The Tubian Jews

In the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees Chapter 12, there is an interesting reference to the Tubian Jews. The Tubian Jews were a “group of Jews Judas Maccabeus encountered (2 Macc 12:17) in his search for an opponent named Timothy” (Redditt 1992:6:622):

“Judas and his men invoked the great Sovereign of the world who without battering-ram or siege-engine had overthrown Jericho in the days of Joshua; they then made a fierce assault on the wall. By God’s will, having captured the town . . . Ninety-five miles further on from there, they reached the Charax, in the country of Jews known as Tubians” (2 Maccabees 12:15–17 NJB).

The reference about the Tubian Jews comes at the time when Judas Maccabee and his army tried to punish the people who persecuted and killed the Jews living in the land of Tubin (1 Maccabees 5:13, also known as “the land of Tob”). According to 1 Maccabees 5:13 about a thousand Jewish men were killed as part of the persecution of the Jews. Their wives and children were taken into captivity and their property was seized by their captors.

In response to this massacre, Judas and his army fought several battles against those who opposed the Jews. After those victories, Judas and his army returned to Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Weeks.

“After celebrating Pentecost, as it is called, they advanced to attack Gorgias, the general in charge of Idumaea, who met them with three thousand infantry and four hundred cavalry. When the ranks joined battle, a small number of the Jews fell. But a cavalryman of great strength called Dositheus, one of the Tubian Jews, had hold of Gorgias by his cloak and was dragging the villain off by main force, with the object of taking him alive, when a Thracian horseman bore down on him and chopped off his arm; so Gorgias escaped to Marisa” (2 Maccabees 12:32-35).

Dositheus, one of the Tubian Jews, was a warrior in the army of Judas Maccabeus (2 Maccabees 12:35). Dositheus, who was on horseback and was a strong man, “caught hold of Gorgias, and grasping his cloak was dragging him off by main strength, wishing to take him alive.

Little is know about the Tubian Jews. It is possible that the Tubian Jews were Jews living in the “land of Tob” (1 Maccabees 5:13 RSV). The land of Tob is mentioned in Judges 11:3 in the stories of Jephthah, one of the judges in Israel. When Jephthah fled from his brothers, he went to live in the land of Tob. The land of Tob is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 10:6 in the context of David’s war against the Ammonites. When the Ammonites saw that they were losing the war against David, they hired thousands of mercenaries to fight against David, including twelve thousand men from Tob.

The ANU Museum of the Jewish People identifies the Tubian Jews with Jews from Iran. According to the researchers from the ANU Museum, the Tubian “family names derive from personal characteristics or nicknames. These family names are based on the Hebrew word tov, meaning “good”, which probably was the nickname of one of the family’s ancestors. The suffix ‘-ian’ designates the plural form in Iranian family names. These surnames are found among the Jews of Iran.”

Most scholars agree that the Tubian Jews were citizens of Tob, a “Gileadite city, whose Jewish population were killed by the gentiles who lived near them” (Redditt 1992:6:583).

Bibliography

Paul L. Redditt, “Tob (Place),” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:583.

Paul L. Redditt, “Toubiani,” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 622.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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