Jesus Christ In The Talmud, Midrash, And The Zohar
Courtesy of Saltshakers



Our aim in this treatise is not to wound the Jews, or to supply their enemies with a weapon. Rather it is to make good , as far as we may, the faults which the "censorship" of earlier times has committed with regard to the Talmud. This censorship was guided by the principal that everything which appeared hostile to Christianity had to be expunged from literature. How very different was the view of the Church teacher, Origen. He wrote, regarding the slanderous writings of the pagan Celsus, "Our Savior held his peace, when he was charged before the heathen governor. He believed that the holiness and innocence of his walk would vindicate him more forcibly than scorn, however eloquently phrased. Let us also in this matter tread in the steps of Jesus. We are abused, reviled, slandered, accused, persecuted, slain. Let us with our Redeemer keep silence, and oppose our enemies with nothing save our piety, our love, our meekness, our humility. Piety speaks without words more eloquently and powerfully than the most elaborate reasoning."

Did the burning of the Talmud and such other violent measures effect what the Church desired, that is, to diminish the hatred of the Jews for Christ, or make them more friendly towards Christianity? The result was the opposite of what was intended. The passages erased from the Talmud became as a result so much dearer to the Jews. Such material was then all the more accentuated, and it furnished fresh nutriment to the existing hatred against the Christians, inasmuch as some might say, "These are important passages from our Talmud, of which the gentiles have desired to rob us."

Against such a policy of destruction a protest must be made in the name of history. It is thoroughly objectionable, that an ancient literary work should be arbitrarily mutilated by after ages. And what a misdemeanor towards history it is, to forcibly suppress historical facts! What the Talmud contains concerning our Lord, even though it be for the most part a distortion or even a purely imaginary picture, yet history is all the same, a history, that is to say, of Jewish ideas concerning a Person of transcendent interest.

Jesus is a name which has no parallel. No one passes him by with indifference. And the question which stirs all the world, What think ye of Christ? experiences from none a more significant answer than from the people of the Promise. In unbelief, as in belief, the Jews are the leaders of mankind. And therefore it is that we also read in the gospels, with an interest different than if the case concerned the pagans, how the Jews dealt with Christ. With precisely the same interest we must read the Jewish traditions about Jesus in the Talmud.

But then, although we might have cherised the expectation of finding in the huge Talmud, containing, as it does, religious discussions of every kind, the Person and acts of Christ very expressly and frequently debated--the astonishing fact confronts us, that Jesus is very seldom spoken of, and but little is known of him.The Talmud speaks of Jesus but sparingly. It seems inexplicable that the scribes, who in Jesus' lifetime busied themselves with him day and night, whose disposition in the Talmud is still the same one of hostility, have become comparatively so silent, and that too in spite of the fact that Christianity was advancing with such rapid strides.

But in the first place, it must be borne in mind that the growth of the Church was ever, so to speak, developing itself less under the eyes of the Jews, and more at a distance from them. It was not where the Jews dwelt and the Academies existed, viz. in Palestine and Babylon, that the Gospel had extended itself, as a tree embracing all the world within its shade, but like the sun and the history of the nations of the world it made its way to the west, where by its gentle power it gained one victory after another. It is conceivable that when the occasion arose for combating an enemy is lacking, he may not be particularly frequently spoken of. Only once there arose an embittered strife against the Christians, namely in the time of Bar Kochba, the false messiah, and of Rabbi Akiva, his prophet, who was a fierce enemy of Jesus. But otherwise there was peace, and so they might easily, absorbed in the study of the Law ,and disturbed therein by no Christian, have altogether ignored Jesus, if it were not that He was just a Person whom the Jew cannot in the long run pass by, without crucifying Him, or else--worshipping Him. As long as the earth remains, Jesus will never be forgotten by the Jews.

But what could the Jews know about Jesus? The writings of the Christians, in which there stood much concerning him, were burnt rather than read; and oral teachings were just as little sought at the hands of Christians. What therefore out of the whole rich history of Jesus could remain over, except certain main features, which had already become indistinct, when a Rabbi gave them stereotyped expression, and which, in later time, were still less understood? Or, prompted by such traditions, people yielded to the impulse to complete them, or even delivered themselves altogether to poetic fancy, which of course introduced no historical features, but yet did introduce such as fitted well into the picture which they had formed of Jesus. But, as has been said, while on the side of Christianity, no considerable inducement was given to the Jews to call Jesus to mind, so the really vigorous current of Jewish life failed to concern itself much about him.

How totally different was the middle ages! In that period, the time of the Jewish persecutions, the hatred of Jesus, which was never quite dormant, reached its full expression, and begot a literature in comparison with which the Talmud must be termed almost innocent. Then there was found in the very name of Jesus the treatment he deserved, viz. to be blotted out ["Yeshu", making an acronym for "May his name and memory be blotted out"], and in the Toledoth Yeshu there was put together a detailed picture of the life of Jesus, of which the authors of the Talmud had no anticipation.

Our examination of the sayings in the Talmud falls into three main divisions: the first, and at the same time the most comprehensive, is concerned with the designations of Jesus and his origin; the second deals with Jesus' works; the third with his death.



Ben Stada or Ben Pandera?

Jesus is commonly referred to in the Talmud and in Talmudic literature by the expressions "Son of Stada (Satda)", and "Son of Pandera" These are so accepted that they appear constantly in the Babylonian Talmud (cp. the Targum Sheni on Esther VII 9) even without the name Jesus. It might seem to be a question as to who it is that is to be understood by these. But in the Jerusalem Talmud (Avodah Zarah II. 40d), the full name is given as Yeshu ben Pandera (for which Shabbath XIV 14d has more briefly, Yeshu Pandera); and in the Tosephta on Hullin II, the full name is given as Yeshu ben Pantera and Yeshu ben Pantere. So then Ben Pandera or ben Pantere also bears the name Yeshu.

Further, the Jesus the Nazarene who is "hanged on the evening before Passover" (Sanhedrin 43a) is on the other hand (Sanhedrin 67a) also called the "son of Stada (Satda)". It is evident that in both these places the same person is spoken of. Here these two passages may be considered conclusive, since they repeat each other using the similar language, and in a section of the text which is chiefly concerned about Jesus; and so we see that Jesus was also referred to as Ben Stada.

How indiscriminate was the use of the two titles Ben Stada (Satda) and Ben Pandera, and not only so, but also how little clearness there was with regard to them is shown by two remarkable and almost verbally identical passages, Shabbath 104b and Sanhedrin 67a, the former of which we present here in a literal translation:

The son of Stada was the son of Pandera. Rab Chisda said, The husband was Stada, the lover, Pandera. (Another said), The husband was Paphos ben Yehudah; Stada was his mother; (or), his mother was Miriam, the women's hairdresser; as they would say at Pumbeditha, 'Stath da' (i.e., 'she was unfaithful' ) to her husband.
In more intelligible language, with the needful additions, which are so constantly lacking in the Talmud by reason of conciseness, the passage runs thus:
He was not the son of Stada, but he was the son of Pandera. Rab Chisda said, The husband of Jesus' mother was Stada, but her lover was Pandera. Another said, Her husband was surely Paphos ben Yehuda; on the contrary, Stada was his mother; or, according to others, his mother was Miriam, the women's hairdresser. The rejoinder is, Quite so, but Stada is her nickname, as it is said at Pumbeditha, Stath da (she proved faithless) to her husband.
The passage, noteworthy from every point of view, dates from the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century after Christ. For R. Chisda (died A.D. 309) belongs to the third generation of Amoraim [later rabbinical sages] and lived at Sura, the Babylonian Academy founded by Rab. [So-called because he was the greatest of all teachers of his period. He was a Babylonian, and presided at Sura for twenty-four years, dying A.D. 243. Pumbeditha was about seven miles north of Sura; the Academy there was established later than the one at Sura, though it eventually became more influential.] At this late date accordingly the question was asked, which of the two familiar designations (son of Stada, son of Pandera) was the correct one? It was natural that this question should at some time emerge. One of the two appellations appeared to be necessarily false. Which was correct?

The subject treated in the preceding text was that Ben Stada had brought charms with him out of Egypt in an incision in his flesh. Thereupon someone objects, "The designation Ben Stada is false; he was the son of Pandera." Whereupon the opinion of Rab Chisda is at once provided: "No, both names are easily possible. You know at any rate that Jesus was illegitimate. Consequently the one name is that of his legal father, and the other that of his natural father; and indeed I give as my decision that Stada was the husband of the mother of Jesus, while Pandera on the other hand was the name of her lover. Therefore it is right to call him either a son of Stada or a son of Pandera."

