Who is Abtalion?
A leader of the Pharisees in the middle of the 1st century BC and by tradition vice-president of the great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem. He was of heathen descent. Despite this fact, Abtalion, as well as his colleague, Shemaiah, the president of the Sanhedrin, was one of the most influential and beloved men of his time. Once, when the high priest was being escorted home from the Temple by the people, at the close of a Day of Atonement, the Talmud relates that the crowd deserted him upon the approach of Abtalion and his colleague and followed them. Abtalion used his influence with the people in persuading the men of Jerusalem, in the year 37 BC, to open the gates of their city to Herod the Great. The king was not ungrateful and rewarded Abtalion, or, as Josephus calls him, Pollion, with great honors. Although there is no doubt that, in this passage of Josephus, Abtalion is meant by this name Pollion, in another place, where this name recurs, it is doubtful whether Abtalion is intended or not. Josephus relates there how Herod exacted the oath of allegiance under penalty of death, and continues: "He desired also to compel Pollion, the Pharisee, and Sameas, together with the many who followed them, to take this oath; they, however, refused to do this, but nevertheless were not punished as were others who had refused to take it, and this indeed out of consideration for Pollion." Since this episode took place in the eighteenth year of Herod's reign, this Pollion can not have been Abtalion, who died long before, as we learn from authoritative Talmudic sources, according to which Hillel, the pupil and successor of Abtalion, was the leader of the Pharisees about 30 BC. It is probable, therefore, that Josephus was misled by the similarity of the names Shemaiah and Shammai, and so wrote "Pollion and Sameas" instead of "Hillel and Shammai."