Abraham Senior of Castile (b. 1410/12). Was he the last
'The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain' painted in 1889 by Emilio Sala Frances, Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada.
A representative of the Jews pleads for the reversal of the decree of expulsion of 1492. The figure in the foreground is either Don Isaac Abravanel or Don Abraham Senior. The figure gesturing behind the table must be Torquemada; presumably this is the point at which Torquemada said that accepting Jewish gold would be like Judas accepting the 30 pieces of silver.
For biographical information on Don Abraham Senior see here.
By the Waters of Babylon by Evelyn de Morgan (1883)
This modern song is based on Psalm 137.
By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down
When the wicked
Let the words of our
mouths and the meditations of our hearts
By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down
Exilarch means 'Prince of the Captivity' or 'Head of the Exile'. The title is hereditary in the House of David and originated during the Babylonian captivity or exile from 597-538 BC. Three separate occasions are mentioned in the Bible (Jeremiah 52:28-30):
The first Exilarch was Jeconiah, penultimate King of Judah of the Davidic dynasty, who was still called King while in captivity (he was released from prison in 562 BC). The Exilarchs were secular rulers of the Jews as heirs of the Davidic Kings. I assume that they were not called Kings because they did not rule a territorial area comprising a Kingdom (as they had before the Babylonian exile as Kings of Judah) but their status and authority as 'Kings in Exile' was recognised by Jews everywhere. In other words, the Exilarchs are not of the Davidic dynasty, they are the Davidic dynasty; that is de jure Kings of Judah by right of descent.
In 538 BC the Neo-Babylonian Empire was overthrown and Babylon was captured by Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire. He allowed the Jews to return to their homeland but only a proportion did so, apparently about 40,000; the remainder, probably the majority, stayed in Babylon/Mesopotamia. Thus there were, until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 135 AD, two principal centres of world Jewry, namely Jerusalem/Judea and Babylon/Mesopotamia, as follows. The Exilarch at the time of the ending of the Babylonian exile, Zerubabel, 3rd Exilarch, returned to Judea but was recalled and later executed (510 BC).
Map of the Middle East See also this.
After the ending of the Babylonian captivity in 538 BC, political power in Judea was exercised consecutively by:
Note that the Hasmoneans, although Jewish, were not of Davidic descent; they were 'Kings of Judea' but not 'Kings of the Jews'; the same applied to the Herodians.
The Second Temple as rebuilt by Herod the Great. Destroyed in 70 AD. This is deemed by scholars to be an accurate representation of the Temple buildings. The size of the human figures gives an idea of the gigantic scale of the buildings.
We know that the Exilarchate was initially located at Babylon and we also know that it was later located at Baghdad but I am unclear, at the moment, as to how the Exilarchate moved from the one to the other and when. It seems likely that the Exilarchate moved from Babylon to Seleucia in about 300 BC, from Seleucia to Ctesiphon in 164 AD or earlier, from Ctesiphon to Damascus in about 637 AD and from Damascus to Baghdad in around 750 AD. Thus the Exilarchate would have been officially seated at:
This makes a total of 1988 years from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile and 2406 years from the accession of David. The physical seat of the Exilarchs seems to have been at Nehardea from the time of Jeconiah, at Sura from the beginning of the 5th century AD and then at Pumbedita from the end of the 8th century until the fall of Hezekiah, 38th Exilarch and last gaon, in 1040; after that the Exilarchs seem to have been seated at Baghdad.
The dynasties which ruled Mesopotamia and under which the Exilarchate existed were therefore:
If anything this picture is an understatement. The base of the ziggurat was over 200m, surmounted by a further seven stories, and the walls of Babylon were 80 feet thick. There was a second inner wall of similar thickness. The blue glaze is historically accurate.
Ruins at Ctesiphon. The Exilarch would have passed through this gate.
The Mongol Khan, Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan, attacks Baghdad in 1258.
Timur or Tamerlane the Great (1336-1405)
The last Exilarch
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Exilarchate came to an end in 1040 when the 38th Exilarch, Hezekiah, was deposed and imprisoned. Other sources (see next paragraph) say that the Exilarchate continued until Tamerlane sacked Baghdad in 1401 as described above. It seems that Hezekiah's eldest son, David, apparently 39th Exilarch, temporarily fled to Spain and David's third son Hiyya Ha-Nasi, left descendants in Spain (Is this the Chiya Al-Daudi (10901154) who is apparently ancestor of the Charlap family?).
It is curious that the Jewish Encylopedia continues to state that the Exilarchate came to an end in 1040 when it is quite clear that this is not the case. The famous 12th century writer, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela (Spain), describing his visit to Baghdad in his 'Book of Travels' (1173), mentions Daniel, who he described as 'Our Lord the Head of the Captivity of all Israel', who had 'a book of pedigrees going back as far as David, King of Israel'.
Exilarchs traced down to the present day
The webpage at http://www.angelfire.com/ego/et_deo/index.htm traces numerous lines of Davidic descent (some legendary, others disputed) down to the present day. This list continues down to:
This would mean an unbroken male line descent from King David of 2,800 years.
The list includes 'Yitzak Dayyan, who, in 1933, was recognized by Jewish rabbis as the dynasty's heir; then, in 1968, another Dayan Family member, Yosef, was encouraged by Jewish rabbis to be an active claimant to the throne.' Yosef D[a]yan is a member of Malchut Israel, an organization which is working actively to restore the Davidic monarchy in Israel.
