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Shabbath 104b (The passage in [ ] occurs also in Sanhedrin 67a.) "He who cuts upon his flesh." It is tradition that Rabbi Eliezer said to the sages, ‘Did not Ben Stada bring spells from Egypt in a cut which was upon his flesh?’ They said to him, ‘He was a fool, and they do not bring proof from a fool.’ [Ben Stada is Ben Pandira. Rab Hisda said, ‘The husband was Stada, the paramour was Pandira.’ The husband was Pappos ben Yehudah, the mother was Stada. The mother was Miriam the dresser of women’s hair, as we say in Pumbeditha, ‘Such a one has been false to her husband.’]
Commentary: The above passage occurs in a discussion upon the words in the Mishnah which forbid all kinds of writing to be done on the Sabbath. Several kinds are specified, and among them the making of marks upon the flesh. The words at the beginning of the translation are the text, so to speak, of the Mishnah which is discussed in what follows. To illustrate the practice of cutting the flesh, the compilers of the Gemara introduce a tradition (Baraitha, not included in the Mishnah), according to which R. Eliezer asked the question, ‘Did not Ben Stada bring magical spells from Egypt in an incision in his flesh?’ His argument was that as Ben Stada had done this, the practice might have been allowable. The answer was that Ben Stada was a fool, and his case proved nothing. Upon the mention of Ben Stada, however, a note is added to explain who that person was, and it is for the sake of this note that the passage is included here. First I will somewhat expand the translation, which I have made as bald and literal as I could. (In all the translations which I shall give, I shall make no attempt to write elegant English; I wish to keep as closely as possible to a word for word rendering, so that the reader who does not understand the original text may have some idea of what it is like, and what it really says. A flowing translation often becomes a mere paraphrase, and sometimes seriously misrepresents the original.)

Ben Stada, says the Gemara, is the same as Ben Pandira. Was he the son of two fathers? No. Stada was the name of the husband (of his mother), Pandira the name of her paramour. This is the opinion of Rab Hisda, a Babylonian teacher of the third century (A.D. 217-309). But that cannot be true, says the Gemara, because the husband is known to have been called Pappus ben Yehudah. Stada must have been not the father but the mother. But how can that be, because the mother was called Miriam the dresser of women’s hair. Miriam was her proper name, concludes the Gemara, and Stada a nickname, as people say in Pumbeditha, "Stath da", or "she has gone aside", from her husband.

The two names, Ben Stada and Ben Pandira, evidently refer to the same person, and that that person is Jesus is shown clearly by the fact that we sometimes meet with the full name, "Yeshu ben Pandira"-- thus, in Tosefta Hull. ii 23, "in the name of Yeshu ben Pandira"; and also the fact that "Yeshu" is sometimes found as a variant of "Ben Stada" in parallel passages--thus Sanhedrin 43a says, "On the eve of Pesach (Passover) they hung Yeshu," while in the same tractate, p. 67a, it is said, "Thus did they do to Ben Stada in Lud, they hung him on the eve of Pesach. Ben Stada is Ben Pandira," etc. Then follows the same note of explanation as in the passage from Shabbath which we are studying. (See below).

There can be no reasonable doubt that the "Yeshu" who is variously called Ben Stada and Ben Pandira is the historical Jesus. It is true that the name Joshua, though not common, was the name of others besides Jesus of Nazareth. It is also true that the commentators on the Talmud try to prove that another Jesus is referred to, who is described in various passages as having been contemporary with R. Yehoshua ben Perahyah, during the first century B.C. These passages will be dealt with later. But when it is said, as in the passage referred to above (T. Hull. ii 23), and elsewhere, that certain persons professed to be able to heal the sick in the name of "Yeshu ben Pandira", it is impossible to doubt that the reference is to Jesus of Nazareth.

Various conjectures have been made in explanation of the epithets Ben Stada and Ben Pandira. In regard to the first, the explanation of the Gemara that Stada is a contraction of "Stath da" is certainly not the original one, for it is given as a common phrase in use in Pumbeditha, a Babylonian town where there was a famous Rabbinical College. But the epithet Ben Stada in reference to Jesus was well known in Palestine, and that too at a much earlier date than the time of R. Hisda. This is shown by the remark of R. Eliezer, who lived at the end of the first century and on into the second. The derivation from "Stath da" would be possible in Palestine no less than in Babylonia; but it does not seem to have been suggested in the former country, and can indeed hardly be anything more than a mere guess at the meaning of a word whose original significance was no longer known.

(One thesis which might be considered is that Ben Stada originally denoted "that Egyptian" [Acts 21:38; Josephus, Ant. XX 8,6; Wars, ii 13,5] who gave himself out as a prophet, led a crowd of followers to the Mount of Olives, and was routed there by the Procurator Felix. This man is called a sorcerer; at least, he promised that the walls of Jerusalem should fall at his approach. Now, R. Eliezer said of Ben Stada that he brought magical spells from Egypt; and the Rabbis, to whom he made this remark, replied that "Ben Stada was a fool." This verdict is more appropriate to the Jewish-Egyptian imposter than to the much more dangerous Yeshu ha-Notzri. In later times the two might easily be confused together. If there is anything in this suggestion, the name Stada, the pronunciation of which is guaranteed by the explanation "Stath da", might have some connection with the Greek anastatos, "seditious", or at least with some cognate form the root "sta". It should be noted that R. Eliezer does not say that Ben Stada was put to death in Lud, and that according to Josephus the Egyptian himself escaped. The execution of Ben Stada at Lud is the result of identifying Ben Stada with Yeshu ha-Notzri.)

Of the term Ben Pandira also explanations have been suggested, which are far from being satisfactory. Pandira (also written Pandera, or Pantira, or Pantiri) may represent "penteros", meaning son-in-law; but surely there is nothing distinctive in such an epithet to account for its being specially applied to Jesus. The name Pandira may also represent "panther" (or less probably "panthera", the final "a" being the Aramaic article, not the Greek feminine ending); but what reason there is for calling Jesus the son of the Panther is not clear to me. Again, Pandira may represent "parthenos" ("virgin"), and the obvious appropriateness of a name indicating the alleged birth of Jesus from a virgin might make us overlook the improbability that the form "parthenos" should be hebraized into the form Pandira, when the Greek word could have been reproduced almost unchanged in a Hebrew form. It is not clear, moreover, why a Greek word should have been chosen as an epithet for Jesus. [But see Dalman on this subject--ed.] I cannot satisfy myself that any of the suggested explanations solve the problem; and being unable to propose any other, I leave the two names Ben Stada and Ben Pandira as relics of ancient Jewish mockery against Jesus, the clue to whose meaning is now lost.

Pappos ben Yehudah, whom the Gemara alleges to have been the husband of the mother of Jesus, is the name of a man who lived a century after Jesus, and who is said to have been so suspicious of his wife that he locked her into the house whenever he went out (Gittin 90a). He was contemporary with, and a friend of, Rabbi Akiva; and one of the two conflicting opinions concerning the epoch of Jesus places him also in the time of Akiva. Probably this mistaken opinion, together with the tradition that Pappos ben Yehudah was jealous of his wife, account for the mixing up of the name with the story of the parentage of Jesus.

The name Miriam is the only one which tradition correctly preserved. And the curious remark that she was a dresser of women’s hair conceals another reminiscence of the gospel story. For the words in the Talmud are "Miriam m’gaddela nashaia". The second word is plainly based on the name "Magdala"; and though, of course, Mfary Magdalene was not the mother of Jesus, her name might easily be confused with that of the other Mary.

The passage in the Gemara which we are examining shows plainly enough that only a very dim and confused notion existed as to the parentage of Jesus in the time when the tradition was recorded. It rests, however, on some knowledge possessed at one time of the story related in the gospels. That story undoubtedly lays itself open to the coarse interpretation put upon it by enemies of Jesus, namely, that he was born out of wedlock. The Talmud knows that his mother was called Miriam, and knows also that Miriam of Magdala had some connection with the story of his life. Beyond that it knows nothing, not even the meaning of the names by which it refers to Jesus. The passge in the Talmud under examination cannot be earlier than the beginning of the fourth century, and is moreover a report of what was said in Babylonia, not Palestine.


Hagigah 4b. When Rab Joseph came to this verse (Exodus 23:17) he wept, ‘There is that which is destroyed without justice’ (Proverbs 13:23). He said, Is there any who has departed before his time? None but this [said] of Rab Bibi bar Abaji. The Angel of Death was with him. The Angel said to his messenger, ‘Go, bring me Miriam the dresser of women’s hair.’ He bourght them Miriam the teacher of children. He [the Angel] said, ‘I told you Miriam the dresser of women’s hair.’ He said, ‘If so, I will take this one back.’ He [the Angel] said, ‘Since you have brought this one, let her be among the number [of the dead].’

Tosafoth--"The Angel of Death was with him: he related what had already happened, for this about Miriam the dresser of women’s hair took place in [the time of] the Second Temple, for she was the mother of a certain person, as it is said in Shabbath 104."

Commentary: This passage, like the preceding one, is centuries later than the time of Jesus. R. Bibi bar Abaji, as also R. Joseph, belonged to the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century, and both lived in Babylonia. R. Joseph was head of the College at Pumbeditha, in which office Abaji, the father of Bibi, succeeded him. As the story is told it involves a monstrous anachronism, which is noted by the authors of the Tosafoth (medieval commentators on the Talmud). The compilers of the Gemara can scarcely have believed that Miriam, the dresser of women’s hair, was still living in the time of R. Joseph and R. Bibi; for, as the preceding passage shows, she was thought to have been the mother of Jesus. So far as I know, this is the only reference to the Miriam in question which brings down her life to so late a date; and, if we do not accept the explanation of the Tosafoth, that the Angel of Death told R. Bibi what happened long ago, we may suppose that what is described is a dream of the rabbis. Of the Miriam who, according to the story, was cut off by death before her time, nothing is known. The passage merely shows that the name of Miriam, the dresser of women’s hair, was known in the Babylonian schools at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century. The incident of the fate of the two Miriams is merely brought to illustrate the text that "some are cut off without justice".

There is, in Jerusalem Hagigah 77d, a reference to a certain Miriam the daughter of ‘Eli, whom, on account of the name (compare Luke 3:23), one might be tempted to connect with the story of Jesus; but there seems to be no suspicion on the part of the Talmud of any such connection, and what is told about her does not seem to be to point in that direction.


Mishnah Yevamot 4.13 [Yevamot 49b, same words] Rabbi Shimon ben Azai said, ‘I have found a roll of pedigrees in Jerusalem, and therin is written, A certain person is of spurious birth; to confirm the words of Rabbi Yehoshua.’
Commentary: This passage is from the Mishnah, and therefore belongs to the older stratum of the Talmud. R. Shimon ben Azai was the contemporary and friend of Akiva, about the end of the first and the beginning of the second century. They were both disciples of R. Yeshoshua ben Hananiah (Taanith 26a). R. Yehoshua, in his early life, had been a singer in the Temple (Erachin 11b), and his teacher, R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, was old enough to have seen and remembered Jesus. (It has been suggested that the John mentioned in Acts 4:6 is the same as Yohanan ben Zakkai; but there is no evidence for this identification except the similarity of the name. Since ben Zakkai was a Pharisee, it is not on the face of it probable that he should be "of the kindred of the High Priest".)

