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About Mar Yosef ben Pinchas, jahābidha al-ḥadra [Chief Abbassid Banker]
Joseph ben Phinehas (d. ca. 920) was a jahbadh (banker) at the Abbasid court during the reign of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932), a time of fiscal and political crisis in Baghdad.
According to the Abbasid kātib and historian Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ (d. 1056), the vizier Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Ibn al-Furāt deposited funds confiscated from individuals the regime had executed not with the caliphal fisc but with Joseph ben Phineas and another Jewish jahbadh, Aaron ben Amram—not the first incident of embezzlement in Ibn al-Furāt’s career.
In 918, when Ibn al-Furāt was deposed and imprisoned in the palace, the new vizier, ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā, fined the two jahbadhs heavily, but retained their services. Joseph used what was left of his funds to buy large tracts of land in Dilas, near al-Fayyum, for citrus production; remaining a provincial Banker until the end of his days.
The banking activities of Aaron and Joseph may already be implied in the decree of Caliph al-Muqtadir in 908/909 restricting Jews to the governmental posts of ṭabīb (physician) and jahbadh (banker)—most likely, as Fischel surmised, to “legalize” the status quo. Under al-Muqtadir, in any event, Aaron and Joseph were officially appointed “bankers of the court” (jahābidha al-ḥadra) by 912/13, as indicated by the joint testimony of the tenth-century Muslim littérateurs al-Tanūkhī and Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ. Aaron and Joseph were not just two among a larger number of court bankers, but in fact the two central figures around whom the financial administration of the caliphate revolved, as clearly evinced by the description of their activities in Arabic sources. Indeed, according to al-Tanūkhī (p. 85), despite the volatile political environment, they retained their official positions until death (when their functions were taken over by their heirs), for if even one of them had been dismissed, “the business of the Caliph would come to a standstill” (Fischel, p. 28).
From the fact that Hilāl al-Ṣābiʾ goes on to narrate only the subsequent career of Aaron ben Amram (d. 935), Gil presumes that Joseph ben Phinehas died shortly after these events [but the fact that he disappears from Jewish historical info does not necessarily mean he died - he may have converted to Islam for profit]. Nathan the Babylonian’s “History of Baghdad” (Ar. Akhbār Baghdād) paints Joseph ben Phinehas as the chief supporter at the Abbasid court of Kohen Ṣedeq, the gaon of Pumbedita (926–935), against the exilarch ʿUqba when the latter attempted to take over the collection of the rashut funds from the Jews of Khurasan.
Together with his son-in-law Neṭira (Ar. Naẓīr; d. 916), himself the descendant of an Abbasid jahbadh, and other Jewish grandees, Joseph ben Phineas convinced the court in Baghdad to favor their position, as a result of which ʿUqba was exiled from Baghdad to Kirmanshah.
During the Tulunid era (868-905 A.D.) the tax-farming system was well established in Egypt and it is argued that the well-known Tulunid prosperity was mainly due to this system. The overwhelming importance of the tax-farming system for the financial structure of Tulunid Egypt is clearly demonstrated by the following episode. In the year 292 A.H./905 A.D. the Abbasid armies defeated the Tulunids and after leaving a strong garrison and appointing a governor and a financial director returned to Mesopotamia. In the same year a former Tulunid general, Mohammed al-Haliji, revolted and proclaiming the restoration of the Tulunids marched on to al Fustat. The Abbasid governor and the financial director were forced to retreat to Alexandria.
Morimoto informs us that among the few things that they carried with them to Alexandria the tax-farming records were the most important. Indeed, the Abbasid rulers knew perfectly well that the tax-farming system constituted the backbone of the Tulunid financial power. Notwithstanding this, presumably taking full advantage of their intimate knowledge of the local affairs, the Tulunid rebels managed to locate the taxfarmers and forced them to pay their contracted dues to them rather than the Abbasids.
In short, a battle for the control of the tax-farmers had been waged between the contenders for power; the records of the tax-farming system had clearly become the sine qua non of fiscal administration (Morimoto, 1981, pp. 250-251).
An early history of Egypt is the Futuh Misr wa'l Maghrib wa Akhbaruha (Conquest of Egypt and the Maghrib; Conquest of Egypt and the Accounts thereof) in seven books by Ibn Abd al-Hakam (c. 187/803 257/871). This work includes details of Muslim conquests crossed with local interest of a somewhat later period. Mss of this work exists in London, Paris, and Leyden, and has been published by the Yale University Press in the 1920s.
This is the earliest printed work of an original text that recounts a Muslim account of the Muslim entry in Egypt and the West. Ibn Abd al-Hakams book I deals with the excellencies of Egypt (fadail Misr) and the ancient history of the country; book II with the Muslim conquest under Amr Ibn al-As; book III with the khitat or settlements of the Muslims in al-Fustat and al-Jiza (Gizh), and the holdings in Alexandria and the district of Old Cairo called al-Qata'i, etc. book IV deals with various measures of Amr b. al-As in the Nile valley, the conquest of the oasis of al-Fayyum, Barqa and Tripoli, the temporary loss and subsequent retaking of Alexandria, the recall and death of Amr b. Al-As, the Muslim expansion into Ifrikiya (the Roman province of Africa), and the fighting with the Nubians in the South, etc. Subsequently, Book V deals with the conquest of North Africa and Spain; book VI with the qadis of Egypt down to 246/860-1, and book VII deals with various specifically Egyptian traditions. Ibn Al-Daya (died 340/951), is the author of the Sirat Ahmad b. Tulun wa'bnihi Khumarawayh (Biography of Ibn Tulun and his son Khumarawayh). This is a biography of the first Tulunid rulers of Egypt.
al-Tanūkhī, al-Muḥassin ibn ʿAlī. Kitāb Jāmiʿ al-Tawārīkh: al-Musammā bi-Kitāb Nishwār al-Muḥāḍara wa-Akhbār al-Mudhākara, pt. II, ed. D. S. Margoliouth (Damascus: Maṭbaʻat al-Mufīd, 1930).
Fischel, Walter J. Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Mediaeval Islam, 2nd ed. (New York: Ktav, 1969).
Gil, Moshe. Be-Malkhut Yishmaʾʿel bi-Tqufat ha-Geʾonim, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1997), vol. 1 trans. D. Strassler, as Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Brill: Leiden, 2004).
Guillaume, A. “Further Documents on the Ben Meir Controversy,” Jewish Quarterly Review, n.s. 5, no. 4 (1915): 543–557.
Sassoon, David. A History of the Jews in Baghdad (Letchworth: D. S. Sassoon, 1949).
Schechter, Saadyana, p. 20, n. 3; conip. Eppenstein, Beitragt ttir Crtekichu and Lileratur I'm geonaischen Zeitalter (reprint from UGWJ., igoS-ijI, Berlin, 1913, pp. 127
Brody, Robert. The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).
Gil, Moshe. In the Kingdom of Ishmael, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1997) [Hebrew].
Morimoto, Kosei (1981) The Fiscal Administration of Egypt in the Early Islamic Period, Kyoto: Dohosha Publ. (Asian Historical Monographs, No. 1).
Sourdel, Dominique. “Ibn al-Furāt,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., vol. 3, pp. 767-768
Citation Marina Rustow. " Joseph ben Phinehas." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 10 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/joseph-ben-phinehas-SIM_0012080>
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