But then a different tradition is quoted. "The husband of the mother of Jesus was surely Paphos ben Yehuda. Stada on the other hand is not a man's name at all, but refers to Jesus' mother." This does not deal with the name Pandera, but grants Rabbi Chisda's view, that Pandera was the lover of Jesus' mother.

Then someone else disagrees, and says, "But it is admitted, that the mother of Jesus was Miriam, the women's hairdresser." The answer to this is, "We are aware of that. But she is also called Stada, as a nickname,. Because she had a lover and bore him Jesus, she was given the nickname Stada, from the two words, Stath da, i.e. 'she has been unfaithful' to her husband. This is the way 'Stada' is explained in the Academy at Pumbeditha."

From these passages two things are clear: first, that at that time Jesus was in truth still a most weighty name; but secondly, that there was very seldom among the Jews any discussion as to the circumstances of his life, so that when any question was raised as to those circumstances, great uncertainty, coupled with complete ignorance, was shown. This would have been impossible, if at that time there had still been any contact between Jews and Christians. But both parties, as we clearly see, had long since had done with one another.

1. Let us begin with the derivation of the name Stada. This word, unused elsewhere, is only intelligible through the explanation which the Talmud itself gives: "she proved faithless". But how did the Jews come to give Mary such an awkward nickname, especially since they had a more familiar word, Sota (which is even used as the name of a tractate in the Mishnah)?

Furst's view is that "Mary was so-named in reference to Numbers 5:19 [where the priest questions a woman accused of adultery to see if she has 'strayed' ('sateet') from her husband] since, as the Talmud itself explains, people pointed their finger at her, saying "She has proved unfaithful to her husband". From this we should have to imagine that as often as Mary showed herself in the street, those who met her aimed at her the words 'stath da'. For the logic of Jewish unbelief would reason: since God has no son, while Jesus, as the Christians themselves admit, is not Joseph's son, it follows that he is born of Mary out of wedlock.

Mary is said to have died (Nicerphorus Callistus, "Hist. Eccl." II 3) at the age of 59, in the fifth year of the Emperor Claudius--certainly enough time to allow for her experiencing in abundance the hate and insult which will have poured itself out in stinging speeches, to the effect that her son is a bastard and she is an adulteress. But was such hate likely to have found expression only in such a formula as 'stath da'? And it is still more difficult to see how this outcry should have later become a proper name, so that they no longer called her Miriam, but Stada, while nevertheless the name Miriam itself was still in the memory at such a late period. Moreover we cannot claim that Mary may have actually had both names, and been called Mary Stada. For it is just this kind of name, formed from the scoffing of the people, which usually will entirely supplant a real name (which was not the case here).

Accordingly it is more likely that the nickname from the first was not Stada (Satda), but Ben Stada (Ben Satda). And it is the fact that we always find these two words taken together, never Stada (Satda) alone. Thus it is a mockery of Jesus (not Mary), which has not replaced the name Jesus, simply for two reasons: that Jesus can never be forgotten or effaced from the Jewish consciousness; and because the designation "son of so and so" very naturally requires a preceding name.

A particular type of nickname consists of caricature names. Such nicknames usually derive from an actual name, to which by shifting or altering certain letters a new and odious meaning may be given, though the sound is but little affected. Cassel has in a clever way attempted to explain the expression Ben Stada as a comic form of Ben Stara. We will first present his explanation, and then provide an expanded explanation of our own. And while proof to a certainty may never be found about this issue, we can nevertheless picture that things may have happened in this way.

In Kiddushin 70a, it is related that once a man asked for meat at the butcher's shop and received the answer, "Wait till the servant of Rabbi Yehudah bar Y'cheskel is served first." So the man answered, "Who is this Yehudah bar Shwiskel, who can go before me?" 'Shwiskel' is a comic form of 'Ycheskel', and means, "devourer or roast meat". Such nicknames are abundantly found in the Talmud, rich as it is in witticisms.

In Avodah Zarah 46a, there is even given the rule for changing by caricature the names of idols and their temples into obnoxious names. For example, instead of "beth galya" ("abode of brightness") we are to say "beth karya" ("abode of pigs"). In Shabbath 116a, Rabbi Meir calls the "evangelium" ("message of salvation") as "aven-gillayon" ("mischievous writing"), Rabbi Yochanan calls it "avon-gillayon" ("sinful writing") , and note that such writings are not to be saved from burning. The notorious false messiah Bar Kochba ("son of a star") was named after his overthrow Bar Kozba ("son of lies").

We pause beside Bar Kochba; he will build us the bridge we need to the son of Stada. Why did that pseudo-messiah call himself son of a star? Plainly in order to designate himself as the messiah, supported by Numbers 24:17, "A star will rise out of Jacob". This passage must at that time have been generally considered messianic, and as such must have been held in high authority. A century earlier Herod had caused a medal to be struck, on which a star stands above a helmet [or an incense burner], having, according to Cassel, a reference to Numbers 24:17. Perhaps many of his actions were perceived as being in accord with this passage. For example, he had smitten the Arabs, who dwelt in Edom; he ruled over Moab; and he had success against Cleopatra ("children of Sheth", which perhaps might refer to Egypt, "Sethos", or "Sothis").

Also the Targums [Aramaic paraphrases] made by Onkelos and of Pseduo-Jonathan, and the Jerusalem Talmud (in Taanith IV 8), and the Midrash Rabba on Deuteronomy I, and the Midrash on Lamentations II 2, refer this passage to the messiah.

To this evidence of how the passage was understood, we may add even one more example, which we consider the most weighty. When the Magi came from the east, they said, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? For we have seen his star, and are come to worship him." If they had only said, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?", they would have been counted as fools. But that they added the reason, "Because we have seen his star"--this stirred men's minds to the highest pitch. That his star had appeared was the best proof of title for the newborn king; and this is seen from the fact that these words of the Magi were what lay at the root of Herod's alarm. (How utterly absent were all scruples from the mind of Herod is shown by the death of the infants at Bethlehem.)

Doubtless from this period and onwards the memory of this star continued vividly present in the minds of the Christians, insomuch as they recognized in it the literal fulfillment of a prophecy, and it must have been often offered as a proof. When Bar Kochba appeared and claimed to be the messiah, they would likely have contrasted him with their messiah, Jesus. While Rabbi Akiva exclaimed with passionate fervor, "Bar Kochba is king messiah!", the Christians assuredly conceded the claim to the name "son of a star" only to Jesus ; and on this account (their refusal to recognize him as messiah) Bar Kochba, as Justin Martyr notes, inflicted upon the Christians severe tortures and punishments.

From this it is very easily conceivable that Rabbi Akiva was simply met by the Christians with the refusal, "You are mistaken. Jesus of Nazareth and no other is the true son of a star"; and that Rabbi Akiva (or someone similar) at this time simply altered the Ben Stara of the Christians into a Ben Stada, the son of a star being turned into the son of a harlot. For we shall later find that Rabbi Akiva again is eager to insult Jesus on this same matter. (The use of the word stara by the Christians could have derived from either the Greek or the Persian word for 'star'.)

Another possible explanation for the origin of the nickname Ben Stada deserves mention. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin VII 25d) it is written Ben Sotda (with a long 'o' after the 'S'). Might not this be a parody on 'Soter' (the Greek word for 'Savior') ? The expression, 'mother of the Savior" ("of the 'sotera' ") might easily have suggested 'sota' (harlot), and therefore the parody 'sotda' was close at hand. Naturally the 'mother' had to be changed to 'son' ('ben'). And after the origin of the parody had been forgotten, there might easily have arisen, through Aramaic pronunciation, the word 'satda' from 'sotda'.

From the passage in Sanhedrin 104b, to which we now revert, we feel fully justified in saying that the Jews for along time knew absolutely nothing with certainty about Ben Stada. Moreover, what is more natural than that the origin of the name, which derives from a chance witticism, was soon forgotten. The more generally the two nicknames (Ben Stada and Ben Pandera) came to be adopted, the more it was forgotten that they were nicknames, and with utter lapse of memory, they were taken up quite literally, as meaning, son of some real person who was named Stada or Pandera.

2. There is yet another remark in this passage (Sanhedrin 104b) which needs explanation. That is the remark about Miriam being "a women's hairdresser". How came the Talmud to bestow this comparatively mild term upon the mother of Jesus, for whom elsewhere it uses the characteristic designation of adulteress?