The rabbis mentioned here were among the leading men of their time, and on that account must have been much concerned with the questions arising out of the growth of Christianity. R. Yehoshua is expressly mentioned as having been one of the chief defenders of Israel against the Minim; and, whatever may be the precise significance of that term, it will be shown subsequently that it includes Christians, though it may possibly include others also. R. Akiva also is said to have been a particularly zealous opponent of the Christians. Indeed, according to one of the two conflicting opinions represented in the Talmud, Jesus was actually a contemporary of R. Akiva, an anachronism which finds its best explanation in a pronounced hostility on the part of Akiva towards the Christians. When, therefore, Shimon ben Azai reported that he had found a book of pedigrees, in which it was stated that "a certain person" ("peloni") was of spurious birth, it is certainly probable that the reference is to Jesus. Unless some well-known man were intended, there would be no point in referring to him; and unless there had been some strong reason for avoiding his name, the name would have been given in order to strengthen the argument founded upon the case. For it is said that Shimon ben Azai made his statement "in order to confirm the words of R. Yehoshua". And R. Yehoshua had laid it down that a bastard is one who is condemned to a judicial death, i.e., one born of a union which was prohibited under penalty of such a death. Now Jesus undoubtedly had been condemned (though not on account of his birth) to a judicial death, as the Talmud recognizes (see below), and Shimon ben Azai brings the evidence of the book which he had discovered, to show that in the case of a notorious person the penalty of a judicial death had followed upon unlawful birth.

The alleged discovery of a book of pedigrees in Jerusalem may be historical; for the Jews were not prohibited from entering Jerusalem until the revolt of Bar Kochba had been suppressed by Hadrian, A.D. 135, and ben Azai was dead before that time. What the book was cannot now be determined. The title, Book of Pedigrees, is quite general. It is worth noting, however, that the gospel of Matthew begins with the words, "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ". It is just possible that the book to which ben Azai referred was this gospel, or a forerunner of it, or again it may have been a roll containing one or the other of the two pedigrees recorded in Matthew and Luke.


Yoma 66b They asked R. Eliezer, "What about ‘a certain person’ as regards the World to Come?" He said to them, "You have only asked me concering ‘a certain person’" . "What of the shepherd saving the sheep from the lion?" He said to them, "You have only asked me concerning the sheep." "What of saving the shepherd from the lion?" He said, "You have only asked me concerning the shepherd." "What of a mamzer, as to his inheriting?" "What of his performing the levirate duty?" "What of his founding his house?" "What of his founding his sepulchre?" [They asked these questions] not because they differed on them, but because he never said anything which he had not heard from his teacher from of old. [See a somewhat similar series of questions in Tosafoth Yevamoth iii 8,4.]
Commentary: This passage is full of obscurities. I record it here because of its reference to "peloni", i.e., "a certain person", the same phrase which occurred in the preceding extract. R. Eliezer was a very well-known teacher at the end of the first century; and later on will be given a passage which describes how he was once arrested on a charge of heresy, presumably Christianity. The words translated are a baraitha, in other words, they belong to a period contemporary with the Mishnah, though they are not included in it. Moreover, the style of the language is that of the Mishnah, not that of the Gemara. Further, a set of questions addressed to the same R. Eliezer, and including some of those translated above, is found in the Tosefta (T. Yevamot iii, 8,4). Among the questions given in the Tosefta are those about "peloni" and about the "mamzer". It is evident that the neither the authors of the Gemara nor of the Tosefta understood the full meaning of the questions. The explanation is that the questions were asked, "not because there was any difference of opinion, but because R. Eliezer never said anything which he had not heard from his teacher". The same explanation is given in reference to another set of questions addressed to R. Eliezer (Sukkah 27b,28a), and from the latter passage it appears to be Eliezer’s own declaration concerning himself. But it has no bearing on the questions and answers here, unless it be this, that as Eliezer was known to have some connection to Christianity, his questioners tried to get at his own opinion concerning Jesus, and that he fenced with the questions, not caring to answer directly, and perhaps not being able to answer on the authority of his teacher.


Sanhedrin 106a--R. Yohanan said [concerning Balaam], "In the beginning a prophet, in the end a deceiver." Rab Papa said, "This is that which they say, She was the descendant of princes and rulers, she played the harlot with carpenters."
Commentary: It will be shown subsequently that Jesus is often referred to in the Talmud under the figure of Balaam, and the words above occur in the middle of a long passage about Balaam. The passage, as it stands, is of late date; for R. Papa, who said these words, was head of the College at Sura from 354 to 374 A.D.


Sanhedrin 107b--Our Rabbis teach, Always let the left hand repel and the right hand invite, not like Elisha who repulsed Gehazi with both hands, and not like R. Yehoshua ben Perahyah, who repulsed Yeshu (the Nazarene) with both hands. . .

What of R. Yehoshua ben Perahyah? When Yannai the king killed our Rabbis, R. Yehoshua ben Perahyah [and Jesus] fled to Alexandria of Egypt. When there was peace, Shimon ben Shetach said to him, "From me [Jerusalem], the city of holiness, to you, Alexandria of Egypt [my sister]. My husband stays in your midst and I am forsaken." He [ R. Yehoshua] came, and found himself at a certain inn; they showed him great honor. He said, "How beautiful is this Ascania! ("inn", but also, "innkeeper"). Jesus said to him, "Rabbi, she has narrow eyes." He said, "Wretch, do you employ yourself thus?" He sent out four hundred trumpets and excommunicated him. He [Jesus] came before him many times and said to him, "Receive me." But he would not notice him. One day he [R. Yehoshua] was reciting the Shema, [and] he [Jesus] came before him. He was minded to receive him, and made a sign to him. He [Jesus] thought that he repelled him. He went and hung up a tile and worshipped it. He [R. Yehoshua] said to him, "Return". He replied, "Thus I have received [i.e, learned] from you, that everyone who sins and causes the multitude to sin, they give him not the chance to repent." And a teacher has said, "Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and led astray and deceived Israel."

Commentary: The above passage occurs in almost exactly the same words in Sotah 47a, and the incident of the escape to Alexandria and the letter from Jerusalem is mentioned in Jerusalem Hagigah ii, 2; and Jerusalem Sanhedrin vi, 9 (where, however, the fugitive is not Yehoshua ben Perahyah but Yehudah ben Tabbai). The passage in the Jerusalem Hagigah ii 2 gives a very brief account of the dissension between the Rabbi and "one of his disciples", but does not give the name of the latter. This is probably the basis of what was afterwards expanded in the Babylonian Gemara.

The passage here is the locus classicus for the second Talmudic theory as to when Jesus lived. "Yannai the king" is Alexander Jannaeus, who reigned from 104 to 78 B.C., thus a full century before Jesus. Shimon b. Shetach, the king’s brother-in-law, and Yehoshua b. Perahyah (as also Yehuda ben Tabbai of the Jerusalem version) were leading Pharisees of the time; and the massacre of the Rabbis, which led to the escape of one of them to Alexandria, is a historical event. The question is, how did the name of Jesus come to be introduced into a story referring to a time so long before his own?

(The name of Jesus is found in this passage in the codices of Munich, Florence, and Carsruhe, used by Rabbinowicz, also in all the older editions of the Talmud. In the edition of Basel, 1578-81, and in all later ones, the censor has expunged it. Here is perhaps the best place to refer to the epithet "ha-Notzri", as applied to Jesus. It is well known that the name of the town of Nazareth does not occur in the Talmud. But there may well have been a form of the name, Notzerath, or Notzerah, to account for the adjective Notzri. Perhaps Notzerah was the local pronunciation in the dialect in Galilee, where the sound "o" or "u" frequently represents the long or short "a" of new Hebrew. With this corresponds the fact that the Syriac gives Notzerath and Notzerojo for the name of the town and its inhabitants. That from Notzerath or Notzerah could be formed an adjective Notzri is shown by the examples of Timni from Timnah and Yehudi from Yehudah. The adjective "Nazoraios" (Acts 28:22) would seem to imply an alternative form Natzara, the second "a" being replaced by "o" in the Galilean dialect, as in Notzri for Natzri. The form Natzara is indeed adopted by Keim as the more correct; but I do not see how to avoid recognizing both Notzerah (Natzerah) and Natzara as equally legitimate, that is as representing variations in the pronunciation, not original differences in the formation of the name.)

Bearing in mind that the Rabbis had extremely vague ideas of the chonology of past times, we may perhaps find the origin of the story in is Babylonian form in a desire to explain the connection of Jesus with Egypt. The connecting link may, perhaps, be found in the fact of an escape to Egypt to escape the anger of a king. As the story stands now in the Babylonian version, there are several details in it which appear to have reference to Jesus, and which probably were due to some confused remembrance of tradition about him. In addition to the flight into Egypt, there is the fact that Jesus was known to have set himself against the authority of the Rabbis, and to have been the founder of a false religion. Moreover, the final answer of the banished disciple, that "one who sins and causes the multitude to sin is allowed no chance to repent", points clearly to the historical Jesus, for the simple act of idolatry mentioned in the story cannot be called "causing a multitude to sin". What the point may be of the statement that Jesus hung up a tile, a burnt brick, and worshipped it, I cannot explain.

This passage is found in its full extent only in the Babylonian Gemara, and is probably of a very late date. It is introduced as an illustration of the saying, "Let the left hand repel and the right hand invite". I suggest that the mention of R. Yehoshua and Jesus was an addition founded on the Palestinian tradition and prompted by the mention of Elisha and Gehazi; and further, that this addition was made in the schools of Babylonia, upon uncertain authority. It is not cited under the name of any Rabbi; and the last sentence of it, which distinctly refers to Jesus, only does so upon the authority of "a teacher", whose name, presumably, was not known. The glaring anachronism, of making Jesus contemporary with R. Yehoshua ben Perahyah, is more easy to understand on this theory, than if we suppose the story to have originated in Palestine at a time nearer to that when Jesus actually lived.


Tosefta Shabbat xi 15--"He that cuts marks on his flesh." R. Eliezer condemns, the wise 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 discerning people?"
Commentary: It has already been shown that Ben Stada denotes Jesus. What is the meaning that he brought magical charms from Egypt concealed in an incision in his flesh? The charge that he was a magician is no doubt based on the belief that he did many miracles. Now Egypt was regarded as the especial home of magic, an opinion expressed in the Talmud, Kiddushin 49b, "Ten measures of sorcery descended into the world, Egypt received nine the rest of the world one." To say that Jesus learned magic in Egypt is to say that he was a great magician, more powerful than others. As to the manner in which he is alleged to have brought away with him Egyptian magic, a curious explanation is given by Rashi (Shabbat 104b) to the effect that the Egyptian magicians did not allow anyone to carry away magical charms from their country; and therefore, since Jesus could not take them away in writing, he concealed them in the manner described. Whether Rashi had any authority for his statement, or whether he only devised it to explain the passage before him, I do not know. The date of the passage is to some extent determined by the fact that it is taken from the Tosefta, a collection which represents an earlier stratum of tradition than that embodied in the Gemara. The Eliezer who is mentioned is of course the same as that mentioned above (Shabbat 104a), and we may take it that the reference there is a reference to the present passage.


Jerusalem Taanith 65b--R. Abahu said: If a man says to you, "I am God", he is a liar; if [he says, "I am] the son of man", in the end people will laugh at him; if [he says], "I will go up to heaven,", he says, but he shall not perform it.
Commentary: So far as I know, this saying occurs only here. That it refers to Jesus there can be no doubt. R. Abahu, the speaker, was a very well-known Rabbi who lived in Caesarea at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century; and we shall see later that he had a great deal of contact, friendly and also polemical, with heretics, who, in some instances, at least, were certainly Jewish Christians.

Here may best be introduced a passage in the Yalkut Shimoni, in which is found amplification of Abahu’s words. (I give it according to the Salonika edition, as it is expunged from the later ones.)

