Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?

By G. R. S. Mead

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WE have already seen in our short sketch of "The Talmud in History" how fierce was the persecution of Western Jewry by Christian intolerance in the Inquisitional period of the Middle Ages; we have seen how hate begat hate, and we are not surprised to find that the Jews of the later Middle Age had long learned most bitterly to execrate the memory of their ancient Rabbi, in whose name they had been so cruelly persecuted for so many centuries. The name of Jesus had become a terror to them, the symbol of all that was cruel, even as from the earliest days it had connoted for them much that was blasphemous—cruel because of their tortures and stripes, blasphemous because his followers worshipped man as God, and the Law most sternly forbade the Jew to do so.

But the fierce outbreak which raged with such disastrous results to Jewry from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century was no new conflagration. The ancient fire of the early days of conflict had never teen really extinguished; it had smouldered on, ready to burst into flame as soon as Western Christendom in the Person of one or two scholars—aided, as the Christian would say, by the zeal of Jewish converts, or, as the 


Israelite would put it, roused to fury by the sectarian hatred of Jewish renegades and apostates—had either learned enough Hebrew to read the Talmud traditions about Jesus, or had had its ears filled with accounts so distorted that it imagined that the Talmud was from the first to the last page a repository of blasphemy against its Lord. 

In this connection it is somewhat curious to note the that the rage or the Christian inquisitors was directed almost entirely against the Talmud itself, from the voluminous contents of which it was a matter of some difficulty to disinter the brief and scattered references to Jesus, while we hear comparatively little or nothing of a certain Jewish "Life of Jesus," which not only worked up some of the scattered Talmud passages into a connected whole, but also added other matter (not found in the Talmud), some of the elements of which were referred to by Tertullian as early as the closing years of the second century.

It is true that at the very beginning of the Talmud persecution, about the middle of the thirteenth century, we find Raymund Martini, the learned Dominican who has the distinction of being considered the first Christian Hebraist of the Middle Ages, but who is thought by some to have been a converted Jew,[1] quoting a form of this "Life," which had in all probability been already expressly condemned at the trial preceding the Paris burning of 1248.[2] Again, in 

[1] Martini sat on the Talmud Inquisitorial Commission assembled at Barcelona in 1266. 

[2] Lea (H. C.), "A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages” (New York; 1888), i. 558. 


1415, the Antipope Benedict XIII. specially singled out for condemnation a certain treatise "Mar mar Jesu," no copy of which is now known to be extant, but which is thought by some to have been a form of the Toldoth Jeschu,[1] while in the first half of the sixteenth century, when the Talmud was recovering its right to existence, Reuchlin distinctly excluded this "Life" from his favourable judgment on the Talmud. 

It is, however, strange that we do not hear more of the Toldoth Jeschu during this period, for it worked up into one consecutive narrative not only the main Talmud Jeschu data, but also much else not found either in the Talmud or in Christian tradition either canonical or apocryphal, and might, therefore, have been expected to have been singled out especially and consistently by the emissaries of the Inquisition as the main ground of their accusation and attack. Can it have been that this "Life" was considered by the ignorant inquisitors as forming part and parcel of the Talmud itself; or was it kept so secret among the Jews that the agents of the Holy Office failed to come across it except on the rarest occasions; or was it to the bitter persecution of the Inquisition itself that we owe not the genesis of the Toldoth, but the elaboration of some of its existing forms? 

The fact that we found Tertullian briefly referring to certain elements still preserved in great elaboration in nearly all extant forms of the Toldoth convinced us that, as far as these elements were concerned, the traditional memory of the mediaeval compilers or redactors of the Toldoth reached back to at least the end 

[1] Grätz (H. H.), "Geschichte der Juden" (Leipzig; 1865, 2nd ed.), viii. 133-135." 


of the second century. But the difficulties connected with the subject were (and are) very great; for not only were (and are) all non-Jewish scholars who had considered the matter agreed that the forms of the Toldoth accessible to them were worthless mediaeval fabrications quite beneath the notice of the historical student, but the number of these recensions was very small. In fact, for all practical purposes the short thirteenth century Latin translation of Raymund Martini, the seventeenth and eighteenth century Latin versions of Wagenseil and Huldreich, and finally the Judaeo-German "Life" published by Bischoff in 1895,[1] comprised all the material available. 

