- —General Data:
- Climate and Products.
- People and Language.
- Its History.
- Kings Ur-gur and Dungi.
- The Kassites.
- Babylonia and Jeremiah.
- —Biblical Data:
- —Post-Biblical Data—Geography:
- Political Divisions.
- Opposition to Palestine.
- Non-Jewish Population.
- Their Influence.
- Commerce and Trade.
- Greek Period.
- Parthian Period.
- Resh Galuta.
- Sassanid Period.
- Ardeshir I.
- Academies Founded.
- Sapor I.
- Sapor II.
- Yezdegerd I.
- Bahram V. Yezdegerd II.
- The Talmud.
- Balash and Kobad.
- Chosroes Anushirwan.
- Arab Period.
- Omar II.
- Decline of the Exilarchate.
- Sherira and Hai.
- Babylonian Influence on Judaism.
- Middle Ages.
- Benjamin of Tudela.
- Mongolian Period.
- Modern Period.
A country in western Asia of varying limits at different periods. The natural boundaries were the Persian gulf on the south, the Tigris on the east, and the Arabian desert on the west. On the north the boundary changed with political changes; but it may be roughly placed at a line drawn along the beginning of the alluvial soil.Climate and Products.
The climate is subtropical. Rain may fall at any time between November and February; but the rainiest months are November and December. The rest of the year is dry and extremely hot, though rain is not unknown, in the form of brief showers. Ancient writers ascribe extraordinary fertility to the soil; and, due allowance being made for exaggeration, there remains indubitable evidence of great productivity. The disuse of former elaborate arrangements for irrigation, and the lack of attention have, in modern times, turned much of the country into an arid waste interspersed with malarial marshes. The principal products of the country were wheat, dates, barley, millet, sesame, vetches, oranges, apples, pears, and grapes. The domestic animals in use were horses, camels, oxen, sheep, dogs, and goats. Of wild animals there were enough to furnish much sport for kings and princes. In the chase the lion held first place, if one is to judge by the native accounts; but the wild boar, the wild ox, the jackal, the gazelle, and the hare were likewise found. Birds were numerous; and fish, chiefly carp, were taken in the sluggish rivers.People and Language.
The people that made the great civilization and history of Babylonia, as it is now known, were Semites, of the same general stock as the Hebrews and Arabs. The time at which they entered the country is matter of dispute, as is also the question whether or not they found another race already in possession. It is probably safe to say that the great majority of modern Assyriologists entertain the view that before the advent of the Semites Babylonia was peopled by a race known as Sumerians, to whom is due the origin of the method of writing, as also that of part of the religion and the general culture of the Babylonians. To this view, however, there is opposed a strong body of opinion, of which Joseph Halévy, the eminent French Orientalist, is the chief exponent. The language spoken by the Babylonians is usually called Assyrian. It belongs to the northern group of the Semitic family, and is more closely affiliated with Hebrew, Phenician, and the several Aramaic languages than with Arabic, Himyaritic, and Ethiopic. The method of writing is cumbrous; but it served its purpose from the earliest inscriptions antedating 4500
The beginnings of history in Babylonia are lost in antiquity. More than 4,000 years before the common era the country was called Kengi—that is, "land of canals and reeds"—and in it were a number of cities, each with a sort of city king. One of the earliest of these kings bore the name En-shag-kush-anna, the political center of whose kingdom was probably Erech, while Nippur was its most important religious center. The names of many other kings that ruled in one city or another have been handed down; but no clear light upon the movements of men in the forming of kingdoms is obtained until the reign of Sargon I., about 3800
The first one that held the chief place after this great conqueror was gone was the city of Ur, in which kings Ur-gur and Dungi held sway about 3200
After the power had slipped away from Ur, the city of Isin became supreme for a time, only to be succeeded again by Ur, and this in turn by Larsa. During all this long period the city of Babylon exerted no profound influence upon the general life of the country. But about 2450
The Kassites had come originally from the mountains of Elam; and they furnished to Babylonia some kings eminent as warriors and in the arts of peace. Among them were Kadashman-Bel and Burnaburiash (about 1400
Not until 625
In the Bible, Babylon and the country of Babylonia are not always clearly distinguished, in most cases the same word () being used for both. In some passages the land of Babylonia is called Shinar; while in the post-exilic literature it is called the land of the Chaldeans (). In the Book of Genesis Babylonia is described as the land in which are located Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh (Gen. x. 10), which are declared to have formed the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom. In this land was located the Tower of Babel (Gen. xi. 1-9); and here also was the seat of Amraphel's dominion (Gen. xiv. 1, 9). In the historical books Babylonia is frequently referred to (there are no fewer than thirty-one allusions in the Books of Kings), though the lack of a clear distinction between the city and the country is sometimes puzzling. Allusions to it are confined to the points of contact between the Israelites and the various Babylonian kings, especially Merodach-baladan (Berodach-baladan of II Kings xx. 12; compare Isa. xxxix. 1) and Nebuchadrezzar (see Nebuchadnezzar). In Chron., Ez., and Neh. the interest is transferred to Cyrus (see, for example, Ez. v. 13), though the retrospect still deals with the conquests of Nebuchadrezzar, and Artaxerxes is mentioned once (Neh. xiii. 6). In the poetical literature of Israel Babylonia plays an insignificant part (see Ps. lxxxvii. 4, and especially Ps. cxxxvii.), but it fills a very large place in the Prophets. The Book of Isaiah resounds with the "burden of Babylon" (xiii. 1), though at that time it still seemed a "far country" (xxxix. 3). In the number and importance of its references to Babylonian life and history, the Book of Jeremiah stands preeminent in the Hebrew literature. So numerous and so important are the allusions to events in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar that within recent times Jeremiah has become a valuable source in reconstructing Babylonian history. The inscriptions of Nebuchadrezzar are almost exclusively devoted to building operations; and but for the Book of Jeremiah, little would be known of his campaign against Jerusalem. See Assyria, Assyriology and the Old Testament, and Babylon.
- Histories—C. P. Tiele, Babylonisch-Assyrische Geschichte, Gotha, 1886;
- Robert W. Rogers, History of Babylonia and Assyria, 2 vols., New York, 1900;
- F. Hommel, Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens, Berlin, 1885;
- Geschichte des Alten Morgenlandes, Stuttgart, 1895 (transl. into English as Civilization of the East, London, 1900);
- Hugo Winckler, Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens, Leipsic, 1892. Works referring to the relationship between O. T. history and Babylonia—E. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, Giessen, 1883 (English transl. by O. C. Whitehouse, The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, London, 1885-1889);
- I. M. Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament, Chicago, 1900;
- C. J. Ball, Light from the East, London, 1899;
- D. G. Hogarth, Authority and Archœology, Part I, Hebrew Authority, by S. R. Driver, London, 1899.
- [See Bibliography to Assyria.]
The Talmud gives the boundaries of as much of Babylonia as contained Jewish residents, but in doing so mentions geographical names which are not always clearly identifiable. The places mentioned in II Kings xvii. 6, as the localities where the Jewish exiles were settled, are not likely to have been the only ones inhabited by them after the lapse of a few centuries. Some of these places were identified as being inhabited by Jews in the post-Biblical period. Thus R. Abba bar Kahana, commenting on the above-mentioned passage in II Kings, states that: (a) "Ḥalaḥ" () is Ḥalwan (according to the correct reading) or Holwan, as it is still called by the Arabs to-day; the Syrians also considered it identical with "Halah" (R. Payne Smith, "Thesaurus Syriacus," col. 1277); it is, according to Abulfeda, five days' journey north from Bagdad. Both Jews and Syrians apply the name to the whole province of Calachene. (b) "Habor" (II Kings l.c.) is the same as Ḥadyab (Adiabene). (c) "Nehar Gozan" (i.e. river of Gozan) is identical with Ginzak or, as Strabo and Ptolemy call it, Gaza, Gazaka, or Ganzaka, a large city on the bank of the lake Urmia (Ritter, "Erdkunde," ix. 774). (d) "The cities of the Medes" (II Kings l.c.) are intended to designate Hamadan, the ancient Ecbatana, and its sister cities. According to another opinion, Nehawend and its sister cities, south of Hamadan, are meant, (Ḳid. 72a; Yeb. 16b et seq.). Ganzaka is also mentioned elsewhere as one of the remotest points in which Jews of genuine stock, descended from the actual exiles, resided. Such Jews are said to have dwelt as far as the "river ["nhr" =water, as in Aramaic and Arabic] Ginzak," according to the correct reading of the 'Aruk based upon Ḳid. 71b; Yer. Ḳid. iv. 65d; Yer. Yeb. i. 3b. This statement was made by Rab; but Samuel names Nahrwan (see Ritter, l.c. ix. 418) as the farthest limit (see same passages, and also Gen. R. xvi. 3).
