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Jesus in the Talmud 7/25/09 Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691143187
ISBN-10: 0691143188
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Editorial Reviews


Peter Schäfer, Winner of the 2007 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

"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

From the Back Cover

"Peter Schäfer's remarkable volume on Jesus' enigmatic place in Talmudic literature is a work of erudition and depth. It will bring deeper knowledge to students and teachers of Judaism and Christianity."--Elie Wiesel

"When the premiere 'Christian-Hebraist' of our era turns his attention to Jesus in the Talmud, everyone interested in ancient history and modern interreligious dialogue must take notice. Peter Schäfer carefully sifts through all of the literary evidence from that great monument of late-fifth-century Babylonian Jewish culture with fresh eyes and striking insights. His final chapter, focused on why the Babylonian Talmud could sustain such anti-Christian rhetoric, is a scholarly tour de force."--Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Jewish Theological Seminary

"From the opening pages of Jesus in the Talmud the reader senses that something new and important is about to be unfolded. It is, and the unfolding of it is pure Schäfer: straightforward and plain-speaking, argued densely, yet with great clarity, provocative, but finally persuasive. And yes, exciting too."--F. E. Peters, author of The Children of Abraham

"This is an exceptionally engaging book. Professor Schäfer has subjected to close scrutiny all the passages relating to Jesus in the Talmudic and other rabbinic literature produced in Palestine and in Babylonia in late antiquity. His aim is to use them to discover the rabbis' attitude to Christianity. While the force of the argument suggests this book should be mainly of interest to students of rabbinic Judaism, I believe that the subject matter will ensure that it has a much wider readership. It sheds light in places on the way the gospel traditions evolved particularly in Palestinian and Syriac-speaking Christianity."--Nicholas de Lange, University of Cambridge


Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 7/25/09 edition (September 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691143188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691143187
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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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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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. In addition to this, there is a difference between the references in the Palestinian Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud. If we look at what was happening in each specific region, these differences make sense.

The basic thesis of this book is that the Talmudic references are a reaction to the growing church. They reveal knowledge of the written accounts in the Gospels (not direct knowledge of Jesus), and are a counter-narrative.

These stories preserved the authority of rabbi's, by rejecting the authority of Jesus. In other words, they served to draw the line on orthodoxy (apologetic purposes).

Here is where their historic value comes into play: not by shedding light on the historic Jesus, but showing differences in Palestine and Babylon. Jews in Palestine had to refrain from writing anti-Christian polemics due to Constantine's conversion to Christianity. But the Jews in Babylon did not. They lived in another empire. And this empire persecuted the Christians. Hence the freedom to write anti-Christian polemics.

Shafer's thesis is compelling, especially when the Palestinian & Babylonian Talmud's are set against the light of politics happening around them. When we look at Justin Martyr's defense against a rabbi, Origin's rebuttal against the pagan Celsus (who picked up stories from Jewish apologists), and Tertullians writings --- we gain additional evidence these stories were written to counter the claims in the Gospels.

In light of their late date, and their propogandistic purposes --- they have little value in unwrapping the historical Jesus. But they do shed light on the formation of post-Temple Judaism, and Christianity's divergence from it.
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