What the Talmud Says about Jesus
- What the Talmud Really Says About Jesus
by David Klinghoffer,
Religion BookLine (RBL)
Publishers Weekly, Jan. 31, 2007
Will Peter Schaefer's new book, Jesus in the Talmud (Mar.), be
controversial? "I'm afraid so," Schaefer told RBL. "That's why I'm
His editor at Princeton University Press, Brigitta van Rheinberg,
laughed but agreed: "You think, oh, whoa, this is not going to go over
well in certain circles."
Schaefer, who heads up Princeton's Judaic studies program, has
collected and analyzed all the passages in the Talmud that apparently
refer to the founder of Christianity, texts that were previously
censored from Talmud editions for centuries. In his book he
arguesagainst other scholarsthat the scandalous passages indeed
refer not to some other figure of ancient times but to the famous
Jesus of Nazareth.
What exactly is so scandalous? How about Jesus punished in Hell for
eternity by being made to sit in a cauldron of boiling excrement? That
image appears in early manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud, as does a
brief account of Jesus' trial and executionnot by the Romans but by
the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. The Jewish community, to the
extent Jews were even aware of these excised texts, has been content
to let them remain obscure and unknown.
Schaefer, a distinguished German-born Christian scholar who describes
classical rabbinic literature as "my first love," has now definitively
let the cat out of the bag. This undermines a widespread assumption
that, of Judaism's and Christianity's respective sacred texts, only
the Christian Gospels go out of their way to assail the rival faith,
whereas Judaism's classical texts refrain from similar attacks.
It seems fair to say now, however, that the Talmud is every bit as
offensive to Christians as the Gospels are to Jews.
The Talmud's scattered portrait of Jesus unapologetically mocks
Christian doctrines including the virgin birth and the resurrection.
Which isn't to say that the rabbinic invective is meant simply to
insult. In his book, the author calls the Talmud's assault on
Christian claims "devastating."
"It is a very serious argument," said Schaefer, who emphasizes that
the rabbis' stories about Jesus were never intended as an attempt at
historically accurate narrative. Rather, in the classic Talmudic
style, they encode legal and theological argumentation in the form of
One naturally wonders, when Jesus in the Talmud is published, what the
results will be for Jewish-Christian relations. "I certainly don't
want to harm Jewish-Christian dialogue. God forbid," Schaefer said.
But dialogue requires honesty, and "I'm trying to be honest."
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