John Hyrcanus (Yohanan Hyrcanus – יוחנן הורקנוס, Ιωάννης Υρκανός) was the High Priest and fourth Hasmonean (Maccabeean) Prince to rule Judea in the 2nd century BCE. It is believed that he was born between 175-164 BCE. He served as High Priest and Ruler of Judea from 134 BCE until his death in 104 BCE.
Although it is important to note that he was not an absolute Monarch or King, for Josephus wrote, “NOW when their father Hyrcanus was dead, the eldest son Aristobulus, intending to change the government into a kingdom, for so he resolved to do, first of all put a diadem on his head, four hundred eighty and one years and three months after the people had been delivered from the Babylonish slavery, and were returned to their own country again.” Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 13:11:1
Furthermore he is credited with minting the first ever Jewish coins. The 137-104 BCE Bronze Pruta, also known as the, “Widow’s mite” bears the inscription, “Johanan the High Priest and the council of the Jews.” Thus indicating that he was not a King or Monarch, he also eschewed any human or animal images as were forbidden by strict interpretation of Torah law.
Scholars are divided over how John adopted or was given the Greek regal name Hyrcanus. The 1906 Jewish encyclopedia states, “As a young man he distinguished himself as a general in the war against the Syrian general Cendebeus, whom he defeated. That John was given the surname “Hyrcanus” on account of this victory, is a tradition to which Grätz and others attribute historical significance.”
Some scholars have speculated that by adopting a Greek regal name, he sought to create closer ties with the Hellenistic Jews who had been on the loosing side of the Maccabean revolt. His taking the Greek regal name – “Hyrcanus” – was a significant political and cultural step away from the intransigent opposition to and rejection of Hellenistic culture which had characterised the Maccabean revolt against Seleucid rule. It appears to have reflected a more pragmatic recognition on his part, that Judea, once having attained independence, had to maintain its position among a milieu of small and large states which all shared the Hellenistic culture. It is interesting to note that all subsequent Hasmonean rulers followed suit and adopted, or were given Greek names in their turn. This choosing or being given a birth name which reflects the larger culture that Jewish people live amongst is quite common throughout much of Jewish history and continues to the present day.
The name may have been imparted to him for his service as a vassal commander to Antiochus VII Sidetes for distinguishing himself in battle against the Parthians in the region of Hyrcania. This was a common practice in the ancient Mediterranean world, especially among the Romans. His father Simon had sent a delegation to Rome, where they sought and were granted recognition as an independent nation, thus ending the Seleucid rule over them, and Hyrcanus built upon his father’s close ties with Rome, receiving two decrees from the Roman Senate that established a treaty of friendship with Judea. They undoubtedly perceived that the Roman Republic was a power on the rise and a strong ally to have. These close ties to the old Roman Republic may have contributed to the type of government that had characterized the rule of the first four Hasmonean Princes. They were Generals in command of their armies, they delegated authority to continue sieges and campaigns to their sons and subordinates and their governing councils were very similar to the Roman Senate. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia appears to express this theory in it’s citation regarding the coins Hyrcanus minted, “Copper Coin of Hyrcanus. Obverse: —”Johanan the High Priest and the ‘Senate’ of the Jews,” within a laurel wreath.Reverse: two cornucopias ; in the middle a poppy-head.(After Madden, “History of Jewish Coinage.”)”
He was the son of the High Priest Simon Maccabeus and thus nephew of Judah Maccabeus (Y’hudhah HaMakabi) who was a Jewish priest (kohen) and a son of the priest Mattathias, known from Chanukah fame for having led the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire and Hellenistic Jews (167–160 BCE). Political and religious intrigue continued throughout the Hasmonean dynasty and the assassination of his father Simon and two of his older brothers is recorded by Josephus in his work, Antiquities of the Jews.