Among the women who stood near to Jesus, Mary Magdalene claims first mention. That Jesus' mother was named Mary was known; that she had borne Jesus out of wedlock, was maintained. That there was a prominent Christian woman of Jesus' time, who was named Mary of Magdala, was also noted. What more natural, then, than for these two Marys to be combined in their minds into one? Mary of Magdala was reputed to be a great sinner. This harmonized with their own view; and so Mary of Magdala was accordingly the mother of Jesus. And in their further confusion, Mary of Magdala was transmuted into Mary "m'gaddela nashaya" ; and so instead of Mary the woman of Magdala, she becomes Mary the "dresser of women's hair".

3. There are still two names in our passage which need explanation: Paphos ben Yehuda and Pandera. "Stada's (i.e., Mary's) lawful husband was Paphos ben Yehuda." And who was this Paphos ben Yehuda? He was a contemporary of Akiva--the same Akiva who, though never having seen Jesus, acquired such a reputation for his hatred towards him, that in the imagination of the Jews, he was thought of, as we shall see, as his contemporary. Accordingly Paphos was also held to be a contemporary of Jesus.

Now this Paphos had a wife notorious for her life of unchastity. Therefore it is conceivable that this prostitute, belonging (presumably) to the time of Jesus, and having been remembered in the tradition, was simply identified also as the same harlot of whom it was said Jesus was born. Accordingly the one who held that Paphos was the lawful husband of Stada (Mary) was quite right from his point of view.

4. We come now to the fourth and last name, that of Pandera. The belief that Pandera was the lover of Stada (Mary) had been the subject of a much earlier speculation. That is to say, about the year A. D. 178 the heathen Celsus, whose words Origen preserved for us in his Refutation (I 28), had recieved the following account from a Jew: "Mary was turned out by her husband, a carpenter by profession, after she had been convicted of unfaithfulness. Cast off by her spouse, and wandering about in disgrace, she then gave birth in obscurity to Jesus, by a certain soldier, Panthera."

We can connect this Jewish narrative in Celsus with the accounts of Jesus in the Talmud, for it was doubltess current among the Jews of Talmudic times. What marks this narrative (in contrast with almost all other Talmudic accounts of Jesus) is that it contains nothing of itself which would be historically impossible. A thing might very well take place in precisely this manner. What further distinguishes it from the other accounts are several more or less close correspondences with the gospel history. We call to mind the "carpenter", the "turning out" of Mary (evidenty a perversion of the fact mentioned in Matthew 1:19), and the "obscurity" in which Jesus was born. Such correspondences point to a time when Jews had not yet lost every thread of the actual history of Jesus.

But on the other hand, it is evident that a contrary imagination has been at work on the true facts. (For example, while both sides, Christian and Jew, admit that Jesus worked miracles, his power according to the latter was only through the power of sorcery, and not of Divine agency.) And if the Jews developed an opinion that Jesus was born out of wedlock, this is primarily only their explanation of the fact that, inconceivable by any human intellect, Jesus was born through a new act of creation by God, rather than in the normal manner. Their intellect then had simply no choice but to reduce a history which surpassed comprehension to the limits of natural possibility. But when the Jews at the time of Celsus wished to state more about Jesus than is indicated in the gospels, if they wished to add the circumstances of Mary at the time of the birth, and add to that the name of her supposed lover, then they were forced to resort to their imaginations, and what then followed is no longer a history, but uncontrolled invention.

The most striking points here are the condition of the lover. Which of these two items--the name, or his profession as a soldier--established itself first in the tradition? A "soldier", that is to say, a Roman soldier, was the basest person possible. In the Talmud no people have a name so hated as the Romans, who destroyed the Holy City and took from Israel the remnant of independence. But the accursed instrument of the Romans for the subjugation of the Jews was the Roman army, and again the most despicable individual in this army was plainly a common soldier. If Jesus was considered a contemporary of Akiva, and so of the period of the revolt under Bar Kochba and of the destruction on the part of Rome, then the assertion that he was born of a Roman father could come easily to hand. This 'discovery' contained then such an amount of biting scorn, and of insult scarcely to be surpassed, that such a choice could hardly be resisted.

What then does Pandera signify? Pandera, or as it is written, Panthera, or Pantere, answers exactly to the Greek 'panther'. But what was intended to be expressed by this designation, "son of the panther"? We answer, "Son of the panther" meant 'Son of sensuality". Yet how was the panther a symbol of sensuality? Among the Greeks the sins of the flesh were associated with the cult of Dionysius. Now the panther among and before all other beasts was sacred to Dionysius. He was the beast belonging to Bacchic worship. The worshippers slept on panther skins. It is the panther which appears mainly on coins exhibiting Bacchus. There was a special form of this coin, in which Bacchus stands before a panther and gives him wine to drink. Taking this into consideration, we have no difficulty in understanding why, if the Jews when they read of the coming Greeks in Daniel 7:6, thought also of the sensuality which belonged to this cult. And so by the expression "son of the panther" they meant to convey that Jesus was born of unchastity in the form in which it appears among the Greeks; in other words, he was born of the greatest unchastity.

But now there is the question, how did Jesus come to be given a nickname drawn from a culture so distant from his own? We answer, that it is possible to recognize in "panthera" a mutilated form of "parthenos", which is Greek for "virgin". Thus this form would have arisen out of "ben parthena" ("son of the virgin", using an Aramaic ending), which by then would have been current among the Christians; and such a parody was too pointed and obvious not to be adapted.

The origin of the "soldier" we must place in the time of Hadrian and Celsus. For as has already been noted above, the "soldier" owes his existence to the terrible bitterness towards the Romans aroused by that war; on the other hand the whole story evidently appertains to a time in which the Jews had ceased to converse with the Christians, and in which, giving free rein to caprice and to a spiteful imagination, they merely built upon the remains of tradition. All this tallies with the generation which is concurrent with Rabbi Akiva, and is molded by him. (And to this same time, according to our earlier deduction, is owed the designation Ben Stada (Satda).


Just as in the Christian Church the mother of the Savior has been gradually advanced to such honors that in one part of it she is taken to have been as sinless as the Lord himself, so by the bitterest foes of the Church she, the blessed among women, and greatest mother in Israel, has been overlaid with the deepest calumny.As the mother of Jesus she shared the hatred and mockery which he had to experience. We have noticed that Jesus was taken to be a bastard, who was conceived out of wedlock by an espoused Mary. Now we come to a passage which gives Mary the general character of unchastity.

There is a tradition: Rabbi Meir used to say, Just as there are various kinds of taste with regards to eating, so too there are various kinds of dispositions as regards women. There is a man into whose cup a fly falls and he casts it out., but all the same he does not drink from the cup. Such was the manner of Paphos ben Yehudah, who used to lock the door upon his wife, and go out. (Gittin 90a).
The sense of the comparison is clear. Paphos ben Yehudah had no more dealings with his wife; some sort of suspicion had fallen on her. As a result, he shut her off from any other contact, as well. In point of fact the passage in the Talmud has to do solely with Paphos, against whom it is brought as a reproach, that he kept himself separate from his wife. It was not until later that Paphos became a person frequently named, when people had come to see in him the husband of Jesus' mother. Thereupon there must have entered into the Jewish conception a new element, and one originally entirely foreign to it. And accordingly there was formed out of the story about Paphos a story about Mary. Thus Rashi comments on this passage (which is naturally no invention of Rashi's, but belongs to a previous time), that
Paphos ben Yehudah was the husband of Mary, the women's hairdresser. Whenever he went out of his house into the street, he locked the door upon her, that no one might be able to speak with her. And that is a course which became him not; for on this account there arose enmity between them, and she in wantonness broke her faith with her husband.
Not only had Mary transgressed once, therefore; but she had done so continually, and broken through the barriers set by her husband. Thus Jesus was born--so our passage tacitly asserts--of one habitually unfaithful.


Rabbi Bibi lived in the fourth century of the Christian era. He can neither have seen Mary nor have been her contemporary. Nevertheless he was able to say that he desired Mary's death and that extinction of her name and memory. When in his time, as it appears, a much beloved woman, Mary, a children's teacher, died and her death was mourned as premature, then Rabbi Bibi may have exclaimed, Why did she have to die so young, while the accursed Mary was permitted to live on?

