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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 10a

six years ahead.1  The Rabbis who were sitting before Raba were of opinion that it should be pronounced a post-dated document, which is to be deferred and not executed until the date which it bears. Whereupon R. Nahman said: This document must have been written by a scribe who was very particular and took into account the six years of the Greek Reign in Elam which we do not reckon. The dating is therefore correct, for we have learnt: Rabbi Jose said, Six years did the Greeks reign in Elam and thereafter their dominion extended universally.

R. Aha b. Jacob then put this question: How do we know that our Era [of Documents] is connected with the Kingdom of Greece at all? Why not say that it is reckoned from the Exodus from Egypt, omitting the first thousand years and giving the years of the next thousand?2  In that case, the document is really post-dated! — Said R. Nahman: In the Diaspora the Greek Era alone is used. He [the questioner] thought that R. Nahman wanted to dispose of him anyhow, but when he went and studied it thoroughly he found that it is indeed taught [in a Baraitha]: In the Diaspora the Greek Era alone is used.

Said Rabina: Our Mishnah also proves this, for we learn,3  'The first of Nisan is New Year for reckoning [the reign of] kings4  and of Festivals,' and to the question 'The reign of kings', what is the practical object of this law? R. Hisda replied: [It affects] the dating of documents.5  Now, the same Mishnah says. 'The first of Tishri is New Year for [counting] years and sabbatical cycles'6  and when it was asked: 'What practical significance has this ruling?' R. Hisda [again] replied: [It affects the dating of] documents.7  [The question was then raised:] Is not this rule of dating documents self-contradictory?8  And the answer given was: 'The one refers to Jewish kings, the other to kings of Gentile nations — the year of Gentile kings being counted from Tishri, and of Jewish kings from Nisan.' Now, in the present time we count the years from Tishri; were we then to say that our Era is connected with the Exodus it is surely from Nisan that we ought to count.9  Does this not prove that our reckoning is based on the reign of the Greek kings [and not on the Exodus]? That indeed proves it.


What is meant by GENOSIA OF HEATHEN KINGS? — Said Rab Judah: It is the day on which the king is raised [to the throne]. But has it not been taught [elsewhere] 'The day of Genosia and the day of the king's accession'?10  — There is no difficulty there; the one term indicates the king's own accession, the other that of his son.11  But do [the Romans]12  ever appoint a king's son as king? Did not R. Joseph apply [the following verse to Rome]: Behold I made thee small among the nations13  — in that they do not place the son of a king on the royal throne, — thou art greatly despised14  — in that they do not possess a tongue or script?15  What then does GENOSIA mean? — [The King's] birthday. But we learn [elsewhere] 'The Genosia and the birthday.' That, too, is no contradiction. The one refers to the king's own birthday, the other to that of his son. But we have also the wording: 'The king's Genosia and his son's Genosia, his own birthday and his son's birthday'! Then [as said previously] Genosia means indeed the day of the King's accession. but there is no difficulty [raised by the mention of both terms], the one applying to his own accession, the other to that of his son; and as to your question about their not appointing a king's son as king, such appointment would be made at the [king's] request, as was the case with Asverus the son of Antoninus16  who reigned [in his father's place].

Antoninus once said to Rabbi: It is my desire that my son Asverus should reign instead of me and that Tiberias17  should be declared a Colony.18  Were I to ask one of these things it would be granted while both would not be granted.19  Rabbi thereupon brought a man, and having made him ride on the shoulders of another, handed him a dove bidding the one who carried him to order the one on his shoulders to liberate it. The Emperor perceived this to mean that he was advised to ask [of the Senate] to appoint his son Asverus to reign in his stead, and that subsequently he might get Asverus to make Tiberias a free Colony.

[On another occasion] Antoninus mentioned to him that some prominent Romans were annoying him. Rabbi thereupon took him into the garden and, in his presence, picked some radishes, one at a time. Said [the Emperor to himself] his advice to me is: Do away with them one at a time, but do not attack all of them at once.