“Now he (Simon) was the ruler of the Jews in all eight years; but at a feast came to his end. It was caused by the treachery of his son-in-law Ptolemy, who caught also his wife, and two of his sons, and kept them in bonds. He also sent some to kill John the third son, whose name was Hyrcanus; but the young man perceiving them coming, he avoided the danger he was in from them, and made haste into the city [Jerusalem], as relying on the good-will of the multitude, because of the benefits they had received from his father, and because of the hatred the same multitude bare to Ptolemy; so that when Ptolemy was endeavoring to enter the city by another gate, they drove him away, as having already admitted Hyrcanus.” Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 13:7:4
His first year after assuming his father’s office of High Priest and Ruler of Jerusalem, along with the surrounding territory which comprised the Judean state, was plagued with personal disaster, war and famine which forced difficult decisions on the young, righteous High Priest and Ruler to make. As recorded by Josephus,
“SO Ptolemy retired to one of the fortresses that was above Jericho, which was called Dagon. But Hyrcanus having taken the high priesthood that had been his father’s before, and in the first place propitiated God by sacrifices, he then made an expedition against Ptolemy; and when he made his attacks upon the place, in other points he was too hard for him, but was rendered weaker than he, by the commiseration he had for his mother and brethren, and by that only; for Ptolemy brought them upon the wall, and tormented them in the sight of all, and threatened that he would throw them down headlong, unless Hyrcanus would leave off the siege. And as he thought that so far as he relaxed as to the siege and taking of the place, so much favor did he show to those that were dearest to him by preventing their misery, his zeal about it was cooled. However, his mother spread out her hands, and begged of him that he would not grow remiss on her account, but indulge his indignation so much the more, and that he would do his utmost to take the place quickly, in order to get their enemy under his power, and then to avenge upon him what he had done to those that were dearest to himself; for that death would be to her sweet, though with torment, if that enemy of theirs might but be brought to punishment for his wicked dealings to them. Now when his mother said so, he resolved to take the fortress immediately; but when he saw her beaten, and torn to pieces, his courage failed him, and he could not but sympathize with what his mother suffered, and was thereby overcome. And as the siege was drawn out into length by this means, that year on which the Jews used to rest came on; for the Jews observe this rest every seventh year, as they do every seventh day; so that Ptolemy being for this cause released from the war, he slew the brethren of Hyrcanus, and his mother; and when he had so done, he fled to Zeno, who was called Cotylas, who was then the tyrant of the city Philadelphia.” Antiquities of the Jews 13:8:1
From this account we can see that he was an excellent High Priest. He made sacrifices to propitiate God, refrained from battle in the sabbatical year and strictly obeyed the commandments and laws of Torah, even though doing so led to a great and tragic end to his beloved family members.
To compound this personal tragedy he was also faced with the most serious of challenges to independent Judean rule from the Seleucid Empire when Antiochus VII Sidetes brought his armies into Judea. As in all warfare soldiers must be fed and Seleucid foraging parties pillaged and terrorized the countryside. Then Antiochus laid siege to Jerusalem and the city was crowded with refugees from the countryside. Hyrcanus was forced to make some very hard decisions which ultimately weakened his rein both as High Priest and ruler of Judea. For Josephus recorded,
“But Antiochus, being very uneasy at the miseries that Simon had brought upon him, he invaded Judea in the fourth years’ of his reign, and the first year of the principality of Hyrcanus, in the hundred and sixty-second olympiad. And when he had burnt the country, he shut up Hyrcanus in the city, which he encompassed round with seven encampments; but did just nothing at the first, because of the strength of the walls, and because of the valor of the besieged, although they were once in want of water, which yet they were delivered from by a large shower of rain, which fell at the setting of the Pleiades. However, about the north part of the wall, where it happened the city was upon a level with the outward ground, the king raised a hundred towers of three stories high, and placed bodies of soldiers upon them; and as he made his attacks every day, he cut a double ditch, deep and broad, and confined the inhabitants within it as within a wall; but the besieged contrived to make frequent sallies out; and if the enemy were not any where upon their guard, they fell upon them, and did them a great deal of mischief; and if they perceived them, they then retired into the city with ease. But because Hyrcanus discerned the inconvenience of so great a number of men in the city, while the provisions were the sooner spent by them, and yet, as is natural to suppose, those great numbers did nothing, he separated the useless part, and excluded them out of the city, and retained that part only which were in the flower of their age, and fit for war. However, Antiochus would not let those that were excluded go away, who therefore wandering about between the walls and consuming away by famine, died miserably; but when the feast of tabernacles was at hand, those that were within commiserated their condition, and received them in again. And when Hyrcanus sent to Antiochus, and desired there might be a truce for seven days, because of the festival, be gave way to this piety towards God, and made that truce accordingly. And besides that, he sent in a magnificent sacrifice, bulls with their horns gilded, with all sorts of sweet spices, and with cups of gold and silver. So those that were at the gates received the sacrifices from those that brought them, and led them to the temple, Antiochus the mean while feasting his army, which was a quite different conduct from Antiochus Epiphanes, who, when he had taken the city, offered swine upon the altar, and sprinkled the temple with the broth of their flesh, in order to violate the laws of the Jews, and the religion they derived from their forefathers; for which reason our nation made war with him, and would never be reconciled to him; but for this Antiochus, all men called him Antiochus the Pious, for the great zeal he had about religion.” Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 13:8:2
Hyrcanus was able to negotiate a truce with Antiochus, but he was forced to rob the tomb of King David of 3000 talents of silver, agreed to recognize Seleucid control over Judea and served as the commander of Jewish forces in Antiochus’ war with the Parthians.
