Saturday, March 31, 2007
RETURNING TO THE DISCUSSION OF TALMUD IN BEN DOUGLASS' ARTICLE
which also appeared in the March 2007 "Culture Wars". (Incidentally, Google will not bring up either source today when I type in the title.)
What matters most to me is what the Talmud has to say about Jesus Christ, since He is the source of my hope and the confirmation of my belief that God is good.
Lastly, in Sanhedrin 107B, we are again treated to filthy blasphemies against Our Lord Jesus Christ: He supposedly leers at a married innkeeper; His master banishes Him and refuses to accept His repentance; the day the rabbi decides to take Him back, He misinterprets a hand gesture as meaning that he is rejecting Him again, so He worships a brick just to spite him; this time Jesus refuses to repent, and engages in sorcery and leads the people of Israel astray.
I was unable to locate the passage in The Babylonian Talmud, but the Sacred Text Archive website offers this in a text titled "The Gnostic John the Baptiser", a Mandean Text. The reference for Sanhedrin 107B is contained in footnote 2 for page 49:
Who told Yeshu (Eshu)? Who told Yeshu Messiah, son of Miryam, who told Yeshu, so that he went to the shore of the Jordan and said [unto Yahyā]: "Yahyā, baptize me with thy baptizing and utter o'er me also the Name thy wont is to utter. If I show myself as thy pupil, I will remember thee then in my writing; p. 49 I attest not myself as thy pupil, then wipe out my name from thy page,"
Thereon Yahyā answered Yeshu Messiah in Jerusalem: "Thou hast lied to the Jews and deceived the priests. Thou hast cut off their seed from the men and from the women bearing and being pregnant. The sabbath, which Moses made binding, hast thou relaxed1 in Jerusalem. Thou hast lied unto them with horns2 and spread abroad disgrace with the shofar."
Thereon Yeshu Messiah answered Yahyā in Jerusalem: "If I have lied to the Jews, may the blazing fire consume me. If I have deceived the priests, a double death will I die. If I have cut off their seed from the men, may I not cross o'er the End-Sea. If I have cut off from the women birth and being pregnant, then is in sooth a judge raised up before me. If I have relaxed the sabbath, may the blazing fire consume me. If I have lied to the Jews, I will tread on thorns and thistles. If I have spread disgrace abroad with horn-blowing, may my eyes then not light on Abathur.3 So baptize me then with thy baptizing, and utter o'er me the Name thy wont is to utter. If I show myself as thy pupil, I will remember thee then in my writing; if I attest not myself as thy pupil, then wipe out my name from thy page."
This is the footnote:
2 Cp. the Joshua ben Perachiah Jesus story in the Talmūd (B. Sanhedrin 107b, Sota 47a): Joshua replied [to Jeshu]: "Thou godless one, dost thou occupy thyself with such things?—directed that 400 horns should be brought and put him under strict excommunication." (Mead, D.J.L. 100 B.C.? pp. 137 and 146f.).
The come-and-hear website talks about censoring the Talmud.
There is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth and the Pharisees had a violent dislike for each other. This point has been a delicate one between Jews and Christians ever since. The tension, however, provides a good object lesson on the use of euphemisms and code words used in the Talmud to censor or obscure the meaning of the text.
Let us look at this short excerpt from Tractate Sanhedrin. Speaking of a character called "Balaam," a Sage states:
GEMARA. … He practised enchantment by means of his membrum.
The link is provided to Tractate Sanhedrin 105a but the passage is too long to paste here. If you read it, you will find the passage quoted.
The website then continues by defining a "Membrum" and citing Tractate Shabbath 118b:
"Membrum" is not an English word. It is the Latin root of the English word "member." However, "membrum" is used in so many contexts by the Soncino translation team, perhaps we can puzzle out the meaning by examining the contexts:
R. Jose, while boasting of his modesty to the other Sages, remarks:
GEMARA. … R. Jose said: I have never looked at my circumcised membrum.
— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 118b
Soncino 1961 Edition, page 583
Several more passages are provided which confirm that the "membrum" is male anatomy, then moves on to a discussion of "Who Is Balaam?"
Now, who was Balaam who "practised enchantment by means of his membrum"? Originally, the Old Testament Balaam was a prophet from the heathen tribes who was hired to curse the Israelites on their journey from Egypt (Numbers 22-24). Balaam refused that commission, blessing the Israelites instead. Later, he earned the wrath of the Israelites and was slain by them (Numbers 31:8). Mention of Balaam occurs thereafter in the Books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Nehemiah, and Micah, sometimes as a wicked man, sometimes as good.