Yalkut Shimoni 766--R. Elazar ha-Kappar says, 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 peoples that bow down to the sun and moon and stars and to wood and stone, and he looked forth and beheld that there was a man, son 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 his voice that all the peoples of the world might hear, and thus he spoke, "Give heed that you do not go astray after that man, for it is written, ‘God is not man that he should lie’ (Numbers 23:19) , and if he says that he is God he is a liar, and he will deceive and say that he departs and comes again in the end, he says and he shall not perform. See what is written (Numbers 24:23), ‘And he took up his parable and said, Alas, who shall live when God does this.’ Balaam said, ‘Alas, who shall live, of that nation which hears that man who has made himself God.’
R. Elazar ha-Kappar, who is reported to have said all this, was earlier than Abahu, for he died about 260 A.D. Bacher (Ag. d. Tann. ii 506n.2) shows that only the first clause of the passage in the Yalkut is to be ascribed to Elazar ha-Kappar; i.e., the statement that the voice of Balaam resounded from one end of the world to the other. All the rest is probably of much later date; but it may very well have been suggested by Abahu’s words.


Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.2--Three kings and four private men have no part in the world to come; the three kings are Jereboam, Ahab, and Manasseh. . .the four private men are Balaam, Doeg, Ahithophel, and Gehazi.
Commentary: The famous chapter of the Mishnah from which these words are taken begins by saying that, "All Israel have part in the world to come", and then enumerates the exceptions. The three kings, Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manasseh, are all mentioned in the Old Testament as having introduced idolatry, perverted the true religion. And, as the four private men are named in close connection with the kings, it is reasonable to infer that they were condemned for the same offence. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that the preceding paragraph of the Mishnah in this chapter excepts from the world to come "those who say the resurrection of the dead is not proved from the Torah, and that the Torah is not from heaven, also the Epicuros. R. Akiva says, He who reads in external books, also he who whispers over a wound, and says, None of the diseases which I sent in Egypt will I lay upon you, I am the Lord your healer. Abba Shaul says, He that pronounces the Name according to its letters." These are all, unless perhaps the last, aimed at heretics who can hardly be other than Christians. For it will be seen hereafter that the opinions and practices here condemned were the subject of dispute between Jews and heretics (Minim). Therefore we naturally expect that the four private men, who are singled out for exclusion from the world to come, are condemned on account not merely of heresy but of actively promoting heresy. Now, Balaam was not an Israelite, and therefore could not logically be included in a list of exceptions to a rule which only affected Israelites. It is evident that Balaam here does not mean the ancient prophet, but someone else for whom that ancient prophet could serve as a type. From the Jewish point of view there was considerable likeness between Balaam and Jesus, in that both had led the people astray. This was the great charge against Jesus, that "he practiced magic and deceived and led astray Israel".

I am well aware that this does not constitute a proof that Balaam is a type of Jesus. But it establishes a connection, which is strengthened by the consideration that the animus displayed against Balaam in the Talmud would be very artificial if its object had really been the ancient prophet, while it is very natural and intelligible if it was really directed against Jesus. To show the violence of the feeling against Jesus and also to strengthen the above contention, I will give a passage in which Balaam and Jesus are mentioned together. By being mentioned together it is true that Balaam is not in this case exactly a type of Jesus, i.e., we are not for "Balaam" to read "Jesus"; but the symbol is expanded into a comparison, to suggest the conclusion, "What Balaam was, such also was Jesus".

Gittin 56b,57a--Onkelos bar Kalonikos, sister’s son of Titus, desired to become a proselyte. He called up Titus by necromancy. He said to him, "Who is honored in this world?" He replied, "Israel". "What about joining them?" He replied, "Their words are many and you cannot fulfill them. Go, join yourself to them in this world and you shall become a leader, for it is written (Lam. 1:5), ‘Her adversaries have become the head’. Every oppressor of Israel is made a head." He said to him, "What is the punishment of this man?" [i.e., "What is your punishment?"] He replied, "That which he determined for himself. Every day they collect his ashes and judge him, and burn him and scatter him over seven seas."

He called up Balaam by necromancy. He said to him, "Who is honored in this world?" He replied, "Israel." "What about joining them?" He replied, (Deut. 23:6) ‘You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.’ " He said to him, "What is the punishment of this man?" He replied, "By burning fluids."

He called up Jesus by necromancy. He said to him, "Who is honored in this world?" He replied, "Israel." "What about joining them?" He replied, "Seek their good, seek not their harm. Everyone who injures them, [it is] as if he injured the apple of his eye." He said, "What is the punishment of this man?" He replied, "By boiling filth." For a teacher has said, "Everyone who mocks at the words of the sages is punished by boiling filth." Come and see the difference between the sinners of Israel and the prophets of the peoples of the world who serve a false religion.

Commentary: This extract forms part of a long Midrash chiefly concerned with the war against Vespasian and Titus, and reported by R. Yohanan (200-279 A.D.) The story of Onkelos b. Kalonikos, nephew of Titus, is introduced immediately after the description of the death of the latter. Whether Onkelos the Proselyte, who is mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud, really was the nephew of Titus I do not know, and the question is of no importance for the present purpose. The object of this gruesome story is to show the fate of the three chief enemies of Israel--Titus, Balaam, and Jesus.

The modern editions of the Talmud, which have been subjected to the censor, do not mention the third criminal by name. The read that Onkelos called up "the sinners of Israel" (plural), which is obviously absurd. The older editions have preferred "the sinner of Israel", which is grammatically correct, but the reading "Yeshu" is vouched for by the work that contains all the expurgated passages of the Talmud. It is evident that some individual person is referred to, and that this person is not Balaam, since he has just been disposed of. Moreover, ti is someone who had "mocked against the words of the sages". Internal evidence alone would suffice to show that Jesus was meant; and as there is authority for the reading, "Yeshu", we may rest assured that he is the person meant.

The passage has been introduced here, as stated above, in order to establish the fact that in the Talmud, Jesus and Balaam are classed together, and that therefore Balaam serves frequently as a type of Jesus. I do not mean that wherever Balaam is mentioned Jesus is intended, or that everything said about the former is really meant about the latter. I mean that whenever Balaam is mentioned, there is a sort of under-current of reference to Jesus, and that much more is told of Balaam than would have been told if he and not Jesus had really been the person thought of.


Sanhedrin 106b--A certain heretic said to R. Hanina, "Have you ever heard how old Balaam was?" He replied, "There is nothing written about it. But from what is written (Psalm 55:23), ‘Men of blood and deceit shall not live out half their days’, he must have been thirty-three or thirty-four years old." He [the heretic] said, "You have answered me well. I have seen the chronicle of Balaam, and therein it is written, ‘Balaam, the lame, was thirty-three years old when Pinchas the Robber killed him."
Commentary: R. Hanina lived in Sephoris at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third (died 232 A.D.) The story of this conversation with a heretic was reported in Babylonia probably by Rab, who, like Hanina, was a disciple of Rabbi (Yehuda the Holy). The heretic--Min--was in all probability a Christian. And while there is no apparent reason by a Christian should inquire as to the age of the ancient Balaam, he might well have inquired--especially in Galilee--about the age of Jesus. It would seem, however, that he was not asking for information, but had a desire to find out whether R. Hanina knew anything about Jesus. For he confirmed the Rabbi’s answer by facts known to himself. The "Chronicle of Balaam" probably denotes a gospel, though none of the gospels state in so many words that Jesus was thirty-three years old. If, however, it was believed that his ministry lasted three years, and that he was "about thirty years old" when he began to preach, the statement of the Christian is borne out, though not verbally correct. R. Hanina must have had fairly good grounds for his opinion as to the age of Jesus, or he would not have quoted a text which would only apply to the case of a man about thirty-three or thirty-four years old.

It is curious that Balaam is here called "the lame". It was, however, a Rabbinical opinion that Balaam was lame, and also blind in one eye. This is stated in the Gemara, Sanhedrin 105a, in the same chapter from which is taken the extract we are examining.

There remains to be noticed Pinchas the Robber, or "Pinchas Listaah", who is said to have killed Balaam. It has been suggested that this may be a corruption of Pontius Pilate. The corruption, it must be admitted, is a somewhat violent one, if the author who had written the one name was aware of the other. But he may have found a name to him unintelligible, and by the help of Numbers 31:6-8 [i.e., Pinchas who kills Balaam] have transformed it into Pinchas Listaah. Talmudic tradition did not, so far as I am aware, know the name of Pilate or ascribe the death of Jesus to a non-Jewish tribunal. But it is certainly strange that a Jew should call Pinchas a robber, being, as he was, a highly honored hero of tradition. The difficulty that the heretic, if a Christian, would not have called Jesus by the name of Balaam may be met by the consideration that the whole conversation comes to us in a Jewish form. As for the historical value of the conversation, there is nothing to make it impossible. Such conversations were frequent, and R. Hanina was a well-known man.


Sanhedrin 106a--"And he (Balaam) took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God does this?" R. Shimon ben Lakish said, Woe to him who makes himself to live by the name of God.
Commentary: The text quoted is Numbers 24:23, and the application of it by R. Shimon b. Lakish is a mere distortion of the original words. What precisely is the meaning of "meesmo el" is open to question, and is for the Old Testament commentators to decide. But by no rules of grammar or syntax could these words be made to mean, "Who makes himself live by the name of God". This is a haggadic variation of the text, such as the Rabbis often permitted themselves to make for a homiletic purpose. And it is hard to see what purpose there could be in the present example, other than that of making a covert reference to Jesus. The words do not apply to Balaam. Rashi, in his note on the passage, does indeed refer it to Balaam, but seems to be well aware that someone other than Balaam is really intended. He says, "Balaam, who restored himself to life by the name of God, made himself God." With this passage should be compared the saying of Abahu (above), which is a somewhat similar haggadic variation of a text of scripture.

R. Shimon ben Lakish, often called Resh Lakish, was the colleague and friend of R. Yohanan already mentioned. He died somewhere about 279 A.D.


Tosefta Sanhedrin X 11--In regard to all who are worthy of death according to the Torah, they do not use concealment against them, except in the case of the deciever. How do they deal with him? They put two disciples of the sages in the inner chamber, and he sits in the outer chamber, and they light the lamp so that they shall see him and hear his voice. And thus they did to Ben Stada in Lud; two disciples of the sages were chosen for him, and they [brought him to the Beth Din] and stoned him.

Jerusalem Sanhedrin vii 16 (25c,d)--The deceiver; this denotes a private man. Not a sage? [i.e., not a Rabbi?] No. From the time he deceives he is no longer a sage. And from the time he is deceived his is no longer a sage. How do they deal with him to work craftily against him? They conceal (in his case) two witnesses in the inner chamber and make him sit in the outer chamber, and they light a lamp over him that they may see him and may hear his voice. Thus they did to Ben Stada in Lud, and they concealed in his case two disciples of the sages, and they brought him to the Beth Din and stoned him.

Sanhedrin 67a--For it is tradition that in regard to the rest of all who are worthy of death according to the Torah, they do not use concealment except in this case [i.e, of the deceiver]. How do they deal with him? They light a lamp for him in the inner chamber and set witnesses in the outer chamber, so that they may see him and hear his voice, but he does not see them. And one says to him, "Say to me what you said to me in private," and he says it to him. And another says to him, "How shall we forsake our God, who is in heaven, and practice false worship?" If he repents, it is well. If he says, "Such is our duty and thus it becomes us to do", the witnesses, who hear from the outside, bring him to the Beth Din and stone him. And thus they did to Ben Stada in Lud, and they hung him on the eve of Pesach (Passover).

