EDESSA


EDESSA, a city in the upper Euphrates Valley (today Urfa in Turkey). Archaeological remains are known in the area of the city going back to the second millennium B.C.E., and Edessa may very well have been a Hurrian city alternatively known as Orrhoe, Orhai, or Osrhoene. Until 11 C.E. Edessa was part of the border area that passed on various occasions from Parthian to Roman hands. The city was conquered in August 116 by Lusius Quietus, and remained a Roman possession until 216, when it was officially incorporated into the Roman Empire. The suppression of the Parthian resistance against the Romans meant also the subjugation of the Jews of the city (see Segal). By the end of the second century C.E. Edessa had become the center of Christianity beyond the Euphrates, and this development suggests a Jewish influence in the area during that period. It is known, for instance, that the local king during the early second century, Abgar VII, was a son of *Izates of Adiabene, a monarchy already converted to Judaism. Eusebius, a primary source regarding the establishment of Christianity in Edessa, relates that Abgar V had corresponded with Jesus himself, and as a result immediately accepted the teachings of the first Christian disciple to arrive at Edessa, the preacher Addai. The story is also given in the "Doctrine of Addai," which claims that the conversion involved, among others, Jewish silk merchants. The story is a Christian invention. The Palestinian Targum identifies the Erech of Genesis 10:10 with Edessa and refers to it, together with Ctesiphon and Nisibis, as one of the three Babylonian cities ruled by *Nimrod. In the Talmud the name of the community is Hadass.

[Isaiah Gafni /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

The Edessa chronicles mention an order issued by the emperor in 411, to erect a convent on a spot occupied by a synagogue; other reliable sources, however, describe the bishop who was then in office, and was alleged to have built the convent, as a friend of the Jews (see Overbeck, Opera Selecta, 195; reports on Jews in Edessa are also available for the year 499: REJ, 6 (1883), 137). The participation of Edessa Jews in the wars between Heraclius I, the Byzantine emperor, and the Persians (610–42), on the side of the latter, gives reason to believe that their number was quite substantial.

For a considerable period after its capture by the Arabs (who renamed it al-Ruha), the town remained predominantly Christian. Islam, of course, spread in the town, at the expense of Christianity and Judaism. There is a source about a false Messiah in c. 735, who was a native of Edessa. According to Bar-Hebraeus, Muhammad b. Ţāhir built a mosque in 825 on a site previously occupied by a synagogue. In the 9th century the physician Yizhaq Ben Ali Al-Rohawi (Odessa man) was born in Edessa. In 1098 the town was conquered by the Crusaders and the Jews were expelled. There is a document from December 1101 in Ruzafa (150 km. south of Edessa) which notes the Jews of the castle of Ruzafa (one of the names of Edessa); probably these Jews were the refugees from Edessa who had fled to Ruzapa. When ʿImād al-Dīn Zengi captured the town in 1144, he settled 300 Jewish families there; and in 1191 when R. Samuel b. Ali, head of the Baghdad Academy, addressed a circular letter to the communities in northern Babylonia and Syria, he included the al-Ruha community among those addressed. *Al-Ḥarizi (13th cent.) also mentioned the Jewish community and noted that the local Jews were polite and cultured. He noted the Ḥazzan Joseph and another person, Hasan. He mentioned that the origin of the Jews in Ruha was from Al-Ein. Maybe he referred to the settlement of 300 Jewish families in Edessa two generations earlier which had been organized by the Mamluk Ruler Zengi I in 1144. From the 12th century the Karaite scholar Yehuda Hadassi (from Edessa) is known. Jews continued to live there during the Ottoman rule, when the town's name was changed to Urfa. In the 17th century, the traveler Pedro de Texeira found many Jews there. In 1834, 500 Jews lived there and the general population was 50,000. *Benjamin II, who visited the town in 1848, wrote of a community of 150 families, whose economic standard was very good, but their cultural standard was so low that only about a third was able to read the prayerbook. Benjamin also gave details of the local legends relating to biblical figures; the Syriac name of the town, Orhai, for some reason appears always to have been identified with Ur Kasdim (Ur of the Chaldees), and thus the town came to be regarded as the scene of various events in the life of Abraham. Among the sights pointed out to Benjamin II was a cave which was regarded as Abraham's birthplace and the oven into which Nimrod had been thrown. These places were venerated by both Jews and Muslims. In 1876 the Jews of the place spoke Aramic. In 1880 the Jews survived a big fire that had spread in the city. In 1893, 1,000 Jewish families lived in Urfa. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the number of Jews in Urfa dwindled steadily; in 1904 there were 322 Jews there, and thereafter their number was further reduced. Many of the town's Jews settled in Jerusalem, where they formed a separate community, that of the "Urfalis." During World War I most of the Jews in Urfa were merchants. Following a blood libel many of them were murdered and the survivors fled to Syria, Lebanon, Istanbul, and Ereẓ Israel, where many of the immigrants settled in Jerusalem. There have been no Jews in Urfa since the late 1960s.

[Eliyahu Ashtor /

Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

R. Duval, Histoire politique, religieuse et littéraire d'Edesse (1892); J.J. Benjamin, Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika (1858), 49–53; H. Pognon, Inscriptions semitiques de la Syrie … (1907), 7; Krauss, in: Zion Me'assef, 3 (1929), 17–21; J. Obermeyer, Landschaft Babylonien (1929), 132f., 261, 280 n. 1, 299 n. 4; A. Ben-Ya'acov, Kehillot Yehudei Kurdistan (1961), 129–30; Neusner, Babylonia, 1 (1965), 62 n. 1, 89, 166–9. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Sharf, Byzantine Jewry from Justinian to the Fourth Crusade (1971), 51, 133, 181; J.B. Segal, Edessa: The Blessed City (1970), 41–43, 100–5, 182; M. Gil, Be-Malkhut Yishma'el, 1 (1997) 42, 152, 209, 296, 367; M. Yona, Enẓyklopedya shel Yehudei Kurdistan, 1 (2003), 70, 82.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.