Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?

By G. R. S. Mead

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In 1891 Dr. Gustaf H. Dalman, of Leipzig, printed a critical text of all the censured passages in the Talmud, Midrashim, Zohar and Liturgy of the Synagogue which are said to refer to Jesus, and to this H. Laible appended an introductory essay,[1] in which most of the passages were translated. 

In 1893 A. M. Streane published an English version of this essay, for which Dalman translated the remaining passages, and to which Dalman, Laible, and Streane contributed additional notes, the English edition thus superseding the German.[2] From lack of any other work in which a version of all the passages may be found, the non-specialist must perforce be content with this Dalman-Laible-Streane translation, though a comparison with other translations of single passages makes one hesitate to accept its entire accuracy, and Streane himself admits in his preface (p. vi) that 

[1] "Jesus Christus im Thalmud . . . mit einem Anhange : Die thalmudischen Texte mitgeteilt," von G. Dalman (Berlin; 1891), in "Schriften des Institutum Judaicum in Berlin," nr. 10. A second edition appeared in 1900. 

[2] "Jesus Christ in the Talmud," etc. (Cambridge; 1893). 


occasionally some Talmud expressions with regard to "our Blessed Lord" have been modified. 

 I am, therefore, glad to be assured by a learned Talmudist that Streane's version, in spite of these drawbacks and its very ungraceful diction, is on the whole sufficiently reliable for all general purposes. I, however, retain throughout the Hebrew or Aramaic form "Jeschu," or perhaps more correctly "Yeschu," which Streane has replaced by the familiar Jesus, because I hold with Krauss [l] that Jeschu is a "genuine Jewish name," and not a nickname invented in despite by the Jews (as charged against them by Christian writers) to escape writing the form Jeshua (Joshua, Jehoshua [2]), which Christians maintain was the proper Hebrew name of Jesus, thus showing forth by the very name that he was the "Saviour "; least of all that the name Jeschu was originally begotten of a cruel letter play based on the initials of the words of imprecation "Immach Scheme Vezikro" (" May his name and memory be blotted out!"), as persistently charged against the Jews by their mediaeval Christian opponents, and finally (under stress of hate and ignorance) accepted and adopted by Jews themselves in some of the later forms of the Toldoth Jeschu.[3] Jeschu, I hold, was simply the original Hebrew or Aramaic form of the name, as may be seen from the Greek transliteration (IhsouV), or the Arabic 'Isa. 

[1] Krauss (S.), "Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen" (Berlin; 1902), pp. 250-253. 

[2] Lit, "The Lord will save." 

[3] See, for instance, the Vienna Toldoth MS. Compare with this Pessach's invention as given above in the chapter, "The Talmud in History." 


Let us, then, first of all turn to what, from the chronological point of view, is the most extraordinary passage, a passage found not once but twice in the Babylonian Gemara.[1] 

" The Rabbis have taught: The left should always be repelled, and the right, on the other hand, drawn nearer. But one should not do it . . .[2] as R. Joshua ben Perachiah, who thrust forth Jeschu with both hands. What was the matter with regard to E. Joshua ben Perachiah? When King Jannai directed the destruction of the Rabbis, R. Joshua ben Perachiah and Jeschu went to Alexandria. When security returned, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach sent him a letter to this effect: 'From me, Jerusalem the holy city, to thee, Alexandria in Egypt, my sister. My spouse tarries in thee, and I dwell desolate.' Thereupon Joshua arose and came; and a certain inn was in the way, in which they treated him with great respect. Then spake Joshua : 'How fair is this inn (akhsanga)!' Jeschu saith to him: 'But, Rabbi, she (akhsanga = a hostess) has little narrow eyes." Joshua replied: 'Thou godless fellow, dost thou occupy thyself with such things?' directed that 400 horns should be brought, and put him under strict excommunication. Jeschu ofttimes came and said to him,' Take me back.' Joshua did not trouble himself about him. One day, just, as Joshua was reading [? reciting] the Shema,[3] Jeschu came to him, hoping that he would take him back. Joshua made a sign to 

[1] "Sanhedrin," 107b, and, in almost identical words, "Sota," 47a. 

