Is Jesus mentioned in the Talmud?

May 15, 2007 at 9:25 am 18 comments

TalmudIn a recent article, Justin made the following comment:

i noted some of the more famous references to Jesus in the post. For example, the babylonian talmud contains Jewish writings. In a reference to Jesus, they have put the following around 70AD:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”

The Talmud was written by Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and therefore they were not his biggest fans. But what does the passage mean by saying that Jesus “was hanged”? Doesn’t the New Testament say he was crucified? Indeed it does. But the term “hanged” can function as a synonym for “crucified.” For instance, Galatians 3:13 It supports the NT claim that Jesus was crucified on the eve of passover (as metaphorical “passover” sacrifice for the people)

The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy! Since this accusation comes from a rather hostile source, we should not be too surprised if Jesus is described somewhat differently than in the New Testament. But if we make allowances for this, what might such charges imply about Jesus?

Such a charge actually tends to confirm the New Testament claim that Jesus performed miraculous feats. Apparently Jesus’ miracles were too well attested to deny. The only alternative was to ascribe them to sorcery (as the Jews often did).

The extra-biblical accounts of Jesus from Josephus and Tacitus are well known, but I had never heard of the source that Justin is quoting. Is Jesus actually referenced in the Jewish Talmud?? This got me intrigued. Especially the reference to a herald who announced Yeshu’s hanging for 40 days BEFORE his execution. I would love to read this stuff in some kind of context.

After searching through several apologetics sites which use the same passage, I found that most of them derive from a passage in Gary Habermas’ ‘The Historical Jesus’ page 202-203. No, I don’t have that book, so I’ll have to pick it up at the library next time I’m there.

The come-and-hear site referenced by Justin has a search engine where you can search the entire Babylonian Talmud. I could not find a single reference to Yeshu, Yeshua, Yehosua, any other variation that I could think of. I drew solid blanks after a solid hour of searching. But I also found that the reference to Yeshu is most likely located in an appendix or supplemental material to the Talmud.

This reference from a Catholic study group site, says that this reference to Yeshu does not come from the Babylonian Talmud, but rather from documents called the Baraitha and Tosefta, which are appendices or suppliments to the Talmud. What I also found is that these appendices to the Talmud also contain further references to Yeshu.

I would love to be able to get the disputed passages directly from the Tosefta, but the only source I could find is here, which is worthless unless you read Hebrew.

In the meantime, here are a few more references to ‘Yeshu’ taken from the Baraitha and Tosefta that are not mentioned in any of the apologetic sites. It should be obvious why:

  1. It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu…because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. (Baraitha BT Sanhedrin 43a)
  2. Our rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples –Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni and Todah. (Ibid.)
  3. It happened with Rabbi Elazar ben Damah, whom a serpent bit, that Jacob, a man of Kefar Soma, came to heal him in the name of Jeshua ben Pantera; but Rabbi Ishmael did not let him. He said, “You are not permitted, Ben Damah.’ He answered, “I will bring you proof that he may heal me.” But he had no opportunity to bring proof, for he died. (Tosefta Hullin 2.22,23)
  4. Once, I was walking on the upper street of Sephoris and found one of the disciples of Yeshu the Nazarene, by the name of Jacob, a man of Kefar Sechanaya. He said to me, “It is written in your Torah: “Thou shalt not hire a harlot, etc.” How about making with it a privy for the high priest?” But I did not answer him at all. He told me. Thus did Yeshu the Nazarene teach me: ‘For the hire of a harlot has she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return,” from the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they shall go.” And the utterance pleased me..” (Tosefta Hullin 2.24)

So, these appear to me to be, not only ambiguous concerning our Jesus of the Bible, but also contradictory to our Jesus tradition – especially 2 and 3. There are later Jewish traditions and stories (particularly The Toledoth Jeschu, or Generations of Jesus which I just re-read last night), which describe his hanging and his illegitimate father named Pandara, and they may derive from these sources. At any rate, I wonder if this additional material is included in Habermas?

Baraita, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia:

Whatever may have been the original meaning of the word “Baraita,” it is certain that in the Babylonian Talmud it designates the most varied kinds of tannaite traditions not contained in the Mishnah…

Tosefta, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia:

The work known by the name “Tosefta” consists of a collection of such elucidated maxims, giving the traditional sayings in a remarkably complete form, whereas the Mishnah gives them in a condensed form only.

The Tosefta, or supplemental material, according to most sources that I could find including the Jewish Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica, appears to have been collected together by about 200AD – long after the canonical New Testament material had been written.