The Angel of Death was found with Rabbi Bibi bar Abbai. The Angel said to his attendant, Go, bring me Miriam the women's hairdresser. The attendant went and brought him Miriam the children's teacher. The Angel of Death said, I said, Miriam the women's hairdresser. The attendant said , Then I will take the other one back. But the Angel of death said to him, Since you have brought her, let her be reckoned among the dead. (Hagigah 4b)
We have already noted, and shall do so again, that the Talmud, in relation to Jesus, has no conception of chronology; and indeed, the later the origin of notices about Jesus, the more reckless they are in their chronological lapses. The post-Talmudic Targum Sheni on the book of Esther actually reckons Jesus among the ancestors of Haman. In the face of such an unfathomable error, is it surprising to find another such error here? For the Talmudic commentary Tosaphoth on Hagigah 4b remarks, "The Angel of Death was with Rabbi Bibi, and related to him the history of Miriam the women's hairdresser, which took place in the time of the Second Temple. This Miriam was the mother of so-and-so [i.e., Jesus], as is to be read in Shabbath 104b."

But the wording of the Talmud says quite distinctly that Mary lived in the very time of Rabbi Bibi, on which account the Angel of Death spoke with him not of one who had existed earlier, but of one actually living. Further, this Angel, as we may note, at that very time in the presence of Rabbi Bibi commissions his attendant to bring her to deliver her to death. The Tosaphoth notes on Shabbath 104b struggle vainly to remove this anachronism by the assumption that there were two women's hairdressers named Mary .


There is mention made after the fall of Jerusalem of a "book of genealogies" (Yevamoth 49b), which, it is highly probable, contained a collection of all the extant remains of genealogies which then survived either in written or oral form. We need be concerned only with the following fragment:

Simon ben Azzai has said, I found in Jerusalem a book of genealogies, in which it is written, that so-and-so is the bastard son of an adulteress. (Mishnah Yevamoth 4.13; Yevamoth 49b)
Eisenmenger has made a note of twenty-eight different substituted names for Jesus in Jewish writings. One of these is "otho ha'ish", or "that man", or "so-and-so". Most of these names have their origin in post-Talmudic times in which, as a consequence of oppression on the part of the Christians, animus towards Jesus was further kindled. Still, in the time of Akiva and Bar Kochba there was a strong feeling against Jesus. Simon ben Azzi was a pupil of Akiva. Several Talmudic passages bear witness to his combative attitude towards the Jewish-Christians. By the "so-and-so" here can only be meant Jesus, for there was no one else to whom there was so regularly applied the description "bastard" ("mamzer"), no one else to whom it was more willingly ascribed.

A second declaration on this subject was made by none other than Rabbi Akiva. Now, there can only be one authentic human testimony as to the birth of Jesus, that is, the testimony of the mother of Jesus herself. From the mouth of Mary springs directly or indirectly the information which we read in the gospel of Luke. And it is from the mouth of none other than this parent, according to the Talmud, that Rabbi Akiva pretends to have drawn forth the secret of the illegitimate birth of Jesus. In Kallah 18b, we can read:

Once elders sat at the gate when two boys passed by. One had his head covered, the other did not. Of him who had his head uncovered, Rabbi Eleazor said, "A bastard!". Rabbi Joshua said, "A son of a woman in her separation!". But Rabbi Akiva said, "A bastard and a son of a woman in her separation!" They said to Rabbi Akiva, "Why do you contradict the words of your colleagues?" He answered, "I am about to prove it." Thereupon he went to the boy's mother, and found her sitting in the market. . . He said to her, "My daughter, if you tell me the thing I ask you, I will bring you to eternal life." She said to him, "Swear it to me!" Thereupon Rabbi Akiva took the oath with his lips, but he canceled it in his heart. Then he said to her, "What kind of son is your son?" She said to him, "When I betook myself to the bridal chamber, I was in my separation, and my husband stayed away from me. But my lover came to me, and by him I have this son." So the boy was thus discovered to be both a bastard and the son of a woman in her separation. Thereupon they said, "Great is Rabbi Akiva, in that he has put to shame his teachers!"
Neither the name of the son nor that of the mother is mentioned. But from the Toldoth Yeshu ("The Generations of Jesus") it plainly follows that Jesus and his mother were here in mind. And moreover Lichtenstein in his Hebrew treatise "Sepher Toldoth Yeshua" ("Book of the Generations of Jesus") remarks, "I have heard in my youth from Rabbis of consideration, that in the tractate Kallah there is an allusion to 'that man' (Jesus)."

The proof that this narrative speaks of Jesus must arise from its contents. What is the point of the story? When a boy with head uncovered passed by the rabbis, Rabbi Eleazor exclaimed, "A bastard!". By this he did not mean to say, "From his shamelessness I recognize him to be a bastard", but "His bad extraction brings these bad manners with it." Plainly he knew the boy and considered him already to be a bastard before this sight of him. The other rabbi, who likewise knew the boy, gave still sharper expression to his displeasure at his shamelessness; for "son of a woman in her separation" is to be judged in accordance with Leviticus 20:18, where the punishment of death is appointed for liaisons with such. So Rabbi Joshua also did not mean that the boy through his shamelessness had betrayed himself as the son of such a woman, but that anyone who was of such a birth, could not fail to behave so shamelessly.

Rabbi Akiva then objects to his colleagues, "You still judge the lad too favorably; he is a bastard and the son of a woman in her separation as well." It then appears curious that both of his colleagues are offended at his suggestion; the more so, because afterward they praise him, since his opinion is the true one. The aim of the Talmudic writer in this version of the story was simple; viz., that Rabbi Akiva should obtain an opportunity to discover the facts, and show that he was right, that the boy was of the most disgraceful origin possible. When the proof has turned out to be the right one, his colleagues rejoice and afterwards praise God for having disclosed His secret to Rabbi Akiva.

If the boy's shamelessness was only the outward reason for the rabbis' conversation about his disgraceful birth, then that birth itself must have already long been an object of offense to them. And, that they discussed the matter so eagerly shows that the boy must have had an unusual importance for them; he must have been particularly marked by them, and hated by them, more so than other boys who behaved similarly or who were taken for illegitimate children, such as no doubt there have always been.

Further, the joy of both the other rabbis over the victory of Rabbi Akiva is striking. We have a right to ask after the special causes of such a special hatred. What are these causes? I answer: Tell me the name of the boy, and the causes are as plain as daylight. But since the Talmud mentions no names, we must inquire further. Who can the boy have been? No one's baseness of origin is so eagerly emphasized and discussed in the Talmud as that of Jesus. On no one does the Talmud seek with such zeal and so much skill in so many ways to stamp the character of bastard as on Jesus, who is to it the bastard par excellence. Accordingly, we think it correct to explain the above quoted passage as relating to Jesus.

But--some might ask--how is it possible to understand Jesus as the boy when Rabbi Akiva lived about a century after him, and thus can never have seen Jesus, and least of all as a boy? We have to deal here with another anachronism, and we call to mind the following facts.

In a passage in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 67a), which will be dealt with at greater length in the third portion of our treatise, it is said that Jesus was crucified in Lydda (Lud)--an assertion which is naturally read with the utmost astonishment, if not by those Jews who would swear by the Talmud, then at least by Christians. It seems scarcely credible that the very place of Jesus' crucifixion, this most memorable event in his whole story, has been forgotten by the Jews. And yet so it is: Jesus according to the Talmud was crucified not in Jerusalem but in Lydda. How is this to be explained? Naturally we must not think of a confusion through error, or a lapse of memory. No; the removal of the crucifixion of Jesus to Lydda, this place which nowhere occurs in the New Testament accounts of Jesus, shows an utter lack of acquaintance with his history. And yet this assertion of the Talmud must have a foundation.

We believe we can find this foundation only in the following assumption: Lydda became associated in the minds of the Jews with Jesus, so that in the minds of later generations it was the impression that much that took place with regard to him occurred there. The circumstance that Rabbi Akiva was a teacher in Lydda supports this view; for we know what great celebrity Akiva possessed as a rabbi, as well as what passionate hatred of Jesus dwelt within this admirer of Bar Kochba. That Rabbi Akiva's adversarial attitude towards Christianity affected his students may be assumed. But a stronger effect may be demonstrated in that Akiva, most likely on account of his vehement attacks upon Jesus, was thought in later times to be his contemporary, who had lived with him in one and the same town. For to say that Jesus was crucified in Lydda means nothing else than that he was crucified in Akiva's city, in the time of the man who, according to the Talmud, was one of those most intimately acquainted with the history of Jesus. (In Lydda also the narrative contained in Kallah 18b has its origin.)

And so we can conclude that the origin of this particular legend has its roots in the attitude of R. Akiva, and in his association in the minds of the later Talmudists with the times of Jesus.



"How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" exclaimed the Jews (John 7:15), full of amazement at his teaching. And in Matthew 13:54, it says, "He taught in their synagogues, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence has this man wisdom?" And also in Mark 6:2, "[They] were astonished, saying, Whence has this man [learned] these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given to this man?. . . Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?. . . and they were offended in him."

