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Oenomaus of Gadara°


OENOMAUS OF GADARA °, pagan philosopher of the school of younger Cynics, who lived during the reign of Hadrian (117–38). He composed a number of works, only little of which has survived. His most famous Γοήτων θώρα (Kata Chresterion), fragments of which are preserved in Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica 1:7ff.), was a lively attack on the belief in oracles. The argument was based on the belief in free will, and it seems to have had some measure of success, because Julian, in the middle of the fourth century, upbraids him for destroying reverence for the gods (Orationes 7:209, also 6:199). Oenomaus aimed at a cynicism which did not slavishly follow either Antisthenes or Diogenes, defining it as "a sort of despair, a life not human but brutish, a disposition of the soul that reckons with nothing noble or virtuous or good." Oenomaus is generally identified with Avnimos ha-Gardi, who appears in rabbinic literature as a philosopher friendly toward the rabbis. He once asked them how the world was first created. Declaring themselves not versed in such matters, they referred him to Joseph the builder, who satisfied him with his reply (Ex. R. 13:1).

He was particularly friendly with R. Meir and once asked him; "Does all wool rise that is placed in the dyeing-pot?" Meir replied, "What was clean upon the body of the mother rises, what was unclean upon the body of the mother does not rise" (Ḥag. 15b). This enigmatic dialogue probably refers to the fact of Meir's teacher, *Elisha b. Avuyah, having become an apostate, and the dangers involved in Meir's learning from him (see tj, Ḥag. 2:1, 77b). Avnimos' question is indicative of an intimate understanding of Jewish problems. This positive attitude is reflected in an episode according to which the pagans asked him whether they could overcome the Jews, and he replied that if they heard the chirping (i.e., studying) of children in the synagogues and academies, they would be unable to overcome the Jews (Gen. R. 65:20). He had some knowledge of the Bible (Ruth R. 2:13), but it is most significant that the rabbis regarded him as the greatest heathen philosopher of all ages (with Balaam, Gen. R. 65:20). This is due to his gibes at the gods and oracles, coupled with his sympathy and closeness to rabbinic circles, but also indicates the measure of their unfamiliarity with Greek philosophy (see S. Lieberman, in Biblical and other Studies, ed. by A. Altmann (1963), 129–30).


Hyman, Toledot, 946; 261; Pauly-Wissowa, 17 (1937), 2249–51.

[Daniel Sperber]

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