Was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai a Priest?

by Daniel R. Schwartz[*]

Many noteworthy scholars, ancient and modern, have discussed the question I have posed in the title above and given their views on the matter.[1] It is therefore with a certain degree of hesitation that I, too, enter into the fray. I do so only because it appears to me that two philological considerations, which have not yet received attention in connection with this question, could help settle the matter once and for all.

Yohanan ben Zakkai’s Qal Vaḥōmer Argument

Those who deny Yohanan ben Zakkai’s priestly status essentially make an argument from silence, since no word of Yohanan ben Zakkai’s priestly pedigree is mentioned in any ancient source. To the argument from silence is joined the image of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, familiar from numerous tannaic sources, as standing at the head of the Pharisees and acting as their spokesman in their disputes—often quite heated—with the priests (or with the Sadducees, who are usually identified as priests).[2] So, for instance, from his statement that “Every priest who does not pay the half sheqel sins…” (m. Sheq. 1:4), the Tosaphists concluded: “This implies that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was not a priest” (Tos. Men. 21b).

In contrast to these, others rely on a particular tradition as proof that Yohanan ben Zakkai was a priest. This tradition is preserved in two main versions whose openings are different, but whose conclusions—which for our purposes are the most pertinent parts—are the same:

  t. Ahilot 16:8[3] t. Parah 4:7[4]
§1 Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s disciples asked him, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s disciples asked him,
§2 An inspector [of the ground for lost graves] does he eat terumah [which is only for priests and must be consumed in a state of ritual purity]?” The red heifer, in what is it prepared?”
§3 He said to them, “He does not eat.” He said to them, “In robes of gold.”
§4 They said to him, “You taught us that he does eat!” They said to him, “You taught us, ‘In robes of white!’”
§5 He said to them, “You have said well. And if a thing that my hands have done and my eyes have seen I forget, how much more when it comes to things my ears have heard?” He said to them, “You have said well. And if a thing that my hands have done and my eyes have seen I forget, how much more when it comes to things my ears have heard?”
§6 (It was not that he did not know [the correct answer], rather he wanted to sharpen his disciples.) (It was not that he did not know [the correct answer], rather he wanted to sharpen his disciples.)
§7 And there are those who say, “It was Hillel the Elder they asked.”[5] And there are those who say, “It was Hillel the Elder they asked.”
§8 (It was not that he did not know, rather he wanted to sharpen his disciples.) (It was not that he did not know, rather he wanted to sharpen his disciples.)

Except for one scholar of whom I am aware,[6] all those who have discussed our question agree on the interpretation of this qal vaḥōmer argument. They all understand Yohanan ben Zakkai to mean that his hands performed the action he was asked about (eating terumah/burning the red heifer), but there is disagreement over the meaning of עשו (“they did,” “they performed”). Did his hands actually perform (and if so, then he certainly was a priest)—this was the opinion of Rashi,[7] Rabbi Simeon ben Zemah Duran (Rashbatz),[8] Rabbi David Pardo,[9] Aptowitzer,[10] Khun,[11] and Safrai[12]—or did he merely oversee these actions and they were done according to his instruction (as in the incident described in t. Par. 3:8)?—this was the opinion of the Tosaphists mentioned above, Sefer Yaḥuse Tanaim veAmoraim,[13] Seder HaDorot,[14] Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (HaNetziv),[15] Alon,[16] Liberman,[17] and others.

Nevertheless, in my opinion this interpretation of Yohanan ben Zakkai’s qal vaḥōmer argument is difficult to accept, since it ignores the context of the saying. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai had made an error and his disciples had pointed this out. We should, therefore, expect that in his answer he would justify or explain the cause of his error. Instead, according to the common interpretation described above, he draws a pedagogical conclusion: If I have forgotten things that I have done and seen, as I have done just now, how much more could I forget things I have only heard about? But in context, as I have said, the opposite interpretation fits much better: If I sometimes forget even those things that I have seen and done, how much more might I forget things I have only heard about, like this question you have just asked me?[18]