In contrast with these accounts in the New Testament, according to which Jesus, without having enjoyed the tuition of a distinguished rabbi, was full of the highest wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures, the Talmud prefers to assert that Jesus was a disciple of Rabbi Joshua ben Perachyah. And in this statement, the Talmud is inconsistent with itself. For according to this (cp. Avot de Rabbi Nathan 5a), no child of a harlot was allowed to come to Jerusalem and visit the schools and study--an ordinance which fully accords with Deut. 23:2, "A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of the Lord." But we have already seen how certain the Talmud considers it, that Jesus was born out of wedlock.

Now let us examine the passage itself.

The Rabbis have taught: Always let the left hand repel and the right hand invite, not like Elisha who repulsed Gehazi with both hands, and not like Rabbi Joshua ben Perachyah, who repulsed Yeshu the Nazarene with both hands. . .

What of Rabbi Joshua ben Perachyah? When Jannai the king killed our rabbis, Rabbi Joshua ben Perachyah [and Jesus] fled to Alexandria in Egypt. When there was peace, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach sent him a letter [asking him to return]. Thereupon Joshua arose and went; and on the way found a certain inn. And at this inn they showed him great respect. Then he said, "How fair is this inn ("acsania")!" Jesus said to him, "But rabbi, she ("acsania", i.e., a hostess; the word has both meanings) has narrow eyes." Rabbi Joshua replied, "You godless fellow, do you occupy yourself with such things?" He sent out four hundred trumpets and excommunicated him. Jesus came before him many times, saying, "Take me back.". Joshua did not trouble himself about him. . One day, just as Rabbi Joshua was reciting the Shema, Jesus came to him, hoping that he would take him back. Joshua made a sign to him with his hand. Then Jesus thought that he had altogether repulsed him, and went away, and set up a brickbat, and worshipped it. Joshua said to him, "Be converted!" Jesus said, "You have taught me, that everyone who sins and causes the multitude to sin, they give him not the chance to repent." And the Teacher [an authority mentioned by this name in the Talmud] has said, "Jesus practiced sorcery and had corrupted and misled Israel." (Sanhedrin 107b)

The Jerusalem Talmud, which relates the same story, has in place of Joshua ben Perachyah the name of his contemporary Yehudah ben Tabbai. This makes no essential difference. However, while the Babylonian Talmud (as cited above) gives the name of the student (Jesus), the Jerusalem Talmud does not mention his name--plainly, because it does not know him. This can be explained by the manner in which the entire passage came to be connected with Jesus.

Clearly, there is a striking anachronism which would place Jesus as a contemporary of Rabbi Joshua ben Perachyah, who lived about one hundred years before Jesus. At that time King Alexander Jannaeus (Janni) crucified about 800 Pharisees after having crushed a revolt to which they gave support. This in turn resulted in a mass flight of members of the Pharisee sect, mainly into Egypt. And among these were Joshua ben Perachyah and Yehudah ben Tabbai. It is unquestionable then that the inserted name Jesus here is spurious, and even if it were to be found in all our sources of information, would have to be struck out. But, as noted, the Jerusalem Talmud does not have this name. And this in itself is noteworthy, since in many cases the Jerusalem Talmud preserves the simpler, essential form of the traditions, and does not further expand upon them.

Thus originally the name of Jesus was lacking. But upon later examination, there might have seemed to be several features present which could have led to an assumption that he was the subject mentioned. First, there was a flight from a blood-thirsty king into Egypt. It was an account spread by the Christians themselves that Jesus once fled to Egypt from a king who sought his life. This account must have made a deep impression on the Jewish memory, since it also apparently became the source for the notion that Jesus learned sorcery while in Egypt (see below). (Why, though, he should not have been excommunicated for sorcery, but for merely casting a glance at an innkeeper, the Talmud does not relate.)

Second, Jesus is alleged to have shown a lack of respect for the rabbi. We know from Kallah 18 that Jesus was considered shameless; and such shamelessness would extend to showing no respect for one's teacher. And the Christians themselves would have recounted his disputes with the rabbis of his day.

But since no learned sage could have confused the day of Rabbi Akiva, (when Jesus was also supposed to have lived) with that of Rabbi Joshua ben Perachyah, this story must have arisen before the era when Jesus came to be associated with Akiva, and when there was still current a little knowledge of him (even if it was only to refer to him as a sorcerer or, as in the gospels, as someone who 'has a devil and is mad'). Thus it's origin should not be dated too much beyond the conclusion of the second great Revolt, or the middle of the second Christian century.


A subject of great weight for Christian Apologetics will now occupy us: the treatment of Jesus' miracles. Far from denying them, the Talmud on the contrary readily admits them, but ascribes them not to Divine power but to sorcery. (Someone who will not here even believe what the bitterest enemies of Jesus admit about him in this respect is beyond the reach of argument.) Thus:

There is a tradition: Rabbi Eleazor said to the sages, Has not the son of Stada brought magic spells from Egypt in an incision on his skin? They answered him, He was a fool, and we do not accept proofs from a fool. (Shabbath 104b)
To further understand this passage, one has also to look at the Tosephta, Shabbath XI, 15:
'He that cuts marks upon his flesh'--Rabbi Eleazor condemns, the sages permit. He said to them, And did not Ben Stada learn only in this way? They said to him, Because of one fool are we to destroy all reasonable men?
Here Rabbi Eleazor supports his view that no one should cut marks on his body or tattoo himself on the Sabbath, by the fact that Jesus had done so. The example of this impious one should not be imitated, and especially not on the Sabbath. But the sages objected to him that Jesus was a fool, and to that kind of person one does not refer. (In Shabbath 104b the question is whether tattooing is writing, and so forbidden on the Sabbath. Rabbi Eleazor decides that it is writing, and appeals to the fact that Ben Stada had employed tattooing for writing purposes. However the majority decides that this is something so extraordinary and foolish, that one has no right on that account to include tattooing in the category of writing.)

The assertion that Jesus was a sorcerer forms a compliment to another judgement of the Pharisees as to Jesus miracles, which is presented to us in Matthew 9:34. "But the Pharisees said, By the prince of the devils he casts out devils." This judgement was made on a specific occasion, and about the casting out of devils. But we may venture to assume that a similar explanation must have occured to the Pharisees with regard to all Jesus' miracles, in view of these passages in the Talmud.

Certainly, had it been possible, the Pharisees and the doctors of the Law would have availed themselves of a simple denial of the miracles, or have denounced them as lies and frauds. But in the face of the fact that these miracles took place in the presence of the multitude, and that those who were healed by Christ, for example, Lazarus, went about through every quarter as living witnesses of the miraculous power of Jesus, made such a course of action impossible. It was utterly impossible to ignore these miracles, or to tell the people that it was all fraudulent. But their hatred found another expression, which was fitted to destroy the divine luster that spread itself around the Worker of miracles. Jesus, they said, is a sorcerer, who has brought his sorceries from Egypt.

The expression, "from Egypt" gives expression to the thought that Jesus was possessed of a sorcery beyond the common. Of Egypt, it is said (Kiddushin 49b), "Ten measures of sorcery came down into the world. Egypt received nine measures, and all the rest of the world one." Now, the Talmud actually maintains at one point (Menahoth 65a and Sanhedrin 17a), that "None are brought into the Sanhedrin save those who are wise and acquainted with magic." (As Rashi explains, this is in order that they may better expose the sorcerers, who would otherwise be able to mislead the people.) Thus the assertion that Jesus had learned his magic arts in Egypt, marks him as an arch-magician. And thus we have once again a forcible confirmation from a hostile mouth of the extraordinary powers of Jesus.

In addition to the Talmudic conception that Egypt was the home of specially powerful magic, there is also the notion that it was exceptionally difficult to remove Egyptian magic out of that country. Rashi said, "The Egyptian magicians searched everyone who left the land of Egypt, to see if he was taking with him any books of magic, in order that the magical arts might not come into other countries." If Jesus then was able to bring Egyptian magic out of Egypt, he could only have done so by means of a stratagem. And what did he do? He made "an incision in his flesh"; in other words, he inserted in his flesh the Egyptian magic formulas.


Two questions have to be answered here: (1) What is handed down to us in the Talmud about Jesus' teaching? And (2) What charges does the Talmud bring against Jesus' teaching?

