Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?

By G. R. S. Mead

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PERHAPS some of my readers will think that I have already devoted too much space to the Talmud and its history, and that it is high time for me to tell them plainly what this chaos of Jewish tradition has to say about Jesus, and so have done with the matter. But when I remember my own erroneous impressions many years ago on first coming across statements (shorn of their context and environment) which confidently affirmed that the Talmud declared categorically that Jesus had lived a century earlier than the date assigned to him by the evangelists, and that instead of his being crucified in Jerusalem he was stoned at Lud, I feel that it is absolutely necessary first of all to give the unlearned reader some rough notion of the genesis and history of our sources of information, and that instead of having to plead excuse for the space I have devoted to preliminaries, I have rather to apologise for the brevity and roughness of the foregoing two chapters and to append some additional introductory indications before the general reader can be furnished with the most elementary equipment for approaching the consideration of the passages themselves with any profit. 

Indeed the whole subject bristles with such disheartening difficulties on all sides that I have been 


frequently tempted to abandon the task, and have only been sustained by the thought that my sole reason for taking pen in hand was simply to point out some of the more salient difficulties, and to exclude from the outset any expectations of a more ambitious performance. And not only are the difficulties connected with questions of history and of fact disheartening, but the whole subject is, as we have seen, involved in an atmosphere of such a painful nature that one would gladly escape from it and leave the dead to bury their dead. But the past is ever present with the eternal soul, the dead come ever back to life, and there is no rest till we can forgive one another, not when we have temporarily forgotten but while we still remember. 

We write not to fan into fresh flame the smouldering fires of ancient hate, but with far fairer hopes. The times have changed, and older souls have come to birth than those who raged so wildly in the Early and the Middle Ages, and there are wiser minds to-day than those unyielding formalists on either side who shut the freer life of greater things out of the synagogues of Jewry and from out the Catholic churches of the Christian Name. For man is man though he be Jew or Christian, mind is mind though it give praise to Yahweh or worship to the Christ, and none but bigots can deny there is growth for every soul in its own way by virtue of its special guide and code of ancient lore. But sure as destiny a day will dawn when every soul will reach to manhood and begin to learn the way of greater things, and once a soul sets foot upon this way passions fall off from it, and it can gaze into the face of history unmoved.


And many are already fast nearing the birthday of their manhood, for there is little doubt but that the love of impartial investigation, which is ever more strongly characterising every department of learning in our own day, is paving the way towards a new era of thought and comprehension, in which the values assigned by the past to many things will be entirely changed; particulars will no more be throned above universals, nor will the temporal thoughts of men rank higher than the ever-present Thought of God, But from this fair hope of order to return to the puzzling records of a disordered past. 

The Talmud, then, is a vast store-house of Jewish Midrashim collected at various dates between 100-500 A.D. It consists of a generally older deposit called the Mishna and of additional strata known as the Gemara or completion—to use technical terms for the sake of brevity. And indeed it is almost impossible to translate them correctly,[1] for such words as Talmud, Mishna and Midrash in the first instance signify simply "study "in a general sense, then some special study or some special method of study, and then again the works which have grown out of such general study or special methods. Midrashim are thus in general explanations or amplifications of Biblical topics, and the Talmud is a heterogeneous collection of Midrashim of every kind. 

The result of this Study of the Law has been handed down in two forms and three languages. Both forms contain the same Mishna in Hebrew (the Biblical language of the Rabbis), while the two Gemaras are composed in the unstable Aramaic vernacular of the 

[1] See Strack's "Einleitung," § 2, "Worterklarungen." 


times, and in two widely differing dialects, the Western or Palestinian and the Eastern or Babylonian, the former of which especially was an odd mixture of Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Syriac, and Hebrew; it was, so to speak, the "commercial language" of the then East, even as Greek was of the then West. These two forms of the Talmud have for long been commonly known as the Jerusalem and Babylonian (Talmud Yeruschalmi and Talmud Babli); but the former designation is very erroneous, for Jerusalem was never a centre of Talmudic activity, and the epithet Palestinian is to be preferred as more correct even than the oldest known titles of this collection, namely Talmud of the Land of Israel or Talmud of the West. 