Two further considerations support the interpretation I propose. 1) If it really was the intention of the qal vaḥōmer argument to suggest that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai did the things he was asked about, why is it also mentioned that he saw them? Of course, if he did perform these actions he obviously also saw them, so this is technically correct. But according to the interpretation of the qal vaḥōmer argument I am proposing here, the things he did and the things he saw are not necessarily the same, rather they are two different types of experience (both first hand) which which he has greater familiarity than things about which he has merely heard (second hand). 2) According to the continuation of the story, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai said what he did in order to sharpen his disciples. According to the usual interpretation the sharpening comes exclusively from the force of the qal vaḥōmer argument: Just as I erred in a matter that I actually did, so, of course, I will err in a matter I merely heard about. And so you, too, be careful in your studies! Be especially careful regarding purely theoretical matters with which you have had no practical experience. On the other hand, according to the interpretation I am proposing here, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai not only makes the argument, he gives a concrete example of forgetting one’s learning. In this way he sharpens his disciples more pointedly than in the former scenario.

It appears, therefore, that the qal vaḥōmer argument emphasizes that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai never prepared the red heifer[19] (or ate terumah when inspecting land for lost graves) but this, of course, neither proves nor disproves his status as a priest. But this tradition is not the definitive source regarding our question, since a parallel version with interesting differences occurs in Sifre Numbers:[20]

Yohanan ben Zakkai’s disciples asked him, “In what vestments is the red heifer prepared?” He said to them, “In robes of gold.” They said to him, “But, Master, have you not taught us, ‘In robes of white’?” He said to them, “If what my eyes have seen and my hands have ministered I have forgotten, how much more that which I have [merely] studied?” Now what was this all in aid of? To strengthen his disciples. And there are those who say, “It was Hillel the Elder,” but [it could not have been, since] he was not able to say “what my hands have ministered.” (Sifre Num. §123)

According to the Tosefta’s versions cited earlier, the same things are said about Hillel as were said about Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, as follows: “It was not that he did not know, but he wanted to sharpen the disciples” (§6, §8). It is clear that there is some disconnect here, since there is no need to repeat this reason a second time regarding Hillel, and the duplication is odd. And yet, in Sifre’s version, it actually cites a different reason with respect to Hillel: “He was not able to say, ‘what my hands have ministered.’”

Why was Hillel unable to say this? It is usually supposed that the answer is quite simple: Hillel did not burn a red heifer or did not witness its burning, for, according to the list in m. Par. 3:5, no red heifer was burned in his days (this explanation was already given by the Tosaphists mentioned above). But this reason is also difficult to accept because 1) it is necessary to assume that “the ones who say it was Hillel” did not know the Mishnah’s list or did not regard it as complete (but these assumptions are unfounded);[21] 2) in fact, according to a similar story in Sifre Zuta[22] Hillel did witness the burning of a red heifer and his disciples also witnessed it, from which we know that this happened while Hillel was an elder, so why was he not able to say he had overseen it? 3) If Sifre had intended to indicate that a red heifer was not burnt int he days of Hillel, why did it only object to “what my hands ministered” and not also to “what my eyes saw”?[23] 4) From Sifre’s cumbersome wording (“but he was not able to say”) instead of “but no red heifer was burnt in his day,” which one would expect if this interpretation were correct, implies that the objection is attached not to historical circumstance, but to the very words “what my hands ministered.”

So it appears that the tradent in Sifre felt that the verb שֵׁרֵת (“do,” “minister”), which, like many other verbs that originally possessed a general meaning, referred narrowly to the activities of priests. Just as עֲבוֹדָה (“work”) on its own referred in the Second Temple period unequivocally to the divine service in the Temple,[24] and just as the meaning of קִידּוּשׁ on its own refers to the special ablutions for the purity of priests,[25] so also שֵׁרֵת was used to refer to the ministration of priests connected with the Temple. In the long list of instances of שֵׁרֵת in the concordances of the Hebrew Scriptures, Hebrew Ben Sira,[26] the Dead Sea Scrolls,[27] and rabbinic literature,[28] only a very few will be found that do not refer to the divine service in the Temple (or to the ministry of the angels, which resembles it), and this is especially the case when the verb is used absolutely (i.e., when it occurs without the object toward which the ministration is directed),[29] as in our source (“what my hands ministered [שרתו]”). And therefore the tradent in Sifre emphasized that if the incident he described had occurred in connection with Hillel the Elder he would not have been able to say “what my hands have ministered” because Hillel was not a priest.[30] And this implies that, in the tradent’s opinion, Yohanan ben Zakkai was, indeed, a priest.