Commentary: In all the passages given above, it is stated that the concealment of witnesses, in order to trap the accused, is practiced only in the case of a deceiver, who has tempted others to apostasy, which was of course the charge against Jesus. There is no ground, as Keim rightly says, for correcting the gospel account by the help of the Talmud. Rather it is the gospel account which throws light upon the Talmudic tradition. From the gospel story are derived the two witnesses (Matt. 26:60 In Mark 14:56,57, several witnesses are mentioned.) The gospel speaks of "false" witnesses; from the Talmudic point of view the witnesses were not false, in the sense of untruthful, but were justified in their zeal in acting against a heretic. The statement that the witnesses carried the accused to the Beth Din may have its origin in the fact that there was, according to the gospels, a second sitting of the council after the meeting during which the witnesses had been present. The Talmudic tradition differs from the gospel in saying that the trial took place in Lud (Lydda), and that Jesus was stoned. These statements, as well as the remark that Jesus was hung on the Eve of Passover, belong rather to the question of the execution of Jesus, which will form the subject of the next extract. They tend, however, to confirm what has already been pointed out, that the Talmud has preserved only a very vague and confused recollection of Jesus. His name was doubtless held in abhorrence as that of a dangerous heretic and deceiver; but extremely little was known of him, and that little is mentioned more by way of causal remark than as being of importance on its own account.


Sanhedrin 43a--And it is tradition: On the eve of Pesach (Passover) they hung Yeshu [the Nazarene]. And the crier went forth before him forty days, (saying), "[Yeshu the Nazarene] goes forth to be stoned, because he as practised magic and deceived and led astray Israel. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and declare concerning him." And they found nothing in his favor. And they hung him on the eve of Pesach. Ulla says, "Would it be supposed that [Yeshu the Nazarene], a revolutionary, had anything in his favor?" He was a deceiver, and the Merciful has said (Deut. 13:8), "You shall not spare, neither shall you conceal him." But it was different with [Yeshu the Nazarene], for he was near to the kingdom.

[The whole of this passage is expunged from the later editions. It is given here on the authority of the MSS. and early editions set forth by Rabbinowicz. The words in [ ] are from MSS.]

Commentary: To these statements must be added those given previously, that Jesus was stoned, and that his death took place in Lud (Lydda). It is remarkable that the fact of his crucifixion in Jerusalem should have been so completely forgotten, even by the compiler of the Tosefta, to say nothing of the compilers of the Gemara. This is the more curious because there are to be found in other passages (below) allusions to a crucifixion and to a death in Jerusalem, which are probably those of Jesus. The explanation of the statement that Jesus was put to death in Lydda is probably the following: After the destruction of Jerusalem, Lydda gradually became an important center of Rabbinical activity. In the early years of the second century, Rabbis Eliezer, Tarphon, and Akiva held their colleges there, and Lydda quite outshone Yavneh, which had been the seat first of Yohanan ben Zakkai, and then of the Patriarch Gamaliel II. After the fall of Jerusalem, Akiva took a very active part in the insurrection under Bar Kochba (A.D. 132-135), and Lydda was probably the headquarters of the insurgents. The name "Martyrs of Lydda" (Baba Bathra 10b) was applied to some of the distinguished Rabbis who were executed at the close of the insurrection. Now the Talmud considered Jesus to be a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva; and it is to be further observed that the Jewish Christians were persecuted by the adherents of Bar Kochba, presumably for not acknowledging him as the Messiah. (See Justin Martyr, Apol. i.c.31.) Now it is quite certain that in the Talmud the insurrection of Bar Kochba and its tragic end is remembered with a much greater clearness than the fate of Jesus a century before. And the suggestion is that the more recent and important event has gathered to itself the tradition of the earlier period. Akiva, the apostle of the insurrection, became thereby the persecutor of Christians; the place where he was most active was Lydda, and thus a later tradition could naturally arise that Jesus was also a contemporary of Akiva and had been executed in Akiva’s own city of Lydda.

The passage before us states that Jesus was hung. With this must be combined the evidence of the earlier passages, that he was stoned. The connection between the two statements is that Jesus was stoned, and his dead body was then hung upon a cross. This is clear from the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.4: "All who are stoned are hung, according to Rabbi Eliezer. The Sages say None is hung except the blasphemer and he who practices a false worship." The corpse was hung to a cross or else to a single beam, of which one end rested on the ground, the other against a wall (same Mishnah). It is worth noting that the technical word for a cross ("tselev") is not used here. The gospels, of course, say nothing about a stoning of Jesus, and I suggest that the Talmudic tradition is an inference from the fact that he was known to have been hung. The inference would be further strengthened by the application of the text (Deut. 21:23), "He that is hanged is accursed of God", a text which Paul used in Gal. 3:13. The Talmud here knows nothing of an execution of Jesus by the Romans, but makes it solely the act of the Jews.

Here may be mentioned a passage which seems to show that there was a tradition that Jesus was crucified:

Tosefta Sanhedrin IX.7--Rabbi Meir used to say, What is the meaning of (Deut 21:23), "For a curse of God is he that is hung?" [It is like the case of ] two brothers, twins, who resembled each other. One ruled over the whole world, the other took to robbery. After a time the one who took to robbery was caught, and they crucified him on a cross. And everyone who passed to and fro said, "It seems that the king is crucified." Therefore it is said, "A curse of God is he that is hung."
Commentary: Rabbi Meir lived in the second century, and as we shall see (below), he had some knowledge of the gospels. It is hardly to be doubted that the passage contains a reference to Jesus. "One ruled over the whole world", that is God. "They resembled each other", suggests "He that has seen me has seen the Father." The mention of the cross ("tselev") obviously accords with the gospel story. The scornful gibe of the passers-by suggests Matt. 27:37 and 39, and especially 42,43. The curious remark that the second "took to robbery" ("listaia") I cannot explain, but it should be noted in connection with what was said above about Pinchas Listaah (Pontius Pilatus). R. Meir’s interpretation of the text in Deut. is somewhat obscure; so far as I understand it he seems to mean that the raillery of the bystanders was a cursing of God, because they said, "the King is hung", which would be the case if Jesus were supposed to be God.

To this passage may be appended another where there is also a reference to crucifixion. It is contained in the Midrash on Esther 9.2, and is as follows: Zeresh, the wife of Haman, is advising him how to kill Mordechai, so that he shall not be delivered by miracle as so many had been, and she says, "Crucify him on a cross ("tselev"), for we do not find one out of his nation who has been delivered from it." The reference seems to be to the fact that Jesus was not saved from the cross even though it was claimed for him that he was the Messiah (see Matt. 27:40).

To return now to the Gemara in Sanhedrin, at the head of this section--perhaps we may ascribe to a confused knowledge of Christian teaching the statement that a herald went forth, during forty days before the death of Jesus, calling upon all who could bear witness in his favor to come and do so. The herald is, of course, fictitious; but the forty days may have been suggested from many references in the gospels to periods of forty days, and perhaps by the forty days of fasting (Lent) which preceed Easter on the church calendar.

Ulla, a Palestinian Rabbi of the end of the third century, a disciple of Rabbi Yohanan, says, "Would it be thought that anything could be said in favor of Jesus, a revolutionary?. . . " But, says either the compiler of the Gemara, or R. Ulla, "It was different with Jesus, because he was near to the kingdom." Is this a reference to the Davidic descent of Jesus? The suggestion is tempting; but I doubt whether it is warranted. The phrase "near to the kingdom" occurs elsewhere, and is applied to the family of the Patriarch Gamaliel II, of whom it is said (Baba Kama 83a), that they were allowed to learn Greek because they were "near to the kingdom". The Patriarch was the official representative of the Jews, and since as such he must have frequent contact with the government, the knowledge of Greek was necessary. Of course, Jesus stood in no such official relation to the government; might he, though, have had friends at court, that is, political influence? If this suggestion be thought somewhat far-fetched, and implying a greater knowledge of the gospel story than is probable, perhaps another solution is possible--that the phrase "near to the kingdom" derived from the constant references by Jesus to "the kingdom". In the latter case there would be no need to bring in Pontius Pilate, and in fact the Talmudic story of the execution of Jesus does not implicate the civil government at all. We must not credit the Talmudic rabbis with a much clearer memory of the life and death of Jesus than the evidence warrants. That they knew of the existence of the gospels is certain (see below); and that they had some acquaintance with the contents of the gospel is probable; but the frequent discussions between Jews and Christians lead me to think that the Rabbis gained much of their information about Jesus from such contacts, and that the real tradition concerning him amounted to hardly more than the fact that he had been a deceiver of the people and had been put to death.


Sanhedrin 43a--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.’ "
Commentary: This passage is a continuation of the preceding one, and I have only divided the two for convenience. The passage we have now to consider is merely a pendant to the account of the death of Jesus, describing with a certain ferocious humor the fate of five of his disciples. These are said to have been condemned to death; and when they quoted scripture texts as a plea for their lives, they were met with other texts demolishing their plea. That any tribunal of justice, or of arbitrary violence, ever conducted its business in such a manner, is hard to believe; and we can only regard this fencing of texts as a jeu d’esprit, occasioned no doubt by some actual event. That event would naturally be an execution of Christian disciples, if such took place. The dialogue as given in the Talmud can certainly not be taken as historical; but it may yet give some indication of the historical circumstances under which it was composed. Little or nothing can be learnt from the names of the five disciples; only the first, Matthai, has any close resemblance to a name in the list of the twelve (Matt. 10:2-4). The last, Thodah, is not unlike Thaddeus; but in Hebrew that name would be Thaddai, not Thodah. The others, Naki, Netzer, and Buni, have no parallels in the list of the Twelve. (It is, however, worthy of note that in Taanith 19b, 20a, there is related a story of Nakdimon ben Gorion, a rich citizen of Jerusalem, and it is added in a note that his real name was not Nakdimon, but Buni. Nakdimon is equivalent to Nicodemus. There may, therefore, be an allusion to Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night--John 3:1.) Indeed, it is doubtful whether Naki, Netzer, and Buni were ever names of specific persons at all. At most they may have been nicknames, (perhaps for "Innocent", and "Nazarene") and they certainly raise the suspicion that they have been chosen for the sake of the texts.

It is natural to infer from the passage that all the five disciples were condemned on the same occasion, and this should exclude the possibility that any of the original Twelve are referred to. At least no Christian tradition exists which specifies any five out of the Twelve as having met with such a fate. But the fact that the five were called disciples of Jesus only implies that they were Christians, not that they were contemporaries of Jesus. The fact that the prisoners quoted texts of Scripture, and were met with other texts, suggests that the trial took place before a Jewish and not a Roman tribunal. Not, of course, that such a thrust and parry of texts really took place anywhere, but that it would be impossible in a Roman court and only a witty travesty of what would be possible in a Jewish one.

The suggestion has been made that this story derives from the persecution of Jewish-Christians under Bar Kochba. It would then be a fantasy account of some incident of that persecution. (One reason for taking this view is that the story occurs in the same passage as that which describes the death of Jesus, and we have seen that the key to understanding the statements made there about Jesus can be found in the anti-Christian hatred of Bar Kochba, and more especially of Akiva, his chief supporter.)


Tosefta Hullin ii 22,23--The case of Rabbi Elazar ben Dama, whom a serpent bit. There came in Jacob, a man of Kfar Sama, to cure him in the name of Yeshu ben Pandira, but R. Ishmael did not allow it. He said, "You are not permitted, Ben Dama". He said, "I will bring you a proof that he may heal me." But he had not finished bringing a proof when he died. R. Ishmael said, "Happy are you, Ben Dama, for you have departed in peace, and have not broken through the ordinances of the sages; for upon everyone who breaks through the fence of the sages, punishment comes at last, as it is written (Eccl. 10:8), "Whoever breaks a fence a serpent shall bite him."