So is Justin (and Habermas) citing a legitimate extra-biblical account of our traditional Jesus? I am no Jewish scholar, so I am just throwing out what I found after a little Googling around the Internet, but it looks a little suspect to me. The references are taken out of any context that we don’t have, and were compiled long after the New Testament was written. But hey, I could be wrong! Does anybody have any more information or insight into these sources?

– HeIsSailing

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Hot, Cold, Lukewarm? Or not at all? Were the Gospels eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus?

18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Heather  |  May 15, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I’ve never heard of it before Justin mentioned it, but I’m wondering why it wouldn’t have been mentioned in Lee Strobel’s book ‘A Case for Christ,’ if it was considered proof. Or any other book written from that POV.

  • 2. Mike C  |  May 15, 2007 at 11:30 am

    I don’t think these passages are talking about the same Jesus. Yeshua was a very common name among Jews in the first century and there were several actually who claimed to be the Messiah (i.e. “King”). This Yeshu ben Pantera seems to be a different person than Yeshua ben Yosef of Nazareth.

    (Interestingly, Yeshua of Nazareth predicted that others like this would come after him near the time of the “end” – i.e. near the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 – cf. Matthew 24:23-26.)

    In fact, I was just listening to one of my favorite historians and Bible scholars, NT Wright, and he made mention of this other Jesus who died around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Wright seemed pretty confident that this was a different Jesus. He even joked about there being shortage of boys names in the first century.

  • 3. DagoodS  |  May 15, 2007 at 3:11 pm


    Don’t forget that the stories were oral transmitted until the early Third Century, when they were first written. Not surprisingly, some “other” traditions, even Christian, could creep in to the Talmud in that period.

    In fact, we can see such “retro-fitting” in the Gospels. As you know, Mark was written first. Matthew copied Mark. I have come to the conclusion that Mark 1:9 was originally, “Jesus from Galilee” (Mark never makes a statement “Bill from ____ of ____” The author always limited it to one place. Plus Mark implies in 2:1 that Jesus was from Capernaum.) However, after Matthew was circulated, some copyist decided to add “Nazareth of” in Mark 1:9. An addition, from copied source, to the original.

    I see the same thing in the Talmud.

    I was trying to run down whether it was “Yeshua” or “Yeshua the Nazarene” that was in the Sanhedrin 43a. Although there are cryptic notes as to a manuscript that included the latter, I couldn’t get any closer.

    Primarily because “the Nazarene” part bothers me. Sounds like a Christian addition. (And by that it may be a Jew who added it, but from hearing a Christian source.) The etymology of “Nazarene” is problematic. Most likely Matthew made it up. The fact that it now appears in a Jewish source reflects its origin.

    You do know that by at least the 14th Century, another story about Jesus was added to the Talmud to discredit him? Has him dug up and carted by a horse, if I remember correctly.

    All of these are too contradictory and too late.

  • 4. Justin  |  May 15, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    hi HIS,
    that’s cool that you started researching, my hats off to you 🙂 !


  • 5. Justin  |  May 15, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    oops, I forgot to say something…

    DagoodS says:
    “I have come to the conclusion that Mark 1:9 was originally, “Jesus from Galilee” (Mark never makes a statement “Bill from ____ of ____” The author always limited it to one place. Plus Mark implies in 2:1 that Jesus was from Capernaum.) However, after Matthew was circulated, some copyist decided to add “Nazareth of” in Mark 1:9. An addition, from copied source, to the original.”

    The assumption that Mark was changed after Matthew was circulated is a leap of faith. Mark 2:1 doesn’t imply he was from Capernaum. In Mark 1:35 you see that Jesus starts his tour of Galilee and then returns back to Capernaum. Just because it says, “it was reported he was at home” does not mean that the author messed up his origins. For instance, “home” also means any place of residence or refuge ( Nonetheless, I’m sure you will stick with your view as I will with mine – no harm in that.

    have a great day, God bless. 🙂

  • 6. DagoodS  |  May 15, 2007 at 6:39 pm


    Oh, I have no stake in where it is alleged that Jesus is from. He could be from Capernaum, or Nazareth or Bethsaida or Krypton for all I care.

    What I do care about is attempting to resolve the conundrums provided by the various books of the New Testament as to certain intrigues. One of those happens to be resolving the etymology of the word “Nazarene.” I am still puzzling it out, but a part of that resolution is to have a redactor add “from Nazareth” in Mark 1:9.

    Adding that section explains why Mark implies Jesus is from Capernaum, and also answers why this is the singular instance of Mark placing someone from a specific location within another specific location. Having that section in the Mark from which Matthew was copying introduces more problems than removing it resolves.