Toward the north ("above"), Rab gives as boundary a place on the Tigris which S. Cassel understands as the Bagravene mentioned by Ptolemy, a district eastward of the Tigris sources. Kohut and Berliner refer the name to Okbara and Awana, two cities on the east bank of the river; while Samuel here, too, assigns a smaller territory to Jewish residents by naming Moxœne as the farthest boundary. Southward ("below") along the Tigris, Jews are said to have been domiciled as far as Apamea in Mesene. Northward on the Euphrates, Rab mentions the fortress Thulbaḳni (called also Akra—Greek for "fort"—by the Jews) as the limit (Gen. R. l.c.), which place, according to most investigators, is the Thilbencane mentioned by Ptolemy. Samuel names a point farther north, a "bridge" over the Euphrates, identical with the well-known Zeugma on that river, as appears from R. Johanan's statement in the passage cited; this was a strategically important point on the boundary of Commagene, called "Bir" to-day. But the district Biram, mentioned in the Talmud (l.c.) as being upon "this side of the Euphrates," is not to be understood as identical with this Bir, as Neubauer and Berliner maintain; for then there would be nothing extraordinary in the accompanying statement that the leading (Jewish) families of Pumbedita contracted matrimonial alliances with the people of Biram. It is more probable that by the latter place the district of Bahrain was meant, apeninsula on the west side of the Persian gulf and a territory which in the times of Arabian domination, indeed, was frequently included in Irak. Nor, in speaking of Bahrain, are the words "above" and "below" employed to designate its position on the Euphrates, as with the other locations; instead, "on the other side" is used, which must mean southward, the previous side mentioned being north. Biram is identical with Beth Baltin, a spot between Syria and Babylonia, which was the extreme point to which the proclamation of the New Moon was forwarded: all beyond that was "Golah" (the Exile); i.e., Babylonia proper (R. H. 23b; compare 'Ab. Zarah 57a).
This wide extent of country contained numerous districts bearing the following names in rabbinical literature:Provinces.
- (a) (Babylon), the most frequent designation, but meaning more strictly that section between the two rivers where they came most closely together. Thus it is said that Babylon covers the Euphrates on one side and the Tigris on the other ('Er. 22b). The term "Golah" (Exile) was also frequently applied to Babylon; and, inasmuch as Pumbedita, the city of such prime importance for Jews, was situated in it, Golah is at times used as equivalent to Pumbedita (R. H. 23b). In this district were situated those celebrated cities of Babylon, Borsippa, Seleucia, and Ctesiphon, repeatedly named by the Rabbis; in Arabian times, Bagdad, too, attained celebrity. Nehardea was also important. This region also received, poetically, as it were, the Biblical name of "Shin'ar," which was variously expounded (Gen. R. xxxvii. 4). Poetically, also, must be understood the appellation "Sheöl" (the nether world), Yeb. 17a. According to one passage (Gen. R. xxxvii. 1; compare Yalḳuṭ and Leḳaḥ Ṭob), the Biblical Tiras stands for Persia ("Monatsschrift," xxxix. 11). As distinguished from Palestine, Babylon, whether in its larger (Yer. Shek. ii. 47c) or smaller extent, was "abroad," "the foreign" (Yad. iv. 3).
- (b) ("between the rivers," Ḳid. 72a). The Greek name Mesopotamia, which arose after Alexander's time, means identically the same (Gen. R. xxx. 10, xliv. 3, lx. 1). In this district was situated the important city of Nisibis, called Naẓibin by the Jews, as it is to-day; this region is strictly differentiated from Golah, or Babylon proper (Sanh. 32b). Nineveh, however, had long before been destroyed, so that it is doubtful whether the Nineveh mentioned in the Talmud (Ta'anit 14b) as possessing Jewish inhabitants, can have been the celebrated city of that name. More probably the whole district of Nineveh is meant, as in Shab. 121b, where "Nineveh" is used with Adiabene. Assemani, "Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana," iii. 2, p. lxv., mentions one baptized Jew from Nineveh in the fourth century.
- (c) (Ḥabel Yamma, Ḳid. 72a; Yer. Ḳid. iv 65d; Gen. R. xxxvii. 8). The name means "the sea district," and probably applies to the region upon the Persian gulf, east of the Shaṭ-al-'Arab. This was considered the "crown" of Babylon. R. Papa applies the name, however, to the Phorat region (not Euphrates; compare Phorat, Mesene) of Borsippa, the word "sea" then referring to the lake Baḥr Nejef. An important commercial town east of the Tigris and near the sea was Charax, identified in rabbinical writings under the form "Haras," with the Biblical "Erech" ("Monatsschrift," xxxix. 58). The Biblical "Accad" is identified with Kashkar, a town called thus by the Syrians and Arabs (Smith, l.c., col. 1843), but also Karka, which is identical with Charax, and it thus must have been situated near the latter. In this actively commercial district, Cuthæans or Samaritans are said to have also resided (Ḳid. 72a).
- (d) (Meshan; in Greek and Latin authors, "Mesene," equivalent in meaning to "Mesopotamia"). A region, also celebrated for its commerce, west of the Shaṭ al-'Arab and north of the Persian gulf. In this district were both upper and lower Apamea; also Phorat Maishan, a large city identified by the rabbis with the Rehoboth-Ir of Gen. x. 11 (Yoma 10a). Mesene formed a portion of the old province of Chaldea, a name not in use among the Jews. As a collective name for all these districts, the designation "Babylonia" may be employed in its widest sense. Palestinian usage, supported by Biblical precedent, no doubt also employed the term "'Eber ha-Nahar" (beyond the river) to designate it (Ab. R. N., B, ii. 47; 'Aruk, s.v. III.). The somewhat boastful designation of Babylonia as "the land of Israel" (Gen. R. xvi. 3) was recognized by Zacuto ("Yuḥasin," p. 245b) and other moderns. So, too, many Babylonian cities were known among the Jews by nicknames (see Graetz, "Messene," p. 25, and Jastrow, "Dict." p. 167).
The provinces were subdivided officially and by common usage into smaller districts, as marked by the numerous canals and waterways; hence the functions of the "canalwardens" (see below). Such a district was styled a "parbar," a word occurring in I Chron. xxvi. 18; mention is made of Babylon and its district, Nehardea and its district (Ket. 54a); and there were doubtless other districts, named Nares, Sura, Pumbedita, Nehar-Peḳod, Maḥuza, etc., each with its peculiarities as to dialect, weights, and measures (Beẓa 29a, 'Er. 29b). One of the canals referred to above was called "the Jewish" (Nahr al-Yahudi; M. Streck, "Die Alte Landschaft Babylonien," i. 42, Leyden, 1900). From Sherira's "Letter," p. 40, it appears that Bassora was in a different district from Babylon (Bagdad). Many Babylonian cities are repeatedly mentioned in Jewish works, though the term "Sawâd" (for Babylon) is never used by Jews, who prefer the old name "Babel," just as the Arabs employ "Babil." Some scholars have endeavored to discern "Al-Irâk," one of the Arabic names for Babylonia, in Targ. Yer. upon Gen. x. 6, and I Chron. i. 8 ("Monatsschrift," xxxix. 55). This name is probably intended in "Toledot Alexander" (ed. J. Levi, "Ḳobeẓ," ii. 8), and is certainly meant in "Pe'er ha-Dor," No. 225 ("Irâk is Bagdad and its vicinity"), and in numerous other works.Opposition to Palestine.
In view of the undoubted fact that the Jewish inhabitants of Babylonia were of purer racial extraction than the Jews of Palestine, the former considered themselves, especially after the fall of Jerusalem, as the genuine Israel, and their differing traditions and customs as of higher authority than those of thehome country. Indeed, these differences were intensified and cherished. The Babylonian Talmud repeatedly contains the remark, "This is our [Babylonian] custom; theirs [the Palestinians'] is different" (see Ḳid. 29b). Such expressions as "here" and "yonder," "in the east," and "in the west," are employed to specify differences of usage. The latter expressions are particularly rife as applied by the Masoretes to the verification of the Biblical text and comparisons of variant readings; but are likewise applied to minor differences of ritual and legal custom, especially in the time of the Geonim—differences which a modern scholar has enumerated to the number of seventy-three (J. Müller, "Ḥilluf Minhagim"). Of a different nature are the variations between the Babylonian and Jerusalem (or Palestinian) Talmuds, known already to the Geonim, who, of course, always preferred "our Talmud" (the Babylonian), and accordingly transplanted the study of the latter to Europe, where it became the dominant authority for modern Judaism in general.