In the opinion of many modern rabbinical scholars, "Balaam" was often used by the Sages as an alias or code word for Jesus of Nazareth. For example, consider this statement about Balaam from the prestigious Jewish Encyclopedia:
Henceforth he became the type of false prophets seducing men to lewdness and obscene idolatrous practices (Rev. ii. 14; II Peter ii. 15; Jude 11; Abot. v. 19). The name 'Nicolaitanes,' given to the Christian heretics 'holding the doctrine of Balaam' (Rev. ii. 6, 15), is probably derived from the Grecized form of Balaam, [Hebr. char.] = [Greek char.], and hence also the pseudonym given to Jesus in Sanh. 106b and Git. 57a.
— The Jewish Encyclopedia (1) (emphasis added)
The Jewish Encyclopedia's article on Jesus contains much information about various pseudonyms used for Jesus in the Talmud, including "Balaam," "son of Pandera," and "Ben Stada."
Why would the Sages use a code word for Jesus of Nazareth? Perhaps to avoid confrontations with the Christian establishment. By disguising unflattering remarks about Jesus, only those inside the circle of Talmud believers would understand; Christians, if they ever saw the material, would miss the significance. An example is given by Rabbi Rodkinson in his book, The History of the Talmud. In 1239 A.D., Jewish apostates brought charges in Rome that the Talmud contained sacrilegious sayings about Jesus and His mother. Rabbi Jechial answered the charges (in part) by denying that the Talmud contained any mention of Jesus of Nazareth:
To the other accusations of Donin, that the Talmud terms the followers of Jesus Christ "Minim" (infidels), that it condemns Jesus, that it allows ill-usage of people of other nationalities, etc., he [Rabbi Jechial] replied: "In the Talmud there is no mention of Jesus (Jesu) Christ, but only of another Jesus (Jeshua) who was a disciple of R. Joshua b. Prachia, who lived two hundred years before Christ."
— Rabbi Rodkinson (2)
Then there is the ADL refutation of the charges which also appears at the website and which are not convincing:
Balaam's Mother a Harlot, Sanh. 106a, 106b
In Tractate Sanhedrin 106a and 106b, the Sages discuss Balaam and his mother. We get another clue about Balaam's identity with the hint that Balaam's mother "played the harlot with carpenters."
GEMARA. … Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, [did the children of Israel slay with the sword]. A soothsayer? But he was a prophet! — R. Johanan said: At first he was a prophet, but subsequently a soothsayer. R. Papa observed: This is what men say, 'She who was the descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters.' (5) [106b] Did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them. Rab said: They subjected him to four deaths, stoning, burning, decapitation and strangulation.
— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 106a - 106b
Soncino 1961 Edition, page 725
In a footnote, Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman promotes scholar Rev. Dr. Herford's view that the "harlot" is a reference to Mary, mother of Jesus.
5. Herford, Christianity in the Talmud, p. 48, suggests that Balaam is frequently used in the Talmud as a type for Jesus … Though no name is mentioned to shew which woman is meant, the mother of Jesus may be alluded to, which theory is strengthened by the statement that she mated with a carpenter.
— Rabbi Dr. Freedman
It is of course, impossible for any man to undergo "four deaths" as told in Sanhedrin 106b, above. This detail does not aid in the identification. It may, however, express the fate that the Sages thought "Balaam" deserved. (Rabbi Michael Rodkinson omits that passage in Sanhedrin 106a without footnote or comment. See Do Not Censor the Talmud, Please "Appendix B: Rabbi Rodkinson's Censored Talmud," for discussion and cites.)
"Balaam Being Used As an Alias for Jesus"
Sanhedrin 106b continues. A Sage is asked a question about Balaam by a min. According to the Soncino Talmud Glossary, min is the Talmud word for Christian. That a min is asking after the details of Balaam's life is a further clue to the identity of that character. In the Soncino Talmud, this paragraph follows immediately on the paragraph quoted above.
GEMARA. … A certain min said to R. Hanina: Hast thou heard how old Balaam was? — He replied: It is not actually stated, but since it is written, Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days, [it follows that] he was thirty-three or thirty-four years old. He rejoined: Thou hast said correctly; I personally have seen Balaam's Chronicle, in which it is stated, 'Balaam the lame was thirty years old when Phinehas the Robber killed him.' (11)
— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 106b
Soncino 1961 Edition, page 725
Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman, translator, does not explain why a Christian would ask the Pharisee about Jesus, but he interprets this passage as follows:
1. According to the view that all the Balaam passages are anti-Christian in tendency, Balaam being used as an alias for Jesus, Phinehas the Robber is thus taken to represent Pontius Pilatus, and the Chronicle of Balaam probably to denote a Gospel (v. Herford op. cit. 72ff.).
