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Nehardea is located in Iraq
Nehardea's location inside Iraq
Coordinates: 33°25′11″N 43°18′45″E / 33.41972°N 43.31250°E / 33.41972; 43.31250
GovernorateAl Anbar

Nehardea or Nehardeah (Aramaic: נהרדעא‎, romanized: nəhardəʿā "river of knowledge") was a city from the area called by ancient Jewish sources Babylonia, situated at or near the junction of the Euphrates with the Nahr Malka (the Royal 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,[1] 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.[2] 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 [3] 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).


Anbar was adjacent or identical to the Babylonian Jewish center of Nehardea, and lies a short distance from the present-day town of Fallujah, formerly the Babylonian Jewish center of Pumbedita (Aramaic: פומבדיתא‎).[4]

Mention by Josephus[edit]

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[5] 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 by Josephus:[6]

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.[7] In addition to the Euphrates, Nehar Malka (the King's Canal) formed one of the natural defenses of the city;[8] the ferry over the river (or perhaps over the canal) is likewise mentioned.[9] "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 Jewish brothers Anilai and Asinai, who in the first third of the 1st century C.E. founded a semi-autonomous state on the Euphrates, under the Parthian government, and caused much trouble to the Babylonian Jews because of their marauder-like escapades. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Nehardea is first mentioned in connection with Rabbi Akiva's sojourn there.[10] From the post-Hadrianic tannaitic period there is the anecdote referring to the debt which Aḥai ben Josiah had to collect at Nehardea.[11]

Nehardea at the end of the Tannaitic period[edit]

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 Samuel's death, Nehardea was destroyed by Papa ben Neser (either another name for Odenathus, or one of his generals) in 259 CE,[12] and its place as seat of the second academy was taken by Pumbedita.

Nahman ben Jacob[edit]

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:

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)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Letter of Sherira Gaon, in Neubauer, M. J. C. i. 26
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ R. H. 24b; Avodah Zarah 43b; Niddah 13a), and which Abaye asserts (Meg. 29a
  4. ^ The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (ed. Marcus Nathan Adler), London 1907, p. 34
  5. ^ Josephus, Antiquities 15:1, § 2
  6. ^ op. cit. 18:9, § 1
  7. ^ Ketuvot 54a
  8. ^ Kiddushin 70b; Shabbat 108b
  9. ^ Kiddushin 70b; Hullin 50b
  10. ^ Yeb., end
  11. ^ Giṭtin 14b; Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 385
  12. ^ Sherira Gaon (1988). The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon. Translated by Nosson Dovid Rabinowich. Jerusalem: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press - Ahavath Torah Institute Moznaim. p. 98. OCLC 923562173.; cf. Babylonian Talmud (Ketubot 51b); Seder Olam Rabbah



Coordinates: 33°22′43″N 43°42′57″E / 33.37861°N 43.71583°E / 33.37861; 43.71583