Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?
By G. R. S. Mead
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VII -THE EARLIEST EXTERNAL EVIDENCE TO THE TALMUD JESUS STORIES.
CHRISTIAN tradition will have it that already as early as 30 A.D. the followers of Jesus were most utterly persecuted by the Jewish authorities. On the other hand, we know that Christians and Jews were undistinguished by the Roman authority until the closing years of the first century, and that, too, not only in Palestine but also among the Dispersion a consideration which in the opinion of some critics tends somewhat to weaken the strength of the traditional line of demarcation which is regarded as having been drawn between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Diaspora by Pauline propaganda. Moreover, we are further assured by Talmud scholars that according to Jewish tradition Jews and Jewish Christians were not distinctly separated out till the reign of Trajan (98-117 A.D.), or even still later in Hadrian’s time (117-138 A.D.).
It is impossible to reconcile these contradictory data; for though we may almost entirely eliminate the negative evidence of classical writers by the persuasion that the official Roman was ignorant or careless of the rights of the matter, and contemptuously lumped
Jew and Christian together as of the same family as far as their superstitio was concerned, the Christian and Jewish traditions appear to be in straitest contradiction, even though we suppose that the Palestinian Rabbis who first evolved the Talmud paid attention only to the state of affairs in the land of Israel proper and were not concerned with the Dispersion. It may indeed be that in the beginning the Rabbis paid no attention to Gentile Christians of any grade in Palestine, but regarded them as Heathen, and the vast majority of them as 'Amme ha-aretz, entirely outside the pale of Jewry and its privileges; it may be that they were only concerned with born Jews who were abandoning the externals of the Law and introducing into Jewry what the Rabbis considered to be polytheistic views which set at naught the rigid monotheistic commandments of the Torah. But even so, if the testimony of Paul as to himself is genuine, there was the bitterest persecution many years before the Talmud indirectly admits it.
Now in spite of the brilliant critical ability of van Manen and his school, I am still inclined to regard the majority of the Pauline letters as largely genuine, and therefore as being our earliest historical witnesses to Christianity. From these we learn that already upwards of a generation before the fall of Jerusalem, which immensely intensified the propaganda of more liberal and spiritual views throughout the nation, there was bitter persecution on the part of the Jewish authorities against heresy, and that among the victims of this persecution were the followers of Jesus. We do not have to deduce this from enigmatical sentences or
confused traditions, but on the contrary we have before us what purports to be not only the testimony of an eye-witness, but the confession of one who had taken a leading part in the persecution. In his Letter to the Galatians (i. 13) Paul declares that before his conversion he was engaged in persecuting and "wasting" the "Church of God." If this declaration of the great propagandist is a statement of fact, and not a rhetorical embellishment, or a generous exaggeration in contrition for previous harshness (begotten of zeal for the "tradition of the fathers") towards those with whom he was now the co-believer, it is in straitest contradiction with the opinion of those Talmudic scholars who assert that Jews and Jewish Christians continued together in comparative harmony till the reign of Trajan.
The graphic details of this persecution as given in the Acts, and its far-reaching character, as suggested by the furnishing of Paul by the authorities with letters against the heretics even among the Dispersion at Damascus, may presumably be set down as a later Haggadic expansion, or the ascription of circumstances of a later date to Pauline times. But whatever was the exact nature of the “havoc “in the time of Paul, at the time of the redaction of the Acts (130-150 A.D.) it was still a lively remembrance that there had been much persecution at the hands of the Jews, that is to say most probably from the Mishnaic Rabbis and their adherents —a fact confirmed by the Talmud, which in a number of passages allows us to conclude that during the first
 Otherwise we have to account for the existence of a "Church" at Damascus at a date when, according to canonical tradition, the first Church at Jerusalem had hardly been formed.
thirty-five years of the second century the great Akiba himself, who was so zealous for the Law, and the virtual founder of the Talmud method, was the most strenuous and implacable opponent of Christianity. And if there was persecution, there must have previously been controversy, and controversy of the most embittered nature, and if bitter dispute then presumably scandal and slander.