In his "Vorwort," Bischoff had stated that this "jüdisch-deutsch" "Life" was the forerunner of a large work "Das jüdische Leben Jesu,'" which was to deal with the various recensions of the Toldoth in a scientific manner. We were therefore waiting m high expectation of the help of this most useful undertaking when a few months ago (at the time of this writing) there appeared an excellent work on the subject by D. Samuel Krauss, enriched with many notes from the hand of Bischoff himself, and also with others by Strack.[2] It is, therefore, to be supposed that this is the book referred to by Bischoff in his "Foreword," and not, as we had previously imagined, that the work promised was to be entirely by himself. 

[1] Bischoff (E.), "Ein jüdisch-deutches Leben Jesu: Geschichte Jesu von Nazareth, geboren in Jahre 3760 seit Erschaffung die Welt" (Leipzig; no date).

[2] Krauss (S.) "Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen" (Berlin; 1902). 


Most opportunely, then, for our enquiry has this study appeared, for in it not only have we a wealth of new material which was hitherto entirely inaccessible to any but the most determined specialists, but also we have the first attempt at a scientific and unpartisan treatment of this difficult subject; a beginning has at last been made towards an evaluation of the legendary and traditional materials of this most curious cycle of Jewish literature, and the openmindedness of the undertaking is unquestionably shown by the fact that Krauss, Bischoff and Strack frequently dissent from each other in their comments and recomments. 

Our present task is, therefore, considerably lightened; for instead of attempting unaided to review this overgrown and complicated tradition as preserved in Bischoff's Judaeo-German Toldoth and the Latin versions of Wagenseil, Huldreich and Raymundus Martini, and to trace the external evidence from where we left it, in treating of the Talmud, we have to work over ground already surveyed by Krauss, while at the same time we have to thank him for considerably widening the area of research by the addition of new territory which we could never have traversed at all without his aid, for no one but a past-master in a knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish Hebrew mediaeval literature could dream of attempting such a task single-handed. If, however, we find ourselves compelled sometimes to differ from Krauss' conclusions or to put a different value on some the chief elements in the materials, it is not surprising, seeing that the scientific investigation of this obscure subject of hitherto bitterest prejudice is still entirely in its infancy. 


Krauss, in his "Einleitung," assures us of his entire impartiality, and declares that he has treated the Toldoth purely as an ancient literary monument, the earliest foundation of which, he believes, preserves a text reaching back some 1500 years (K. iii.).[1] As the result of his labours, in which he claims to have proved the general Toldoth tradition point for point, he declares that though the representation of the "Life of Jesus" contained herein is of an odious nature, and in so far referable to Jewish hostility, nevertheless the bare facts themselves are for the most part in contact with good, and that, too, Christian, sources; and that instead of spending all its energies in abusing the Toldoth as a Jewish lampoon, a pitiful fabrication, or execrable foolishness, it would be more profitable for Christian theology to trace the book to its sources, as he has endeavoured to do himself (K. 2).

When, however, Krauss speaks of "good Christian sources," it must be understood that he means that they were "good" for the Jewish compilers of the Toldoth, who could not be expected to distinguish between canonical, deutero-canonical and apocryphal Christian literature and tradition. The Toldoth makers and redactors simply reflected the general notions in the Christian folk-consciousness of their times, and took these varied and changing notions indifferently for authentic facts, or, at any rate, as valid beliefs of the Christian faithful. Thus we find biblical, apocryphal and Talmaud-Midrash traditions and legends as to Jesus 

[1] The frequent references to Krauss' work are thus signified; when the note referred to is by Bischoff it will be further marked "B. n." 


mingled together in motley confusion, each and every one of them being put at precisely the same value (K. 165). And this indeed is an important point in any investigation of a subject of this nature; for the common persuasion in general Protestant circles that the canonical Gospel view was the only view, even in the early days, is entirely mistaken; the people fed mainly on apocrypha. 

