Was the Gaon of Pumeditha, Rab Sherira Crucified (?) by the Caliph Alkadir of Baghdad?
I came across this odd reference a long time ago, while reading SEDER HADOROT by Rabbi Yehiel Halperin (1660 - 1746). I came across it again, recently in this book published in honor of the 1999 wedding that united the vizhitz and spinka Hassidic sects. As is their custom on occasions such as this, a book was published with sayings of their Hassidic forbears. Appended to it, an exaggerated royal pedigree, to demonstrate that they are of noble (Davidic) lineage. The text on this particular page quotes the SEDER HAKABALLAH ("Chain of Tradition") of the Spanish scholar Abraham ibn Daud (1110-1180, approx.):
רב שרירא גאון זצ״ל, הי״ד, בן רב חנינא גאון בן רבי יהודאי גאון בן רב שמואל ר י ש
בלה, מצאצאי רבה בר אבוה המיוחסים לזרע דוד, מצאצאי זרובבל בן שאלתיאל, ,
גאון בפומפדיחא משנה ד' ,תשב״ח עד שנת ד' תשנ״ח, שאז לגודל חולשתו מסר
הגאונות לבנו רב האי, והאריך ימים עד שנח חשס״ז, וגם אז נקפד פחיל חייו ביד צר,
במו שבחב רבינו הראב״ד בסדר הקבלה שלו"דהלשינו פריצי ישראל ברב שרירא ורב
האי, וחפסם מלך ישמעאל ובזזו בל אשר להם, לא השאיר שריד שום מחיה בעולם,
ותלה רב שרירא בידו אחה והוא בבן מאה שנה״. ורבינו האר״י ז״ל אמר, שהוא רמוז
בפסוק "שרים בידם נתלו, פני זקנים לא נהדרו". "שרים״ רמז לרב שרירא, "בידם
נחלו" שנתלה בידו, "פני זקנים לא נהדרו" שהיה זקן בן מאה שנה, שהכל רמוז בתורה.
Rav Sherira Gaon, of blessed memory, may God avenge his blood, (906-1006)was a descendant of Rabba bar Abahu who in turn descended from the house of David. He (Sherira) was the Gaon of the Academy at Pumbeditha from the year 4710 to 4758, when due to his weakened state he handed over the reigns to his son Hai Gaon (939-1038) who reigned until 4767. And then his life was turned upside down, when insolent men of Israel spread libel on them to the authorities, whereby they were seized by the 'King of Ishmael' who confiscated all their possesions, and Rav Sherira was hanged by one of his hands. And Arizal (Isaac Luria) said that this was foretold in the verse in Lamentations 5:12: שרים בידם נתלו, פני זקנים לא נהדרו, literally: Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs, and our elders are treated with contempt. 'sarim' alludes to sherira, 'beyadam nitlu' that he was hung by his hand, 'pney zekenim lo nehadaru' alludes to his being 100 years old at the time of his death, etc.
Was Rab Sherira really crucified at age 100 by the Arab ruler of Baghdad?
If so, why the strange and macabre method of hanging him by one arm?
Is this some sort of twisted crucifixion? (parenthetically, crucifixion was not foreign to the Arabs and the Berbers of that period. A century after the incident in question, a Berber mob would crucify Rabbi Josef Ha-naggid (1035-1066) on the gates of Granada)
Heinrich Graetz tells the story quite differently:
Malicious persons had Sherira arraigned before the Caliph Alkadir on some unknown charge, probably growing out of the rigor of his administration (the editor of hebrew wiki, opines that the charge was espionage and probably related to the far reaching correspondence of the father-son pair, often sending letters (and accepting disciples from) to countries that were considered at war with their own, such as Persia, Spain, Andalucia and Byzantium--J.D.). In consequence of this, father and son were deprived of their liberty, all their property was confiscated and there was not enough to them for a bare livelihood. They were however, liberated at the intercession of an influential man and restored to their dignity. Sherira soon after on account of old age abdicated in favor of his son (998) and died a few years later. (1)
Moshe Gil and David Strassler in Jews in Islamic Countries, put forth a (possible) different explanation for the word נתלה by Ibn Daud:
“and the king of the Ishmaelites grabbed them..”and Rav Sherira Gaon depended on one hand”; (nitla נתלה which may be “he was hanged”, but also ‘depended’, i.e., was in distress...
…the information in Ibn Daud, that Sherira Gaon “was hanged (nitla) on one hand” was somewhat of a mystery for scholars. Some assumed that it should be taken literally, and found parallels in Christian martyrology. As against this it was claimed that- according to what Ibn Daud further states-Sherira was not removed from his post of Gaon, which contradicts this story, that should be considered an invention; or it was considered an erroneous translation of some Arab idiom. However Fleischer has shown, based on piyut that the meaning is: he was impoverished, lived in poverty; this is also in accordance with the additional information which I quote on the sufferings of Sherira and Hai (see ibid) (2)
see also here
Graetz, Heinrich. History of the Jews: From the Revolt Against the Zendik (511 C. E. ) to the Capture of St. Jean D'Acre by the Mahometans pp. 233-4
see also Fleischer ZION 41 (1977), 165 FF. Previously that peculiar expression was much discussed; a Christian parallel was cited: what happened to the Persian Anastasius: una manu per tres horas suspensus (he was hung by one hand for three hours) and then decapitated. This martyr had lived in Palestine, and these events should have happened during the Persian conquest..