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Jesus in the Talmud
American Jewish Committee ^ | 9/24/2003 | Steven Bayme, National Director, Contemporary Jewish Life Department

Posted on 10/08/2003 5:24:32 AM PDT by Hermann the Cherusker

Jesus in the Talmud

September 24, 2003 Steven Bayme, National Director, Contemporary Jewish Life Department

The recent controversy over the forthcoming release of Mel Gibson's The Passion has reignited the longstanding debate over responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. This 2,000-year-old debate clearly has been a costly one for Jews. Statements attributed by the Gospels to Jewish leaders of the first century urging that Jesus be crucified and that responsibility for the act be laid at the hands of the Jewish people for all time form the basis for the charge of deicide against the Jews. More tellingly, historians have argued correctly that this "teaching of contempt," casting the Jews as a permanently accursed people, often served to legitimate violence against Jews as the living embodiment of those who killed Jesus.

In the mid-1960s, the Vatican II Council was meant to relegate this teaching of contempt to the history books. The Church released a statement claiming that "what happened in His passion can not be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today". Precisely with the leadership of groups such as the American Jewish Committee, remarkable progress in Catholic/Jewish relations has since been attained, especially concerning the portrayal of Jews and Judaism within Catholic textbooks. Gibson's movie, intended to tell the story of the Gospels, has alienated many Jewish leaders, who correctly worry whether the movie's graphic description of the crucifixion and its alleged overtones of a Jewish conspiracy to kill Jesus may ignite long-dormant Christian hostilities to Jews.

For this reason, the account of the Gospels, and its associations with anti-Semitism, needs to be honestly confronted, including the question of the relationship of church teachings to acts of violence against Jews. Yet it is also important that Jews confront their own tradition and ask how Jewish sources treated the Jesus narrative. Pointedly, Jews did not argue that crucifixion was a Roman punishment and therefore no Jewish court could have advocated it. Consider, by contrast, the following text from the Talmud:

On the eve of Passover Jesus 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 practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favor, he was hanged on the eve of Passover. Ulla retorted: Do you suppose he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a mesith (enticer), concerning whom Scripture says, "Neither shall thou spare nor shall thou conceal him?" With Jesus, however, it was different, for he was connected with the government. (Sanhedrin 43a)

This text, long censored in editions of the Talmud, is concerned primarily with due process in capital crimes. Standard process requires that punishment be delayed for forty days in order to allow extenuating evidence to be presented. However, in extreme cases, such as seducing Israel into apostasy, this requirement is waived. The case of Jesus, according to the Talmud, constituted an exception to this rule. Although one who enticed Israel into apostasy is considered an extreme case, the Jews at the time waited forty days because of the close ties of Jesus to the Roman authorities. However, once the forty days elapsed without the presentation of favorable or extenuating comment about him, they proceeded to kill him on the eve of Passover.

Three themes emanate from this passage. First, the charges against Jesus relate to seduction of Israel into apostasy and the practice of sorcery. According to the Gospels, the charges against Jesus concerned his self-proclamation as a messiah. The Talmud seems to prefer the more specific charges of practicing sorcery and leading Israel into false beliefs. One twentieth-century historian, Morton Smith of Columbia University, argued on the basis of recently discovered "hidden Gospels" that the historical Jesus indeed was a first-century sorcerer (Jesus the Magician, HarperCollins, 1978). In the eyes of the Talmudic rabbis, the practice of sorcery and false prophecy constituted capital crimes specifically proscribed in Deuteronomy 18: 10-12 and 13: 2-6.

Second, the Talmud is here offering a subtle commentary upon Jesus' political connections. The Gospels portray the Roman governor Pontius Pilate as going to great lengths to spare Jesus (Mark 15: 6-15). Although this passage may well have been written to appease the Roman authorities and blame the Jews, the Talmudic passage points in the same direction: The Jews waited forty days, in a departure from the usual practice, only because Jesus was close to the ruling authorities.

Lastly, the passage suggests rabbinic willingness to take responsibility for the execution of Jesus. No effort is made to pin his death upon the Romans. In all likelihood, the passage in question emanates from fourth-century Babylon, then the center of Talmudic scholarship, and beyond the reach of both Rome and Christianity. Although several hundred years had elapsed since the lifetime of Jesus, and therefore this is not at all a contemporary source, the Talmudic passage indicates rabbinic willingness to acknowledge, at least in principle, that in a Jewish court and in a Jewish land, a real-life Jesus would indeed have been executed.