Jerusalem Shabbat 14d--[Almost word for word the same as above, and then there follows:] The serpent only bit him in order that a serpent might not take him in the future. And what could he [Ben Dama] have said? "Which, if a man do, he shall live in them [i.e., and not die in them--Lev. 18:5]".

Jerusalem Avodah Zarah 40d, 41a [Same as above, except that after the words "came in to cure him", is added, "He said, We will speak to you in the name of Yeshu ben Pandira." ]

Avodah Zarah 27b--A man shall have no dealings with the heretics ["Minim"], nor be cured by them, even for the sake of an hour of life. The case of Ben Dama, sister’s son of Rabbi Ishmael, whom a serpent bit. There came Jacob the heretic ["Min"] of Kfar Sama to cure him; but R. Ishmael would not allow him. And he [Ben Dama] said to him, "Rabbi Ishmael, my brother, allow him, that I may be cured by him, and I will bring a text from the Torah that this is permitted." But he had not finished his discourse when his soul departed, and he died. R. Ishmael pronounced over him, "Happy are you, Ben Dama, for your body is pure and your soul has departed in purity, and you have not transgressed the words of your companions, who have said (Eccl. 10:8), ‘Whoever breaks through a fence, a serpent shall bite him’." It is different in regard to heresy ["Minuth"], which bites a man, so that he comes to be bitten afterwards.

Commentary: A fifth version of this story is given in the Midrash, Koheleth Rabba i, 8, along with a good deal else referring to Minuth (i.e., heresy). The story of Ben Dama given there, however, does not add anything to what is contained above.

We have here to deal with an event separated by no long interval of time from the date at which it was first recorded. R. Ishmael was one of the most distinguished Rabbis, whose teaching is contained in the Mishnah and the Tosefta; he lived in the first half of the second century, and there is reason to believe that he did not die in the war of Bar Kochba (A.D. 135), but survived it some years. R. Ishmael spent the greater part of his life in Kfar Aziz, a village in the extreme south, on the borders of Idumea (Mishnah Kiddushin 6.4, Kethuboth v.8) It is not likely that he would there be brought into contact with a Galilean, and Jacob of Kfar Sama (or Sechanya) was of course a Galilean. But it is said that R. Ishmael was present at an assembly of Rabbis at Usha, in Galilee (Baba Bathra 28a,b), and although the date of that meeting cannot be precisely determined, it seems probable that it took place not long before the outbreak of the rebellion of Bar Kochba, say 130 A.D. or thereabouts. Two assemblies at Usha are distinctly mentioned (Rosh haShana 31a,b), the second being immediately after the close of the rebellion. It is probable, then, that the incident of Ben Dama and Jacob of Kfar Sama took place on the occasion of the first assembly at Usha. Ben Dama is elsewhere (Menahot 99b) said to have asked permission from his uncle to study Greek philosophy. Permission was refused by the quotation of Joshua 1:8, "You shall meditate thereon [the book of the Law] day and night", and the command, "Go, seek a time when it is neither day nor night, and therein study Greek philosophy".

Jacob of Kfar Sama is evidently a Christian, but no less evidently, he cannot have been a contemporary of Jesus, still less identical with James (Jacob) the brother of Jesus. The latter was put to death somewhere about the year 44 A.D; and R. Ishmael was only a boy when Jerusalem was captured in 70 A.D. Jacob was an extremely common name, and no identification with any known Christian is possible. Kfar Sama is thought to be the modern Kfar Sumeia; whereas Sechanya is thought to be Sichnin (or the modern Suchnin); as these two places are only nine miles apart, Jacob may well have been associated with both. In a passage we will examine later (below), this same Jacob is said to have talked with R. Eliezer b. Horkenos, in the High Street of Sephoris, and to have communicated to him a saying of Jesus. If we suppose that Jacob was, roughly speaking, a contemporary of R. Eliezer, he would belong to the third generation of Christian disciples, hardly the second.

As to the details of the story, there is little variation among the several versions. In all, the Christian proposes to heal the sick man in the name of Yeshu ben Pandira. R. Ishmael refused to allow the cure to be performed, although his nephew pleaded that he had scripture warrant for it. He died while speaking; but the Jerusalem Gemara supplies what he had not time to say, by referring to Leviticus 18:5. Ben Dama would have argued that since a man was to live by doing the things commanded in the Torah, he would be justified, for the sake of them, in saving his life.

The quotation of Eccl. 10:8 is ambiguous. It appears to have been suggested by the mere fact of Ben Dama having been bitten by the serpent. But, on the other hand, according to the text, the bite of a serpent was a punishment for having "broken through the fence", i.e., "transgressed the ordinances of the Rabbis". Now Ben Dama had not done this, and therefore R. Ishmael praised him; but he had been bitten by a serpent. The Tosefta does not attempt to get over the difficulty; the Jerusalem Gemara explains that the bite of the serpent was to prevent him from meeting a worse fate hereafter; for if he had "transgressed the ordinances of the sages", he would have been a heretic, and in the world to come would have suffered the fate of a heretic. In other words, Jacob the heretic would have infected him with the venom of heresy, if allowed to cure his wound, and thus the literal serpent saved him from the figurative serpent.


Jerusalem Shabbat 14d--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).
Jerusalem Avodah Zarah 40d--[gives the passage in the same words as above, this page of the treatise being, indeed, to a considerable extent a repetition of that in the treatise Shabbath. The story is also found in Midrash Qoh. Rabba, on 10:5, in a shorter form.]

Commentary: Yehoshua ben Levi is one of the best known Talmudic Rabbis. He lived and taught for the most part at Lud (Lydda), where he followed his own teacher Bar Kappara, A.D. 260. But he was in close association with the two great teachers, Yohanan, and Resh Lakish, whose college was in Tiberius. It is probable that it was in Tiberius that this incident took place. For the grandson referred to was probably the son of R. Joseph (son of R. Yehoshua) who had married into the family of the Patriarch Yehudah II, and Tiberias was the latter’s place of residence.

The meaning of the quotation from Eccl 10:5, I suppose to be, that the fact of the child being cured by a Christian was a deplorable evil which could not be undone, just as the command of a ruler, given in error but implicity obeyed, may [not be cancelled, or may] result in mischief which cannot afterwards be put right. This is on the lines of the explanation given by Rashi and Ibn Ezra in their commentaries on Ecclesiastes.


Avodah Zarah 28a--And yet, R. Abahu was an eminent man, and Jacob the heretic ("Min") applied a drug to his leg, and if it had not been for R. Ami and R. Asi, who licked his leg, he would have cut his leg off.
Commentary: The above occurs in the midst of a discussion on whether in the cases of sickness the help of non-Jewish physicians might be used. R. Yohanan laid down the rule that in cases for which the Sabbath might be profaned--i.e., in very dangerous cases--such help might not be used, but that in slighter cases it might; the meaning seems to be that all risk was to be avoided of a man dying under non-Jewish treatment [or in the presence of a non-Jewish physician, who might influence him to convert]. This rule is given immeidately after the story of Ben Dama, and is repeated just before the present passage referring to Abahu. The connection is this, that an exception might be made for an eminent man [who would be presumed to be immune to requests to convert], "and yet, R. Abahu was an eminent man", etc.


Jerusalem Berakoth 9c--Samuel the Small went before the Ark [to recite the prayers]. He forgot "That casteth down the proud", at the end. He paused and tried to remember them. They said to him, "The sages have not framed it thus."

Berakoth 28b,29a--Our Rabbis teach: Shimon the cotton-seller arranged the Eighteen Benedictions in the presence of Rabban Gamaliel, according to their order, in Yavneh. Rabban Gamaliel said to the Sages, "Is there anyone who knows how to compose a Benediction of the Heretics ("Minim")? " Samuel the Small stood up and composed it. The following year he forgot it, and sought [to recall it] for two and even three hours, and they did not call him up [i.e., away from the pulpit]. Why did they not call him up? For Rab Yehudah said, that Rab said, "If a man makes a mistake in all the Benedictions, they do not call him up; but in the Benediction of the Heretics ["Minim"] they call him up. " They suspect that he is a heretic ["Min"]. It was different with Samuel the Small, because he had composed it, and it was thought perhaps he would recover himself.

The first sentence of this passage occurs in Megalith 17b, where follows a sort of running commentary on the Eighteen Benedictions. An incidental reference to the Minim occurs (according to the reading of Rabbinowicz); but nothing is stated beyond what is contained in the other passage quoted in this section.]

Commentary: This is an extremely important passage, because it records the official condemnation of the Minim by the Rabbis. The Eighteen Benedictions are a series of short prayers, still to be found in the Jewish liturgy. The word translated "Benediction" would equally serve for malediction, and it is rather in that sense that it is used in regard to the Minim. In the modern liturgy the Benediction thus referred to runs thus: "May there be no hope for the slanderers," where the word for "slanderers" has been put in place of the ancient word Minim. [Documents found at the Cairo Geniza contain versions which read, "May the apostates have no hope, unless they return to Your Torah, and may the Nazarenes and the Minim disappear in a moment. May they be erased from the book of life, and not be inscribed with the righteous." This is felt to be very likely close to the original Benediction.--ed.]

These Eighteen Benedictions are said to have been arranged by Shimon the cotton-seller, at Yavneh, in the presence of Rabban Gamaliel. This was Gamaliel II, who held the position of Patriarch (Nasi) after the death of Yochanan ben Zakkai, somewhere about the year 80 A.D. Samuel the Small is said to have composed the Benediction; but perhaps it would be more correct to say "adapted", altered some previous formula so as to apply it to the Minim. The formula drawn up by him was taken into use; and the following year it fell to the lot of its author to recite it in the public service. He forgot the words, but tried for three hours to recall them, while the congregation waited, and did not "call him up" from the pulpit, i.e., cause him to leave it. According to later usage, a reader who made a mistake in reciting this benediction would have been made to leave the pulpit, because he would be suspected of being a Min.

[The question of whether or not Samuel the Small had become a Min (and so therefore refused to pronounce against the Christians) cannot be adequately resolved. The "failure" of his memory may have been due to an advanced age. (It is not possible to satisfactorily determine his age at the time of these events.) Or, perhaps, he had indeed come to believe in Jesus, and even though pressed for two or three hours, would not recite the curse against them which he had himself composed only the year before.--ed.]

It remains only to say a word with regard to the formula itself. It was not exactly a malediction, but a kind of test-formula, for the purpose of detecting those who might be secretly inclined to heresy [i.e, if compelled to repeat these remarks, Jewish-Christians would find themselves no longer able to remain together in the synagogues with their fellow Jews.]


Tosefta Hullin ii 24--The case of Rabbi Eleizer, who was arrested for Minuth, and they brought him to the tribunal for judgement. The governor said to him, "Does an old man like you occupy himself with such things?" He said to him, "Faithful is the judge concerning me." The governor supposed that he only said this of him, but he was not thinking of any but his Father who is in heaven. He [the governor] said to him, "Since I am trusted concerning you, thus also will I be. I said, perhaps societies err concerning these things. Dimissus. Behold, you are released." And when he had been released from the tribunal, he was troubled because he had been arrested for Minuth. His disciples came to console him, but he would not take comfort. R. Akiva came in and said to him, shall I say to you why you are perhaps grieving? He said to him, "Say on." He said to him, "Perhaps one of the Minim has said to you a word of Minuth and it has pleased you." He said, "By heaven, you have reminded me! Once I was walking along the street of Sephoris, and I met Jacob of Kfar Sichnin, and he said to me a word of Minuth in the name of Yeshu ben Pantiri, and it pleased me. And I was arrested for words of Minuth because I transgressed the words of Torah (Prov. 5:8), ‘Keep your way far from her, and come not near the door of her house (7:26), for she has cast down many wounded.’" And R. Eliezer used to say, "Ever let a man flee from what is hateful, and from that which resembles what is hateful."