To consider the second of these questions first, there are three charges brought against Jesus' teachings in the Talmud. First, in Shabbath 104b, Jesus is called a fool, as we have seen. This designation was given to Jesus partly on account of his claim that he was the Son of God, or God Himself. This appears from Jerusalem Taanith 65b, where in reference to Numbers 23:19 it is said:

Rabbi Abbahu has said, If a man says to you, "I am God", he lies. If he says, "I am the Son of Man", he shall rue it. If he says, "I ascend to heaven," then this should apply to him, "He has said it and will not be able to do it."
This passage alludes to Jesus too clearly to need a word of proof.

The same testimony which Jesus spoke of himself is also mentioned in the following passage from Pesikta Rabbati (fol. 100f):

Rabbi Chia bar Abba said, "If the son of the whore says to you, There are two Gods, answer him, I am He of the sea, I am He of Sinai." That is to say, at the Red Sea God appeared to Israel as a youthful warrior; at Sinai He appeared as an old man, as becomes a lawgiver; but they are both one. Rabbi Chia bar Abba said, "If the son of the whore says to you, There are two Gods, answer him, It is here (Deut. 5.4) written not Gods but the Lord has spoken with you face to face."
That God has a son, and that for this reason there might be two Gods, passes here for the teaching of the whore's son, wherein the reference is clear.

Secondly, the Talmud asserts that Jesus was an idolator. Accordingly we read in the tractate which makes the most mention of Jesus, Sanhedrin 103a, the following:

'Neither shall any plague come nigh your tent' (Psalm 91:10); in other words, you hsall have no son or disciple who burns his food publicly, like Jesus the Nazarene."
We may compare this with Berakoth 17b:
'In our streets[let there be no breaking]'(Psalm 144:14), in other words, that we may have no son or disciple, who burns his food publicly, as did Jesus the Nazarene."
As to what the expression, "burns his food", there is no complete consensus of opinion. Some assert it means one who commits apostasy. Others suggest it means "to lead a bad life", or to act contrary to one's teaching. (This latter explanation cannot be correct, since it has never been asserted that Jesus taught aright, yet his life was contrary to his teachings.) But the simple fact is that Jesus introduced (or re-emphasized) a doctrine which was not the doctrine of the Pharisees. And this was made a reproach against him. It is more likely then that the first suggestion, that "burns his food" refers to apostasy, may be the correct one. For it may well be a contemptuous remark alluding to the public offering of a sacrifice to idols.

Idolatry is the highest degree of falling away from God. The Talmudic view of Jesus as having fallen away from God and of the apostasy of his teaching is commonly expressed. Thus, we have in Sanhedrin 43a and 107b, "Jesus practiced sorcery, and corrupted and seduced Israel." In what direction did he corrupt and seduce them? In that of falling away from the true God and His Law to a false doctrine and idolatry. And indeed he did it with great success, for his adherents were not just a few, but many, since it is said, "He seduced Israel."

Finally, that Jesus was a seducer is further expressed by the title Balaam, by which in several passages we are to understand Jesus. Balaam ("devourer of the people", or "destroyer of the people"), has gained a reputation as the one who attempted to lead Israel into idolatry. He has therefore become the symbol of those whose aim is the spiritual or physical destruction of Israel. And what would be more natural, to unbelieving eyes, than that Jesus, also, should be given this for a nickname, since he is seen as an enemy of Israel? And so he became, for some, the representation of a Balaam par excellence.

But it is necessary now to show that there really are in the Talmud passages in which Balaam denotes Jesus. We commence with Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.2:

Three kings and four private persons have no portion in the world to come. Three kings, namely, Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manasseh. Rabbi Judah says, "Manasseh has a portion, for it is said, 'And he prayed unto Him, and He was entreated of him, and He heard his supplication, and He brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom.' (II Chron. 33:13)." (But someone objected, He brought him again into his kingdom, but He did not bring him again into the life of the future world.) And four private persons, namely Balaam, Doeg, Ahithophel, and Gehazi.
This passage belongs to the celebrated portion named after its opening word, Chelek ("part", or "share") which, having first remarked that all Israel will have a share in the world to come, then specifies the exceptions. First three kings are named. The great sin common to all of them is that they made the children of Israel to sin, by leading them astray into terrible idolatry. It can be assumed, therefore, that the immediate addition of the four private names suggests that their cases, too, have to do with a similar sin. And indeed we would expect at the head of this list to be Jesus. And this is especially so since the chapter in Chelek has already noted in a preceding paragraph that Jewish-Christians have no part in the world to come. "Rabbi Akiva says, He also has no part in the world to come, who reads external books, and who whispers over a wound and says, 'I will lay upon you no sickness, which I have laid upon Egypt, for I am the Lord am your healer.' " The "external books" would have included the books of the Jewish-Christians; and the words "whisper over a wound" might well refer to the cures of the Jewish-Christians in the name of Jesus.

Therefore it is surprising, in a spot where we would expect to find a mention of Jesus, to find instead the name of the non-Israelite Balaam; and all the more so since this chapter has dealt only with Israelites. (Doeg can at least in a certain sense be included among the Israelites.) Balaam's name is introduced then as the sole non-Israelite to be discussed in the passage, and this at the head of the list of private persons. So the following conclusion suggests itself: Jesus is not mentioned, and yet is not likely to be absent. Since the Balaam of history, as a non-Israelite, cannot be intended, we are then to understand that the name Balaam is used to represent another; and this other one must have committed a like sin to all the rest in the list. And since in this sense Jesus was considered to the fullest extent a Balaam, it seems more than likely that the name Balaam here is intended to mean Jesus, the one who is charged with having misled Israel and led her astray.

But now there is another surprise, in that the remaining three private names are those of persons who did not commit the sin of leading Israel astray into false worship. These committed other sins. And yet, of all those of Israel, many of whom may be said to have committed worse sins, are these the only three listed as being denied a place in the world to come? Or can it be that these, too, are only names used to represent others--others whose sins were, in fact, that they "led Israel astray", but whose real names could not be used for fear of the censorship? (And thus some scholars have asserted that the names of the apostles should be inserted here.)

Having discovered that the name of Balaam may, in fact, be used as a substitute for Jesus in some passages, it is not hard to find evidence for such use in yet another passage. (And this passage will shed more light on the preceding one.)

The disciples of our father Abraham enjoy this world and inherit the world to come. . . [but] the disciples of Balaam the impious inherit Gehenna, and go down into the pit of destruction, as it is written, (Psalm 55:24), "But you, O God, shall bring them down into the pit of destruction; bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." (Mishnah Avot 5.19)
This passage deals, as we see, with the division of the Jews into two camps, and with and absolute split between the two, parting into heaven and hell. Abraham's disciples are the pious, who after death come into paradise; Balaam's disciples, on the other hand, enter into Gehenna instead.

Who is Balaam in this passage? It is unlikely that the historical Balaam is thought of here. Or might we venture to say that Jesus is one of the disciples of Balaam, and say that he is included among these? But that would require a moderation of the hatred felt against Jesus sufficient to place him only on the same level as all the other reprobates. If we further take notice of the fact that in Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.2 Balaam (i.e., Jesus) is listed specifically as one of those who is to forfeit the future life, it becomes more than likely that in this chapter (Mishnah Avot 5.19) Balaam, the father and teacher of those who go astray, is also none other than Jesus. And as for the scripture referring to the deceitful men who do not live out half their days, we find that this leads us to yet another Balaam passage.

A Min (Jewish-Christian) said to Rabbi Chanina, "Have you by any chance learned what age Balaam was?" He answered, "There is nothing written concerning it. But since it is said, 'Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days' , he was either thirty-three or thirty-four years old." The Jewish-Christian answered, "You have spoken well; for I myself have seen a chronicle of Balaam, in which it is said, 'Balaam the lame man was thirty-three years old when Phinehas the robber slew him.'" (Sanhedrin 106b)
The "chronicle of Balaam" which the Jewish-Christian knew was likely simply the New Testament. That the Phinehas mentioned here cannot have been the same as the Phinehas mentioned in Numbers 25:2ff is clear from the epithet "the robber". Most probably what the Jewish-Christian said was something like, "Jesus was thirty-three years old when Pontius Pilate slew him." Pontius Pilate was also not forgotten by the Jews--as the Targum Sheni on the book of Esther shows. (And it natural that he should be remembered as a "robber".) Since Jesus was to be called Balaam, it was easily follow then to call the one who slew him Phinehas (Numbers 31:8); and indeed all the more so, as this name has a similar sound to Pontius.

As regards "the lame man", it is possible that this derives from the story about Jesus making an incision on his flesh (and according to a later development of the legend, he fell to the ground from a great height after losing a magic charm). [In addition, there was a Jewish tradition, derived from a fanciful interpretation two texts--Numbers 23:3 and 24:15, that Balaam was lame and blind in one eye. See Sanhedrin 105a.] Thus these elements of legend may have been combined here.