To be sure, historians can not accept such a text uncritically. For one thing, the Talmudic text, as noted, was written some 300 years after the event it reports. Secondly, it makes no acknowledgement of intra-Jewish tensions in first century Palestine in which Jewish sects proliferated, and Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots competed for Jewish allegiances. Jesus's antipathy towards the Pharisees, of course, is well known from the Gospels, and the Talmudic rabbis, who presumably read these accounts, defined themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Pharisaic teachers. By contrast, the High Priest was, in all likelihood, a member of the Sadducee faction, which generally consisted of more aristocratic elements. What the Talmudic narrative does demonstrate is fourth century rabbinic willingness to take responsibility for the execution of Jesus.

What, then, are the implications of this reading of Jesus through the eyes of rabbinic sources? First, we do require honesty on both sides in confronting history. Jewish apologetics that "we could not have done it" because of Roman sovereignty ring hollow when one examines the Talmudic account. However, the significance of Vatican II, conversely, should by no means be minimized. The Church went on record as abandoning the teaching of contempt in favor of historicizing the accounts of the Gospels and removing their applicability to Jews of later generations. A mature Jewish-Christian relationship presupposes the ability of both sides to face up to history, acknowledge errors that have been committed, and build a social contract in which each side can both critique as well as assign value to its religious counterpart.

Bibliography for further reading:
Steven Bayme, Understanding Jewish History (KTAV), 1997
Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (Beacon Books), 1964
R. Travers-Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (KTAV), 1975

Questions for further discussion:

1. Given the climate in first-century Palestine, what threat did Jesus pose to Jews and to Rome?
2. How should Jews understand Jesus today?
3. What should be the terms of a social contract between believing Jews and Christians? How should adherents of each faith view the other?


TOPICS: Catholic; Charismatic Christian; Ecumenism; Evangelical Christian; History; Judaism; Mainline Protestant; Orthodox Christian; Other Christian
KEYWORDS: crucifixon; gibson; jesus; jews; passion
Jewish apologetics that "we could not have done it" because of Roman sovereignty ring hollow when one examines the Talmudic account.
1 posted on 10/08/2003 5:24:32 AM PDT by Hermann the Cherusker
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To: All
The American Jewish Committee apparently owes Mel Gibson an apology.

The link is to the Google cache of the article. The ordinary link is broken, and the articles has vanished down the memory hole.
2 posted on 10/08/2003 5:25:40 AM PDT by Hermann the Cherusker
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To: All
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3 posted on 10/08/2003 5:29:55 AM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: Loyalist; Land of the Irish; Catholicguy; Desdemona; NYer; Salvation; sandyeggo; ...
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4 posted on 10/08/2003 5:31:33 AM PDT by Hermann the Cherusker
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To: Hermann the Cherusker
Interesting. A Jewish charge of 'sorcery' would fit very well with the account given by St. John the Theologian in his Gospel: the provoking incidents were the healing of the man born blind, and still more the resurrection of Lazarus.

The resurrection of Lazarus, according to St. John's account is too close to Christ's Passion to allow for a forty-day delay. I'll need to reread the Gospel to see whether the healing of the man born blind could have triggered a trial-in-absentia forty days before Our Lord's Passion.

5 posted on 10/08/2003 9:01:02 AM PDT by The_Reader_David
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To: The_Reader_David
I'll need to reread the Gospel to see whether the healing of the man born blind could have triggered a trial-in-absentia forty days before Our Lord's Passion.

I think it was earlier that the desire was born. I don't have time to work out the timeline right now though, but it was around the Feast of Tabernacles.

St. John 7.1. After these [things] Jesus went around Galilee. For it was not his pleasure to go around Judea, since the Jews wanted to have him killed.
19. "Did not Moses give you the Law? And [yet] not one* of you obeyed* the Law. Why do you want to have me killed?"
20. The crowd replied, "Are you [possessed] by a demon*? Who wants to have you killed?"
25. And [some] men of Jerusalem asked, "Is not this one whom they want to kill?
50. [There] said to them Nicodemus, one of them, who had come to Jesus in the night,
51. "That is why our Law condemns none*, except if it hears from them beforehand and learns from them what they have done?"
8.40. "But now, behold, you want to have me killed, [me] the man who spoke to you truthfully, that which I heard from God. Abraham would [never] do this!