    We know the books were redacted by subsequent authors (See John 21:24) so it is not as if this is out of the realm of possibilities.

    It is true that we can only go so far in the facts presented to us, and eventually we all have to take a “leap of faith” as to how to resolve the difficulties. If I find a better resolution that puts Jesus back in Nazareth, I will gladly embrace it. So…no. I may not “stick” with my view. I am just looking for the best resolution of a sticky problem.

  • 7. HeIsSailing  |  May 15, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Justin sez (regarding the mention of Jesus being from Nazareth in Mark 1:9):
    “The assumption that Mark was changed after Matthew was circulated is a leap of faith. ”

    Justin, I agree with you here, but I think I understand DagoodS’ reasoning – and it is a sticky problem. The whole issue begins with Matthew 2:23, “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” The problem is (DagoodS, stop me if I am misunderstanding you), there is noplace in the Old Testament where a prophecy like that exists. There nearest I have seen is Judges 13:7, regarding the Nazarite vow, but it is not that clear. What is going on? It is a bit of a puzzle.

    I guess DagoodS is suggesting one way to solve that problem. If Matthew copied huge portions of Mark, but also included the bogus prophecy concering Nazareth – it might be that Nazareth was not mentioned in the original Mark, but was later re-written into Mark as damage control. DagoodS, stop me if I am wrong here.

    I am not convinced by that argument since there are similar references to Jesus being from Nazareth in all four Gospels. Did later editors also include those references into all the Mark, Luke and John as well (Not to mention Acts)? Of the number of references to Jesus being from Nazareth, I count 5 in Mark, 5 in Luke, 8 in John and a few more in Acts. The most relevant for this discussion is Luke 1:26 which describes Gabriel going to the city of Galilee named Nazareth.

    I just have a hard time that later editors added Nazareth to all these passages. Maybe it did happen, nothing is impossible, but it seems unlikely to me. This is also one of the reasons I think that Jesus really was, at the very least, a historical character. This remnant of his life seems to have been preserved in all 4 of the Gospels without any plausible way of later harmonization.

    I have also read that there is a possibility that Nazareth did not even exist as a town until the 3rd century, since it was never mentioned in Jewish writings until then. But I think it is just as likely that Nazareth could have been a tiny backwater kind of town at the time of Jesus (consider John 1:46).

    As far as the possiblility of Jesus being from Capernaum, that is a new one to me. I don’t have an opinion on that matter one way or the other, but am interested to know yours.

    Like DagoodS, I don’t have a stake in this matter – but the ‘Nazareth Problem’ is a real puzzle in the Gospels, and it is interesting discussion.

  • 8. Karen  |  May 15, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I just have a hard time that later editors added Nazareth to all these passages. Maybe it did happen, nothing is impossible, but it seems unlikely to me. This is also one of the reasons I think that Jesus really was, at the very least, a historical character. This remnant of his life seems to have been preserved in all 4 of the Gospels without any plausible way of later harmonization.

    I mentioned, I think in another thread, that I’ve heard several bible scholars conclude that there was very likely an historical Jesus, even though there’s no absolute outside proof of that fact.

    This – what you bring up above – is one of the reasons for their conclusions. There are a number of odd inconsistencies and even “embarrassing” things in the gospels that would have been “smoothed over” or harmonized away if the whole story of a Jesus character had been invented after the fact.

    The Jesus of Nazareth conundrum was one I remember them mentioning specifically. If there hadn’t been an actual person Jesus, and he hadn’t been known historically to come from Nazareth, it makes no sense that they would have included that fact. It “messes up” the rest of the story.

    They cited several things like that to support their conclusion.

  • 9. Justin  |  May 16, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Karen you make a good point. In historical redactions of the gospels, the criteria often used is:

    1. Multiple attestation
    2. dissimilarity to Jewish AND Christian traditions (not one or the other)
    3. Embarassment (the more embarassing, the more likely it happened…for example, Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist)
    4. Consistency with the Palestinian environment.
    5. I forget the term, but pretty much the last criteria is looking at similar issues and how they have been addressed regarding the previous four criteria.

    good analysis guys.


  • 10. DagoodS  |  May 16, 2007 at 1:58 pm


    The problem is far more complicated than that. It is not that you misunderstood me. It is my fault for being deliberately opaque on the subject. I did that for two reasons: 1) because of my lack of knowledge of Greek, I am not settled on a resolution and more importantly 2) because I did not want to travel too far down this rabbit trail. I was trying my best to stay focused on the Talmud issue, and why it includes the Christianized statement “Yeshua the Nazarene.”

