Joshua ben-Hananja, one of the most honored masters in Israel, flourished in the second century of the Christian era. He was a mechanic by trade, and earned his livelihood by continuing to work at his trade even when teacher of the Rabbinical school at Bekiin, wither he had removed from Jerusalem after its downfall.
He was a disciple of the celebrated Rabbi ben-Zachai, and did honor to his master as a teacher in Israel. His controversies with Gamaliel and Eliezer ben-Hyrcanos, which are celebrated in the Mishna and the Talmud, evince that he was a very formidable antagonist on account of the force of his reasoning powers and the pungency of his wit. In after life Joshua went with Gamaliel and Akiba to Rome, to plead with Trajan on behalf of his oppressed countrymen, and was received by the emperor with unusual courtesy and respect. It is even reported (though not on any certain authority) that Trajan's daughter, the princess Imra, honored the Jewish Rabbi with her friendship; and that on one occasion, looking at the homely garb in which so much wisdom was encased, she said to him, "Thou art the beauty of wisdom in an abject dress." "good wine." Joshua complacently replied, "is not kept in gold or silver vases, but in vessels of earthenware." When we consider that about this time Judaism numbered many proselytes among the patrician ladies of Rome, to whose aching hearts the herd of old and disreputable deities presented no ground of comfort or hope at all comparable with that afforded by the Hebrew's purer worship — the worship of the one true God — we need not hesitate to credit the truth of this story, and the belief of some that Imra even was a Jewish convert. It is also related that Trajan, in a bantering way, begged the old Rabbi to show him his God, whom he had affirmed to be every where present. After some conversation, Trajan still adhering to his demand to see the God of the Hebrews, Joshua said, "Well, let us first look at one of his ambassadors;" and, taking the emperor into the open air, he desired him to gaze at the sun in his full meridian power. "I cannot," replied Trajan; "the light dazzles me." "Canst thou, then," said the Rabbi, "expect to behold the glory of the Creator, when thou art unable to endure the light of one of his creatures?" In such anecdotes attributed to Joshua ben-Hananja the Talmud abounds, and it is evident that in his day Joshua figured as the most able of all the Rabbins. See Etheridge, Introd. to Jewish Lit. p. 61; Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 4, 56 sq. (J.H.W.)