Moreover, Sifre presents additional support for our interpretation of the qal vaḥōmer argument, according to which the speaker emphasizes that he did not do the thing he was asked about. For on the one hand, it is clear, from what we have said above, that Sifre regards “what my hands have ministered” as the action of a priest, and not merely of an overseer. On the other hand, it is also clear from Sifre that, with a change of terminology (either by omitting the words “what my hands ministered” or by saying instead “what my hands have done” as in the Tosefta), Hillel could have made the same qal vaḥōmer argument. If everything incompatible with the qal vaḥōmer argument had changed because of this difference, the tradent would not have contented himself by demanding a terminological correction, he would have completely rejected the opinion of “those who say it was Hillel.” On either side this situation is not possible unless the qal vaḥōmer does not fundamentally assume the common interpretation that the speaker did perform the priestly actions about which he was asked.

It also appears clear to me that Sifre’s version is more ancient than the Tosefta’s in this regard,[31] for it is more reasonable to suppose that the specific verb שׁרתו (“they ministered”) would be replaced with the more common verb עשׂו (“they did,” “they performed”) than the reverse. Moreover, this replacement also explains the embarrassing doubling we noted in the Tosefta. This substitution would have been possible at some point after the destruction of the Temple when sensitivity to lexical distinctions between general terms and priestly vocabulary was less. In the same manner later interpreters of Sifre failed to sense this delicate linguistic nuance and therefore they (mis)interpreted it as they did (viz., that Hillel could not have said “what my hands ministered” because in the days of Hillel no red heifer was burned).[32]

Yohanan ben Zakkai’s Name

There is a second philological consideration that until now has not been given its due, which bolsters the supposition that Yohanan ben Zakkai was a priest. Not only were technical terms like עֲבוֹדָה, שֵׁרֵת and קִידּוּשׁ connected to the priesthood, certain personal names were strongly correlated with the priesthood in the Second Temple period. The name Eleazar is a prominent example of this correlation.[33] Some years ago a certain scholar pointed out, in reference to John the Baptist (whose father, according to Luke 1:5, was a priest named Zechariah), that these two names—Yohanan (i.e., “John”) and Zechariah—were especially popular in priestly circles. He cited several examples from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Books of Maccabees, and it would be possible to add many more.[34] For our purposes it is important to specify two points: 1) it is the scholarly opinion that the name Zakkai is nothing other than a shortened form of the name Zechariah;[35] 2) the correlation of these names with the priesthood was especially pronounced in the Second Temple period. In that period, among the few individuals whose family connections can be ascertained, we find the following priests:

  • Zechariah: Zechariah the prophet; Zechariah mentioned in Neh. 12:41; Zechariah ben haKatzav (m. Ket. 2:9); Zechariah ben Kevutal (m. Yom. 1:6); Zechariah the father of John the Baptist; Zechariah son of Amphikalos (Jos., Bel. 4:225);[36] perhaps Zechariah the father of Joseph, one of the commanders under Judah the Maccabee;[37] and Zechariah son of Baris (Bel. 4:335).[38]
  • Yohanan: The three high priests called Onias;[39] Onias IV, who built the temple of Onias in Egypt; Yohanan mentioned in Neh. 12:42; Yohanan son (or grandson) of Elishiv;[40] Yohanan ben haQotz (1 Macc. 8:17); the grandfather of Judah Maccabee; the brother of Judah Maccabee; John Hyrcanus; his grandson Hyrcanus II;[41] John the Baptist; apparently the Yohanan ben Pinhas, whose name appeared on Temple seals (m. Sheq. 5:1); Yohanan ben Yohanan who was sent to Rome in the dispute over the high priest’s vestments (Jos., Ant. 20:14); the Yohanan mentioned among the rests of the high priest’s family in Acts 4:9;[42] and (ostensibly) the author of the Gospel of John.[43]

True, there were other individuals named Yohanan in the Second Temple Period whose family connections we know nothing about, and there are two individuals named Zakkai whose familial origins cannot be guessed.[44] Nevertheless, we must remember that if the majority of Yohanans were priests, and if the majority of Zechariahs were also priests, then it is highly probable that someone whose name was Yohanan ben Zechariah (Zakkai) was a priest. Thus Yohanan ben Zakkai’s very name, like the meaning of the verb שֵׁרֵת, significantly deepens our confidence in the theory that Yohanan ben Zakkai was of priestly descent. And this, of course, is a crucial detail for understanding his innovative approach, the approach of an individual whom our sources portray precisely as a formidable opponent of the priests.[45]


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[*] This article originally appeared as האם היה רבן יוחנן בן זכאי כהן? סיני 88 (1981): עמ′ 32-39.