[2] The words omitted by Streane are, "as Elisha who repelled Gehazi nor." 

[3] The words: "Hear, O Israel," etc., Deut. vi. 4 ff. 


him with his hand. Then Jeschu thought that he had altogether repulsed him, and went away, and set up a brickbat and worshipped it. Joshua said to him: 'Be converted!' Jeschu saith : 'Thus have I been taught by thee: From him that sinneth and maketh the people to sin, is taken away the possibility of repentance.' And the Teacher [i.e., he who is everywhere mentioned by this title in the Talmud] has said: 'Jeschu had practised sorcery and had corrupted and misled Israel.'"[1]

This famous passage, if taken by itself, would of course fully confirm the hypothesis of the 100 years B.C. date of Jesus. The arguments for and against the authenticity of its statements embrace, therefore, practically the whole substance of our investigation. Let us first of all consider the face value of these statements. 

Jannai or Jannaeus (John), who also bore the Greek name Alexander, was one of the famous Maccabaean line of kings, the son of John Hyrcanus I., and reigned over the Jews 104-78 B.C. 

Though it is now impossible from the imperfect record to ascertain the exact state of Jewish domestic affairs, or the precise causes of the fierce internal religious struggle, during the reign of this wild warrior king,[2] the salient fact dwelt on by Josephus in both his accounts is that Jannai for the major part of his reign was engaged in a bitter feud with the Pharisaean party, whom he had deprived of all their privileges. This Pharisaean party was practically the national religious 

[1] This formal charge is also found in "Sanhedrin," 43a. 

[2] See Schürer (E.), "A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ" (Eng. Trans.; Edinburgh, 1897), Div. i., vol. i. pp. 295-307. 


party who resented the oriental despotism of their Hasmonaean rulers, and above all detested the usurpation of the high priestly office by Jannai. The Pious and Pure could not brook the sight of "a wild warrior like Jannaeus discharging the duties of the high priest in the holy place," as Schürer puts it. Bitter internal strife intensified by religious fanaticism accordingly marked the first eighteen years of Jannai's reign. The Pharisees finally led a rebellion against the hated monarch, in which no less than 50,000 Jews are said to have fallen, and finally the leaders of the nationalist party fled to the stronghold of Bethome or Besemelis.[1] Jannai besieged Bethome and captured it. The prisoners were taken to Jerusalem, and there no less than 800 of them are said to have been crucified to make sport before Jannai and his wives and concubines, the wives and children of the wretched Pharisees having been previously butchered before their eyes. This atrocious act is said to have struck such terror into the hearts of the unfortunate "Rabbis" of the time, that no less than 8000 of them fled, and during Jannai's life-time kept far from Judaea.[2] This happened about 87 B.C. 

The greatest hero of those times, according to Rabbinical tradition, who still withstood the tyrant to the face and boldly berated him with the unaided weapons of Rabbinic wisdom, was Simeon ben Shetach, who is said moreover to have been the brother of Jannai's wife Salome. Many stories of his wise sayings before Jannai are handed on in the Talmud, though it must be con- 

[1] For Josephus in his two accounts ("Bell. Jud.," i. 4. 6, and "Antiqq.," xiii. 14. 2) gives these two widely different names. 

[2] Josephus, ibid. 


fessed that they sound to modern ears somewhat puerile. There are some, however, who think that Simeon too had to flee, and that his withstanding of Jannai took place before the revolt. 