6 posted on 10/08/2003 9:42:43 AM PDT by Hermann the Cherusker
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To: Hermann the Cherusker
Some balance here:

Jesus' Death Now Debated By Jews

...Ken Bandler, a spokesman for the AJCommittee, said the article was taken down to "avoid confusion" over whether it represented the organization's official position.

[SNIP]

Indeed, the Catholic Church, which burned copies of the Talmud in the Middle Ages, officially censored the Talmud's Jesus references in the 13th century. Even today the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud omits any discussion about "Yeshu," Jesus in Hebrew.

The Jesus omissions began to be restored in the last century, Bayme said. And the passages "are now included in most of the new printings of the Talmud," said Yisrael Shaw of Daf Yomi Discussions, an on-line Talmud service.

"If you do an Internet search for Sanhedrin 43a, you will find that it is one of the favorite sources of the Christians to use as proof of the Jewish murder and hatred of their god," Shaw said.

[SNIP]

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whose Talmud edition has been translated into English, Russian and Spanish, said he believed the Talmudic Jesus is probably not the Christian Jesus.

"It could very well be somebody else" who lived 100 or 200 years earlier because the stories don?t match the Gospel account, he said.

Rabbi Steinsaltz noted that the Hebrew name Yeshu was popular back then and that "stories about the resurrection of dead leaders are a dime a dozen, before Jesus and after him. This is not a historical issue."

7 posted on 10/08/2003 9:54:22 AM PDT by malakhi (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.)
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To: Hermann the Cherusker
Another lie. Gibson does not feature the biblical line about the crowd insisting his blood be on them and their children.
8 posted on 10/08/2003 10:57:56 AM PDT by dangus
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To: malakhi
>> Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whose Talmud edition has been translated into English, Russian and Spanish, said he believed the Talmudic Jesus is probably not the Christian Jesus.

Mmm-hmm. And why does the Talmud comment on just another sorcerer?
9 posted on 10/08/2003 11:00:41 AM PDT by dangus
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To: dangus
If you are really interested, here is a link for you:

Talmud: The Real Truth About The Talmud

10 posted on 10/08/2003 11:08:25 AM PDT by malakhi (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.)
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To: dangus
Another lie. Gibson does not feature the biblical line about the crowd insisting his blood be on them and their children.

I heard that it was in the rough cut, but has since been removed. Have you heard otherwise?

11 posted on 10/08/2003 11:09:24 AM PDT by malakhi (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.)
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To: Hermann the Cherusker
Yet it is also important that Jews confront their own tradition and ask how Jewish sources treated the Jesus narrative.

A Jewish friend of my daughter said her parents threatened to pull out her fingernails if she ever mentioned the name of Jesus in their house.

12 posted on 10/08/2003 12:53:23 PM PDT by aimhigh
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To: malakhi
That's exactly what I heard. And since the fact that it was cut is was a sensationalized news story, how could the author of the posted article not know that?

Besides, it's not like Vatican II actually purged the verse from the bible and the historical record... if he hadn't cut it, it wouldn't mean he was being unfaithful to V2, as was implied.
13 posted on 10/08/2003 1:39:15 PM PDT by dangus
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To: malakhi
>>>>If you are really interested, here is a link for you: >>>>Talmud: The Real Truth About The Talmud

>> 1. As mentioned above with Ben Stada, the Synoptic Gospels have Jesus being executed on Passover itself and not the eve of Passover.

Jesus was executed on the even of the Pharisees' passover. He himself celebrated the Essene passover, and this was the passover mentionned in the synoptics. The authors didn't really expect a Christian to throw out the Gospel of John over this, did they?

>>2. As above, Yeshu lived a century before Jesus.

Funny, the web page just argued that they were *not* the same person.

