The Antoninus Agadot in Medrash and Talmud

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It would be useful to arrange all of the Agaddic material, which the Jewish sources mention concerning an emperor Antoninus, in one place. In order to review each discussion individually, and to judge them critically. We should also examine what aspects of Jewish history these aggadot can reveal to us.

1) (Ez. 32, 29): "there (in the underworld) Edom is, its kings and all its princes." - Some of kings", but not all its kings; this exclude Antoninus ben Asorus and his comrades (Tracate Avoda Zara 10b).

This Agada is brought as a Baraita (tanya) of the Bab. Talmud. The Redaction of these Baraitot was likely during the time of the first Amoraim.

2) On the verse: "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and by night:" (Exod. 13, 21) -In the Mechilta (Beschal. Pet.): Says Rebbi: The King Antoninus at night after he had finished judging, when his sons had been sitting next to him, would pick up the torch and to light the way for them. He said - it is not because I lack anyone to hold it for me but because I want to show my love and in order to honour my sons, so to G-d honoured Israel by carrying the light in front of them. The Mechilta cannot have been redacted later then the second half of the third century. The term Rebbi in the Mekilta always refers to R' Yehuda Ha-Nassi (the first). The story is told in a manner that makes it appear as if Antoninus was still alive but not reigning any more.

Rapoport is correct (Kerem Chemed 4) in stating that this must refer to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the philospher. who was often busy until night administering justice and who was known to have loved his children very much and to have been very careful with their education.

3)In the same Mechilta it states: (on the verse "and thirds over them") Said R' Shimon ben Gamliel-Previously there were only two men placed per chariot, came Pharaoh and added a third man in order that it should go faster, came Antoninus and added yet a fourth driver" It has been documented that in fact the Egyptain war chariot carried only two men. The asiatic war cars were however occupied with three men. At the time of Rebbi, Antoninus would in fact have added still another, fourth, man.

4)Antoninus said to Rabbi: 'The body and the soul (Note: this refers to the spirit of life, not the reasoning faculty of the soul, as Rapoport has shown.) can both free themselves from judgment. Thus, the body can plead: The soul has sinned, [the proof being] that from the day it left me I lie like a dumb stone in the grave [powerless to do aught]. Whilst the soul can say: The body has sinned, [the proof being] that from the day I departed from it I fly about in the air like a bird [and commit no sin].' He replied, 'I will tell thee a parable. To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now, he appointed two watchmen therein, one lame and the other blind. [One day] the lame man said to the blind, "I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Come and take me upon thy shoulder, that we may procure and eat them." So the lame bestrode the blind, procured and ate them. Some time after, the owner of the orchard came and inquired of them, "Where are those beautiful figs?" The lame man replied, "Have I then feet to walk with?" The blind man replied, "Have I then eyes to see with?" What did he do? He placed the lame upon the blind and judged them together. So will the Holy One, blessed be He, bring the soul, [re]place it in the body, and judge them together, as it is written, He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people:1 He shall call to the heavens from above-this refers to the soul; and to the earth, that he may judge his people-to the body.' (Sanhedrin 91)

This same statement is brought (with slight variations) as a Baraita of R' Ishmael in Vayikra Rabba, implying that like the previous statements this is an old Mekhilta. Rapoprt (Kerem Chemed 1) makes the point that this staement is in line with the Stoic philosphy espoused by Marcus Aurelius.

5)Antoninus also said to Rabbi, 'When is the soul placed in man; as soon as it is decreed [that the sperm shall be male or female, etc.], or when [the embryo] is actually formed?' He replied, 'From the moment of formation.' He objected: 'Can a piece of meat be unsalted for three days without becoming putrid? But it must be from the moment that [God] decrees [its destiny].' Rabbi said: This thing Antoninus taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is written, And thy decree hath preserved my spirit [i.e., my soul]. (Sanhedrin 91)

6)Antoninus also enquired of Rabbi, 'From what time does the Evil Tempter hold sway over man; from the formation [of the embryo], or from [its] issuing forth [into the light of the world]?! — 'From the formation,' he replied. 'If so,' he objected, 'it would rebel in its mother's womb and go forth. But it is from when it issues.' Rabbi said: This thing Antoninus taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is said, At the door [i.e.,where the babe emerges] sin lieth in wait. (Ibid.)

The last two discussions (with slight variations) appears in Genesis Rabbah (Ch. 34) as well.It is likely that they both take from one common earlier source. The source must be old, since a later generation would not have dared to state that Antoninus had kept rebbi on his right side (opposite a priest). Probably they are taken from an old Agada Book, of the sort already present in the time of the first Amoraim(see Sanhédrin 57 b, Gittin 60a and in detail Rapoport Erech Millin v. one)

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