AVTALYON (late first century b.c.e.), colleague of *Shemaiah. Together Shemaiah and Avtalyon constitute the fourth of the *zugot ("pairs"), receiving the tradition from *Judah b. Tabbai and *Simeon b. Shetaḥ. Shemaiah was nasi and Avtalyon av bet din. Like Shemaiah, Avtalyon is said to have been a descendant of proselytes (Git. 57b; Sanh. 96b). Avtalyon and Shemaiah were called "the two great men of their generation" (Pes. 66a), and "great sages and interpreters" (ibid., 70b), and the people held them in higher esteem than the high priest (Yoma 71b). In the earliest dispute recorded in the Talmud, concerning the laying of hands on the head of a festal sacrifice (see *Semikhah of sacrifice), Avtalyon's views coincided with those of the nesi'im who preceded him viz., that it "may not be performed" (Ḥag. 2:2). It was from Avtalyon and Shemaiah that *Hillel learned that the paschal sacrifice is offered even on the Sabbath (Pes. 66a). Avtalyon's decisions are also quoted in Eduyyot (1:3; 5:6).
Some scholars identify Avtalyon with the Pollio mentioned by Josephus as one of the Pharisaic leaders in the days of *Herod (Ant. 15:1–4, 370). According to a manuscript variant to Antiquities 14:172, it was Pollio, and not Samaias, as in the printed text, who was "the upright man and for that reason superior to fear" who denounced Hyrcanus and his colleagues in the Sanhedrin for their cowardice in refusing to judge Herod. Avtalyon on that occasion prophesied the bitter fate that awaited them. He persuaded the people to accept Herod and to open the gates of Jerusalem to him. Consequently Herod favored him when he became king.
Some hold that Avtalyon's exhortation, "Scholars be careful with your words, lest you incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of evil waters (heretical teachings), and the disciples who follow you into exile are likely to drink of them and die" (Avot. 1:11), reflects contemporary conditions and refers to the punishment of expulsion meted out by the regime. The allusion seems to be to Avtalyon's teachers, who fled to Alexandria during the reign of Alexander Yannai, and it may also refer to the Herodian persecution in Avtalyon's time.
Feldman, in: jqr, 49 (1958), 53–62; Ḥ. Al-beck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Seder Nezikin (1952), 494; Solberg, in: Doron, Essays… A.I. Katsh (1965), 21–24.
[Bialik Myron Lerner]