The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


Legendary son-in-law of Ashmedai, king of the demons. Bar Shalmon, the scholarly and pious son of a rich merchant who had accumulated great wealth through maritime ventures, promised his father under oath, when the latter was on his death-bed, never to undertake a sea voyage. Indeed, the fortune accumulated by the old merchant was so considerable that it was not necessary for the son to expose himself to the dangers of the sea. A few years after his father's death, there entered the harbor of the city where Bar Shalmon resided a richly laden merchant vessel, the captain of which informed him that all its cargo of gold, precious stones, and other valuables were part of his father's estate abroad. Bar Shalmon learned further that this cargo represented but a very small part of his father's possessions in foreign lands; and he was earnestly requested to return in the ship in order to take possession of his inheritance. Bar Shalmon pleaded his inability to do so because of his vow. The captain declined to accept this excuse, on the ground that he believed Bar Shalmon's father to have been mentally incompetent at the time of his death, as evidenced by the fact that he had not alluded, even by a hint, to his vast treasures abroad.

Breaks His Oath to His Father.

After considerable parleying, Bar Shalmon permitted himself to be persuaded to break his oath; and he entered upon the voyage. As soon as the ship was upon the high seas, it sank with all on board, Bar Shalmon alone, naked and destitute, being dashed by the waves upon a desert island. There he was pursued by a lion, and sought refuge in a gigantic tree, upon which there was perched a fierce vulture (, not to be translated here as "owl"). In his terror Bar Shalmon climbed upon the back of the bird, which was so astonished by its sudden burden that it remained motionless all night; and its fright increased when, in the morning, it saw clearly the man sitting upon it. In itsdismay the bird flew swiftly across the sea; and toward evening Bar Shalmon discerned land beneath him, and even distinguished the voices of children declaiming the verse of Exodus, "If thou buy a Hebrew servant," etc. (xxi. 2). Firmly believing that the country was inhabited by Jews, Bar Shalmon plunged from his great height to the ground. Bruised in all his limbs and exhausted by hunger, he crept to the synagogue, which he found locked. Introducing himself to a boy, with the words of Jonah, "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven" (Jonah i. 9), the latter conducted him to the rabbi.

Falls into the Land of Demons.

To Bar Shalmon's dismay, he learned that certain death now awaited him; for he had fallen into the realm of the demons (see Demonology), who would surely kill him at sight. His prayers and lamentations, however, aroused the compassion of the rabbi, who promised to exert his influence in the wanderer's behalf. Concealing him in his house for the night, on the following morning he conducted him to the synagogue. With a noise like thunder and with the rapidity of lightning, thousands of demons flew into the synagogue; but, although conscious of the presence of a man, they remained quiet out of respect to their rabbi. When the ḥazan had completed the introductory psalms ("pesuke de-zimrah") the rabbi directed him to pause (this presupposes the Sephardic ritual; for according to the German minhag these psalms are an integral part of the regular prayers), and requested the congregation not to harm his charge.

Saved from Death by Ashmedai.

After a long debate, during which the fact was emphasized that Bar Shalmon, the perjurer, was deserving of death, it was decided to bring the matter before King Ashmedai; whereupon the ḥazan declared that none should harm Bar Shalmon under penalty of excommunication. Ashmedai summoned a tribunal, the members of which were to decide whether, according to the Torah, Bar Shalmon was deserving of death. The judges found him guilty, and did not consider the death-penalty too severe for the perjurer. Ashmedai recommended, however, that execution be postponed for a day; and he kept Bar Shalmon at his house in order the more effectually to protect him. Meanwhile Ashmedai found an opportunity of making the closer acquaintance of Bar Shalmon, in whom he recognized a great scholar. The king promised to save him from death provided he would pledge himself on oath to impart all his wisdom to Ashmedai's son. Bar Shalmon agreed to this; and it was arranged that, before the execution, he should express the desire to be brought before the king, in order that the latter might as a scholar pass judgment on a point in Bar Shalmon's favor (compare Ashmedai). The arrangement was carried out; and Ashmedai announced publicly that Bar Shalmon had not broken his oath, inasmuch as he had believed that his father was mentally incompetent at the time of its exaction.

Becomes Ashmedai's Son-in-Law.

