall take you:' for morning by morning shall he pass by, by day and by night, and it shall be a sheer terror to understand the report.'28  R. Papa said: Thus people say, 'In passing, reveal thyself to thine enemy.'29

Others say: He [Gabriel] breathed into their nostrils, and they died, as it is written, and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither.30  R. Jeremiah b. Abba said: He smote his hands at them, and they died, as it is written, I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest.31  R. Isaac the Smith said: He unsealed their ears for them, so that they heard the Hayyoth32  sing [praises to God] and they died, as it is written, at thine exaltation the people were scattered.33

Now how many were left of them. [sc. the Assyrians host]? — Rab said: Ten, as it is written, And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them:34  What figure can a child write? — Ten.35  Samuel said: Nine [were left], as it is written, yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two and three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four and five in the utmost fruitful branches thereof.36  R. Joshua b. Levi said: Fourteen, as it is written, two, three … four five.37  R. Johanan said: Five, viz., Sennacherib and his two sons, Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuzaradan. [That] Nebuzaradan [survived] is a tradition. Nebuchadnezzar, as it is written, And the form of the fourth is like an angel of God:38  Had he not seen [an angel], how did he know [his appearance]?39  Sennacherib and his two sons, as it is written, And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword.40

R. Abbahu said: Were not the [following] verse written, it would have been impossible to conceive of it: viz., In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by the riverside, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall consume the beard.41  The Holy one, blessed be He, went and appeared before him [Sennacherib] as an old man, and said to him, 'When thou goest to the kings of the east and the west, whose sons thou didst lead [to battle]42  and cause their death, what wilt thou say to them?' He replied, 'I43  too entertain that fear. What then shall I do?' asked he. 'Go,' He replied,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Ibid. XXVIII, 10.
  2. Ibid. 11. The first verse implies that he had reached Haran, the second that he had not. The Talmud therefore proceeds to reconcile the discrepancy.
  3. [H], the root idea of [H] 'he lighted upon'.
  4. [H].
  5. Jer. VII, 16. Rashi, in his teacher's name, and the Wilna Gaon both delete the passage 'an alternative … me' as being out of place here.
  6. According to tradition, he was on the future site of the Temple.
  7. This exegesis is based on the use of the plus perfect [H], instead of the continuous imperfect [H], which is interpreted as implying that its setting was premature.
  8. Ibid. XXXII, 32.
  9. Since David reversed his prayer; v. supra 95a.
  10. II Kings XI, 1.
  11. I Sam. XXII, 20. Since the cessation of David's seed was in expiation of the crime against the city of Nob, it was but just that as one had escaped on that occasion, so should one now too be saved.
  12. Lit., 'one that escaped or remained.'
  13. The Israelites in the days of Hezekiah.
  14. On the occasion of his pursuit of the four kings. (Gen. XIV).
  15. V. p. 630, n. 6.
  16. Isa. VIII, 8.
  17. Lit., 'passed over in an upright position.'
  18. Ibid. XXXVII, 25. The passage of the first company, effected by swimming, so diminished the water of the river that the second had to walk across, while the second thoroughly emptied it, leaving it quite dry.
  19. Ibid. 36, proving that this was the size of the army.
  20. Ibid. X, 16.
  21. II Chron. XXXII, 21. This is another proof that the reference is only to the leaders.
  22. Ex. XIV, 31.
  23. This is deduced from the def. art.
  24. Ibid. VIII, 14.
  25. Isa. XXI, 15.
  26. Gabriel being the angel in charge of this.
  27. On his mission of ripening the fruits.
  28. Ibid. XXVIII, 19.
  29. Lit., 'on the way make thyself heard by the enemy,' i.e., take revenge when the opportunity is afforded.
  30. Ibid. XL, 24.
  31. Ezek. XXI, 22.
  32. [The celestial 'living creatures' mentioned in Ezekiel's mystic vision; v. Ezek. I and X.]
  33. Isa. XXXIII, 3. The first half of the verse reads, At the noise of the tumult the people fled. 'Tumult' is taken to refer to the song of the Hayyoth in their 'exaltation' of the Lord.
  34. Ibid. X, 19.
  35. [A yod ([H]), being formed by a mere stroke of the pen, is the easiest letter for a child to write.]
  36. Ibid. XVII, 6. This is rendered: 'just as after the shaking of an olive tree there may remain two olives here and three there, so shall there be left of the army four here and five there-nine in all.'
  37. Interpreting, 'two here, three there, four here, five there- fourteen in all.'
  38. Dan. III, 25.
  39. Hence he must have been present when Gabriel destroyed the army. — The speaker is Nebuchadnezzar.
  40. II Kings XIX, 37. It is assumed that they all must have been in the army before Jerusalem.
  41. Isa. VII, 20.
  42. V. supra.
  43. Lit., 'that man', frequently employed euphemistically for I'.