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Its date was six years later than the time when it was claimed to be due e.g. 516 instead of 510 (Seleucid Era).
  2. The Era of Documents, as explained above, (p. 42, n. 7) dates from the dominion of Seleucus which was established in the year 380 before the Destruction. Now, the Exodus occurred in the year 1380 before the Destruction, thus: —
    Exodus to building of 1st Temple  480 years
    Existence of 1st Temple  410"
    Babylonian Exile  70"
    Existence of 2nd Temple  42"
    Period from Exodus to Destruction of 2nd Temple  1380years.
    The Exodus was therefore just one thousand years earlier than the Seleucid Conquest, so that the year, say, 510 Era of Contract would be 1510 from the Exodus. R. Aha therefore submits that the year of Contracts may have as its starting point not the Seleucid Conquest but the Exodus, with the omission of the thousand; the year, say, 310 would not mean 310 years after the Sel Con. but [1] 310 after the Exodus.
  3. R. H. 2a.
  4. The reign of a Jewish King was always reckoned from Nisan, so that even if it began in the preceding month, it would be in its second year in Nisan.
  5. The year given in dating legal documents was that of the reign of the present king.
  6. V. above note.
  7. For the purpose of dating documents Tishri is to be regarded as the beginning of the year.
  8. According to the early part of the Mishnah the year should begin with Nisan, while in the latter part it is said to begin with Tishri.
  9. Since the Exodus occurred in Nisan.
  10. Which proves that the two are not identical.
  11. When raised to the throne at the father's wish in his own lifetime.
  12. Whose kings do not reign by hereditary right but are elected.
  13. Obad. I, 2.
  14. Ibid.
  15. [Greek remained the spoken and written language throughout the East even after the establishment of the Eastern Roman Empire, to which the allusion here is made, v. Obermeyer, op. cit. 263]
  16. The bearers of the names given here have been variously identified. S. J. Rappaport [H] s.v. [H]) is of opinion that our Antoninus is Antoninus Pius (138-161) and that Asverus is his adopted son Marcus Aurelius (161-180), who was also called Annius Verus — here contracted into A-S-Verus. According to Jast, however, (Allgem. Gesch. des Isr. Volkes, Berlin 1832, II, 129 and Gesch. d. Israeliten IV, 88 seq.) our Ant. is Caracalla (211-217) and Asverus is his son Alexander Severus (222-235). Z. Frankel [H] (Warsaw, 1923, 203) identifies Ant. with Lucius Verius Antoninus who was co-regent with Marcus Aurelius and is reputed to have issued decrees favourable to Jews. Differing from all the foregoing authorities, Graetz (Geschichte, Vol. IV, pp. 450ff). claiming the support of Origen's Epistola ad Africanum, asserts that Ant. is none other than Alexander Severus who was surnamed Antoninus in the East, and that the 'Rabbi' who is associated with Ant. in the narratives that follow here and in many others is not R. Judah I but his grandson R. Judah II who flourished near the middle of the 3rd century. That he, too, was sometimes called by the title Rabbi alone is, indeed, borne out by the phrase in the Mishnah (infra 35b) 'Rabbi and his court' which is taken to refer to R. Judah II.
  17. In Galilee whither the Sanhedrin was transferred by R. Judah II.
  18. So that its inhabitants should be raised to the rank of libertines — evidently intended as a tribute of regard to Rabbi.
  19. The Emperor was seeking Rabbi's guidance without openly taking counsel with an outsider on matters of state. Rabbi, likewise, would not commit himself to more than offering his advice by mere insinuation.
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‘Abodah Zarah 10b

But why did he not speak explicitly? — He thought his words might reach the ears of those prominent Romans who would persecute him. Why then did he not say it in a whisper? — Because it is written: For a bird of the air shall carry the voice.1

The Emperor had a daughter named Gilla who committed a sin,2  so he sent to Rabbi a rocket-herb,3  and Rabbi in return sent him coriander.4  The Emperor then sent some leeks5  and he sent lettuce in return.6