But this independence of Palestine and Palestinian authority was not achieved by Babylonian Judaism all at once: it came about gradually. Thus, the exilarch R. Huna I., as many others, no doubt, before and after him, was buried in Palestine at his own request (Yer. Ket. xii. 35a); while, later on, it was maintained that in this respect Babylon must be considered as the equal of Palestine (Ket. 111a). "Just as one should not leave Palestine to live in Babylon, so one should not leave Babylon to dwell in other lands," ran a modest saying; but afterward the popular axiom was, "Who lives in Babylon, lives the same as in Palestine" (ib.); indeed, it soon became, "To leave Babylon is to transgress a precept" (ib. 110b). Huna, principal of the Pumbedita Academy, is credited with the utterance, "Since Rab came hither, we of Babylon have constituted ourselves in matters of divorce the peers of those in Palestine" (Giṭ. 6a). Learned intercourse between both countries was maintained by many amoraim traveling to and fro, as, for instance, Dimi and Zeïra. Babylonian scholars rightfully ranked themselves higher than their Palestinian colleagues, not, however, without incurring the ridicule of the latter for so doing (Zeb. 15a). R. Zeïra is said to have fasted a hundred days in order that he might forget the Babylonian Gemara (B. M. 85a), and R. Jeremiah always speaks of the "stupid Babylonians" (Yoma 57a). The Mishnah (Yoma vi. 4) mentions a particular instance of coarseness on the part of the Babylonians. They were accustomed to eat something raw which the Palestinians only ate cooked (Beẓah 16a). It was declared to be improper to entrust the oral tradition to men of Nehardea, or, according to another reading, to the Babylonians at all (Pes. 62b). Scholars in Palestine were called "Rabbi," whereas in Babylonia they were styled "Rab," possibly a difference of dialect only. In Babylonia, finally, people spoke more correctly and with sharper intonation than in Palestine.Language.
At a period when Hebrew was still spoken in Palestine—at least in scholarly circles—the people in Babylonia had already adopted Aramaic, owing to the proximity of the Aramaic-Syriac districts. Hillel is expressly stated to have spoken a Babylonian Aramaic or Targum dialect (Ab. R. N. xii., p. 55, ed. Schechter). This dialect, of which the Babylonian Talmud is the chief literary monument, was closely related to the tongue of the natives, such as the Mandæans speak to-day. Persian never became the vernacular of the Babylonian Jews: a few words only were borrowed from it; more, perhaps, than from the Greek (Levias, "A Grammar of the Aramaic Idiom . . . in the Babylonian Talmud," pp. 3, 237, Cincinnati, 1900). Rabbi Joseph (fourth century) asks: "Why do we speak Aramaic in Babylon? It should be either the holy language [Hebrew] or Persian" (Soṭah 49b)—an utterance which shows that the Jews did not speak Persian. There are, of course, hundreds of Persian —or, more correctly, Pahlavi—words in Babylonian texts; and the amoraim of the first and second generations, like Rab and Judah, frequently intermingle Persian words in their utterances. Nevertheless, the proportion of Persian vocables in the Jewish Babylonian idiom is not so great as some (for instance, Kohut, in his "Aruch Completum," and Schorr, in "He-Ḥaluz," viii.) maintain. The Jewish incantations (see below) are Aramaic, and the Geonim render their responsa only in Aramaic, even during the Arabic period, as Sherira's and Hai's writings prove. But, of course, Arabic was then the ruling idiom, and Saadia—not a born Babylonian, it is true—calls the Aramaic "the language of the fathers" (comment. on the "Sefer Yeẓirah," text, p. 45); it was, therefore, no longer a living language. Hebrew, of course, was retained in a measure, as everywhere, by the Jews; and the Karaites especially wrote mainly in Hebrew. Pethahiah, the traveler, was rejoiced to find that Aramaic was closely related to Hebrew.Non-Jewish Population.
Although Babylonia, or Irâk, was largely populated by Jews, the population was still a mixed one, and in the course of time the non-Jewish population grew to be in the majority. The uncultivated Parthians could, of course, exercise no religious influence upon the Jews; but it was otherwise with the Persians, and it is still a moot point to-day to what extent Judaism, both Biblical and post-Biblical, was influenced by Zoroastrianism. In Palestine it was acknowledged that the names of the angels (see Angelology) were of Babylonian origin (Gen. R. xlviii. 9), and were adopted in the Parthian period. In this direction in general the Jews were strongly influenced by Zoroastrianism (Kohut, "Ueber die Jüdische Angelologie und Dämonologie in Ihrer Abhängigkeit vom Parsismus," Leipsic, 1866; Stave, "Einfluss des Parsismus auf das Judenthum," Haarlem, 1898). Talmud and Midrash speak very often of the Persians. Naḥman, presiding judge at the court of the exilarch, was well versed in Persian law (Shebuot 34b); and a Persian document is mentioned (Giṭ. 19b; compare B. M. 108a). The Persians were acute enough to prize the Jewish Law: a Jewish soldier found a Hebrew copy of it in the Persian treasury (Sanh. 97b). Persian trousers, a characteristic garment, are, according to some, mentioned several times ('Ab. Zarah 2b; Meg. 11a; Ḳid. 72a). Interesting, too, is the mention of the Persian festivals (Yer. 'Ab. Zarah i. 39c),and of the fact that the Persians kiss each other upon the hand, and not upon the mouth (Tan., ed. Buber, iv. 110). It was only the Magi—wrongly called "Guebers"—who, as Nöldeke rightly explained, were contemptuously called "magicians" ("ḥaberim" or "ḥabrin") by the Jews, who hated and persecuted the latter. The Mandæans, however, chiefly residing in southern Babylonia, also felt deep hatred against the Jews (W. Brandt, "Die Mandäische Religion, "Leipsic, 1889; Lagarde, "Mittheilungen," iv. 143; Jewish sources contain nothing upon this point). Besides these, there were Arabs living in the land or on its borders (Niddah 47a, Ḳid. 72a), called also Ishmaelites or Nabatæans: intercourse with them, related as they were to the Jews, must have been amicable.Their Influence.
But all this changed when the Arabs became masters of the country; by them all the inhabitants who were not Moslems were treated with contempt, if not with cruelty. The Christians experienced this more sharply than the Jews (in the predominantly Jewish district Nehardea, there were no Christians in olden times; Pes. 56a). The constitution of the Nestorian Church had for the Arabs great similarity to that of the Jews with their exilarchs and heads of academies. Hai Gaon had friendly intercourse with the Catholicus of the Nestorians. Strange to say, the only one of these nationalities to exert a detrimental influence upon Judaism was Mandæism, to which many of the superstitions and the belief in magic, found throughout the Talmud, must undoubtedly be ascribed. Evidences of this are the magic bowls used in common by both Jews and Mandæans. Layard first found them ("Discoveries," p. 509), since which they have repeatedly been encountered; and the American Nippur expedition unearthed a great number of them (Stubbe, "Jüdisch-Babylonische Zaubertexte," Halle, 1895, p. 8; Lidzbarski, "Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik," 1900, p. 89; "Amer. Journal of Archeology," 1900, iv. 482). The illustration of one of these bowls, given on page 402, is from the "Revue des Etudes Juives." Arabic influence was undoubtedly much more powerful; but this confined itself to the field of science, and did not intrude upon religion.Commerce and Trade.
Babylonia was always a fertile country, yielding produce of every kind. Both Jewish and non-Jewish writers describe its wealth of date-palms (Pes. 87b et seq.); cedars are said to have been brought thither from Palestine (Lam. R. i. 4). The locust (insect) is also said to have been imported thence (Yer. Ta'an. iv. 69b). Olive-oil, however, was lacking; its place being supplied by sesame-oil (Shab. 26a). Linen was widely manufactured (Ta'an. 29b); and there was a special Babylonian purple material (Gen. R. lxxxv. 14; Tan., Mishpaṭim. 17), well known in commerce under the name of "Babylonicum." These fabrics (Pandects xxxiv. 2, 25) were brought by the Jews to Alexandria (Isaac Voss upon Catullus, p. 196). The Jews evidently contributed to Babylonia's foreign commerce, which in the earliest days was centered in Seleucia and Ctesiphon. In later days, when Bagdad rose to prominence, markets had already been held there (Streck, l.c. p. 52)—of course, with the assistance of Jews (Kohut, "Aruch." vi. 10) —and there was a special Jewish quarter there, with a "Jews' Bridge" (Yaḳut, iv. 1045, 11—see Bagdad). To-day trade is still mainly in the hands of the Jews in these localities, as, for instance, in Bassora (Ritter, "Erdkunde," x. 180). Their industry made the Jews rich, especially in Maḥuza (Gutschmid, "Kleine Schriften," v. 677). There were no laws in Babylonia in restraint of commerce (Giṭ. 58b); but, devoted as they were to trade, the Jews did not shrink from such lowly occupations as that of canal-dredging; indeed, the Babylonian Talmud mentions all kinds of handiwork as having been followed by Jews, and even by distinguished scholars among them. Their connection with agriculture is not quite so clear, although it is quite certain that there were farmers among them. The Talmud mentions the interesting fact that the Palestinian Jews gave one-third of their yearly offering ("terumah") "for Babylon, Media, the distant provinces, and all Israel" (Yer. Sheḳ. iii. 47c). There was no stone in Babylonia (Midr. Teh. xxiv. 10); bricks were, therefore, used for building, and Jews were employed in their manufacture.