Krauss especially insists that the agreement of the Toldoth in certain of its forms and features with Gospel data is of prime importance, for it argues that although in the Toldoth literature these are naturally put forward as they appeared to Jewish, and, therefore, he admits, biassed observers, they are nevertheless not deliberately distorted or disfigured (K. 154). The Toldoth recensions, it is true, bear all the marks of an apologetic and polemical literature, but this does not calumniate; it alleges, but does not execrate (K. 155). 

Bischoff, on the contrary, declares that the various forms of the Toldoth must be classed as a satirical and parodial literature of a polemical nature; it is true that the Jewish compilers borrow certain traits from the Christian prototype, but only to recast them in their own fashion. The various Toldoth recensions known to us all bear the marks of a Middle Age bitter polemical literature against the intolerance of the Catholic Church and in answer to the fierce denunciation and cruel persecution by the Christians against the Jews; it is a case of eye for eye and tooth for tooth. These writings were pamphlets against the simple faith in unintelligent authority and the foolishness of a rank growth of Christian legend and folklore; briefly, against 


the pensions and extravagances of the Church of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless it would be foolish to throw away the child with the bath water, for the Toldoth writs' were, in their way, as decent folk as their opponents (K. 154; B. ii.).

With this opinion Strack also is in agreement; nevertheless Krauss holds firmly to his own point of view and refuses to modify it. The most useful standpoint may perhaps be found somewhere between these two contradictory views, but as far as our present study is concerned, our main interest is concerned only with the oldest elements discernible under the many changing forms of this Toldoth activity. 

But perhaps some of our readers will say: Why, we did not know even so much as that there was a Jewish Life of Jesus; where can we obtain any information on the subject in English? Truth to say, the Toldoth literature has been boycotted even by the learned in English-speaking lands. Perhaps this may have been natural enough, and it may have been best hitherto to keep silence on a topic which in the past could not possibly have been discussed with moderation. But at the beginning of the twentieth century it is no longer possible to exclude from the field of research into Christian origins any subject, even of apparently the most intractable kind, which may hold out the fastest hope of throwing even a sidelight on the countless obscurities of received tradition.

As far as we are aware there is only one book in English which deals with the subject, and that too in a very superficial manner, but as it has never reached a second edition, either it has been very little 


read or the author has not thought it advisable to reprint it.[1] 

But even the learned have been hitherto very imperfectly acquainted with the Toldoth literature, and have had to depend entirely on polemical sources of information rather than on a scientific statement and appreciation of the facts. Setting aside Raymundus Martini's thirteenth century Latin rendering of a short Toldoth form, which Luther knew from the fifteenth century reproduction of Porchettus, and translated into German early in the sixteenth century, and which we shall consider later on, non-Jewish scholars had until quite lately to depend entirely on the translations of the anti-Jewish writers Wagenseil[2] 

[1] Baring-Gould (S.), "The Lost and Hostile Gospels: An Essay on the Toledoth Jeschu, and the Petrine and Pauline Gospels of the First Three Centuries of which Fragments Remain" (London; 1874), ch. v. "The Counter-Gospels," pp. 67-115. This book contains a digest and partial translation of Wagenseil’s seventeenth-century and Huldreich's eighteenth-century Latin versions of the Toldoth; much of the matter in the chapters on the Talmud and Toldoth is taken from Clemens' "Jesus von Nazareth" (Stuttgart; 1850) and von der Alm's "Urtheile" (Leipzig; 1864), whose name the author misspells, p. 48—but without any acknowledgment.

Wagenseil's Latin has also been rendered into English in a penny pamphlet form, "The Hebrew Account of our Lord (sole English edition, omitting nothing after the first page), Latinized by J. C. Wagenseil, 1681; Englished by E. L. G., 1885." (London; James Burns.) It is difficult to refrain from reprobating strongly a production of this kind.

