Historical Evidence Related to Jesus: Written Sources

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Tertullian wrote about Jesus in the late AD 2nd century

The Jewish historian Josephus, born in 37 or 38 A.D. and educated as a Pharisee, completed two very detailed works (authenticated by archaeology), and made mention of Jesus. So did the great second-century Roman historian Tacitus, who referred to "Christ, [who] had been executed...by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate."

Matt Andrews wrote in Midwest Today, “Although none of the Dead Sea Scrolls mentions Jesus by name, they do speak of the coming Jewish Messiah. According to Michael Wise of the University of Chicago, the texts also contain passages which closely resemble the words of Jesus as contained in Luke. Just as the discovery of the scrolls demonstrated that the books of the Old Testament had suffered little textural change over many centuries, so the New Testament manuscript discoveries over the years have exhibited a reassuring general consistency. On the whole, errors and textural variations are relatively minor, and supporters say the canonical gospels can be judged to be very much as their authors wrote them. It is interesting to note that while there exists only a single copy of a manuscript of the great Roman historian Tacitus, dating from about the 12th Century, of canonical works attesting to Jesus' existence there are some 274 vellum manuscripts, dating from between the fourth and 11th Centuries, and no less than 88 papyrus fragments datable to between the second and fourth Centuries. [Source: Matt Andrews, Midwest Today, March 1994 ^=^]

“As Ian Wilson, author of "Jesus: The Evidence" (Harper & Row), argues, even critics have "been prepared to acknowledge that the gospel material that is most likely to be authentic to Jesus (though probably not without some fabrication and re-touching) is his parables, some 30 or 40 of which are to be found in the synoptic gospels. This view," claims Wilson, "is borne out by the fact that if he, as a flesh and blood historical figure, had not invented them, we should be obliged to look for someone equally remarkable who had. In fact, they have precisely the same individual quality that distinguishes his teachings. If they were facile forgeries, put into the mouth of a man who never existed, we would expect the rich man always to be the villain, the self-righteous man always to be the hero - but this is far from being the case: they always have an element of the unexpected..." ^=^

“This is the historical Jesus at his most convincing. Jesus seems to have believed there to be all sorts of circumstances in which love should transcend Mosaic Law to embrace individuals whose sinfulness had in Jewish eyes rendered them "unclean." The strength of his following is another of the most striking features of Jesus' recorded life. Repeatedly the gospels refer to the crowds which surrounded him wherever he went, crowds from whom, equally repeatedly he felt obliged to slip away when the pressure became too great. The Mark gospel comments on the predicament this presented for him: "Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him" (Mark 1:45). ^=^

“There was also Jesus' ability to perform miracles. With unprecedented expertise, he is credited with curing cases of paralysis, lameness, fever, bleeding, skin disease and mental disorder. He raised people from the dead, walked on water, multiplied food to feed the masses, turned water into wine and calmed a storm. Canon Anthony Harvey of Westminster Abbey, a leading Anglican scholar, has pointed out what he sees as the matter-of-fact quality of the miracle stories: "In general one can say that the miracle stories in the gospels are unlike anything else in ancient literature. They do not exaggerate the miracle or add sensational details... To a degree that is rare in the writings of antiquity, we can say, to use a modern phrase, that they tell the story straight..." ^=^

“Yet some skeptics have propounded the idea that Jesus was merely a clever first-century hypnotist. Ian Wilson has noted that "even if all those diverse individuals to whom Jesus brought release from suffering were, in psychological terms, mere hysterics, the sheer scale of what Jesus managed to effect, and the spontaneity with which he is said to have achieved it, go far beyond what even the greatest braggadocio among hypnotists would profess to be able to achieve today." ^=^

“And had Jesus been just a clever hypnotist, he could no doubt have continued happily into old age making a comfortable living from his skill. Jesus' purpose was plainly more serious than this, as is apparent from the fact that he never used his talent for personal gain and, in fact, his miracle-working ultimately lead to his death. Most strikingly, the belief in a resurrected Jesus spread quickly following his crucifixion and was embraced by a wide diversity of people. ^=^

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ pbs.org ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org ; Christianity BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks Biblical History: Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org

Lack of Evidence of Jesus’ Existence

The Dead Sea scrolls --- like the Temple scroll here --- didn't mention Jesus but they did talk about a messiah