We are certain then that the strife was at fever heat in the first quarter of the second century, just prior to the compilation of our four canonical Gospels; the "common document" (as we saw in a previous chapter) shows further that it was in manifestation some half century prior to the redaction of these documents, say somewhere about 75 A.D., while if we can accept the testimony of the Letter to the Galatians as that of a genuine declaration by Paul himself, we must push back the beginnings of the struggle another half century or so.
 In this connection it would be interesting to determine the exact date of Paul's conversion, but this is impossible to do with any precision. The various authorities give it as anywhere between 28-36 A.D., the 28 limit making it almost coterminous with the earliest possible date of the crucifixion according to the canonical date. This early date, however, allows no time for anything but a sudden and unorganised outbreak of official fury directed against the followers of Jesus immediately after his execution (according to canonical tradition), and such a sudden outbreak seems out of keeping with the extended "persecuting" and "wasting" of the "Church of God" referred to by Paul. But was the "Church" of tradition as imagined by the scribe of the Acts (viii. 3) the same as the "Church of God" in Paul's living memory? Did the latter then possess the identical story related a century later in the canonical Gospels? And if so, why does Paul seem to he almost entirely ignorant of this story in spite of lengthy acquaintance with that "Church" while wasting it, and in spite of subsequent conversion?
Seeing, then, that few reject this testimony, as far as most of us are concerned there is nothing a priori to prevent the genesis of the original forms of some of these Talmud stories going back even to some 30 years A.D., while for others we can at best only push their origin back stage by stage with the evolution of Christian dogma—that is to say with the externalizing and historicizing of the mystic teachings of the inner tradition. As Christian popular propaganda gradually departed from the sober paths of prosaic history and simple ethical instruction, owing to the externalizing of the exalted and romantic experiences of the mystics and the bringing of the "mysteries" to earth by historicizing them, so did the Rabbinical opponents of this new movement confront its extravagance with the remorseless logic of material fact.
For instance, the Christ (said, the mystics) was born of a "virgin"[l]; the unwitting believer in Jesus as the historical Messiah in the exclusive Jewish sense, and in his being the Son of God, nay God Himself, in course of time asserted that Mary was that virgin; whereupon Rabbinical logic, which in this, case was simple and common logic, met this extravagance by the natural retort that, seeing that his paternity was unacknowledged, Jesus was therefore illegitimate, a bastard (mamzer).
Round this point there naturally raged the fiercest controversy, or rather it was met with the most contemptuous retorts, which must have broken out the
 The spiritual birth, by which a man becomes "twice-born"— the simple mystic fact that so puzzled the Rabbi Nicodemus, according to the writer of the fourth Gospel.
instant the virginity of Mary as a physical fact was publicly mooted by the simple believers of the general Christian body. This particular dogma, however, must have been a comparatively late development in the evolution of popular Christianity, for the "common document" knows nothing of it, the writers of the second and fourth Gospels tacitly reject it, while some of the earliest readings of our Gospels distinctly assert that Joseph was the natural father of Jesus. For the mamzer element in the Talmud stories, therefore, we have, in my opinion, no need to go back further than the first quarter of the second century or so as the earliest terminus a quo.
For most of the other main elements, however, we have no means of fixing a date limit by the criticism of canonical documents; all we can say is that as early as 30 A.D. even, circumstances were such as to lead us to expect the circulation of stories of a hostile nature.
From the persecution in the time of Paul till the Justin redaction of the Acts a full century elapses, from which we have preserved no witnesses that will help us concerning anything but the mamzer element. And even when, following immediately on the period of the Acts redaction, we come to the testimony of Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century,
 For the latest study of this subject see F. C. Conybeare's article, "Three Early Doctrinal Modifications of the Text of the Gospels," in "The Hibbert Journal" (London; 1902), I. i. 96-113; and also J. R. Wilkinson's criticism in the succeeding issue (Jan. 1903).
 The dates of Justin's genuine writings are variously conjectured, but the general opinion is that they may be placed 145-150 A.D.
we have to be content with generalities, though fortunately (in this connection) such generalities as put it entirely out of doubt that a state of affairs had long existed such as presupposes the existence and wide circulation of similar stories to those found in then Talmud.
From the general testimony of Justin, no matter how we may discount it by his demonstrable blundering in some points of detail, we are certain that the separation between Jews and Christians had for years been made absolute, and if we can trust the repeated statements of this enthusiastic apologist, we must believe that the stages of the separation had been throughout marked by a bitterness and persecution of a quite mediaeval character.
