Nehardea or Nehardeah (Aramaic: נהרדעא nher-daʻă "river of knowledge") was a city of Babylonia, situated at or near the junction of the Euphrates with the Nahr Malka (also known as Nâr Sharri, Ar-Malcha, Nahr el-Malik, and King's Canal), one of the earliest centers of Babylonian Judaism. As the seat of the exilarch it traced its origin back to King Jehoiachin. According to Sherira Gaon (Letter of Sherira Gaon, in Neubauer, M. J. C. i. 26), Jehoiachin and his coexilarchs built a synagogue at Nehardea, for the foundation of which they used earth and stones which they had brought, in accordance with the words of Psalms 102:15, from Jerusalem (comp. a similar statement in regard to the founding of the Jewish neighbourhood in the Persian city of Ispahan, in Monatsschrift, 1873, pp. 129, 181). For this reason it was called 'The Synagogue that Slid and Settled'. This was the synagogue called "Shaf we-Yatib," to which there are several references dating from the third and fourth centuries (R. H. 24b; Avodah Zarah 43b; Niddah 13a), and which Abaye asserts (Meg. 29a) was the seat of the Shekhinah in Babylonia. The Aaronic portion of the Jewish population of Nehardea was said to be descended from the slaves of Pashur ben Immer, the contemporary of King Jehoiachin (Kiddushin 70b).
Mention by Josephus
There are also other allusions in the Talmud (ib.) casting doubt upon the purity of blood of the Nehardean Jews. The fact that Hyrcanus II, the high priest, lived for a time in that city as a captive of the Parthians (Josephus, Ant. xv. 1, § 2) may explain the circumstance that as late as the third century certain of its inhabitants traced their descent back to the Hasmoneans. The importance of the city during the last century of the existence of the Second Temple appears from the following statement made by Josephus (ib. xviii. 9, § 1):
|“||The city of Nehardea is thickly populated, and among other advantages possesses an extensive and fertile territory. Moreover, it is impregnable, as it is surrounded by the Euphrates and is strongly fortified.||”|
Reference to the extent of the territory of Nehardea is made in the Talmud also (Ket. 54a). In addition to the Euphrates, the "King's Canal" (Nehar Malka) formed one of the natural defenses of the city (Ḳid. 70b; Shabbat 108b); the ferry over the river (or perhaps over the canal) is likewise mentioned (Ḳid. 70b; Ḥul. 50b). "Nehardea and Nisibis," says Josephus further (ib.), "were the treasuries of the Eastern Jews, for the Temple taxes were kept there until the stated days for forwarding them to Jerusalem." Nehardea was the native city of the two brothers Anilai and Asinai, who in the first third of the 1st century C.E. founded a robber-state on the Euphrates, and caused much trouble to the Babylonian Jews. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Nehardea is first mentioned in connection with Rabbi Akiva's sojourn there (Yeb., end). From the post-Hadrianic tannaitic period there is the anecdote referring to the debt which Aḥai ben Josiah had to collect at Nehardea (Giṭtin 14b; Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 385).
Nehardea at the end of the Tannaitic period
Nehardea emerges clearly into the light of history at the end of the tannaitic period. Shela's school was then prominent, and served to pave the way for the activity of the Babylonian academies. Samuel ben Abba, whose father, Abba ben Abba, was an authority in Nehardea, established the reputation of its academy, while Abba Arika, who likewise taught there for a time, made Sura, situated on the Euphrates about twenty parasangs from Nehardea, the seat of an academy destined to achieve a still greater reputation. The history of Nehardea is summed up in that of Samuel's activity. Soon after his death (254) it was destroyed by Papa ben Neser (Odenathus), in 259, and its place as seat of the second academy was taken by Pumbedita.
Nahman ben Jacob
Nehardea, however, soon regained its importance, for the eminent Nahman ben Jacob dwelt there. There are several references to his activity (see Ḳid. 70a; B. B. 153a; Kettubot 97a; Meg. 27b). Raba tells of a walk which he took with Naḥman through the "Shoemaker street," or, according to another version, through the "Scholars' street" (Ḥul. 48b). Certain gates of Nehardea, which even in the time of Samuel were so far covered with earth that they could not be closed, were uncovered by Nahman (Er. 6b). Two sentences in which Nahman designates Nehardea as "Babel" have been handed down (B. Ḳ. 83a; B. B. 145a). Sheshet also dwelt there temporarily (Ned. 78a). According to a statement dating from the 4th century, an amora heard in Nehardea certain tannaitic sentences which had until then been unknown to scholars (Shab. 145b; Niddah 21a). Nehardea always remained the residence of a certain number of learned men, some of whom belonged to the school of Mahuza, which was of considerable prominence at that time, and some to that of Pumbedita. About the middle of the 4th century the famous scholar Ḥama was living at Nehardea; the maxim "By the 'amoraim of Nehardea' Ḥama is meant" (Sanh. 17a) became a canon in the Babylonian schools.