The Jews are reported as having erected handsome synagogues and colleges; the pillars of the college at Pumbedita being particularly praised ('Er. 22b). The learned of Babylonia dressed more elegantly and were prouder in demeanor than those of Palestine (Shab. 145b). The climate was healthful, so that it was said that there was no leprosy in Babylonia (Ket. 77b).—History:
The earliest accounts of the Jews exiled to Babylonia are furnished only by the scanty details of the Bible; certain not quite reliable sources seek to supply this deficiency from the realms of legend and tradition. Thus, the so-called "Small Chronicle" (Seder 'Olam Zuṭṭa) endeavors to preserve historic continuity by providing a genealogy of the Princes of the Exile ("Reshe Galuta") back to King Jeconiah; indeed, Jeconiah himself is made a Prince of the Exile (Neubauer, "Medieval Jew. Chronicles," i. 196). The "Small Chronicle's" statement, that Zerubbabel returned to Palestine in the Greek period, can not, of course, be regarded historical. Only this much can be considered as certain; viz., that the descendants of the Davidic house occupied an exalted position among their brethren in Babylonia, as, at that period, in Palestine likewise. At the period of the revolt of the Maccabees, these Palestinian descendants of the royal house had emigrated to Babylonia, to which an obscure notice by Makrizi (in De Sacy, "Chrestomathie Arabe," i. 100) probably refers (Herzfeld, "Gesch. des Volkes Yisrael," ii. 396).Greek Period.
It was only with Alexander's campaign that accurate information concerning the Jews in the East reached the western world. Alexander's army contained numerous Jews who refused, from religious scruples, to take part in the reconstruction of the destroyed Belus temple in Babylon (Josephus, "Contra Ap." i. 22). The accession of Seleucus Nicator, 312
Jewish sources contain no mention of Parthian influence; the very name "Parthian" does not occur, unless indeed "Parthian" is meant by "Persian," which occurs now and then. The Armenian prince Sanatroces, of the royal house of the Arsacides, is mentioned in the "Small Chronicle" as one of the successors (diadochoi) of Alexander. Among other Asiatic princes, the Roman rescript in favor of the Jews reached Arsaces as well (I Macc. xv. 22); it is not, however, specified which Arsaces. Not long after this, the Partho-Babylonian country was trodden by the army of a Jewish prince; the Syrian king, Antiochus Sidetes, marched, in company with Hyrcanus I., against the Parthians; and when the allied armies defeated the Parthians (129
In religious matters the Babylonians, as indeed the whole diaspora, were in many regards dependent upon Palestine. They went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the festivals, and one, whose full name is given in Mekilta on Deut. (xiv. 23, ed. Hoffmann), brought first-fruits of his land to Jerusalem (Ḥal. iv. 11); but this case was not permitted to constitute a precedent. Sherira himself, although strongly biased in favor of his own home, acknowledges that when the Sanhedrin and the colleges were flourishing in Palestine, neither existed in Babylonia; which fact would seem to warrant the inference that the Babylonian Jews must have sent to Palestine for religious instruction, as, for instance, in the case of Hillel. According to the "Small Chronicle," however, the exilarchs at this period already had their court-scholars. How free a hand the Parthians permitted the Jews is perhaps best illustrated by the rise of the little Jewish robber-state in Nehardea (see
In the continuous struggles between the Parthians and the Romans, the Jews had every reason to hate the Romans, the destroyers of their sanctuary, and to side with the Parthians, their protectors. Possibly it was recognition of services thus rendered by the Jews of Babylonia, and by the Davidic house especially, that induced the Parthian kings to elevate the princes of the Exile, who till then had been little more than mere collectors of revenue, to the dignity of real princes (F. Lazarus, in Brüll's "Jahrbücher," x. 62). Thus, then, the numerous Jewish subjects were provided with a central authority which assured an undisturbed development of their own internal affairs. It is in this period that the first certain traces of the dignity of the prince of the Exile are found; and the first-named resh galuta is Nahum or Naḥunya. About the year 140 of the common era, Hananiah, nephew of R. Joshua, migrated to Babylonia before the Bar Kokba war, and founded a college in Nehar-Peḳod (compare "Pekod" in Jer. l. 21; called in other places "Nehar-Peḳor," probably after the celebrated Parthian general Pakorus). Upon the overthrow of the insurrection and interruption of communication with Palestine, Hananiah set about arranging the calendar, which hitherto had been the exclusive prerogative of thePalestinian patriarch; possibly he even meditated the erection of a new temple. This spirit of independence must certainly have been gratifying to the resh galuta; but when the Palestinian Sanhedrin sent two messengers to Babylon with the sarcastic suggestion that Ahijah (the resh galuta) should build another altar and that Hananiah should play the harp thereto, the remonstrance sufficed to bring the people to their senses again, and to nip the dangerous schism in the bud. This episode made such a strong impression upon the public mind that there are several accounts of it (Ber. 63a; Yer. Ned. 40a; Yer. Sanh. 19a). Judah b. Bathyra, who had a college in Nisibis, also influenced Hananiah to give up his intention; nevertheless, the college of the latter was still recognized in Palestine as authorized (Sanh. 32b). Nathan, a son or brother of the exilarch, was vice-president of the Palestinian Sanhedrin at this time. From this period on, instances are numerous of talented Babylonians attaining high esteem in Palestine. The Babylonians were well aware of their preeminence; and a Babylonian amora thus expressed himself concerning it: "When the Torah was forgotten in Israel, Ezra came from Babylon and restored it; when forgotten again, Babylonian Hillel came and rehabilitated it; forgotten once more, R. Ḥiyya and his sons came and reestablished it" (Suk. 20a). This rather boastful utterance ignores the fact that both Hillel and Ḥiyya, although Babylonians by birth, gained their knowledge in the Palestinian colleges. The fact that Abba Arika (commonly called "Rab"), a nephew of Ḥiyya, studied in Palestine, led to remarkable results for the Babylonian Jews; for Rab was the intimate friend of the last Parthian king, Artaban IV. (209-226).Sassanid Period.
The Persian people were now again to make their influence felt in the history of the world. Artaxerxes I. (Ardeshir I., son of Babek; the full name appears in Abraham ibn Daud, ed. Neubauer, p. 60) destroyed the rule of the Arsacids in the winter of 226, and founded the illustrious dynasty of the Sassanids. Different from the Parthian rulers, who in language and religion inclined toward Hellenism, the Sassanids intensified the Persian side of life, favored the Pahlavi language, and restored with zeal the old religion of the Magi, founded upon fireworship, which now, under the favoring influence of the government, attained the fury of fanaticism. Of course, both Christians and Jews suffered under this; but the latter, dwelling in more compact masses, were not exposed to such general persecutions as broke out against the more isolated Christians. The attitude of the first Sassanid, Ardeshir I., toward this movement is not clear. Gibbon ("Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," ch. viii.) narrates that Ardeshir persecuted both Christians and Jews, and adduces Sozomen, book ii., ch. i., as authority; this passage, however, refers only to Christians.Ardeshir I.
Against the statement, also, is the evidence of Ibn Daud that in Ardeshir's days the Jews and Persians loved each other, as also in the days of King Sapor. S. Cassel believes that the Jews were favored by the Persians; and Graetz knows of no persecution under Ardeshir. There is, however, in the "Small Chronicle"—although not in its proper place—a statement that "the Persians obtained dominion in the year 245 after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and instituted a persecution of the Jews." The passage in "Yuḥasin" (ed. London, 93a) sets this event in the period of the exilarch Nehemiah, in the year 175 after the Destruction. Far from being declared erroneous (Lazarus, in Brüll's "Jahrbücher," x. 95), this statement deserves full confidence, but the year should read "165" instead of "175"; that is, the year 233 of the common era, seven years after the inauguration of Persian power. Certain Talmudical accounts, belonging to the period, corroborate this; thus, R. Kahana says: "Hitherto the Persians [Parthians] permitted Jews to exercise capital punishment; but now the Persians do not permit it" (B. Ḳ. 117a). The Jews were no longer appointed to the wardenship of the canals ("reshe nahare"), nor to offices of the court ("gezirpaṭi"; Persian, hazar paiti; Greek, ἀζαραπατεῖς), which, however, the Jews regarded as an advantage (Ta'anit, 20a); canal-wardens, who were also taxcollectors, being held in such dread (as is graphically described in Sanh. 25b) that the Jews were glad to be relieved from the duty. A prison-warder is mentioned ("zanduḳna," Ta'anit 22a), but he was probably in the employ of the exilarch. When the news was brought to R. Johanan, the most esteemed amora in Palestine, that the Guebers (in the Talmud, "Ḥabrin")—meaning the Magi—had overrun and conquered Babylonia, he swooned away in sympathy for his Babylonian brethren; but on being revived he reassured himself with the thought that the conquerors were open to money inducements (Yeb. 63b). Difficulties were put in the way of the Jews in such matters as the slaughtering of cattle for food, and as to their bathing-places and cemeteries, which were subject to intrusion (ib.). On certain Persian holy days, the Guebers would not permit any light in the houses of the Jews (Sanh. 74b; compare Sheïltot di R. Aḥai, § 42); they made no exception even in a case of sickness (Giṭ. 17a). Such an instance happening in his own family, Rabba bar bar Ḥana is said to have exclaimed, "All-merciful God! either under Thy protection, or, if not, under the protection of Esau [Rome]." That this utterance was opposed to another, by R. Ḥiyya, who ascribed it to God's especial providence that the Jews found refuge from Rome in Babylonia, was explained by the remark that the evil times in Babylonia commenced only with the Guebers (ib.). The patriarch Judah II. was informed that the Parthians resembled the armies of King David, but that the New Persians were like demons of hell (Ḳid. 72a); and it was in these armies that the Jews, although possibly a little later, had to render military service (Sanh. 97b; MS. Munich, however, has [Rome] for ).
