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Talmud

At a Glance
Treatise
Genre:
(3/5) ***
Reliability of Dating:
(5/5) *****
Length of Text:
Greek
Original Language:
Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 188-217 A.D.

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Information on Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud is huge and occupies thirty volumes in the Soncino translation. The Mishnah is the earliest material and constitutes about 20% of the whole Babylonian Talmud. Amazingly, this great mass of material was passed on in oral form for generations of rabbis. The Mishnah was codified by Rabbi Judah before his death in 217 CE, but this may not have involved writing the material down on paper.

Only the tiniest portion of the Talmud may refer to Christianity in any definite way. The three most noteworthy references are given in links above: the hanging of Yeshu on the eve of Passover, the bastard son found in a book of genealogies, and the account of a certain Yeshu of around 100 BCE. Only the first of these can be related to Christianity with reliabilty.

Here is what is written in Baraitha Bab. Sanhedrin 43a, probably second century:

On the eve of Passover Yeshu 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. Any one 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! - Ulla retorted: Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence could be made? Was he not a _Mesith_ [enticer], concerning him Scripture says, _Neither shalt though spare, neither shalt thou conceal him?_ With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government for royalty [i.e., influential]. Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni, and Todah.

Robert Stein writes (Jesus the Messiah, pp. 33-34):

Several passages dealing with the treatment of heresy have also been suggested as possible allusions to Jesus even though his name is not present.

b. Berakot: "May our company not be like that of Elisha, from which issued Gehazi. _In our bread places_: may we produce no son or pupil who disgraces himself in public." One manuscript (M) adds to the end of this saying, "like the Nazarene."

b. Sanhedrin 103a. "Another interpretation: 'There shall no evil befall thee' - though wilt not be affrighted by nightmares and dread thoughts; 'neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling' - thou will not have a son or a disciple who publicly burns his food." The expression "to burn food" refers to accepting or propounding heresy.

Other possible allusions to Jesus or his teachings may be found in b. Sabbat 116b (a possible reference to Mt 5:17) and b. Sanhedrin 107b, where one manuscript tradition refers to "Jesus the Nazarene [who] practised magic and led Israel astray."

Robert Stein writes (Jesus the Messiah, p. 34): "The key question that arises involves the origin of these rabbinic references. The value of these passages would be greatly enhanced if they originated from contemporaries of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the events they were reporting. This would be true even though they presented the side of Jesus' opponents. On several occasions, however, aspects of these accounts seem to be due less to eyewitness reports than to later Jewish intereaction with the teachings and claims of the early church. This is especially true with respect for such matters as the claim that a forty-day search for witnesses on Jesus' behalf preceded his trial and, if the accounts refer to Jesus, to his brith being due not to virginal conception but to adultery on the part of his mother. As a result, the rabbinic materials are primarily valuable for providing information concerning second-, third- and fourth-century Judaism, and even here they must be read critically. Like the pagan sources, however, they provide little information for the historian seeking to construct a life of Jesus."

It seems to me that the passage about the execution of Jesus (b. Sanhedrin 43a) derives not necessarily from the actual events but from Jewish and Christian dialogue & polemics. Notice that in the Christian Gospels, Jesus is given a hasty and highly illegal trial in the middle of the night in which false witnesses testify against him. In the Jewish response to the Christian story, Jesus is given a full forty day period in which witnesses could have stepped forward to defend him. I wouldn't make too much of the fact that the language is that of hanging, as even in the New Testament we find the phrase that Jesus was hanged on a tree. The point that Pilate is not involved at all, while modern reconstruction tends to regard Pilate as the prime mover in the earliest Christian memory, tends to indicate that the Jewish story most likely does not depend on Jewish witnesses but rather was formed as a polemical adaptation of the Christian story. The passage also agrees with John against the synoptics in the relationship of the day of death to the day of the Passover, but too much cannot be made of this because scholars are divided as to whether John or the synoptics are to be preferred here.


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