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Joshua ben Gamla


JOSHUA BEN GAMLA (d. 69/70 c.e.), a high priest in the last years of the Second Temple. Joshua was married to one of the wealthiest women of Jerusalem, *Martha, daughter of Boethus (Yev. 6:4; ibid., 61a; Yoma 18a and Tos. ibid.; Git. 56a). He is apparently to be identified with the Joshua b. Gamaliel referred to by Josephus (Ant., 20:213) as a high priest appointed by *Agrippa ii. In common with the high priests at the end of the Second Temple period Joshua, too, was appointed to office because of his wealth. Although most of the others were deprecated in rabbinic literature, Joshua was singled out for praise for his establishing a universal system of education after all previous attempts failed. He evolved a system whereby "teachers of young children be appointed in each district and each town," whereas previously they were to be found only in Jerusalem. In addition he laid down sound pedagogical principles. Because of this, it was said of him: "Truly, the name of that man is blessed… since but for him the Torah would have been forgotten in Israel" (bb 21a). Some scholars deny the historicity of this story, maintaining that the establishment of the schools was wrongly attributed to Joshua by later writers. However, Klausner affirms its historical accuracy. The Mishnah also mentions an improvement made by Joshua in the Temple appurtenances. He substituted for the boxwood casket from which the lots were drawn for the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement one of gold, "and his memory was therefore kept in honor" (Yoma 3:9).

Josephus, who describes Joshua as his intimate friend (Life, 204), says he was one of the most vehement opponents of the extremist Zealots at the time of the Roman War (Wars, 4:160). He cites the speech made by Joshua (apparently son of Gamla), the high priest, to the Idumeans who had been invited by the Zealots to assist them against their enemies. He tried unsuccessfully to influence them to desist from this step (ibid., 238ff.). After the Idumeans entered Jerusalem, they put him to death, together with other opponents of the Zealots (ibid., 316). Josephus praises him greatly, saying of him that "he stood far above the rest" (ibid., 322).


Graetz, Hist, 2 (1893), 249, 277–8, 294–6; Schuerer, Gesch, 1 (19014), 584, 618; 2 (19074), 273, 494; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 3 (19502), 176–7; 5 (19512), 22–24; N. Morris, The Jewish School… (1937), index.

[Zvi Kaplan]

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