We have previously touched upon the story of the 4th Magi, Artaban, and his sharing a name with the last king of Parthia, Artabanus V. But, recently, I ran into something that I can only explain as strange.
There are plenty of connections between Parthians, Persians and the Jewish people. But all other connections seem normal than a mention of Artaban and his relationship to a Jew named Rav.
Only preserved in the Palestinian Talmud is the story of the Parthian king and a high ranking teacher in the Palestinian Jewry. Rav (175–247) , also known as Abba Arikha, was the founder of the Talmudic center at Sura. He and Artaban exchanged gifts at one time. The Parthian king sent a priceless pearl. Rav sent back a Mezuzah.
A mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה “doorpost”; plural: מְזוּזוֹתmezuzot) is a piece of parchment (often contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21).
When asked why he returned an everyday item in exchange for the priceless pearl, Rav simply replied,
“Your possessions and my possessions together do not equal the value of this. Moreover, you sent me something that I must guard; but I sent you something that will watch over you when you sleep, as it is written ‘When you walk it will lead you, when you lie down it will watch over you’”
Oddly enough, the Palestinian Talmud says that there was more between them than gifts and respect. It is stated that he aided the Parthian ruler with protection via ‘magic’. This bond stayed to the end as Artaban V fell to Ardishir, the Sussanian usurper. Rav exclaimed that the ‘bond is snapped’.
The exilarch reminisced during the rise of the Sassanian Empire of a “rabbinic ‘Nostalgia'” for the era of the Arsacid kings that ended with Artaban. And there is no explanation given in the Palestinian Talmud of why the Rabbi’s magic failed Arataban. What is clear is that Rav was deeply touched by the Parthians death and the fall of his families’ empire and that the Rabbi doesn’t seem to have reached out to Ardishir, the Sassanian ruler.