Finally, in a further Balaam passage, there is yet another instance of the historical Balaam being used to represent Jesus:

Resh Lakish has said, Woe to him who recalls himself to life by the Name of God (Sanhedrin 106a)
This comment is made in reference to Numbers 24:23, "Alas, who shall live when God does this?". The statemtent points to Jesus too obviously for a proof to be needed. For of whom would it ever have been said, that he had recalled himself to life? Rashi explains, "Balaam, who recalled himself to life by the Name of God, made himself thereby to be God." Rashi, of course, did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but was describing the beliefs of the Christians.

Now we may turn from the charges which the Talmud makes against Jesus--charges of sorcery, folly, and seduction of the people--to the answer of the second question, what teachings of Jesus does the Talmud purport to relate? Two sentences are handed down as expressly the sayings of Jesus. In Avodah Zarah 16b,17a, we have the following:

The rabbis have taught: When Rabbi Eleazor was about to be imprisoned on account of heresy [i.e., on being suspected of being a Christian], he was brought to the [Roman] court to be tried. The judge said to him, "Does a man of your age busy yourself with such things?" He answered, "The Judge is just towards me." The judge thought that Eleazor was speaking of him; but he thought upon his Father in heaven. Then the judge said to him, "Since you think I am just, then you are acquitted."

Now when Eleazor came home his disciples presented themselves to him to console him, but he would not be consoled. Then Rabbi Akiva said to him, "Permit me to tell you something of what you have taught me." He answered, "Say on." Then said Rabbi Akiva, "Perchance you have once given an ear to heresy, which pleased you, and for that account you have been arrested for heresy." Eleazor replied, "Akiva, you have reminded me! I was once walking in the upper streets of Sepphoris; there I met with one of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene, Jacob of Kfar Sechanya, who said to me, 'It is found in your Law (Duet. 23:19), Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore. . . into the house of. . . thy God. What may be done with it? May a latrine for the High Priest be built out of such gifts?' And I answered him nothing. He said to me, 'Thus has Jesus the Nazarene taught me, For the hire of a whore has she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot they shall return.' (Micah 1:7) From the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they shall go.' This explanation pleased me, and on this account I have been arrested for heresy, since I transgressed the scripture, Remove your way far from her (i.e., heresy). (Proverbs 5:8)

Here the mere fact that a teaching is said to have originated with Jesus was enough to mark it as heretical--whether it was in keeping with the Law or not. What good thing can come from Jesus?--that was Akiva's view; and even that which might appear good has a corrupting influence, because behind it there lies an apostate mind. Such fanaticism did not ask whether what was said was true or false, but only, who has said it?

[It has been noted that Rabbi Eleazor did not explicitly deny that he was a Christian. Such an answer would have satisfied the judge as much as the one he gave. Was his answer then just an evasion? In light of other similar answers which he gave later, and the fact that he was eventually excommunicated, many scholars believe that he did, in fact, at the end of his life become a Jewish-Christian.]

The second saying of Jesus which the Talmud purports to hand down is given in Shabbath 116a and b:

Imma Shalom, the wife of Rabbi Eleazor and the sister of Rabban Gamaliel II, had a neighbor who was a philosopher, who had a reputation that he would accept no bribes. They wished to make fun of him. Imma therefore sent to him a golden lamp [as a bribe]. Then she came before him. She said, "I should like to have a share in the property of my family." He said to her, "Then have your share!" But Gamaliel II said to him, "We have a law, 'Where there is a son, the daughter shall not inherit'." The judge said, "Since the day when you were driven out of your own country, the Law of Moses is repealed and there is given the gospel, in which it is said, 'Son and daughter shall inherit together'."

The next day Gamaliel II brought the judge a Libyan ass [as a bribe]. Then the judge said to him, "I have looked at the end of the gospel; for it says, 'I am not come to take away from the Law of Moses and I am not come to add to the Law of Moses.' It is written in the Law of Moses, 'Where there is a son, the daughter shall not inherit.' " Then Imma said to him, "Nevertheless, may your light shine like a lamp." But Rabban Gamaliel said, "The ass has come and overturned the lamp."

The actions of Imma and Rabban Gamaliel II seem here to be intended to remove the mask of Christian virtue from this judge; and perhaps, since Rabbi Eleazor was suspected of being sympathetic towards the teachings of the Christians, it is not too far-fetched to wonder if this may not have been done partially on his account.

It is needless to add that neither of the above sentences supposedly credited to Jesus actually occur in the gospels. While, on the other hand, a number of actual sayings of Jesus are repeated in the Talmud, although they are placed in the mouth of much later rabbis. [If this is indicative of anything, it may suggest the extent to which these sayings of Jesus were disseminated and became accepted among the common people.] It is beyond the scope of this work to consider these other instances, but a remark of Franz Delitzsch should be noted:

I believe that I can show by convincing historical proofs, that the preaching of Jesus and of primitive Christianity in its original Jewish form has been a power through. . .which a stream of brightness (as it were) has diffused itself through Talmudic literature. (Leipzig, 1883)
Jesus Disciples

In at least one passage of the Talmud the disciples of Jesus are expressly spoken of:

There is a tradition: Jesus had five disciples: Mathai, Nakkai, Netzer, Bunni, Todah. Mathai was brought before the court. He said to the judges, "Is Mathai to be put to death? Yet it is written, 'Mathai ['when'] shall I come and appear before God?' (Psalm 42:3/2)" They answered him, "No, but Mathai is to be executed, for it is said, 'Mathai ['when'] shall he die and his name perish?' (Psalm 41:6/5). Nakkai was brought before the court. He said to them, "Is Nakkai to be put to death? Yet it is written, "The naki ['innocent'] and righteous you shall not slay.' (Exodus 23:7)" They replied to him, "No, but Nakkai is to be put to death; for it is written, 'In covert places does he put to death the naki.' (Psalm 10:8). Netzer was brought. He said to them, "Is Netzer to be put to death? Yet it is written, 'A netzer [branch] shall spring up out of his roots.' (Isaiah 11:1)" They answered him, "Netzer is to be put to death; for it is said, 'You are cast forth from your sepulchre, like an abominable netzer.' (Isaiah 4:19)" Bunni was brought. He said, "Is Bunni to be put to death? Yet it is written, "Israel is b'ni ['My son'], my firstborn.' (Exodus 4:22)" They answered him, "No, but Buni is to be put to death, for it is written, "Behold, I will slay Binkha ['your son']' (Exodus 4:23)" Todah was brought. He said to them, "Is Todah to be put to death? Yet it is written, 'A Psalm for todah ['thanksgiving']' (Psalm 101, heading)" They answered him, "No, but Todah is to be put to death, for it is written, 'Whoso offers todah honors me'. (Psalm 1:23)" (Sanhedrin 43a)
Most likely this passage is only a parody based on the five names, and not a record of an actual event. In that sense the narrative is unlikely on its face. However, it may reflect some historical basis. For example, the name Mathai probably recalls Matthew; Todah, Thaddeus. Nakkai or Bunni might recall Nicodemus, who was prominent enough to be remembered. [There is a Nicodemus mentioned in the Talmud as living during the Second Temple period, who also had the name Bunni.] Netzer might be a reference to Nazarene. But nothing more is said about any of these; and whether any or all of them were later executed is uncertain.

Elsewhere the Talmud speaks of other, later followers of Jesus, and their ability to work miracles:

It happened that Rabbi Eleazor ben Dama was bitten by a serpent. Then came Jacob of Kfar Sama, to heal him in the name of Yeshu Pandera. But Rabbi Ishamel would not allow it. Eleazor said to him, I will bring you a proof, that he may heal me. But he had no more time to utter the proof, for he died. Rabbi Ishamel said to him, Blessed art thou, Ben Dama, that you departed in peace from the world, and did not break through the fence of the sages, since it is written, "And whoso breaks through a fence, a serpent shall bite him." (Ecclesiastes 10:8). The serpent only bit him now so that one will not bite him in the future, in the world to come. (Shabbath 14.14d, Jerusalem Talmud)
This is apparently the same Jacob whom we have earlier encountered in connection with another Rabbi Eleazor, who was accused of heresy. The horror which Rabbi Ishmael had of even a miraculous cure, if it was effected in the name of Jesus, is shown by his stern resolve that this Rabbi Eleazor (who was, in fact, his own nephew) should die rather than that he should permit himself to be cured in the name of Jesus. Ben Dama would have seemed to him defiled forever, if he had been cured through the name of Jesus; and especially so if, induced by this cure, he had given his heart to this Jesus.

