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MATTHIAS BEN THEOPHILUS:

Name of two high priests.

  • 1. The successor of Simon ben Boethus, and, unlike the other high priests appointed by Herod, who were foreigners, a native of Jerusalem (Josephus, "Ant." xvii. 4, § 2). On the eve of a Day of Atonement—for the priest the most important time in the year—he had become ritually unclean, and consequently was unable to perform the duties of his office, which were discharged instead by his kinsman Joseph ben Ellem ("Ant." xvii. 6, § 4). This occurrence is mentioned in the Talmud (Tosef., Yoma, i. 4; Yoma 12b; Yer. Yoma 38d), although the name of Matthias ben Theophilus is omitted. His deposition, however, was not due to this cause, but to the fact that he was supposedto have been implicated in the insurrection when the golden eagle was pulled down from the gate of the Temple (see Judah ben Zippori). His tenure of office lasted only one or two years (5-4 B.C.).
  • 2. A descendant, apparently, of the preceding, and the last high priest but one. He was in office in 65 C.E., when the war against the Romans broke out (Josephus, "Ant." xx. 9, § 7). During the troubles in Jerusalem which preceded the siege by Titus ("B. J." iv. 3, § 7) he was deposed, since he, like the other aristocrats, belonged to the peace party, one of his sons having even sought refuge with the Romans. Matthias was put to death as a dangerous character by the very Simon ben Gioras whom he had invited to Jerusalem to subdue the revolutionists ("B. J." vi. 2, § 2). According to Grätz, it is he who is referred to in a Talmudic story which relates that once, on a Day of Atonement, a high priest remained in the Holy of Holies a longer time than usual praying for the Sanctuary, which was in danger of destruction by the Zealots (Tosef., Yoma, ii. 5; Yoma 53b; Yer. Yoma 42c).
Bibliography:
  • Derenbourg, Histoire de la Palestine, p. 160;
  • Grätz, in Monatsschrift, 1881, pp. 51 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., iii. 737, 750;
  • Schürer, Gesch. ii. 217-220.
S. S. Kr.
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