Avodah Zarah 16b, 17a--Our rabbis teach, When R. Eliezer was arrested for Minuth they took him up to the tribunal to be judged. The governor said to him, "Will an old man such as you busy himself about these vain things?" He said , "Faithful is the judge concerning me." The governor supposed that he said this in reference to him; but he only said it in regard to his Father in heaven. He [the governor] said, "Since I am trusted regarding you, Dimissus, you are released." When he came to his house his disciples came in to comfort him, but he would not take comfort. R. Akiva said to him, "Rabbi, suffer me to say something of what you have taught me." He said to him, "Say on." He said to him, "Rabbi, perhaps there has come Minuth into your hand and it has pleased you, and on account of that you have been arrested for Minuth." He said to him, "Akiva, you have reminded me. Once I was walking in the upper street of Sephoris, and I found a man of the disciples of Yeshu the Nazarene, and Jacob of Kfar Sechanya was his name. He said to me, "It is written in your Torah, ‘You shall not bring the hire of a harlot’, etc. [Deut. 23:18]. What may be done with it? Latrines for the high priest [may be built with it]." And I answered him nothing. He said to me, "Thus has Yeshu the Nazarene taught me, ‘For of the hire of the harlot has she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return. [Micah 1:7] From the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they shall go.’ And the saying pleased me, and because of this I was arrested for Minuth; and I transgressed against what is written in Torah [Prov. 5:8], ‘Keep your way far from her’, this is Minuth,’and come not near the door of her house’, this is the government.

The same story is found in the Midrash, Qoh. Rabb. on 1.8, and also in Yalkut Shimoni on Micah 1, and Prov. 5:8. These versions add nothing to what is contained in the above passages, except that Qoh. Rabb. gives the dialogue between the Rabbi and Jacob more fully, as follows:
"It is written in your Torah, ‘You shall not bring,’ etc. What of these?" I said to him, "They are forbidden." He said to me, "They are forbidden as an offering; it is permitted to destroy them." I said to him, "If so, what shall one do with them?" He said to me, "He shall make with them bath-houses and latrines." I said to him, "You have said well." And the halachah was concealed from me for the moment. When he saw that I agreed with his words, he said to me, "Thus has ______ taught me, They come from filth and they go to filth, as is said [Micah 1:7], ‘For the hire of a harlot’, etc. They shall make seats for the public." And it pleased me. For this I was arrested, etc.
Commentary: We have to distinguish two events in this story, the arrest of R. Eliezer and his interview with Jacob the Min. First as to the arrest. R. Eliezer lived at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, but the dates of his birth and death are not known. His usual residence was in Lud, but he travelled about the country. He was arrested, according to the story, for "Minuth", that is, on the charge of being a Min. Rashi is certainly wrong when he says that Eliezer was arrested by the Minim. From the context it is clear that Minuth denotes here the Christian heresy.

How he came to be arrested is not said, because the explanation which he gives, that is, his former close association with a Christian, was a fact which he himself had forgotten until his pupil Akiva suggested it. Yet it is possible that some popular opinion connected him with the Christians; and we have already seen that his Rabbinical companions, by their questions to him, seemed to have acted on some suspicion. And it is curious to observe the embarrassment of R. Eliezer during his trial. One would have thought that he could have saved himself by declaring that he was not a Christian, whereas he only made a skillful evasion.

On being dismissed from the tribunal, Eliezer returned to his house, greatly troubled. [Was this because he had been accused of being a Christian, or because he indeed was a Christian, but had ‘denied’ it after a fashion?--ed.] As to the conversation between the Christian and the Rabbi, the interpretation of the texts quoted has nothing that is characteristic of Jesus as he is known from the gospels; and seeing that Jacob was most certainly not a contemporary of Jesus, his statement, "Thus has Jesus taught me," may mean no more than "such is a current Christian interpretation."


Shabbat 116a,b--Imma Shalom was the wife of R. Eliezer and sister of Rabban Gamaliel. There was in her neighborhood a "philosoph", who had got a name for not taking a bribe. They sought to make fun of him. She sent to him a lamp of gold. They came before him. She said to him, "I desire that they divide to me the property of the women’s house." He said to them, "Divide it." They said to him, "For us, it is written, ‘Where there is a son, a daughter does not inherit.’ " He said to them, "From the day when you were exiled from your land, the Law of Moses has been taken away, and the Law of the Evangelion has ben given, and in it is written, ‘A son and a daughter shall inherit alike.’ " The next day he [Rabban Gamaliel] in his turn sent to him a Lybian ass. He [the judge] said, "I have looked further to the end of the book, and in it is written, ‘I am not come to take away from the Law of Moses, and I am not come to add to the Law of Moses.’ and in it [the Law of Moses] is written, ‘Where there is a son, a daughter does not inherit’. " She said to him, "Let your light shine as a lamp!" R. Gamaliel said to her, "The ass has come and trodden out the lamp."
Commentary: This striking story occurs only, so far as I know, in the Babylonian Gemara, and, therefore, is open to suspicion from the want of contemporary evidence. On the other hand there seems no reason to account for its being invented, if there were no historical fact at the bottom of it. The story may well have been told as a family anecdote by the descendants of R. Gamaliel, and have been repeated in Babylonia by Rab, who transplanted so many of the Palestinian traditions, and whose teacher was R. Yehudah, grandson of R. Gamaliel. In the Gemara the story is tacked on to a passage dealing with written scrolls and especially with heretical writings; but there is not a word of introduction to say on whose authority it was told.

The R. Eliezer is the same whom we have already met with several times. Rabban Gamaliel is Gamaliel of Yavneh, under whose direction the formula concerning the Minim was arranged (see above). The incident took place, then, within the closing years of the first century, or the opening of the second century. The place was probably Yavneh.

As the purpose of Gamaliel and his sister was to expose the judge to ridicule, it is hardly likely that they would appeal to him to decide a real difference. It has been suggested that this incident took place around A.D. 71-73, and the best evidence for so early a date is the saying of the judge, "From the day that you were exiled from your land," which might refer to the confiscation of Jewish property in A.D. 72. As well, the conduct of R. Gamaliel and his sister might seem more appropriate to the days of their youth than to maturer years, and therefore we may accept a date of A.D. 71-71 as being on the whole probable.

The judge is called a "philosoph", and there is no reason to read some form of "episcopos" as is proposed by some. The term "philosoph" or "philosophos" occurs several times in the Talmud, and seems to denote a trained speaker. So far as I know, there is no attempt in the Talmud to reproduce the term "episcopos" in a Hebrew form. The judge was most likely a Jewish Christian, as R. Gamaliel would not be likely to play a trick on a gentile judge; and a gentile judge would scarcely have appealed to a gospel in a Jewish suit. He would have decided the case on the lines of Roman law.

Now let us examine the details of the story in order. Imma Shalom, the sister of R. Gamaliel, appealed to the court to divide for her "the property of the women’s house", in other words, to give her the share in her father’s property which she ought to bring to her husband at her marriage. R. Gamaliel pleaded against this, that his sister had no title to any part of her father’s property, because he, as son, inherited it all. He supported his plea by an appeal to the Law of Moses, though the words cited do not appear in the Torah. His plea is an inference based on Numbers 27:8. The judge, mindful of the bribe he had received from Imma Shalom, decided against him, on the ground that the Law of Moses had been superseded by the law "of the Evangelion", according to which a son and daughter inherit alike. I believe that "of the Evangelion" is the right reading in this passage; but at the same time I doubt whether the judge actually used that term. It would be more natural to assume that a Jewish Christian, in speaking to Jews, would have used an Aramaic term rather than the Greek equivalent; thus I regard the words "of the Evangelion" as a later gloss, though earlier than the written text of the Talmud. [However, the Greek term may have indeed gained currency if the gospels had been written before the destruction of the Temple, and thus had time to be spread throughout the Roman world in their Greek form--ed.]

There is no passage in the gospel which states that a son and daughter shall inherit alike. Unless some text, hereafter to be discovered, shall furnish a parallel, we can only regard the statement as a general inference from Christian principles.

The sentence of the court having been given against him, R. Gamaliel so to speak applied for a new trial by sending a bribe to the judge, a present of a Lybian ass. The next day, accordingly, the judge had reconsidered his decision. He said, "I have read further to the end of the book, and therin is written, ‘I am not come to take away from the Law of Moses, neither to add to the Law of Moses.’" There is an obvious parallel here with Matthew 5:17, though the quotation is not exact. It seems probable that the judge had some written text, and was not merely quoting from memory. If there had been not written text at all, he would not have said, "I have read further in the end of the book. . . "

The reversal of the sentence naturally disappointed Imma Shalom, and she gave the judge a significant reminder of her bribe in the words, "Let your light shine as a lamp." Here, also, there seems to be a partial reference to a text in Matt. 5:16. (In fact, Matthew 5:15-18 seem to underly the whole story.) How she came to know the words is not easy to see, as it seems unlikely that she would have read Christian writings. But the retort is so apt that we cannot suppose it to have been merely invented, with no knowledge of the words of Jesus. By quoting them she convicted the judge out of his own law, as well as reminded him of the bribe he had taken.

R. Gamaliel, the successful pleader, made rejoinder in a curious saying, which may have been a popular proverb, but which may also have been his own original remark, "The ass has come and trodden out the lamp." The meaning of the retort is obvious. But just as Imma’s retort was aimed at more than the mere fact of bribery, and had a sting for the Christian as a Christian, so perhaps it may be in the case of R. Gamaliel’s saying. The phrase occurs elsewhere, and a brief study of the subject may throw some light on it.

The phrase is found in Pesikta de Rab Kahana 122b, and also in Jerusalem Yoma 38c, Vajirq. Rabba 100.21. In all these cases the phrase is used to describe the frustration of one bribe by a larger bribe from the opposite party to a suit. These stories may well be founded upon the story of Imma Shalom and R. Gamaliel (even though the Pesikta may be earlier in date than the completion of the Babylonian Gemara).

Evidence elsewhere suggests that there was some obscure connection in thought between Jesus and an ass, so that the latter may have served as a kind of symbol of the former. In the Midrash Qoh. Rabba on 1.8, a passage which will be discussed below, R. Yehoshua b. Hananiah says to his nephew, who had been led astray by the Minim of Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) and then rescued from them, "Since the ass of that wicked one is roused against you, you can no longer dwell in the land of Israel." The plain meaing is that the young man had been damaged in character and repute by contact with Christianity; and this would hardly have been described by a metaphor so peculiar unless there was an implied reference to Jesus in the mention of the ass. Perhaps there was an intended slight to the messianic dignity of Jesus (the young apostate had been made by the Christians to ride an ass on the Sabbath). These are nothing more than slight and obscure hints, and there may be nothing in them; but they are worth collecting and recording on the chance that their meaning may be more clearly understood in the light of future researches.


