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Ancient Hebrew (Talmud) account of Christ--McKinsey

Pasted from one of the 3 best sites on Judeo-Christian origins   McKinsey is a published biblical scholar whose works are consistantly of high quality.
For those interested in the Jewish version of the Jesus legend, the best I have found is by R.J Hoffmann in, Jesus Outside the Gospels 


Issue No. 141

September 1994

By Dennis McKinsey


DID JESUS OF NAZARETH EXIST? (The Talmud)      The thirty-second and thirty-third issues of BE discussed a group of non-Christian writers whom biblicists allege referred to Jesus in their writings. Both issues clearly showed that ancient writers such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger are not referring to Jesus of Nazareth in their most commonly quoted passages, and only by twisting and quoting out of context can their extrabiblical writings be employed in this manner. Another extrabiblical source occasionally cited as well is the Talmud. It is the collection of writings constituting the Jewish civil and religious law, and consists of two parts--the Mishnah (text) and the Gemara (commentary). In Judaism, the Torah, i.e., the law, is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and the Mishnah is the oral Torah supplementing it. For several centuries after the codification of the Mishnah, rabbis and scholars wrote commentaries on it, known as the Gemara, i.e. completion. The Talmudic comments most often relied upon by biblicists were not cited earlier because their strength ranges from poor to pathetic. But to forestall any possibility of their being used to deceive the unwary, an exposure of the most prominent references and their deficiencies is well advised.

     The first comment worthy of note is found in Sanhedrin 43a of the Talmud, which states,

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (The Munich manuscript adds the Nasarean) was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.... Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence could be made? Was he not a Mesith (enticer), concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him (Deut. 13:9)? With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government (or royalty, i.e., influential). Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni, and Todah.

     Although difficult to imagine, this anemic passage is a reference to Jesus, according to some commentators. Reliance upon passages as weak as this can't help but dissipate respect for apologetic scholarship. Obvious inadequacies are:

        • (1) It says Yeshu, not Jesus.
        • (2) Even if Yeshu and Jesus were identical words, it was not an unusual name. On the contrary, it appears rather frequently in ancient Jewish literature. Josephus records the following out of 28 high priests in the 107 years from Herod to the destruction of Jerusalem: Jesus, son of Phabet; Jesus, son of Damneus; Jesus, son of Gamaliel; Jesus, son of Sapphias; Jesus son of Thebuthus.
        • (3) Jesus was crucified, not hanged.
        • (4) Jesus was not stoned, at least not according to the biblical record.
        • (5) The New Testament says nothing about a herald going forth for forty days before the execution occurred.
        • (6) Jesus had no connection with the government. At least nothing within the Gospels would lead one to believe that he lived among royalty or the influential class.
        • (7) Nowhere in the New Testament was Jesus charged with sorcery or leading Israel astray. The New Testament record tells of three accusations against Jesus: (a) blasphemy, (b) claiming to be the Son of God, and (c) assuming the role of King of the Jews. But he was never charged with practicing sorcery nor of leading Israel astray. Any attempt to apply this part of the Talmud to Jesus is doomed to failure.

     Another passage relied upon is found in section 55b of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud and states, "The blasphemer is punished only if he utters [the Divine] name.... The whole day [of the trial] the witnesses are examined by means of a substitute for the divine name, Thus, 'May Jose smite Jose.'" This is vagueness at its worse. The suggestion is made that the first "Jose" represents God. But it is unlikely that even for illustrative purposes the rabbis would allude to Jesus as a divinity. And did God ever smite Jesus?

     A footnote to Sanhedrin 67a says, "In the uncensored editions of the Talmud there follows this passage.... 'And thus they did to Ben Strada in Lydda, and they hung him on the eve of Passover." Although cited by apologetic sources, this clearly isn't much to go on either. As we all know, according to the biblical account Jesus was crucified, not hanged, and he was killed in Jerusalem, not in Lydda, near the coast. The names aren't even the same.

