TOBIADS , dynastic family of political importance from the time of Nehemiah to the end of the Hasmonean revolt. The name Tobiah remained in the family on the basis of pappyonomy, handed down from grandson to son, for many generations. There is good literary evidence for at least four prominent members of the family and archaeological evidence of their country seat in Transjordan for several hundred years in the Hellenistic period. The family may have had earlier ancestors, such as Tobijah, returnee from the Exile, mentioned by Zechariah (6:9 and 14); Tubyahu, "arm" and "servant" of the king, mentioned in the Lachish letters of 588 b.c.e.; and even the "son of Tabeel," a usurper planning to replace King Ahaz (Isa. 7:6), all as claimed by Mazar (1957).
The Tobiad estate was at Tyros (Ẓur, or "rock"), some 13 mi. (20 km). west of Rabbat-Ammon (Philadelphia) and was rediscovered by Willam Bankes in 1818 (Irby and Mangles 1823), thanks to a full account of it by Josephus. He described it as a paradeisos, a kind of Persian country estate, consisting of a marble fortress (birta) with animals carved on the walls, and surrounded by a moat; a long series of defensible caves; some enclosed halls and vast parks; and located between Arabia and Judea, not far from Heshbon (Ant. 12:222–34). His account is accurate, though not in all details. The site is known today as Airaq (or 'Iraq) al-Amir ("Cliff of the Prince"), based on the cliff of caves, and the name Tyros, or Ẓur, is still preserved in that of the adjacent valley, Wadi Sir. Two of the cave entrances carry a large Aramaic inscription, tobyah, to the right-hand side of their doorways. The chief building, of monumental size though plainly not a fortress, sported at each corner a frieze of lions (with two eagles above) and had two unique panther fountains (Lapp 1963). It is called the Qasr al-Abd ("Castle of the Slave") and was largely restored by a French team in the years 1976 to 1986 (Will and Larché, 1991). It was built by Hyrcanus, the last of the Tobiads, and largely completed, but much of its megalithic construction was toppled by later earthquakes (Amiran 1996).
The earliest Tobiad to be described in some detail is Tobyah, "the servant, the Ammonite" (Neh. 2:10). He was one of the chief opponents of Nehemiah, when he came to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 445 b.c.e. As Tobyah was allied to *Sanballat of Samaria and Geshem the Arabian (2:19), all major landowners, it is likely that their opposition was mainly due to the land reforms being forced through by Nehemiah (5:11). Tobyah was well connected to other Jewish aristocratic families by oath (6:17–18) and to the priesthood by marriage. He was given rooms in the offerings chamber of the Temple by the High Priest Eliashib, but Nehemiah had him expelled and insisted that the place be ritually cleansed thereafter (13:4–11). The title given him by Nehemiah, "the servant, the Ammonite," is generally taken to be a rank implying ministerial service to the Persians in Ammon, and some have claimed that he was governor of the Persian province of Ammon. But that post is not attested to and the title could also be pejorative, as implying that Tobyah's pedigree was not faultless, seeing that, on their return from the Exile, the Benei Tobyah clan had not been able to prove "they were of Israel" (7:61–62).
The second known prominent member of the family was Toubias, who was visited by Zenon, acting on behalf of Appolonius, chief minister to Ptolemy ii Philadelphos of Egypt. The papyri records of his journey through Palestine and Transjordan are dated to 259 b.c.e. He visited Surabit (Ẓur bayit), the birta of Ammonitis, where he conducted trade with its chieftain Toubias. Zenon brought grain from Egypt and several contracts record that he received slave boys and girls and exotic animals in return. The animals, consisting of horses, dogs, donkeys, and asses, were sent as gifts to Appolonius and to Ptolemy directly (Tcherikover and Fuks 1957). The contracts were witnessed by Persian and Greek soldiers and indicate that Tyros was then a military camp as well as an animal breeding center under Toubias and well known to the Egyptians.
