The following article will briefly examine some of the Jewish rabbinic references on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The purpose in doing so is to provide extrabiblical evidence that supports the historical reliability of the New Testament in providing accurate information on the life of Christ. Hopefully, once this has been done the reader will come to appreciate the authenticity of the NT documents even more, coming away with the impression that the Jesus of biblical faith is the Jesus of history. The two are inseparable.
The Talmud is an extensive compilation of Jewish commentary and is divided into the Mishnah and Gemara. The Mishnah is viewed as covering material up to AD. 220 and is called the Tannaite period. The Gemara is the compilation of ancient commentaries on the Mishnah and covers material up to the fifth century and is called the Ammoraim period. It is also believed that the Gemara actually contains older Mishnahic statements.
The material covered within the Talmud range from issues relating to such things as legal disputes and questions known as the Halakah. The legends, anecdotes and other sayings used to illustrate the traditional laws are called the Haggadah.
There are essentially two Talmuds. The first is known as Talmud Yerushalmi or the Talmud of Jerusalem, compiled around AD 400. The Jerusalem Talmud was the last product of Palestinian rabbinic Judaism. The second, called Talmud Babli or the Talmud of Babylon, was compiled sometime during the sixth century AD.
It is not surprising to find the Talmud referring to Jesus, his mother and his disciples. In fact, some of the material coincides with the NT depiction of Jesus and the Jewish ruling council's assessment of his person and mission. The following statements are taken from the Soncino edition of the Babylon Talmud as cited in Robert A. Morey's pamphlet Jesus in the Mishnah and Talmud. We will also be using Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson's He Walked Among Us unless noted otherwise.
Before proceeding, we must point out that at one time the following Talmudic references were believed to have been lost. This is due to the fact that in the seventeenth century, Jewish rabbis took steps to expunge all references to Jesus. This act was motivated primarily by the Church's persecution of the Jews. Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson explain:
Thus, in 1631 the Jewish Assembly of Elders in Poland declared: ‘We enjoin you under the threat of the great ban to publish in no new edition of the Mishnah or the Gemara anything that refers to Jesus of Nazareth... If you will not diligently heed this letter, but run counter thereto and continue to publish our books in the same manner as heretofore, you might bring over us and yourselves still greater sufferings than in previous times.’
At first, deleted portions of words in printed Talmuds were indicated by small circles or blank spaces but, in time, these too were forbidden by the censors.
As a result of the twofold censorship the usual volumes of Rabbinic literature contain only a distorted remnant of supposed allusions to Jesus ..." (Ibid, pp. 58-59)
Dr. Robert Morey continues:
McDowell and Wilson state, on the authority of Joseph Klausner, that the phrase such-an-one "is used for Jesus in the Ammoraic period (i.e., fifth century period)." (McDowell & Wilson, p. 69)
According to the Jewish Tractate of Talmud, the Chagigah a certain person had a dream in which he saw the punishment of the damned. In the dream,
Compare this with Luke 3:23.