In his first "Apology" Justin seeks to rebut the objection that the one whom the Christians call "the Messiah" was simply a man born of human parents, and that his wonder-workings were done by magical means—the main contention of the Talmud Rabbis; this he does by appeal to prophecy (c. xxx.). Developing his arguments Justin naively admits that the Christians base themselves on the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew sacred writings; nevertheless he accuses the Jews of not understanding their own books, and is surprised that his co-believers are considered as foes and enemies by the Jews because of their interpretation of Hebrew prophecy—a point,
 In. connection with the origin of which Justin commits a ludicrous blunder, when he makes Herod a contemporary of Ptolemy, the founder of the Alexandrian Library—an anachronism of 250 years!
we may remark, in which modern scientific criticism practically sympathises with the Rabbis. Nay, so bitter were the Jews against them, that whenever they had had the power they had not only punished the Christians but also put them to death—a charge he repeats in several passages; declaring that in his own day the Jews were only deterred from doing so by the Roman authorities. For instance, in the recent revolt Against the Romans led by Bar Kochba (132-135 A.D.), Justin declares that this popular Messiah specially singled out the Christians for torture if they refused to deny that Jesus was the Messiah and utter blasphemies against him (c. xxxi.). It is to be noted, however, that Eusebius and others state that Bar Kochba punished the Christians (that is to say, Jewish Christians resident in Palestine) for political reasons, because they refused to join their fellow countrymen against the Romans, and not on theological grounds. If, nevertheless, in spite of this conflict of testimony, we are still to believe Justin, it is of interest to remember that R. Akiba, the founder of the Talmudic method, and the Rabbi who is represented in the Talmud as the greatest opponent of Christianity, threw all his great influence on the side of Bar Kochba, acknowledged him as the true Messiah and paid the penalty of his enthusiastic championship with his life. From Justin's "Dialogue with Tryphon" we derive still further information, the interest of which would
 See "Dial. c. Tryph.," xvi., cx., cxxxiii.
 Ibid., xvi.
 Eusebius, "Chron.," and Orosius, "Hist.," vii. 13; cf. note to Otto's "Justini Opera" (Jena; 1847), i. 79.
be greatly increased for our present research if the identification of Justin's Tryphon with the R. Tarphon of the Talmud, the contemporary of Akiba, could be maintained.
In addition to the general declaration that the Jews hate the Christians (c. xxxv.)—a state of affairs summed up in "The Letter to Diognetus" (c. v.), which some still attribute to Justin, in the words "the Jews make war against the Christians as against a foreign nation" —we have some important details given us which, according to the fancy and taste of the reader, can either be set down as embellishments begotten of odium theologicum, or be taken as throwing historic light on the state of affairs and temper of the times which originated the Talmud Jesus stories.
Thus in ch. cxvii, speaking of Jesus as the "Son of God," and addressing the Jew Tryphon, Justin adds, "whose name the high priests and teachers of your people have caused to be profaned and blasphemed throughout the earth." If this accusation was true in Justin's time, it can only refer to the spreading far and wide of inimical stories about Jesus; at that time stories of this kind were spread everywhere throughout the Roman empire, and the source of them was attributed by the Christians to the Jewish priestly aristocracy and especially to the Rabbinical doctors, in other words the Mishnaic Talmudists of those days and earlier.
Moreover Justin twice (cc. xvii. and cviii.) categorically asserts that after the "resurrection" the Jews sent out a specially elected body of men, some sort of
 But see Strack's "Einleitung in den Talmud "(3rd ed.), p. 80.
official commission apparently, "throughout the world," to proclaim that a godless and lawless sect had arisen from one Jesus, a Galilean impostor, whose followers asserted that he had risen from the dead, whereas the fact of the matter was that he had been put to death by crucifixion and that subsequently his body had been stolen from the grave by his disciples (c. cviii.).