The Babylonian collection is at least four times the size of the Palestinian, and though the latter may have originally contained more matter than it does in its present form, the difference is mainly owing to the fact that the Rabbis of the West were content to give the opinions of their predecessors without the detailed discussions on which they were supposed to have based their decisions; whereas the Babylonian Talmud frequently has entire folios filled with what the modern mind (unless by chance some new and unexpected light is thrown on the matter) can only consider childish questions and answers, which show nothing else than how the texts of the Torah could be twisted out of all recognition to support later special points of view which the original writers of the verses had clearly never dreamed of.[1] 

[1] See Schwab (M.), "Traite des Berakhoth du Talmud de Jerusalem" (Paris; 1871), Introd., p. lxxvi. This is the opinion of 

[footnote continued on page 108]
a distinguished French Rabbi, when has given the world the only complete translation of the Palestinian Talmud which exists, and not of a Philistine. 


It is also to be remembered that for the later Jews the Babylonian collection gradually became The Talmud, while the Palestinian fell into disuse. In our own days the latter is never taught, but always the former. The Jews of Babylonia, moreover, had more peace and leisure for this strengthening of the defences of the Torah than their Palestinian contemporaries, who were harried by the ever-growing power of Christianized Rome. Even in Babylon this immunity from persecution only continued to the close of the Talmud in 500; indeed, its "close" was forced upon it from without by a fierce outbreak of intolerance.

 Thereafter until our own day the Hebrew found no peace except when under the protection of Islam; then it was that the learned doctors off Israel played so distinguished a part in the intellectual development of Europe, and displayed the remarkable versatility of genius which their enforced cosmopolitanism developed to a degree that is difficult to parallel in any other nation. But to return to the Talmud, which has kept Jewry as a people apart, in spite of its being scattered throughout the nations, and which has indirectly brought the Orient to the Occident, and settled it in our midst. 

Some idea of the voluminous nature of the Talmud may be formed when it is stated that the text of the Babylonian collection alone, in the editio princeps of 1520, the model which has been mostly followed as far as form is concerned, occupies no less than twelve huge


folio volumes, consisting of 2947 folio leaves and 5894 pages.[1]

In both Talmuds the Mishna[2] is broken up into six Orders or Sections (Sedarim), known as "The Six" par excellence, just as the Torah proper was called "The Five" or "The Five Fifths." These orders are again sub-divided into sixty-three tractates or treatises, and these again into 523 chapters; or paragraphs. 

The Mishna text stands surrounded by the Gemara text in unpointed Hebrew characters, a mystery often to those initiated into a knowledge of Hebrew. For indeed it is not only the voluminous nature of the material,[3] and the wilderness of an unpointed text, which are the only difficulties to be surmounted by the first-hand student of the Talmud, but in addition he has to be an adept in solving the countless puzzles of Rabbinic abbreviations, mnemonic technicalities, and ungrammatical forms, and to be further not only master of three different languages, but equipped with a philological intuition that few even of the most learned in this age of learning can be expected to possess. 

It is not then surprising to find that as yet we have no complete translation of the Talmud. We have no 

[1] Hershon (P. I.), "A Talmudic Miscellany" (London; 1880), Introd. (by W. R. Brown), p. xvi. 

[2] It is a mistake to call the Mishna "text" and the Gemara "commentary," as is so often done, for though in printed form the Mishna stands out in bolder type, surrounded by the Gemara, the latter is not a commentary but a completion or appendix of additional matter. 

[3] Even of the canonical Talmud alone, for there is a large number of extra-canonical tractates as well to be taken into account. See Strack's "Einleitung," ch. iv., "Die ausserkanonischen Tractate," pp. 44-46. 


Talmudic Vulgate, no Authorised Version, much less a Revised Version. Even in that magnificent pioneer series of world-bibles, "The Sacred Books of the East," though we have versions of most complex Brahmanical law-books, we fail to find a single tractate of the Talmud translated. And this is to be regretted, not only because the Talmud as a whole is as yet a closed book to the non-specialist, but because a translation into the vernacular would for ever revolutionise the ideas of the ignorant among the Jews, who imagine that the Talmud is a storehouse of wisdom from its first to its last syllable.

