Hadrian, Publius Aelius°

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HADRIAN, PUBLIUS AELIUS °, Roman emperor, 117–138 c.e. According to all the indications, Hadrian did not entertain any hostility toward the Jews at the beginning of his reign. On the contrary, it would appear that the Jews hoped for an improvement in their situation. Hadrian's first act, the execution of Lusius *Quietus, the governor of Judea, certainly appealed to the Jews. There is apparently an echo of the hopes raised by Hadrian's accession in the *Sibylline Oracles, which state that the man whose name is like that of the sea (H-adrian–Adriatic) will act favorably toward the Jews (5:46–50). There may also have been contacts between the Jews and the Roman government. Although there is no explicit information to that effect, it would appear that rumors began to spread that the Temple was to be rebuilt (cf. Gen. R. 64:10), but nothing practical resulted. It is not certain whether Hadrian issued decrees against Jewish observance before the*Bar-Kokhba War (132–135). One opinion holds that the Jews were affected, even if unintentionally, by a decree issued by Hadrian forbidding castration, which was interpreted as including a prohibition of circumcision. Others reject any connection between this decree and circumcision, and are of the opinion that the decrees against circumcision and other observances were enacted after the war.

The emperor also decided to erect a gentile city on the site of destroyed Jerusalem to be named *Aelia Capitolina after himself. According to Dio Cassius this decision was made about two years before the Bar-Kokhba War and it is regarded by many as one of the chief causes of the Jewish revolt, even though the project was implemented only after the revolt had been crushed. Hadrian frequently visited parts of the empire. He visited Judea in 130 c.e., but there is no knowledge of any contact between him and the Jews during this visit, although in talmudic literature many conversations of Hadrian with R. *Joshua b. Ḥananiah are reported. According to those who date Hadrian's anti-Jewish decrees, especially with regard to Aelia Capitolina, before the revolt, the visit resulted in fanning the flames of discontent. A reference to the visit has been preserved in a coin which shows the province of Judea, in the guise of a woman, greeting the emperor on his arrival. It should be borne in mind, however, that the official view represented on the coin in no way reflects the attitude of the Jews. From Judea Hadrian proceeded to Egypt, returning in 131. During his sojourn in Judea and the neighboring countries the Jews outwardly kept the peace, but in 132 the revolt broke out in full force. Despite some initial successes of the rebels, Hadrian's commander, Julius Severus, succeeded eventually in crushing the revolt (see *Bar Kokhba). It was then, most probably, that Hadrian issued the harsh restrictive edicts against the study of the Torah and the practice of Judaism, including circumcision, making their observance capital offenses. Presumably it was in the subsequent persecutions that R. *Akiva and other rabbis were martyred (see the *Ten Martyrs). It was then also that Aelia Capitolina was constructed on the ruins of Jerusalem. A temple to Jupiter Capitolinus and an equestrian statue of the emperor were erected on the site of the Temple. These edicts of Hadrian remained in force until the time of his heir, Antoninus Pius, and in cruelty and scope they recall the decrees of Antiochus 300 years earlier. Hadrian's decrees give eloquent expression to the detestation felt by the emperor, "the friend of culture and enlightenment," for Judaism and his complete inability to understand it, as well as to the gulf between Judaism and the world of the Roman Empire.

[Uriel Rappaport]

In the Aggadah

To the rabbis, Hadrian was a symbol of wickedness and cruelty. His name is usually accompanied by the epithet "the wicked" or by the imprecation "may his bones rot" in Hebrew or Aramaic. In addition the appellation "the wicked kingdom" refers very frequently to Rome in the days of Hadrian. All manner of stories are related about the murder of Jews at the command of Hadrian after the fall of *Bethar. On the verse "the voice is the voice of Jacob" (Gen. 27:22) R. Johanan states that it refers to the voice of Emperor Hadrian, who "killed 80,000 myriads of people in Bethar" (Gen. R. 65:21; Lam. R. 1:16; 45). Nevertheless Hadrian appears in the aggadah in a more genial role which tends to emphasize his contacts with Jews, both scholars and the common people. He is said to have had discussions with Joshua ben Hananiah on the creation of the world (Gen. R. 10:3), and on resurrection, in which there appears the legend of the *luz, the indestructible nut (coccyx) of the spinal column (ibid., 28:3). Similarly, stories are told of him walking through Ereẓ Israel before the Bar Kokhba War and conversing with farmers. One of them describes him asking a centenarian who was planting fig trees whether he expected to eat of its fruits. The old man answered that as he had found fruit trees when he was born, so he was planting them for his children. Three years later, after the war, the man presented him with a basket of figs from that planting and Hadrian filled the basket with gold pieces (Lev. R. 25:5). These stories seem to be connected with the devastation caused by the war and the subsequent restoration of the previous fertility of the land, a fact specifically mentioned in connection with the aftermath of the war (tj, Pe'ah 7:1, 20a).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]


Weber, in: cah, 11 (1936), 294–324. For Hadrian and the Jews, see bibliography on Bar Kokhba. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index; M. Radin, Jews among the Greeks and Romans (1915), 343–4. add. bibliography: S. Perowne, Hadrian (1960); G. Foerster, "A Cuirassed Bronze Statue of Hadrian," in: Atiqot, 17 (1985), 139–60.