(But once again, let us note that this confirms the power of the followers of Jesus to heal in the name of Jesus; and we must also say, that here is a convincing proof of the truth of the miracles, as it comes even from the mouths of Jesus' enemies. Truly the name of Jesus is not an empty word, but represents a heavenly Power, whose existence his enemies cannot wholly get rid of by denial.)



If the Talmud has romanced events anywhere, it has done so here. According to the law, no one could be condemned without witnesses. In the case of one who attempts to lead others into idolatry, the Mishnah asserts, and the Gemara (commentary) repeats it, that the court obtains for itself the testimony of witnesses if need be in a crafty manner:

In the case of all transgressors who are worthy of death according to the Torah, no witnesses are placed in concealment except in the case of the sin of leading astray to idolatry. If the enticer has made his enticing speech to two, then these are the witnesses against him, and they lead him from the court and he is stoned. But if he shall have not spoken before two, but only to one, then the one shall say to him, "I have friends, who have a liking for that". [And so the friends shall be brought to hear, and can serve as witnesses.] But if the enticer is cunning, and wishes to say nothing before more than one, then witnesses are placed in concealment behind the wall, and the single witness says to him, "Now tell me once again what you were saying to me, for we are alone." If the enticer now repeats it, the other one says to him, "How should we forsake our heavenly Father, and go and worship wood and stone?" If the enticer is now converted [and changes his mind], well and good; but if he answers, "This is our duty; it is for our good", then those who are standing behind the wall will bring him before the court, and he is stoned. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 7.10)
The Jerusalem Talmud, which has the same passage, adds to it (Sanhedrin 7.16 (25d):
How do they treat him so as to come upon him by surprise? In this way: for. . . the enticer is made to remain in the exterior part of the house, wherin a lamp is lighted over him, in order that the witnesses may see him and distinguish his voice. Thus, for instance, they managed with the son of Stada at Lydda. Against him two disciples of learned men were placed in concealment and he was brought before the court, and stoned.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 67a) the closing words are, "And thus they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and he was hung on the eve of Passover." (And this material is repeated again in Tosephta Sanhedrin 10.11).

The above presupposes that the enticer has never uttered his seducing words publicly, not even once before two persons, but only to one individual; and that this individual, far from being enticed, has instead determined to hand over the seducer to death. Such a case is possible in itself. But neither according to the New Testament, nor (to which we here will attach more weight) according to the universal conception of the Talmud, does this tally with the case of Jesus.

According to the Talmud, he had seduced and led astray many of Israel, and this together with his sorcery formed the grounds for his being condemned to death. If the actions and words of any man were public, surely--even according to the testimony of the Talmud--that man was Jesus. That he had only wished to seduce one, and that this one was not seduced, but handed him over in a crafty manner to the court, is directly opposed to what we read both in the New Testament and the Talmud as well.

And so how did this story come about? It might be assumed that certain features of the story of Jesus were not forgotten. That he was betrayed was probably remembered. That he was betrayed in the night, likewise. And so we have the root elements of the story, although the rest of the facts would have been sunk in oblivion. And from this, then, there arose the romance about how, supposedly legally, Jesus was trapped and condemned.


And it is tradition: On the eve of the Passover Yeshu the Nazarene was hung. But the herald went forth before him for the space of forty days, while he cried, "Yeshu the Nazarene goes forth to be stoned, because he has practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and led them astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and give information concerning it." But no plea was found for him, and so he was hung on the eve of Passover. Ulla said, "But do you think that there could be anything in his favor? He was a seducer, and the All Merciful has said, 'You shall not spare him, nor conceal him.' (Deut. 13:8). " However, in Jesus' case it was different, because he was near to the kingdom. (Sanhedrin 43a).
There is no reference in the New Testament to a period of forty days before the crucifixion. But it was a custom of Christians later to fast for forty days before this date, in commemoration of it. Thus a figure of forty days may have come to figure here. Ulla was a scholar of the fourth century, who was prominent in Babylonia but made frequent visits to Palestine. It may be that by this time the blurred memory of Jesus could only reproduce the fact that he was executed at the time of Passover, and that he was "hung" (a common way to refer to crucifixion), and not stoned.

As an additional note to this we mention a passage out of the Targum Sheni to the book of Esther 7:9. Here, after having related that Haman appealed to Mordechai for mercy, but was refused, it says:

And when Haman saw that his words were not heard, he began a lamentation and weeping for himself in the middle of the palace garden. . . He said . . . "Hear me, you trees and all you plants, which I have planted since the days of the creation. The son of Hammedatha is about to ascend to the lecture room of Ben Pandera."
It is questionable whether it is Haman who is intended to be represented as inquiring of the trees, or God (who has planted all the trees since creation). But after this in the story one tree after another excuses itself for not allowing Haman to be hung upon it, till at last the cedar proposes that Haman be hung upon the gallows already prepared for Mordechai. It can be seen that "ascending to the lecture room of Ben Pandera" is to be understood as being hung upon a tree of ignominy. A gallows is now reckoned as equipment particularly associated with and adapted to Jesus; and it is all the more tragic that this phrase seems to have been placed in the mouth of God (if not Haman); Whose son Jesus was.


In Yoma 39a and b there is the account that forty years before the Temple was destroyed, the gates opened by themselves. This would be the very year of the crucifixion. The rending of the veil would not have occured without eyewitnesses, as it happened at that very hour when the priest in the sanctuary would have been busy with the incense offering, and in lighting the lamps. It is conceivable that both events happened, the rending of the veil, and that the gates also burst open; only the Evangelists, as always, recorded only the most essential part of the information (the veil), and that which was the most pertinent theologically. On the other hand it is here that the Talmud is silent about the veil, while it cannot conceal that which would have been witnessed by the multitude (the gates).


Onkelos bar Kalonikos, a nephew of Titus, desired to convert to Judaism. He conjured up the spirit of Titus and asked him, Who is esteemed in that world? And Titus answered, The Israelites. Onkelos asked further, Ought one to join oneself to them? Titus answered, Their precepts are too many; you cannot keep them. Go and make war upon them in this world, so you shall become a head, for it is said, "Their adversaries are become the head" (Lamentations 1:5). Everyone that vexes the Israelites becomes a head. Onkelos asked Titus' spirit, How are you punished? He answered, With what I appointed for myself; each day my ashes are collected and I am judged; then I am burnt and the ashes are scattered over the seven seas.

Next Onkelos conjured up the spirit of Balaam. He asked him, Who is esteemed in that world? And Balaam answered, The Israelites. Onkelos asked, Ought one to join oneself to them? And Balaam answered, Seek not their peace or their good all your days. Onkelos asked, How are you punished? And he answered, With boiling pollution.

Thereupon Onkelos conjured up the spirit of Jesus. He asked him, "Who is esteemed in that world? He answered, The Israelites. Onkelos asked, Ought one to join oneself to them? He answered, Seek their good and not their ill. He who touches them, touches the apple of God's eye. Onkelos asked, How are you punished? He answered, With boiling filth. For the Teacher has said, He who scorns the words of the sages, is punished with boiling filth. See what a distinction there is between the apostates of Israel and the heathen prophets! (Gittin 57a)

Onkelos belongs to the time of Akiva and the second revolt against Rome. Interestingly, it is Jesus who advises friendship with Israel. Yet since Jesus, who is the most hated of all hated men in history, is still to be punished, his punishment must therefore be worse than that of the two gentiles in the same story.


Two points are continually made evident in a striking way: First, the extraordinary paucity and scantiness of these accounts; and second, their impossibly fictitious character.

How great the shrinkage of memory as regards the recollections of Jesus, is seen from the fact that Akiva, the man who took a most active part in the fresh ill-treatment of Jesus' name and followers, was plainly kept in the common memory alongside Jesus, so much so that Jesus was actually taken for his contemporary.

From the nature of the origin of most of the Talmudic stories about Jesus may be understood not only the lack of resemblance in these stories to the actual history of Jesus, but also the impossibility of obtaining a uniform picture from them. Moreover this has never yet been attempted by Jewish authors, but these "precious stones" have ever been considered and cherished only for their individual elements. (That they are not precious stones, but fictions only, our investigation has sufficiently proven.)

The perception of the slender value of the Tamudic stories about Jesus must necessarily direct a Jew interested in the topic to a reading of the New Testament accounts. And we, as non-Jews, may profit by finding in these stories a confirmation of the miraculous powers of both Jesus and those who followed in his name.

May both parties be blessed as they do so.