When Salome, however, succeeded her impious spouse, her policy with regard to the Pharisees was the direct antithesis of Jannai's cruel measures. "Salome from the beginning of her reign [78-69 B.C.] took her stand unhesitatingly on the side of the Pharisees, lent an ear to their demands and wishes, and in particular gave legal sanction again to all the Pharisaic ordinances abolished since the time of John Hyrcanus. During these years the Pharisees were the real rulers of the land." [1] 

As Josephus says: Salome "had indeed the name of regent, but the Pharisees had the authority; for it was they who restored such as were banished, and set such as were prisoners at liberty, and to say all at once, they differed in nothing from masters (of the country)."[2]

Pharisaean tradition, therefore, naturally depicts the reign of Salome as a golden age, and we are told with true oriental hyperbole, that "under Simeon ben Shetach and Queen Salome rain fell on the eve of the Sabbath, so that the corns of wheat were as large as kidneys, the barley corns as large as olives, and the lentils like golden denarii; the scribes gathered such corns, and preserved specimens of them in order to show future generations what sin entails"[3]—a somewhat preposterous proceeding, one would suppose, unless the scribes 

[1] Schürer, op, cit., ibid., p. 309. 

[2] "Bell. Jud.," i. 5. 2, and "Antiqq,," xiii. 16, 2. 

[3] "Taanith," 23a. 


of that time were gifted with prophetical clairvoyance to descry the subsequent evil days on which the Rabbis fell time and again. 

I have been thus long in dwelling on the importance of Salome from a Rabbinical point of view for reasons which will appear more fully later on; for the present it is to be remarked that, if there is any historical basis at all for the passage under consideration, Joshua ben Perachiah presumably fled to Alexandria in 87 B.C., and was probably recalled by Simeon ben Shetach in 78 B.C. He must then have been a very old man, for he is said to have begun to teach as early as 154 B.C.,[1] an assertion, however, which I have been unable to verify. In any case Joshua ben Perachiah and Nithai of Arbela were the second of the famous "Five Pairs" of the "Guruparampara" chain (to use a Brahmanical technical term) of Talmudic tradition, while Simeon ben Shetach and Judah ben Tabbai form the third "Pair." 

According to this "tradition of the fathers," then, Jeschu was regarded as having been originally the pupil of one of the two most learned "Rabbis "[2] of the time, 

[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), p. 56. This very uncritical writer does not give his authority, but probably it was Richard von der Alm, to whose studies we have already referred, and from whom Baring-Gould "lifts "all his information with regard to the Talmud Jesus stories and Toldoth Jeschu, though without any acknowledgment. 

[2] I have put the title "Rabbi" in quotation marks when used of teachers of this period, because I have seen it stated by Jewish authorities that the term "Rabbi" was not so used till after 70 A.D. Unfortunately I have lost my references to this point, but see Bousset (W.), "Die Religion des Judentums in neutestamentlichen Zeitalter" (Berlin; 1903), p. 147 : "Der eigentliche Titel Rabbi 

[footnote continued on p 142]

scheint erst in nachneutestamentlicher Zeit aufgekommen zu sein." If there be any solid ground for this contention, it would, of course, be of great critical importance in considering the date of those passages in the canonical gospels in which the term appears. 

nay, of the most learned, the "spouse" of Jerusalem; not only so, but Jeschu was apparently Joshua's favourite pupil. See the result of disregarding this counsel of wisdom, said the Rabbis of later days; there is the famous case of the great Joshua ben Perachiah who was too stern with his disciple Jeschu, and with what disastrous results! 

But, it may be said, why waste time in speculating on such a transparent anachronism. To this we reply: Even granting the anachronism a priori, without further enquiry—seeing that the literature of the times teems with many demonstrably ghastly anachronisms—the passage shows us clearly where Jewish tradition placed Jesus. For it he was a learned man, as indeed is invariably admitted in many other stories; whether or not he got his wisdom from the greatest Jewish teacher of the times or not, is another question. 

It is further to be remarked that there is a striking similarity between the state of internal Jewish affairs in Jannai's time and the numerous hangings and burnings of Pharisees in the days of Herod (37-4 B.C.). In both reigns the national religious party was led in revolt by those learned in the Law. The Pharisees stood for religion and religious purism against the aristocratic party of the hereditary Sadducaean priesthood, who were interested in the Law solely as a convenient instrument of custom whereby they could extort tithes and taxes out of the people. They were entirely 


indifferent to all those tendencies which had been and were still spiritualising the national religious literature, and presumably they were above all opposed to what they considered the innovating fanaticism of the mystic and disciplinary views held by such circles as the Chassidim and Essenes. 

