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Jesus in the Talmud [Kindle Edition]

Peter Schäfer
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Scattered throughout the Talmud, the founding document of rabbinic Judaism in late antiquity, can be found quite a few references to Jesus--and they're not flattering. In this lucid, richly detailed, and accessible book, Peter Schäfer examines how the rabbis of the Talmud read, understood, and used the New Testament Jesus narrative to assert, ultimately, Judaism's superiority over Christianity.

The Talmudic stories make fun of Jesus' birth from a virgin, fervently contest his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God, and maintain that he was rightfully executed as a blasphemer and idolater. They subvert the Christian idea of Jesus' resurrection and insist he got the punishment he deserved in hell--and that a similar fate awaits his followers.

Schäfer contends that these stories betray a remarkable familiarity with the Gospels--especially Matthew and John--and represent a deliberate and sophisticated anti-Christian polemic that parodies the New Testament narratives. He carefully distinguishes between Babylonian and Palestinian sources, arguing that the rabbis' proud and self-confident countermessage to that of the evangelists was possible only in the unique historical setting of Persian Babylonia, in a Jewish community that lived in relative freedom. The same could not be said of Roman and Byzantine Palestine, where the Christians aggressively consolidated their political power and the Jews therefore suffered.

A departure from past scholarship, which has played down the stories as unreliable distortions of the historical Jesus, Jesus in the Talmud posits a much more deliberate agenda behind these narratives.

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Editorial Reviews


Schafer's erudite sailing through the 'sea of Talmud' is evident on every page; and, to the extent his thesis is correct, he relocates Talmudic Jesus tradition from Jesus research in the first century to Jewish-Christian relations in late antiquity.


Schäfer's fine new book should be of interest to a wide audience, and not only to specialists in the field of the historical interaction of Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity (who will be right to devour it). . . . Schäfer's book tells a fascinating story. . . . His great scholarship now provides Jews and Christians interested in developing a new and better relationship with a way to work through many of the hateful things that we have said about each other in the past, but without pretending that this bad past was not as bad as it really was or that it can simply be forgotten. . . . The sources that Schäfer adduces are virulent and dangerous, but his analysis of them leaves one unexpectedly full of hope. (David Novak New Republic )

In the talmudic references to Jesus . . . Schäfer persuasively finds sophisticated 'counternarratives that parody the New Testament stories,' composed by Jews who evinced a precise knowledge of the New Testament. The true accomplishment of Jesus in the Talmud is to show how certain talmudic passages are actually subtle rereadings of the New Testament, 'a literary answer to a literary text.' With considerable skill, Schäfer weaves these together until they can be seen to form an intricate theological discourse that prefigures the disputations between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. (Benjamin Balint First Things )

Meticulously researched and argued as well as clearly and accessibly written, this most intriguing--albeit radical--book is sure to spark interest, debate, and controversy. An essential purchase for academic religion collections and theological libraries. (Library Journal )

In [this] book Schäfer has proven himself not only a formidable scholar of ancient and medieval Jewish texts . . . but also a talented author from whose hands the text flows like the water to which the rabbis likened the Torah. (Galit Hasan-Rokem Jewish Quarterly Review )

Peter Schafer's Jesus in the Talmud reviews well-trodden territory but derives new and important readings from this familiar evidence. Applying contemporary historiographical methods, Schafer offers a convincing explanation of the talmudic texts about Jesus. (Ruth Langer Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations )

Peter Schafer deserves great merit for having taken up a subject whose reexamination has been overdue for a long time already and that is of major interest to New Testament scholars, Talmudists, and historians of ancient Judaism alike...The great achievement of this book is that it reopens the discussion of texts that are of greatest significance for the study of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity and the early Middle Ages. It presents the Jewish intellectual elite in a new light, as active respondents to Christian claims and allegations and forceful combatants in the Christian-Jewish dispute. (Catherine Hezser Review of Biblical Literature )

Schafer's excellent study shows that, by ridiculing fundamental Christian claims, Babylonian Jewry rejected any notion that the old covenant had been superseded by the new, Judaism had nothing for which to reproach itself: its superiority over Christianity was incontestable. (Anthony Phillips Church Times )