All these things must have taken place under the vigorous Ardeshir. How powerful was the impression made by him upon the fancy of the Jews, may be gathered from the so-called Apocalypse of Elijah (ed. Jellinek, in "B. H." iii. 66; ed. Buttenwieser, Leipsic, 1897), which most probably refers to Ardeshir's war against the Romans ("Jew. Quart. Rev." xiv. 360). To his campaign in 230 the obscure statement of the Latin author Solinus must be referred, that Jericho was destroyed by "Artaxerxes"(Th. Reinach, in the Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 457 et seq.). The schismatic Mani, founder of Manicheism, appeared at this time: his execution (doubtless because Manicheism exerted some influence upon Judaism) under Shabur is mentioned by Ibn Daud (p. 61).Academies Founded.
It was, however, before the accession of the Sassanids that the powerful impetus toward the study of the Torah arose among the Jews of Babylonia which made that country the very focus of Judaism for more than a thousand years. An exact date may be determined: Sherira and those dependent upon him (compare "Seder Tannaim we-Amoraim," in the version of the Maḥzor Vitry, p. 482) set as the date of Rab's return from Palestine the year 530 of the Seleucid era; that is, 219 of the common era, or, according to Ibn Daud (l.c. p. 57), the year of the world 3979. It would seem that Palestinian scholarship had exhausted itself with the compilation of the Mishnah; and it was an easy matter to carry the finished work to Babylonia. When Rab returned thither, there was already an academy at Nehardea under the leadership of an obscure R. Shila, who bore the title "resh sidra." Upon the death of the latter it was but natural that the much more eminent Abba Arika—whose distinction is indicated by the title of "Rab"—should become head of the school. But, in his modesty, Rab resigned the academy at Nehardea to his younger countryman Samuel, while he himself founded a similar institution in Sura (known also by the name of an adjacent town, Mata Meḥasya). Nehardea, a long-established seat of Jewish life in Babylonia, first attained flourishing eminence through this prominent teacher, Mar Samuel; and when, with the death of Rab (247), the splendor of Sura vanished, Nehardea remained for seven years the only academy ("metibta") in Babylonia. From this period on, the history of the Jews in Babylonia, hitherto obscure, becomes quite clear (see Academies in Babylonia).Sapor I.
The mass of tradition zealously preserved in the Babylonian academies furnishes a series of dates and facts which illuminate their life. The resh galuta about this time appears to have been Mar 'Uḳba, or Nathan 'Uḳban (c. 210-240); the chief judge was a certain Ḳarna; while Rab held the much more troublesome than brilliant official position of an "agoranomos" (Yer. B. B. v. 15b). Although even Rab himself had to endure harshness at the hands of the exilarch's officers, from this time on it would appear that the exilarchs, in accordance with the prevailing spirit of veneration for learning, began to devote themselves to the acquisition of knowledge as well as of power, approaching thus the example of the Palestinian patriarchs. King Sapor I. (240-271) favored Samuel with such a degree of intimacy that the latter was sometimes called "King Sapor" and "Arioch" (friend of the Arians; see Ḳid. 39a; Shab. 53a), and the people generally spoke of him with respect as "the Jewish sage" (Shab. 129a). But Samuel, too, liked the Persians. He was the author of the celebrated saying, "The law of the land is the law to go by" (B. B. 54b), referring, of course to civil matters; and even when his king, in the exigencies of war, felt himself compelled to slaughter twelve thousand Jews at Mazaga (Cæsarea), in Cappadocia, Samuel was ready to defend him (M. Ḳ. 26a). Under Sapor began the bitter contest with the Romans for possession of the rich lands of the Euphrates, so thickly populated by Jews. R. Johanan aptly remarked concerning these struggles that "Holwan, Adiabene, and Nisibis are the three ribs which the prophet Daniel describes as being held in the mouth of the beast, sometimes crunched and sometimes dropped" (ḳid. 72a; see Dan. vii. 5). The Persians penetrated to the very heart of the Roman territory, until Odenath, prince of Palmyra, moved against them and took their booty from them (261). Several Talmudic passages speak of a certain Papa bar Naẓor, who is identified by Cassel and Graetz with Odenath, while Nöldeke (l.c. p. 22, note 2) makes him a brother of Odenath. Zenobia, wife of menath, is quite distinctly referred to in the Talmud. According to non-Jewish writers, Odenath only penetrated as far as Ctesiphon; while Jewish sources (Sherira, the "Small Chronicle" and the "Seder Tannaim")refer to the calamity of the destruction of Nehardea by Papa bar Naẓor. Samuel was then no longer alive; his daughters were taken prisoners; and his disciples fled to Shekanẓib, Shelhi, and Maḥuza; Nehardea ceased to be the principal focus of Jewish life, although its academy still continued in existence. Many rabbis also escaped to Pumbedita, which city now became the seat for a thousand years of the most celebrated Babylonian Jewish college next to Sura.Sapor II.
The Jews then enjoyed, it would appear, half a century of repose; not too long a respite for the enormous intellectual work going on. By Christian writers the Jews are accused without warrant of having instigated the slaughter of twenty-two bishops by Sapor II. (310-382) as part of his antagonism to the Christian predilection for Rome (Sozomen ii. 8; Burckhardt, "Die Zeit Constantins des Grossen," 2d ed., 1880, p. 90). The "Small Chronicle" narrates that when Huna was exilarch, and Rabbah chief of the academy, Sapor went against Nisibis and conquered it. A persecution of the Jews is mentioned as taking place in 313 (Theophanes, ed. De Boor, p. 25); but Sapor was at that time still a child. Rabbah b. Naḥmani, the head of the academy at Pumbedita (died 331), fell a victim to persecution. The charge was made against him that the 12,000 disciples who assembled twice a year for the usual public study ("kallah"; see Academies in Babylonia) did so merely to avoid paying the tax (see B. M. 86a). Rabbah fled and perished miserably, lost in a place called Agma (swamp?) (see Sherira, l.c. p. 31). His successors, R. Joseph the Blind and Raba (who followed Abaye), enjoyed the favor of the queen-mother Ifra Hormiz (B. B. 8a, 10b; Ta'anit 24b; Niddah 20b; Zeb. 116b); which did not, however, prevent Raba from being imprisoned upon a baseless charge (Ber. 56a). Rabbah and, still more, his pupils Abaye and Raba are considered as the founders of the acute Talmudic dialectics practised in Pumbedita. After the short presidencies of R. Joseph and Abaye, the renowned Raba became the head of Pumbedita; in his days it was the only remainingacademy in Babylonia; for Sura had ceased to exist. R. Papa, however, presently founded a new school in Naresh near Sura, which later on was removed to that city, where, under R. Ashi, it attained to high eminence.
In the vigorous war which the emperor Julian waged, and in which Mesopotamia and Babylonia proper were involved, it is probable that the Jews, in spite of the friendly attitude of the Roman ruler, sided with their own sovereign. A small town, Birta—called Bithra by Sozomen (iii. 20)—was deserted by its inhabitants, who were Jews, and in retaliation the Romans burned the place. The same fate befell the more important city Firuz Shabur (Pyrisabora), which also possessed a large Jewish population; Maḥuza, too, near Ctesiphon, Raba's birthplace and the seat of his academy, was also laid in ashes, together no doubt with many other towns in which Jews dwelt. There were probably no other enduring results of this Roman campaign, for Jewish records mention none. Julian honored the Jews in Haran (Charræ), when, on a visit there, he witnessed the mysteries (Bar-Hebræus, "Chronicum Syriacum," ed. Kirsch, i. 65).Yezdegerd I.
Of Sapor's successors, Yezdegerd I. (397-417, Justi; 399-420, Nöldeke) was at least not hostile to the Jews. The fact that the heads of the academies, Amemar of Nehardea, Mar Zuṭra of Pumbedita, and Ashi of Sura, were rudely handled by the king's seneschal while waiting for audience in the palace (Ket. 61a, according to Rapoport's amended reading in "'Erek Millin," p. 35, and 'Aruk), does not certainly indicate a very great degree of friendliness. The Huna b. Nathan, whose girdle Yezdegerd adjusted with a few flattering words—a polite attention which was highly valued even by the eminent R. Ashi (Zeb. 19a)—was no doubt the exilarch of that date, Graetz to the contrary notwithstanding. This incident probably took place in this monarch's earlier years; later on he became a strong religious fanatic, and in 414 ordered a bloody persecution of the Christians. It may have been the king's intention that the exilarchate should gradually lose its political importance, for the Talmud (Giṭ. 59a) relates that Huna b. Nathan subordinated himself to R. Ashi; while Sherira adds thereto the information that the "rigle," the public festivities given by the exilarch, were transplanted to Mata Meḥasya (Sura), the home of R. Ashi. This would show that Nehardea had ceased to be the residence of the resh galuta, and that Sura had become the political center of Jewish Babylonia. With R. Ashi, who united in his person both rank and learning (Sanh. 36a), the position of the principal of the academy attained almost equal eminence with that of the exilarch.Bahram V. Yezdegerd II.