Both reigns are characterised by the triumph of the Sadducaean party, and by the ruthless murder of large numbers of the Pharisaean leaders, some of whom were indubitably in closest contact with Chassidim and Essene circles, nay, it is most probable that members of these circles, or of associations of a similar nature, were the directly inspiring sources of these religious revolts. It must then have been a bitter memory with the followers of these strict schools of discipline, the later "schools of the prophets," which were seeking to establish the rule of the Righteous and the consequent direct reign of Yahweh on earth, that numbers of their holy ones and seers had been ruthlessly done to death by a Jannai or a Herod.[1] 

Now, in similar mystic circles these prophets and seers, in one of their grades, were known as "little 

[1] Whether in the former case their death had been the cruel and lingering torture of crucifixion is a point of importance only for those Talmudic scholars who argue that crucifixion was an utterly unknown mode of execution among the Jews. There was, they say, beheading, strangling, hanging, stoning and subsequent exposing of the body of the stoned on a post as a warning; moreover, to shorten the cruelty of the lingering death by stoning, the victim was first rendered unconscious by a soporific drink; but never crucifixion. In this connection, however, we must remember that it is said that Jannai remained a Jew in all things, and imposed Jewish customs on all conquered cities on pain of utter destruction, so that it may be doubted whether he "hellenised "solely in the mode of execution of his domestic foes. 


ones” or "children." A most interesting tradition of this designation is still preserved in the little-known "Codex Nasaraeus" of the Mandaites, the so-called Christians of St. John. In the XIth Tractate of their Right-hand Genza there is a most beautiful story of the mystic Baptism. Jesus comes to Johanna to be baptised. Jesus comes as a simple "approacher "seeking initiation into the mystic school of Johanna. But Johanna is not to be deceived, and immediately recognises Him as the Master, Manda d'Hajje Himself, the "Gnosis of Life," by whose power Johanna has been teaching and initiating all the long forty and two years of his ministry.

It is too long to quote the beautiful story of how Johanna, in giving the lower initiation of external (? psychic) baptism to Jesus, receives the true spiritual Baptism from Manda d'Hajje Himself, when "He gave him the grip of the Rushta, and laid His hand upon him in Jordan; and He made him lay off his garment of flesh and blood; and He clothed him in a raiment of glory." 

It is enough for our purpose to set down a few of the sentences put into the mouth of Johanna: "Come in peace, Little One. . . . Now I go with thee, Little One, that we may enter the stream. . . . Come, come, Little One of three years and one day, youngest among his brethren but oldest with his Father, who is so small yet his sayings are so exalted." [2] Seniority in the Essene 

[1] He apparently now passes on into the seventh "seven years." 

[2] See "The Liberation of Johanna," by Miss A. L. B. Hardcastle, in "The Theosophical Review," vol. xxxi,, no. 181, pp. 20-25 (September, 1902); also Brandt (W.), "Mandäische Schriften aus der grossen Sammlung heiliger Bücher gennant Genza oder Sidra 

[footnote continued on p. 145]

Rabba übersetzt und erläutert" (Gottingen; 1893), p. 195; Tempestini (F.), "Le Code Nazaréen vulgairement appelé Livre d'Adam traduit pour la premiere fois en Français," in Migne's "Dictionnaire des Apocryphes," vol. i. (Paris; 1856); and Norberg (M.)," Codex Nasaraeus, Liber Adami appellatus . . . latineque redditus Hafniae, n.d., probably first decade of last century). 


and Therapeut communities, it must be remembered, was not reckoned by age, but by the number of years the brother had been a member of the order. 

What, now, if we were to fuse these apparently totally unrelated scraps of information together? Might we not ask ourselves how many elements are to be sifted out of the traditional "murder of the innocents"; how many conflations of historical fact and mystic history before the "myth" was brought to birth in its present form? Can there be in it even some reminiscence of the 800 victims of Bethome? The Talmud Rabbis know nothing of Herod's wholesale murder of the children as recounted in the introduction of our first canonical Gospel; Josephus knows nothing of it; yet Joseph ben Matthai had no reason for whitewashing the character of Herod, had such a dastardly outrage been an actual fact, for he records his numerous other crimes without hesitation; and the Talmud Rabbis hated the memory of Herod so well that they could not have failed to record such a horror, had he been really guilty of it.

