Nathan Ha-Bavli

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NATHAN HA-BAVLI ("the Babylonian"; middle of the second century c.e.), tanna. It is said of Rabbi *Judah ha-Nasi and Rabbi Nathan that they constituted "the conclusion of the Mishnah" (bm 86a), i.e., that they were the outstanding scholars of the close of the tannaitic period. Like other prominent figures of the last generations of tannaim, Nathan's statements are rarely quoted in the Mishnah–only twice, and even those two passages are additions which do not appear in the manuscripts. In one passage he interpreted Psalms 119:126 to mean: "They have made void the law because it was a time to work for the Lord" (Ber. 9:5). The other passage lays it down that "The surplus of money collected for burial … is used to build a monument over the grave" (Shek. 2:5). On the other hand, he is quoted by name over 60 times in the Tosefta, and over 100 times in tannaitic midrashim, mostly in midrashim of the school of R. Ishmael. It was reported that he had a Mishnah collection of his own (Tem. 16a). Nathan's appellation "ha-Bavli" ("the Babylonian") is only mentioned in one tannaitic source, and even then only in the Vienna manuscript of the Tosefta (Tosef. Shab. 15:8) in the talmudic parallels of this tradition (Shab. 134a, Ḥul. 47b; cf tj Ket. 4:11, 29a). According to a geonic tradition (see Arukhs.v.kamra), he was the *exilarch. He transmitted traditions in the names of *Ishmael (Tosef. Shab. 1:13), *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (Tosef. Pes. 3:8), *Tarfon (Tosef. Zev. 10:13), and *Yose ha-Gelili (Men. 38b). When the Hadrianic persecutions broke out he fled to his native Babylon. He is reported to have traveled overseas to a number of countries, including Cappadocia (Ḥul. 47b). When *Hananiah the nephew of Joshua b. Hananiah fixed the calendar in Babylon, Nathan was one of the two scholars who were sent to remonstrate with him and succeeded in persuading him to desist (tj, Ned. 6:13 40a; Sanh. 1:2, 19a). He is cited as the one who transmitted the important halakhic rule that if A owes B money and B owes C, then C may claim from A (Ket. 19a; see *Shi'buda de-Rabbi Nathan). In later tradition he was considered to be the author of *Avot de-Rabbi Nathan and of the 49 *hermeneutical rules of Rabbi Nathan. He was regarded as an authority on civil law because of his experience as a dayyan (bk 39a; bm 117b). According to the aggadah (Git. 70a), the prophet Elijah appeared to him and taught him. Among the aggadic sayings ascribed to him are: "One may modify a statement in the interest of peace" (Yev. 65b); "Do not taunt your neighbor with your own blemish" (bm 59b); and "There is no greater love than love of the Torah; there is no wisdom like the wisdom of Ereẓ Israel, and there is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem" (arn, 28, 85).

According to an aggadah in the Babylonian Talmud Nathan was av bet din under the nasi*Simeon b. Gamaliel, at the time R. Meir was the ḥakham (Hor. 13b). According to this tradition Simeon b. Gamaliel took steps to strengthen the status and honor of his office at the expense of these other two sages, which Meir and Nathan took as a personal affront. Nathan and Meir engaged in a conspiracy to discredit Simeon b. Gamaliel and to remove him from office. Their plan was foiled and Simeon in turn attempted, unsuccessfully, to have them removed from the bet ha-midrash. Nevertheless, as a punishment for their opposition to the nasi, it was decreed that all subsequent statements made by Meir and Nathan should be introduced anonymously, the former being quoted merely as "others say" and the latter as "some say" (Hor. 13b–14a). While some scholars have held that this story accurately reflects the forms of communal leadership practiced during the late tannaitic period, and have also accepted it as evidence for a power struggle between these well-known historical figures, Goodblatt has shown quite convincingly that this story is in fact a late Babylonian elaboration and embellishment of certain earlier Palestinian traditions (cf. tj mk 3:1, 81c), and has little or no historical value.


Hyman, Toledot, 949–53; J. Bruell, Mevo ha-Mishnah, 1 (1876), 218–23; Frankel, Mishnah, 198–201; Bacher, Tann, 2 (1890), 437–53; Halevy, Dorot, 1 pt. 5 (1923), 3–23; A. Buechler, Studies in Jewish History (1956), 160–78; Neusner, Babylonia, 1 (1965), index; M. Baer, Rashut ha-Golah be-Bavel (1970), 29f.; A. Epstein, Mi-Kadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim-Ketavim, 2 (1957), 415–7. add. bibliography: D. Goodblatt, in: Zion, 49 (1984), 349–74 (Heb.); S. Wald, bt Pesahim iii (2000), 231–33.

[David Joseph Bornstein /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]