Bahram (Varanes) V. (420-438) left the Jews in peace; it is probably to his time that Theodoret (ii. 264) refers when he says that Babylonia was populated with Jews (Lagarde, "Mittheilungen," iv. 145). His successor Yezdegerd II. (438-457) instituted a persecution of the Jews which transcended in cruelty all that they had hitherto experienced in Iran, and was a forerunner of still severer sufferings. In the year 456 (in which both the principals of the Sura Academy, R. Naḥman b. Huna and R. Reḥumai [or Neḥumai] of Pumbedita, died), the king issued a decree forbidding all observance of the Sabbath. His early death prevented further persecution. The Jewish chronicles relate that he was swallowed by a serpent, upon the prayer of the heads of the academies, Mar b. R. Ashi and R. Zoma. Rapoport did not question the authority of this Jewish source; but new discoveries show that, according to the local tradition, this sudden death in reality befell Yezdegerd I., and that only the Jews attributed it to their persecutor, Yezdegerd II. The persecution was probably instigated by the Magi; the Christians and Manicheans having been persecuted five years earlier ("Revue Etudes Juives," xxxvi. 296). To this period is to be referred Amemar's discussion with a Magus (Sanh. 39a).Firuz.
Yezdegerd's second son and successor, Firuz, or Perozes (459-486), continued the persecution on a larger scale. The Jews of Ispahan were accused of having flayed two Magi alive (Hamza, ed. Gottwaldt, p. 56); and one-half of the Jewish population were slaughtered and their children delivered over to the fire-worshipers. But in Babylonia too the persecution gained foothold; Firuz "the wicked" (Ḥul. 62b) put the exilarch Huna Mari, son of Mar Zuṭra I., to death; and the Jews, coming under immediate Persian domination, underwent a year of suffering, 468, which in the Talmud is called "the year of the destruction of the world" (see Brüll, "Jahrb." x. 118). From this year to 474 a series of violent acts followed, such as the destruction of synagogues, prohibition of the study of the Law, the forcible delivery of children to the Fire Temples, the imprisonment and execution of Amemar b. Mar YanuḲa and Meshershiya. The destruction of Sura (Shab. 11a) possibly also took place at this time. Maḥzor Vitry (p. 483) states that Firuz suffered a violent death (result of an earthquake?) in 483, or, more correctly, 486. In 501 Rabina died, the last of the Amoraim; succeeding teachers were called Saboraim.The Talmud.
The compilation and editing of the Babylonian Talmud, begun by R. Ashi, were completed by Rabina, though the Saboraim may also have worked upon it. The reduction of the traditional legal material to writing—previously forbidden—originated no doubt in the anxiety caused by the continually increasing persecution: it was no longer safe to confine this prized material to the oral traditions of the academies; it must be set down permanently in writing for posterity. Another remarkable result of these persecutions was the emigration of Babylonian and Persian Jews to India under Joseph Rabban.Balash and Kobad.
The reign of Balash (Vologeses) was uneventful for the Jews; but the long sway of Kobad or Kawad (490-531; according to Nöldeke, 488-531) brought mournful developments. About 501 appeared Mazdak, the founder of Zendicism, whose socialist doctrine of community of property and wives must have aroused horror among both Christians and Jews. All indications show that Mazdak was of Irak origin, seeing that his doctrines made most headway there. Zendicism must have made existenceunbearable, especially for the Jews, who were jealous of the purity of their family life. King Kobad, to break the pride of the Persian nobles, embraced the new religion, and, although deposed by them, he remained a devotee of the new faith. Fortunately, the Jews had at that time an energetic exilarch, Huna VI., who succeeded to some extent in protecting his coreligionists against this evil. But when he died in 508, his nephew Paḥda was appointed to the exilarchate during the minority of his son; he was, however, eventually removed by the king through the exertions of Mar Ḥanina, the head of the academy (about 551). Judaism in the interval seems to have been close-pressed by Zendicism; and accordingly the new exilarch, Mar Zuṭra II., a grandson of Mar Ḥanina, gathered around him an armed band of four hundred men for the defense of Jewish family life. He succeeded in maintaining his independence for seven years, collecting revenue even from the non-Jewish population of Irak. Active measures by the king put an end, at length, to the little Jewish state: Mar Zuṭra, only twenty-two years of age, was crucified (520) on the bridge of Maḥuza, his capital; and his infant son, Mar Zuṭra III., was carried to Palestine, where he became Archipherecites. Kobad introduced an additional landtax, and all Jews and Christians between the ages of 20 and 50 were subjected to a poll-tax (Justi, l.c. p. 370), no doubt after Roman example. Kobad's army serving against the Byzantines contained a number of Jews, who were allowed to desist from active operations on the Passover (Bar-Hebræus, l.c. p. 85).Chosroes Anushirwan.
The century between Kobad and the appearance of the Arabs is destitute of historical record. In the Babylonian Talmud, the latest date mentioned is the year 521 (Sanh. 97b); see "Me'or 'Enayim," 43; Zunz, "G. V." 2d ed., p. 56. From this time on, there are extant only accounts of individual sages, the Saboraim, and these only scantily. Mention is made of R. Rehumai, R. Jose, R. Aḥa of Be Ḥatim, near Nehardea, Rabai of Rob, and others; they all died early, as Sherira expressly remarks. Rabai was reckoned as one of the Geonim, the title of "Gaon" being henceforth borne by the head of the Academy of Sura, and later also by that of the Academy of Pumbedita. The Saboraim continued to teach undisturbedly under Kobad and Chosroes Anushirwan (531-578), a ruler beloved both by Persians and Arabs, and who showed a friendly attitude toward the Jews. It was in his time that the Christian sect of the Nestorians spread in Persia, as mentioned also by Jewish sources (Jellinek, "B. H." vi. 13). Under Hormiz IV. (578-590) "the end of the Persian rule," as Sherira says, persecutions occurred again; the academies were closed; and many rabbis of Pumbedita migrated to Firuz Shabur, near Nehardea, because this latter city was under Arab rule (c. 581). The Jews, accordingly, favored the insurrection led by Bahram Tshubin, as Theophylactus Simocatta relates (vol. vii., p. 218, ed. Bonn). The legitimate ruler, Chosroes Parwez (590-628), was able to maintain his right to the throne of the Sassanids, and the Jews were at liberty to resume their academic activities without being punished for having sided with the rebel. In the war which this king made upon the Byzantines, his general Shahr-Barz captured Jerusalem (615), and, it appears, handed over the Christians to the mercies of the Jews. Thus, for the last time, the Jews stood in intimate relations with the Persians; with the downfall of the latter ends likewise the brilliant era of the Jews in Babylonia.Arab Period.
The first expression of Mohammedanism toward other faiths was one of intolerance and narrowness. It was an essential feature of Moslem state policy that Jews and Christians, no less than Zoroastrians, must be warred against until they paid tribute. In addition to a poll-tax ("jizyah"), the tax upon real estate ("kharaj") was instituted; indeed, first in Irak, and later on among the Jews (A. Müller, "Der Islam," i. 272). The first calif, Abu Baḳr, sent the famous warrior Ḥalid against Irak; and a Jew, by name Ka'abal-Aḥbar, is said to have fortified the general with prophecies of success (Weil, "Gesch. der Chalifen," i. 34). The Jews may have favored the advance of the Arabs, from whom they could expect mild treatment. Some such services it must have been that secured for the exilarch Bostanai the favor of Omar I., who awarded to him for a wife the daughter of the conquered Sassanid Chosroes II. as Theophanes and Abraham Zacuto narrate. Jewish records, as, for instance, "Seder ha-Dorot," contain a Bostanai legend which has many features in common with the account of the hero Mar Zuṭra II., already mentioned. The account, at all events, reveals that Bostanai, the founder of the succeeding exilarch dynasty, was a man of prominence, who received from the victorious Arab general certain high privileges, such as the right to wear a signet-ring, a privilege otherwise limited to Mohammedans. Omar and Othman were followed by Ali (656), with whom the Jews of Babylonia sided as against his rival Mo'awiyah. A Jewish preacher, Abdallah ibn Saba, of southern Arabia, who had embraced Islam, held forth in support of his new religion, expounded Mohammed's appearance in a Jewish sense, and, to a certain extent, laid the foundation for the later sect of the Shiïtes. Ali made Kufa, in Irak, his capital, and thither went Jews who had been expelled from Arabia (about 641). It is perhaps owing to these immigrants that the Arabic language so rapidly gained ground among the Jews of Babylonia, although a greater portion of the population of Irak were of Arab descent. The capture by Ali of Firuz Shabur, where 90,000 Jews are said to have dwelt, is mentioned by the Jewish chroniclers. Mar Isaac, chief of the Academy of Sura, paid homage to the calif, and received privileges from him.