>>3. Yeshu was executed by a Jewish court and not by the Romans. During Yeshu's time, the reign of Alexander Janneus, the Jewish courts had the power to execute but had to be careful because the courts were ruled by the Pharisees while the king was a Sadducee. It seems clear why the courts would not want to unneccesarily upset the monarch by executing a friend of his. During the Roman occupation of Jesus' time, there is no indication that the Jewish courts had the right to execute criminals.

It is quite easy to see how one could assert Jesus was executed by the Jews, actually.

>> 3. There is no indication from the New Testament that Jesus had friends in the government.

No, but this doesn't say he had friends. A wary politician would meet the passage well. Like, say, Pontius Pilate or his wife.
14 posted on 10/08/2003 1:54:54 PM PDT by dangus
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To: dangus
Not that I have a real horse in this race. Jews are allowed to have their own side in a historical issue.
15 posted on 10/08/2003 2:16:36 PM PDT by dangus
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To: aimhigh
A Jewish friend of my daughter said her parents threatened to pull out her fingernails if she ever mentioned the name of Jesus in their house.

And you believe they meant that literally?

16 posted on 10/08/2003 3:17:33 PM PDT by malakhi (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.)
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To: dangus
And since the fact that it was cut is was a sensationalized news story, how could the author of the posted article not know that?

I don't see, from rereading the article, that the author states that Gibson includes the line in the film. What he says is "The recent controversy over the forthcoming release of Mel Gibson's The Passion has reignited the longstanding debate over responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus." This seems true enough to me. The comment about the line from the gospel is made in reference to the gospel account, not to Gibson's film.

17 posted on 10/08/2003 3:35:15 PM PDT by malakhi (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.)
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To: dangus
Funny, the web page just argued that they were *not* the same person.

There does seem to be a difference of opinion, doesn't there? The traditional Jewish interpretation of those passages from the Talmud is that they are not references to the Jesus of the gospels. Bayme, then, is advancing something of a maverick theory.

18 posted on 10/08/2003 3:37:26 PM PDT by malakhi (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.)
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To: malakhi
And you believe they meant that literally?

She was about 12 years old. Literal or not, it had its desired effect on her attitude.

19 posted on 10/08/2003 5:57:25 PM PDT by aimhigh
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To: Hermann the Cherusker
Mel Gibson bump
20 posted on 10/09/2003 3:04:56 AM PDT by Dajjal
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To: Hermann the Cherusker
The book mentioned in the sources, Christianity in the Talmud & Midrash by Travers Herford, was published in London in 1903, it was only reprinted by Ktav in NJ in 1975. It is an excellent source for all the citations involved.

Reading the (rather few) Talmudic mentions of Jesus it becomes obvious that these comments are rather spitefully made in the third or fourth century, at a time when there was a lot of friction between the early Christians and the Jews. It is fairly obvious that the Talmudic comments know Jesus only by word of mouth from contemporary Christians and not from any historic tradition. Some of the stories link this Jesus with events or people who clearly did not live in the period of the Gospels.

Some of the quotations do not actually appear in the best editions of the Talmud, but appear only in a few old manuscripts -- the common thought was that they were deleted by government (Christian) censors during the Middle Ages, but I think there is a distinct possibility that some of these were not perpetuated in the Talmud because they were either inauthentic or obviously foolish, and not because of Christian pressures.

21 posted on 10/09/2003 10:10:40 AM PDT by DonQ
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To: malakhi
Good Morning Malakhi,

Spending the early mrning reading many many posts from Freepers regarding "Jesus" a strong debate that is now ensuing within the Jewish Communites as well as in Christian sects is becoming (It Seems)one of the hottest topic debates around obviously with the upcoming movie regarding "The Passion of Christ"

My question for you is this: I have read your links to the "Talmud" as well as other links to the "Talmud" by other Jewish Scholars as well as a Talmud script from a Jewish Theologian that was pretty herendous, so I omit that one..

What is it in your opinion that gives one Tamud's (The one you posted) version of the crucifixcion of Jesus more creedence than the other?
what bases or scripture are you using.

Also if we agree that Jesus exsisted was born in Judea was a Jew and executed, would you be saying from some of your Talmud links his death is not mentioned because it did not matter? and others with a similar name "Yeshu" would have more credibility in the "Talmud" then Jesus?

