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Sanballat the Horonite

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Sanballat the Horonite or Sanballat I (in Neo-Assyrian Aramaic, Sinballidh or "The god Sin has vivified") was a Samaritan leader and official of the Persian Achaemenid Empire who lived in the mid to late fifth century BCE. He is best known from the Book of Nehemiah, which casts him as one of the chief opponents of the Jewish governor Nehemiah during the latter's efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and carrying out his reforms among the Jews. He was called "the Horonite," and was associated with Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian.[1] His home was evidently at Samaria, from whatever "Horon" he may have come.

The first arrival at Jerusalem of Nehemiah and his escort aroused the enmity of Sanballat and his allies. They were aggrieved[2] that the welfare of the Jews should be fostered. When Nehemiah actually disclosed his intention of building the walls of Jerusalem they laughed him to scorn, and said "Will ye rebel against the king?"[3] Nehemiah resented their insinuation, and gave them to understand that they had no right in Jerusalem, nor any interest in its affairs. As soon as Sanballat and his associates heard that Nehemiah and the Jews were actually building the walls, they were angry; and Sanballat addressed the army of Samaria with a contemptuous reference to "these feeble Jews."[4] Tobiah appeased him by saying that a jackal climbing on the wall they were building would break it down. Nehemiah and his builders, the Jews, vigorously hurried the work, while Sanballat and his associates organized their forces to fight against Jerusalem.[5] Nehemiah prepared to meet the opposition and continued the work on the walls. Five different times Sanballat and his confederates challenged Nehemiah and the Jews to meet them in battle in the plain of Ono.[6] Nehemiah was equal to the emergency and attended strictly to his work. Then Sanballat, with Jews in Jerusalem who were his confederates, attempted to entrap Nehemiah in the Temple; but the scheme failed.[7] Sanballat's Jewish allies, however, kept Sanballat and Tobiah informed as to the progress of the work in Jerusalem. Nehemiah's far-sighted policy and his shrewdness kept him out of the hands of these neighbor-foes. In his reforms, so effectively carried out, he discovered that one of the grandsons of the current high priest Eliashib had married a daughter of this Sanballat, and was thus son-in-law of the chief enemy of the Jews.[8] The high priest was driven out of Jerusalem on the ground that he had defiled the priesthood.

Josephus[9] gives a different story, placing Sanballat later on in Persian history, during the reign of Darius Codomannus. He likely confused this Sanballat with one of his successors, possibly Sanballat II or Sanballat III. Josephus's story is probably a traditional account of the origin of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim.

From the Elephantine papyri Sanballat is known to have had two sons, Delaiah and Shelemiah. The Jews of Elephantine asked for the help of Sanballat's sons in rebuilding their own Temple, which had been damaged or destroyed by rioters.

Modern use

In the first half of the 20th Century, the radical nationalist poet and political activist Uri Zvi Greenberg - considered the spiritual mentor of Revisionist Zionism and of the present Israeli settlers on the West Bank - regularly used the term "The Sanballats" or "The Sanballat Gang" (כנופית הסנבלטים) as a catch-all term of abuse for Antisemites and Palestinian Nationalists as well as for political opponents from the Socialist Zionist camp.


  1. Nehemiah ii. 19, iv. 7.
  2. Neh. ii. 10.
  3. Neh. ii. 19.
  4. Neh. iv. 1-3.
  5. Neh. iv. 8.
  6. Neh. vi. 1-7.
  7. Neh. vi. 10-13.
  8. Neh. xiii. 28.
  9. "Ant." xi. 7, § 2.


Jacobs, Joseph and Ira Price. "Sanballat." Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, 1901-1906.

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