Makhir of Narbonne

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Makhir ben Yehudah Zakkai of Narbonne (725-765 c.e.) was a Babylonian-Jewish scholar and later, the supposed leader of the Jewish community of Narbonne in a region which at that time was called Septimania at the end of the eighth century. His descendants, according to certain scholars, were for many generations the nasi or leaders of that important community.

Writings by Abraham ibn Daud[edit]

According to a tradition preserved by Abraham ibn Daud in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah, written about 1161, Makhir was a descendant of the house of David. Ibn Daud wrote:

Then King Charles sent to the King of Baghdad [Caliph] requesting that he dispatch one of his Jews of the seed of royalty of the House of David. He hearkened and sent him one from there, a magnate and sage, Rabbi Makhir by name. And [Charles] settled him in Narbonne, the capital city, and planted him there, and gave him a great possession there at the time he captured it from the Ishmaelites [Arabs]. And he [Makhir] took to wife a woman from among the magnates of the town; *...* and the King made him a nobleman and designed, out of love for [Makhir], good statutes for the benefit of all the Jews dwelling in the city, as is written and sealed in a Latin charter; and the seal of the King therein [bears] his name Carolus; and it is in their possession at the present time. The Prince Makhir became chieftain there. He and his descendants were close [inter-related] with the King and all his descendants.

Whatever Makhir's Babylon origins claimed by his descendants, the relation between Makhir and Charlemagne is legendary, the more famous king substituting for his father Pepin, king of the Franks, who in order to enlist the Jews of Narbonne in his efforts to keep the Ummayad Saracens at bay, granted wide-ranging powers in return for the surrender of Moorish Narbonne to him in 759. The monkish Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac both attribute this action to the Gothic leaders of Narbonne, rising up and massacring the Saracen garrison. Pepin with his sons Carloman and Charles redeemed this pledge in 768, granting to Makhir and his heirs extensive lands, an act that called forth an unavailing protest from Pope Stephen III.[1] In 791 Charlemagne confirmed the status of the Jewish Principate and made the title of Nasi permanent.[2]

The Makhir family enjoyed for centuries many privileges and that its members bore the title of "nasi" (prince). Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Narbonne in 1165, speaks of the exalted position occupied by the descendants of Makhir, and the "Royal Letters" of 1364 [3] also record the existence of a rex Iudaeorum (King of the Jews) at Narbonne. The place of residence of the Makhir family at Narbonne was designated in official documents as "Cortada Regis Judæorum".[4] Makhir is said to have founded a Talmudic school there which vied in greatness with those of Babylonia and which attracted pupils from many distant points(citation needed).

Bnei Makhir and Carolingian dynasty[edit]

Professor Arthur Zuckerman maintains that Makhir was actually identical with Natronai ben Habibi, an exilarch deposed and exiled in a dispute between two branches of the family of Bostanai in the late eighth century.[5] Zuckerman further proposed that Makhir(/Natronai) is to be identified with a Maghario, Count of Narbonne (actually Viscount), and in turn with an Aymeri de Narbonne, whom heroic poetry marries to Alda or Aldana, daughter of Charles Martel, and makes father of William of Gellone. This William was subject of at least six major epic poems composed before the era of the Crusades, including Willehalm by Wolfram von Eschenbach, (who also, in another work, was a chronicler of the search of the Grail). The historical William, i. e. William I, Count of Toulouse led Frankish forces at the fall of Barcelona in 803. The account of the campaign in Ermold Niger's Latin poem dates the events, as Zuckerman says, according to the Jewish calendar and portrays William, again according to Zuckerman's interpretation, as an observant Jew.[2] Count William was actually the son of a Frankish Count of Septimania named Theoderic, leading Zuckerman to conclude that Theoderic was none other than Makhir, and that the well-documented descendants of Theoderic embodied a dynasty of Franco-Judeic kings of Narbonne, representing the union of the lineage of the exilarchs with that of Martel's Carolingians. However it is now well documented that his supposed Davidic blood was wrong[6]


However, this underlying chain of identifications has been shown to be flawed,[7] a negative opinion shared by other scholars,[8] while the broader suggestions of a Jewish principality in Southern France have likewise been refuted.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arthur J. Zuckerman, "The Nasi of Frankland in the Ninth Century and the 'Colaphus Judaeorum' in Toulouse" Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 33, (1965:51-82).
  2. ^ a b Zuckerman 1965:51.
  3. ^ Doat Collection, pp. 53 et seq., 339-353
  4. ^ Saige, "Hist. des Juifs du Languedoc," p. 44
  5. ^ Zuckerman, Arthur J. A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900. (New York:Columbia University Press), 1972.
  6. ^ FRANKS, carolingian NOBILITY in the website of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy. Acceded 15 october, 2017
  7. ^ Taylor, N.L. "Saint William, King David, and Makhir: a Controversial Medieval Descent", The American Genealogist, 72: 205-223"
  8. ^ e.g. Settipani, Christian, Continuité gentilice et continuité familiale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale: mythe et réalité, Unit for Prosopographical Research, Linacre College, University of Oxford, 2000, p. 78; Bierbrier, M.L., "Genealogical Flights of Fancy. Old Assumptions, New Sources", Foundations: Journal of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, 2:379-87, who on p. 381 says of the Zuckerman theory "This view has been rejected by all specialists in the area as utter nonsense, . . ."
  9. ^ Graboïs, Aryeh, "Une Principaute Juive dans la France du Midi a l'Époque Carolingienne?", Annales du Midi, 85: 191-202 (1973)