“And now Antiochus was so angry at what he had suffered from Simon, that he made an expedition into Judea, and sat down before Jerusalem and besieged Hyrcanus; but Hyrcanus opened the sepulcher of David, who was the richest of all kings, and took thence about three thousand talents in money, and induced Antiochus, by the promise of three thousand talents, to raise the siege. Moreover, he was the first of the Jews that had money enough, and began to hire foreign auxiliaries also.” Josephus, Wars of the Jews Book 3:2:5
Although there are no Jewish sources besides Josephus, because the Books of the Maccabees ends before this last siege, it is known that Antiochus added the name Eueregetes, “The Benefactor” to his official regal name. Josephus noted that the inhabitants of Jerusalem called him, “the Pious” and he was much more tolerant regarding Jewish religious and cultural traditions. He made no attempt to interfere with the Temple cult system, the selection of High Priest, their local customs or side with the Hellenistic Jewish minority. In fact Hyrcanus assisted him in what was to become known as the last great military campaign of the Seleucid empire, and for the next two decades Hyrcanus did not attack regions under Seleucid control. This indicates that relations with the Seleucid empire remained cordial and equitable.
In the year 128 BCE the aged Antiochus VII Euetegetes marched with a small force to put down the unrest in Media and was killed in battle with the Parthian King Phraates II, who had a much larger force, which had lain an ambush for him. Thus the last great Seleucid King died in battle, an honorable and fitting end to the line of great military kings, stretching back to the time of Alexander the Great’s General Seleucus I Nicanor (The Victor).
The Seleucid Kingdom rapidly deteriorated and lost control of their client states. This was an opportunity for Hyrcanus to redeem himself in the eyes of the Judean people. He was able to assert complete Judean independence and started his famed military campaign to expand the Judean State. Without the need to pay tribute to any foreign power the economic conditions in Judea improved and Hyrcanus was able to mint his own coinage. This was the first time that any Jewish coins had ever been minted! He rebuilt the city walls as well as an additional fortress north of the Temple named Baris.
Hyrcanus raised a mercenary army, with funds from the Jewish state and most likely from the tomb of King David, these troops were battle hardened soldiers,who most likely found themselves unemployed after the disillusion of the Seleucid Empire. He sought good relation with the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt and solidified his ties with the Roman Republic. Secure in his diplomatic stance with the two remaining super powers to the west he concentrated his military aggression to the nonaligned nation states on his borders.
“BUT when Hyrcanus heard of the death of Antiochus, he presently made an expedition against the cities of Syria, hoping to find them destitute of fighting men, and of such as were able to defend them. However, it was not till the sixth month that he took Medaba, and that not without the greatest distress of his army. After this he took Samega, and the neighboring places; and besides these, Shechem and Gerizzim, and the nation of the Cutheans, who dwelt at the temple which resembled that temple which was at Jerusalem, and which Alexander permitted Sanballat, the general of his army, to build for the sake of Manasseh, who was son-in-law to Jaddua the high priest, as we have formerly related; which temple was now deserted two hundred years after it was built. Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.” Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 8:9:1
Beginning in 113 BCE Hyrcanus launched an offensive against the capital of the country called Samaria. He placed his sons Antigonus and Aristobulus in charge of the siege of Samaria in the lands that had formerly belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The Samaritans were not considered to be Jewish by the majority of Judeans, for when the ten tribes were carried away into captivity to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” at first worshipped the idols of their own nations, but being troubled with lions, they supposed it was because they had not honored the God of Israel. A Jewish priest was therefore sent to them from Assyria to instruct them in the Jewish religion. They were instructed from the books of Moses, but still retained many of their idolatrous customs.
The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered to not be part of the commonwealth of Israel. The Samaritans built a temple for themselves on Mount Gerizim, which the Samaritans insisted was designated by Moses as the place where the nation should worship. Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans, established his son-in-law, Manasses, as high priest. Thus the idolatrous religion of the Samaritans was in direct conflict with traditional Judaism.
