Is A Tannaitic Master Referred To By Name In The Simeon Ben Kosiba Papyri?

By Norman Golb, Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization
Oriental Institute
University of Chicago
n-golb@uchicago.edu


Among the Hebrew and Aramaic papyri of the period of the Second Revolt published by J. Milik in DJD II are several fragments of a documentary scroll that originally contained at least six contracts dealing with sharecropping arrangements (ibid., pp. 122-134, designated by Milik as "Contrats de fermage"). The main purpose of this note is to show that the name of a master of the third generation of Tannaim (circa 120-140 A.D.) is evidently among those of the several protagonists mentioned in these deeds, all of whom had dealings with a certain Hillel b. Garis. The name in question is found in line 4 of the contract that Milik designated as E (viz., Murabba'at 24E) and which appears in photographic reproduction in DJD II, part 2 ("Planches") as plate XXXVI. Milik translated this line as "Yehudah fils de Rabba a dit à Hillel fils de Garis" (DJD II, "Texte", p. 131 ). Milik italicized the personal name Rabba, thereby hinting at least to a modicum of doubt about this reading. In his relevant footnote to line 4 (p.132), he indicated that the word could be read as either Rabba or Rakka, implying thereby a concern that the second consonant which he preferred reading as a beth could also possibly be read as a kaf. Yet by way of sustaining his obvious preference for Rabba, he referred the reader to his earlier note in Biblica 38 (1957), p. 261, where he had already pointed out that the name Rabba actually occurred in some Semitic texts. By contrast, a personal name Rakka is otherwise unknown. Y. Yadin later came, perhaps unwittingly, to the support of Milik's preferred reading, translating the line in question as "Yehudah son of Rabbah said to Hillel son of Garis" (Yadin, Bar Kokhba, London 1971, p. 182).

While it is difficult to distinguish between the beth and the kaf in this documentary papyrus scroll, the reading Rabba would, by virtue of the fact that this proper noun is actually found in rabbinic texts, seem at first glance to be the obviously correct interpretation of the relevant cluster of consonants (see Illustration 1). However, in Jewish texts the name Rabba, or more precisely a name spelled RB', is known only as that of several Babylonian masters of the Amoraic (i.e. post-Tannaitic) period. It does not appear at all in second-century A.D. Palestine, a fact which should have been sufficient to induce prolonged concentration on a suitable enlargement of the pertinent consonantal cluster over the past several decades. It may be observed under magnification that the ink has been chipped away from the papyrus at the position of a bottom horizontal stroke of the initial consonant - although the outer edges of ink are discernible at that position. The enlargement makes clear that the first consonant of the cluster is not R (resh) but rather B (beth); cf. Illustration 1, arrow. The name can only be transcribed not as Rabba or Rakka but as Baba - a bona fide Jewish name used in Palestine precisely during the 1st century B.C. and the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.

Illustration 1. The proper noun Baba in Mur 24 E, line 4.

The proper noun Baba is initially known in Palestine as the name of a late 1st-century B.C. figure whose sons were held in high esteem during the reign of Herod (Josephus, Antiquities XV, 258 ff.), and secondly as the name of a member of the House of Shammai whose father was named Buta (M. Keritut 6.3; Tos. Hagigah 2.11, ed. Zuckermandel, p. 236; and elsewhere). Later on, a Tanna of the third generation of Tannaim and a member of the Academy of Yabneh (Jamnia) was Judah b. Baba (circa 120-140 A.D.), whose views and activities are not infrequently cited in the Tannaitic texts. As it happens, the floruit of Judah b. Baba falls within the period of the Second Revolt, during the second year of which the legal document being examined here was written.