Matt Andrews wrote in Midwest Today, “As some adherents to the Christian faith grudgingly admit, facts concerning Jesus and his life are remarkably hard to come by. The gospels don't even tell us what he looked like. Of the details of Jesus' life, one scholar calculated that, with the exception of the 40 days and nights in the wilderness (of which we are told virtually nothing), everything described in the gospels could be compressed into three weeks, which leaves by far the greater part of Christ's life unrecorded. [Source: Matt Andrews, Midwest Today, March 1994 ^=^]

“Doubting Thomases also point out the supposed lack of references to Jesus outside the gospels, but actually, this is a misnomer. The Jewish historian Josephus, born in 37 or 38 A.D. and educated as a Pharisee, completed two very detailed works (authenticated by archaeology), and made mention of Jesus. So did the great second-century Roman historian Tacitus, who referred to "Christ, [who] had been executed...by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate." ^=^

“Yet as participants in the Jesus Seminar, and skeptics before them, have pointed out, there are vexing areas of uncertainty and conflict. For instance, according to Matthew's gospel, the news of Jesus' impending birth is conveyed to Mary's husband, Joseph, in a dream, while according to Luke it is told directly to Mary by the "Angel Gabriel." According to Luke, Jesus' parents had to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem for the Roman census, while according to Matthew they lived in Bethlehem already, and were only obliged to leave when, in an incident which has no historical corroboration, King Herod began killing off the children. Although in Luke Jesus is represented as God's son by Mary, his ancestry is illogically traced back to King David via his human father Joseph. While Matthew's gospel similarly gives Jesus' genealogy via the male line, it provides a list of antecedents so different from those in Luke that even Joseph's father appears with a different name. ^=^

“The Jesus Seminar participants note that halfway through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus supposedly tells disciples that they should "take up their cross." That doesn't make sense, the scholars concluded, because Jesus had not yet been crucified and the cross did not yet have a symbolic meaning. ^=^

“It can also be argued that Paul, one of the preeminent writers of the Bible, displayed a lamentable ignorance of any details of Jesus' Earthly life. Paul does not name Jesus' parents, where he was born, where he lived, even when he lived. Although his writings comprise a substantial proportion of the New Testament, they contain no mention of Jesus' parables or miracles. On his own admission, Paul never knew the human Jesus, and based his whole faith on a vision he claimed to have received of the resurrected Jesus. ^=^

“The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this situation, some say, is that Jesus was a figment of Paul's imagination. When people began to believe in this imaginary figure - so this theory goes - he had to be given a historical setting in a specific place and time. Enter the gospel writers, who supposedly drew on all sorts of Old Testament prophesies to give flesh to the figure, constructing a background and fabricating an execution during the known Roman governorship of Pontius Pilate. ^=^

Jesus Didn’t Say 80 Percent of the Words Attributed To Him

In 1994, all hell broke loose when 77 Biblical scholars asserted that Jesus Christ didn’t say about 80 percent of the words attributed to him. Matt Andrews wrote in Midwest Today, “Over the centuries, countless minions have probed, puzzled over and analyzed the New Testament in an effort to clarify its authenticity and accuracy. Now a new book by 77 present-day Biblical scholars is drawing fire. Among its highly controversial conclusions are some startling theories about the man upon whom the very foundation of Christianity rests. [Source: Matt Andrews, Midwest Today, March 1994 ^=^]

In a 575-page book released recently by the Macmillan Publishing Co., entitled "The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?" the authors contend the following: 1) That Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah and did not predict the end of the world. 2) Jesus probably did share a symbolic last meal with his disciples just before his death. But they think that the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible, comparing himself to the bread and wine that he passed around the table, were probably fabricated by followers after his death. 3) The Lord's Prayer, which the Bible says Jesus taught to his followers, was also probably composed by Christians after his time on Earth had ended. ^=^

“John Dominic Crossan, a co-founder of the Jesus Seminar in 1985 and professor of Biblical studies at DePaul University in Chicago, says that "The image that comes out of our work is not a Jesus who was an apocalyptic visionary as much as he was a social revolutionary." He claims Jesus did not even say about 80-percent of the words attributed to him in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. “Some of his utterances were based on ideas that were typical of the best Jewish spiritual doctrines at the time. However, it is also clear that Jesus repeatedly gave an existing idea a new twist, and not always in the same direction. ^=^^=^

