Sunday, June 25, 2006


Antoninus was a close friend of R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi who is mentioned a number of times in rabbinic literature. He was an emperor or some other high Roman government figure. Who was he?

The Doros Ha-Rishonim (vol. 4 p. 816) states that he was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and this seems to be accepted by other Jewish historians, such as R. Shlomo "Shir" Rapoport in his Erekh Millin and Yitzchak Hirsch Weiss in his Dor Dor Ve-Dorshav (both cited by R. Aharon Hyman, Toledos Tanna'im Ve-Amora'im [vol. 2 p. 580]). Zechariah Frankel and Heinrich Graetz both accepted this association, although claimed that Antoninus was really close with R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi's grandson, R. Yehudah Nessi'ah, rather than the grandfather. R. Aharon Hyman, (ibid, pp. 580-582) ably refutes this theory.

However, the question remains whether Marcus Aurelius was ever in the land of Israel. Joshua Gutmann, writing in Encyclopedia Judaica (entry for Antoninus Pius: In Talmud and Aggadah), states that "[T]he attempts of scholars to fit these accounts into the historic framework of the period of the Antonines have proved unsuccessful." This was echoed more recently by Dr. Louis Feldman, Jew & Gentile in the Ancient World, p. 572 n. 40: "Attempts to identify 'Antoninus' with any of the Antonine or Severan emperors at the end of the second and at the beginning of the third century have proved unsuccessful."

My unlearned suspicion is that Antoninus was most likely a local Roman official rather than the emperor of all Rome. This would dovetail nicely with the view mentioned here that Antoninus lived in Romi, a place in Israel, rather than Rome in Italy.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More