[1] Recently, Shmuel Safrai discussed this question and also summarized the opinions of many of his predecessors. See שמואל ספראי, בחינות חדשות לבעית מעמדו ומעשיו של רבן יוחנן בן זכאי לאחר החורבן, ספר זכרון לגדליה אלון, מחקרים בתולדות ישראל ובלשון העברית (ערכו מ′ שטרןף תש″ל) עמ′ 208-204.

[2] See m. Yad. 4:6; m. Sheq. 1:4; m. Edu. 8:3; t. Par. 3:8; baraitot in b. Men. 65a (= the scholion to Megillat Ta‘anit on the 8th of Nisan [ed. Lichtenstein, 324-325); b. Bab. Bat. 115b (= scholion to Megillat Ta‘anit on the 24th of Av [ed. Lichtenstein, 334]); scholion to Megillat Ta‘anit to 27th of Marḥeshvan (ed. Lichtenstein, 338); Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, §12 = Version B, §27 (ed. Schechter, 56-57). For the text of Megillat Ta‘anit, see Hans Lichtenstein, Hebrew Union College Annual 8/9 (1931/32): 257-351. On the refusal of priests to join the school of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, see ג′ אלון, נשיאותו של רבן יוחנן בן זכאי, ספר קלוזנר (תל אביב תרצ″ז). עמ′ 159-156 = אלון, מחקרים בתולדות ישראל, א, (תשי″ז), עמ′ 259-255.

[3] Ed. Zuckermandel, 614. There the explanations in §6 and §8 are misleadingly abbreviated, so I have quoted them according to the parallel version in m. Par. 4:7.

[4] Ed. Zuckermandel, 633.

[5] In t. Ahilot 16:8 it reads את הלל הזקן שאלו. In t. Par. 4:7 the את is missing.

[6] See below, n. 18.

[7] See Rashi on b. Shab. 34a.

[8] ספר התשב″ץ (אמשטרדם תק″א) חלק ג, סימן לז, דף י סע″ב: “And thus, according to Sifre and the Tosaphot, at the end of the Second Temple period Yohanan ben Zakkai was a high priest.” We will discuss the Sifre passage in due course.

[9] See ר″ד פארדו in חסדי דוד to t. Ahilot 16:8.

[10] See Aptowitzer in MGWJ LII (1908): 744-746. Like Rashbatz, Aptowitzer, too, thought that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was a high priest.

[11] K. G. Khun, Der tannaitische Midrasch Sifre zu Numeri (Stuttgart, 1959), 434 n. 9.

[12] See above, n. 1.

[13] Lieberman (see below, n. 17) quoted this from a Hebrew manuscript.

[14] ר′ י″מ חיילפרין, ספר סדר הדורות, חלק שני (מהדורת לאיתן, תרס″ב) עמ′ 196.

[15] In his commentary עמק הנצי″ב to t. Par. 4:7.

[16] ג′ אלון, תולדות היהודים בארץ ישראל בתקופת המשנה והתלמוד, א, (מהדרות שנייה, תשכ″ז), עמ′ 56. Earlier in תרביץ ט (תרצ″ח) עמ′ 179 הערה 42 (= אלון, מחקרים א, עמ′ 158 הערה 44). He admitted that “it is not inconceivable” that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was, indeed, a priest.

[17] ש′ ליברמן, תוספת ראשונים, חלק ג (ירושלים תרצ″ט) עמ′ 226-225.

[18] After arriving at this interpretation of the qal vaḥōmer argument, I found the same interpretation at the end of a long footnote in an essay by Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann, “Die erste Mischna…”, Jahresbericht der Rabbiner-Seminar zu Berlin pro 5642 (1881-1882), 22-23 n. 2 (= המשנה הראשונה ופלוגתא דתנאי [ברלין תרע″ד] עמ′ 26-25, הערה 22).

[19] Nor did he witness its burning. Hence the question preceded the incident related in m. Par. 3:8. Also for other reasons, it is necessary to date this story to a time close to the destruction of the Temple. See V. Eppstein, “When and How the Sadducees were Excommunicated,” Journal of Biblical Literature 85 (1966): 219-220.

