Scattered throughout the Talmud, the founding document of rabbinic Judaism in late antiquity, can be found quite a few references to Jesus--and they're not flattering. In this lucid, richly detailed, and accessible book, Peter Schäfer examines how the rabbis of the Talmud read, understood, and used the New Testament Jesus narrative to assert, ultimately, Judaism's superiority over Christianity.
The Talmudic stories make fun of Jesus' birth from a virgin, fervently contest his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God, and maintain that he was rightfully executed as a blasphemer and idolater. They subvert the Christian idea of Jesus' resurrection and insist he got the punishment he deserved in hell--and that a similar fate awaits his followers.
Schäfer contends that these stories betray a remarkable familiarity with the Gospels--especially Matthew and John--and represent a deliberate and sophisticated anti-Christian polemic that parodies the New Testament narratives. He carefully distinguishes between Babylonian and Palestinian sources, arguing that the rabbis' proud and self-confident countermessage to that of the evangelists was possible only in the unique historical setting of Persian Babylonia, in a Jewish community that lived in relative freedom. The same could not be said of Roman and Byzantine Palestine, where the Christians aggressively consolidated their political power and the Jews therefore suffered.
A departure from past scholarship, which has played down the stories as unreliable distortions of the historical Jesus, Jesus in the Talmud posits a much more deliberate agenda behind these narratives.
"Schäfer's fine new book should be of interest to a wide audience, and not only to specialists in the field of the historical interaction of Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity (who will be right to devour it). . . . Schäfer's book tells a fascinating story. . . . His great scholarship now provides Jews and Christians interested in developing a new and better relationship with a way to work through many of the hateful things that we have said about each other in the past, but without pretending that this bad past was not as bad as it really was or that it can simply be forgotten. . . . The sources that Schäfer adduces are virulent and dangerous, but his analysis of them leaves one unexpectedly full of hope."--David Novak, New Republic
"In the talmudic references to Jesus . . . Schäfer persuasively finds sophisticated 'counternarratives that parody the New Testament stories,' composed by Jews who evinced a precise knowledge of the New Testament. The true accomplishment of Jesus in the Talmud is to show how certain talmudic passages are actually subtle rereadings of the New Testament, 'a literary answer to a literary text.' With considerable skill, Schäfer weaves these together until they can be seen to form an intricate theological discourse that prefigures the disputations between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages."--Benjamin Balint, First Things
"Meticulously researched and argued as well as clearly and accessibly written, this most intriguing--albeit radical--book is sure to spark interest, debate, and controversy. An essential purchase for academic religion collections and theological libraries."--Library Journal
"In [this] book Schäfer has proven himself not only a formidable scholar of ancient and medieval Jewish texts . . . but also a talented author from whose hands the text flows like the water to which the rabbis likened the Torah."--Galit Hasan-Rokem, Jewish Quarterly Review
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Jesus' Family 15
Chapter 2: The Son/Disciple Who Turned out Badly 25
Chapter 3: The Frivolous Disciple 34
Chapter 4: The Torah Teacher 41
Chapter 5: Healing in the Name of Jesus 52
Chapter 6: Jesus' Execution 63
Chapter 7: Jesus' Disciples 75
Chapter 8: Jesus' Punishment in Hell 82
Chapter 9: Jesus in the Talmud 95
Appendix: Bavli Manuscripts and Censorship 131
This book has been translated into:
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Peter Schäfer: