Joshua ben Gamla

Yehoshua ben Gamla, or Joshua son of Gamla (Hebrew: יהושע בן גמלא), was a Jewish high priest who officiated in about 64 CE. He married the rich widow Martha of the high-priestly family Boethos,[1] and she by bribing Jannai secured for him the office of high priest (according to Talmudic sources;[2] Josephus[3] says he was appointed by Herod Agrippa II). Although Yehoshua himself was not a scholar, he was solicitous for the instruction of the young, and provided schools in every town for children over five years of age, earning thereby the praises of posterity.[4] The two lots used on the Day of Atonement, hitherto of boxwood, he made of gold.[5] Yehoshua did not remain long in office, being forced, after a year, to give way to Matthias ben Theophil.[6]

The Talmud[7] states; "Joshua b. Gamala came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town, and that children should enter school at the age of six or seven." He is therefore regarded as the founder of the institution of formal Jewish education.

Although no longer High Priest, Yehoshua remained one of the leaders of Jerusalem. Together with the former high priest Ananus ben Ananus and other men of rank, he opposed, without success, the election of Phinehas b. Samuel (68) as high priest.[8] Josephus reports that Yehoshua was an "intimate friend", who reported a plot to replace Josephus as general of Galilee to Josephus' father. Because his father wrote to him of the plot, Josephus was able to resist it.[9]

Yehoshua attempted peaceably to prevent the fanatic and pugnacious Idumeans from entering Jerusalem during the Zealot Temple Siege. After they had come into possession of the city, these fanatics took bloody vengeance on him, by executing him, as well as Ananus, as traitors to their country (68).[10]

Bibliography: In addition to the authorities mentioned above, Derenbourg, Histoire de la Palestine, p. 248; Grätz, in Monatsschrift, xxx. 59; Strassburger, Gesch. der Erziehung bei den Israeliten, p. 20; Schürer, Gesch. der Juden, i. 584, 618; ii. 221, 424.


  1. Yebamot vi. 4
  2. B. Yebamot. 61a; B. Yoma 18a
  3. "Antiquities" xx. 9, § 4
  4. B. Baba Bathra 21a
  5. Yoma iii. 9
  6. Josephus, "Antiquities" xx. 9, § 7
  7. B. Baba Bathra 21a
  8. Josephus "B. J." iv. 3, § 9
  9. Josephus "Life" 204-205
  10. Josephus "B. J." iv. 5, § 2
Jewish titles
Preceded by
Joshua ben Damneus
High Priest of Israel
Succeeded by
Matthias ben Theophil
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