[20] Ed. Horovitz, 151.

[21] Safrai (above, n. 1), 206, did speculate that “it appears this tradition does not list every instance, but only a few examples, since it is hard to believe that in the entire Second Temple period, beginning in the days of Ezra, only five red heifers were slaughtered, or even seven as others opine in this mishnah. The Mishnah names high priests whose preparation of the red heifer was preserved in the nation’s collective memory, first and foremost high priests who were famous in the tradition, like Shimon haTzadik (Simeon the Righteous), or Yohanan the high priest, but it should not be inferred from this that other high priests did not also prepare the red heifer.” But while it is possible to say this about Shimon haTzadik or Yohanan the high priest, it is difficult to say that Elyoenayi ben haQayaf or Ḥanmeel the Egyptian were long remembered in the collective memory, and it appears that the Mishn did intend to pass down a complete list. Cf. Ch. Albeck, Untersuchungen über die Redaktion der Mischna (Berlin, 1936), 93-94.

[22] Ed. Horovitz, 302:

They said, once they asked Hillel, “In what dress is the red heifer burned?” He said to them, “In a large one.” They said to him, “It is not burned except in white.” He said to them, “I saw Yehoshua ben Peraḥyah, who burned it in large.” They said to him, “We saw him burn it in white.”

Some speculate that this refers to a later high priest, a member of Hillel the Elder’s generation. See Horovitz’s not to line 7 and Safrai (above, n. 1), 206.

[23] Horovitz, in his note to line 13 on page 151 in Sifre sensed this problem, quoting the words of the Tosefta and stating, “But according to this it appears that the objection was that he was not able to say ‘What my eyes have seen and my hands have ministered.’” Liberman (above, no. 17), overcame this objection by assuming that the incident described in Sifre Zuta took place in Hillel’s youth, when he was able to see, but not “to minister” (which he regarded as equivalent to “oversee”), but this assumption ignores the fact that according to the tradition in Sifre Zuta Hillel’s disciples also saw the action, as we already noted.

[24] And also for a certain time after the destruction of the Temple. See, for example, Sifre Num. §116 (ed. Horovitz, 133), when on a certain occasion Rabbi Tarphon was late and he explained הייתי עובד (“I was working/serving in the Temple”) Rabban Gamliel answered him, “Are not all your words a riddle? Is there still a divine service?!”

[25] See G. Alon in תרביץ יב (ת″ש), עמ′ 34 הערה 28 = מחקרים א, עמ′ 307, הערה 28; and cf. L. Prijs, Jüdische Tradition in der Septuaginta (Leiden, 1948), 109-110.

[26] D. Barthélemy and O. Rickenbacher, Konkordanz zum hebräischen Sirach (Göttingen, 1973), 417-418.

[27] K. G. Kuhn, Konkordanz zu den Qumrantexten (Göttingen, 1969), 229; Revue de Qumran 14 (IV/2, May 1963), 232 (“Nachträge”). And cf. G. Klinzling, Die Umdeutung des Kultus in der Qumrangemeinde und im NT (Göttingen, 1971), 117.

[28] See in the various concordances prepared by Chayim Yehoshua Kasovsky and his son Binyamin: to the Mishnah (6:1843); to the Tosefta (6:592); to Sifra (4:1769); to Sifre (5:1896-1897); to Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael (4:1287); and to the Babylonian Talmud (39:1347-1349).

[29] See C. Westermann, “שרת,” Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, II (München-Zürich, 1976), cols. 1019-1022. Westermann noted the gradual rise of the use of the absolute use as a technical term for the the offering of sacrifices. And cf. P. Seidensticker, Lebendiges Opfer (Röm. 12:1): Ein Beitrag zur Theologie des Apostels Paulus (Münster/Westf., 1954), 54. Adherence to the technical ritual sense of שרת and עבד, which is limited to priests and Levites, is found in the Septuagint’s translation of the Torah. See S. Daniel, Recherches dur le vocabulaire du culte dans la Septante (Paris, 1966), chapters 3-4 (and in their summary on p. 102 ff.).

[30] It is impossible to know if whoever made the comment in Sifre had the same tradition that connected Hillel to the House of David. On its date, see M. Stern in תרביץ כט (תש″ך), עמ′ 400-399.

