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Evidence from History - The Babylonian Talmud

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These pages have been produced by David Couchman MA (Cantab), MSc. The material is taken from the Facing the Challenge course, and is used with permission. 

The Babylonian Talmud

The Talmuds were Rabbinic commentaries on the Jewish scriptures. The Babylonian Talmud was probably completed around the 6th century. The Talmuds are long and complicated, and it is difficult to make sense of some of what they say. Of course, the Jews were not overly sympathetic to the heretical new religion that Jesus founded. The Babylonian Talmud says:

‘On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu* [= Jesus]. And an announcer went out in front of him for forty days, saying: ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favour, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But not having found anything in his favour, they hanged him on the eve of Passover.’

* One version of this text actually says ‘Yeshu the Nazarene.’

There are of course, some differences here from what the Gospels describe. (Note: When this kind of discrepancy arises, scholars seem to have a remarkable tendency to believe that it is the other document that is right, and the Gospels that are wrong, rather than vice versa – even though the documentary evidence for the Gospel account may be much stronger.) Notice that:

Yeshu the Nazarene is described as someone who engaged in sorcery. This is a typical way that Jewish writers accounted for the miracles of Jesus.
He was put to death.
His death took place at the Passover
His death was by ‘hanging’ – which was often used by Jews to describe crucifixion (see Luke 23:39 and Galatians 3:13).
There are various other passages in the Talmuds that refer (or may refer) to Jesus.

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