Bar Shalmon was now exonerated, and he received the position of teacher in the house of Ashmedai. Three years later, when the latter undertook a campaign against a country which had revolted, he left Bar Shalmon at home as his representative, entrusting him with the keys of all the apartments in his palace excepting one. Bar Shalmon was curious to learn what this secret chamber contained; and, opening the door, he discovered the beautiful daughter of the king seated upon a splendid throne. The princess informed him that her father had long intended to bestow her upon Bar Shalmon, and that he was only waiting for the latter to sue for her hand. She further counseled him to plead his love for her in defense of his intrusion into the secret apartment, in case her father should reproach him for his breach of faith. Thus it came about that Bar Shalmon soon afterward married the princess; the wedding being attended not only by demons, but also by numerous animals and birds. The bridegroom was compelled to take a solemn oath that he married the princess solely because of his love for her, and that he would never desert her.

Bar Shalmon, however, felt a yearning for his seaport home which constantly increased in intensity, so that once, when he beheld the little son with which the princess had presented him, he sighed deeply, and his thoughts reverted to his other children. The princess questioned him as to the cause of his sadness, asking whether he had tired of her beauty or whether there was anything lacking to his happiness—a situation that vividly recalls the interview between Venus and Tannhäuser. When she found that his yearning for home could not be appeased, she granted him a year's leave of absence, after he had made both a verbal and a written oath to return within the appointed time.

He Deserts the Princess.

A demon transported him to his former home in a single day, and upon his arrival there Bar Shalmon told his escort to inform the princess that he would never return to her. The princess at first refused to believe this report, and waited until the expiration of the year, when she despatched the same demon to Bar Shalmon to bring him back. Neither he nor the many other distinguished demons who were sent could prevail upon Bar Shalmon to keep his promise; and all the threats and exhortations of the princess were unheeded. Ashmedai now became enraged, and declared his intention of going in person to compel Bar Shalmon to return. The princess, however, pacified her father, and, accompanied by a great army of demons, proceeded herself in quest of her recreant husband. Arrived at her destination, she at first despatched her son Solomon to his father; but his efforts were fruitless, Bar Shalmon refusing to return to the demons. The princess thereupon summoned him before the court, after she had rejected proposals of her followers to put her husband to death. The court decided that Bar Shalmon must either return with the princess or become divorced from her, in which latter case he must return her dowry (Ketubah). Bar Shalmon thereupon disdainfully agreed to return all the wealth of the princess, so long as he should not be compelled to follow her.

She Slays Him.

This so enraged the princess that she forthwith renounced her husband;requesting, however, as a boon, that she be permitted to kiss him before departing. He acceded to the request; but no sooner had their lips met than Bar Shalmon fell dead, the princess exclaiming: "This is the punishment for thy perjury and thine infidelity to God, thy father, and myself." Thereupon she returned to her own people, but left her son behind, fearing that his presence might remind her of his father.

The purpose of the legend, as evident from the narrative, is to inculcate the sacredness of an oath; nor can there be the slightest doubt as to its Jewish origin, the usual superscription, according to which it is represented as a translation from the Arabic, being evidently false. The statement that Abraham Maimon was the translator and even the author of the legend is likewise incorrect; for this Abraham —by whom probably no other than the son of Maimonides was meant—in all likelihood did not even believe in the existence of demons. It is probably true, however, that the legend originated in the circle of the Arabian Jews, as demonstrated by the many points of resemblance it bears to the "Arabian Nights," the similitude between the characters of the Jewish legend and the Jewish merchant Benesdra () and his son Solomon in the "Arabian Nights" ("Les 1,000 Quarts d'Heure," Paris, 1715; German ed. by Dessauer, 1844, i. 497 et seq.), as Steinschneider observes, being especially striking. The names also seem to correspond somewhat; for "Bar Shalmon" in the Arabian version becomes "Solomon," who in the Ashmedai legend, again, is mentioned as the son of Bar Shalmon. Indeed, the name "Bar Shalmon" is itself to be suspected, and is probably corrupted from (Bartholomæus). In Lev. R. vi. 3 a certain Bartholomæus is mentioned as an example of a perjurer.

The legend of Bar Shalmon, in the Hebrew literature known under the title "Ma'aseh Yerushalmi," belongs to the most widely popular stories of this class; and even to-day in Russia it is a great favorite with the children. There are three Latin and two German translations of it, and one in Judæo-German —a fact which furnishes the best proof of its popularity. There is besides an adaptation in French by Carlotta Patino Rosa, "Mitra, ou la Démone Mariée" (Padua?, 1745?).

  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 700;
  • Zanolini, Lexicon Chaldaico-Rabbinicum, pp. 774-801, which contains a Latin translation from the Hebrew text;
  • Carmoly, in Oholibah, pp. 40-70;
  • Pascheles, Sippurim, iii. 166;
  • idem, in Steinschneider, Hebräische Bibliographie, xvi. 67, xix. 113.
A. L. G.
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