The genesis of this extensive commission may with great probability be ascribed to the imaginative rhetoric of Justin playing on the germ provided by the floating tradition, that Paul was furnished with letters of repression against the heretics when he set forth for Damascus, as stated by the compiler of the Acts. A commission to disprove the dogma of the physical resurrection would not have been necessary until that dogma had gained a firm root in popular belief, and this we hold was a late development (the vulgar historicising of a mystic fact) though somewhat earlier than the dogma of the immaculate conception; but even so it would appear to be a somewhat absurd proceeding to send out a commission to deal with this point only.
There may be, however, some greater substratum of truth in Justin's repeated assertions (cc. xvi., xcvi. and cxxxiii.) that it was the custom of the Jews publicly to curse those who believed in "the Christ" in their synagogues; and to this he adds that not only were the Jews forbidden by their Rabbis to have any dealings of any kind with Christians (c. cxii.), but that they were distinctly taught by the Pharisee Rabbis and the leaders of their synagogues to revile and make fun of Jesus after prayer (c. cxxxvii.).
In fact Justin will have it that all the preconceived evil opinion which the general public cherished against the Christians was originated by the Jews (c. xvii.), whom he accuses of deliberately stating that Jesus himself had taught all those impious, unspeakable and detestable crimes with which the Christians were charged (c. cviii.) — an accusation which in no case can be substantiated by the Talmud passages, and which we may presumably set down to Justin's rhetoric.
But whether or not Justin can be believed in all his details, and no matter how we may soften down his statements, there still remains strong enough evidence to show that in his day the bitterest hostility existed between Jews and Christians, or at any rate between official Judaism and that type of Christianity for which Justin stood. Since Justin attributes all the scandalous stories about Christians, and all the scoffing at the
 In connection with which it is of mournful interest to note that Origen ("C. Cels.," vi. 27) says that when "Christianism" first began to be taught, the Jews spread about reports that the Christians, presumably in their secret rites, sacrificed a child and ate its flesh, and that their meetings were scenes of indiscriminate immorality; that even in his own day (c. 250 A.D.) such charges were still believed against them, and they were shunned by some on this account. The curious vitality of this slander is remarkable, for not only did the general Christians of those days charge the "heretics" of the Christian name, to whose assemblies they could not gain access, with precisely the same crime of ceremonial murder, but even up to our own days in Anti-semitic Eastern Europe it is still the favourite vulgar charge against the Jews — a strange turning of the wheel of fate! Even as I correct these proofs, I read in The Times (May 2) the horrible account of the murder of some sixty or seventy Jews and Jewesses, and the serious injury of some five hundred more, with "several cases of rape too horrible for detailed description," by the fanatical "Christian" populace of Kishineff, in Bessarabia, who were roused
[footnote continued on page 127]
to fury by the report of a supposed "ritual murder" by the Jews of Dubossari, and this in spite of the publication of absolute testimony to the falsity of the charge.
most cherished beliefs of Justin and the popular Christianity of his day, to the Rabbis, it is evident that what the Jews said was the very antipodes of what Justin believed, and that, as may be seen from the retort of the stealing of the body, the greatest miracles and dogmas of popular Christianity were met on the side of the Rabbis by the simplest retorts of vulgar reason.
The evidence of Justin, therefore, taken as a whole, leaves us with a very strong impression, nay, for all but irreconcilables, produces an absolute conviction, that in his time, taking our dates at a minimum, stories similar to, and even more hostile than, the Talmud stories were in widest circulation; while Justin himself will have it that they were in circulation from the very beginning of things Christian. So far, however, we have come across nothing but generalities; we have failed to find anything of a definite nature which we can identify with some distinct detail of the Talmud stories.
To do this we must mount some quarter of a century, and turn to the fragments of Celsus preserved to us in the polemic of Origen, who wrote his refutation of Celsus's attack on the Christians somewhere towards the middle of the third century. Origen in his preface (§ 4) tells us that Celsus himself was long since dead, and later on he adds more precisely (i. 8) that Celsus lived about Hadrian's time (emp. 117-138 A.D.), and later. The most learned of the Church Fathers, however, seems to have blundered in this respect, and
though there is still dispute as to the exact date, modern criticism, basing itself on data supplied by the passages cited by Origen from Celsus's "True Word," is generally of opinion that Celsus survived till as late as 175 A.D. In any case Origen wrote a full seventy-five years after Celsus had withdrawn from the controversy, and though we may place the writing of the statements of Celsus as late as 175 A.D., we have also to allow for the possibility, if not the probability, that the memory of this sturdy opponent of Christianity may have reached back some quarter or even half century earlier.
