- Dec 29, 2019
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In 513 CE the Mahoza kingdom was set up by the exilarch (leader of Jews in exile) Mar Zutra II. Its homonymous capital was initially a suburb of Be-Ardeshir, a town founded around 230 AD on the left bank of the Tigris and now part of the Iraqi city of Al-Madayin. The state of Mahoza apparently came into existence after a successful uprising against the Sassanid Iranian empire.
However it was quite short lived, since seven years later Persians would reconquer the area, proceed to beheading Mar Zutra II as well as his grandfather Hanina and to attaching their corpses onto crosses which were put on public display. What's more, Mar Zutra's father Hama had also been killed by the Sassanids earlier on.
Jewish tradition has it that Mar Zutra II was the sole survivor of the house of prophet Davud (a.s.).
At any rate, this brief episode of history is of relevance in the present context insofar as it runs counter to and helps debunk a particular zionist narrative aimed at Iranian audiences: namely, that relations between Iran and Jewish potentates have throughout history been of invariably harmonious character. This is sometimes construed alongside the implicit suggestion that conversely, the relationship between Iranians and Arabs has never seen anything but conflict throughout. Needless to say, there is no historic accuracy to any one of these simplistic, naive myths. However, myths can serve as political tools.
The main recipients of this narrative are large sectors of the Iranian exiled opposition, namely monarchists (supporters of the regime toppled by the 1979 Islamic Revolution and its "crown prince" Reza Pahlavi), secular nationalists and assorted liberals, as well as reformist and moderate in-house liberals in Iran proper (one of whose public voices, Sadeq Zibakalam, recently went on the record suggesting that Jewish civilization is superior to western civilization, and that the west trumps Iran's own civilization).
Among several common traits between these groups is that they all seek an end to the Islamic Republic's principled policy of Resistance against zionist occupation. In other terms, they're aligned on the agenda of NATO and Tel Aviv whose backing they enjoy. This backing takes the shape of wholesale official sponsorship, funding and technical assistance in the case of the exile opposition, while more indirect means are used by the west and the zionists to prop up the domestic reformist-moderate nexus. A second commonality between exiled opposition grouplets and domestic liberals, is their shared objective to turn Iran into a client state of the USA like under the Pahlavi regime.
Of interest is the fact that within zionist circles themselves the historic revisionism alluded to is nowhere a dominant nor even a widespread belief. Indeed, it is specifically tailored for Iranian audiences, in the framework of western and zionist attempts to delegitimize the Islamic Republic's foreign policy, to put the blame for any economic challenges on said policy and incite the Iranian people to revolt against their government to the benefit of the mentioned foreign powers. Zionist and Jewish audiences however are seldom offered the same caricatural, overly idealized take on the history of Iranian-Jewish relations. References to instances of purported repression and persecution of Jews at the hands of Persians are not uncommon in zionist discourse intended for local audiences, nor in other sources of interest.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica's entry on Mar Zutra for example states that the exilarch Huna (Mar Zutra's father) had been killed during persecutions instituted by the Sassanid emperor Firuz. It also speculates that Mar Zutra's march against the Persian army may have been motivated by "Persian oppression of the Jewish religion". Likewise, sources report that the closeness of a number of other Babylonian exilarchs to the Sassanid court drew criticism.
Of course, the Jewish festival of Purim and the related Book of Esther in the Ancient Testament present us with another illustration as to the question at hand. While Persian emperor Xerxes (Ahasueres) is of course depicted in a favorable light owing to his marriage with Esther, the figure of Haman, an official at Khashayar's court is the reviled antagonist. So are Haman's ten sons who were hanged according to the Book of Esther, as well as 75000 Iranians killed subsequently.
Mahoza near Baghdad, Iraq
In the early 6th century, Mahoza was the center of a independent Jewish kingdom, ruled by the exilarch Mar Zutra II (c. 496-520). Already a center of trade and learning in Babylon, the city had been destroyed in 363 AD and rebuilt a few years later.1 It remained part of the independent Jewish state for seven years, until Mar Zutra's defeat and death at the hands of the Persians. Mahoza is now part of the present-day city of al-Mada'in, not far from Baghdad. Also close by is Salman Pak, the burial place of Shallum, the brother of a former exilarch. Shallum, who was viewed as a hero by the Muslims and Jews of Babylon, defeated the Persians in the early 7th century and established a capital at Mahoza.2
Mahoza The ancient city of Mahoza was located on the bank of the Nahar Malka, a canal connecting the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was a suburb of Be-Ardashir, a city dating from roughly 230 CE on the left bank of the Tigris.3 Several trading routes, both caravans and river trade, passed through Mahoza. Many of Mahoza’s Jews were successful traders or farmers; by the mid-300s, the majority of the city’s population was Jewish.4 Starting in the late 200s, the city became a center of study; around that time, Joseph ben Hama founded an academy that would grow to great success under the leadership of his son Raba.5 Emperor Julian destroyed Mahoza in 363 when he invaded Babylon, but after his death the city was rebuilt.6 In the early 500s, it became the center of an independent Jewish state led by the exilarch Mar Zutra II.
