Is Jesus mentioned in the Talmud?
In a recent article, Justin made the following comment:
i noted some of the more famous references to Jesus in the post. For example, the babylonian talmud contains Jewish writings. In a reference to Jesus, they have put the following around 70AD:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”
The Talmud was written by Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and therefore they were not his biggest fans. But what does the passage mean by saying that Jesus “was hanged”? Doesn’t the New Testament say he was crucified? Indeed it does. But the term “hanged” can function as a synonym for “crucified.” For instance, Galatians 3:13 It supports the NT claim that Jesus was crucified on the eve of passover (as metaphorical “passover” sacrifice for the people)
The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy! Since this accusation comes from a rather hostile source, we should not be too surprised if Jesus is described somewhat differently than in the New Testament. But if we make allowances for this, what might such charges imply about Jesus?
Such a charge actually tends to confirm the New Testament claim that Jesus performed miraculous feats. Apparently Jesus’ miracles were too well attested to deny. The only alternative was to ascribe them to sorcery (as the Jews often did).
The extra-biblical accounts of Jesus from Josephus and Tacitus are well known, but I had never heard of the source that Justin is quoting. Is Jesus actually referenced in the Jewish Talmud?? This got me intrigued. Especially the reference to a herald who announced Yeshu’s hanging for 40 days BEFORE his execution. I would love to read this stuff in some kind of context.
After searching through several apologetics sites which use the same passage, I found that most of them derive from a passage in Gary Habermas’ ‘The Historical Jesus’ page 202-203. No, I don’t have that book, so I’ll have to pick it up at the library next time I’m there.
The come-and-hear site referenced by Justin has a search engine where you can search the entire Babylonian Talmud. I could not find a single reference to Yeshu, Yeshua, Yehosua, any other variation that I could think of. I drew solid blanks after a solid hour of searching. But I also found that the reference to Yeshu is most likely located in an appendix or supplemental material to the Talmud.
This reference from a Catholic study group site, says that this reference to Yeshu does not come from the Babylonian Talmud, but rather from documents called the Baraitha and Tosefta, which are appendices or suppliments to the Talmud. What I also found is that these appendices to the Talmud also contain further references to Yeshu.
I would love to be able to get the disputed passages directly from the Tosefta, but the only source I could find is here, which is worthless unless you read Hebrew.
In the meantime, here are a few more references to ‘Yeshu’ taken from the Baraitha and Tosefta that are not mentioned in any of the apologetic sites. It should be obvious why:
- It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu…because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. (Baraitha BT Sanhedrin 43a)
- Our rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples –Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni and Todah. (Ibid.)
- It happened with Rabbi Elazar ben Damah, whom a serpent bit, that Jacob, a man of Kefar Soma, came to heal him in the name of Jeshua ben Pantera; but Rabbi Ishmael did not let him. He said, “You are not permitted, Ben Damah.’ He answered, “I will bring you proof that he may heal me.” But he had no opportunity to bring proof, for he died. (Tosefta Hullin 2.22,23)
- Once, I was walking on the upper street of Sephoris and found one of the disciples of Yeshu the Nazarene, by the name of Jacob, a man of Kefar Sechanaya. He said to me, “It is written in your Torah: “Thou shalt not hire a harlot, etc.” How about making with it a privy for the high priest?” But I did not answer him at all. He told me. Thus did Yeshu the Nazarene teach me: ‘For the hire of a harlot has she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return,” from the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they shall go.” And the utterance pleased me..” (Tosefta Hullin 2.24)
So, these appear to me to be, not only ambiguous concerning our Jesus of the Bible, but also contradictory to our Jesus tradition – especially 2 and 3. There are later Jewish traditions and stories (particularly The Toledoth Jeschu, or Generations of Jesus which I just re-read last night), which describe his hanging and his illegitimate father named Pandara, and they may derive from these sources. At any rate, I wonder if this additional material is included in Habermas?
Baraita, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia:
Whatever may have been the original meaning of the word “Baraita,” it is certain that in the Babylonian Talmud it designates the most varied kinds of tannaite traditions not contained in the Mishnah…
Tosefta, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia:
The work known by the name “Tosefta” consists of a collection of such elucidated maxims, giving the traditional sayings in a remarkably complete form, whereas the Mishnah gives them in a condensed form only.
The Tosefta, or supplemental material, according to most sources that I could find including the Jewish Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica, appears to have been collected together by about 200AD – long after the canonical New Testament material had been written.
So is Justin (and Habermas) citing a legitimate extra-biblical account of our traditional Jesus? I am no Jewish scholar, so I am just throwing out what I found after a little Googling around the Internet, but it looks a little suspect to me. The references are taken out of any context that we don’t have, and were compiled long after the New Testament was written. But hey, I could be wrong! Does anybody have any more information or insight into these sources?