During the siege the Samaritans sought help from Antiochus IX Cyzicenus of Syria and eventually received 6,000 troops. The siege lasted for a long and difficult year, but eventually Antiochus IX Cyzicenus’ troops were routed and Samaria fell and was completely decimated, the city of Scythopolis was captured as well and their Temple on Mount Gerazim was destroyed. The fact that Hyrcanus enslaved the Samaritans underscores the fact that He did not believe them to be part of the commonwealth of Israel.
“However, at another time, when Antiochus was gone upon an expedition against the Medes, and so gave Hyrcanus an opportunity of being revenged upon him, he immediately made an attack upon the cities of Syria, as thinking, what proved to be the case with them, that he should find them empty of good troops. So he took Medaba and Samea, with the towns in their neighborhood, as also Shechem, and Gerizzim; and besides these, [he subdued] the nation of the Cutheans, who dwelt round about that temple which was built in imitation of the temple at Jerusalem; he also took a great many other cities of Idumea, with Adoreon and Marissa. He also proceeded as far as Samaria, where is now the city Sebaste, which was built by Herod the king, and encompassed it all round with a wall, and set his sons, Aristobulus and Antigonus, over the siege; who pushed it on so hard, that a famine so far prevailed within the city, that they were forced to eat what never was esteemed food. They also invited Antiochus, who was called Cyzicenus, to come to their assistance; whereupon he got ready, and complied with their invitation, but was beaten by Aristobulus and Antigonus; and indeed he was pursued as far as Scythopolis by these brethren, and fled away from them. So they returned back to Samaria, and shut the multitude again within the wall; and when they had taken the city, they demolished it, and made slaves of its inhabitants. And as they had still great success in their undertakings, they did not suffer their zeal to cool, but marched with an army as far as Scythopolis, and made an incursion upon it, and laid waste all the country that lay within Mount Carmel.” Josephus Wars of the Jews Book 1:2:6-7
As High Priest, Prince, General and Ruler of Judea, Hyrcanus took the unprecedented step of forced conversion to Judaism of those people groups which he had conquered in war. This action would have disastrous consequences for the Hasmonean dynasty, for the tyrant Herod the Great was from the stock of those Idumeans who were desirous to remain in the lands of their forefathers. Herod was personally responsible for bringing about the end of the Hasmonean dynasty. Herod the Great took the Hasmonean Princess Mariamne I as his second wife. She was known for her great beauty, as was her brother Aristobulus III. Herod’s fear of his rivals, the Hasmoneans, led to him executing all of the prominent members of the family, including Mariamne and her brother Aristobulus III.
“And now, upon the approach of the feast of tabernacles, which is a festival very much observed among us, he let those days pass over, and both he and the rest of the people were therein very merry; yet did the envy which at this time arose in him cause him to make haste to do what lie was about, and provoke him to it; for when this youth Aristobulus, who was now in the seventeenth year of his age, went up to the altar, according to the law, to offer the sacrifices, and this with the ornaments of his high priesthood, and when he performed the sacred offices, he seemed to be exceedingly comely, and taller than men usually were at that age, and to exhibit in his countenance a great deal of that high family he was sprung from, – a warm zeal and affection towards him appeared among the people, and the memory of the actions of his grandfather Aristobulus was fresh in their minds; and their affections got so far the mastery of them, that they could not forbear to show their inclinations to him. They at once rejoiced and were confounded, and mingled with good wishes their joyful acclamations which they made to him, till the good-will of the multitude was made too evident; and they more rashly proclaimed the happiness they had received from his family than was fit under a monarchy to have done. Upon all this, Herod resolved to complete what he had intended against the young man. When therefore the festival was over, and he was feasting at Jericho with Alexandra, who entertained them there, he was then very pleasant with the young man, and drew him into a lonely place, and at the same time played with him in a juvenile and ludicrous manner. Now the nature of that place was hotter than ordinary; so they went out in a body, and of a sudden, and in a vein of madness; and as they stood by the fish-ponds, of which there were large ones about the house, they went to cool themselves [by bathing], because it was in the midst of a hot day. At first they were only spectators of Herod’s servants and acquaintance as they were swimming; but after a while, the young man, at the instigation of Herod, went into the water among them, while such of Herod’s acquaintance, as he had appointed to do it, dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening, as if it had been done in sport only; nor did they desist till he was entirely suffocated. And thus was Aristobulus murdered, having lived no more in all than eighteen years, and kept the high priesthood one year only; which high priesthood Ananelus now recovered again.” Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 15:3:3
Hyrcanus is credited in the Babylonian Talmud as having instituted three reforms to Temple worship and practice. He brought to an end the confession made at the presentation of the tithe, and he also abolished the Wakers and the Knockers. He is also credited with having heard a Bath Kol (the voice of God) issue from within the Holy of Holies announcing, ‘The young men who went to wage war against Antioch have been victorious’.