But to return to the words of our Talmud passage. The narrative is introduced by citing what is apparently some famous saying of Rabbinic wisdom. It must be remarked, however, that if Streane's translation is correct,[1] the wisdom of the saying does not 

[1] Moses Levene translates more intelligibly from "Sota," 47a : 

[footnote continued on p. 146]

"The right hand of a man should always allure when the left hand repels." See "Jesus and Christianity in the Talmud," "The Theosophical Review," xxix. 316 (December, 1901). 


immediately appear on the surface, and we must take it in a symbolic sense as referring to such ideas as good and evil, sheep and goats, orthodoxy and heresy; "right" and "left" being the commonest of all symbolic terms, not only in Jewish and Christian but also in Egyptian, Pythagorean and Orphic mysticism. 

As to the inn and hostess story, it is very evident that, if we are to take it literally, we have the veritable birth of a mountain out of a mole-hill. Why the whole orchestra of the Temple at Jerusalem, apparently, should be requisitioned to give world-wide notice of the excommunication of Jeschu, simply because he admired the eyes of a landlady (if that indeed be the meaning of the original)[l] is passing non-oriental comprehension. To relieve ourselves, then, of the intolerable burden of the absurdities which the literal meaning of the story imposes upon us, I venture to suggest that we are here face to face with an instance of Deutsch's "cap and bells" element in the Talmud, and therefore make bold to offer my mite of speculation as to the underlying meaning.

Evidently the main point is that Jeschu was formally excommunicated for heretical tendencies from the school or circle over which Joshua presided. The 400 horns, trumpets or trombones may be taken simply to mean that the excommunication was exceedingly formal and serious. The reason for excommuni-

[1] Levene gives the lady's eyes as "oval"; whereas Streane's "little narrow eyes" would seem to he the very opposite of a complimentary remark. 


cation was plainly doctrinal. Now Jewish tradition invariably asserted that Jesus learned "magic" in Egypt. The kernel of this persistent accusation may perhaps be reduced to the simple historical element that Jesus went to Egypt and returned with far wider and more enlightened views than those of his former co-disciples, and in this connection it is to be remembered that, many scholars have argued, from the strong resemblance between the general features of the earliest Christian churches of canonical tradition and those of the Essene communities, that Jesus was an Essene, or let us say more generally a member of an Essene-like body. I therefore venture on the speculation that the "inn" of our story may cryptically refer to one of such communities, which Joshua considered very excellent, but which Jesus considered to have a too narrow outlook from the standpoint of a more liberal view of things spiritual. It is also of interest to recall to mind that excommunication from the Essene community required the votes of no less than 100 brethren; can the 400 "horns "by any possibility refer to the voices or votes of some specially convened assembly for a very important and formal decision against one whose superior knowledge refused to be bound down by the traditional limitations of the order? Perhaps also there are some who may ask themselves the question: Has the "birth" of the "little one" in the "inn" of the familiar Gospel story any new meaning looked at by the light of these mystic and cryptic expressions? 

As we are, then, in highest probability dealing with a story which conceals an under-meaning, it may 


further be conjectured that some precise detail of history underlies the extraordinary expression "he set up a brickbat," which has hitherto been invariably construed as a contemptuous or humorous way of saying, "he became an idolater." This may be the meaning, but, on the contrary, we have to remember that in the general formal charge at the end taken from the same authority from which the Gemara derives the story, there is no mention of idolatry in this gross sense, nor, if I mistake not, do we anywhere else in the Jewish Jesus stories, Talmudic or Mediaeval, meet with this grossly material charge. Has this strange expression, then, any hidden connection with the "rock "and "peter” symbolism, or with the "corner-stone," and therefore originally with Egyptian mystic "masonry "and its initiations — the "hewn-stone" of a Grand Master? 