— Rabbi Dr. Freedman
The interpretation that "Balaam" is Jesus is persistent, but the denial is also persistent. In February 2003, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith issued a position paper entitled The Talmud in Anti-Semitic Polemics. (17) Naming the Soncino as a preferred translation (on page 13), the ADL states (on page 12):
Jesus and Balaam
To agitate Christian readers, anti-Talmud writers often attempt to portray the Talmud as demeaning the figure of Jesus. In the opinion of most scholars, the Talmud only refers to Jesus in a handful of places, and though these references may not reflect the courteous ecumenicism of the modern world, neither are they particularly inflammatory. But the Talmud bears much harsher animus towards the biblical figure of Balaam, the pagan magician who sought to curse the Jews as they traveled through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Rabbinic tradition ascribes other crimes to Balaam as well, and in various places describes some of the punishments he may have suffered after his death. In the nineteenth century, when the field of academic Jewish studies was in its infancy, a small group of Jewish scholars suggested that in some cases the term Balaam in the Talmud may be a codeword for Jesus. Though later scholars showed that this suggestion could not be true (for reasons pertaining to the context of the Balaam references and the lack of manuscript variants substituting Jesus for Balaam), anti-Semites have ever since claimed that the true hatred that Judaism possesses for Christianity is expressed in these coded expressions against Balaam found in the Talmud.
— Anti-Defamation League (17) (emphasis added)
Let us consider the following points. The ADL states:
* "In the nineteenth century, when the field of academic Jewish studies was in its infancy …" — Jewish studies has been out of its infancy for more than 2,000 years. Since the time of Ezra the Scribe in about 400 B.C., the study of Jewish Scriptures by Jews has not ceased. Hillel, Akiba, and Judah HaNasi (Judah the Prince) lived almost 2,000 years ago and are still considered the giants of Jewish studies.
* Not all those "nineteenth century" scholars were nineteenth century scholars — the Jewish Encyclopedia was published 1901-1906, Rev. Dr. Herford's Christianity in the Talmud and Midrash was published in 1903, and the Soncino Talmud was published between 1935 and 1948. Those of the Soncino would be more accurately described as twentieth century scholars.
* "… a small group of Jewish scholars …" — The scholars who suggest that Balaam refers to Jesus were not a "small group." They include:
o the Soncino editor Rabbi Dr. Epstein of Jews' College, London
o Rabbi Dr. Freedman and Jacob Shachter, the renowned Talmud scholars who translated Tractate Sanhedrin for Dr. Epstein and the Soncino Press
o the writers and editors of The Jewish Encyclopedia
o the Rev. Dr. Robert Travers Herford, author of Christianity in the Talmud and Midrash, a renowned Jewish studies scholar of his day
The Soncino translation of the Talmud and the scholarship behind it were endorsed by two Chief Rabbis of the British Empire and the Dayan of the London Beth Din. Ironically, ADL rejects the Soncino Balaam scholarship, at the same time in the same position paper it recommends the Soncino Talmud. (18)
* Not all the "Jewish scholars" were Jewish. The Rev. Dr. Robert Travers Herford, cited by Soncino translator Rabbi Dr. Freedman, was a unitarian Gentile, though well respected among Jewish scholars. Rev. Dr. Herford's endorsement of the Soncino Talmud is printed on the Soncino dust jacket.
Given that the ADL uses patently untrue premises in its argument, how reliable is the ADL's conclusion — that Balaam is not Jesus?
That the ADL accepts the Soncino Talmud, but selectively rejects the Soncino scholarship on the Balaam references is significant. It indicates that, to the ADL and the public they are addressing, those passages are politically sensitive. It is apparently important to the ADL to assert that the Talmud is not hostile to Christianity, so important that ordinary rules of scholarship may be bent in the assertion.
This, too, is a form of censorship. Given the legal clout of the ADL and the readiness with which it blackens reputations with the "anti-Semitic" label, scholars in these matters are not free to draw conclusions according to the rules of scholarship. Instead, with the constant threat that statements considered unfavorable to the Talmud will result in punishment of the scholar, scholars are driven by political concerns to draw the "correct" conclusions and censor their own work. See further discussion of the freedom of scholarship in Appendix: Deborah Lipstadt Finds Anti-Semitism in the New Testament
There is much more in the website that I will not paste here, but it is worth clicking over there to read it.
What to conclude...here are questions the website poses:
What will the Vatican do next? Will Cardinal Ratzinger declare that the Gospels were mistranslated, that Jesus was misquoted, or that Jesus mis-spoke, and has since issued a retraction and apology?
Consider how accommodating the Vatican has been on another issue: the virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus. It seems that scholars studying the Dead Sea Scrolls have decided that the Gospels were mistranslated: the word that was translated as "virgin" was really the Hebrew word for "young woman." On that basis, the Vatican will revise its doctrines.
Once again the Dead Sea Scrolls are a focal point for changing Catholic-Jewish relations. Do those scrolls have the potential to heal Catholic-Jewish relations? Will we have to refute the writings of Popes down through the centuries in order to endorse what has been written there? How will our adherence to Tradition hold up under such circumstances?
What lies ahead for this religion that defines who I am?
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!