I have underlined and used Bold text for the respective texts that state or explain the reforms.
Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah
that the whole Torah may be read in any language; for if you maintain that it may be read1 only in the holy tongue, wherefore had the All-Merciful to write ‘And [these words] shall be’? — It is necessary because it is written ‘Hear’.2 It is likewise possible to say that the Rabbis hold that the whole Torah must be read in the holy tongue; for if you maintain that it can be read in any language, wherefore had the All-Merciful to write the word ‘Hear’? — It is necessary because it is written ‘And [these words] shall be’.3
THE ‘PRAYER’. [It may be recited in any language because] it is only supplication, and one may pray in any language he wishes. But may the ‘prayer’ be recited in any language? Behold Rab Judah has said: A man should never pray for his needs in Aramaic. For R. Johanan declared: If anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic, the Ministering Angels4 do not pay attention to him, because they do not understand that language! — There is no contradiction, one referring to [the prayer] of an individual and the other to that of a Congregation.5 And do not the Ministering Angels understand Aramaic? Behold it has been taught: Johanan, the High Priest, heard a Bath Kol6 issue from within the Holy of Holies announcing, ‘The young men who went to wage war against Antioch7 have been victorious.8 It also happened with Simeon the Righteous9 that he heard a Bath Kol issue from within the Holy of Holies announcing, ‘Annulled is the decree which the enemy intended to introduce into the Temple’. Then was Caius Caligula10 slain and his decrees annulled. They noted down the time [when the Bath Kol spoke] and it tallied.11 Now it was in Aramaic that it spoke! — If you wish I can say that it is different with a Bath Kol since it occurs for the purpose of being generally understood;12 or if you wish I can say that it was Gabriel who spoke; for a Master has declared: Gabriel came and taught [Joseph] the seventy languages.13
In Judaism and Christianity, the voice of God (Hebrew: בּת קול, bat kol or bath ḳōl) literally, “Daughter of a voice.”
Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah
Rab and Samuel [differ in their interpretation]; one said it was a miracle, while the other said it was a miracle within a miracle. He who said it was a miracle did so because there was a forest but there were no bears;1 he who said it was a miracle within a miracle did so because there was no forest nor were there any bears. [But according to the latter interpretation] there need have been [provided] bears but not a forest! — [It was required] because [the bears] would have been frightened.2
R. Hanina said: On account of the forty-two sacrifices which Balak, king of Moab, offered,3 were forty-two children cut off from Israel. But it is not so; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Always should a man occupy himself with Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake,4 for from [occupying himself with them] not for their own sake he comes to do so for their own sake; because as a reward for the forty-two sacrifices which Balak, king of Moab, offered,5 he merited that Ruth should issue from him and from her issued Solomon concerning whom it is written: A thousand burnt-offerings did Solomon offer!6 And R. Jose b. Honi said: Ruth was the daughter of Eglon the son of Balak!7 — Nevertheless his desire was to curse Israel.8
And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, we pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth etc.9 [But how could it be so] since ‘the water is naught and the land miscarrieth’! What, then, was its pleasantness? — R. Hanin said: The favour of a place in the estimation of its inhabitants. R. Johanan said: There are three kinds of favour: the favour of a locality in the estimation of its inhabitants, the favour of a woman In the estimation of her husband, and the favour of an article in the estimation of its purchaser.