Many a time7  Antoninus sent Rabbi gold-dust in a leather bag filled with wheat at the top, saying [to his servants]: 'Carry the wheat to Rabbi!' Rabbi sent word to say. 'I need it not, I have quite enough of my own', and Antoninus answered: 'Leave it then to those who will come after thee that they might give it to those who will come after me, for thy descendants and those who will follow them will hand it over to them.'8

Antoninus9  had a cave which led from his house to the house of Rabbi. Every time7  [he visited Rabbi] he brought two slaves, one of whom he slew at the door of Rabbi's house and the other [who had been left behind] was killed at the door of his own house.10  Said Antoninus to Rabbi: When I call let none be found with thee. One day he found R. Haninah b. Hama sitting there, so he said: 'Did I not tell thee no man should be found with thee at the time when I call?' And Rabbi replied. 'This is not an [ordinary] human being.' 'Then', said Antoninus, 'let him tell that servant who is sleeping outside the door to rise and come in.' R. Haninah b. Hama thereupon went out but found that the man had been slain. Thought he, 'How shall I act now? Shall I call and say that the man is dead? — but one should not bring a sad report; shall I leave him and walk away? — that would be slighting the king.' So he prayed for mercy for the man and he was restored to life. He then sent him in. Said Antoninus: 'I am well aware that the least one among you can bring the dead to life, still when I call let no one be found with thee.' Every time [he called] he used to attend on Rabbi and wait on him with food or drink. When Rabbi wanted to get on his bed Antoninus crouched in front of it saying. 'Get on to your bed by stepping on me.' Rabbi, however, said, 'It is not the proper thing to treat a king so slightingly.' Whereupon Antoninus said: 'Would that I served as a mattress unto thee in the world to come!' Once he asked him: 'Shall I enter the world to come?' 'Yes!' said Rabbi. 'But,' said Antoninus, 'is it not written, There will be no remnant to the house of Esau?'11  'That,' he replied. 'applies only to those whose evil deeds are like to those of Esau.' We have learnt likewise: There will be no remnant to the House of Esau, might have been taken to apply to all, therefore Scripture says distinctly — To the house of Esau, so as to make it apply only to those who act as Esau did. 'But', said Antonius, is it not also written: There [in the nether world] is Edom, her kings, and all her princes.'12  'There, too,' Rabbi explained, '[it says:] 'her kings', it does not say all her kings; 'all her princes', but not all her officers!

This is indeed what has been taught: 'Her kings' but not all her kings; 'all her princes', but not all her officers; 'Her kings', but not all her kings — excludes Antoninus the son of Asverus; 'all her princes'. but not all her officers — excludes Keti'ah the son of Shalom.

What about this Keti'ah b. Shalom? — There was once a Caesar who hated the Jews. One day he said to the prominent members of the government. 'If one has a wart13  on his foot, shall he cut it away and live [in comfort] or leave it on and suffer discomfort?' To which they replied: 'He should cut it away and live in comfort'. Then Keti'ah b. Shalom addressed them thus: 'In the first place, you cannot do away with all of them, for it is written, For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven.14  Now, what does this verse indicate? Were it to mean that [Israel] was to be scattered to the four corners of the world, then instead of saying, as the four winds, the verse would have said, to the four winds? It can only mean that just as the world cannot exist without winds, so the world cannot exist without Israel. And what is more, your kingdom will be called a crippled kingdom.' To this the king replied: 'You have spoken very well; however, he who contradicts the king is to be cast into a circular furnace'.15  On his being held and led away, a Roman matron said of him: 'Pity the ship that sails [towards the harbour] without paying the tax'.16  Then, throwing himself on his foreskin he cut it away exclaiming: 'Thou hast paid the tax thou wilt pass and enter [paradise]'. As he was being cast [into the furnace] he said: 'All my possessions [are to go to] R. Akiba and his friends'. This, R. Akiba interpreted according to the verse, And it shall be unto Aaron and his sons17  [which is taken to mean that] one half is Aaron's and one half his sons'. A bath-kol18  then exclaimed: 'Keti'ah b. Shalom is destined for [eternal] life in the world to come!' Rabbi [on hearing of it] wept saying: 'One may acquire eternity in a single hour, another may acquire it after many years!'