The proximity of the court lent to the Jews of Babylonia a species of central position, as compared with the whole califate; so that Babylonia still continued to be the focus of Jewish life. The time-honored institutions of the exilarchate and the gaonate—the heads of the academies attained great influence—constituted a kind of higher authority, voluntarily recognized by the whole Jewish diaspora. But unfortunately exilarchs and geonim only too soon began to rival each other. A certainMar Yanḳa, closely allied to the exilarch, persecuted the rabbis of Pumbedita so bitterly that several of them were compelled to flee to Sura (Sherira, l.c. p. 35), not to return until after their persecutor's death (about 730). "The exilarchate was for sale in the Arab period" (Ibn Daud); and centuries later, Sherira boasts that he was not descended from Bostanai. In Arabic legend, the resh galuta (ras al-galut) remained a highly important personage; one of them could see spirits (Goldziher, in "Revue Etudes Juives," viii. 127); another is said to have been put to death under the last Ommiad, Merwan ibn Mohammed (745-750).Omar II.
Messianic hopes were nurtured by external oppression. The Ommiad calif, Omar II. (717-720), persecuted the Jews. He issued orders to his governors: "Tear down no church, synagogue, or fire-temple; but permit no new ones to be built" (Weil, l.c. i. 583). A pseudo-Messiah, called Serenus by Graetz, but probably named Severus (see Bar-Hebræus, "Chronicon Syriacum," p. 123; Payne Smith, "Thesaurus Syriacus," col. 2549), appeared in Syria (about 720); his adherents were received back into Judaism on the decision of the gaon Natronai b. Nehemiah of Pumbedita (Responsa, "Sha'are Ẓedek," Nos. 7-10). Another Messiah, Obadiah Allah abu-Isa, took up arms in Ispahan; but the strong house of the Abbassids, which attained sovereignty about this time (750), soon put an end to the Messiah "across the river." The sect of the Isawites, as also that of the Yudghanites—called after their founder, Yudghan (Judah)—and other small sects which appeared at this time, all amalgamated in Karaism.Karaism.
Karaism owes its origin to a struggle for the succession to the exilarchate. Anan b. David, residing probably in the recently founded (758) city of Bagdad, and therefore inclined to the free views of life current at the court of the calif Almanṣur, was passed over in an election for exilarch: he thereupon publicly renounced (762) Rabbinism altogether and founded the sect of the Karaites (see
Like the Arabs, the Jews were zealous promoters of knowledge, and by means of translations of the Greek and Latin authors contributed essentially to their preservation. They took up religio-philosophical studies (the "kalam"), siding generally with the Motazilites and maintaining the freedom of the human will ("ḳadr"). The sects mentioned above also accepted this doctrine. In opposition to the enlightenment of the Motazilites, however, there arose at this period a system of mysticism: Joseph b. Abba, who taught at the Academy of Pumbedita, was a mystic, claiming intercourse with Elijah. In addition to the religious differences among the Rabbinites, there was continuous strife with the Karaites, who wished to have a certain Daniel, a Karaite, appointed exilarch, while the Rabbinites insisted upon David b. Juda (825). As the calif Al-Ma'mun, who had to regulate similar quarrels among the Syrian Christians, gave his decision in such a manner as to show that he washed his hands of the whole matter, the candidate of the Rabbinites had no difficulty in asserting himself. Such episodes could not but ultimately contribute to the complete downfall of the influence of the exilarchate. Some mysterious event compelled the Babylonian Abu Aaron, son of the prince Samuel, to emigrate to Europe (about 876, under Charles the Bald), where he imparted a mystic prayer-formula of the Babylonians ("Revue Etudes Juives," xxiii. 230; see Aaron ben Samuel ha-Nasi).Decline of the Exilarchate.
The government meanwhile accomplished all it could toward the complete humiliation of the Jews. All non-believers—Magi, Jews, and Christians—were compelled by Al-Mutawakkil to wear a badge; their places of worship were confiscated and turned into mosques; they were excluded from public offices, and compelled to pay to the calif a tax of one-tenth of the value of their houses (about 850; Weil, l.c. ii. 354). An utterance of the calif Al-Mu'tadhel (892-902) ranks the Jews, as state servants, after Christians (Assemani, l.c. iii. 1, 215). How insignificant the exilarchate had become is shown by the fact that Uḳba, one of the best of the exilarchs, was deposed after a long rule by a gaon, Cohen Ẓedek of Pumbedita (917); this is reported by a contemporary, Nathan the Babylonian, who has transmitted many valuable facts relating to this period (preserved by Zacuto, in "Yuḥasin"). On the other hand, the geonim of Pumbedita, because their district embraced the capital, Bagdad, soon attained equal rank with their colleagues of Sura. The gaon of Sura, Mar Amram, had distinguished himself by the form of prayers ("siddur") which he sent to Spain; but the brilliant period of the literary activity of the Geonim was inaugurated by Ẓemaḥ b. Paltoi I. (872-890), of Pumbedita, fragments of whose Talmudic dictionary are still extant. Naḥshon of Sura left a key to the calendar system, thus marking a departure from the strict field of Talmudism, hitherto the only department studied by the Geonim. In addition, an entire series of geonim left responsa to various religious questions that came to them from the whole diaspora.Saadia.
After an interval of a few years, a nephew of the deposed Uḳba, David b. Zakkai (920-940), was made exilarch, and Cohen ẓedek II. was forced to recognize him. Foiled as this ambitious Pumbeditan thus was in regard to the exilarchate, he was in addition compelled to witness the rise and development of the Academy of Sura, also strongly opposed by him, but which under Saadia reached a point of unprecedented splendor. Saadia, who had been called to Sura from Egypt because there was no scholar of sufficient Talmudic authority there, had already made himself famous by his translation of the Bible into Arabic, and by his commentary upon it. His activity as gaon of Sura (928-942) was even more meritorious than this accomplishment. His battles with the Karaites form but one side of the general polemic activity which ruled at this time in Irak among the professors of the various religious. There was a Parsee controversy ("shikand gumanik Vijar") against Jews and Christians in the ninth century (Darmesteter, "Rev. Et. Juives," xviii. 4). Sabaryeshu, a Jacobite presbyter of Mosul in the tenth century, waged a discussion with a Jewish sage (Assemani, l.c. iii. 1, 541; compare Steinschneider, "Polemische Literatur," p. 85); and Mohammedan writers like Al-Kindi were continuous in their attacks, from the ninth century on, against Jews and Christians alike (Steinschneider, l.c. p. 112). Two califs, Al-Muḳtadir and Kahir, interfered in the disputes between the exilarchate and the gaonate, with the result that both institutions suffered in influence. David had successfully maintained himself against his brother Joshua, whom Saadia had declared exilarch, and had thereafter made friends with the gaon, who had in the interval been banished to Bagdad. He left a son, Judah, to succeed him; but be ruled only seven months. Saadia then took affectionate charge of Judah's infant son, until the latter was slain in a Moslem riot. The exilarchate had to be suspended (about 940) until quieter times permitted its artificial revival. There are some faint traces that a certain Hezekiah, a grandson of David's son Judah, was exilarch for a time; but, according to other authorities, he was only gaon of Pumbedita—a post which, with his violent death in 1040, also passed away after an existence of 800 years.
The Academy of Pumbedita flourished for a century longer. Aaron ibn Sargado, a wealthy merchant of Bagdad and an opponent of Saadia, acted as gaon of Pumbedita (943-960) and very effectively.Sherira and Hai.
Of less importance was Nehemiah, son of Cohen Ẓedek; but in Sherira (968-1000) and his son Hai or Haia, the Jews of Babylonia possessed two incumbents of the gaonate who shed unrivaled brilliancy upon their office. Yet both these respected dignitaries found themselves the victims of calumnious representations made to the calif Al-Ḳadir, probably through the instrumentality of scholars who felt themselves slighted. The two geonim were for a time imprisoned, but ultimately were set at liberty, and the now aged Sherira resigned his office in favor of Hai, who discharged the duties of the gaonate until 1038. Upon his death the above-mentioned Hezekiah ruled for two years longer, and with his murder the gaonate of Pumbedita came to an end.
The gaonate of Sura was extinguished less suddenly. About 970 a certain R. Jacob b. Mordecai is said to have written to the Jewish communities on the Rhine on the matter of a false Messiah (Mannheimer, "Die Juden in Worms," p. 27); this is, however, considered to be a fabrication. The last gaon of Sura was Samuel b. Hophni, the father-in-law of Hai; he was distinguished for his literary activities. When he died in 1034, the gaonate of Sura retrograded more and more, until at last it expired quietly and unnoticed.
A special intervention of Providence, according to Ibn Daud, was arranged in order that Babylonian learning should be transplanted to Europe. Four scholars, sent to the West to gather funds for the academies, were captured on the Mediterranean by an admiral of the calif of Cordova; and after many experiences these four became the founders of rabbinical academies in Alexandria, Kairwan, Cordova, and perhaps Narbonne. Babylonia thus lost its central importance for Judaism: it was, however, replaced by the rising communities of Spain, whither the two sons of the unfortunate Hezekiah above mentioned had also migrated.Babylonian Influence on Judaism.