Returning now to the line of that document which Milik, followed by Yadin, read as "Yehudah fils de Rabba," we may observe that, while the reading Rabba is not borne out by the examination of the first consonant under magnification, the remnants of consonants forming the word BN, i.e. ben (="son of"), can indeed be made out prior to the patronymic, while the consonantal cluster situated just prior to the term ben - i.e., the first word of line 4 of the document - can be seen to be none other than [Y]HWDH - that is, Yehudah (=Judah), as Milik first perceived. No other combination of consonants having the particular strokes of this cluster yields a known Hebrew or Aramaic proper noun ending in the consonants -DH, which appear clearly in the text and all the more so under magnification (see Illustration 2).

Illustration 2. The words [Y]ehuda ben Baba amar, "Judah ben Baba said" in Mur 24 E, line 4.

Thus Judah b. Baba is the only name that reasonably emerges from (a) the palaeographical examination of the three consonantal clusters under magnification together with (b) consideration of the logic of the text and its movement of thought, which here requires, as the first part of line 4, a personal name in normal Semitic form (viz., X b. Y). Milik correctly perceived all of this except for his reading of a resh in place of the beth in the third consonantal cluster.

The question that inevitably arises from the above considerations is whether the Judah b. Baba of the papyrus fragment is or is not identical with the person of that name mentioned in the Tannaitic sources and who, according to the information supplied by those sources (cf. e.g. Tos. Yom Tob 2.6) was living at the very time that the papyrus deed in question was written. The question may be narrowed down somewhat by certain geographical considerations. The Tannaitic master Judah b. Baba was attached to the Academy of Yabneh (cf. e.g. Tos. Sotah 13.14) in southwestern Palestine, near the coast and approximately 20 km. south of Jaffa - not far, that is, from the main regions of the Second Revolt. A number of his decisions imply expert agricultural knowledge. The locality where all the farmlands in the several portions of the papyrus scroll under consideration were leased out was known as 'Ir Nahash. This locality, already referred to in I Chron.4.12, has with good reason been placed by F. M. Abel (Géographie de la Palestine II, p. 351) in the vicinity of Eleutheropolis/Beth Gubrin, and Milik, in support thereof, observes (DJD II, Texte, p. 127) that rabbinic sources describe the Eleutheropolis territory as the most fertile part of the Har Hamelekh region. A distance of only circa 35 kms separated Yabneh from Beth Gubrin, and it is not at all unlikely that at least some members of the Academy of Yabneh had agricultural holdings in the general area of that place.

The Tanna Judah b. Baba apparently remained in the Har Hamelekh region during and immediately after the Second Revolt (132-135 A.D.). At least, we are not told that he was among those who fled the country, such as his younger contemporaries Meir, Yohanan ha-Sandlar, and Yosi b. Halafta did when the Hadrianic decrees forbidding certain basic practices of Judaism were imposed upon the Palestinian Jews following the suppression of the revolt. However, according to one source (B. Sanhedrin 13b-14a) , it was Judah b. Baba who in defiance of one of those decrees ordained five students of Rabbi Akiba during the years of suppression - and this action is described as having taken place "between" Shefar-'Am and Usha in the Galilee, as the necessary prelude to the move of the Academy of Yabneh to Usha. This move is generally considered to have occurred soon after the repeal of the Hadrianic decrees during the reign of Antoninus Pius (ruled 137-161 A.D.). There is no reason to believe that the Tanna Judah b. Baba forsook Yabneh or its neighborhood before the period of the decrees. If he had agricultural properties, he was in the company of other rabbinical figures, such as (e.g.) Hiyya b. Abba, Master Tarfon, the father of Rabban Gamaliel II, and the Hillelites.

At all events, the dating of the leasehold deeds under discussion - that is, "the 20th of Shebat, Year Two of the redemption of Israel by Simeon b.Kosiba, Prince of Israel," or February of 134 A.D., indicates that as of that time it was not, or not yet, thought by the parties to the deeds that the war might seriously interfere wih agricultural activities in the Har Hamelekh region. Nevertheless they took the precaution of issuing the deeds - which from the Romans' point of view would have been considered subversive documents - at the Herodium stronghold, some 35 kms further eastward.

