Joshua ben Hananiah

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JOSHUA BEN HANANIAH (first and second centuries c.e.), tanna, one of the five disciples of *Johanan b. Zakkai's inner circle (Avot 2:8), and the primary teacher of *Akiva. Joshua (together with *Eliezer ben Hyrcanus) served as the bridge between the earlier (pre-destruction) and later (post-destruction) periods of tannaitic tradition. Hundreds of statements in halakhah and aggadah are ascribed to him in both the Mishnah and the Tosefta, distributed fairly evenly over five of the six sedarim, with a slightly smaller presence of his teachings in seder Nezikin. In the eyes of later storytellers, the period of the tannaim was a heroic age, and even the slightest scrap of information about the least of the tannaim can develop in the later aggadah into a tale of epic proportions. In the case of truly significant and heroic figures, like Joshua, this process of literary expansion and elaboration is inevitable. Since the narrative traditions in which Joshua eventually played a leading role developed over a period of centuries, it is essential to distinguish between the earlier forms of these traditions, found in the tannaitic sources themselves, and later developments found only in the Talmudim and the amoraic Midrashim. At the same time, the tannaitic traditions themselves are not necessarily free of redactional bias, and must be critically evaluated before using them to reconstruct the life and career of Joshua.

For example, the Mishnah of Rosh Ha-Shanah (2:8–9) tells the story of a conflict between Joshua and *Gamaliel of Jabneh, in which Joshua reportedly challenged Gamaliel's authority to fix the Jewish calendar, and so to determine the precise dates of the Jewish holidays. (rh 2:8–9). According to this tradition, on one occasion Gamaliel, as head of the rabbinic court, accepted the testimony of two witnesses, who claimed to have seen the new moon, and on the basis of their testimony Gamaliel fixed the date for the Day of Atonement. Joshua had reason to view this testimony as suspect and unreliable and was at first unwilling to accept Gamaliel's ruling. Gamaliel, asserting his authority as nasi, commanded Joshua to appear before him with his "staff and money on the Day of Atonement according to your reckoning." After Akiva's attempt to persuade Joshua to accept Gamaliel's ruling in this matter failed, *Dosa b. Harkinus told Joshua: "If we question the rulings of Rabban Gamaliel's court, we would have to question the rulings of every court, all the way back to the time of Moses." The argument that the authority of the nasi takes precedence over all doubts – even legitimate doubts – concerning the truth of his rulings finally convinced Joshua. When Joshua appeared before Gamaliel, "Gamaliel rose and kissed Joshua on his head, saying: 'Come in peace, my master and my pupil – my master in wisdom, and my pupil, in that you accepted my words'." On one level this tradition deals with the tension between the authority of duly constituted communal authority and the autonomy of wisdom. On another level it describes a very human drama involving arrogance and condescension, pride and submission. As one of the most prominent narratives found in the Mishnah, the story also provides a theoretical justification for the preeminent authority of R. Judah ha-Nasi himself – both personally, as grandson of Gamaliel and as inheritor of his role as nasi, and for the Mishnah which he redacted and in which this story appears. All of these factors no doubt influenced the way in which this story is told in Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah, and must be taken into account when evaluating its worth as historical evidence concerning events which reportedly occurred three generations earlier.

Another stage in the aggadic saga of the ongoing conflict between Joshua and Gamaliel is found only in later amoraic traditions (tj, Ber. 4:1, 7c–d, Ta'an. 4:1, 77d; tb, Ber. 27b–28a). This tradition concerns a dispute – ascribed in these sources to Joshua and Gamaliel – over the question whether the evening prayer is obligatory or optional. While there is no clear evidence that Joshua and Gamaliel ever actually disagreed over this rather minor point of law, the Talmudim describe in detail the dramatic events surrounding this dispute, including the eventual removal of Gamaliel from the office of nasi. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, Gamaliel, upon discovering inadvertently that Joshua disagreed with his view on this matter, arranged for the question to be raised in public the following day, whereupon he deliberately attempted to provoke Joshua into contradicting him is front of all the sages and students. Despite repeated taunting, Joshua refused to contradict him in public, and so Gamaliel continued humiliating Joshua in public, until the sages finally were forced to depose Gamaliel, and to appoint another sage in his place. After seeing that his arrogant abuse of authority had undermined his position as nasi, Gamaliel decided to go around to all those whom he had offended, in order to appease them. When he arrived at Joshua's house Gamaliel was shocked to find Joshua making needles, from which labor he apparently supported himself. In response to Gamaliel's expression of surprise, Joshua exclaimed: "Woe to the generation that has you for its leader," thereby expressing his contempt for an aristocratic leadership which is so removed from the ordinary existence of the common people that it is totally unaware of the physical and economic conditions under which they must live. Before addressing the question of the historical reliability of this late tradition, it should be noted that the redactional tendencies of the amoraic continuation of this tannaitic story are totally at odds with the original story as found in Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah. Rather than justifying the authority of the nasi, the amoraic tradition shows how the irresponsible and arrogant abuse of the office of the nasi actually undermines the nasi's very rightto hold his office and to exercise its authority. This story in the Jerusalem Talmud is told from the perspective of sages who apparently feel that they have suffered mistreatment and humiliation at the hands of a leadership which, while legitimately possessing office and authority, exercises that authority in an illegitimate and unjustifiable fashion. While this aggadah could reflect a different historical perspective on the life and times of Joshua and Gamaliel of Jabneh, it is more likely that it is symptomatic of the problematic relations between the sages and the person and institution of the nasi characteristic of a far later period. The expansion and elaboration of these events in the Babylonian Talmud (Ber. 27b–28a; Bekh. 36a) are largely consistent with the redactional tendencies found in the Jerusalem Talmud. It would therefore be fair to say that any attempt to use these later amoraic traditions in order to describe the social or political tensions which may have existed among the rabbinic leadership (Joshua and Gamaliel) in the newly established center of Jabneh shortly after the destruction of the Temple would probably be misguided.