[2] Joh. Christophorus Wagenseilius, "Tela ignea Satanae. Hoc est: Arcani et horribiles Judaeorum adversus Christum Deum et Christianam Religionem Libri anekdotoi" (Altdorf; 1681), 2 vols., containing six treatises, of which the last is "Libellus Toldos Jeschu." W.'s text was reproduced with a German translation in J. A. Eisenmenger's (not Eilenmenger's,) "Entdecktes Juden- 

[footnote continued on p. 252]

thum" (1st ed. [Frankfort], 1700; latest edition, Dresden, 1893, by J. X. Schiefel); the original title of which ran : "Das bei 40 Jahr von der Judenschafft mit Arrest bestrickt gewesene, nunmehro aller durch Autorität eines Hohen Reichs-Vicariats relaxirte J. A. E.'s . . . entdecktes Judenthum: oder gründlicher und wahrhaffter Bericht, welchergestalt die verstockte Juden die Hochheilige Dreieinigkeit . . . erschrecklicher Weise lästern und verunehren u. s. w., 2 Thle; and also by Bullet, op. sub. cit


(b. at Nürnberg Nov. 26, 1633, d. Oct. 9, 1705) and Huldreich.[1] 

With the publication of Bischoff's Jewish-German "Leben Jesu" in 1895, to which we have already referred, and Krauss' larger work in 1902, however, we have a large amount of new material rendered accessible to us; not, however, that even so we have by any means all the material extant, for there must be still numerous MSS. hidden away (for a number of MSS. once known to exist have since disappeared), or in the hands of modern Jewish mediaevalists, the "homely" Jews of Krauss (p. 22); and of the 23 (two of these being only fragments) now known we have still to wait for the translation of a good half of them. Nevertheless, as the MSS. fall into types, the portion of the new material which Krauss has translated is doubtless sufficient for all practical purposes. 

Bischoff (K. 27-37) has divided these MSS. into five chief types; it is, however, to be observed that these groupings do not in the remotest fashion aim at any attempt at tracing out a historical genealogical tree, for, 

[1] Joh. Jac. Huldricus, "Sepher Toldoth Jeschua ha-Notzri [in Hebrew letters], Historia Jeschuae Nazareni, a Judaeis blasphemè corrupta, ex Manuscripto hactenus inedito nunc demum edita, ac Versione et Notis (quibus Judaeorum nequitiae; proprius deteguntur, et Authoris asserta ineptiae ac impietatis convincuntur), illustrata" (Leyden; 1705). 


as Bischoff says, in face of the very chaotic nature of the material, such an attempt must ever be of the most subjective character (K. 27). It may be that with the discovery of other MSS. something of a more objective nature may be attempted, but at present the field is wide open for the most diverse speculations. 

Bischoff's classification, or, rather, tentative grouping, of the MSS. is as follows:

1. Type Wagenseil; put first because it is the best known (9 MSS.). 

2. Type De Rossi (so called from its last private owner, who presented it to the Royal Library at Parma); placed second because it is more nearly allied to the former type in its main subjects (6 MSS.). 

3. Type Huldreich (the original is lost, but there are 2 MSS. copied from H.'s printed text); put third because it was printed next after W.'s. 

4. Type Modern Slavonic; put next because it shows a knowledge of all the foregoing (4 MSS.). 

5. Type Cairo (6 fragments in the Schechter-Oxford-collection from the Geniza or lumber-room of the Old Synagogue at Cairo); put last because it is the last known. 

Of printed Toldoth texts we have practically only those of Wagenseil and Huldreich; there was, however, still earlier, somewhere about 1640 (K 17; B. n.), a text published by Engelsberger, but no copy of it is now known to exist; there is also mixed Toldoth stuff in the ironical composition of Gustav (Gerschom) Bader, which bears as part of its title "History of the Nazarene Law-giver." 


None of these texts, however, have the slightest pretension of being critical; they are all, so to speak, one-manuscript texts. It remained for Krauss to give us the first attempt at a critical text of (1) the Strassburg University Library MS., and (2) the Vienna Israelitish Theological Academy's MS. No. 54; while he has had simply to reproduce (3) Adler's Jemen MS. with portions of (4) the Leyden MS.[1] dealing with the "burial" and "resurrection "; (5) of three Slavonic MSS. dealing with the "seduction"; (6) a fragment from Bokhara in possession of E. Adler, dealing also with the "seduction"; (7), the "inventio crucis" from the Vienna MS. No. 54; (8) the Cairo Geniza fragments; and (9) an extract from the "Touch-stone "of Schemtob ibn Schaprut, from the MS. in the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (p. 180). Of these texts Krauss gives German translations of only 1, 2, 3 and 9. 