These deeds and others of the Bar Kokhba period contain the acknowledgement that the agricultural pieces under consideration were only possessed by the actual lessors in their legal capacity as lessees of land "owned" by the Nasi of Israel. In the case of each of the several deeds preserved in Mur 24, a lessor, acknowledging his possession to be only that of a leaseholder of the Nasi, sublets it , apparently in each case for a five-year period, to another party not for a rental fee paid up front, but on condition of sharing annually with the lessee in the eventual crop of wheat.

Now in dealing with Mur 29E, Milik indicated that he believed Judah b. Rabba (i.e., Judah b. Baba) to be the lessee - that is, the sharecropper who would cultivate the designated field - and a certain Hillel b. Garis, who is apparently mentioned in all of the other Mur 29 deeds as well, the lessor: "Moi, de mon propre gré," Milik has Judah say to Hillel, "j'ai pris en fermage de ta part, aujourd'hui, le terrain qui est mien par droit de fermage (et se trouve) à 'Ir Nahash et que j'ai pris en fermage de la part de Sim'on, Prince d'Israel." This would mean that Judah here admits to sub-letting the land from both Hillel and the Nasi Simeon, an absurdity that would render the transaction meaningless.

Here we must observe that the expression mirsoni, "of my own free will" (Milik's "de mon propre gré") that appears here as well as in fragments of the other deeds in this scroll is used in Hebrew deeds by declarants announcing a willingness to sell or otherwise relinquish something of value in their possession or which they own. (See the summary of occurrences in J. Rivlin, Shetare qehillat alisana, Jerusalem 1994, pp. 96-97 and 107-08.) It is not used, in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Judaeo-Arabic deeds, by purchasers or other recipients of the relinquished objects of value. By this token, in each case recorded in the present scroll a different lessor declares his full willingness to lease a parcel of land to one and the same lessee, who is no other than Hillel b. Garis. At the same time, each lessor had the obligation of declaring that the parcel possessed by him was his not as a perpetual allod, but as a freehold granted by the sovereign on condition of the latter's receipt from the freeholder of an annual rent in kind, i.e. as a tax. The language in the document expressing this concept is miqsat 'afar shehakharti mishim'on nesi yisra'el, i.e. "a portion of land that I have leased on a sharecropping basis from Shim'on Prince of Israel." The seller, lessor, or testator, by stating that the conveyance was being effected "by my own free will," helped to protect the purchaser, lessee or heir from any future action by a claimant who might assert that the conveyor had been forced to perform his act against his will, thus putting the validity of the transaction in doubt. The recipient of the property conveyed, on the other hand, had no obvious reason to state that he had purchased or otherwise accepted it "of my own free will," since his act of purchase or acceptance necessarily implied willingness on his part insofar as he benefitted from the acquisition as a matter of course.

The reason, however, that Milik apparently felt obliged to translate the passage as he did is related to the following considerations:

The Hebrew verb hakhar, to begin with, is ambiguous; it means to lease land on a sharecropping basis, but whether it is the act of leasing it to someone or leasing it from someone can -as e.g. in the English usage - only be determined by its affiliated preposition. When Judah announces in lines 6-7 of Mur 24 E that the parcel in question is one shehakharti mishim'on nesi yisra'el, "which I leased from Simeon Prince of Israel," the verb loses any possible ambiguity. The words can only mean "which I have leased on a sharecropping basis from Simeon the Prince of Israel." This was evidently the common formula by which a Judaean freeholder during the period of the Second Revolt acknowledged that he was not the outright owner of the holding but rather had it, as it were, in fee simple of the ruler, the verb hakhar indicating that the consideration for this tenure was, as stated above, an annual tax in kind payable to the latter in his capacity as sovereign. Hence in this portion of the quoted passage describing Judah's capacity as lessee and Simeon's as lessor there was obviously no need to have Judah include the word meaning "of my own free will."