“Participants in the Jesus Seminar examined the approximately 1,500 sayings attributed to Christ on the basis of historical records, and compared ancient copies of the gospels. They also looked at a fifth ancient document, the so-called Gospel of Thomas, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945. They discounted some of Jesus' sayings because the versions differed from one account to another, or did not appear to fit chronologically into Jesus' life. ^=^

Ancient Jewish Accounts of Jesus

Ancient Jewish Accounts of Jesus (Yeshu in Hebrew): 1) The so called Testimonium Flavianum is the only direct discussion of Jesus to be found in the writings of Josephus. 2) A description by Celsus. a portion of the anti-Christian polemic written by Celsus in the A.D. 2nd century. 3) Tertullian's summary of Jewish response to the gospel accounts. 4) A story from the Babylonian Gemara by Yeshu and Joshua (b. Perachiah). is about someone who may, or may not be Jesus. 5) Simeon (b. Azzai) discovers the record of an illegitimate birth: the only presumed reference to Jesus in the Mishna. 6) Redeeming evidence sought by Baraitha, an account of the heresy trial of someone named Yeshu. 7) The Toldoth Yeshu is a derogatory version of the life of Jesus, growing out of the response of the Jewish community to Christianity. [Source: Alan Humm, jewishchristianlit.com \^]

The Babylonian Gemara (Talmud) has some references to Yeshu (or Yeshua), believed to be Jesus

Celsus lived in during the A.D. 2nd century. His writings no longer survive in tact, but we have access to some of his work via Origen, who refuted Celsus in the 3rd century and quoted passages by him such as the following passage. Origen, Contra Celsum 1.28: “Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.” [Source and translation: R.S. Mead, “Did Jesus Live in 100 B.C.?”, London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1903 ***]

Simeon (b. Azzai) finds a Genealogy. B. Yebamoth 49a, M. Yebamoth 4.13 reads: “Simeon ben Azzai has said: I found in Jerusalem a book of genealogies; therein was written: That so and so is a bastard son of a married woman.” *** This short passage is the only presumed reference to Jesus in the Mishna, the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah" and the first major work of Rabbinic literature. Alan Humm wrote in jewishchristianlit.com: “ That it refers to Jesus depends on the supposition that 'so and so' is a veiled reference to Jesus. There is reasonable evidence that in later Talmudic literature this is often, perhaps exclusively, the case. It is problematic in this case, though. In the later literature the Rabbinic authors may have had good reason to be careful about overt negative references to Jesus, but no such constraint hindered the compilers of the Mishna. There is, of course, the possibility that the text was originally explicit, and that “so and so” was substituted for yeshu when it became politically expedient. It seems more likely however that the referent was someone with more political clout on whom the Rabbis take a subtle delight in finding 'dirt'. See Goldstein for a fuller discussion. \^\

Tertullian Mocks Jewish 'Slanders', “Tertullian, De Spetaculis 100.30, reads: “This is your carpenter's son, your harlot's son;[1] your Sabbath-breaker, your Samaritan[2], your demon-possessed! This is he whom you bought from Judas. This is he who was struck with reeds and fists, dishonored with spittle, and given a draught of gall and vinegar! This is he whom his disciples have stolen secretly, that it may be said, 'He has risen', or the gardener abstracted that his lettuces might not be damaged by the crowds of visitors![3] ***


Tertullian wrote this passage late in the A.D. 2nd century. Humm wrote: “In the context he is imagining himself, after Jesus' triumphant return, mocking the now damned Jews for their perversions of of the truth about Jesus (from his point of view). Much of what he accuses the Jews of saying/doing is straight out of the canonical gospels, but some, especially the last phrase, seems to reflect some of the traditions that will later be brought together in the Toldoth Yeshu.” \^\

“[1] The 'harlot's son' accusation is doubtless a commonplace. It is directly connected with Christian claims of virgin birth, but there is something of a chicken-egg problem. It is easy to imagine such a rebuttal to Christian claims, but it is also quite conceivable that the Christian version is a response to Jewish slanders about his origins. I am inclined toward the former explanation, but arguments can be made for either. [2] Samaritan. Thanks to Mike Sassanian for reminding me of John 8:48 where Jesus is called a Samaritan and accused of being demon posessed. [3] Presumably, in this version a gardener who grows cabbages near the grounds of the sepulcher is irritated by the large numbers of disciples who are trampling his crops when they come to visit the tomb. He solves the problem by moving the body, which gives rise to Christian claims of resurrection. The gardener parallel to the Toledoth tradition is clear enough, although not identical, particularly in motive. What is interesting is the peculiar detail of the cabbage. I am not aware of the Toledoth stories mentioning this, but they do often have Jesus being crucified on a cabbage. While the context is different, the wild improbability of the recurring vegetable seems too peculiar to be coincidence. There may also be a connection between this gardener and the story in John 20.14-16 where Mary Magdalene, on seeing the resurrected Jesus, fails to recognize him, taking him to be the gardener.

Josephus’s Description of Jesus

The famous Roman-era Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37- after 93) referred to Jesus in a much debated passage. Antiquities of the Jews 18:3, reads: “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works-a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. [Source: The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, From The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987]

Many think all, or parts of the passage is an interpolation. The religious scholar Alan Humm wrote: This text, often referred to as the Testimonium Flavianum, “is the only direct discussion of Jesus to be found in the writings of Josephus. Unfortunately, the text as we have it in extant copies of Josephus' Antiquities appears to have been dramatically re-written from a Christian point of view. (The writings of Josephus were brought down to us from antiquity not by the Jewish community, but by the Christians).

The only usually undisputed allusion to Jesus in Josephus is actually only a passing reference in the context of the trial of James. James is identified, not as James son of ???? as one would normally expect but as brother of Jesus. While this passage is more likely to be authentic than the one above, it is not without problems. Origen knows and cites this passage, and is unaware of the 'Testimonium Flavianum' above, providing some evidence for its presence in the Antiquities before its Christian reworking. On the other hand, Origen's version contains the unlikely addition in which Josephus also says that it is as punishment for the execution of James that Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. The possibility suggests itself that even Origen's Josephus has undergone Christian reworking, simply of a different variety, in which, perhaps, the insulting Testimonium has been expunged, and James has been introduced as a pious Jewish hero.

Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1 reads: Since Ananus was that kind of person, and because he perceived an opportunity with Festus having died and Albinus not yet arrived, he called a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought James, the brother of Jesus (who is called 'Messiah') along with some others. He accused them of transgressing the law, and handed them over for stoning.”

Testimonium Flavianum JW in the Codex Vossianus contains Josephus's brief description of Jesus

Greek and Arabic Versions of Josephus’s Description of Jesus

Alan Humm wrote: “The Arabic quotation of the Josephus passage that has a much less Christian flavor. Some scholars have argued that the Arabic version has a more likely claim to originality. Although that is a strong possibility, it should be noted that even the Arabic version is a good deal kinder to Jesus than Josephus usually is to messianic claimants. In addition it is harder to see why the Christian scribe would feel so compelled to change it. It is possible that the original may have been much more insulting, in keeping with Josephus' normal pattern, and that the Greek and Arabic versions are simply two different recensions of a Christian rewrite. R. Eisler has made an effort to reconstruct an 'original' that might have, given Christian revision, served as a base for the version that survives in Greek. It is, of course, entirely hypothetical, and no textual evidence exists to support it, but it does fit in better with Josephus' usual pattern and language, as well as the general context of the passage.

On the other hand, it may be possible to 'save' the Arabic version. Particularly if we remove the last sentence (accordingly ...wonders) as a pious expansion, we are left with a non-committal report on the martyrdom at Roman hands of a pious Jew. This would not be at all inconsistent with Josephus' style, particularly if he discounted as later followers' embellishments the claims made by Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. This last suggestion is to some extent crippled by the less controversial reference in Antiquities 20 if it is genuine.

Greek Version of Josephus’s Description of Jesus: About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not cease. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life. For the prophets of God had prophesied these and myriads of other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still up to now, not disappeared. [Source: Josephus, Antiquities 18.63, probably in a Christian redaction, translation I. H. Feldman, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 9, pp. 49ff.]

Arabic Version: At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to themafter his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. [Source: Arabic summary, presumably of Antiquities 18.63. From Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of the Title," 10th c.). The translation belongs to Shlomo Pines]

R. Eisler's Reconstruction: “Now about this time arose an occasion for new disturbances, a certain Jesus, a wizard of a man, if indeed he may be called a man, who was the most monstrous of men, whom his disciples call a son of God, as having done wonders such as no man has ever done.... He was in fact a teacher of astonishing tricks to such men as accept the abnormal with delight.... And he seduced many Jews and many also of the Greek nation, and was regarded by them as the Messiah.... And when, on the indictment of the principal men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, still those who before had admired him did not cease to rave. For it seemed to them that having been dead for three days, he had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely-inspired prophets had foretold — these and ten thousand other wonderful things — concerning him. And even now the race of those who are called 'Messianists' after him is not extinct. [Source: Same text, in a less complementary modern scholarly reconstruction. R. Eisler, The Messiah Jesus, (tr. A. H. Krappe), 1931, p. 61. Quoted from the Loeb Classical Library , vol. 9, p. 48]

Yeshu and Joshua

Alan Humm wrote in jewishchristianlit.com: “This story cannot be directly connected with any of the traditional events in the life of Jesus, and it is set about 100 years before Jesus presumably lived. Yeshu/Yeshua is not an uncommon name, and it may be that we simply have a story about a Jewish 'bad boy' whose name happens to be the same as Jesus'. But as the last sentence (only in the Sanhedrin version) demonstrates, whatever the original intent of the story, it came to be connected with the Yeshu/Jesus traditions in the early medieval period. Even the historical setting — the reign of Jannai (Alexander Jannaeus, reigned 103-76 BC) — seems to have stuck, and is clearly embedded in the Toldoth traditions.” [Source: Alan Humm, jewishchristianlit.com \^]

Yeshua (Jesus) in Hebrew based on a Greek transliteration

Sanhedrin 107b, Sota 47a reads: (except for the last sentence): “The Rabbis taught: The left should always be used to push away, and the right, on the other hand to draw nearer. But one should not do it as Elisha who pushed Gehazi away, nor as R. Joshua ben Perachiah, who pushed away Yeshu with both hands. What was the problem with R. Joshua ben Perachiah? When King Jannai ordered the extermination of the Rabbis, R. Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu fled to Alexandria. When it was safe to return, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach sent him a letter: ‘From me, Jerusalem the holy city, to the Alexandria in Egypt, my sister. My spouse tarries in your midst, and I sit desolate.’ [Source and translation: A.M. Streane, quoted by R.S. Mead, “Did Jesus Live in 100 B.C.?”, London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1903 ***]

“Joshua set off at once. During the trip they happened upon an inn in which they treated him with great respect. Joshua commented, "How fair is this inn[1]." Yeshu replied, "But Rabbi, she[1] has unattractive eyes."[2] Joshua replied, "You godless person, do you fill your mind with such things?" Then he had 400 trumpets sounded and anathematized him. Yeshu often came and said to him, "Receive me back." Joshua paid no attention. One day, while Joshua was reciting the Shema, Yeshu came to him, hoping for a reprieve. Joshua made a sign to him with his hand. [3] Yeshu misunderstood, thinking he had been repulsed, so he went away set up a brick and worshipped it. Joshua said to him, "Repent!" Yeshu replied, "I learned this from you: 'Anyone who sins and causes the people to sin, is not allowed the possibility of repentance.'" ***

“[The Teacher said: "Yeshu practiced sorcery and corrupted and misled Israel."] [1] akhsanya can mean either 'inn' or 'hostess'. Joshua intends one meaning, Yeshu hears another. On the subject of word plays, it may not be accidental in this story that 'Yeshu' is a diminutive form of 'Joshua'. [2] Or perhaps "she is near-sighted". [3] Presumably the hand sign meant that Yeshu should wait until Joshua had finished the Shema.” \^\

Toldot Yeshu

Alan Humm wrote: “This is a derogatory version of the life of Jesus, growing out of the response of the Jewish community to Christianity. The tradition presented here is most commonly dated to approximately the 6th century CE. The text it self is closer to the 14th c. There is no scholarly consensus on to what extent the text might be a direct parody of a now lost gospel. [Source: Alan Humm, jewishchristianlit.com \^]

The Toldot Yeshu reads:“In the year 3671[1] in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah. Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing.

“At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera, attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her will. Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the terrible mistake on the part of Miriam. Whereupon Yohanan went to Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah and related to him the tragic seduction. Lacking witnesses required for the punishment of Joseph Pandera, and Miriam being with child, Yohanan left for Babylonia. [2] [Source: Goldstein, Morris, “Jesus in the Jewish Tradition,” New York Macmillan Co., 1950]

“Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu. On the eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish tradition. One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah[3]. Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. [4] After this became known, it was necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee.

“After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene[5] ruled over all Israel. In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraved the letters of God's Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten.

“Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name; he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters. [6]

Isho or Eesho, the Aramic name of Jesus

“He gathered about himself three hundred and ten young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu proclaimed, "I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and said, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'" He quoted other messianic texts, insisting, "David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: 'The Lord said to me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.'" The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest.”

Notes: [1] About 90, BC. [2] Some traditions say 'Egypt'. [3] Sexual impurity (incest, adultery, prostitution, etc.). [4] In one version of this admission, she confesses that not only is Yeshu the product of an illicit union, but she was ritually unclean from menstruation at the time as well (Sexual contact even with a woman's husband is not lawful during, or, in Rabbinic law, for some time after, menstruation). [5] Salome Alexandra. [6] Consistent, apparently, with the general tenor of Jewish criticism of Jesus' miracles going at least as far back as Celsus (2nd c.) this tradition does not deny Jesus' ability to perform miracles, accusing him instead of practicing magic. This version even accepts the divine origin of the miracles, attributing them to his misuse of the divine name, with its inherent powers. In the Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith is accused of the same crime, using the power of the name to escape from the Garden of Eden.

Arrest of Yeshu According to the Toldot Yeshu

The Toldot Yeshu continues: “When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu. They sent messengers, Annanui and Ahaziah, who, pretending to be his disciples, said that they brought him an invitation from the leaders of Jerusalem to visit them. Yeshu consented on condition the members of the Sanhedrin receive him as a lord. He started out toward Jerusalem and, arriving at Knob, acquired an ass on which he rode into Jerusalem, as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. [Source: Goldstein, Morris, “Jesus in the Jewish Tradition,” New York Macmillan Co., 1950]

“The Sages bound him and led him before Queen Helene, with the accusation: "This man is a sorcerer and entices everyone." Yeshu replied, "The prophets long ago prophesied my coming: 'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,' and I am he; but as for them, Scripture says 'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.'" Queen Helene asked the Sages: "What he says, is it in your Torah?" They replied: "It is in our Torah, but it is not applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: 'And that prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.' He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of the Messiah."

Arrest of Jesus in a mosaic

“Yeshu spoke up: "Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead." A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: "This is a true sign." She reprimanded the Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu's dissident followers increased and there was controversy in Israel. Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to fetch him.

“The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: "Wage no battle." He would prove himself by the power which came to him from his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to the Queen. She trembled with astonishment.

“Then the Sages selected a man named Judah Iskarioto and brought him to the Sanctuary where he learned the letters of the Ineffable Name as Yeshu had done. When Yeshu was summoned before the queen, this time there were present also the Sages and Judah Iskarioto. Yeshu said: "It is spoken of me, 'I will ascend into heaven.'" He lifted his arms like the wings of an eagle and he flew between heaven and earth, to the amazement of everyone. The elders asked Iskarioto to do likewise. He did, and flew toward heaven. Iskarioto attempted to force Yeshu down to earth but neither one of the two could prevail against the other for both had the use of the Ineffable Name. However, Iskarioto defiled Yeshu, so that they both lost their power and fell down to the earth, and in their condition of defilement the letters of the Ineffable Name escaped from them. Because of this deed of Judah they weep on the eve of the birth of Yeshu.

“Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name. Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns. There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with Yeshu to the region of Antioch[7]; there Yeshu remained until the eve of the Passover.

“[8] Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto[9] apprised the Sages that Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was seized. 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.”

Notes: Some traditions say 'Egypt'. [8] In a variation on the story, Judah is able to out-miracle Yeshu in the sign contest without defiling him. Yeshu is discredited and arrested, and, as in this story, his followers are able to break him free, but he still remembers the Ineffable Name. He escapes to Egypt in hopes of learning Egyptian magic as well (regarded as the best magic in the world). Judah comes to Egypt and infiltrates the disciples, posing as one himself. It is from this vantage point that he is able to cause Yeshu to forget the magical Name, resulting in the later's desire to return to Jerusalem and relearn it. Judah sends warning to the Sages, along with his plan to arrest him.

Death and Resurrection of Yeshu According to the Toldot Yeshu

burial of Jesus in a Hungarian manuscript

The Toldot Yeshu continues: “Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon prayer, for it is written in Scripture, "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree." They buried him outside the city. [Source: Goldstein, Morris, “Jesus in the Jewish Tradition,” New York Macmillan Co., 1950 ]

“On the first day of the week his bold followers came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden.

“Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in order that Yeshu's followers should not steal the body and then claim that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the words, "This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven." Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.

