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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Ben Bag-Bag

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An early tanna. At the end of the Mishnah Abot (v:22,23) two sentences are given concerning the study of the Torah one by Ben Bag-Bag, the other by Ben Hê -Hê . Both sentences are also ascribed to Hillel (Ab. R. N. xii.) as indeed in their pithy language as well as Aramaic wording they are similar to the well-known Aramaic sentences of Hillel. Tradition reports two exegetical questions, which Ben Hê -Hê asked of Hillel (Ḥ ag. 9b ). Ben Hê -Hê and Ben Bag-Bag may, therefore, be considered disciples of Hillel or, as is even more likely, both names represent one and the same person.

The peculiarity of these names may be explained by the following anecdote (Shab. 31a ): Hillel once convinced a proselyte of the truth of the oral law by proving to him, in a lesson on the Hebrew alphabet, that even a knowledge of the phonetic value and of the order of the letters of the alphabet is not possible without a belief in their oral transmission from age to age. If this proselyte is identical with the disciple of Hillel quoted under the above pseudonyms, then the one name, "Ben Hê -Hê ," may have been chosen to indicate that "He" is always pronounced "Hê ," as the tradition shows and the other name, "Ben BG-BG," to show that in the alphabet the sequence bet gimel is fixed by tradition. That Ben Hê -Hê and Ben Bag-Bag are identical is apparently an old tradition, mentioned by Abraham Zacuto in "Yuḥ asin."

In Tos. to Ḥ ag. 9b Ben Bag-Bag and Ben Hê -Hê are also considered to be proselytes, although the symbolic meaning of their names is differently accounted for. Several halakic interpretations of Scriptural passages by Ben Bag-Bag have been transmitted: of Exodus 13:13 (Bek. 12 a ) of Leviticus 19:11 (Sifra, Ḳ edoshim, 2:2 Tosef., B. Ḳ . 10:38 Bab. B. Ḳ . 27 b ) of Numbers 28:2 (Pes. 96 a Men. 49 b ' Ar. 13 b anonymously stated in Sifre, Numbers 142 , and in the name of ' Akiba in Meg. Ta' anit i.) of Deuteronomy 14:26 (Sifre, Deuteronomy 107 ' Er. 27 b ).

There is another rabbi distinct from this elder Ben Bag-Bag who was never cited with a given name. He is Johanan ben Bag-Bag, possibly the son of the former. Nothing is known about him except that he sent to Nisibis a halakic question to Judah b. Betera, a contemporary of Akiba, who in his reply referred to Ben Bag-Bag as one noted for being "familiar with the chambers of the Law" (Tosef., Ket. 5:1 Yer. Ket. 5:29d Bab. Ḳ id. 10 b Sifre, Numbers 117 ).

J. Sr. W. B.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Ben Bag-Bag'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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