Last question: From your Talmud perspective would you say that the name "Yeshu" would be a common name for jews to be executed due to sorcery or practicing magic? and why even mention these jews at all? what importance do they have in the "Talmud"

Thank you for your reply :)
22 posted on 01/25/2004 8:47:40 AM PST by missyme
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To: missyme
What is it in your opinion that gives one Tamud's (The one you posted) version of the crucifixcion of Jesus more creedence than the other?

Based upon the research I have done, this is the traditional opinion among orthodox Jews. Those who read these passages differently tend to be either non-Jews with an agenda, or liberal Jews who are opposed to the Talmud in general. Many of these people deny the divine inspiration of scripture and accept the "documentary hypothesis" and other "higher critical" theories. Why should you believe what they say about the Talmud?

Also if we agree that Jesus exsisted was born in Judea was a Jew and executed, would you be saying from some of your Talmud links his death is not mentioned because it did not matter?

From the standpoint of Christians, the execution of Jesus was the central moment in history. From the standpoint of the Romans, it was just one more execution among thousands. John the Baptist gets more print in the works of Josephus than does Jesus. With one or two exceptions, other contemporary writers don't mention him at all. So it isn't surprising that he wasn't mentioned in the Talmud. Remember that by the time the Talmud was written down, Christianity has ceased being a Jewish sect, and had become a gentile religion.

From your Talmud perspective would you say that the name "Yeshu" would be a common name for jews to be executed due to sorcery or practicing magic? and why even mention these jews at all? what importance do they have in the "Talmud"

Yeshu (and all its variants) was one of the most common names of the time. So it isn't surprising that it turns up in the Talmud. The Talmud is more of a literary anthology than it is a strictly didactic work. In addition to commentary on the law, it contains fables, parables, moral teachings, folk wisdom, history, etc. Not everything contained in it should be considered of equal significance. These few passages are being highlighted here, and being rated as far more important than they appear in the context of the Talmud -- that is, a few brief passages out of a huge multi-volume work.

23 posted on 01/26/2004 6:36:50 AM PST by malakhi
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To: malakhi
Thank You for your reply's Malakhi...

The interpetation of religious doctrine can be overwhelming..There is differences of doctrines I have been reading within Judiasm as well as Christianity, we base our knowledge from scrolls, historical records, ancient sites as a basis of what everyone either believes is True or False...

And I guess that is why "FAITH" and "PRAYER" in the scheme of things is what brings us closer to G-d, otherwise without it, Religion is an on going history lesson with no end in site...

There is good and then there is evil, there is right and there is wrong and what manifests between the both of them is the on going controversy, but I will keep reading..

Have a Great Day!
24 posted on 01/26/2004 7:30:23 AM PST by missyme
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To: missyme
And I guess that is why "FAITH" and "PRAYER" in the scheme of things is what brings us closer to G-d, otherwise without it, Religion is an on going history lesson with no end in site...

Amen, no disagreement there.

Have a Great Day!

Thanks, you too! :o)

25 posted on 01/26/2004 7:59:21 AM PST by malakhi
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To: dangus

what do you mean? The Talmud uses the common name Yeshu. Why should one doubt that it could be talking about someone else? Historical fact shows that their were many false prophesyers and many people named Yeshu. Also let us not forget that Jesus wasn't necessarilly as famous then as he is now. The Romans crucified many people very often for the same offense as Jesus.


26 posted on 06/09/2004 6:28:14 PM PDT by daniel18 (why doubt?)
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Comment #27 Removed by Moderator

To: daniel18

>>what do you mean?<<

Whuh? huh? who? me? I didn't say anything! :^)


28 posted on 06/10/2004 8:38:16 AM PDT by dangus
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To: daniel18

OK... going back eight months...

>>Historical fact shows that their were many false prophesyers and many people named Yeshu. Also let us not forget that Jesus wasn't necessarilly as famous then as he is now.<<

Oh, but by the time the Talmud was written, he most certainly was. The Talmud's purging of Hellenist influences was very specifically aimed at the emerging Christian cult. If I read a Democrat's account of the 1980s, featuring a "Hollywood cowboy, named Ronnie" who led people astray, I have a pretty good idea who they meant.


29 posted on 06/10/2004 8:48:35 AM PDT by dangus
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