views updated


MESENE , the land of southern Mesopotamia extending from about 24 mi. (40 km.) below Kut al-Amāra to the Persian Gulf. This area was also called Characene, a term giving political identification derived from Charax Spasinu, name of the fortified capital city of the district. During the late Middle Ages the name was replaced by that of the new capital and port of the district, Basra. The economy of Charax depended on her role as the main port and relay point for east-west trade on the upper Persian Gulf. During the first and second centuries c.e. overland trade developed via Mesene with the Nabatean city of *Petra and with the Syrian desert emporium of Palmyra (Tadmor), and through these centers with the rich Roman west.

A Jewish community existed in Mesene from at least the late Parthian period. During the reign of Artabanus v (209–27 c.e.) a Jewish merchant of Meṣḥhān converted Izates, prince of Adiabene, to Judaism. At this time a second Jewish merchant of Meṣḥān similarly converted a number of women of that city (Jos., Ant. 20: 2, 4).

In talmudic sources of the third century c.e. the Jews of Babylonia refer to Mesenean Jews as imprudent (Kid. 49b), unfit and of tainted descent (Kid. 71b), since "whosoever did not know his family and his tribe made his way there" (Yev. 17a). Marriage between Babylonian Jews and the Jews of the northern Mesenean city of *Apamea was forbidden (Kid. 71b). The city of Meṣḥān (Charax) is described as being lower than hell, and Harpania, a second city of Mesene (perhaps a variant spelling of Apamea), as being lower still than Meṣḥān (Yev. 17a). This hostility shown by Babylonian Jews may have been caused, in part, by the adoption of elements of Mandeanism by the Jews of Mesene. It has also been noted that the practice of allowing the Jewish dead of Harpania to lie while the shroud was woven (Sanh. 48b) would indicate an adaptation by the Jews of that city of the Zoroastrian practice of exposing a corpse before burial (see Obermeyer, 197). A possible preference by Mesenean Jews for the Jerusalem Talmud may have further contributed to their being disliked by the Jews of Babylonia.


Neubauer, Géogr, 325, 329, 382; E. Peterson, in: znw, 27 (1928), 55–98; J. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien… (1929), index; S. Nodelman, in: Berytus, 13 (1960); J. Hansman, in: Iranica Antiqua, 8 (1967).