ASINAEUS AND ANILAEUS, figure in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 18.310-79 (18.9.1-9), a section on “the Jews living in Mesopotamia and especially Babylonia” inserted between the death of the emperor Gaius in A.D. 41 and Josephus’ attack on him. The section is composite—310-13: an account of the Jews in Mesopotamia; 314-70: the romance; 371-79: disasters of the Babylonian Jews after Anilaeus’ death. The introduction promises to explain these disasters, but the romance does not do so. Josephus may have taken it from an Aramaic source; the Greek is unusually bad and some details sound Aramaic. The romance uses the folkloristic motif of the lucky brothers whose luck is spoiled when one marries. This version is Jewish, for the non-Jewish wife causes trouble by worshipping foreign gods. This motif is framed by a story that does not perfectly fit it; the story may therefore be basically historical.

In the Jewish city of Nehardea in Babylonia, Asinaeus and Anilaeus were brothers apprenticed to a weaver. They stole some weapons, fled, and lived as outlaws. Gathering a band of followers, they levied tribute on herdsmen and began to raid their neighbors. The satrap of Babylonia, with a force of Parthians and Babylonians, attacked them on a Sabbath, believing they would not resist; but they did resist and defeated him. The Parthian king, Artabanus, therefore “gave them the land of Babylonia as a trust, to be unpillaged and suffer no evils under their care.” (Josephus says the king feared that, while he was fighting rebel satraps, Asinaeus might get control of Babylonia or seriously damage it.) Strengthened by royal authorization, Asinaeus built forts in his territory and was honored by the Babylonians and the Parthian generals sent down into that region. After 15 years’ prosperity, the foreign woman appeared as wife of a Parthian commander. Anilaeus fell in love with her, killed her husband in battle, captured and married her, permitted her to worship her ancestral gods, and killed one of his followers who protested. The others protested to his brother. When his brother objected, the woman poisoned him. Thus Anilaeus was left in sole command. Here the romance requires disaster, but the story reports further success. Anilaeus raided the villages of a Parthian, Mithridates, son-in-law of Artabanus. Mithridates came out to punish him but was defeated, captured, and would have been killed had not Anilaeus spared his life in hope of winning his friendship (and in fear of reprisals by Artabanus). But Mithridates in a second expedition was victorious. Anilaeus, however, with many followers, lived on as a robber until the Babylonians, on whose villages he was preying, threatened to make war on the Jews of Nehardea if they did not hand him over. This the Jews could not do, but they sent men with some Babylonians to negotiate with him. Thus the Babylonians discovered his hiding place, surprised him one night, and killed him and all his band.

This story’s background fits southern Mesopotamia during the Parthian period, where ethnic groups, often mutually hostile, were under loose Parthian suzerainty. Military leaders able to defend their own enclaves might win Parthian recognition. Josephus’ sequel adds largely independent cities, where other ethnic groups were at odds. Nothing suggests that Asinaeus and Anilaeus were “ethnarchs” of the Jews or controlled the fortified Jewish city of Nehardea. They doubtless made themselves defenders of the rural Jewish population, which after Anilaeus’ death, was attacked by the Babylonians. Its members fled first to Seleucia and then to Ctesiphon, whence pogroms by the Greeks, Mecedonians, Syrians, and Babylonians drove them to Nehardea and Nisibis. That the rural Jews at first preferred Seleucia and Ctesiphon to Nehardea accords with other facts suggesting hostility between rural and urban Jewish groups.



There is no adequate study of the section. For the text see the editions of Josephus by S. A. Naber (Leipzig, Teubner, 6 vols. in 3, 1888-96) and B. Niese (ed. maior, Berlin, 7 vols. in 5, 1885-95; 2nd ed., Berlin, 7 vols., 1955).

Book 18 is also edited and translated by L. H. Feldman in vol. IX of the Loeb ed. of Josephus, London and Cambridge, Mass., 1965.

See also J. Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia I. The Parthian Period, Leiden, 1969, pp. 54-57.

E. Täubler, Die Parthernachrichten bei Josephus, Berlin, 1904, pp. 62-63.

(M. Smith)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 16, 2011

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