SHAPUR ° (Shahpuhr ), the name of three Persian kings of the Sassanid dynasty. The first reigned from 241 to 272 c.e., the second from 309 to 379, and the third and last from 383/4 to 388/9. In rabbinic literature apparently only the first two are mentioned.
Samuel, the head of the academy at Nehardea, discussed with Shapur i, with whom he was on friendly terms, religious topics (Sanh. 98a; Suk. 53a), the tense political relations between Persia and Rome (Ber. 56a), and also other subjects. Although aggadic in their extant form, the conversations, in view of their subject matter and contents, are historical. The Jewish community in Babylonia, a large ethnic-religious group recognized by the authorities, was a political and economic factor of considerable importance, and Jewish representatives met the king or other representatives of local authorities to discuss matters of common concern. In the days of Samuel, as during the third century generally, Persia, which included Babylonia, was the scene of a particularly animated religious ferment. There were the sect of Mani and the fanatical priest Kartir who was actively hostile to all non-Mazdean religious minorities. His boast of his ill-treatment of the followers of various religions, the first to be mentioned being the Jews, was found in an inscription. Under such circumstances the Jews appealed to the authorities for protection, these contacts providing an occasion for discussions on religious topics. In any event, talmudic literature records no complaint against Shapur i (see Samuel's reaction in mk 26a).
Many statements refer to the contacts and ties between Shapur ii, and particularly between his mother Ifra Hormizd, and the Babylonian amoraim. While still a baby, Shapur ii succeeded to the throne and until his majority the regency consisted of several members of the aristocracy and the queen mother. In his lengthy reign two periods may be distinguished. The first concluded in 363 c.e. with the defeat of the emperor Julian in his campaign against the Persian empire, ushering in the second period during which the political position of the Jews of Persia improved in recognition of their unexpected loyalty to the empire. It had been feared that they would revolt against Shapur ii and assist Julian, who had promised the Jews of Ereẓ Israel that he would rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem on his return from the Persian War. While Shapur ii, at the instigation of the Mazdean priests, persecuted the Christians in the Persian empire, he did not intentionally harm the Jews, a distinction resulting from Christian hopes of a victory for Christian Byzantium, his mortal enemy, with which they were believed to be in contact. To finance his protracted wars against Rome, Shapur ii demanded considerable sums of money from the Jews, of which Rava complained in the '30s and '40s of the fourth century c.e. (Ḥag. 5b). Because of these wars, the Jews, like the rest of the population, were compelled to billet soldiers in their homes (Pes. 5b; Ḥul. 94b), and as a result there were cases of rape (Ket. 3b). Isolated instances of premeditated attacks on the Jews may also have occurred (soz, ed. Neubauer, 72), but the evidence is inconclusive, and may refer to Shapur i. A conversation took place between Shapur ii and R. Ḥama on a halakhic subject, that of the burial of the dead (Sanh. 46b), for contrary to the halakhah the Persians interred a corpse only when all its flesh, which they believed defiled the earth, had been consumed by wild beasts or birds of prey. Aggadic in character but indicative of the good relations that existed between Ifra Hormizd, the queen mother, and the Jews are the talmudic statements that she sent money for charitable purposes to R. Joseph (bb 8a) and also to Rava (bb 10b), and a sacrifice to the latter to be offered in honor of Heaven (Zev. 116b); that she protected Rava from the king's anger (Ta'an. 24b); and that she submitted to him a halakhic problem (Nid. 20b).
T. Noeldeke, Gesehichte der Perser und Araber. des Tabari (1879), 25–42, 52–68; idem, Aufsaetze zur persischen Geschichte (1887), 97ff.; S. Funk, Die Juden in Babylonien, 1 (1902), 71f.; 2 (1908), 4, 5, 13; idem, in: mgwj, 49 (1905), 534–56; M. Sprengling, Third Century Iran (1953); Widengren, in: Iranica Antiqua, 1 (1961), 132 (Eng.).