Josephus wrote extensively on the subject of Joseph, son of Tobias, and his son Hyrcanus (Ant. 12:154–236) in a section that is generally known as the Tobiad Saga, or the "Tales of the Tobiads" (Goldstein 1975). His account had been seen as mainly fictional, as it contains many fabulous deeds of the two Tobiads, but when the evidence of the Zenon Papyri (as above) came to light in 1918, and when Josephus's description of Tyros was seen to accord with the facts on the ground, it was necessary to take him seriously. He tells us that Joseph's mother was a sister of the High Priest Onias, and that as a young man he was elected as prostastes (chief magistrate) of the Jews in place of Onias, who had refused to pay tribute to Ptolemy, the Egyptian Pharaoh. Joseph went to Alexandria and obtained the office of tax farmer to Ptolemy for Coele-Syria (Palestine) and, with the help of Egyptian troops, extracted tax sums that pleased his master. He also enriched himself and, according to Josephus, enhanced the status of his Jewish brethren. He carried out this work for 22 years. In his old age he sent Hyrcanus, the youngest of his seven sons, to Alexandria to attend the birthday celebrations of the new Pharaoh's son. Hyrcanus took the opportunity to supplant his father as tax farmer by offering a huge sum of his father's funds to the new Pharaoh, thus outbidding all others, and excluding his older brothers, who had not been interested in making the journey. His father and brothers naturally took umbrage and on his return Hyrcanus had to flee Jerusalem to Tyros, where he set up the family estate, as previously described. He dwelt there in conflict with his Arab neighbors for seven years and eventually committed suicide when Antiochus iv Epiphanes came to the Seleucid throne in 175 b.c.e., and made an end of the Tyros estate.
This detailed account raises as many questions as it answers. Much of the inconsistencies are due to the continuing wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, who eventually gained control of Palestine from the Ptolemies in 200 b.c.e. It appears that Joseph the tax farmer was pro-Ptolemy and managed to supplant his uncle Onias, who was unwilling to pay tribute to Ptolemy when he saw the Seleucids in the ascendant. Later his sons sided with the Seleucids, while the youngest, Hyrcanus, remained loyal to the Ptolemies. Hyrcanus had to retreat to Tyros in the face of the Seleucid victory and when the Seleucids started to expand their Empire under Antiochus iv, he thought his fate was sealed. But it may not have been so.
After the discovery of the Zenon Papyri in 1918, it was assumed that Joseph, the son of Tobias was the son of the Toubias of the Zenon Papyri. However, that places him at too early a date, and it is more likely that he was the son of a grandson of that Toubias, who carried the same name. It was Onias ii who had refused to pay tribute to Ptolemy iii Eurgetes, and when his successor Ptolemy iv Philopater won a surprise victory against the Seleucids in 222 b.c.e., Joseph was appointed in place of his uncle, Onias ii. Twenty-two years later, he sent Hyrcanus to the birth celebrations of the son of Ptolemy v and Cleopatra i, and Hyrcanus took the tax farmer post from Joseph. This may not have been such a coup, as in exactly that year, 200 b.c.e., Antiochus iii finally wrested Palestine from the Ptolemies, so the taxes should now have gone to the Seleucids. However, he generously transferred those taxes to Cleopatra, his daughter (Schwartz 1998), and it seems that Hyrcanus was astute enough to see they would then go to her husband, his master, Ptolemy v. Meanwhile Ptolemy's general Scopas tried to retake Jerusalem but failed to do so in 198 b.c.e., and it is then that Hyrcanus was ousted from Jerusalem and spent the rest of his days, and his wealth, in developing the family estate at Tyros.
It is unlikely that Hyrcanus committed suicide or even died in 175 b.c.e. The Seleucids were too busy, in Jerusalem and Egypt, to take notice of him and it is more likely that he survived until at least 169 or 168 b.c.e., when Antiochus iv returned from Egypt and punished the Jews for believing him to be dead. He may then have turned his attention to the remaining pockets of Ptolemaic resistance. In any case we know that the estate stood until 163 b.c.e., when it was overrun by the Seleucid general Timotheus, who massacred about a thousand men of "our fellow Jews in the region of Tubias" (ii Macc. 5:13). It also appears that Jason, the hellenizing high priest, who displaced his brother Onias iii, and built the gymnasium in Jerusalem (ii Macc. 4:12) had, in his turn, to flee in 171 b.c.e. from the more extreme usurper Menelaus, and came to find sanctuary in "Ammonite country" (ii Macc. 4:26), probably in Tyros with his cousin Hyrcanus.