Our Rabbis taught: Elisha was afflicted with three illnesses: one because he stirred up the bears against the children, one because he thrust Gehazi away with both his hands, and one of which he died; as it is said: Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died.10
Our Rabbis have taught: Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near. Not like Elisha who thrust Gehazi away with both his hands (and not like R. Joshua b. Perahiah who thrust one of his disciples away with both his hands).11 How is it with Elisha? As it is written: And Naaman said: Be content, take two talents,12 and it is written: And he said unto him, Went not my heart with thee when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and sheep and oxen, and manservants and maidservants?13 But had he received all these things? Silver and garments were what he had received! — R. Isaac said: At that time Elisha was engaged [in the study of the Law concerning] the eight kinds of [unclean] creeping things;14 so he said to [Gehazi], ‘You wicked person, the time has arrived for you to receive the reward for [studying the law of] the eight creeping things.’15 The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed for ever.16
Now there were four leprous men17 — R. Johanan said: This refers to Gehazi and his three sons. And Elisha came to Damascus18 — why did he go there?19 — R. Johanan said: He went to induce Gehazi to repent but he refused. He said to him, ‘Repent’; but he replied: ‘Thus have I received from thee that whoever sinned and caused others to sin is deprived of the power of doing penitence’. What had he done? Some say: He applied a loadstone to the idolatrous image of Jeroboam20 and suspended it between heaven and earth. Others say: He engraved upon it the Name [of God] so that it used to exclaim, ‘I [am the Lord thy God]’ and ‘Thou shalt have no [other God beside me]’ — Still others say: He drove the Rabbis from before him, as it is written: And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell before thee is too strait for us21 — hence, up to then it had not been too strait.
What22 was the incident with R. Joshua b. Perahiah? — When King Jannaeus23 put the Rabbis to death, Simeon b. Shetah was hid by his sister, whilst R. Joshua b. perahiah fled to Alexandria in Egypt. When there was peace,24 Simeon b. Shetah sent [this message to him]: ‘From me, Jerusalem, the Holy city, to thee Alexandria in Egypt. O my sister, my husband25 dwelleth in thy midst and I abide desolate’. [R. Joshua] arose and came back and found himself in a certain inn where they paid him great respect. He said: ‘How beautiful is this ‘aksania’!26 One of his disciples27 said to him, ‘My master, her eyes are narrow!’ He replied to him, ‘Wicked person! Is it with such thoughts that thou occupiest thyself!’ He sent forth four hundred horns and excommunicated him.28 [The disciple] came before him on many occasions, saying’Receive me’; but he refused to notice him. One day while [R. Joshua] was reciting the Shema’, he came before him. His intention was to receive him and he made a sign to him with his hand, but the disciple thought he was repelling him. So he went and set up a brick and worshipped it. [R. Joshua] said to him, ‘Repent’; but he answered him, ‘Thus have I received from thee that whoever sinned and caused others to sin is deprived of the power of doing penitence’. A Master has said: The disciple practised magic and led Israel astray.
It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Eleazar says: Also human nature29 should a child and woman thrust aside with the left hand and draw near with the right hand.30
MISHNAH. IF THE MURDERER WAS DISCOVERED BEFORE THE HEIFER’S NECK WAS BROKEN, IT GOES FREE AND FEEDS WITH THE HERD; BUT IF AFTER THE HEIFER’S NECK WAS BROKEN, IT IS BURIED IN THAT PLACE BECAUSE IT CAME THERE FROM THE OUTSET IN CONNECTION WITH A MATTER OF DOUBT,31 AND ATONED FOR THE DOUBT WHICH IS NOW GONE. IF THE HEIFER’S NECK WAS BROKEN AND AFTERWARDS THE MURDERER IS DISCOVERED, BEHOLD HE IS EXECUTED.
IF ONE WITNESS SAYS ‘I SAW THE MURDERER’ AND ONE WITNESS SAYS ‘YOU DID NOT SEE HIM’;32 OR IF A WOMAN SAYS ‘I SAW HIM’ AND ANOTHER WOMAN SAYS ‘YOU DID NOT SEE HIM’, THEY BREAK ITS NECK. IF ONE WITNESS SAYS ‘I SAW HIM’ AND TWO SAY ‘YOU DID NOT SEE HIM’, THEY BREAK ITS NECK. IF TWO SAY ‘WE SAW HIM’ AND ONE SAYS TO THEM ‘YOU DID NOT SEE HIM’, THEY DO NOT BREAK ITS NECK.33
WHEN MURDERERS MULTIPLIED THE CEREMONY OF BREAKING A HEIFER’S NECK WAS DISCONTINUED. THAT WAS WHEN ELIEZER B. DINAI, ALSO CALLED TEHINAH B. PERISHAH, APPEARED;34 HE WAS AFTERWARDS RENAMED ‘SON OF THE MURDERER’. — WHEN ADULTERERS MULTIPLIED THE CEREMONY OF THE BITTER WATER WAS DISCONTINUED AND IT WAS R. JOHANAN B. ZAKKAI WHO DISCONTINUED IT, AS IT IS SAID, I WILL NOT PUNISH YOUR DAUGHTERS WHEN THEY COMMIT WHOREDOM, NOR YOUR BRIDES WHEN THEY COMMIT ADULTERY, FOR THEY THEMSELVES ETC.35 WHEN JOSE B. JOEZER OF ZEREDAH AND JOSE B. JUDAH OF JERUSALEM DIED, THE GRAPE-CLUSTERS36 CEASED, AS IT IS SAID, THERE IS NO CLUSTER TO EAT; MY SOUL DESIRETH THE FIRST RIPE FIG.37