Possible links to the Senior family
There does not appear to be any link to the Senior family in this list except possibly through either:
'(77C) [C]Hiyya Ha-Nasi [born in Spain], father of three sons (78a) Avraham "Nasi" [ancestor of several "Marrano" families], (78b) Moshe Al-Dar'l of Fez (1127), & (78c) Bonjudah Vital [ancestor of the Vital Family].' Hiyya Ha-Nasi was the third son of David, 39th Exilarch, son of Hezekiah, 38th Exilarch (above).
'(74E) Daniel "Nasi", claimant, went to Palestine, Patriarch/Prince 1051-62; the invasion of the Turks [Seljuk] put an end to his reign; the father of three sons, who were: (75a) David [V] "Nasi", anti-exilarch, patriarch/prince 1081-94, who, by wife, Nashiya [daughter of Moshe Ha-Kohen], had issue [note: there were several families in the 1300s which claimed descent from him]; (75b) [name unsure], the father of (76) Jacob, the father of (77) Arye of Cordova Isaac "Alfasi" [fled to Spain 1088] (d 1103), the father of (78) Ibn (1117), claimant, the father of (79) son [identity unsure], ancestor of a Spanish noble house; & (75c) Yosef Ha-Nagid of Egypt 1081-1091.'
'the three sons of (80A) Judah III  (above) were:
as well as a number of other descendants of Exilarchs who went to Spain.
The reference to Don Abraham Senior as 'Exilarch'
The reference to Don Abraham Senior in a letter of 1487 from the Jews of Castile to the Jews of Rome and Lombardy as 'the Exilarch who is over us' is problematic if the Exilarchate came to an end in 1040 (see above) as described in the Jewish Encyclopedia. However, the title seems to have survived until 1401 and, if this is true, then it is more likely that someone could have been Exilarch in 1487. Furthermore, the letter of 1487 which describes Don Abraham Senior as Exilarch is not from one individual to another, it is from one Jewish community (the Jews of Castile) to another (the Jews of Rome and Lombardy) and, on this basis, it carries the full weight of an official communication. Again, the Jews were, as I understand it, normally precise in their use of official and religious terminology and the authors of the letter must have been aware of the implications of the use of the word 'Exilarch', namely that the person so described was of Davidic descent. Given this connotation the mis-use of the word 'Exilarch' in an official communication would seem to be unlikely. It is worth noting, in this context, that David Einsiedler in his article 'Descent From King David - Part II' (Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, 1993, Vol. IX, No. 2, page 34) states that 'Genealogists who value religious tradition could say that our rabbis and sages did not make statements about Davidic descent lightly [and calling someone 'Exilarch' amounted to a statement about Davidic descent], that they were trustworthy and insisted on truth.'
The reference to Don Abraham Senior as Exilarch can only be one of three things:
If Shalom, the 75th and 'last Exilarch', was deposed in 1401 then perhaps his eventual successor was Don Abraham Senior (b. 1410/12). My personal view is that Don Abraham Senior may have been descended from 'Avraham [i.e. I assume 'Abraham'] "Nasi" [ancestor of several "Marrano" families]' (see above) but this requires further research. On the other hand, the Jewish authorities would, I imagine, have been more likely to accept a more recent connection to a past Exilarch, so perhaps Nissim, 69th Exilarch, would be a more likely ancestor of Don Abraham Senior, unless the whole thing is an error of course. One interesting point about Don Abraham Senior is that we know nothing of his origins, which seems quite extraordinary for a man whose rose to become the most important and the richest Jew in Spain. Haim Beinart's book, 'The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain', devotes a lengthy chapter to the 'Senior Dynasty', but where is the dynasty? We do not even know the name of his father.
Note, in this context, that a translation of the same letter of 1487 appears in 'Spain and the Jews' edited by Elie Kedourie (page 70) and refers to 'the staff from Judah that is our Exilarch'. If this translation is correct then this means that the letter of 1487 contains an unequivocal statement to the effect that Don Abraham was of the bloodline ('staff') of Judah (that is, the royal house of Judah or the House of David)*.
*The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the rulers staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Genesis 49:10).
As far as I can see modern sceptics tend to dismiss the possibility of Davidic descent out of hand but it is apparent that numerous scholars do not do so. More importantly, the Jewish authorities and people at large accepted the Davidic descent of the Exilarchs as fact for 2,000 years. There must be many people of Davidic descent but it is, nonetheless, possible that Don Abraham Senior was the last Exilarch and his family would be of interest for that reason. What is indicated from my necessarily limited researches (and if Professor Beinart's interpretation of the letter of 1487 referred to above is correct) is that:
This line of thought seems quite logical to me. I merely put it forward as a valid area for further research and, in any event, I don't think one can dismiss the letter of 1487 out of hand.
See the following websites:
Note: Haim Beinart is an emeritus professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has more than three hundred publications to his credit, almost all of them dealing with the history of the Jews in Spain in the Middle Ages and their subsequent expulsion. He was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1981 and has received many other prizes and honours for his scholarly work, including the Ruppin Prize (1966), the Isaac Ben-Zvi Award (1976), the Wiznitzer Prize for the best book published in Jewish History (1981), and the Tri-Cultural Prize of the University of Cordova (1981). In 1989 he became a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Complutense University of Madrid and in 1992 a Dr. Lit. of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. He has held visiting professorships in Berne, London, Lucerne, and Princeton, and a visiting fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford.