Series - "Ancient Historical Evidence for Jesus of Nazareth" (pt.4)

So far we have seen Jesus or Christianity being mentioned by seven historical persons. Now we will be looking at two more sources in this category, The Ohter Jewish Sources. First we will be looking at the Talmud and then at Toledoth Jesu.

The Talmud

The Jews handed down a large amount of oral tradition from generation to generation. This material was organized according to subject matter by Rabbi Akiba before his death in 135 A.D. His work was then revised by his student, Rabbi Meir. The project was completed about 200 A.D. by Rabbi Judah and i known as the Mishnah. Ancient commentary on the Mishnah was called the Gemaras. The combination of the Mishnah and the Gemaras form the Talmud.

It would be expected that the most reliable information about Jesus from the Talmud would come from the earliest period of compilation - 70 to 200 A.D., known as the Tannaitic period. A Very significant quotation is found in Sanhedrin 43a, dating from just this period:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (Jesus) was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf". But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!

Here we have a brief account of Jesus' death. It should be noted that these two references to Jesus being "hanged" is being spoken of also in the New Testament. There it speaks of crucifixion in the same way. Jesus is said to be "hanged" (Greek kremamenos Gal. 3:13), as were the two males killed at the same time (Greek kremasthenton in Luke 23:39). While the term "crucified" is a much more common reference to this event, "hanged" is a variant expression of the same fate.

Another early reference in the Talmud speaks of five of Jesus' disciples and recounts their standing before the judges who make individual decisions about each one, deciding that they should be executed.

Toledoth Jesu

This anti-Christian document not only refers to Jesus, but gives an interesting account of what happened to Jesus' body after his death. It related that his disciples planned to steal his body. However, a gardener named Juda discovered their plans and dug a new grave in his garden. then he removed Jesus' body from Joseph's tomb and placed it in his own newly dug grave. The disciples came to the original tomb, found Jesus' body gone and proclaimed hi risen. The Jewish leaders also proceeded to Joseph's tomb and found it empty. Juda then took them to his grave and dug up the body of Jesus. The Jewish leaders were greatly relieved and wanted to take the body. Juda replied that he would sell them the body of Jesus and did so for thirty pieces of silver. The Jewish priests then dragged Jesus’ body through the streets of Jerusalem.

it is true that the Toledoth Jesu was not compiled until the 5th century A.D., although it does reflect early Jewish tradition. Even though Jewish scholars scorn the reliability of this source, the teaching that the disciples were the ones who removed the dead body of Jesus persisted in the early centuries after Jesus' death. As reported in Matt. 28:11-15, this saying was still popular when the gospel was written, probably between 70-85 A.D. Additionally, Justin Martyr, writing about 150 A.D., states that the Jewish leaders had even sent specially trained men around the Mediterranean, even to Rome, to further this teaching, which is confirmed by Tertullian about 200 A.D. in other words, even if the Toledoth Jesu itself is too late or untrustworthy a source, in spite of its early material, the idea that the tomb was empty because the body was removed or stolen was common in early church history, as witnessed by other sources.

Next we will be looking at Other Gentile Sources. Until next time