- MERCURY (Mercurius; in talmudic literature מֶרְקוּלִיס, Merkulis), Roman god of merchants and wayfarers, identical with the Greek god Hermes. The rabbis of the Talmud discussed Mercury more than any other pagan deity and apparently considered him almost synonymous with idolatry. Thus, where one baraita states, "He who sees Mercurius should recite 'Blessed (be God) who has patience with those who transgress His will'" (Ber. 57b), the parallel source reads simply, "He who sees idolatry…" (Tosef., ibid. 7(6):2). Similarly, the Midrash interpreted the general prohibition against erecting statues or pagan monuments (Lev. 26:1) as referring to statues of Mercury on the roads (Sifra, Be-Har 9:5). The rabbis were also aware of certain modes of worship connected with Mercury, and thus the Mishnah proclaims: "He that throws a stone at a Mercurius is to be stoned, because this is how it is worshiped" (Sanh. 7:6). The trilithon, or three stones erected as part of the Mercurius, was also known, and therefore "R. Ishmael says: Three stones beside a Mercurius, one beside the other, are forbidden, but two are permitted" (Av. Zar. 4:1). So well known, in fact, was Mercurius worship in Palestine that it is mentioned even in popular proverbs: "As one who throws a stone at Mercurius is guilty of idolatry, so one who teaches a wicked pupil is guilty of idolatry" (Tosef., Av. Zar. 6(7):18). Rabbis were constantly confronted with Mercury, and according to one talmudic account, a Mercurius was erected in the field of R. Simeon, son of Judah the Patriarch, but he succeeded in having it dismantled by the local authorities (TJ, Av. Zar. 4:1, 43d). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Lieberman, in: JIR, 36 (1945/46), 366–8; 37 (1946/47), 42–54. (Isaiah Gafni)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.