[31] This was also Neusner’s opinion, albeit for other reasons (see the next note): J. Neusner, Development of a Legend (Leiden, 1970), 200-201. Hoffmann (above, n. 18) thought that the Tosefta was more original than Sifre in this regard.

[32] The fact that the Tosephta’s version is the one that is edited also appears in two other differences from Sifre’s version: 1) “You have said well,” in the Tosefta (§5); 2) the explanation “It was not that he did not know…” (§6) in place of Sifre’s somewhat obscure question “And what was all this in aid of?”

[33] As Menahem Stern pointed out in ציון כו (תשכ″א), עמ′ 21 והערה 119 שם, and to those he listed there it is possible to add many more. Here I will simply note that out of twenty four Eleazars named in the Loeb Classical Library’s index to the works of Josephus (9:657-658)—or twenty two, if numbers 16-18 and numbers 19-20 are identical), eight are certainly priests (nos. 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 16, 18); no. 1 is the son of Moses; Josephus, a priest, refers to no. 4 as “a member of my tribe”; Stern (ibid.) argues that no. 6 was a priest; and also Eleazar ben Yair (no. 22) was, apparently, a priest since a) two of the heads of the zealot priests Simon and Judah son of Ari, or son of Yair, according to other manuscripts. And perhaps, therefore, they were Eleazar’s brothers (so M. Hengel hesitantly suggested in Die Zeloten [Leiden-Kölon, 1961], 338-339). On the connections between the zealot priests and Eleazar’s family, see also M. Stern, in the Encyclopaedia Judaica Yearbook 1973, 143-144. b) Menahem, Eleazar’s uncle on his father’s side (or his cousin as a number of scholars have speculated, such as Stern (ibid., 150 n. 11), was murdered, after he went up to the Temple in “royal” clothing accompanied by armed bodyguards, in order to worship there. This description, which occurs in Bel. 2:444, is modeled exactly—in terms of vocabulary and particulars—on the story Josephus told about Antigonus, the brother of Aristobulus I the Hasmonean (Bel. 1:73). It also parallels the similar story about Aristobulus III (Ant. 15:51), and he was a (high) priest. c) Sepher Yosippon (ed. Hominer, 397ff.) consistently refers to the leader at Masada as “Eleazar the priest” or “Eleazar ben Anani the priest”; but perhaps this is merely a confusion between Eleazar ben Yair and Eleazar ben Hananyah, as Flusser, in his new edition of Sepher Yossipon (דוד פלוסר, ספר יוסיפון, כרך א [ירושלים, מוסד ביאליק, תשל″ט], עמ′ 385 בהערה לשורה 1) supposed.

[34] E. Stauffer, Theologische Literaturzeitung LXXXI (1956), col. 143, notes 42-43. Büchler had already noticed that the name Zechariah was especially popular among priests. See A. Büchler, Die Priester und der Cultus im letzten Jahrzehnt des jerusalemischen Temples (Wein, 1895), 194-195 (note 4) (= ביכלר, הכהנים ועבודתם [ירושלים, תשכ″ו] עמ′ 145, הערה 72).

[35] J. Derenbourg, Essai sur l’histoire et la géographie de la Palestine: I. Histoire de la Palestine (Paris, 1867), 95 n. 1; M. Lidzbarski, Ephemeris für semitische Epigraphik I (1900-1902) (Giessen, 1902), 213; G. Dalman, Grammatik der jüdisch-palästinischen Aramäisch (2nd ed; Leipzig, 1905), 178-180; F. -M Abel, grammarie du Grec biblique (Paris, 1927), 43-44. These scholars compiled a long list of such abbreviated names, such as אלעי (אלעזר), גדאי (גדליה), יוחי/יוחאי (יוחנן) etc. Derenbourg also mentions the fourth bishop of Jerusalem, whose name was sometimes given as Zakkai and sometimes as Zechariah, to which we may also add the Zakkai who is mentioned in 2 Macc. 10:19, who, according to many scholars, is the same as the Zechariah mentioned in 1 Macc. 5:18. And likewise, see the LXX text of 2 Kgs. 18:2 in Codex Alexandrinus, which reads “Zakkai” in place of the traditional “Zechariah.”

