ANTONINUS PIUS °, Roman emperor (ruled 138–161); the successor of *Hadrian. Antoninus Pius generally continued the policies of his predecessor. His most notable achievement was in the field of law which he insisted be administered impartially. In regard to the Jews, and particularly in Judea, Hadrian's harsh policies were repealed. Although still not allowed to proselytize, those born as Jews were freely permitted their traditional methods of worship, and the schools and the synagogues were openly reestablished.
[Alan Richard Schulman]
In Talmud and Aggadah
A Roman emperor named Antoninus forms the subject of a number of aggadic statements, dialogues, and stories in the Talmud and the Midrashim, in all of which he is described as in the company of R. *Judah ha-Nasi. The talmudic sources refer to more than one emperor; they distinguish, for instance, between Antoninus senior and Antoninus junior (Eccl. R. 10:5), but the attempts of scholars to fit these accounts into the historic framework of the period of the Antonines have proved unsuccessful. The discussions with Antoninus include dialogues on the relationship between the body and the soul, the power of the evil inclination, and matters of state. They contain no data by which it would be possible to determine with certainty the attitude of the dialogists to the problems that were constantly discussed in the philosophical schools in the period of the Antonines. In the dialogues and stories, the Jewish patriarch excels the Roman emperor in wisdom and in moral stature, but the two are good friends and show complete trust in, and respect for, each other. Antoninus' attitude to Judaism is one of reverence. A rabbinic dictum has also been preserved according to which Antoninus would be the first righteous proselyte to be accepted in the messianic era (tj, Meg. 3:2, 74a).
Underlying the talmudic and midrashic stories there is undoubtedly an element of historic truth; they testify to the good relations that were established for a time in the period of the Antonines between the Roman authorities in Palestine and the Jewish sages. The form of government in the Roman Empire, which in the second century c.e. was to a certain extent federal, made it possible for the people of the different countries of the Empire to express their views before the emperor not only on the form of government, but also on religious and ethical questions.
The tales about Antoninus and R. Judah ha-Nasi were widely current among the people. A number of them, as, for example, the parable of the lame man and the blind (Sanh. 91a–b) are found in comparatively early works of Jewish literature (see the Ezekiel Apocryphon 1; cf. James, in: jts, 15 (1914), 236) and are derived from the treasury of folk wisdom. Accounts of disputations and conversations of a similar nature (between other rabbis and Roman dignitaries) have been preserved in talmudic and midrashic literature. There are also extant (non-Jewish) Greco-Roman texts containing disputations and dialogues of this type between various individuals and Roman emperors.
Hoffmann, in: mwj, 19 (1892), 33–55, 245–55; S. Krauss, Antoninus und Rabbi (1910); R. Leszynsky, Loesung des Antoninusraetsels (1910); S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), 78 ff.