Friday, July 20, 2012

The strange story of flying Jesus

Read this post first. The background is necessary

When I was a kid I heard stories about a flying Jesus, who was defeated somewhat sctalogically by a flying Judas Iscariot. Turns out this story is recorded in Toldot Yeshu, a polemical anti-gospel published and distributed by Jews perhaps as early as the 9th century.

As told in Toldot Yeshu, Jesus stole the divine name from the Temple and used it perform miracles such as walking on water, and healing the sick. Scandalized, the sages taught Judas Iscariot the divine name and prepared for a show down.

The moment came, when Jesus attempted to ascend to heaven. He raised his arms and took off. The Sages told Judas to do likewise, and he was able to bring Jesus down by urinating on him. (Urine defiles a person; miracles produced with the magic name of God can't be performed in a state of defilement.)

This story contains obvious parallels to the story of Flying Balaam discussed here and becomes more interesting in light of Sanhedrin 106A where the name Balaam is used as a stand-in for Jesus.

I don't have the time to satisfactorily investigate this question, but it would be interesting to know if the story of flying Jesus, collected in the Todot Yeshu, came before or after the story of flying Balaam, collected in various midrashic works. Here's what I can tell you:

Toldot Yeshu: 9th century, but no earlier than 4th as it mentions Christian holidays that didn't exist earlier

Places where flying Balaam is mentioned
TPJ:  Unknown, but no earlier than the 6th as it seems aware of the Muslim conquests. Not known to Rashi, or the Geonim or mentioned by others until the 15th century
Tanchuma: 5th century (probably)
Numbers Raba (11th century (likely))

All of these works are collections of older material. It would be fascinating to learn which version of a famous, flying gentile prophet defeated by a flying Jewish hero came first.

Search for more information about flying Jesus at4torah.com   

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