Issue No. 141
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.
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.
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
- (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.
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
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.
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
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
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).
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.'
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,
- (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.
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.
power of imagination appears to have been overwhelming.
- (a) How does the mere mention of a disciple of Jesus prove that
- (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."
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
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.
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.
should now be able to understand why this whole topic of Jesus and the Talmud was given such low priority and is only now
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."
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.
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.
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.