The non-specialist, therefore, has to be content with translations of portions only of this library of Jewish tradition, for the most part with versions of single tractates, and even so he has to depend almost solely on work done by Jews or converted Jews, for in the whole list of Talmud tractate translations we are told, the names of only five Christians born are to be found.[1] 

What we want is a scientific translation of the Talmud, for, to summarise Bischoff, how few theological students know anything of this great literature, how few Christian scholars have really worked through a single complete tractate! How few Jews even, at any rate of German birth,[2] have any longer any profound knowledge of the Talmud! 
The only real Talmudists [3] nowadays are to be 

[1] See Bischoff (E.), "Kritische Geschichte der Thalmud Übersetzungen aller Zeiten und Zungen "(Frankfort a. M.; 1899), p. 85. 

[2] And in England real Talmudic scholars will not exhaust the fingers for their counting. 

[3] Of the old school, of course, not scientific students of ancient scripture and literature. 


found in Russia, Galicia, Hungary, and Bohemia, and even so the work of the younger generation presents us with a picture of complete degeneracy and decline. It is true that in recent years there has been some small activity in Talmud study, partly in the interest of Jewish missions on the side of Christian theologians, partly in the interest either of Anti-semitism on the one hand or of Jewish apologetics on the other, but in no case in the interest of pure scientific enquiry for the furtherance of our knowledge of the history of culture, religion and language. Moreover, owing to the difficulty of original study, the non-specialist[1] has to depend entirely on translations, and as we have no immediate expectation of a complete translation of the Babylonian Talmud, and the French translation of the Palestinian Talmud leaves much to be desired, he has to be content with piecing together a patch-work of translation of single tractates, some of which even the best furnished libraries fail to supply.[2] 

And if such difficulties confront the non-specialist who is keenly desirous of learning all he can about the Talmud, and is willing to take an infinity of pains in the matter, the general reader has to be content with such a very distant glimpse of the country as to remain ignorant of all but its most salient features. Moreover, even with regard to the material available the student finds himself severely handicapped, for he can form no just opinion as to its value, and must rely entirely on the opinion of experts to guide him in his choice of the best sources of information. Thus before I came across 

[1] Who, as a rule, has the more open mind

[2] Cf.. Bischoff, op. cit., pp. 9, 10. 


Bischoff's very useful history of existing Talmud translations, I had already acquainted myself with the only complete version of the Palestinian Talmud and the work in progress on the Babylonian Talmud, but could of course form no opinion as to the accuracy and reliability of these translations. 

Of the Palestinian Talmud, then, we possess a complete French version by Moise Schwab;[1] it is rendered into readable French and is generally clear, but Bischoff tells us[2] that it is a free translation, and in many passages open to objection. 

With regard to the translations of the Babylonian Talmud which are in progress, lovers of accuracy are in a still worse plight. Rodkinson's English version [3] puts the mediaeval censorship to the blush, proceeding as it does on lines of the most arbitrary bowdlerisation in the interest of apologetic "purification." In his Introduction, most of which is taken directly from Deutsch's famous article, Rodkinson sets forth his scheme as follows: 

"Throughout the ages there have been added to the text marginal notes, explanatory words, whole phrases and sentences invented in malice or ignorance by its enemies or by its friends. . . . We have, therefore, carefully punctuated the Hebrew text with modern punctuation marks, and have re-edited it by omitting all such irrelevant matter as interrupted the clear and orderly arrangement of the various arguments.

[1] "Le Talmud de Jérusalem "(Paris; 1871-1889). 

[2] Op. cit., p. 57. 

[3] "New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud: English Translation and Original Text, edited, formulated and punctuated," by Michael L. Rodkinson (Cincinnati; 1896, in progress). 