“The disciples went out among the nations — three went to the mountains of Ararat, three to Armenia, three to Rome and three to the kingdoms buy the sea, They deluded the people, but ultimately they were slain. The erring followers amongst Israel said: "You have slain the Messiah of the Lord." The Israelites answered: "You have believed in a false prophet." There was endless strife and discord for thirty years. The Sages desired to separate from Israel those who continued to claim Yeshu as the Messiah, and they called upon a greatly learned man, Simeon Kepha, for help. Simeon went to Antioch, main city of the Nazarenes and proclaimed toe them: "I am the disciple of Yeshu. He has sent me to show you the way. I will give you a sign as Yeshu has done."

“Simeon, having gained the secret of the Ineffable Name, healed a leper and a lame man by means of it and thus found acceptance as a true disciple. He told them that Yeshu was in heaven, at the right hand of his Father, in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1. He added that Yeshu desired that they separate themselves from the Jews and no longer follow their practices, as Isaiah had said, "Your new moons and your feasts my soul abhorreth." They were now to observe the first day of the week instead of the seventh, the Resurrection instead of the Passover, the Ascension into Heaven instead of the Feast of Weeks, the finding of the Cross instead of the New Year, the Feast of the Circumcision instead of the Day of Atonement, the New Year instead of Chanukah; they were to be indifferent with regard to circumcision and the dietary laws. Also they were to follow the teaching of turning the right if smitten on the left and the meek acceptance of suffering. All these new ordinances which Simeon Kepha (or Paul, as he was known to the Nazarenes) taught them were really meant to separate these Nazarenes from the people of Israel and to bring the internal strife to an end.”

Gospels and Historical Jesus

a fragment of John 16:22-30

Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: “By far the most important—and possibly most debated—of those traces are the texts of the New Testament, especially the first four books: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But how do those ancient texts, written in the second half of the first century, and the traditions they inspired, relate to the work of an archaeologist? “Tradition gives more life to archaeology, and archaeology gives more life to tradition,” Father Alliata replies. “Sometimes they go together well, sometimes not,” he pauses, offering a small smile, “which is more interesting.” [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]

According to the BBC: “Many Bible scholars would say that the Gospels are not primarily a historical record of what happened because: 1) they were written between 40 and 70 years after the death of Jesus: 2) those who wrote them were not present at the events they described - but the oral tradition was very strong in those days, so it was possible for information to be passed on quite accurately from actual eyewitnesses; 3) the oral tradition allowed the narrative to be reshaped as it was passed on, in order to suit the purposes of the person telling the story; 4) the Gospels differ on some of the events; 5) the purpose of the Gospels is not to provide an accurate record of the historical events of Christ's last days but to record the spiritual truth of Jesus Christ; 6) The Gospels are a combination of historical fact with theological reflection on the meaning and purpose of Christ's life and death. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Professor Harold W. Attridge told PBS: “I think we're, in some ways, forced to engage in a historical critical study of scripture by the problems of scripture itself. That is, the discrepancies that we see in scripture that make it difficult for us to construct a simple and coherent historical narrative out of the data of the text, which after all, are faith statements and calls to belief in Christ. At the same time, I think we're encouraged to engage in this kind of historical critical study because it enriches our understanding of the world within which Jesus operated, within which scriptural figures in general operated and with which they were interacting. We can't, for instance, understand what it means to proclaim the kingdom or reign of God unless we understand it was that proclamation was made in the context of an imperial power that had certain implications for human existence. [Source: Harold W. Attridge, Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“I think too, by a historical, critical understanding of scripture we can both enrich our own appropriation of the teachings of scripture and also sort through some problematic elements in scripture. And I think unless we adopt a historical critical attitude toward our Biblical tradition we may miss appropriate scripture. For instance, if we apply too readily or accept without some sort of critical perspective some of the controversial statements within the gospel tradition about the Jews, I think we're being unfaithful to our Biblical tradition. But in order to understand those we have to put them into some sort of historical context. So we're invited to engage in historical critical study by the problems of scripture itself, encouraged to do so by the payoff of such study for understanding and enriching our appropriation of scriptural material, and I think absolutely forced to do so by the problematic elements of scripture which can only be understood within the historical context.

Gospels: A Mix of Facts and Stories?

