ABTALION, POLLION, or PTOLLION:
By: Louis Ginzberg
A leader of the Pharisees in the middle of the first century
Very little is known concerning the life of Abtalion. He was a pupil of Judah ben Ṭabbai and Simon ben Sheṭaḥ, and probably lived for some time in Alexandria, Egypt, where he and also his teacher Judah took refuge when Alexander Jannæus cruelly persecuted the Pharisees. This gives pertinence to his well-known maxim (Ab. i. 12), "Ye wise men, be careful of your words, lest ye draw upon yourselves the punishment of exile and be banished to a place of bad water (dangerous doctrine), and your disciples, who come after you, drink thereof and die, and the name of the Holy One thereby be profaned." He cautions the rabbis herein against participation in politics (compare the maxim of his colleague) as well as against emigration to Egypt, where Greek ideas threatened danger to Judaism. Abtalion and his colleague Shemaiah are the first to bear the title darshan (Pes. 70a), and it was probably by no mere chance that their pupil Hillel was the first to lay down hermeneutic rules for the interpretation of the Midrash; he may have been indebted to his teachers for the tendency toward haggadic interpretation. These two scholars are the first whose sayings are recorded in the Haggadah (Mek., Beshallaḥ, iii. 36, ed. Weiss.). The new method of derush (Biblical interpretation) introduced by Abtalion and Shemaiah seems to have evoked opposition among the Pharisees (Pes. 70b. Compare also Josephus, l.c., Παλλίων ό φαρισαιος, where a title is probably intended). Abtalion and Shemaiah are also the first whose Ḥalakot (legal decisions) are handed down to later times. Among them is the important one that the paschal lamb must be offered even if Passover fall on a Sabbath (Pes. 66a). Abtalion's academy was not free to every one, but those who sought entrance paid daily a small admission fee of one and a half tropaika; that is, about twelve cents (Yoma, 35b). This was no doubt to prevent overcrowding by the people, or for some reasons stated by the Shammaites (Ab. R. N. iii. [iv.] 1).
- Monatsschrift, i. 118-120;
- Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 2d ed., iii. 187 et seq., 617-618;
- Landau, in Monatsschrift, vii, 317-329;
- Herzfeld, ibid. iii. 227;
- idem, Gesch. d. Volkes Israel, ii. 253;
- Derenbourg, Essai, pp. 116, 117, 149, 463;
- Weiss, Dor, i. 148 et seq., 152, 153;
- Brüll, Mebo, pp. 25-27;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. ii., s.v. Semaya;
- Lehman, in Rev. Ét. Juives, xxiv. 68-81.