From the archeological evidence it is clear that it was Hyrcanus who built the Qasr al-Abd, it being in the Hellenistic style of the late second century b.c.e., similar to palaces at Alexandria and Ionia (Butler 1907, Nielsen 1994). For many years it was considered to be an unorthodox temple built to challenge Jerusalem, but no altar has been found and the interior, now reconstructed by the French team, is quite unsuitable for use as a shrine. The French have concluded that it is "Le Château du Tobiade Hyrcan" but that is unlikely. It was designed to stand in the center of a lake, for which there is good evidence, and was a grand monumental building whose lower floor, of small rooms surrounded by massive monoliths, could only, in their opinion, be designated as mere storerooms (Will and Larché 1991). And access via the lake would have been cumbersome. Therefore it is more likely to have been intended as a mausoleum to his distinguished family by its last scion, Hyrcanus, as surmised many years ago by W.F. Albright. The group of lion sculptures at each corner represent the guardians of a typical Ionian mausoleum, and the upper eagles represent the messengers that carry the souls of the dead to heaven. The small rooms of the monumental lower story were for burials and the columnated upper story for funereal banquets (Rosenberg 2004).
Hyrcanus turned the whole of the family estate into a Hellenistic garden city (paradeisos) as Josephus claims (Ant. 12:233). He renovated the ancient caves and turned two of them into triclinia, or feasting chambers. He built a small aedicule, as a shrine or tomb (Butler 1907), a vast dike to the lake he intended to form around the Qasr al-Abd, a nymphaeum (water source) on the hillside, and a monumental gateway to the estate. He converted the older buildings on the upper site – which go back to the Iron Age, and which had been the original birta (fortress) of the estate (Gera 1990) – into spacious halls with plastered walls (Lapp 1963). It is impossible that he could have done all this in the seven years allocated to him by Josephus, though it is clear that he did not live to finish the Qasr.
The two tobyah cave inscriptions are now safely dated to the fourth century b.c.e. (Naveh 1976) and show that the estate was that of the Tobiads well before the time of Hyrcanus. It was a true paradeisos, in that its development began in the Persian period, adjacent to the original birta on the upper site.
The Tobiads were clearly Hellenizers from the time of the Tobyah of the Zenon Papyri and played an important role in the events leading up to the Hasmonean revolt. Joseph, son of Tobias, in particular would have brought customs of Alexandrian life and luxury, in the wake of his increased wealth, to Jerusalem. And the Tobiads would have supported the High Priest Jason in building a gymnasium and designating Jerusalem to be a Greek polis. Nevertheless, when it came to the war against the Seleucids, the Tubian Jews sided with the Hasmoneans and *Judah Maccabee crossed the Jordan to avenge the death of the thousands slain by the Seleucids in the land of the Tubians (ii Macc. 12:23).
D.H.K. Amiran, "Location Index for Earthquakes in Israel since 100 b.c.e.," in: iej, 46:1–2 (1996), 120–30; H.C. Butler, Ancient Architecture in Syria, Division ii, Princeton (1907); D. Gera, "On the Credibility of the History of the Tobiads," in: Kasher et al. (eds.), Greece and Rome in Eretz Israel, (1990) 21–38; J. Goldstein, "The Tales of the Tobiads," in: J. Neusner (ed.), Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults (1975), pt. iii, 85–123; C.L. Irby and J. Mangles, Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Syria and Asia Minor (1823), 473–74; P.W. Lapp, "The Second and Third Campaigns at Araq el-Emir," in: basor, 171 (1963), 8–39; B. Mazar, "The Tobiads," in: iej, 7:3 (1957), 137–45 and 229–38; J. Naveh, "The Development of the Aramaic Script," in: Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, vol. 5 (1976), 62–65; E. Netzer, "Tyros, the Floating Palace" in: Wilson et al. (eds.), Text and Artifact in the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity (2000), 340–53; I. Nielsen, Hellenistic Palaces, Tradition and Renewal (1994); S.G. Rosenberg, "Qasr al-Abd: a Mausoleum of the Tobiad Family?" in: baias, 19–20 (2001–2), 157–75; D.R. Schwartz, "Josephus's Tobiads, Back to the Second Century?" in: M. Goodman (ed.), Jews in a Greco-Roman World (1998), 47–61; V.A. Tcherikover and A. Fuks, Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, vol. 1 (1957), 125–29.; E. Will and F. Larché, Iraq al-Amir, le Château du Tobiade Hyrcan (1991).
[Stephen G. Rosenberg (2nd ed.)]
"Tobiads." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tobiads
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