Matt Andrews wrote in Midwest Today, “Most experts take the moderate position that the canonical gospels are neither the second-century tissue of fabrications nor quite the contemporary eyewitness accounts that, given the nature of Christianity's claims, it would be reasonable to expect. Ironically, it has not been theologians but outsiders, such as students of ancient history, well accustomed to imperfections in the works of the pagan writers of antiquity, who have been prepared to recognize the strong vein of authenticity underlying the gospels. [Source: Matt Andrews, Midwest Today, March 1994 ^=^]

“Oxford English don C.S. Lewis, speaking on the subject, commented, "I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that none of them is like this. Of the text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage - though it may no doubt contain errors - pretty close to the facts... Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn't see this simply has not learned to read." ^=^

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “From a historical perspective what we really know about the life of Jesus is very, very limited depending on which gospel you read. His actual career may be something less then one year and maybe even as little as only a few months, whereas in John's Gospel his career is nearly three years long. So there are these kinds of historical discrepancies among the gospels themselves. They range from the way his birth occurred to the actual day on which he was executed and even to the kinds of teachings and miracles that he performs throughout his career. As a result we begin to see that the gospels themselves are not as useable as historical information as we might have hoped. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

Matthew and Luke Describe Two Jesus Children?

Luke in a Byzantine text

Kristina Kaine wrote in the Huffington Post: “It is no accident that the genealogies in St Matthew and St Luke’s Gospel are different. One traces the ancestry of a highly developed human being living on this earth. The other traces the spiritual legacy of a pure human spirit incarnating for the first time on the earth. Wisdom in one, innocence in the other. The question we can ask is this. Could Christ, a mighty Cosmic Being beyond our understanding, who had never experienced life in a physical body on this earth, just be born through a mother as we all are? That would be like saying the sun could enter this earth and shine from within it. [Source: Kristina Kaine, Huffington Post, April 4, 2016 -]

“By looking closely at the two genealogies, it is not difficult to see that two different Jesus children were born to two different Marys with two different fathers called Joseph. The Matthew Jesus descends from the Solomon line of the House of David. The Luke Jesus descends from the Nathan line of the House of David. If we look into our own genealogy we know that we are quite different from our cousins whose parents were siblings of our great grandparents - then multiply that for all the generations mentioned in the Matthew and Luke Gospels. -

“The Matthew Jesus child was the product of 42 preceding generations from Abraham to Joseph. Kings visited him when he was born, whereas shepherds visited the Luke child. The Luke Jesus’ genealogy reaches back to Adam when human beings first left their spiritual domain and took on flesh - as told in the story in the Garden of Eden. These details are very important yet often skipped over. -

“I have written about this in detail in my book Who is Jesus : What is Christ, Vol 1. Why mainstream theologians do not explore this information is a mystery. Others have written about it and some artists have painted the two Jesus children. In this painting Raphael has painted them with John the Baptist and the Luke Jesus’ mother. Not only that but also these children were born at different times. The Matthew Jesus was older, born at the time when Herod ordered all male children to be killed. -

“One notable fact is that Herod ordered all male children aged two and under to be killed, which led to the Matthew Jesus being taken to Egypt, there is no mention of the child described by Luke going to Egypt. Even John the Baptist, who Luke tells us is 6 months older than the Luke Jesus, seems to have escaped Herod’s horrendous order, supporting the fact that these children were born at different times and in different places.”-

“To make sense of this story we also need to keep in mind that Jesus and Christ are different beings. Matthew states it clearly when we read the original Greek. Immediately after the genealogy he writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” In the original Greek it says, tou de iesou christou he gennesis outos ne which more accurately translates as ‘of the yet anointed Jesus the origin thus was’. Christ comes from christos, a Greek word meaning ‘anointed.’ Matthew is saying Jesus is yet [to be] anointed, Christen-ed, which points to the future baptism. -

“Before that can happen, these two Jesus children will become one. We read about this event in Luke when his parents lost track of him. They found him three days later and he was a changed person. ‘After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.’ — Luke 2: 46 -

“If we put ourselves in Joseph and Mary’s shoes as they entered the temple and found their unearthly, innocent son - autistic in today’s terms - in deep dialogue with the teachers in the temple, we can experience their amazement. These teachers had devoted their whole lives to understanding the sacred texts and here was a twelve year old boy matching their understanding! What was incredible to the parents was perhaps understandable to the teachers who knew what was about to take place when they found the two Jesus boys together in the temple.” -

Book: “Who is Jesus: What is Christ Vol 1" by Kristina Kaine

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science, Encyclopedia.com, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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