... We continue our labours in the full and certain hope that 'he who comes to purify receives divine help "[1] 

In Goldschmidt's German translation[2] I thought I had at last come across a serious and reliable guide, but Bischoff for ever removes this confidence by telling us that seldom has scientific criticism been so unanimous in its condemnation of not only the untrustworthy nature of Goldschmidt's text, but also of the superabundant errors and the obscure and false German of his translation.[3] 

Even more reprehensible than Rodkinson's pious attempt at edification is the literary jest of a certain Jean de Parly,[4] who instead of a translation gives us little more than a summary of the arguments of the various tractates. As he says in his Introduction (p. xvi): "What I have suppressed in the translation is, in the first place, all those sterile controversies and discussions given in the original under the form of question and answer, and in the second the biblical verses cited in the text";—in brief he gives us the ghastly corpse of a mutilated and disembowelled Talmud. 

Indeed, as we read of the many abortive attempts to make the Talmud in its full contents known to the world, we are almost tempted to believe that any such undertaking lies under a persistent' curse. Some have 

[1] Op. cit., pp. xii, xiii. 

[2] "Der babylonische Talmud . . . moeglichst wortgetreu uebersetzst und mit kurzen Erklaerungen versehen," von Lazarus Goldschmidt (Berlin; 1896, in progress). 

[3] Op. cit., p. 62. 

[4] "Le Talmud de Babylone, Texte complet. . . accompagné des principaux Commentaires et synthétiquement traduit" par Jean de Parly (Orléans; 1900). 


begun the task, and either abandoned it or died before its accomplishment; others have emasculated the original out of all recognition; all have failed. 

We are thus without any really reliable translation of the Talmud as a whole, and the task we have undertaken in this present essay would have been utterly impossible of accomplishment but for the fortunate circumstance, that the text of the very passages we specially desire to study has been recently critically edited and fairly translated; but of this later on. It is only necessary to add here that Bischoff's learned monograph gives a critical bibliography of all existing translations, and that Strack's "classical" "Einleitung," as Bischoff calls it (p. 10), to which we have already referred on several occasions, in its third edition (1900), gives a full bibliography up to date of the general literature of the subject. Strack's Introduction, it is true, gives us only an anatomical study of the Talmud, the articulation of its bare bones alone, but it is, nevertheless, a monument of patient industry and research. 

So much, then, for a very brief indication of the literature of the subject and the nature of the initial difficulties which confront a student of the Talmud; but these initial difficulties are as nothing to the internal difficulties which perplex the historical investigator. For the most part the only indications of time in the Talmud are that certain things are stated to have been done or said by such and such a Rabbi, and not unfrequently we find that the Rabbi in question could not possibly have said or done the things attributed to him. 

Nor will the traditional dates of the completion of 


the Mishna and the various redactions of the two Gemaras help us to any general certainty, so that we can say confidently that as such and such a thing is not found in the Mishna it must therefore be later than 200 A.D., or again that as such and such a thing is found only in the Babylonian Gemara, it evidently must be a late invention, for the first Talmud schools in Babylon were founded only about 200 A.D.1 There must have been wide overlappings, and part of the Haggadic material of the Palestinian Gemara must have been in existence long prior to the completion of the Mishna, which concerned itself more especially with Halacha, while the Babylonian schools derived their tradition in the first place immediately from the Palestinian. 

In any case since the Talmud itself shows such great contempt for history, or rather let us say since it seems to be utterly deficient in the historical sense, it is incumbent upon us first of all to establish from outside sources the earliest date we can for the existence of hostile Jewish stories concerning Jesus; otherwise it might be argued that the Talmud stories were almost entirely invented by later Babylonian Rabbis, and had no currency in Palestine where the "historical facts" were known. 

[1] "The Jews in Babylonia, no doubt, shared in the changes and movements that Ezra and his successors, who came from Babylonia, introduced into Palestine. But for the four centuries covering the period from Ezra to Hillel there are no details; and the history of the succeeding two centuries, from Hillel to Judah I., furnishes only a few scanty items on the state of learning among the Babylonian Jews." See Bacher's art., "Academies in Babylonia," in "Jewish Encyclopaedia." Can it possibly be that up to the third century A.D. the "traditions" of the Babylonian Jews did not support the contentions of the Palestinian Rabbis?

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