Nathan ben Isaac Ha-Kohen Ha-Bavli

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NATHAN BEN ISAAC HA-KOHEN HA-BAVLI (i.e., the Babylonian; tenth century), chronicler who probably lived in *Baghdad. The fragments of his work that have been preserved appear to be part of his book on the Jews of Baghdad, Akhbār Baghdād. These fragments are an important source for the study of the history of Babylonian Jewry in the tenth century. In the first fragment Nathan gives a description of the office of the exilarch, the method by which he was appointed, his duties, and his functions. The fragment also contains details of two great controversies that raged in Babylonian Jewry in the tenth century. In one, the adversaries were the exilarch *Ukba and the Gaon of Pumbedita, Kohen *Ẓedek; it lasted from 909 to 916. In the other controversy, the adversaries were the exilarch David b. *Zakkai and Saadiah *Gaon, in about 930. From the contents of the fragment it appears that Nathan was in Babylonia at the time that the latter controversy took place. His vivid account of the ceremonial observed at the installation of an exilarch is of exceptional interest (see *Exilarch). This fragment was published (in Hebrew) in Samuel Shulam's edition of Abraham *Zacuto's Sefer Yuḥasin (Constantinople, 1566), and again in A. Neubauer's Medieval Jewish Chronicles 2 (1895), 77–88. A second fragment describes the rise of *Natira and his sons at the court of the Abbasid caliph at the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth century. It was published, in Arabic and in a Hebrew translation, by A.E. Harkavy (see bibliography). A third fragment, also dealing with the Ukba-Kohen Ẓedek quarrel, was published, in the original and in English translation, by I. Friedlander (see bibliography). The fragments lead to the assumption that Nathan ha-Bavli was closely associated with the circles surrounding the exilarchs and the academy heads, and that he may have been a student at one of the academies, apparently Sura. His writings contain inaccuracies and glaring omissions, e.g., he errs in the names of the geonim and in the chronological data. Nevertheless, he made an honest and unbiased effort to report events as he saw them happen or as they were reported to him. Some of the information contained in the fragments has been confirmed by other sources.


A. Harkavy, in: Festschrift… A. Berliner (1903), 34–43 (Heb. part); I. Friedlander, in: jqr, 17 (1904/05), 747–61; A. Epstein, in: Festschrift… A. Harkavy (1908), 169–72 (Heb. part); J.R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World (1938), 287–92; L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 1 (1909), 22–37, 55–66; A. Kahana, Sifrut ha-Historyah ha-Yisre'elit, 1 (1922), 57–72; A. Marx, in: Livre d'Hommage… Poznański (1927), 76–81 (Ger.); J. Mann, in: Tarbiz, 5 (1933/34), 148 ff.; Baron, Social2, 6 (1958), 213–4; A.N.Z. Roth, in ks: 30 (1954/55), 255–6.

[Abraham David]