But we have not yet done with this famous story, for it occurs yet again in the Talmud, though in a different form. In the Palestinian Gemara we thus read : 

" The inhabitants of Jerusalem intended to appoint Jehuda ben Tabbai as Nasi [1] in Jerusalem. He fled and went away to Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem wrote: 'From Jerusalem the great to Alexandria the small. How long lives my betrothed with you, whilst I am sitting grieved on account of him? 'When he withdrew to go in a ship, he said : Has Debora, the landlady who has taken us in, been wanting in something? One of his disciples said: Rabbi, her eye was bright! [2] He answered : Lo, you 

[1] Prince or President o£ the Sanhedrin. 

[2] Dalman-Streane add (op. cit., 33), "a euphemism for blind," but this gloss would seem to change the whole sense of the story. 


have done two things; firstly, you have rendered me suspected, and then you have looked upon her. What did I say? beautiful in appearance? I did not say anything (like this) but (beautiful) in deeds. And he was angry with him and went his way." [l] 

As the Palestinian Gemara is generally considered to be older than the Babylonian, it is naturally argued that we have here the original form of the story which we have been discussing; the name of Jeschu was plainly inserted at a later date, and in this fact we have the simplest possible explanation of this wild anachronism. And it must be confessed that this argument is one of great strength, and for most people entirely disposes of this question. 

But even so, it may still be conjectured that the remodelling of the story was a deliberate proceeding on the part of the Rabbis to suit their tradition of certain details in the life of Jesus. Hence, in rejecting the date, it is not absolutely necessary to reject the whole of the Babylonian version as entirely devoid of every element of genuineness. 

Again, as to the lateness of the Babylonian version, it is to be observed that the Gemara quotes from an earlier source or tradition of the story,[2] and therefore we have to push the date back to this source, which was in all probability Palestinian. It is further to be remarked that the setting' of the whole Babylonian version is far more exact in its historical details; it is 

[1] "Pal. Chagiga," 77d. 

[2] See Laible-Streane (op. cit., p. 43), who gloss the opening words of the concluding paragraph as follows : "The same authority which reports this story, says elsewhere." 


a far more deliberate tradition than the vague and pointless Palestinian account. 

But even with regard to the Joshua ben Perachiah date itself, I am not altogether satisfied that it can be so absolutely disposed of as it seems at first glance, for as we shall see in considering another, and in some respects independent, line of Rabbinic tradition preserved in the earliest elements of the Toldoth Jeschu, the Joshua ben Perachiah date is the date, and how on earth an apparently so ludicrous anachronism could have held its own for so many centuries is a psychological puzzle of the greatest interest; it argues plainly that the Jews had no difficulty at all in accepting it, and in this connection we must remember that the Rabbis had no belief whatever in the Christian gospel-tradition as history, as we can plainly see from the Jew of Celsus, and that they therefore never dreamed of testing their basic tradition by the Christian gospel story.

The original version in the Palestinian Gemara, like its Babylonian (or originally Palestinian) variant, is evidently a story of the contact of Jewish orthodoxy with Alexandrian liberalism and mysticism, personified in Deborah the most famous of ancient prophetesses, the main point being that the orthodox Jew was willing to praise the hospitality of the Alexandrian circles, but refused to praise their doctrines; nay, he cast off a disciple who ventured to praise them, in fear of the taint of heresy thus indirectly attaching to himself. The upholder of this rigid orthodoxy is given as Jehuda ben Tabbai, the "pair" of Simeon ben Shetach. In adapting this story to the details of their Jeschu 


tradition there seems to be no reason why the Rabbis should have altered the name unless the details of that tradition imperatively required it, for it would have been far more natural to have allowed Simeon ben Shetach to write to his contemporary Jehuda, than to have made him write to Joshua ben Perachiah, the leading light of the preceding "pair." 

But it must be confessed that reason has seldom anything to do with tradition, and therefore is seldom competent to reveal its mysteries. 

We will now proceed to consider an even more startling anachronism which is found in one of the Mary stories.

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