NATHAN BEN JOSEPH 'OFFICIAL ( or ):
French rabbi and controversialist; lived at Sens in the second half of the thirteenth century. He was one of the most famous rabbis of France in the Middle Ages. His son Joseph the Zealot calls him "the prince of orators," or rather "of polemists"; for Nathan had frequent debates both with the dignitaries of the Church and with baptized Jews. A strong friendship existed between him and Gauthier de Cornut, Archbishop of Sens. Among his religious controversies—in which he displayed a remarkable freedom of speech—may be mentioned those with the bishops of Mans, Vannes, Meaux, Anjou, Poitiers, Angoulême, and St. Malo, with the confessor of King Louis, and with Guillaume d'Auvergne, Bishop of Paris and confessor of Queen Blanche of Castile. He had similar relations with the members of various religious orders, especially the Franciscans or Cordeliers, and with the Abbé of Cluny, whom he met at Moulins. One of the Franciscans having found in the brazen serpent to which the Israelites owed their cure a symbol of Jesus Christ, Nathan remarked to him: "That is true; the brazen serpent does indeed represent Christ crucified; and the sight of him in this situation suffices to cure us of a desire to believe in him." He had several contests with the Dominicans, e.g., with Frère Garin (), who insisted that the Jews were reprobates and enemies of God; and even with Pope Gregory X., who, on his visit to France in 1273 to open the General Council of Lyons, discussed with Nathan the meaning of the Biblical verse, "A star has risen from the midst of Jacob" (Num. xxiv. 17). Defeated at every point, the pope finally asked, "And how do you then interpret this passage? Tell me, for the sake of friendship."
No writings of Nathan are extant, but his commentaries on detached verses of the Bible are quoted in the Tosafot to Ta'anit, and in "Da'at Zeḳenim" (pp.35c, 88a), and "Minḥat Yehudah" (pp. 39a, 52a).
- Grätz, Gesch. vi. 483;
- Renan-Neubauer, Les Rabbins Français, p. 553;
- Zadoc Kahn, in R. E. J. i. 240, iii. 11-32;
- Zunz, Z. G. pp. 84, 86, 87.