    I sometimes suspect that as a child I was inadvertently wounded by a radioactive train switch which caused me to have the Secret Superpower of Derailment.

    Bystander: Look, Super Derailman! There is a blog entry in which all the comments are in appropriate response!
    Me: What?! This cannot BE! I’ll save you, little entry! Take this remote topic! And that non-sequiter!

    Bystander: Thanks, Super Derailman. Now the thread is spinning hopelessly off-topic, never to regain its original premise.
    Me: No Problem! I am off to insert the Virgin Birth Question on some blog about Predestination! Until next time…

    But since we are here…and my Superpower is activated…

    The problem initially has to do with the English translation of a Greek document. The translators have imposed their doctrine on the translation, which has caused a blurring of the issue when it comes to “Nazareth.”

    When Mark (skipping 1:9 for the moment) refers to a “Jesus of Nazareth” the author used the word ”nazarhnos” The issue is that the translation from the Hebrew Nazareth (NCRT) to the Greek would normally be a sigma not a zeta “z.” It should be “Nasareth” So ”nazarhnos” does NOT mean a person from the town of Nazareth. (That would be ”nazarethnos.” For an English equivalent, a Person from “Nazareth” is a “Nazarethite” or a “Nazarethene.” A “Nazarene” is a person from “Nazara.” If you follow that.)

    Simply put, Mark was NOT claiming Jesus came from Nazareth, by virtue of this ”nazarhnos”. It was a term of distinction, (perhaps of a sect, or being separate) not location.

    We come to Matthew. This author, uncomfortable with ”nazarhnos” (notice that he does not use it in the parallel story of the Blind Man. Matt. 20:30 Mark 10:47) instead uses the term ”nazwraios” derived from the LXX of Judges 13:5, (”nazeiraios”) to tie Jesus into the birth of Samson. A Nazarite.

    At this point, if you have been following, Matthew deliberately removes a problematic term from Mark (as is his habit) and inserts a new term, tying it to both the Samson story and attempting to relate it back to Jesus’ birthplace being Nazareth. (Although ”nazwraios” still does not mean a person from Nazareth.)

    Now, if Matthew was reading Mark, and had come across 1:9, why the deliberate removal of the difficult term ”nazarhnos”? Further, why the introduction of the new term ”nazwraios” with the equally deliberate correlation to a town of Nazareth? It would seem that if Matthew had read Mark 1:9, realized Jesus was from Nazareth, the author could have presumed that ”nazarhnos” related to coming from Nazareth and not need the new term.

    And, as I already pointed out, Mark never uses this double location as a person identifier AND never uses the term “Nazareth” when referring to Jesus, but rather ”nazarhnos.” To me, the most appropriate solution, recognizing the fluidity of the Gospels in their creation, is to believe that “Nazareth” of Mark 1:9 was added later.

    I blame Matthew, of course, but it could have been Luke, or even an oral tradition re-inserting itself from the promulgation of Matthew and Luke. Taken in conjunction with the implication in Mark of a Capernaum home for Jesus, the puzzle seems to fit pretty well together.

    Obviously, I am open to further discussion to change my persuasion.

    (FYI, Luke uses both ”nazarhnos” and ”nazwraios”, providing either a co-mingled compromise, or no insight in the matter.)

    Raises a fascinating question regarding the English translation, doesn’t it? The translators seem, in order to avoid all this confusion and problem, to smash the different terms into “Jesus of Nazareth” despite the obvious difference in the words, and problems with relating it back to Nazareth. Are they using doctrine or historicity as their guide?

    Things that make you go hmm….

    If you want the short version from someone far more qualified then myself, here is a blurb. On the other hand, if you have a coupla hours to spare, you can review a long thread here to see how it plays out in debate.

    If nothing else, I hoped you learned that there is more than one Greek word in play here, and that nothing ever seems to come easy when we discuss the New Testament.

  • 11. Joseph Bloggs  |  July 18, 2007 at 1:59 am

    truth be told, if you live near a religous synagouge and want to see a good translation of the Talmud, or if you have a lot of money to spend (my family has a few copies of the Talmud) The Mesorah Press Artscroll series Talmud has an English translation that is actually good, and annotated commentary along with it.

    All other commentaries……(such as the one at come and hear (that name is actually a clever wordplay on a common talmudic phrase))…….. ARE TERRIBLE, and don’t represent all of the (even basic) commentary to go alongside the Talmud. If I devoted a library to the commentary on the Talmud, it would take up a room about the size of your neighborhood walmart.