Celsus in his treatise rhetorically throws many of his arguments into the form of a dispute between a Jew and Jesus (Pref. 6, and i. 28). This Jew declares that the extraordinary things Jesus seems to have done were effected by magical means (i. 6), and Origen later on (iii. 1) says that this was the general accusation brought against the miracle-workings by all Jews who were not Christians. This is one of the main elements of the Talmud stories.
From a quotation from Celsus (i. 26) we further learn that the Jews asserted that "a very few years" had elapsed since the dogma of Jesus "being the "Son of God" had been promulgated by the Christians, presumably referring to the dogma of the "virgin birth."
Developing his argument, the Jew goes on to say (i. 28) that the dogma of the "virgin birth" was an invention, the facts of the case being: "that Jesus had come from a village in Judaea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands; that his mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being
convicted of adultery; that being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard; that Jesus on account of his poverty (had to work for his living and) was hired out to go to Egypt; that while there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing; that he returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god."
In this passage from Celsus we have precisely the main outline of the Talmud Jesus stories, and therefore an exact external proof that in his day at any rate (whenever that was, whether 150-175 or even 125-175) stories precisely similar to the Talmud stories were the stock-in-trade Jewish objections to Christian dogmatic tradition.
And if more precise proof is still demanded, we have only to turn over a few pages of Origen's voluminous refutation to the passage (i. 32), where the Church Father again refers to the quotation from the Jew of Celsus given above, and adds the important detail from Celsus that the paramour of the mother of Jesus was a soldier called Panthera, a name which he also repeats later on (i. 69), in a sentence, by the by, which has in both places been erased from the oldest Vatican MS.,
 Can this possibly be based on some vulgar version of a well-known Gnostic myth of those days? Jesus went down as a servant or slave into Egypt; that is to say, the Christ or divine soul descends as a servant into the Egypt of the body. It is a common element in the early mystic traditions that the Christ took on the form of a servant in his descent through the spheres, and in many traditions Egypt is the symbol of the body, which is separated by the "Red Sea" and the "Desert" from the "Promised Land."
 The last two paragraphs are again quoted by Origen (i. 38).
and bodily omitted from three codices in this country and from others. Now this is precisely the name given in some of the Talmud stories; in them Jesus is called Jeschu ben Pandera (or Pandira), or Ben Pandera simply.
But before we leave Origen it may be useful to note one or two scraps of information which he has let fall in the controversy, and which are of importance for us in our present investigation. Referring to the historicised mystery of the descent of the Dove at the Baptism, Celsus puts the argument into the mouth of his Jew (i. 48), that there is no testimony for this except the word of one of those who met with the same punishment as Jesus. To this Origen replies that it is a great blunder on Celsus's part to put such an argument into the mouth of a Jew, for "the Jews do not connect John with Jesus, nor the punishment of John with that of Jesus." Now in the first place it is to be observed that Celsus says nothing about any "John," and in the second that Origen gives us clearly to understand that the Jews denied that John the Baptist, who was a well-known historical character, had anything to do with Jesus. This is an important piece of evidence for those who believe that the Baptist element, which does not appear in the "common document," was a later development. Can it be that Celsus had in mind some early form of the Baptism story, in which some other than John the Baptist played a part?
Elsewhere Celsus, in speaking of the betrayal of Jesus, does not ascribe it to Judas, but to "many dis-
 See notes on both passages by Lommatzsch in his "Origenis contra Celsum" (Berlin; 1845).
ciples "(ii. 11), a curious statement if Celsus is repeating what he has heard or read, and is not merely guilty of gross error or of wilful exaggeration.
But indeed Celsus categorically accuses the Christians (ii. 27) of changing their gospel story in many ways in order the better to answer the objections of their opponents; his accusation is that some of them, "as it were in a drunken state producing self-induced visions, remodel their gospel from its first written form in a threefold, fourfold and manifold fashion, and reform it so that they may be able to refute the objections brought against it."