JOHANAN THE HIGH PRIEST BROUGHT TO AN END THE CONFESSION MADE AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE TITHE. HE ALSO ABOLISHED THE WAKERS AND THE KNOCKERS
Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah
HE ALSO ABOLISHED THE WAKERS. What does ‘WAKERS’ mean? — Rehabah said: The Levites used daily to stand upon the dais and exclaim, Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?14 He said to them, Does, then, the All-Present sleep? Has it not been stated: Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep!15 But so long as Israel abides in trouble and the Gentiles are in peace and comfort, the words ‘Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord’? [should be uttered].16
AND KNOCKERS. What does ‘KNOCKERS’ mean? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: They used to make an incision on the calf between its horns17 so that the blood should flow into its eyes.18 [Johanan] came and abolished the practice because it appeared as though [the animal had] a blemish. There is a Baraitha which teaches: They used to strike [the animal] with clubs as is the practice with idolatry. [Johanan] said to them, How long will you feed the altar with nebeloth!19 [How could he have described the carcasses as] nebeloth when they had been properly slaughtered! — Rather [should they be described as] terefoth,20 since the membrane of the bain may have been perforated. He [thereupon] arose and ordained rings for them in the ground.21
UP TO HIS DAYS THE HAMMER USED TO STRIKE1 IN JERUSALEM, AND IN HIS DAYS THERE WAS NO NEED TO INQUIRE ABOUT DEMAI.2
GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: Whence is it that if the heifer’s neck had been broken, and the murderer is afterwards discovered, they do not set him free? There is a text to state, And no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.3
IF ONE WITNESS SAYS, ‘I SAW THE MURDERER’ etc. The reason [why his evidence is not accepted] is because there is somebody who contradicts him; therefore if there is nobody who contradicts him, one witness is believed. Whence is this? — As our Rabbis taught: And it be not known who hath smitten him4 — hence if it be known who had smitten him, even by one person at the other end of the world, they do not break the neck. R. Akiba says: Whence is it that if the Sanhedrin saw a person commit murder, but they do not recognise him, the neck of the heifer is not broken? There is a text to state, Neither have our eyes seen it;5 but [in this case] they had seen it.6
Now that you admit that one witness is believed, how is it possible for another individual to contradict him? Surely ‘Ulla has said: Wherever the Torah accepts the testimony of one witness, he is regarded as two [witnesses], but the evidence of one is not regarded as the evidence of two!7 ‘Ulla can reply to you, Read in the Mishnah: They do not break its neck. Similarly said R. Isaac, Read in the Mishnah: They do not break its neck; but R. Hiyya said: Read in the Mishnah: They break its neck. Then R. Hiyya is in conflict with the teaching of ‘Ulla! — There is no contradiction, one case referring to evidence given simultaneously8 and the other when one witness follows the others.9
The Mishnah declares: IF ONE WITNESS SAYS ‘I SAW THE MURDERER’ AND TWO SAY ‘YOU DID NOT SEE HIM’, THEY BREAK ITS NECK. Consequently if there is one against one, they do not break its neck; and this is a refutation of R. Hiyya’s statement!10 — But according to your own argument, cite the con tinuation: IF TWO SAY ‘WE SAW HIM’ AND ONE SAYS TO THEM ‘YOU DID NOT SEE HIM’, THEY DO NOT BREAK ITS NECK. Consequently if — there is one against one, they do break its neck!11 But our Mishnah deals entirely with disqualified witnesses,12 and is in accord with R. Nehemiah who said,13 Wherever the Torah accepts the testimony of one witness, [the decision] follows the majority of persons [who testify], so that two women against one woman is identical with two men against one man. But there are some who declare that wherever a competent witness came [and testified] first, even a hundred women are regarded as equal to one witness; and with what circumstance are we dealing here? For example, if it was a woman who came first [and testified]; and R. Nehemiah’s statement is to be construed thus: R. Nehemiah Says: Wherever the Torah accepts the testimony of one witness, [the decision] follows the majority of persons [who testify], so that two women against one woman is identical with two men against one man, but two women against one man is like half and half. Why, then, have we two teachings concerning disqualified witnesses?14 What you might have said was that when we follow the majority of persons [who testify] it is for taking the severer view, but to take the lenient view we do not follow [the majority]. Therefore [the Mishnah] informs us [of one case where the neck is broken and one where it is not, and in each the majority is followed].