  • 12. Joseph Bloggs  |  July 18, 2007 at 2:01 am

  • 13. HeIsSailing  |  July 18, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for the information – and if I ever do go to comenhear again, I will keep a skeptical eye out. I don’t have enough money for talmidic material!! It sounds like more information than I ever really wanted anyway. I picked up an old copy of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (edited by James Charlsworth, vol 1) at the local used bookstore and cannot put it down. Granted, this reading is not for everyone, but I can definitely recommend it if you want to learn a little about the Jewish mindset in the time of Jesus.

  • 14. Joseph Bloggs  |  July 20, 2007 at 12:52 am

    A few facts for you Christians out there……. ( I am an Orthodox Jew)

    Yeshu does not definitely refer to one man(Jesus) Yeshu is actually a more commonly used acronym.

    For those who know little about Hebrew, the consonants are the only letters. All the vowels appear around the consonants. Thus, Yeshu actually consists of 3 letters (in Hebrew) Yud, Shin, and Vav….. The acronym refers to Yemach Shemo Vezichro…. meaning may his name be erased and forgotten. It is a title given to all those who committed atrocities to Jews. (Hitler for example is always followed by Yemach Shemo V’ zichro)

    Furthermore, various texts where Jesus’ domain did not reach as far did not include the surname Hanotzri, the Nazarene… this would imply that it was added in Christian places to try to provide Talmudic sources for Jesus.

    Now, in the Talmud, many of you can not find Talmudic references to Jesus, because in the Talmud, many pages were torn out of our holy books nearly two millenia ago for disparaging of Jesus. Now, I hate to see people think less of the Jews for anything the Talmud wrote about Jesus. You must understand, that according to Jewish law, Jesus was deserving for the death penalty for saying that he was the son of G-d. Additionally for being a false prophet, as the Torah says that any prophet who performs wonders and then proceeds to change the word of G-d (which Jesus clearly did) is liable for the death penalty.

    Additionaly, to throw off the Christians who murdered Jews in the name of Jesus for mellenia, they often referred to him, not only in the Talmud, but in rabbinic literature as “the other man”

    It is inconclusive that there are even Talmudic sources that Jesus existed. and the wikipedia article “Yeshu” provide decent reading material about traditional jewish “sources”

    Finally, the whole Jesus thing is kind of a sore spot. When I come into these forums, it is not for my benefit. I am just providing a little information as answers to some questions I stumbled across. Please refrain from teaching me about Jesus. In my opinion (and conventional Jewish opinions) he has not fulfilled any of the Messianic prophesies, and there is no Jewish support for an idea of the second coming. To Jews everywhere Jesus was merely another false messiah that unfortunately attracted a large following from Judaism. You would not believe how many false messiah’s there were in that time period (following the destruction of the Temple)….and since then as well, many of whom attracted their own following.

    P.S. Jesus lived during the Second Temple period, and there would be no reason for a messiah anyway.

  • 15. Silly Old Bear  |  October 12, 2007 at 9:22 am

    I would like to point out that Talmud is not a very good source on J*sus, because the term “Yeshu” in Talmud is an acronym for “yemach shemo vezichro” simply meaning “May his name and memory be obliterated” – which was used to denote ANY individual who at any time had committed a violation of Jewish Law concerning Blasphemy, Apostacy or Sedition against a lawful government.

    The punishment for those violation were death by stoning, by hanging or by decapitation.

    I would also like to point out that there are several Xian antisemitic sites on-line that purport to be quoting Talmud, when they are in fact “quoting” falsified or non-existent portions of made-up books of Talmud.

    I would like to know where the reference to Talmud above was copied from, to be able to tell you if this is an authentic quote from Talmud.


  • 16. Aussie Ali  |  June 22, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    In post 10 Dagoods wrote:

    I sometimes suspect that as a child I was inadvertently wounded by a radioactive train switch which caused me to have the Secret Superpower of Derailment.

    This reminds me of a funny clip I saw on TV. Check it out on youtube

  • 17. Rabbi Happyman  |  December 25, 2009 at 5:50 am

    If the Hebrew are to be blamed for executing Jesus, then we can cite the Catholic Church’s historic persecution of later Jews as retribution. Therefore it is correct, useful and necessary that The Hebrews (Jews) be publicly forgiven for such acts; as they have more than paid the price for their transgression.

    Actually The Vatician did just that in their decision to declare The Jew not guilty of executing Jesus; and assert that the Romans did it. Will you so say on your website?

  • 18. vivianne  |  June 12, 2010 at 11:43 am

    God knocks on the heart first, then, when you answer that still small voice…reasoning is illuminated.
    thats just the way it works folks…sorry.

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