Onias, Ham-magal

Onias, Ham-Magal (המעגל), an ancient rabbi, who was a contemporary of Simon ben- Shetach (q.v.) under the reign of Aristobulus II (B.C. 69-63), is especially reputed for his piety and the power of his prayers. When an unusual drought threatened the land with famine, a deputation of the Sanhedrim came to Onias to bespeak his prayers. At their request he entered a circle which he had traced in the ground (hence his surname the Rut), and did not leave it till in answer to his prayers rain descended — at first in drops, but afterwards in such quantity that he had again to intercede for its cessation. While the Sanhedrim voted thanks to the successful rabbi, Simon ben- Shetach, the president or nasi of the Sanhedrim, who disapproved of the embassy, and of Onias's conduct, as divulging the secretsof the Cabala (q.v.), sent the following characteristic message: "If thou hadst not been Onias, I would have excommunicated thee; for it would have been better for us to have suffered famine as in the days of Elias than that the name of the Lord should have been profaned by thee" (Talmud, tract Taanith, p. 23). This event is said to have taken place on the 20th of Adar, which is still marked in the Jewish calendar as a feast (comp. the art, SEE CALENDAR, under "Adar," vol. 2, p. 23). But soon after this Onias met with a violent death at the hands of his brethren. The occasion of it was the civil war in Palestine between the sons of king Alexander Jannaeus, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Aristobulus forced the weak Hyrcanus to abdicate. Anitipater, the father of Herod, sensible that the exaltation of a weak prince was the surest means of promoting his own schemes, persuaded Hyrcanus after his abdication to flee to Aretas, king of Arabia. Antipater gained Aretas for the cause of the fugitive prince, who was thus enabled to advance, at the head of a Jewish and Arab force, upon Jerusalem. Aristobulus, obliged precipitately to flee to Jerusalem, defended himself behind the Temple walls. It was at that stage that Onias was accidentally found by the superstitious army of Hyrcanus, and urged to .pronounce some magical curse against the defenders of the Temple. Unable to obey, he is recorded, instead of the desired curse, to have uttered the following prayer: "Lord God of heaven and King of the world, in whose hand are the hearts of all living, and the thoughts of the hearts of thy only people and of thy priests, direct thou their hearts, and do not hear their prayers against each other for evil, but only for good, seeing the one are thy people, the others thy priests." He had scarcely pronounced this brief and patriotic supplication before the exasperated multitude let fly at him such volleys of stones as killed him on the spot. Josephus remarks that misdeeds so heinous called for speedy punishment. An awful storm shortly after the murder of Onias destroyed all the fruit and grain throughout Judaea, so that a measure of wheat sold for eleven drachms of silver, and all the people suffered grievously from famine. Se Josephus, Ant.:xiv. 2, 1; Otho, Historia Doctorum Misnicorum, p. 66 sq.; Frankel, Monatsschriff, 2:38; by the same author, דרכי המשנה,' or Hodegetica in Mischnamn (Leips. 1859), p. 40; Raphall, Post-Biblical History of the Jews (N.Y. 1866), 2:181 sq.; Edersheim, History of the Jewish Nation (Edinburgh, 1857) p. 127 sq.; Gratz, Geschichte- der Juden (Leips. 1863), 4:133, 136; Derenbourg, Essai sur l'histoire et la geographie de la Palestine, d'aprs les Talmuds et les autres sources rabbiniques (Paris, 1867), p. 112 sq.; Milman, History of the Jews (N.Y. 1870), 2:50 sq.; ספר יוחסין השלם, or Liber Juchassin sive Lexicon Biographicum et Historicunm (ed. H. Filipowski, London, 1857), 15 sq.; Schurer, Lehrbuch der Neutestamentlichen Zeitgeschichte (Leips. .1874), p. 133. (B. P.)

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