Mar Zutra II the center of an independent Jewish state led by the exilarch Mar Zutra II. Mar Zutra II (c. 496-520) was the son of Huna, a previous exilarch killed by the Persians.7 According to tradition, Mar Zutra II was the sole survivor of the House of David. In 512, his grandfather Hanina had him installed as the official exilarch, at the age of fifteen.8 The new exilarch led four hundred soldiers against the Persians and won several victories, allowing him to establish an independent Jewish state based in Mahoza. Seven years later, the Persians finally defeated him; he and Hanina were captured and eventually executed.9
Exilarchs The title exilarch first appeared in late antiquity as an office responsible for administering communal affairs among Babylonian Jews.10 It eventually developed into a hereditary title—justified by a claim of descent from King David—and one of the principal offices of centralized Jewish authority. Babylonian exilarchs were often wealthy, as well as being frequent attendees at the Sasanian royal court; many were criticized for being too close to Persian rulers, as well as their lax religious observance.11
Sources Beer, Moshe. Encyclopaedia Judaica. "Mahoza." Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Accessed August 4, 2014. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|CX2587513033&v=2.1&u=mlin_m_wellcol&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=2ea41df345288184f92d75190df9e080
 The Committee for Historical Research in Islam and Judaism. "The Conquest of Persia and Shallum's Return." 2012. Accessed August 5, 2014. http://www.alsadiqin.org/en/index.php?title=The_Conquest_of_Persia_and_Shallum's_Return
 Beer. "Mahoza."
 "Mahoza." Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. Accessed August 5, 2014. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10292-mahoza
 Beer. "Mahoza."
 "Zutra, Mar." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Accessed August 4, 2014. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|CX2587521673&v=2.1&u=mlin_m_wellcol&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=9c496ef5205f850027a41a72d0eca8ff
 Franklin, Arnold. Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. "Exilarch and Exilarchate." Brill Online, 2014. Accessed August 5, 2014. http://0-referenceworks.brillonline...ic-world/exilarch-and-exilarchate-COM_0007510
Born: c. 496
ZUTRA, MARZUTRA, MAR, the names of three *exilarchs during the fifth and sixth centuries. MAR ZUTRA I (d. c. 414), exilarch from 401 to 409, the successor of Mar Kahana and a contemporary of R. Ashi. It may be that he was the son of Huna b. Nathan, although his father's name does not appear in the sources. Mar Zutra was a student of R. Papa and R. Pappai and he transmitted the teachings of the earlier generations. He associated to a great extent with R. Ashi and Ameimar, and their differing opinions regarding various laws concerning meals are recorded in the Talmud (e.g., Ber. 44b, 50b; Shab. 50b). His piety and character were exemplary, and the title "the pious" was appended to his name (BK 81b; BM 24a). Whenever he had to pronounce a ban on a scholar, he first banned himself and then pronounced it on the culprit. Later, Mar Zutra absolved himself and then absolved the other (MK 17a). He prayed and fasted for the welfare of others but never on his own behalf (TJ, Ma'as. Sh. 5:8, 156d). When Mar Zutra was carried in honor on the shoulders of his audience on the Sabbath before the Pilgrim festivals at a time when he preached on the festival laws, he would repeat the verse (Prov. 27:24): "For riches are not for ever; and doth the crown endure unto all generations?" (Yoma 87a).
MAR ZUTRA II (c. 496–520), exilarch from 512 to 520. He was the son of *Huna , who had previously served as exilarch and was killed during the persecutions instituted by the Persian monarch, Firuz. His mother was the daughter of the head of the academy, Mar Ḥanina. According to tradition, Mar Zutra was born after the entire house of the exilarch had died out, and he was the sole survivor of the House of David, from whom the exilarchs were traditionally descended. During his minority, the exilarchate was administered by his brother-inlaw, Mar Paḥra or Paḥda, who bribed the king to retain him in office. When Mar Zutra reached the age of 15, his grandfather induced the king to install him as the legitimate exilarch. The new exilarch took up arms against the Persians, perhaps because of Persian oppression of the Jewish religion. Marching at the head of 400 Jewish warriors, Mar Zutra succeeded in defeating the Persians and setting up an independent Jewish state, with Maḥoza as his residence. The new state survived for seven years, but immorality spread among his followers and they were finally defeated in battle by the Persians. Both Mar Zutra and his grandfather, Ḥanina, were taken prisoner and beheaded, and their bodies were later suspended from crosses on the bridge at Maḥoza.
MAR ZUTRA III (sixth century), the son of Mar Zutra II. According to tradition he was born on the day that his father was executed and was therefore named after him. He later succeeded him as exilarch. He left Babylon to settle in Ereẓ Israel, where he was appointed to an academic position in a college. It is thought that he disseminated knowledge of the Babylonian Talmud in Ereẓ Israel.
In addition to a tanna called Zutra who is mentioned in a baraita (Ber. 13b), there were also some other amoraim of this name: ZUTRA BEN TOBI (third century), a student of Rav and R. Judah who transmitted their teachings (Ber. 7a; Yev. 44a); MAR ZUTRA BEN R. NAḤMAN (b. Jacob; fourth century), who transmitted his father's teachings and who, in his youth, adjudicated a monetary case without previously obtaining the permission of the exilarch and erred in his decision (Sanh. 5a); and MAR ZUTRA BEN MARI (b. Issur; fourth century), the brother of R. Adda the elder (Kid. 65b).
BIBLIOGRAPHY:Hyman, Toledot; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 283–4.