The Distinction between Sage and Exilarch in Sassanian Babylonia: The Case of (Rav) Huna bar Natan

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(Rav) Huna bar Natan is one of the Talmudic sages that has been the subject of significant research in the modern historical study of the Babylonian Talmud. It has been commonly assumed that this sage was already active in the fourth generation of Babylonian Amoraim, during the period of Rava and R. Naḥman b. Yitzḥak, and that he lived from the fourth until the sixth–seventh generation of Babylonian Amoraim. In this study I argue that there were two distinct personages named “Huna bar Natan” mentioned in the Bavli. The first bears the title “Rav”—“Rav Huna son of R. Natan”—and he was active during the fourth and fifth generations. The second is named “Huna bar Natan”—without the title “Rav”—and it is this figure who served as Exilarch during the time of R. Ashi. I further argue that this latter figure who appears in the vicinity of R. Ashi is not that of a classical Talmudic sage in the full sense of that designation. My conclusions are based mainly on considerations involving the hierarchical relationship between Amoraim, analysis of the literary contribution of these two figures, and the manner in which their names are recorded in good textual witnesses of the Bavli. Following the presentation of these findings, I propose a new solution to the questions regarding the latter’s tenure as Exilarch, a subject that continues to be debated in historical research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalJewish History
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Babylonian Amoraim
  • Babylonian Exilarch
  • Hierarchical relationships (Amoraim)
  • Huna bar Natan
  • Intellectual history


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