This may be taken to mean either that the Christians were engaged in doing so in Celsus's day, or that such redacting was habitual. If, however, we are to regard the "threefold" and "fourfold" of Celsus as referring to our three and four canonical gospels, and his "manifold" as referring to the "many" of our "Lukan" introduction, it is difficult to imagine that this was going on in Celsus's time unless his memory went back some fifty years or so. It is, therefore, more simple to regard the statement as meaning that the external
 Lit., "coming to appear to themselves"—eiV to efestanai autoiV. This very puzzling sentence is translated by F. Crombie ("The Works of Origen," Edinburgh, 1872, in "The Ante-Nicene Christian Library") as "lay violent hands upon themselves," which does not seem to be very appropriate in this connection. But efestanai is the usual word used of dreams and visions, and I have therefore ventured on the above translation. Celsus probably meant to suggest that these Christian writers were the victims of their own hallucinations; those who understand the importance of the vision-factor in the evolution of Christian dogma and "history" will thank Origen for preserving this expression of his opponent, though they may put a construction on the words that neither Celsus nor Origen would have agreed with.
gospel story had been continually altered and reformulated to meet objections—in brief, that the latest forms of it were the product of a literary evolution in which mystic experiences played a prominent part.
We thus see that the testimony of Celsus, an entirely outside witness, not only strongly endorses the general testimony of Justin, but also adds convincing details which conclusively prove that the Jewish Jesus stories of his day were precisely of the same nature as those we find in the Talmud, and though we cannot conjecture with any certainty what may have been the precise date of any particular story, we are justified in rejecting the contention of those who declare that the Talmud stories are all of a very late date, say the fourth century or so, and in claiming that there is nothing to prevent most of them going back to the middle of the second century, even on the most conservative estimate, while some of them may go back far earlier.
Advancing another generation we come to the testimony of Tertullian, which is exceedingly important not only with regard to the Talmud Jesus stories, but also in respect of a far more obscure line of tradition preserved in the mediaeval "Toldoth Jeschu," or "Story of Jesus," as we shall see in the second part of our enquiry. Writing somewhere about 197-198 A.D., in his "De Spetaculis" (c. xxx.), in a highly rhetorical peroration in which he depicts the glorious spectacle of the second coming, as he imagines it—(when he shall see all the Heathen opponents of the Christians, philosophers and poets, actors and wrestlers in the Games, tossing on the billows of hell-fire)—the hot-
tempered Bishop of Carthage bursts out that, perhaps, however, after all he will not have time to gaze upon the tortures of the Heathen, but that all his attention will be turned on the Jews who raged against the Lord. Then will he say unto them: "This is your carpenter's son, your harlot's son; your Sabbath-breaker, your Samaritan, your demon-possessed! This is He whom ye bought from Judas; this He who was struck with reed and fists, dishonoured with spittle, and given a draught of gall and vinegar! This is He whom His disciples have stolen secretly, that it may be said He has risen, or the gardener abstracted that his lettuces might not be damaged by the crowds of visitors!"
All these elements appear in order in the "Toldoth," and the carpenter's son and the harlot's son appear in the Talmud stories. We have thus exhausted our external evidence till the date of the final redaction of the Mishna, 200-207 A.D., beyond which it is of no advantage to go.
Enough has already been said for our purpose, which was the very simple one of disposing of the flimsy and superficial argument that the Talmud Jesus stories
 See also Jerome, "Ad Heliodorum" (Tom. IV., P. II., p. 12, ed. Bened.), and compare Theodoret, "H. S.," iii. 11, as cited in Oehler's "Tertulliani que supersunt Omnia" (Leipzig; 1853), i. 62, n.
 See, however, Richard von der Alm (i.e., Friederich Wilhelm Ghillany), "Die Urtheile heidnischer und jüdischer Schrifsteller der vier ersten Jahrhunderte über Jesus und die ersten Christen: Eine Zuschrift an die gebildeten Deutschen zur weiteren Orientirung in der Frage über die Gottheit Jesu "(Leipzig; 1864), a continuation of his "Theologische Briefe an die Gebildeten der deutschen Nation" (3 vols., Leipzig; 1863).
must have been entirely the invention of late Babylonian Rabbis, and that Mishnaic times were utterly ignorant of them, as being too close to the supposed actual facts, which unthinking apologists further presume must have been known to all the Jews of Palestine. We now pass to a consideration of the stories themselves.