     Another passage that is sometimes cited is found in Sanhedrin 106b and is interpreted by some apologists in such a manner as to equate Balaam with Jesus of Nazareth. It says,

Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, [did the children of Israel slay with the sword]. A soothsayer? But he was a prophet! R. Johanan said: At first he was a prophet, but subsequently a soothsayer. R. Papa observed: This is what men say, 'She who was the descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters....! Rab said: They subjected him to four deaths, stoning, burning, decapitation and strangulation. A certain man said to R. Hanina: Hast thou heard how old Balaam was? He replied: It is not actually stated, but since it is written, Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their day, [it follows that] he was thirty-three or thirty-four years old. He rejoined: Thou has said correctly; I personally have seen Balaam's chronicle, in which it is stated, 'Balaam the lame was thirty years old when Phinehas the Robber killed him.

      Believe it or not, that nebulous maze of disjointed monologue is used as a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently some Christian apologists just couldn't resist the temptation when they read such emotionally charged words as "prophet," "she/carpenters," "subjected/deaths," "slain by Israel," and "thirty-three." The discrepancies between the life of Balaam and Jesus are numerous.

        • (a) Balaam was slain with a sword, while Jesus died by crucifixion.
        • (b) The father of Jesus was not named Beor, nor was he a soothsayer.
        • (c) One would be hard pressed to find biblical support for allegations that Jesus died by stoning, burning, decapitation and strangulation. Incidentally, how could he have died by all four methods? In order to make sense, "and" should have been translated as "or".
        • (d) If "she" is referring to the mother of Jesus, this passage is saying she was a harlot with many carpenters (plural).
        • (e) If Jesus is Balaam, then the passage is implying Jesus is bloody and deceitful.
        • (f) When did Jesus keep a chronicle, especially one relating his age or death?
        • (g) Jesus was never lame, and certainly not for thirty years.
        • (h) The names Jesus and Balaam are quite different.
        • (i) And finally, Jesus was not killed by someone named Phinehas the Robber.

It doesn't take a great deal of wisdom to see that apologists are stretching interpretation to the limits on these.

     A short little comment found in the footnotes of Sanhedrin 107b says, "In the uncensored editions there follows here, 'and not like R. Joshua b. Perahjah, who repulsed Jesus (the Nazarene) with both hands." The problem with this sentence is that only the Munich manuscript adds (the Nazarene).

     Another footnote in Sanhedrin 107b says, .

..When King Jannai slew our Rabbis, R. Joshua b. Perahjah (and Jesus) fled to Alexandria of Egypt. On the resumption of peace, Simeon b. Shetach sent to him.... He arose, went, and found himself in a certain inn, where great honour was shewn him.... He (Jesus) thinking that it was to repel him, went, put up a brick, and worshipped it. 'Repent,' said R. Joshua to him. Jesus replied, 'I have thus learned from thee: He who sins and causes others to sin is not afforded the means of repentance.' And a Master has said, 'Jesus the Nazarene practised magic and led Israel astray.'

     Although hard to realize, this is the more intelligible part of the entire passage. Again, one can see how desperate some apologists are to find something in the Talmud that can substantiate the alleged existence of Jesus of Nazareth. The attraction of "fled to Egypt," an "inn," "Jesus the Nazarene," "led Israel," and "sin/repentance" were more than they could resist. The problems with this are readily apparent.

        • (a) Jesus was not a rabbi when he fled to Egypt.
        • (b) The New Testament says nothing about Jesus fleeing to Alexandria, Egypt.
        • (c) When did Jesus ever worship a brick? The worship of bricks is known in the Hermes cult, and is not Christian.
        • (d) According to apologetic theology, Jesus neither sinned nor caused others to sin.
        • (e) Jesus was not a contemporary of King Jannai.
        • And (f) while the Munich, Florence, and Karlsruhe manuscripts and the early printed editions of the Talmud mention Yeshu, only the Munich text adds "the Nazarene."

That's about as coherent as these passages can be rendered.

     Another passage of equal clarity is found in Abodah Zarah 17a which says,

I was once walking in the upper-market of Sepphoris when I came across one [of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene] Jacob of Kefar-Sekaniah by name who said to me.... To which I made no reply. Said he to me: Thus was I taught [by Jesus the Nazarene], 'For the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return.' They came from a place of filth, let them go to a place of filth.

     Again, the power of imagination appears to have been overwhelming.

        • (a) How does the mere mention of a disciple of Jesus prove that Jesus lived?
        • (b) The reference to Jesus only occurs in the Munich manuscript.
        • (c) And nowhere in the Gospels can one find the quote that was attributed to Jesus.