Tosefta Shabbat 18.5--The margins and books of the Minim they do not save, but these are burnt in their place, they and their "Memorials" [i.e., the Divine Name found in the text]. R. Jose the Galilean says, "On a weekday one cuts out the Memorials and hides them and burns the rest." R. Tarphon said, "May I lose my son! If they come into my hand I would burn them and their Memorials too. If the pursuer were pursuing after me, I would enter into a house of idolatry, and I enter not into their houses. For the idolators do not acknowledge Him [i.e., God] and speak falsely concerning Him; but these do acknowledge Him and speak falsely concerning Him. And concerning them the scripture says, ‘And behind the door and the doorpost you have set your memorial. [Isaiah 57:8]’" R. Ishmael said, "Whereas, in order to show peace between a man and his wife, God says [compare Numbers 5:23], ‘Let My Name which is written in holiness be blotted out in water’, how much more the books of the Minim, which put emnity and jealousy and strife between Israel and their Father who is in heaven, should be blotted out, and their Memorials, too. And concerning them the scripture says [Psalm 139:21], ‘Do I not hate them, O Lord, which hate You, and I loathe them that rise up against You. I hate them with a perfect hatred, and they have become to me as enemies.’ And even as men do not save them [the books] from burning, so they do not save them from falling, nor from water, nor from anything which destroys them.
Commentary: The word for "margin" means the unwritten portion of a book. But , as in modern books, the margins of ancient MSS were used for annotations; and it is reasonable to suppose that these annotations would include texts of scripture, quoted as illustrations. Hence the question would arise whether, although the corpus of the book was heretical, the marginal citations of scripture were to be regarded as sacred.

The rabbis whose words are cited lived in the early part of the second century. R. Tarphon is well known as a bitter opponent of Christianity. Ishmael is the same whom we have previously seen, protesting against the cure of his nephew by a Christian doctor. It is evident, then, from their strong denunciations, that the books of the Minim included Christian writings. But the phrase is indefinite, and cannot fairly be restricted to only writings explanatory of the Christian religion.


Gittin 4b--Rab Bodia said to Rab Ashi, "At more than their price", this is why, "they do not receive them." At their price they do receive them. Learn from this, that one may read in a Book of the Law which is found in the hands of an idolator. Ought it, perhaps, to be concealed? Rab Nachman said, "We have received [a tradition] that a Book of the Law, if written by a Min, is to be burnt; if written by an idolator, it is to be concealed." If found in the hand of a Min, it is to be concealed; if found in the hand of an idolator, some say it is to be concealed, some say it may be read. [In regard to] a Book of the Law written by an idolator, one [teacher] teaches that it is to be burnt, another [tradition] is that it is to be concealed, and another is that it may be read. There is no contradiction.
Commentary: Apart from the difficulties in connection with books written by Minim for their own use, there was the difficulty of deciding whether a Book of the Law might be used if written by, or found in the possession of, someone other than a Jew. Such a book might have been written in order to be sold to the Jews for their own use. Or, if found in the possession of a non-Jewish person, it might still have been written by a Jew, and therefore it might be lawful for a Jew to use. As a contemporary of R. Ashi (the editor of the Babylonian Gemara) , R. Bodia lived at the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the fifth. R. Nachman is Nachman bar Jacob, a Babylonian teacher who died about A.D. 300.

A clear distinction is made between an idolator and a Min, in deciding how to deal with Books of the Law whose origin was doubtful. It should be noted that the Mishnah text does not say anything about Minim in this connection. The Min is not in this case necessarily a Christian, but is certainly a Jewish heretic. Therefore a book written by a Min was condemned outright, and must be burnt. If found in his possession, even though it might have been written by a Jew, it was considered as tainted with heresy, and must be "concealed", i.e, withdrawn from use.

A few lines further down on the same page of the Talmud (Gittin 45b) are two more references to Minim. R. Hamnuna, the son of Raba of Parshunia, says, "Rolls of the Law, tephillin, and mezuzoth, written by a Min, a betrayer, an idolator, a slave, a woman, a child, a Samaritan or an apostate Israelite, are ceremonially unfit for use." This also occurs in Menahot 42b. The second reference is merely the following: "Concerning a proselyte who reverts to his wickedness, [he will revert] to his wickedness much more if he be a Min." These passage are of very late date.


Tofesta Yadim 2.13--The rolls and books of the Minim do not defile the hands. The books of Ben Sira and all books which have been written from that time onward do not defile the hands.
Commentary: There is hardly anything to be said on this passage, which is a mere statement that the books of the Minim are not to be regarded as sacred.


Shabbat 116a--R. Joseph bar Hanin asked R. Abahu, "Those books of the Be Abidan, does one save them from burning or not? yes and no; he was undecided. Rab did not go to the Be Abidan, much less to the Be Nitzraphi. Shmuel did not go to the Be Nitzraphi; but he did go to the Be Abidan. They said to Rab, "What is the reason you did not come to the Be Abidan?" He said to them, "There is a certain palm tree by the road, and it is an offense to me; if it were uprooted, the place of it would be an offense to me." Mar bar Joseph said, "I have been among them, and I was not respected by them." On one occasion he went and they sought to endanger him. R. Meir called it Aven giljon, R. Yohanan called it Avon giljon.
Commentary: This passage forms part of a larger one, parts of which we have already examined. I have broken it up for convenience. It obviously comes under the general head of "Books of the Minim", but the portion at present is interesting on its own because it mentions the Be Abidan and the Be Nitzraphi.

R. Abahu lived in Caesarea at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century. This is evidence that the question put to him referred to things in Palestine. The printed text in the modern editions gives the name of his questioner as Joseph bar Hanin, and this is correct, although the Munich MS gives his name as "Joseph bar Hama". The latter, the father of Raba, was a Babylonian who, so far as I know, never came into contact with R. Abahu. Joseph bar Hanin, or Hanina, was the teacher of Abahu; his name in this passage is vouched for by the Oxford MS. Mar bar Joseph, if the reading is correct, would be the son of Joseph b. Hanin.

Whatever the books of the Be Abidan may have been, it is clear that they included books which were heretical, and distinctly Christian. That they were heretical is shown by the context, because the books of the Minim have just previously been mentioned. And that they were Christian is shown unmistakably by the concluding words, which contain plays upon the name Evangelion. This concluding sentence is not found in the modern editions, but is contained in the MSS and early editions, and is here given on the authority of Rabbinowicz. Probably both witticisms are reported by R. Abahu, who was a disciple of R. Yohanan, the author of one of them. And R. Yohanan must have been aware of the saying of R. Meri, since his own jest is only a variation of the older one. "Aven giljon" means "a worthless thing of a book [roll]", or, since "Aven" in the Old Testament generally has some reference to idolatry, "a book of idolatry". In like manner "Avon giljon" may be rendered, "a book of iniquity". R. Meir lived in Palestine in the latter half of the second century. His teachers were R. Akiva, who was a fierce opponent of Christianity, and Elisha ben Abuja, himself inclined to heresy, and well acquainted with books of the Minim. The give of R. Meir is clear proof that in his time the term Evangelion was in common use, and we may perhaps conclude from the passage before us that it was a generic term for the "Books of the Minim", or, at all events, that it included more than one book. After referring to "books" in the plural, the passage reads, "R. Meir called "it" Aven giljon." I have already pointed out (above) that the use of the word Evangelion in the story of R. Gamaliel and the Christian judge (a passage which forms a continuation of the one under present examination) is probably a later gloss. It would at all events be unsafe to rely upon its authenticity in that story.

Now, what are the "Be Abidan" and "Be Nitzraphi"? "Be" is a shortened form of "Beth", or "house". Neither Abidan nor Nitzraphi are regular Aramaic, still less Hebrew words. They are hybrids, and contain some polemic allusion. Abidan is apparently connected with the root "abad", "to destroy", and both form and derivation may be compared with "Abaddon" (Rev. 9:11). Nitzraphi (the vocalization is uncertain) is almost certainly connected with the word Notzri, "Nazarene", while the form suggests a niphal from the root tzaraph, "to unite". It is tempting to infer for Be Nitzraphi the meaning, "House where Nazarenes assemble". And whether or not this be the intention of the inventor of the word, it fits the senes in the few passages where the word occurs. For example:

Erubin 79b, 80a--What is an Asherah in general? Rab said, "Every [tree] which priests guard and do not taste its fruits." And Shmuel said, "Like those who say, These dates are for the wine of the Be Nitzrahpi, which they drink on the day of their feast."
(And Avodah Zarah 48a repeats substantially the same.) Be Abidan is mentioned in Shabbat 152a and Avodah Zerah 17b, in both places when someone is asked why they do not come to the Be Abidan. Whatever these places were, it is plain that they were in Palestine. This is shown by the fact that the Rabbis mentioned in these passages lived in Palestine during the whole or part of their lives.

I would venture to suggest that Be Abidan represents the word "odeum", a type of theater for musical performances, frequently used as a law court or as a place for philosophical discussions. Such buildings were erected in several cities in Palestine, as is shown by the existing ruins. Now, there are various accounts in the Talmud and Midrash of disputations between R. Yehoshua ben Hananiah, the Emperor Hadrian, and "the men of the Be Athina", that is, literally the "House of Athens" (see Bechoroth 8b, Qoheleth Rabba 1.7, and elsewhere). It is not recorded that R. Yehoshua was ever in Athens (though he visited Rome). Might not the debates between R. Yehoshua and the men of the "Be Athina" represent what took place in an odeum, either in Palestine or perhaps Alexandria? The study of Greek philosophy was looked upon with disapproval by the Rabbis, who regarded it as a danger. Therefore it was natural that they should not willingly encounter Greek philosophers, though sometimes they may have been obliged to do so. The term Be Abidan, though only a hybrid, may be translated "House of Destruction", and I suggest that it is a play on the word odeum, nearly alike in sound, though not intended as a transliteration. An odeum was a place to which a Jew might on occasion go, because it was not a heathen Temple. It was a place where philosophical disputations were held, and it was a place where books (including Christian ones) would most naturally be found. Finally, it was a place well known in Palestinian cities, and not, so far as I am aware, familiar to the Babylonian Rabbis.

There remains to be considered the term Be Nitzraphi. What this means, we can only infer from the passages. It is evident that the Be Nitzraphi was considered to be a worse place than the Be Abidan. It appears that the Be Nitzraphi was a place where wine was used for religious purposes, while at the same time it could not be a heathen temple, because no Rabbi would have entered such a place. Moreover, the Be Nitzraphi was a Palestinian institution, although the fact of its being mentioned only in connection with Rab and Shmuel, both chiefly known as Babylonian teachers, might suggest that it was a Babylonian institution. This cannot indeed be said to be impossible, owing to the scantiness of the evidence. But it is not likely, because a comparison made between the Be Abidan, which we have seen to be purely Palestinian, and the Be Nitzraphi; and it is stated that Shmuel went to one but not to the other. It appears to be most likely that the Be Nitzraphi is a synagogue or meeting place of Jewish Christians, or Nazarenes, Notzrim. While a Jew would certainly not enter a place where gentile Christians assembled, we know that Rabbis of undoubted orthodoxy, such as Abahu, had close contact with Jewish Christians; and not only so, but that a Rabbi (Saphra) was actually appointed by the Jewish Christians of Ceasarea to be their teacher on the recommendation of the same Abahu. If anything, this proves too much, because the Be Nitzraphi, or Jewish Christian place of meeting, might seem to be not such a terrible place after all. Yet Abahu, with all his readiness to have contact with Jewish Christians, was a stout opponent of their teaching, and had many a debate with them. I rest, therefore, in the conclusion that Be Nitzraphi denotes a meeting place of Jewish Christians; and I would explain it as a hybrid word combining a reference to the Notzrim with the notion of an assembly (root, tzarapah). I do not know that Nitzraphi is the correct form; as the word is only found in an unpointed text, it is difficult to say what the proper vowels are.


