ŒNOMAUS OF GADARA:
Pagan philosopher; lived during the reign of the emperor Hadrian (117-138); he belonged to the school of the younger Cynics. In his book entitled "The Detection of Witches," from which Eusebius ("Præparatio Evangelica," §§ 19-36) has given fragments, he combats the pagan system of oracles with great violence, and apparently with success, for Julian ("Orations," vii. 209) upbraided him for having destroyed reverence for the gods. Grätz, therefore, is justified in assuming, in the second edition of his "Geschichte," that Abnimos ha-Gardi, who is frequently mentioned in the Talmud and Midrash, is none else but Œnomaus of Gadara. The friendship cherished for him by the tanna Meïr (whose education was Greek), the discourses the latter carried on with him, and other things reported of him in the rabbinical sources, favor this identification, whereas other suppositions (in Blumenthal, "Rabbi Meïr," pp. 137 et seq.) are without sufficient foundation.
"There were among the pagans no philosophers like Bileam and Œnomaus of Gadara. The pagans came to him [Œnomaus] and asked, 'How can we get at this nation [the Jews]?' He answered, 'Go and visit the synagogues and lecture-rooms; when the children chirp [are busy with the Doctrine] you will not be able to get at them'" (Gen. R. lxv. 1 et al.). He put a cosmogonic question to the scholars: 'How was the earth first created?' They maintained that they were not versed in such matters and referred him to the architect Joseph, who satisfied him with a solution that corresponded to the views of the period" (Ex. R. xiii. 1). When his father and mother died R. Meïr visited him to condole with him. At the death of the mother he found him and the members of his household sitting in mourning, whereas they attended to their occupations at the death of his father. To the exclamation of Meïr, "You loved your mother better!" he answered, with Ruth i. 8, "Go, return each to her mother's house" (Ruth R. ad loc.). Once he asked Meïr, "Does all wool rise that is placed in the dyeingpot?" to which Meïr answered, "What was clean upon the body of the mother rises; what was unclean upon the body of the mother rises not" (Ḥag. 15b, at bottom).
Even the form of the dialogue bears witness to its genuine character, for this enigmatical mode of expression, which was called "speech of wisdom," was well liked in Greco-Jewish circles. The meaning is that the intercourse of R. Meïr with his teacher Elisha ben Abuyah, who was at variance with Judaism and with the scribes, did him no harm. Many pagans were familiar with the Bible; hence the popularity of Œnomaus in rabbinical circles is to be ascribed to his conduct toward Jews and Judaism, which is implied in the first quotation; for the reference to the "great" philosopher of the pagans is to his greatness not in philosophy, but in conduct. Libowitz ("Doreshe Reshumot ha-Agada," New York, 1897) and Epstein ("Magazine of Knowledge," 1894, vol. i., p. 17) believe Œnomaus was a Christian.
- Grätz, Gesch. iv. 177, 435 et seq.;
- Blumenthal, Rabbi Meïr, pp. 113-117, 137-138, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1888;
- Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen, iii. 1, 769 et seq.;
- Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyc. v. 880;
- Saarmann, De Œnomao Gadareno, Leipsic, 1887;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., ii. 41, 126.