Peter Schäfer...provides a sophisticated treatment of the subject of Jesus and other figures in the New Testament in Talmudic literature. This subject has a long history, but have never been undertaken with the kind of rigor and sensitivity to contextual factors, including the differences between the evidence available in the Babylonian versus Jerusalem versions...Clear and accessible reading for the non-specialist, this is a careful, scholarly treatment that sets the agenda for future studies (Jewish Book World )

One of the greatest Hebrew scholars, Peter Schäfer, published a book on a very controversial and difficult subject--Jesus in the Talmud. Jesus in the Talmud is a work of great value. Although the author declares that the book is not a scholarly treatise, but only a kind of extensive essay, the investigation is thorough and all its theses are excellently and fully argued. (Maciej Tomal Palamedes )

Peter Schäfer's Jesus in the Talmud is already being picked up by anti-Semitic Web sites as proof that Judaism harbors blasphemous beliefs about Jesus. Yet, it is an important book by a meticulous scholar, the head of Princeton's Judaic studies program. It is also a truthful book and should be received in a spirit of truthfulness. (David Klinghoffer Hadassah Magazine )

Schäfer bases his clearly written and exquisitely informed work on a collection of the fragmented texts about Jesus from the heart of the rabbinic period, a cluster of passages he assembles from material scattered throughout the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds and contemporaneous rabbinic literature. The simple gathering of these newly translated texts in one place makes the book an excellent English-language resource for researchers and laypersons alike. (Stephen Hazan Arnoff Haaretz )

This remarkable monograph is required reading for anyone interested in the reception of the NT in rabbinic literature. (M. J. Geller Journal for the Study of the Old Testament )

[C]ertainly the best modern study of this topic. (Simon Gathercole Journal for the Study of the New Testament )

This is a very interesting book, and the author's arguments are both logical and unique. (W. Pretorius Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae )

Schafer's erudite sailing through the 'sea of Talmud' is evident on every page; and, to the extent his thesis is correct, he relocates Talmudic Jesus tradition from Jesus research in the first century to Jewish-Christian relations in late antiquity. (Michael A. Daise Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus )

Product Details

  • File Size: 1851 KB
  • Print Length: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 9, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WJM5Y6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #459,133 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Biblical Scholarship March 15, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I heartily second the glowing reviews Jesus and the Talmud has received from the scholarly community across the board. This is an important book, ably described by many scholars in the "Editorial Reviews" section. I would like to add, in particular, to the praise toward the book's clear and very accessible style. I teach and write history for a living, and not all academics make things so easy on their readers.

I suppose the David Dukes of the world will find ammunition in Schaefer's work as long as the people they appeal to don't read it. I suppose also that some Jewish readers who do not understand the world of the distant past or the Middle Ages might have bruised feelings. Such are the dangers when entering into waters that spill onto some very ugly history of the last hundred years.

I find Schaefer's argument completely convincing. Considering the rapid spread of the "Jesus movement" in the 1st century (and especially when considering that Jesus' earliest followers, like Paul, came to the synagogues spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean,) it strikes me as naive to believe that many, perhaps most, Jews of the era never heard anything of the "good news" and that what they did hear they simply ignored. It also certainly makes sense that Jews in and around what is now Israel, whose rabbis compiled the Jerusalem Talmud, would have been much more circumspect when dealing with the new Christians than those living in the Mideast whose leaders created the Babylonian Talmud. It would be interesting to know what Jews thought of the early Christians during the Temple period, but other events were much closer and important. After the Jewish revolts against Rome in Judea (66-135 CE)Jews remaining in Roman territory had good reason to keep their heads down.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Agree with this author or not, he is no intellectual lightweight. He teaches Judaic studies at Princeton University, and Rabbi Burton L. Vizotzky (on the outside book cover), calls Schaefer the premiere "Christian-Hebraist" of our time. His approach rejects the extremes of Travers Herford, who saw Jesus in many Talmudic texts (p. 4), and Johann Maier, who saw virtually none. Maier had overemphasized the deconstruction of literary sources (pp. 5-8), and relied on a stilted history of manuscripts. (p. 144).

The TOLEDOT YESHU is not part of this investigation. (p. 7). Although commonly thought of as being medieval, some versions of TOLEDOT YESHU may go back to Late Antiquity. (p. 2).