Avodah Zerah 6a (ib. 7b) --For R. Tahlipha bar Abdimi said that Shmuel said, "The Nazarene day, according to the words of R. Ishmael, is forbidden forever.

Taanith 27b--On the eve of the Sabbath they did not fast, out of respect to the Sabbath; still less [did they fast] on the Sabbath itself. Why did they not fast on the day after Sabbath? R. Yohanan says, "Because of the Nazarenes."

Commentary: There is little to be said upon these two meager references to the Christian Sunday. (It may be noticed that the specific word "Nazarene" is used here, instead of the word Minim.)


Mishnah Megillah 4.8,9--He that says I will not go before the Ark in colored garments, shall not do so in white ones. [He that refuses to do so] in sandals, shall not do so even barefoot. And he that makes his tephillin round, it is danger, and there is no [fulfilling of ] commandment in it. If he place it [the tephellin] upon his forehead or upon the palm of his hand, lo, this is the way of Minuth. If he cover it with gold, and place it on his robe, lo, this is the way of the Hitzonim.

If one say, "The good shall bless you", lo, this is the way of Minuth. [If one say}, "Thy mercies reach to the nest of the bird", "Let your name be remembered for good", "We praise, we praise", they silence him.

Commentary: This is one of the few passages in which the Mishnah refers directly to Minuth. It is also one of the most obscure. To "go before the Ark" is to stand up to read the prayers in the synagogue. The difficulty is to identify the form of heresy referred to. Those who desire to wear white garments may be the Essenes, who are said to have always worn a white robe. This explanation, however, will not apply to those who desire to be barefoot when they read. it is again quite uncertain what heretics are censured in the reference to those "who make their tephillin round". Of those who wear the tephellin on their forehead or on the palm of the hand, it is said, "this is the way of Minuth". It is remarkable that the Gemara can give no explanation of these allusions. It only says (Megillah 24b) that the reason for the prohibition is "lest Minuth should be propagated", a reason which is obvious in itself and does not throw light on the difficulty. The Gemara is altogether silent on the last clause, "he who covers his tephillin with gold, lo, this is the way of the Hitzonim". The name Hitzonim means simply "outsiders", and whether or not it refers to the Essenes, it is surely not, as Edersheim suggests, the origin of that name.

The fourth formula given is "We praise, we praise". Here the ground of objection is the repetition of the word, as implying that there are two who are to be praised. The Gemaras agree that the reference is to the doctrine of "two powers". [It is possible that the wearing of the tephillin on the palm of the hand and the forehead was to in some way indicate the wounds of Jesus.--ed]

These formulae are heretical variations introduced into the liturgy; and they must date back to a time when Jews and Jewish Christians worshipped together in the synagogues. We may reasonably connect the censure of these liturgical formulae with the enactment of the Benediction against the Minim (see above), and refer them, or rather the Mishnah enumerating them, to the end of the first century. This may account for the fact that the Gemara cannot explain the reasons of the various censures, and can only partially explain those upon the liturgical formulae. When the Gemaras were compiled, Jewish Christians had probably ceased to worship with Jews in the synagogues. Their alterations in ritual were wholly forgotten and unknown, and only some knowledge of their aberrations remained.


Berakoth 9c--R. Acha and R. Judah ben Pazi were sitting in a certain synagogue. There came one and went before the Ark, and left out one Benediction. They came and asked R. Simon. He said to him [sic], in the name of R. Yehoshua ben Levi, "When a servant of the congregation omits two or three Benedictions, they do not make him turn back. There exists a difference of opinion. [lit., "One is found teaching and differing."] In general, they do not make anyone turn back, except him who has omitted ‘that makest the dead to live’, ‘that brings down the proud’, ‘that builds Jerusalem’. I say that [such a one] is a Min."
Commentary: The incident here belongs to the beginning of the fourth century, or possibily the end of the third. R. Simon is R. Simon bar Pazi, who was a disciple of R. Yehoshua ben Levi, and younger contemporary of R. Yohanan. He owned land in the south of Palestine (Demai 25a), and lived and taught there. R. Judah ben Pazi was his son--Pazi being the general family name, and not that of the father alone. R. Judah b.Pazi and R. Acha both lived in Lud (Jerusalem Sanhedrin 18c,d), and there, no doubt, was the synagogue referred to in the story.

The words "that brings down the proud" are the conclusion of the formula against the Min (Berakoth 8c, see above). The formula concerning the "building of Jerusalem" included the prayer for the restoration of the throne of David; but it is not clear to me why the omission of that prayer should be characteristic of a Min. [But see the works of Yehuda Liebes, i.e., "Who Makes the Horn of Jesus to Flourish", Immanuel magazine, no. 21, summer 1987; also in Jerusalem Studies of Jewish Thought, iii, 1984, pp. 313-348, for examples of changes in the liturgy wrought by the influence of Jewish Christians.--ed] When Jews and Minim met together, the Min’s heresy might show itself in the recital of the liturgy. There was, accordingly, reason for keeping up the use of the detective formula (see above), and it would seem that two other prayers of the Eighteen were made use of for the same purpose.


Qoh. Rabba 1.8, p. 4b--Hanina, son of the brother of R. Yehoshua, came to Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) and the Minim worked a spell on him, and set him riding on an ass on the Sabbath. He came to Yehoshua his friend, and he put an ointment on him and he was healed. He [R. Yehoshua] said to him, "Since that ass of the wicked one has roused itself against you, you can no longer remain in the land of Israel." He departed thence to Babel, and died there in peace.
Commentary: The Midrash known as Qoheleth Rabba, on the book of Ecclesiastes, is of very late date, but nevertheless contains an abundance of ancient material. The present story I believe to be ancient, in spite of traces of late date in style, for two reasons. First, the motive that suggested it was one that would lose its force if the man of whom the story was told had been dead for a long time. Second, the references to the Minim of Capernaum only occur in connection with persons of the first or second century. At a later date they seem quite unknown.

The R. Yehoshua of the story is R. Yehoshua ben Hananyah, who has already been frequently mentioned, and who lived at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century. Hananyah (not Hanina, as in the text), his nephew, was a well-known teacher, though by no means so distinguished as his uncle. He did remove from Palestine to Babylonia, probably before the outbreak of the Bar Kochba war. And there he finally established himself, although he once at least returned to Palestine (Sukkah 20b). Even in the time of R. Gamaliel II, before he left Palestine, Hananyah appears to have been a Rabbi, and to have enjoyed a considerable reputation as such (Niddah 24b). By his residence in Babylonia, he escaped the persecution which followed the Bar Kochba war, and it would seem that he took advantage of the confusion and weakness of the Palestinian schools to assert the independence of his own and other Babylonian seats of learning. After order had been restored in Palestine, and the scattered Rabbis had gathered under the leadership of R. Shimon ben Gamaliel, a sharp controversy took place between the latter and R. Hananyah. Messengers were sent to Babylonia to demand the submission of R. Hananyah to the authority of the Palestinian Patriarch. The story of the dispute is given in Nedarim 40a, Jerusalem Sanhedrin 19a, and Berakoth 63a, b. The date of this dispute may be roughly given as 150 A.D., possibly somewhat earlier.

Now it was evidently the interest of the Palestinian Rabbis to deprecate the authority of R. Hananyah if they could; and the suggestion of the contact with the Minim would answer their purpose. Here we find the motive for the story. Whether true or not, it is evident that there was a reason for telling the story. Also it would seem natural that the story should become current at a time not long after the dispute just mentioned, possibly even while it was going on.It does not appear that R. Hananyah ever made any formal submission; but there is no doubt that the authority of the Nasi in Palestine was successfully asserted as against the schools of Babylonia. R. Hananyah was left in peace, having failed to realize his ambition. The story before us ingeniously presents him as a man for whom allowances had to be made. No one disputed his learning or his eminence as a teacher, but he had unfortunately permitted himself to be tainted with heresy, and therefore was obliged to leave the country. Such seems to be the intention of the story.

That the Minim here denote Christians there can be no possible doubt. The phrase, "the ass of that wicked one" contains an unmistakable reference to Jesus. And the mention of Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) confirms the reference, that city having been the headquarters, so to speak, of Jesus during the earlier part of his public career. If Christians were to be found anywhere in Galilee in the second century, Capernaum was the most likely place to contain them.

It should be observed that this story is not contained in either of the Gemaras, nor in any of the older Midrashim, although R. Hananyah is several times referred to as a well-known teacher. In the Midrash Qoheleth Rabbah, which is the sole authority for the story, there is nevertheless a passage which to some extent confirms its antiquity. It is said (on 7.26) that R. Isi of Ceasarea (fourth century) expounded this verse in reference to Minuth, and gave several examples of the good who escaped, and the bad who were ensnared. Among his instances are Elazar ben Dama and Jacob of Kfar Sechanya, and also Hananyah and the Minim of Kfar Nahum. This shows that the story is not necessarily of late date, although it now occurs only in an almost medieval midrash.


Bereshith Rabba 8, p. 22d--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!."
Commentary: R. Shmuel bar Nachman was one of the disciples of R. Jonathan. The grim humor of the reply to Moses is somewhat spoiled by a feeble explanation added on to it, that God took counsel with the angels during the creation [and so said, "Let Us. . . "]. I have ventured to regard this merely as a gloss, and to leave R. Jonathan’s daring invention [i.e., "Let him err!"] untouched. It is by far the best retort which the Rabbis made to the Minim on this text.


Jerusalem Shabbat 8d--[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 Sahdrach, 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."
Commentary: This is part of a haggadic interpretation of the story in Daniel 3, of the three men cast into the furnace. The fact that in verse 25 Nebuchadnezzar uses the phrase "son of God", while in verse 28 he speaks of a "messenger", not of a "son", of God, is ingeniously turned to account as an argument against the Christian doctrine. There can be no question that the polemic here is anti-Christian. Of Reuben, the author of this haggadah, nothing is certainly known. Probably he is the same as Reuben ben Aristobulos, who belonged to the generation after Bar Kochba.


Pesikta Rabbati 21 p. 100b--Rabbi Hija bar Abba said, If the son of the harlot shall say to you, "These are two Gods," say to him, "I am He of the [Red] Sea; I am He of Sinai." . . . [another explanation], R. Hija bar Abba said, If the son of the harlot shall say to you, "These are two Gods," say to him [Deut. 5:4], "Face to face the Lord [singular] spoke with you."
Commentary: This is part of a haggadah on the Ten Commandments. There can be no doubt that the reference is to Jesus. R. Hija bar Abba was a Babylonian settled in Palestine; he belonged to the disciples of R. Yohanan, and may thus be placed in the latter half of the third century and the beginning of the fourth.


I have now reached the end of my task. The general result of the whole study in which we have been engaged is to show, in two ways, how Judaism released itself from what it considered to be the danger of Christianity. It preserved only a careless and contempuous tradition about Jesus and resolutely resisted all attempts on the part of his Jewish-born disciples to come to terms with Jewish belief and practice. Judaism fought the enemy within her gates; of the rival outside, growing in power with every century, she took no notice. She went on her way, and on the line she chose for herself worked out her own salvation through centuries of noble and most tragic history. In like manner, though on other lines, Christianity went on its way and forgot its Jewish origin. In the land of its birth, and among the people who furnished the first Christians, Christianity was represented by a discredited and dwindling sect, claiming kinship with Jews and Christians, and disowned by both.

In the hope that this study of an obscure field of history may be of service, and that it may awaken in perhaps one or two readers something of the deep interest which it has given to me during my labors upon it, I finish this book; and, in parting from it, take regretful leave of what has been to me a friend and companion through many years.