Milik's translation of this portion is in every respect appropriate, although readers should note that in his edition of the same passage (DJD II, p. 131, line 7) the final yod of the verb hakharti is missing whereas it appears quite clearly, under magnification, in the black-and-white facsimile appearing as Planche XXXVI of DJD II, Planches. (See Illustration 3.)

Returning now to the first-quoted portion of the passage in question, which Milik translated "Moi, de mon propre gré, j'ai pris en fermage de ta part, aujourd'hui, le terrain qui est mien par droit de fermage...," we may observe that the underlying Hebrew text does not contain precisely the expression hakharti mimkha, "I have leased on a sharecropping basis from you" - but it rather contains the surprising expression hakharti hemakh. [1]

We may observe that nowhere in this deed or in any of the others preserved in Mur 24 does the expression hakharti lekha, " I have leased unto you," occur, although it is indeed found in a document written at En Gedi (Yadin, Bar Kokhba, p. 179, end of the fifth line of the portion of text photographed.) Milik does not remark that the expression hakharti lekha is nowhere found in the document, nor explain why two expressions, different in form from each other, should both mean "taking in sharecropper's lease from."

Illustration 3. (a) [h]akharti hemakh, Mur 24 E, line 5; (b) shehakharti mishim'on, ibid. line 7; (c) hakharti hemakh, ibid. line 8.

In justifying his translation of the clause in Mur 24 E as "J'ai pris en fermage de ta part," Milik states concerning hemakh that it is equal in meaning to Bib. Heb. mimkha, adding that "la forme est typiquement mishnique" (DJD II, p. 127), and adducing as support for this view M.H. Segal's treatment of the expression hem with suffixes in his Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew, p. 144.

Segal, however, following Jastrow, Dict., p. 347, and followed by Ben-Yehudah, Thesaurus, p. 1081, recognizes at least two separate senses of this hem-: one indeed equal to min ("from") with suffixes, but the other meaning, according to Segal, "in the power of," for which he gives several examples drawn from Tannaitic passages (ibid., p. 144). Similarly, Jastrow translates the Tannaitic phrase lo kol hemenu as "not all depends upon him, i.e. he has no right, it is not in his power." See further M. Gittin 8.8, en kol hemenu min harishon le'abed zekhuto shel hasheni, which Danby, Mishnah, p. 318, is obliged to translate "it is not altogether within the power of the first [husband] to render void the right of the second"; on the other hand, B. Qamma 10.3, lo kol hemenu is rendered by Danby (ibid., p. 346) as "his claim avails him not."

It is thus clear that Milik did not give a full accounting of the semantic spectrum of hem- with suffixes. What this hem- appears to be - taking into consideration not only the Tannaitic occurrences but also those in Mur. 24 - is a prepositional prefix of convenience (not, as Segal suggested, a "demonstrative particle," Grammar, p. 144) that developed in post-Biblical Heb. in response to the need to express various shades of meaning , as a rule of a legal nature. Its earliest attested usage, to be sure, occurs in Mur. 24, written in Year 2 of the Second Revolt. In the relevant passages cited above, the context in each case shows that hakharti hemakh cannot mean "I leased on a sharecropping basis from you." This is shown specifically by (a) the declarant's use of the formulaic "mirsoni", "of my own free will"; (b) the employment of the phrase hakharti min - and not hem- where the clear and obvious meaning is "I leased on a sharecropping basis from"; and (c) the confusing juxtaposition of mutually contradictory clauses that results if the hem- of hemakh is rendered as "from." [2]

Within the context of the deed, hakharti hemakh can best be translated by means of a circumlocution implying limited empowerment or jurisdiction, as in other occurrences of hem- with suffix in 2nd-century A.D. Hebrew, viz.: "I have subleased over to your jurisdiction on a sharecropping basis..." The full passage may be rendered in English as follows:

On the twentieth of Shebat, Year Two of the redemption of Israel by Simeon b. Kosiba, Prince of Israel, in the encampment situated at Herodium, Judah b. Baba said to Hillel b. Garis, "I of my own free will have subleased over to your jurisdiction on a sharecropping basis, this day, the land that is in my landholding which I leased on a sharecropping basis from Simeon Prince of Israel. This land have I subleased over to your jurisdiction from this day until the end of the eve of the Sabbatical year, namely, full years...."
The remainder of the deed, largely torn away, concerned - as can be inferred from pieces of some remaining words and from other deed-fragments preserved in Mur 24 - the amount of wheat that would have to be measured out annually on the roof of the treasury at Herodium, as the payment in kind of Hillel b. Garis to Judah b. Baba in fulfillment of the sub-lessee's part of the sharecropping agreement. Hillel made the same arrangement with the other lessors whose names and actions are described in Mur 24 (the actual amount of wheat to be handed over being different, of course, in each case in consonance with the size of the field), and it was he who retained a copy of all the contracts in a single scroll, which is the one that has been preserved. Working with hired hands (if not with indentured laborers), Hillel would have derived a considerable annual harvest from the several properties, with the lessors receiving their due as explicated in the respective contracts.

The language of Hebrew deeds, not infrequently discussed and debated in Tannaitic texts, normally emerged as the result of careful deliberations focusing on the subtleties and nuances of legal relationships and situations. A deed of sale or temporary release of property always included, as far back as the phenomenon can be traced, the expression mirsoni as the quoted statement of the declarant; but it was obviously recognized by the juridical figures that a willful sale of property was fundamentally different from a willful lease thereof, as in the latter case the lessee gained only a right of conditional possession, but not ownership. In the case of a sub-lease, the conditionality was all the greater, and it was apparently to emphasize this fact of temporary possession by a sub-lessee of property not actually owned outright by the lessor, but itself only held by the latter as a lessee of the ruler (or in other words of the state itself in its personal capacity) that the expression hakharti hemakh came to be introduced into legal texts, at least in certain jurisdictions and perhaps only during the period of the Second Revolt. It cannot be excluded that the Academy of Jamnia took a role in urging this formulation, but it evidently soon went out of fashion and has never appeared subsequently in Hebrew deeds.*


*The above findings emerge from a close examination of Mur 24 during a course on the Bar Kokhba texts conducted at the Institute in autumn 1999. I wish to thank my students for their assiduous participation in the study of this and the other Murabba'at papyri so brilliantly deciphered and edited by J. Milik in his 1961 work. Although having read these texts numerous times both with and without students, I had never focused with sufficient intensity on the name of the lessor in Mur 24E until November of this past year, when finally, with the correct degree of magnification, I was able to bring to light the reading presented above.



1. In this passage as well Milik omits the final yod of hakharti, although under magnification it also is clearly discernible in the facsimile (DJD II, Planches, XXXVI). The same form, hakharti, is found in line 8, where the final yod appears full-blown. Historically speaking, the vocalization of this Tannaitic expression with 2nd masc. sing. suffix is uncertain. Segal, Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew, Oxford, 1927, p. 144,, vocalizes once hemkha and twice hemakh in his list of the Tannaitic forms. Ben Yehudah, Thesaurus, p.1081, gives only the form hemakh. Other theoretical possibilities of pronunciation are himakh and himkha.

2. As mentioned above, Milik twice omitted the final yod in hakharti from his edition of Mur 24E. Yadin appears to have subsequently noticed the first occurrence but not the second, for he translates the relevant passage (Bar Kokhba, pp. 182-83) in the following way: "I, of my own free will, have leased from you today the land ... which you leased from Shimeon ben Kosiba, Prince of Israel. This land I have leased from you as from today" etc. This translation disregards not only the consonant yod in the second occurrence of the verb hakharti but also the significance of the phrase "of my own free will." It was Judah b. Baba (Milik's Judah b. Rabba) who was the declarant and thus not the lessee but the lessor.