Monday, 23 November 2009

Jesus problems in the Talmud

This post is part of a series that looked at some of the references to Jesus outside the New Testament that were made in the first and second century.

A herald?
In the last Talmud quote there was a herald declaring that Jesus was going to die 40 days before he did. This declaration was an opportunity for anyone to come forward to defend Jesus of the accusation of sorcery. The problem with this account is that no other sources agree with this account. Jesus did predict his death a few times, and Jesus did do things that could be seen as sorcery, but to say that Jesus was given a fair trial contradicts all other accounts.

The context of this Talmud passage is about the procedure for punishing someone of a crime. A herald is to go before the person to be tried declaring the crime and punishment in order for any witnesses to come forward. According to this passage it would have been unlawful for the Jewish council to arrest Jesus one night and kill him the next day, or to use false witnesses and to help your cause. It would be unlawful to kill a declared innocent man by the rulers. This tradition is later than the gospel accounts and maybe a response to the events that the Christians were saying. It is naive to think that there isn't some Jewish bias in their writings, as all writings are biased (including this).

How many disciples?
This passage also says that Jesus had five disciples, and not twelve. The following text from the last quote goes on in a formula of "When X was brought in he said ABC. Shall X be executed? Is it not written XYZ? Yes it is. X shall be executed since it is written. Something about X". In the context of the passage it backs up the procedure for executing people. The accused is brought before the council, their crime is presented and declared. The fact that every one of Yeshu's disciples mention has a follow up execution account certainly goes to show that who ever was following this Yeshu were all misguided and wrong.

Why only mention five disciples? I have no real idea. Maybe in the context, five execution stories is enough to back up the passages text. Maybe they were refuting the traditional stories of the disciples to paint the Jewish council in a better light. Maybe the names originally all referred to Jesus and were added in later to refer to his disciples. Maybe this is an independent source that had been handed down orally apart from the gospel stories.

Who where they? There is some speculation, and no one really knows. The following associations I got from random internet pages that have nothing to back up their claims: Matthai could be a reference to Matthew; Nakai could be Nakdimon or Nicodemus from John 3; Nezer could mean Nazarene and I couldn't find anyone else to say this, but Peter was accused of being a local with Jesus which means he was a Nazarene; Buni could be Boanerges in Mark 3 making it James or John and Todah could be Thaddaeus from Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18. One of the problems with these names is that Clement of Alexander says Matthew was not marted, Peter was killed by Romans, James was marted by Herod and John wasn't killed.

In another Jewish text, the Toledot Yeshu, there is a story of Jesus being arrested and when "asked his name, he replied to the question by several times giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages." (text here). The order of names in this text is the same as the Talmud but it should be noted that Todah isn't mentioned. It has been suggested that these names in the Torah were added later to be the disciple names. See here for more arguments about these names form (its from a peer review journal so has way more weight than the paragraph above). (Edit: Sorry, that link only displays the first page if you (or your workplace) does not subscribe to that journal. I can email it to you if you want.)

There is even a possible problem about the text itself. But that will be in the next post...


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