It is to be regretted that when the subject was being treated in a scientific manner, Krauss did not think of bringing together all the material between two covers; it would have been vastly more convenient if Wagenseil's Huldreich's and Bischoffs texts, and Martini's version, had been printed as well, and a German translation appended for every text; even if the "embellishments" of the Slavonic type are too bad for translation into German, they might have been rendered into Latin. 

These MSS. are all late, and as far as we have any indications of date, two may be assigned to the sixteenth 

[1] So the heading, p. 128, but I can find no mention of a "Leyden" MS. in either K.'s description of MSS. (pp. 19-22) or in B.'s (pp. 27-37). 


century, two to the seventeenth, two to the seventeenth-eighteenth, four to the eighteenth, and five to the nineteenth century. 

The question of the language of the various forms of the Toldoth is often very obscure, but Krauss is of opinion that in German-speaking lands at any rate, and therefore also in Slavonic-speaking lands, the Toldoth recensions were first written in the vernacular, being intended as a "Volkslectüre"; they were only later translated into Hebrew, and as this Hebrew is often very impure, they were probably translated by apostates or by Christian opponents for polemical purposes. This view is, however, sharply contradicted by Bischoff (K. 9-12 and 13; B.n.s.), who declares that instead of the vernacular Toldoth being intended for popular consumption, they rather constituted the reading of the intelligent Jewish laity, by which we are to understand, presumably, those who were unable to read the Toldoth in Hebrew. Bischoff denies that the Toldoth Hebrew is worse than much of the literature of the time, and it is difficult to see à priori why an apostate should not have been able to write as good Hebrew as a non-convert. 

It seems, however, highly probable that the language of the oldest forms of the Toldoth was originally Aramaic, as the oldest MS. fragments extant (from the Cairo Geniza) show. 

As to the title by which the various forms of the Jewish Life of Jesus is designated, we have chosen the best known one, and the one that occurs most frequently. The known titles, however, vary very considerably. "Toldoth Jeschu" means literally The Genera- 


tions of Jeschu, hence Birth or History, Tradition, or Life of Jesus. It is also called "Sepher Toldoth Jeschu," or Book of the Generations of Jeschu; also "Toldoth Jeschu ha-Notzri" (K. 30), or History of Jeschu the Nazarene. We also find the title "Maase Jeschu," or History of Jeschu (K. 30), or "Maase Jeschu ha-Notzri" (K. 31, 33). It is also supposed that the Latin transliteration, "Mar mar Jesu," in the Bull of May 1415, stands for "Maase Jeschu," or "Maanar Jeschu," Story of Jeschu. We also meet with the title "Maase Tola," or "Talui," The History of the Hanged (K. 9, 13); also The History of Jeschu and of Queen Helena and of the Apostles (K. 15), or simply History of Jeschu and the Apostles (K. 172). One MS. begins: "This is the Book of the Condemnation of Jeschu ben Pandera" (K. 10); another bears the title The History of him and his Son[1] (K. 33, 64, 88). Huldreich's printed text, after the main title, "Toldoth Jeschua ha-Notzri," continues with the names Jeschu and Cristos [sic] Jesus (in Hebrew transliteration). 

As to the Hebrew equivalent for the name Jesus, we find that the Toldoth recensions amply confirm the form given in the Talmud with which we have already dealt; in fact, the longer form Jeschua is found in only three MSS,[2] while the still longer form Jehoshua appears only once, in Wagenseil. 

[1] Meaning, presumably, "History of Joseph Pandera and his Son," for in this recension J. Pandera is given as the legitimate husband of Miriam. 

[2] But even in these MSS. this form does not appear throughout, or more frequently than Jeschu or Jesus (in Hebrew transliteration from the—? German). 


But before we go any further we must present our readers with some one of the numerous recensions of the Toldoth, so that they may form some idea of the general nature of the material. As the Wagenseil and Huldreich versions are fairly well known, at any rate to scholars and the curious, we will take the recension preserved in the Strassburg MS., which is of special interest not only because it is probably the Hebrew original underlying the type of text preserved in Bischoff's Yiddish Toldoth, but also because it preserves many Aramaic traces, and so connects itself with the earliest forms of the Toldoth literature, and finally because part of it is identical with Martini's thirteenth century text.

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