The most explicit Jesus passages in the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) date back, at the earliest, to the late-200/early-300 A. D. (p. 8). Schaeffer includes a helpful tabular Appendix (pp. 132-144) that details the various editions of the Bavli, listing the relevant verses and their comparative translations. [As a non-Jew, I found it a rewarding experience to read the printed and online Talmud myself. Particularly instructive verses deal with Jesus the Bastard Son (Sanhedrin 67a, Shabbat 104b), His execution (Sanhedrin 43a), and Him burning in hell in hot excrement (Gittin 57a). One useful online source, though in denial about Him in the Talmud, is the English Soncino Babylonian Talmud, located at halakhahdotcom.]

Discrepancies between Bavli and the New Testament accounts have been used to argue that there is no Talmudic reference to Jesus at all.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Peter Schafer does a terrific job of threading the needle on a subject that could be inflammatory in any of several directions. Professor Schafer handles the incindiary subject matter of slurs against Jesus and his mother by focusing on matters of scholarly interest, namely by examining what the Talmudic texts meant about the interaction between Jewish and Christian communities and Palestine and Babylon and about the knowledge of Jewish writers with the basic Christian narrative.

It shouldn't be surprising to find that there were some really vile slurs against Jesus, his mother and disciples floating around in Jewish communities during the period from the 2d to the 4th Century. Judaism and Christianity were engaged in a forceful debate about the meaning of Jewish and Christian identity, and as Oscar Skarsaune argues in In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity there was a heated competition between Christians and Jews for adherents.

We know about the Christian anti-Jewish side of the inter-religious slandering competition. "Jews" are described in the Gospel of John as being children of Satan; a fair number of early Christian fathers wrote embarrassingly anti-semitic tracks; and there was a tradition that equated Jews with being "God-killers."

It would be unimaginable to think that Jews wouldn't respond in kind.

As Professor Schafer points out they did by regularly inverting the Gospel narratives. So, in place of Jesus' birth from the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary, or Miriam, is a whore and an adulterer, and Jesus is a "mamzer" (bastard) whose real father was a Roman soldier names "Panthera.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Putting them in context
This was an excellent book! Shafer includes every possible reference to Jesus, but also sets them in their historical context. They were written after the Gospels. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Discerning Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Dryly Objective Confirmation
For many years the Talmud has been charged by not entirely reputable people with profaning the chracter of Jesus. Now the charges have been confirmed. Read more
Published 18 months ago by john thames
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, thought-provoking study
I've spent time recently undertaking a review of the period from the time of David (approx 1000 BC) through the time of Hadrian (approx 140 AD) to better understand the history of... Read more
Published on June 26, 2012 by Greg
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new, if you learn Gemara regularly
It's a nice collection of known stories. Jews know all of this, and others will not listen anyways.
If you are a young Jew still looking for ways, read this to understand and... Read more
Published on March 23, 2012 by Lonelyking
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent source of info
This book is an exceptional source of information. It is well documented by a scholar with impeccable credentials. Read more
Published on October 6, 2011 by John B. Todd
4.0 out of 5 stars Hints From The New Testament
It has often been said that where there is smoke there is fire. Perhaps more on point "where there is smoke there is often fire. Read more
Published on September 22, 2011 by Robert D. Sanchez
4.0 out of 5 stars "Jesus in the Talmud"
This is an iteresting book, though the topic is quite narrow and the audience will therefore be rather limited. Peter Starker does some commendable data mining in this book. Read more
Published on September 6, 2011 by David J
3.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Reading Experience
Jesus in the Talmud

What is the Talmud? It is a collection of legal commentaries and discussions based on The Hebrew Bible. Read more
Published on August 1, 2011 by Stephen Campbell
1.0 out of 5 stars erroneous
This book takes only one side, the Babylonian Talmud's, and therefore we have to conclude the author's assumptions; that the stories in it are true. Read more
Published on July 8, 2011 by Michelle
4.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly review of the early Jewish response to the rise of...
This is the other side of coin, how the Rabbis responded to Jesus and his teachings. The Rabbinical response as recorded in the Talmud, dovetails perfectly with how the Christian... Read more
Published on February 6, 2011 by W. ANDERSON
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Zohar , talmud and torah question .
You will never be able to read everything you need to answer that VERY far-reaching question, but I will provide you with some titles as good jumping-off points: Read More
Jan 31, 2011 by Jonathan Hartzell |  See all 2 posts
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