Toward the end of the 4th and at the beginning of the 5th century Nehardea again became a center of Babylonian Judaism through Amemar's activity, though this was overshadowed by that of Rav Ashi, the director of the Academy of Sura. It was Rav Ashi who had the seat of the exilarchate, which belonged as an ancient privilege to Nehardea, transferred to Sura (Letter of Sherira Gaon, l.c. i. 32). Amemar attempted in Nehardea to introduce the recitation of the Decalogue into the daily prayer ritual, but was dissuaded from doing so by Ashi. Another of Amemar's liturgical innovations is mentioned in Sukkot 55a (on the relation of Ashi to Amemar see Halevy, Dorot ha-Rishonim, ii. 515 et seq., iii. 68 et seq.).
Other scholars of the 4th and 5th centuries who are mentioned in the Talmud as natives of Nehardea are:
- Dimi (Ḥul. 113a), who subsequently presided at Pumbedita as second successor to Ḥama (Letter of Sherira Gaon, l.c.)
- Zebid (M. Ḳ. 27b)
- Nahman (Ḥul. 95b)
- Ḥanan (Ḳid. 81b; Niddah 66b)
- Simai (Sheb. 12b; Mak. 16a)
- Adda b. Minyomi was called the "judge of Nehardea" (Sanh. 17b).
- Aḥa of Be-Ḥatim from the vicinity of Nehardea is mentioned by Sherira Gaon (Halevy, l.c. i. 25) as one of the saboraic authorities of the 6th century.
- Mar R. Ḥanina is mentioned, among the earliest geonim of Pumbedita, as residing at Nehardea at the time of Muhammad. This is the last reference in Jewish history to Nehardea. Benjamin of Tudela, however, mentions the ruins of the synagogue Shaf-Yatib, two days' journey from Sura, and one and one-half from Pumbedita (Itinerary, ed. Grünhut, p. 64).
A few scattered data concerning Nehardea may be added. It was an ancient liturgical custom there to read pericopes from the Hagiographa on Sabbath afternoons (Shab. 116b). The surrounding country was said to be unsafe because of Bedouin robbers (B. B. 36a). An ancient rule of procedure of the court of Nehardea is mentioned in Ket. 87a. Lydda in Palestine, and Nehardea are mentioned in the 3rd century as cities whose inhabitants were proud and ignorant (Yer. Pes. 32a; comp. Bab. Pes. 62b; see Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. i. 60). Nehardea is famous in the history of the Masorah because of an ancient tradition relating to the number of verses in the Bible; it is here said that Hamnuna (Bacher, l.c. i. 2) brought this tradition from Nehardea, where he had received it from Naḳḳai (see M. J. C. i. 174; Strack, Diḳduḳ Ṭe'amim, p. 56). Certain readings of the Biblical text are characterized by tradition—especially by the Masorah to the Pentateuch Targum (Onkelos)—as being those of Sura, and certain others as of Nehardea (see Berliner, Die Massorah zum Targum Onkelos, pp. xiii. et seq., 61-70, Leipsic, 1877).
- Barak S. Cohen, "‘In Nehardea Where There Are No Heretics’: The Purported Jewish Response to Christianity in Nehardea (A Re-examination of the Talmudic Evidence)," in Dan Jaffé (ed), Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity: Text and Context (Leiden: Brill, 2010) (Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity/Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums, 74),
- Nehardea Academy
- Anbar (town) (Firuz Shapur)
- Talmudic Academies in Babylonia
- Pumbedita Academy
- Pumbedita (City)
- Pum-Nahara Academy
- Sura (city)
- Sura Academy
- Talmudic Academies in the Land of Israel
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Anbar". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "MATAH MEḤASYA (MAḤSEYA)". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Endnotes:
- Neubauer, G. T. pp. 230, 350;
- Hirschensohn, Sheba Ḥokmot, p. 164, Lemberg, 1885.