Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oh, right. I probably shoud post something today

There's a first rate article in the current TNR about Jesus and the Talmud. Because I'd rather chew off my own arm than post this morning, I shall quote from it liberally:
Assuming that Jewish authors who lived at least a century after Jesus's death did not have the personal contact with Jesus that the authors of the Gospels did, we may imagine that when they speak of Jesus, they are really talking about the community that sees Jesus to be its founder and still-present guide. But if the Palestinian Jews who had no acquaintance with Jesus are only really talking about the community that came after him, how much more so are the Babylonian Jews in their own sources: they did not even know a threatening Christian community, not to mention Jesus himself. In fact, who are these Babylonian Jewish sources talking about when they do speak of Jesus? We might say that whereas the Palestinian sources are speaking about a lively ghost, the Babylonian sources seem to be talking about a pure phantom.
Those of you who hold that the "Babylonian sources" all spoke infalliably and prophetically will want to avert your eyes. It goes downhill from here.

.. a largely overlooked fact: that "whereas the Palestinian rabbis' (few) statements reveal a relative closeness to the emerging Christian sect ... the Bavli's attention is focused on the person of Jesus." But how can what the Talmud says about Jesus be of any significance if the Babylonian rabbis were even further removed from the historical Jesus than the Palestinian rabbis before them?

Because the Amoraim all had ruach hakodesh you kofer
...the Babylonian rabbinical texts are dealing not with the historical Jesus, but with the character of Jesus as it was presented in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of John, which seems to present the most anti-Jewish Jesus of the four Gospels. These treatments are what Schäfer calls "a literary answer to a literary text."
I know you aren't saying that the redactors assembled the Talmud with some sort of agenda floating in the back of their minds. Because that would be very anti-Torah of you.
Whereas the Palestinian anti-Christian texts are responding to a threatening social reality, the Babylonian texts are talking about the basic document (the New Testament) of a Christian community that is no longer a threat to the Jews of Babylonia, the Babylonian Christians being as much (if not more) of a marginalized minority as the Jews. Thus, in Schäfer's view, Babylonian Jewish statements about Jesus could be more direct than the Palestinian statements, and they could be nastier.
If by nasty you mean "yofi."
[Also the] Babylonian sources condemned and ridiculed the New Testament accounts of Jesus's birth, powers, and supposed innocence at his trial. Since the local Christians in Babylonia were as far removed from the historical Jesus as the local Jews, having only the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jewish criticism of Jesus in Babylonia could attack Christians at their most vulnerable point. In the end, the political power of Christians over Jews made a huge difference in the ways Jews could conduct their anti-Christian polemic.

The most vivid example of the anti-Christian polemic of the Babylonian Talmud can be seen in its treatment of the virgin birth of Jesus as presented in the New Testament. The intent of Christians in claiming that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary was to emphasize that Jesus's father was God himself--that the earthly Jesus, and not just the heavenly Christ (the second person of the Trinity, who has no mother), was truly the son of God. Mary's virginity was important so that no one might entertain the notion that her fiancé, Joseph, really fathered her child Jesus.

In contrast to this official Christian version of the circumstances of Jesus's conception and birth, the Babylonian Talmud presents, in Schäfer's words, "a highly ambitious and devastating counternarrative to the infant story of the New Testament." In the rabbinical text that Schäfer selects to illustrate this point, it is stated that "his mother was Miriam [Mary].... This is as they say about her in Pumbeditha: This one turned away from (was unfaithful to) her husband."

This being assumed, the Talmud identifies Mary's lover and Jesus's real father to be a man named Pandera--clearly a Roman name. In this account (which had an enormous impact upon some medieval Jewish polemical writings), Mary's lover and Jesus's true father is not only not his mother's lawful husband, he is also a gentile--indeed, a hated Roman. From this Schäfer infers that "if the Bavli takes it for granted that [Jesus's] mother was an adulteress, then the logical conclusion follows that he was a mamzer, a bastard or illegitimate child." In this view, Jesus is as far from being the son of God and a pure virgin as is possible in Jewish imagination.

I don't have the energy to check if Gil's famous post on the subject agrees or disagrees with any of this. [My money is on "disagree"]

You're welcome to go find out and to argue about it here, however.

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