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PALMYRA (Hebrew, Tadmor; Greek, Θοεδμόρ):

Latin name of a city in a well-watered oasis of the Syrian desert, five days' journey from the Euphrates, between three and four days from Thapsakus, and three days from Aleppo. Palmyra was situated on the highway leading from Phenicia to the Euphrates by way of upper Syria, and in late antiquity was one of the largest commercial centers of the East. It was said to have been founded by Solomon when he conquered Hamath-zobah, thus obtaining partial control of the highway (I Kings ix. 18; II Chron. viii. 4). Under Jehu the Jewish realm seems to have lost Palmyra as well as its other Eastern possessions (II Kings x. 32-34), although it regained the city under Jeroboam II. (II Kings xiv. 24).

It was not until the third century of the common era that Judaism again came into contact with Palmyra. Although the empress Zenobia seems to have been friendly to the Jews, yet there are preserved in the Talmud a number of quotations from contemporary scholars which indicate that the ruling powers of Palmyra were not liked by the Jews. Thus, R. Johanan said: "Happy will he be who shall see the downfall of Tadmor" (Yer. Ta'an. iv. 8); and there was a popular Jewish proverb to the effect that "the impure mixture rolls from hell (Yeb. 17a) to Tadmor, and thence to Messene and Harpania" (Yeb. 16a, b, 17a; comp. Rashi ad loc.).

Later writers, who did not understand the Jewish hatred of Tadmor, sought an explanation in mixed marriages, or in the aid which the Palmyrenes had given to the Romans when the Temple was destroyed. R. Judah, a pupil of Samuel, said: "The day on which Tadmor is destroyed will be made a holiday" (Yeb. 16b-17a). Nevertheless Palmyrene proselytes were received (Yer. Ḳid. iv. 65c). The Jews even seem to have taken up arms against Palmyra. The story is told that a certain Ze'era bar Ḥinena (Ḥanina) was seized in the city of Sassifa and taken before Zenobia for sentence, whereupon R. Johanan's two disciples, R. Ammi and R. Samuel, went to the empress to plead for his liberty. She received them very ungraciously, however, saying, "Do you think that you may do what you please, relying on your God, who has vouchsafed you so many miracles?" At that moment a Saracen entered, bearing a bloody dagger, and cried: "With this dagger Bar Naẓar has killed his brother" (or, "has been killed"), whereupon Ze'era bar Ḥinena was released (Yer. Ta'an. viii. 46b). This story, in itself obscure, combined with the sayings cited above, shows the hostility of the Jews toward the city.

In the twelfth century more than 2,000 Jewish families were living in the vicinity of Palmyra. The men were warlike, and often came in conflict with the Christians and Mohammedans. A Hebrew inscription found in the ruins of the city and consisting of the beginning of the Jewish Shema' (Deut. v. 4-9) was published by Landauer in the "Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie," 1884, pp. 933 et seq.

Bibliography:
  • Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., iv. 273-276, vi 241;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 475, 478, 756;
  • Ritter, Erdkunde, part viii., §§ 2, 3.
J. S. O.
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