WHEN MURDERERS MULTIPLIED etc. Our Rabbis taught: When murderers multiplied the ceremony of breaking a heifer’s neck was discontinued, because it is only performed in a case of doubt; but when murderers multiplied openly, the ceremony of breaking a heifer’s neck was discontinued.
WHEN ADULTERERS MULTIPLIED etc. Our Rabbis taught: And the man shall be free from iniquity15 — at the time when the man is free from iniquity, the water proves his wife; but when the man is not free from iniquity, the water does not prove his wife. Why, then, [was it necessary for the Mishnah to add]: AS IT IS SAID, ‘I WILL NOT PUNISH YOUR DAUGHTERS WHEN THEY COMMIT WHOREDOM etc’? Should you say that his own iniquity [prevents the water from proving his wife] but the iniquity of his sons and daughters does not, come and hear: ‘I WILL NOT PUNISH YOUR DAUGHTERS WHEN THEY COMMIT WHOREDOM, NOR YOUR BRIDES WHEN THEY COMMIT ADULTERY’. And should you say that his sin with a married woman [prevents the water from proving his wife] but not if it was with an unmarried woman, come and hear: FOR THEY THEMSELVES GO ASIDE WITH WHORES AND WITH THE HARLOTS etc.’ What means And the people that doth not understand shall be overthrown?16 R. Eleazar said: The prophet spoke to Israel, If you are scrupulous with yourselves, the water will prove your wives; otherwise the water will not prove your wives.
When hedonists multiplied, justice became perverted,17 conduct deteriorated and there is no satisfaction [to God] in the world. When they who displayed partiality in judgment multiplied, the command Ye shall not be afraid [of the face of man]18 became void and Ye shall not respect [persons in judgment]19 ceased to be practised; and people threw off the yoke of heaven and placed upon themselves the yoke of human beings. When they who engaged in whisperings in judgment20 multiplied, fierceness of [the divine] anger increased against Israel and the Shechinah departed; because it is written: He judgeth among the judges.21 When there multiplied [men of whom it is said] Their heart goeth after their gain,22 there multiplied they who call evil good and good evil.23 When there multiplied they ‘who call evil good and good evil’, woes24 increased in the world. When they who draw out their spittle25 multiplied, the arrogant increased, disciples diminished, and Torah went about [looking] for them who would study it. When the arrogant multiplied, the daughters of Israel began to marry arrogant men, because our generation looks only to the outward appearance. But that is not so; for a Master has declared: An arrogant person is not acceptable even to the members of his household, as it is said: A haughty man one abideth not at home26 — i.e., even in his own house! — At first they jump round him, but in the end he becomes repugnant to them.
When there multiplied they who forced their goods upon householders,27 bribery increased as well as miscarriage of justice, and happiness ceased. When there multiplied [judges] who said ‘I accept your favour’ and ‘I shall appreciate your favour’, there was an Increase of Every man did that which was right in his own eyes;28 common persons were raised to eminence, the eminent were brought low, and the kingdom [of Israel] deteriorated more and more. When envious men and plunderers [of the poor] multiplied, there increased they who hardened their hearts and closed their hands from lending [to the needy], and they transgressed what is written in the Torah, viz., Beware that there be not etc.29 When there multiplied women who had stretched forth necks and wanton eyes,30 [the need] increased for the bitter water but it ceased [to be used]. When receivers of gifts multiplied, the days [of human life] became fewer and years were shortened; as it is written: But he that hateth gifts shall live.31 When the haughty of heart multiplied, dissensions increased in Israel. When the disciples of Shammai and Hillel multiplied who had not served [their teachers] sufficiently, dissensions increased in Israel and the Torah became like two Toroth. When there multiplied they who accepted charity of Gentiles, Israel became on top and they below, Israel went forward and they backward.32
WHEN JOSE B. JOEZER DIED etc. What does ‘grape-clusters’ [eshkoloth] mean? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: A man in whom is everything [ish she-hakol bo].
JOHANAN THE HIGH PRIEST BROUGHT TO AN END THE CONFESSION MADE AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE TITHE etc. What was his reason? — R. Jose b. Hanina said: Because people were not presenting it according to the regulation; for the Allmerciful said that they should give it to the Levites