[36] Evidently he is identical with the Zechariah ben Avkolos mentioned in stories of the Temple’s destruction (b. Git. 56b and elsewhere). See Derenbourg (above, n. 35), 267 and also H. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden III/2 (5th ed.; ed. M. Brann; Leipzig, 1906), 820-882.

[37] Joseph is mentioned in 2 Macc. 8:22 between Simon and Jonathan, as one of the brothers of Judah the Maccabee. If we are not to suppose that he was not really a brother, a son of Mattathaias, since he is not mentioned among the brothers elsewhere, then it is reasonable that the designation “brother” was used here in the usual way among priests, as in the quotation from Ben Sira in note 39 below. On this meaning of “brother,” see A. Büchler, Receuil des travaux redigés en memoire du jubilé scientifique de M. D. Chwolson (Berlin, 1899), 4 n. 1 (= idem, Studies in Jewish History [London, 1956], 27 n. 1). And compare the LXX translation of 2 Chr. 35:14). On the father of this Joseph, see the end of n. 35 above.

[38] According to Josephus, Zechariah was highly esteemed; compare what he said at the beginning of his autobiography: “Among us a person is considered a nobleman if he is of priestly stock” (Vita §1). And, indeed, two high priests were murdered before him, as well as twelve thousand members of the “nobility.” And after his murder—while the Temple was yet standing—the Edomites regretted it saying they had found no evidence that the priests had been traitors (Bel. 4:347). We should pay attention to this, for aggadic traditions greatly elaborated the story of the murder of Zechariah ben Yehoyada the priest in 2 Chr. 24:20ff., for he, too, was killed in the Temple (see the sources cited by י′ היינימן, אגדות ותולדותיהן [ירושלים, 1974], עמ′ 36-33), and cf. Matt. 23:25, and it is reasonable to suppose that this elaboration was inspired by the murder of Zechariah son of Baris which we know from Josephus. See Büchler (above n. 34) and also L. Baeck, “Secharja ben Berechja,” MGWJ LXXVI (1932): 315-319.

[39] “Onias or Honi…is, of course, the shortened form of Yohanan….” (י′ קלוזנר, “חוניו, בית חוניו,” אנציקלופדיה מקראית ג [תשי″ח] עמ′ 49). And cf. Hebrew Ben Sira (MS B) 50:1: “the greatness of his brothers, the splendor of his people, is Shimon ben Yohanan the priest”; the Greek translation here, as well as other ancient sources concerning this Shimon, refer to his father as Onias.

[40] See Neh. 12:11, 24, 23, and cf. n. 42 below.

[41] It is true that Hyrcanus II’s Hebrew name is not mentioned in the sources, but it is reasonable to suppose that his Hebrew name was the same as his grandfather’s, like his Greek name. And recently an increasing number of scholars have attributed at least some of the coins reading “Yohanan the High Priest” to his grandson. See E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus (175 B.C.-A.D. 135) I (rev. English ed. by G. Vermes and F. Millar; Edinburgh, 1973), 604 (A. Rappaport raised doubts regarding this, but not about John Hyrcanus II’s name, in his articleמדע המטבעות הטהור, בית מקרא לא [יב-יג, תמוז תשכ″ז], עמ′ 117-112).

[42] It is assumed that he is the same son of Hannan who was the high priest after Joseph Caiaphas (Ant. 18:95). It is true that this son is called Yonatan, but the confusion of Yonatan and Yohanan is common (see above, n. 40 and b. Ber. 29a “Yannai and Yohanan are the same”); the full form of Yannai’s name was Yonatan, as we know from his coins). There is also a manuscript of Acts that reads “Jonathan” here.

[43] This is a reasonable inference from the identification of the author with the “beloved disciple” according to John 21:24 and his identification with the disciple who was a member of the high priest’s family (John 18:15-16). Also the bishop Polycrates of Ephesus (end of the second century) knew to report that John was a priest (his words are quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:31 §2-3); perhaps he gained this knowledge from the inscription on John’s grave, a grave that was, according to him, there in Ephesus). See O. Cullmann, Der johanniesche Kreis (Tübingen, 1975), 71-88; R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii) (Anchor Bible XXIX; Garden City, N. Y., 1966), xcvii.

[44] Josephus, Vita §239; Luke 19:2.

[45] I want to thank two of my friends, Peretz Segal and Pinhas Mendel, who read an earlier draft of this article and who contributed important comments.

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