Yom Turyanus: The 12th of Adar
The Mysterious Day of Tyrion/Turyanus
The Jews of Mishnaic and Talmudic times observed the twelfth of Adar as a minor holiday, called the “Day of Turyanos (יום טוריינוס)” or the “Day of Tyrion (יום טיריון),” on which it was forbidden to fast. The reason for the holiday, and the identity of its namesake, Turyanus/Tyrion, are shrouded in mystery. This minor holiday appears in the list of holidays in Megillat Ta’anit, though it is exceptional even there, since it was abolished earlier than the rest of the festive days mentioned, which continued to be commemorated until, and probably even beyond, the end of the Talmudic period.
The Early Cancellation of Tyrion Day
One of the Talmudic passages in the Bavli that deal with Megillat Ta’anit (b. Ta’anit 18a-19b) mentions the existence of “Turyanos Day (יום טוריינוס)” on 12 Adar (18b). Over the course of the discussion, the passage mentions that this holiday has been abolished, “because Shemaya and Achiya were killed on that day.” We are then told a story in which Rav Nachman decrees a fast on this date; his colleagues object that he must not do so, for “it is Turyanos Day” – but Rav Nachman replies that this holiday has fallen into disuse because of this murder.
Thus, the primary layer of the Talmudic text here reflects a point in history when Megillat Ta’anit as a whole was still in force, and Jews avoided decreeing fast days on its holidays. Only one holiday, the Day of Turyanus, had been cancelled.At a later stage, the final, (stammaitic) layer of the Talmud, relates that the entire megillah lost its force, except for the holidays of Chanukah and Purim (b. Rosh Hashanah 18b-19b)
It is odd that even before we have a chance to be acquainted with the holiday’s meaning, and with the identity of Turyanos, we are told that the holiday is no longer observed, because of the deaths of two individuals – Shemaya and Achiya. These figures are otherwise unknown, and no information is provided concerning the circumstances of their death.
The Nature of the Day of Turyanus
In the very next sugya, the Talmudic discussion turns to the question of the meaning of the holiday. It asks: “What is [the Day of] Turyanus?” and recounts the following story:
מאי טוריינוס? אמרו: כשבקש טוריינוס להרוג את לולינוס ופפוס אחיו בלודקיא, אמר להם: אם מעמו של חנניה מישאל ועזריה אתם – יבא אלהיכם ויציל אתכם מידי כדרך שהציל את חנניה מישאל ועזריה מיד נבוכדנצר.
It was said: When Turyanus was about to execute Lulianus and his brother Pappos in Laodicea he said to them, “If you are of the people of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, let your God come and deliver you from my hands, in the same way as he delivered Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.”
אמרו לו: חנניה מישאל ועזריה צדיקים גמורין היו, וראויין היו ליעשות להם נס, ונבוכדנצר מלך הגון היה, וראוי לעשות נס על ידו. ואותו רשע הדיוט הוא, ואינו ראוי לעשות נס על ידו. ואנו נתחייבנו כליה למקום, ואם אין אתה הורגנו – הרבה הורגים יש לו למקום, והרבה דובין ואריות יש לו למקום בעולמו שפוגעין בנו והורגין אותנו. אלא לא מסרנו הקדוש ברוך הוא בידך אלא שעתיד ליפרע דמינו מידך.
To this they replied: “Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were perfectly righteous men and they merited that a miracle should be wrought for them, and Nebuchadnezzar also was a king worthy for a miracle to be wrought through him. As for you, you are a common and wicked man and are not worthy that a miracle be wrought through you; and as for us, we have deserved of the Omnipresent that we should die, and if you will not kill us, the Omnipresent has many other agents of death. The Omnipresent has in His world many bears and lions who can attack us and kill us; the only reason why the Holy One, blessed be He, has handed us over into your hand is that at some future time He may exact punishment of you for our blood.”
אף על פי כן הרגן מיד. אמרו: לא זזו משם עד שבאו דיופלי מרומי ופצעו את מוחו בגיזרין.
Despite this [Turyanus] killed them. It is reported that hardly had they moved from there when two officials arrived from Rome and split his skull with clubs.
According to this story, the holiday commemorates an event associated with the execution of two brothers, Lulianus (=Julianus) and Pappos, by a Roman official named “Turyanus” in “Laodicea” (present day Latakia, the major port city of Syria, and the hometown of the family of Syria’s President Assad).
“Turyanus,” a Roman official about whom we know nothing, provokes these two brothers, about whom and about whose crime we know nothing, and asks them a serious theological question: If they are children of the Chosen People, why is he able to kill them without any divine intervention? Why are they not saved by a miracle, as happened to the heroes in Daniel 3?
The storyteller has placed this question in the mouth of the enemy in order to give expression to the great question of divine providence and retribution, which has been asked by persecuted Jews of all generations. If God has chosen us, where are His mighty deeds? Why is He not rescuing us from our enemies?
The storyteller places an answer in the mouths of the two brothers – a deep, fascinating answer: It is not true that the God is looking away, as it appears, as persecuted Jews are being killed in fulfillment of the wishes of the Romans,; rather, God has decreed that they must die on account of their sins. If they were not being killed by the Romans, they would be punished with some other kind of death, such as by lions, or tigers, or bears.
Moreover, the fact that no miracle spared the Jews teaches that the persecutors are unworthy to have God get involved in their affairs; the Romans deserve no such miraculous interference. The storyteller argues that the Romans are so wicked that even Nebuchadnezzar is considered “a worthy king” in comparison.
