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Baba Rabbah

BABA RABBAH (or Baba ha-Gadol, "the Great Baba," 4th cent. C.E.), Samaritan high priest, eldest son of the high priest Nethanel (300–332 C.E.). According to the dating of the Samaritan chronicles, Baba Rabbah lived in the middle of the fourth century C.E. He is regarded as the most outstanding Samaritan political leader and reformer. His epithet "the Great" distinguishes him from other high priests called Baba, before and after his time. All information about Baba Rabbah is derived solely from the Samaritan chronicles: the Tolidah, the Samaritan Book of Joshua, the Kitāb al-Taʾrīkh of *Abu al-Fat, and the New Chronicle (see *Samaritans, Literature). The last three embellish their narrative with much legendary material. Of special interest is the legend of the Roman agent Jarman or Jarmūn related in the Samaritan Book of Joshua. By the emperor's decree, the Roman had been posted at the high priest Nethanel's door to prevent him from circumcising his eldest son Baba Rabbah; but Jarman was a God-fearing man who preferred to obey the law of the Eternal King rather than the earthly ruler. In gratitude, the Samaritans continue to bless his name at every circumcision ceremony at the conclusion of a poem composed by Markah in glorification of this act. According to the other two chronicles, however, the high priest in this story is Akbon, Baba's brother, who succeeded him in office.

Baba Rabbah lived in an age of great political and religious upheaval; pagan Rome had been succeeded by the Byzantine Empire. This turning point, when the foreign rulers were preoccupied with their own affairs, provided a brief respite for the oppressed Samaritan community. Baba Rabbah achieved numerous victories over the Romans and some neighboring states and time and again succeeded in driving the enemy out of Samaritan territory. To secure the safety of his country, he maintained an army of 3,000 men on constant alert. After he led his people for 40 years, the Byzantine emperor invited him to Constantinople to conclude a peace treaty. On his arrival he was received with princely honors but was held as a prisoner until his death.

During his rule, Baba Rabbah divided the country into 12 administrative districts, each under the leadership of a layman and a priest. The list of these districts indicates that at this time Samaritan communities existed in all parts of the Holy Land. Baba founded a legislative council of three priests and four laymen and conferred upon each member the title ḥakham. They constituted, after Baba Rabbah himself, the highest authority in the community. One of their tasks was to tour the country at regular intervals to ensure that people were instructed in the laws of the Torah and to decide on difficult halakhic matters. In conjunction with his administrative reforms, Baba Rabbah made efforts to promote a revival of religion and literature. He reopened all the synagogues and schools that the Romans had closed and founded many new ones, building one of the nine new synagogues at the foot of Mt. Gerizim. He had a cistern installed at this holy place for the purification of the people who came to pray there. Many old manuscripts of the law were then collected and preserved. It was probably also at this time that the foundations of the Defter, the Samaritan common prayer book, were laid by *Amram Darah and his son Markah, who composed liturgical and midrashic poems in Aramaic.


J.A. Montgomery, The Samaritans (1907, repr. 1968), 101–4; J. Macdonald, Theology of the Samaritans (1964), index; A.E. Cowley, Samaritan Liturgy, 2 (1909), xx–xxii; M. Gaster, Samaritans (1925), 39; I. Ben-Zvi, Sefer ha-Shomeronim (1935), 24; M. Avi-Yonah, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 127–32; R. Tsadaqa, Aggadot Am Shomeroniyyot (1965), 22–35; H.G. Kippenberg, Garizim und Synagoge (1971, index), TEXTS: E. Vilmar (ed.) Abulfathi, Annales Samaritani (1865), 125–47 (Arabic with Latin notes and introduction); T.G.J. Juynboll (ed.), Chronicon Samaritanum, Liber Josuae (1848), lii–lv (Arabic text); J. Bowman, Transcript of the Original Text of the Samaritan Chronicle Tolidah (1957), 16a–17b (Heb. with Eng. notes); E.N. Adler and M. Seligsohn (eds.), Une Nouvelle Chronique Samaritaine (1903), 51–61.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.