R. Papa said: When the Mishnah states a MESITH IS A HEDYOT, it is only in respect of hiding witnesses. For it has been taught: And for all others for whom the Torah decrees death, witnesses are not hidden, excepting for this one. How is it done? - A light is lit in an inner chamber, the witnesses are hidden in an outer one [which is in darkness], so that they can see and hear him, but he cannot see them. Then the person he wishes to seduce says to him, "Tell me privately what thou hast proposed to me"; and he does so. Then he remonstrates; "But how shall we forsake our God in Heaven, and serve idols?" If he retracts, it is well. But if he answers: "It is our duty and seemly for us," the witnesses who were listening outside bring him to Beth din, and have him stoned. ["And thus they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and they hung him on the even of Passover." Ben Stada was Ben Pandira. R. Hisda said: The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But as not the husband Pappos b. Judah? - His mother's name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of woman's hair? - As they say in Pumpbaditha, This woman has turned away (satath da) from her husband, (i.e. committed adultery).] (Morey, p. 6)
Morey quotes from the Soncino edition of the Babylonian Talmud:
Some scholars also see an allusion to the virgin birth of Christ in the term, "son of Pandira." This is due to the fact that "Pandira" seems to be a play on the Greek word for virgin, parthenos, the very term used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke when recording Jesus' virgin birth. McDowell & Wilson report:
"If 'Pantheras' were a unique name, the theory of Mary's pregnancy by the Roman soldier might be more attractive to scholars. But Adolf Deissman, the early twentieth-century German New Testament scholar, verified, by first century inscriptions, 'with absolute certainty that Panthera was not an invention of Jewish scoffers, but a widespread name among the ancients.'... Rabbi and Professor Morris Goldstein comments that it was as common as the names Wolf or Fox today. He comments further:
It is noteworthy that Origin himself is credited with the tradition that Panther was the appellation of James (Jacob), the father of Jospeh, the father of Jesus... So, too, Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus, Epiphanius the Monk, and the author of Andronicus of Constantinople's Dialogue Against the Jews, name Panther as an ancestor of Jesus...
"Jesus being called by his grandfather's name would also have agreed with a statement in the Talmud permitting this practice. Whereas Christian tradition identified Jesus by his home town, Jewish tradition, having a greater concern for genealogical identification, seems to have preferred this method of identifying Jesus. Goldstein presents more evidence to argue the case convincingly." (McDowell & Wilson, pp. 66-67)
Hence, why or how Jesus came to be called ben Pandira is an issue which scholars have not come to an agreement.
Would you believe that any defense would have been so zealously sought for him? He was a deceiver, and the All-merciful says: "You shall not spare him, neither shall you conceal him." It was different with Jesus, for he was near to the kingship. (McDowell & Wilson, p. 65)
Christian Author Michael Green quotes a rabbi named Eliezar, writing about AD 160, who writes:
"Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar said: God gave strength to his (Balaam's) voice so that it went from one end of the world to the other, because he looked forth and beheld the nations that bow down to the sun and moon and stars, and to wood and stone, and he looked forth and saw that there was a man, born of a woman, who should rise up and seek to make himself God, and to cause the whole world to go astray. Therefore God gave power to the voice of Balaam that all the peoples of the world might hear, and thus he spake: Give heed that ye go not astray after that man, for is written, 'God is not a man that he should lie.' And if he says that he is God, he is a liar; and he will deceive and say that he departed and cometh again at the end. He saith and he shall not perform. See what is written: And he took up his parable and said, 'Alas, when God doeth this.' Balaam said, Alas, who shall live - of what nation which heareth that man who hath made himself God." (Yalkut Shimeon, [Salonica] sec. 725 on wayissa mishalo [Num. 23. 7], according to Midrash Y'lamm'denue)
Another rabbi, writing a hundred years after Eliezer, states:
Our rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples - Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah. (Sanhedrin 43a)
The purpose for singling out only five of Jesus' disciples could be due to the fact that other rabbis in the Talmud such as Yohanan ben Zakkai and Akiba are also said to have five disciples. (McDowell & Wilson, p. 65)
Minuth means "heresy." The titles Minuth and Mnim were applied to Christians.
This is an admission that the name of Jesus had power to heal others and prevent them from dying.
"Though this tradition was not compiled before the fifth century A.D., it undoubtedly echoed an earlier Jewish tradition that was widespread among the Jewish circles after the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:11-15). This manuscript, despite its hostility to Christianity, is strong evidence for Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, because it is the testimony of an avenging foe." (Faris al-Qayrawani, Was Christ Really Crucified? [Light of Life, P.O. Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria, 1997], p. 48)
To summarize the Talmudic witness to Jesus, we discover that:
The Talmud essentially affirms the New Testament teaching on the life and person of Jesus Christ, God's unique Son and Savior of the world.
For more information we recommend the following books:
Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson
He Walked Among Us: Evidence For The Historical Jesus
Thomas Nelson Publishers-Nashville TN, 1993
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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