     A final passage from the Mishnah itself, as opposed to the Gemara, is found in Yebamoth 49a, which says, "I found a roll of genealogical records in Jerusalem, and therein was written, 'so-and-so is a bastard [having been born] from [a forbidden union with] a married woman,' which confirms the view of R. Joshua."

     Some people actually see Jesus in this. The problems are:

        • (a) Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem.
        • (b) Although technically speaking, Jesus was a bastard since his parents were not married, one is hardpressed to understand how apologists would want to use a passage that is so derogatory toward him.

To skirt this difficulty some writings say, "A certain person was illegitimately born of a married woman." The word "illegitimate" is a euphemism. In addition, "a certain person" could apply to thousands of Middle Eastern people, and Mary was not married.

      In summary, the Talmud has no independent tradition about Jesus; all that it says of him is merely an echo of Christian and Pagan legends, which it reproduces according to the impressions of the second and later centuries. The Talmud has "borrowed" its knowledge of Jesus from the Gospels. When Josephus is excluded from the Jewish witnesses to the historicity of Jesus, there remains only the question of whether or not there may be some other evidence in the other Jewish literature of the time, in the Talmud, for instance. The answer is no.

      Most readers should now be able to understand why this whole topic of Jesus and the Talmud was given such low priority and is only now being discussed.


      On page 86 in Evidence That Demands a Verdict apologist Josh McDowell refers to some Talmudic passages, including some discussed earlier, to prove the historicity of Jesus. Essentially all he did was scour the Talmud for any sentence, phrase, or passage that could possibly be twisted in such a manner as to refer to Jesus. Context was deemed irrelevant. For example, on page 86 McDowell quotes the Talmud as saying, "The Amoa 'Ulla' ('Ulla' was a disciple of R. Youchanan and lived in Palestine at the end of the third century.) adds: 'And do you suppose that for (Yeshu of Nazareth) there was any right of appeal? He was a beguiler, and the Merciful One hath said: 'Thou shalt not spare neither shalt thou conceal him,' It is otherwise with Yeshu, for he was near to the civil authority."

      Besides the fact that this passage is so vague that hundreds of people could be under consideration, allegations are included that should exclude Jesus, according to apologetic propaganda and the Gospels. For McDowell to cite as a source a passage which refers to Jesus as a beguiler is rather interesting, to say the least. I'm surprised he would admit it. Secondly, if Jesus was near to the civil authority, then McDowell is obligated to cite chapter and verse for corroboration.

     McDowell cites Yeb. IV 3, 49a ("R. Shimeon ben Azzai said [concerning Jesus]: 'I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress'") for his own purposes. He is uncomfortable with the word "bastard." So, he quotes Klausner who redefines bastard by saying,..."What is a bastard? Everyone whose parents are liable to death by the Beth Din." Now McDowell feels that he can comfortably quote Klausner's final conclusion, "That Jesus is here referred to seems to be beyond doubt." After disassociating Jesus from the word bastard, McDowell feels he can now claim that "beyond doubt" his passage is referring to Jesus. He neglects to mention the fact that the reason they are punishable by death at the hands of Beth Din is that they are participating in a forbidden union. To be specific, the passage says, "so-and-so is a bastard [having been born] from [a forbidden union with] a married woman..." A footnote to this passage says, "Such a union is punishable by death at the hands of Beth Din." The essence of McDowell's deception lies in the fact that he made it look as if a bastard was anyone who was liable to death by Beth Din, as if Beth Din were some kind of uncontrollable murderer, when they are to be killed by Beth Din because they engaged in an illicit relationship that gave rise to a bastard. So, if it were referring to Jesus, then Jesus would be a bastard, and for McDowell to say it "seems to be beyond doubt" that Jesus is being referred to speaks for itself. McDowell is calling his saviour a derogatory name.

     Other Talmudic passages are available for discussion, but there is a limit beyond which imprecision, speculation, and imagination should not be allowed to go. That point has been reached..

      Over the years we have repeatedly critiqued apologetic books of one sort or another on a wide variety of topics. But there are also many books and pamphlets corroborating our contentions on various issues and they deserve at least one hearing. After all, there is no sense in just reviewing books with which we disagree. And also it might be well to lighten up a bit after enduring the agony of a Talmudic excursion. Since it would be wholly impractical to quote everything available on the market, we have decided to extract from our personal portfolio some comments that are poignant, appropriate, entertaining, or amusing as the case may be.

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