Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Jesus in the Talmud

Under my post The Jewish Case for Christmas, there was starting to develop a thread of conversation that I didn’t feel comfortable with. One reader cast up a bunch of quotes he found on the Internet about Jesus as portrayed in the Talmud while another reader, a frequent, thoughtful, and most welcome commenter, tried to argue that the Jesus who appears there isn’t the Jesus in the New Testament. 

The first reader then came back with more scandalous Internet-gathered material at which point I felt things were getting out of hand and decided not to publish his further comments. The Internet is really a wicked invention — but there’s no escaping it, which is why I blog — allowing so much garbage to float around unedited. Nevertheless, the subject that my two readers had opened up is an interesting one, and one that I have written on before, both in my book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus and in a little interview I did for Publishers Weekly with Princeton’s Peter Schaefer. His book Jesus in the Talmud seems to be the most authoritative word on the topic. My conclusion in a nutshell:

It seems fair to say now…that the Talmud is every bit as offensive to Christians as the Gospels are to Jews.

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Daniel Mann

posted December 17, 2009 at 9:39 am

You’re right about how religious material can be offensive. For this reason, we have to prepare by reminding ourselves that there is something far more important than the question of whether or not we’re offended – the truth. (And I’m sure that even mentioning this 5-letter-word is offensive to many!) Indeed, HaShem says many offensive things, as it should be, but are we going to take offense at God? Too often, the answer is “yes!” Just read the Neviim (the Prophets)!
Taking it one step further, spiritual maturity is directly related to our willingness to receive God’s rebuke (Proverbs 1:20-32).

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Your Name

posted December 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I’d like to qualify your conclusion, David, by saying that, while there may be material in the Talmud that’s offensive to Christians, the Talmud is a “closed book” for probably 99.9% of the world’s population, whereas Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are widely known. Many Jews are strangers to the Talmud; how much moreso Christians. The negative portrayals of Jews in the Gospels have had lethal effects for two millennia, whereas no effects even remotely comparable have emanated from the Talmud. Another point I’d make in regard to any possible suggestion of moral equivalence between the Talmud and the Gospels is that the subject of Jesus is a minor issue in the Talmud, whereas the supposed stubbornness, perfidy, and downright evil of “the Jews” is a major theme of the Gospels.

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posted December 18, 2009 at 11:17 am

please stop perpetuating division among Gods People. we can all learn from each other and agree to disagree.

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Daniel Mann

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:47 am

The Prophet Jeremiah inveighed against the false prophets of Israel who served up a comforting but sleep-inducing message to Israel. Although it soothed, in the long run, it killed:
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 8:11-12)
This raises the question: “What do our Jewish people need to hear? What comforts or what shakes and disturbs — a painful message that restores them to their God?” You have chosen the former, while I have chosen the latter.
We also need to ask, “Why has such tragedy consistently befallen the Chosen People of God? Have they not been faithful to the Covenant with their God?”
You wouldn’t publish my last comment because I had suggested that our Jewish people must read their Prophets. Was that a terrible suggestion? Does it reflect an unwillingness to listen to God? Since you refuse to publish my comments, which derive from a heart of concern for my people, you leave me little recourse but to move on.

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David Klinghoffer

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:51 am

Daniel Mann, if I recall correctly, I didn’t publish your last comment because it wasn’t your own thoughts but simply material you had garnered elsewhere from the web and copied and pasted. Forgive me if I misremember.

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Daniel Mann

posted December 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Thanks David,
Evidently, there was a misunderstanding.

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E. Lee Handley

posted December 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

As a Christian and at age 81, I remember that the Jews are God’s chosen people and that the Lord that I love and serve was/is one of them.

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posted December 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Daniel asks a good question:
“Why has such tragedy consistently befallen the Chosen People of God? Have they not been faithful to the Covenant with their God?”
I’m currently reading Nach line by line and I think the answer is given in Judges quite clearly: Yes, sadly, we have not been faithful. Hopefully, we’ll work to improve that situation. However, the answers are all in the Torah, Jews don’t need a new book for that.

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posted December 19, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Just to clarify my original point:
In my comments, I was not arguing that the Christian Jesus is not mentioned in the Talmud. Rather, I was arguing that the identification of the various “Jesus” figures mentioned in the Talmud with the Christian Jesus is far from certain. As such, no Orthodox Jew would “attest” to the existence of [the Christian] Jesus and, all the more so, to his crucifixion.
One thing is certain. There is not one reference in the Talmud to a Jesus figure that conforms to the New Testament narrative. While some of the references are vaguely reminiscent of the Christian Jesus, every single such reference differs from the New Testament on major elements. For example, most of these references explicitly place the Jesus figure in different historical periods from the New Testament narrative. None of the references clearly place him in the correct period.
It is true that most later rabbinic commentators apparently assumed that some of these Jesus references were speaking of the Christian Jesus. The historical problems are explained as the result of Christian historical revision.
Other rabbinical authorities disagreed, arguing that none of these figures can be identified with the Christian Jesus.
An excellent summary of the different traditional opinions on this matter can be found in an appendix to the Hebrew work, ????? ???? ????????? (“False Messiahs and their Opponents”), by R’ Binyomin Hamburger.
Hyam Maccobee’s book, “Judaism on Trial”, has a brief discussion of the topic on pages 26-30. The earlier quote of this work by a previous commenter was deceptive in its lack of context. Maccoby’s opinion is that there are, at most, two short passage in the Talmud that strongly appear to refer to the Christian Jesus. Even these are debatable.

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Your Name

posted December 19, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I agree with Melaina, who writes, “please stop perpetuating division among Gods People. we can all learn from each other and agree to disagree.”
The Bible even predicts that some will learning from others… See Zechariah 8:23.

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