Nonetheless, an element of divine justice does appear in the story. God chose the Romans, rather than wild animals, to carry out the divine sentence against the Jews so that they (= the Romans), and specifically, the evil Turyanus, will deserve punishment. And indeed, envoys from Rome soon enter the scene and kill him.
Difficulties with the Story of the Execution of Lulian and Pappos
This story raises many questions.
Historical: Does the story preserve any kind of memory of an actual historical event? If so, what? Who was Turyanus? Who were the brothers, Lulian and Pappos? When did the event happen? Why is it set in Syria?
Significance: Why would a holiday that forbids Jews from fasting be declared to commemorate this event? What is so joyous about the execution of two Jews? Is the punishment of the wicked Roman, at the end of the story, really a reason for partying? In contrast Nicanor Day celebrates the death of the enemy general Nicanor, and thus represents the overall victory of Judah Maccabee over the Syrian-Greeks; that is not the case for Turyanus Day.
Coincidence: Is it not odd that a festival that was associated with the execution of two Jewish brothers, Lulianus and Pappos, would ultimately be abolished because of the execution of two other Jews, Shemaya and Achiya, who (according to some versions) were also brothers? What is the connection between the two sets of brothers?
Tyrion Day in the Yerushalmi
The confusion only becomes greater when we look at the parallel passages in the Yerushalmi. These passages call the holiday by its shorter name “יום טיריון”, and tell us that R. Jacob bar Acha – a contemporary of the Babylonian Rav Nachman – stated that the holiday had been cancelled, even though the other dates in Megillat Ta’anit were all still observed.
But, to our great surprise, the Yerushalmi states that the reason for the abolition of this holiday is that it is “the day when Lulianus and Pappos were killed.” That is, the tradition reported in the Yerushalmi is not that the holiday was established to commemorate the execution of these two brothers, but that it was abolished due to this event! The Yerushalmi tells us nothing about the reason for the establishment of the holiday, and does not know of brothers named Shemaya and Achiyya.
Turyanus/Tyrion and the Two Brothers in Other Sources
To further complicate matters, the story about Turyanus/Tyrion and the two brothers appears in a number of other rabbinic sources, but never in connection to the 12th of Adar. Some of these traditions report the story just as it appears in the Babylonian Talmud, but others end it with a happy ending: Turyanus/Tyrion is killed before he succeeds in executing Lulianus and Pappos, so the brothers are spared.
Pappos and Lulianus are mentioned also in other contexts. In one passage in the Yerushalmi, their names are associated with a different situation of martyrdom (j. Shevi‘it 4:2 = j.Sanhedrin 3:6). Another story associates them with the tradition that permission was given, and then rescinded, to rebuild the Temple (Genesis Rabbah 64:29).
The Historical Background of the Holiday: Trajan Day?
Solution 1 – Emperor Trajan’s Day
Many scholars believe that the “Turyanus” in question is none other than the Roman Emperor Trajan. These scholars identify the story of the execution of the two Jews, and the death of “Turyanos,” with events during the “Diaspora Revolt,” an uprising of Jews in Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Alexandria against the Roman Emperor Trajan, at the time of his campaign against the Parthians (115–117 C.E.). The uprising was put down by the general Lusius Quietus. According to this hypothesis, the Jewish folktale confused the character of the general (Lusius Quietus) with his superior, Emperor Trajan, and thus called him (Quietus) “Turyanos,” that is Trajanus, Trajan. As a matter of fact, Quietus was ultimately executed by the Emperor Hadrian.
Solution 2 – Seron’s Day
Some scholars, rejecting the historicity of the story in the Babylonian Talmud, note the reading “טיריון,” found in the Palestinian Talmud, rather than “טוריינוס” and associate the holiday with the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid general Seron (I Maccabees 3:13-26). If so, then the event would be from the same general era as most of the events in Megillat Ta’anit.
A Post Second Temple Holiday
If the first hypothesis is correct, Megillat Ta’anit consists not only of holidays that commemorate events from before the destruction of the Temple (70 C.E.), but also those from after the time of the destruction. This would mean that the final editing of the document occurred later than we typically assume.
Based on the tradition in Genesis Rabbah, which associates Lulianus and Pappos with the permission to rebuild the Temple, the following reconstruction has been suggested:
Step 1 – Permission was given to rebuild the Temple shortly before the Diaspora Revolt; the holiday was established to celebrate this.
Step 2 – The Diaspora revolt broke out, dramatically changing the relationship between the Jews and Trajan. When two of the leaders of the revolt (Lullianus and Pappos) were executed, the holiday was abolished.
The confusion about the holiday in the Babylonian Talmud, especially why it would celebrate the death of Jewish martyrs, can now be understood. The Bavli confused the reason for the establishment of the holiday with the reason for its abolition. Nevertheless, knowing it has been abolished, and having some recollection about this having to do with the execution of two Jewish brothers as martyrs, the Bavli was forced to come up with two additional brothers, thus giving birth to the account of the death of Shemaya and Achiya as an explanation for the cancellation of Tyrion Day.
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March 2, 2015
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Prof. Vered Noam is Professor in the Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud at Tel Aviv University. She holds a Ph.D. in Talmud from the Hebrew University, and in 2020, she became the first woman to ever win the Israel Prize for Talmudic Studies. Noam is the author of Megillat Ta’anit (YBZ 2003, Hebrew), From Qumran to the Rabbinic Revolution (YBZ 2010, Hebrew), Shifting Images of the Hasmoneans (Oxford, 2018), and (with Tal Ilan) of Josephus and the Rabbis (YBZ 2017, Hebrew).
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