Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Marcion and Aquila [Part Two]

Very few scholars will admit it but a Jew named 'Aquila' is something of a problem.  To be certain, Aquila is a fairly common Roman name.  But it is unusual to imagine that a Jewish man who would bear this name.  It is often assumed by some that such names were commonly taken over by Jews at the time.  It is also suggested that the name has something to do with Pontius Aquila, a noble Roman name (Cic. ad Fam. 10. 33; Suet. Jul. 78).  Perhaps Aquila was a freedman of that household they say.

Yet it is also unmistakable that Aquila means 'eagle' and it is used in Jewish texts to designate the Roman state.  In Sanhedrin 12a we see a discussion about the adding of a month to the lunar calendar we read of the appearance of a hostile Aquila apparently attempting to disrupt their plans:

Our Rabbis taught: The year may not be intercalated before the New Year, and if it be intercalated, the intercalation is invalid. In case of necessity, however, a year may be intercalated immediately after the New Year; yet even so, only a [second] Adar is added. But is this really so? Was not a message once sent to Raba: 'A couple [of scholars] have arrived from (Tiberias)  who had been captured by an aquila whilst in possession of articles manufactured at Luz, such as purple, yet through Divine mercy and their own merits they escaped safely. Further, the offspring of Nahshon (= the Nasi) wished to establish a Nezib, but yon Edomite would not permit it. The Members of the Assembly, however, met and established a Nezib in the month in which Aaron the Priest died'? Yes, the calculations were indeed made, but not published [until after the New Year].

The description here clearly comes from a period when the persecutions of the Jews reached such a height that all religious exercises, including the computation of the Calendar, were forbidden under pain of severe punishment.  The only age in which we know this occurred was during the reign of Hadrian.

As such it is difficult not to see that the name 'Aquila' could well be derived from a reference to the Roman state.  The standard carried by the Tenth Roman legion prominently featured an eagle.  We should also remember that in the story recounted by Epiphanius (undoubtedly from a Jewish source) Aquila was established by Hadrian "there in Jerusalem as overseer of the work of building the city. And he gave to the city that was being built his own name and the appellation of the royal title."  It is amazing to see how interchangeable Hadrian and Aquila are in the rabbinic literature.  They often say the same lines.  It is important to note that the figure of Aquila is repeatedly identified as a relative of the Emperor.  The difficult thing to figure out is how Christianity fits in the whole equation.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.