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Jesus in the Talmud

(Before you continue, I recommend that you read this article in its proper context - the wicked persecution of the Jews by the Church. For a grip on this read the article - The Rabbis hit back!)

In terms of his teachings, Jesus was called a fool in the Talmud, as a result of his claim of being the Son of God. The Talmud also asserts that Jesus was an idolator particularly in the section that makes the most mention of Jesus, Sanhedrin 103a. Here is an example:

"'Neither shall any plague come nigh your tent' (Psalm 91:10); in other words, you shall have no son or disciple who burns his food publicly, like Jesus the Nazarene."

The expression "burns his food" refers to apostasy, probably a contemptuous remark alluding to the public offering of a sacrifice to idols.

Elsewhere it is declared "Jesus practiced sorcery, and corrupted and seduced Israel." And Sanhedrin 107b elaborates on this by reciting a story of how another rabbi was reciting the Shema and Jesus approached him. The rabbi beckoned him but Jesus misread this intention and walked away and worshipped an idol. The rabbi called out to him but Jesus responded with false teaching. The conclusion of this story is that "Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and led astray and deceived Israel".

Although the Talmud did not deny the crucifixion as a historical fact, the reasons for it have been altered.

"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".

They would have liked to have stoned him for his alleged blasphemy but the fact is that they didn't, the Romans had rendered them powerless. This is why Jesus was crucified, it was a Roman punishment.

This passage in the Talmud goes on to talk about Jesus' disciples. It makes interesting and baffling reading.

"Our Rabbis have taught, Jesus had five disciples -- Matthai, Nekai, Netzer, Buni, and Thodah. They brought Matthai [before the judges]. He said, "Must Matthai be killed? For it is written (Psalm 42:2), 'Mathai [i.e., "when"] shall [I] come and appear before God.'" They said to him, "Yes, Matthai must be killed, for it is written (Psalm 41:5), 'Mathai [i.e., "when"] shall [he] die and his name perish.'" They brought Nekai. He said to them, "Must Nekai be killed? For it is written (Exodus 23:7), 'The Naki [i.e., "innocent"] and the righteous you shall not slay.'" They said to him, "Yes, Nekai must be killed, for it is written (Psalm 10:8), 'In secret places does he slay Naki [i.e., "the innocent"].'" They brought Netzer. He said, "Must Netzer be killed? For it is written (Isaiah 11:1), 'Netzer [i.e., "a branch"] shall spring up from his roots.'" They said to him, "Yes, Nezter must be killed. For it is written (Isaiah 14:19), 'You are cast forth out of your grave like an abominable Netzer [i.e., "branch"].'" They brought Buni. He said to them, "Must Buni be killed? For it is written (Exodus 4:22), 'Bni [i.e., "my son"], my firstborn, Israel.'" They said to him, "Yes, Buni must be killed. For it is written (Exodus 4:23), 'Behold, I slay Bincha [i.e., "your son"], your first born.'" They brought Thodah. He said to them, "Must Thodah be killed? For it is written (Psalm 100:1), 'A Psalm for Thodah [i.e., "thanksgiving"].'" They said to him, "Yes, Thodah must be killed, for it is written (Psalm 1:23), 'Whoever sacrifices Thodah [i.e., "thanksgiving"] honors me.'"

Each so-called disciple has his character assassinated before actual execution. There is nothing here that smacks of any historical truth, whether through the Gospels or Christian tradition.

Yet, in other places there are vague and grudging references to Jesus and his legacy if you dig deep enough. Here's an interesting passage.

"The grandson [of R. Yehoshua ben Levi] had something stuck in his throat. There came a man and whispered to him in the name of Yeshu Pandera, and he recovered. When he [the doctor] came out, he [R. Yehoshua] said to him, "What did you whisper to him?" He said to him, "A certain word." He said, "it had been better for him that he had died than thus." And it happened to him, "as it were an error that proceeded from the ruler" (Ecc. 10:5)."

So an acknowledged Christian healing in the name of Jesus, in the Talmud. The balance is redressed when we see the astonishing attack on the trinity in this extract from the Midrash.

"R. Shmuel bar Nachman, in the name of R. Jonathan, said, When Moses was writing the Torah, he wrote the deeds of each day [of creation]. When he came to this verse [Gen. 1:26], "And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness", he said, "Lord of the World, how you are giving a chance to the Minim! I am astonished!" He said to him, "Write; and he who will err, let him err!."

It's almost in the form of a joke and is an acknowledgement by the Rabbis of the plurality in Genesis 1:26, that implies the trinity. Another attack is seen here, in a commentary on Daniel 3, the story of the three men cast into the furnace. It's an apologetic for the fact that Nebuchadnezzar uses the embarrassing (for them) phrase "Son of God".

[Dan 3:25] "Like of son of God." Reuben said, In that hour, an angel descended and struck that wicked one [Nebuchadnezzar] upon his mouth, and said to him, Amend your words. Has He a son? He turned and said [verse 28] "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who -- it is not written, 'has sent his son', but -- has sent his angel, and has delivered his servants who trusted in him."

Now let's put all this into context. The Talmud, when it was written from the 4th century onwards, was full of less than complementary references to Jesus. It was just about the only way the Jewish scholars and sages could fight back against the ominous rise of a Christianity that seemed hell-bent in wiping out the Jewish nation from the face of the Earth. If they couldn't fight back in the traditional sense, then at least they could do their utmost in ensuring that current and future generations of Jews would be persuaded against joining the enemy. By making Jesus seem such an unsavoury character, they probably largely succeeded.

Steve Maltz
January 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Jesus Man of Many Names)

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