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ADIABENE , district in the upper Tigris region. During most of the Hellenistic period Adiabene was a vassal kingdom within the Parthian Empire. From 36 to 60 c.e. Adiabene was ruled by Izates, son of King *Monobaz and Queen *Helena. By that time the small kingdom had attained a measure of power and influence within the Parthian Empire, and it was Izates who restored the deposed Parthian king Artabanus iii to his throne. For this, Izates was granted the extensive territory of Nisibis and its surroundings, and proceeded to play an important part in the dynastic struggles within Parthia after the death of Artabanus iii.

Before he became king, both Izates and his mother Helena had been converted to Judaism. As a youth, Izates had been sent to Charax Spasinu (capital of the kingdom of Charakene, between the Tigris and the Euphrates) and it was there that he came under the influence of a Jewish merchant named *Ananias. At the same time, Helena had been converted by another Jew, and when Izates returned to Adiabene he was determined to complete his own conversion by undergoing circumcision. Against the wishes of Helena and Ananias the rite was performed, for Izates had been convinced by another Jew, a Galilean named Eleazar, that failure to do so would be considered "the greatest offense against the law and thereby against God." This story, as it appears in Josephus (Ant., 20:34 ff.), bears an interesting resemblance to the account given in the Midrash (Gen. R. 46:11). Monobaz and Izates were sitting and reading the book of Genesis; when they came to the verse "ye shall be circumcised," they began to weep, and secretly had themselves circumcised. "When their mother learned of this she went and told their father: 'A sore has broken out on our sons' flesh, and the physician has ordered circumcision.'" The king then gave his consent to what had already been performed.

After their conversion the Adiabenian rulers were quick to establish strong ties with the Jews of Palestine. Appreciation of their generosity toward the population and the Temple is expressed in a variety of talmudic sources. "King Monobaz (older brother and successor to Izates) made of gold all the handles for the vessels used on the Day of Atonement. His mother Helena set a golden candlestick over the door of the Sanctuary. He also donated a golden tablet on which the paragraph of the Suspected Adulteress was written" (Yoma 3:10; cf. Tosef. ibid. 2:3; tjibid. 3:8, 41a; tbibid. 37a–b). Josephus reports that when Queen Helena visited Jerusalem (c. 46 c.e.) the journey greatly benefited the inhabitants, who were suffering from severe famine. Helena sent her attendants to Alexandria and Cyprus to procure grain and dried figs, which were distributed forthwith to the needy. "She left a very great name that will be famous forever among all our people for her benefaction. When her son Izates learned of the famine, he likewise sent a great sum of money to leaders of the Jerusalemites" (Jos., Ant., 20:49 ff.). The Mishnah (Naz. 3:6) connects Helena's pilgrimage to Palestine with a Nazarite vow she took. With regard to the famine, the Talmud relates that King Monobaz dissipated all his treasures and those of his ancestors in years of scarcity. When reproached by members of the court for squandering his money, Monobaz replied: "My fathers stored up below and I am storing up above," i.e., in heaven (bb 11a; see also Tosef. Pe'ah 4:18; tjibid. 1:1, 15b). This piety is praised in other sources as well. Although there is no need to affix a mezuzah to a temporary abode, "the house of King Monobaz used to do so when staying at a hostel, merely in remembrance of the mezuzah" (Tosef. Meg. 4:30; Men. 32b). While in Judea, Helena erected a large sukkah in Lydda for the Feast of Tabernacles, and it was frequented by the rabbis (Tosef. Suk. 1:1).

The allegiance of the Adiabenians to the Jewish State was again proved during the Roman War of 66–70 in which the royal family took an active part. Josephus comments that "in the Jewish ranks the most distinguished for valor were Monobaz and Cenedaeus, kinsmen of Monobaz, king of Adiabene" (Jos., Wars, 2:520).

By the late second century c.e., Judaism must have been firmly established in Adiabene. Christianity, which usually spread in existing Jewish communities, was accepted in Adiabene without difficulty.


Jos., index; selected bibliography in Josephus Works (Loeb Classics edition), 9 (1965), 586; see also Neusner, Babylonia, 1 (1965), 58–64; Schalit, in: asti, 4 (1965), 171 ff.

[Isaiah Gafni]