Antoninus attended on Rabbi: Artaban19  attended on Rab. When Antoninus died, Rabbi exclaimed: The bond is snapped! [So also] when Artaban died, Rab exclaimed:

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Eccl. X, 20.
  2. Presumably adultery.
  3. The Aramaic for which is [H] Gargilla, which may be divided into the two words: Gar-Gilla, meaning 'Gilla has gone astray.' Editions give the name of the daughter as Gira and of the herb Gargira [H] by which the meaning is unchanged; Kohut ('Aruch II, 343) prefers the version given here which is found in the best MSS.
  4. In Aram. [H] Kusbarta mod. Greek [G], divisible into the two words [H] which has a treble meaning (a) Reprove — the gargilla [H] Reprove not the fool lest he hate thee being rendered by Targ. [H] (b) Cover over — cf. Prov. X, 12 [H] love covereth all sins (c) Slay, as in Hul. 37b [H] slay; ib. 15a [H] fit for slaughter. [H] daughter. The message could therefore be taken to mean: 'Reprove' or 'Forgive' or 'Slay the daughter.'
  5. Aram. [H] Karethi, which also means 'cut-off.'
  6. In Aram [H], hasa, which also means 'compassion'. This clandestine correspondence, deciphered, reads as follows: 'My daughter has gone astray.' — 'Reprove her (or overlook it, or slay her)'. — 'Shall she be cut off?' — 'No, have compassion.'
  7. Lit., 'Everyday'.
  8. An ironical allusion to the Jews always having to purchase their freedom with gold from their Roman masters.
  9. Dr. L. Ginzberg's comments on the conversations between Ant. and Rabbi reported here are as follows (J.E.I, 656): 'Jewish folklore loved to personify the relations of Judaism with heathendom in the guise of conversations between Jewish sages and heathen potentates. Legend has many details concerning the personal relations between the two … It appears that, owing to political circumstances, the exchange of views between these friends was attended with positive danger although it was arranged that there should be no third person when A. visits R…The friends were also compelled to have recourse to a species of sign language.'
  10. So that the visits should not be reported. Tosaf, suggests that the slaves employed for that purpose were traitors who had incurred capital punishment.
  11. Obad. I, 18.
  12. Ex. XXXII, 29.
  13. Editions have [H] but Mss give [H] [G] nome, a sore, wart, v. 'Aruch s.v. ob. To regard the Jewish subjects of the State as an irritating appendage of the body politic is characteristic of the Roman attitude to alien races who were unwilling to merge their identity. In complete contrast to this is the emphatic and repeated scriptural injunction to love the stranger and to accord him equal rights and treatment (v. Lev. XIX, 33 etc.).
  14. Zech. II, 10.
  15. [H], a furnace, pottery kiln, to which K. was consigned.
  16. In order to make sure of entering the harbour the tax should be paid. Probably an allusion to the Roman custom of placing a coin in the mouth of the corpse as a kind of passage-money to the other world. Rashi: K., who was laying down his life for the sake of Israel, was going to the hereafter without having conformed to the Jewish rite of circumcision. This Roman matron's assertion, that Paradise would be closed to the uncircumcised, did not express the Jewish view which is that 'The pious of all nations have a portion in the world to come.' Tosef. San. XIII. [H].
  17. Ex. XXIX, 28. The bequest is to be interpreted in the same manner; half the property being assigned to Rab and the other half to his friends.
  18. A heavenly voice; v. Glos.
  19. Artaban IV, Parthian King, a contemporary of Marcus Aurelius and of his son Ant. Comodus, who is reported to have sent a gift to Rabbi [H] (J. Pes. I) and was an intimate friend of Rab. [Graetz, Geschichte, IV, p. 257, n. 1, rightly maintains that in the latter the reading 'Rabbi' is erroneously given instead of Rab.]
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