This forms an appropriate point at which to consider the general influence of Babylonia upon European Judaism. Luzzatto ("Hebräische Briefe," p. 865) thus, in substance, describes it: The West received both the written and the oral Law from Babylonia. Punctuation and accentuation were begun in Babylonia; so also the piyyuṭ, rime, and meter. Even philosophy had its origin here; for the frequently mentioned but little-known David ha-Babli or Al-Mukammez, who lived before Saadia, is the oldest known Jewish philosopher. The greatest if not also the earliest payyeṭan, Eleazar Kalir, of the eighth century, was apparently a Babylonian. It is true indeed, adds Luzzatto, that heresy is also a Babylonian product; for, in addition to the Karaites, Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, Saadia's opponent, was a Persian—in a broader sense a Babylonian. [The Talmudic usage survived for a long time of calling all Western Jews ("ma'arbaye") "Palestinians" and all Eastern Jews ("madinḥaye") "Babylonians."] One peculiarity of the Babylonians, however, made no headway among the Jews of other lands: this was the system of supralineal punctuation (see Pinsker, "Einleitung in das Babylonisch-Hebräische Punctuationssystem"), called the Babylonian or Assyrian, and said to have been invented by the Karaite, R. Aḥa of Irak (see Margoliouth, in "Proc. Soc. Bibl. Archæology," 1893, p. 190). To Babylonian literary activity, in addition to the Babylonian Talmud, must be ascribed possibly the Targum Onkelos, together with some Midrashic works ("Rabbot"), "Halakot Gedolot," and the well-known works bearing the names of the geonim Aḥa of Shabḥa, Amram, Saadia, Sherira, Hai, Hophni, and others. Babylonian learning, always great from Rab's time, expressed itself in independent works only toward the close of the period, and then disappeared altogether.Middle Ages.
Babylonia, however, still continued to be regardedwith reverence by the Jews in all parts. Eldad, who in the ninth century traveled extensively from Africa, notes that the Jews of Abyssinia placed "the sages of Babylon" first in their prayers for their brethren of the diaspora (Ẓemaḥ Gaon, in Epstein, "Eldad ha-Dani," p. 8); and a similar prayer, , although it has quite lost its application, is extant today in many congregations. R. Paltiel of Cairo contributed one thousand gold pieces to the schools of Babylonia ("Medieval Jewish Chron." ii. 128), in accordance, no doubt, with a custom prevalent in all places where Jews dwelt. In 1139 Abraham ibn Ezra was in Bagdad, and the exilarchate had possibly been restored at that time (see his commentary on Zech. xii. 7). Toward the end of the twelfth century, both Benjamin of Tudela and Pethahiah of Regensburg gave a description of Babylon; Judah al-Ḥarizi's journey was somewhat later. Benjamin found seven thousand Jews in Mosul on the Tigris opposite ancient Nineveh, and at their head was R. Zakkai, of Davidic descent; he found also R. Joseph Burj al-Fulk, court astronomer of the Seljuk sultan Saifeddin. Pethahiah ("Travels," London, 1856) found there two "nesi'im" (princes) of the house of David. Other inhabitants paid a gold dinar to the government, but the Jews paid one-half to the government and the other to the two princes. In another passage (l.c. p. 20) Pethahiah says that every Jew in Babylonia paid a poll-tax of one gold piece to the head of the academy (of Bagdad?); for the king (calif) demanded no taxes. The Jews in Babylonia lived in peace. Passing through many places which counted two thousand, ten thousand, and even fifteen thousand Jewish inhabitants, Benjamin reached Bagdad, the residence of the calif. At this time the calif (Emir al-Mumemin) was considered only as the spiritual head of the state; the functions of government proper were exercised by the Seljuk princes.Benjamin of Tudela.
"The calif," says Benjamin, "is kindly disposed toward Israel, and reads and speaks our holy tongue." In Bagdad there resided about a thousand Jews, and there were ten colleges, which he enumerates, all under a president of their own. At the head of all stood the exilarch Daniel b. Ḥisdai. This shows that the exilarchate must have been restored, and, to judge from Benjamin's further description, it had lost but little of its former splendor. Pethahiah mentions only one academy in Bagdad and but a single presiding officer; he knows nothing of an exilarch. The inroad of the Mongolians seems to have wrought havoc in Bagdad; and the only large congregation known to Al-Ḥarizi (Makamas 12, 18, 24, 46) was that of Mosul. Passing through the city of Babylon, Benjamin reached a place inhabited by twenty thousand Jews, where the house of the prophet Daniel was shown.
Both travelers recount many legends and popular traditions concerning Daniel's grave in Susa (see Cambridge Bible, Daniel, p. xxi.), Ezekiel's synagogue, and the graves of individual Talmudists—traditions which survive to-day in great measure there, but which evidence considerable superstition on the part of the Babylonian Jews, a failing they share, however, with their Mohammedan neighbors. Al-Ḥarizi sings of Ezekiel's grave in his 53d makama; Niebuhr saw the grave in 1765, and was assured that even then many hundred Jews annually visited it (Ritter, l.c. x. 264). Benjamin went to Kufa, where seven thousand Jews dwelt, and visited also the academic cities, Sura and Pumbedita; in ruined Nehardea, Pethahiah found a congregation, and in the celebrated Nisibis there were then eight hundred Jews. He relates that the "nasi" of Damascus received his ordination from the academic head of Babylonia, so that this country was still predominant in the minds of the Jews of the Moslem world. The gaon of Bagdad, Samuel b. Ali ha-Levi, did not hesitate to oppose Maimonides publicly. Two hundred years later, about 1380, there lived in Babylonia a prince, David b. Hodayah, who took up the cause of a German rabbi, Samuel Schlettstadt; this prince traced his descent, not from Bostanai, but from the Palestinian patriarchs (Coronel, "Commentarii Quinque," p. 110, Vienna, 1864). There was likewise an exilarchate in Syria under the Egyptian sultan in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, with its seat at Damascus; the exilarch Yisha of Damascus (1288) joined hands with the exilarch David of Mosul and the rabbinical authorities of Babylonia—that is, Bagdad—in opposing the anti-Maimonists ("Ḥemdah Genuzah," p. 21b; "Kerem Ḥemed," iii. 170).
Temporary commotion was caused in the life of the Jews of the califate by the appearance of David Alroy, who called himself in his Messianic capacity by the name of Menahem b. Solomon.Mongolian Period.
The califate hastened to its end before the rising power of the Mongolians. These heathen tribes knew no distinction, as Bar Hebræus remarks, between heathens, Jews, and Christians; and their grand mogul Cubalai showed himself just toward the Jews who served in his army (Marco Polo, book ii., ch. vi.). Hulagu, the destroyer of the califate (1258) and the conqueror of Palestine (1260), was tolerant toward both Jews and Christians; but there can be no doubt that in those days of terrible warfare the Jews must have suffered much with others. Under the Mongolian rulers, the priests of all religions were exempt from the poll-tax; and it is not true when Mohammedan writers deny that the Jews possessed the same privilege (Vambéry, "Gesch. Buchara's," i. 156, Stuttgart, 1872). Hulagu's second son, Aḥmed, embraced Islam, but his successor, Argun (1284-91), hated the Moslems and was friendly to Jews and Christians; his chief counselor was a Jew, Sa'ad al-Daulah, a physician of Bagdad (D'Ohsson, "Histoire des Mongoles," book iii., ch. ii., p. 31; Weil, "Gesch. der Islamitischen Völker," p. 381). After the death of the great khan and the murder of his Jewish favorite, the Mohammedans fell upon the Jews, and Bagdad witnessed a regular battle between them. Ghaikatu also had a Jewish minister of finance, Reshid al-Daulah (Bar Hebræus, i. 632). The khan Gazan also became a Mohammedan, and restored the so-called Omar Law (see above) to full sway. The Egyptian sultan Naṣr, who also ruled over Irak, reestablished the same law in 1330, and saddled it with new limitations (Weil, l.c. pp. 19, 398). Mongolian fury once again devastated the localities inhabited by Jews, when, in 1393, Timurcaptured Bagdad, Wasit, Hilleh, Bassora, and Tekrit, after obstinate resistance (Weil, l.c. p. 427). After various changes of fortune, Mesopotamia and Irak came into the hands of the Osmans, when Sultan Sulaiman II. in 1534 took Tebriz and Bagdad from the Persians; and, with slight interruptions, Babylonia has remained to this day under Turkish domination.Modern Period.
There is but scanty historical information available concerning these latter centuries. The president of a synagogue in "Babylon" (Bagdad?) brought home a scroll of the Law from Palestine to Bagdad in 1333 (Isaac Chelo, in Carmoly, "Itinéraires"). The scroll belonging to the celebrated Moses b. Asher is said to have been brought to Cairo by the "Babylonian" Jabez b. Solomon, a Karaite, probably in Turkish times ("Ibn Saphir," p. 14b). Babylonia thenceforth disappears from the history of Judaism.
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- A. Berliner, Beiträge zur Geographie und Ethnographie Babylonien's im Talmud und Midrasch, Berlin, 1883;
- W. Bacher, Agada der Babylonischen Amoräer, Budapest, 1878;
- F. Lazarus, Die Häupter der Vertriebenen, in Brüll's Jahrbücher, x., Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1890;
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