Simeon the Just

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SIMEON THE JUST , high priest in the time of Alexander the Great who was surnamed the Just both because of his piety toward God and his benevolence to his countrymen (see also Jos., Ant. 12:157). According to Josephus (Ant. 12:43), he is identical with *Simeon i, the son of Onias i and the grandson of Jaddua. Simeon the Just is also referred to in rabbinical literature. In Avot (1:2) he is mentioned as one of the survivors of the Great Assembly, and he is the author of the saying, "Upon three things the world is based: upon the Torah, upon divine service, and upon the practice of gemilut ḥasadim [charity]." In the same source he is indicated as the first in a chain of scholars descending to Hillel and Shammai. According to the Talmuds (tj, Yoma 6:3, 43c–d; Men. 109b), he was the father of the *Onias who built a temple in Egypt. If this is so, then Josephus erred in identifying Simeon the Just with Simeon I and he is to be identified with Simeon ii, the father of Onias iii, who lived about 200 b.c.e. The chronology in Avot also supports the latter view. To the praise of Simeon the high priest given by Josephus and the rabbis (tj, loc. cit.; Yoma 39a–b) may be added the words of Ben Sira referring to Simeon ii (50:1–6): "Great among his brethren and the glory of his people was Simeon, the son of Johanan the high priest, in whose time the House was renovated, and in whose days the Temple was fortified. How glorious was he when he came out from the sanctuary! Like a morning star from between the clouds and like the fall moon on the feast days." Ben Sira praises his communal activities after the conquest of Judea by Antiochus iii and his repair of the Temple (cf. Jos., Ant. 12:141). The great importance and honor given by Ben Sira to Simeon ii also supports the view that it was he who was Simeon the Just, and that Josephus erred. Simeon the Just is also mentioned as the high priest who went forth to welcome Alexander (Yoma 69a; Meg. Ta an. 9), but chronologically it can apply to neither of the Simeons. In general the historical value of this story is very doubtful. However the suggestion that the origin of the story is to be found in a meeting that took place between Simeon (ii) the Just and Antiochus iii, who was his contemporary and ally, may be correct. Some scholars prefer the testimony of Josephus. Azariah dei Rossi (Me'or Einayim, Imrei Binah, ch. 22) makes the suggestion that perhaps Simeon the Hasmonean is meant.


R. Marcus (ed.), Josephus (Loeb Classical Library), 7 (1943), 732–6 (incl. bibl.); Moore, in: Jewish Studies… I. Abrahams (1927), 348–64; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Mishnah (1959), 24f.

[Uriel Rappaport]