Similar care must certainly be taken when examining historical aggadot for which little or no evidence can be adduced from tannaitic sources. For example, as a close disciple of *Johanan b. Zakkai, Joshua reportedly plays a central role (together with Eliezer ben Hyrcanus) in the events surrounding Johanan's dramatic and fateful escape from besieged Jerusalem. According to this story, which has reached us in several different versions (tb Git. 56a, Lam. R. 1:5, 31, arn1 4, arn2 6), Joshua and Eliezer carried Johanan b. Zakkai out of Jerusalem in a coffin so that their master might meet with Vespasian. According to one of them (Lam. R.), Joshua and Eliezer were even sent back into the city to help bring out R. Zadok. Since, however, "in Tannaitic sources we find not the slightest reference to an escape" (Neusner, Development of a Legend, 228), and in fact all the traditions concerning this episode are late amoraic (tb Git. 56a, Lam. R.) or post-amoraic (arn), it would probably be ill advised to use this or other similar "events" in order to draw historical conclusions concerning Joshua's attitude toward the Roman conquest of Judea, or toward the policies of various Jewish factions during the struggle. The same must be said about Joshua's role in the dispute over the "oven of Akhnai" (tb, bm 59b). According to this aggadah, Joshua boldly articulated and defended the principles of the autonomy of rabbinic legal reasoning and majority rule, in opposition to the repeated attempts of Eliezer to circumvent the decisions of an earthly court by an appeal to divine authority in the form of a heavenly voice. The tannaitic sources themselves, however, make no mention of any dramatic or supernatural events surrounding this dispute, nor is Joshua mentioned by name as playing any special role in it (cf. Kelim 5:10, Eduyot 7:7, Tosefta Eduyot 2:1; cf. tj, mk 3:1, 81d). While no one can dispute the dramatic power and theological significance of the later versions of this story, it is also true that they almost certainly reflect the synthetic literary activity of many generations of scholars, and so cannot be used as evidence for history of the early tannaitic period or the personal biography of R. Joshua.

Various other legends developed around the figure of Rabbi Joshua, many of them also rooted to some degree in early tannaitic sources. For example, in Avot Johanan b. Zakkai praises Joshua, saying: "Happy is she who bore him" (Avot 2:8). A later aggadah reports that, when Joshua was still an infant, his mother used to bring him to the synagogue so that "his ears might become accustomed to the words of Torah" (tj, Yev. 1:6, 3a). According to Ma'as. Sh. 5:9 Joshua was a Levite. A later tradition describes him as having actually served as a chorister in the Temple (Ar. 11b). According to the Tosefta (Sanh. 13:2) Joshua held that "pious gentiles have a share in the world to come," while Eliezer denied them any such reward. Later Midrashim ascribe to Joshua a positive attitude toward the acceptance of proselytes, while Eliezer was described as harsh and unreceptive (Gen. R. 70:5; Eccles. R. 1:8; 4; cf. tb, az 17a), thus paralleling somewhat the stereotypical opposition between Hillel and Shammai found in other late aggadot. It is reported in Nega'im (14:13) that the people of Alexandria once asked Joshua a certain question in halakhah. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Nid. 69b–70a) they asked him no fewer than 12 questions: 3 in halakhah, 3 in aggadah, 3 in practical matters, and 3 questions of borut (understood by Rashi as "silly questions," but interpreted by Lieberman to mean idle theoretical questions characteristic of Hellenistic rhetorical education). In line with his leading role in the Jewish community, Joshua may indeed have participated in a number of official missions. The later aggadah describes Joshua as having engaged on such occasions in discussions on both theological and quasi-scientific matters with eminent non-Jews, notably the emperor Hadrian and the "elders" of Athens (Bekh. 8b; cf. Ein Ya'akov ad loc.). Similarly his discussions with the Roman emperor are described in the Babylonian Talmud (Ḥul. 59b–60a) and Palestinian Midrashim (see *Hadrian in aggadah). Finally, according to the testimony of the Tosefta (Ḥag. 2:2, and cf. 2:6), Joshua served as the primary teacher of Akiva in matters of esoteric speculation, transmitting to him the traditions of the merkavah which he had received from Johanan b. Zakkai, though here also Joshua's role in this tradition expanded significantly with the passage of time (Neusner, Development of a Legend, 247–52).


J. Podro, The Last Pharisee, The Life and Times of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah (1959); L. Finkelstein, Akiba (19622), index; A. Lewisohn, in: Bikkurim (1864), 26–35; Bacher, Tann; Halevy, Dorot, 1, Vol. 5, 307–18; S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), 16–19; Alon, Mehkarim, 2 (1958), 250–2; Epstein, Tanna'im, 59–65; Z. Vilnay, Maẓẓevot Kodesh be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1963), 362–3; J. Neusner, Development of a Legend: Studies on the Traditions Concerning Yohanan Ben Zakkai (Studia Post-Biblica, vol. 16), (1970); S. Lieberman, in: The Jewish Expression, ed. J. Golden (1976), 119f.; M. Kister, in : Tarbiz, 67 (1998), 483–529.

[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]