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«Summary The Munich Talmud manuscript of b.San.43a preserves passages censored out of the printed editions, including the controversial trial of ...»

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David Instone-Brewer


The Munich Talmud manuscript of b.San.43a preserves passages

censored out of the printed editions, including the controversial trial of

‘Yeshu Notzri’. Chronological analysis of the layers in this tradition

suggests that the oldest words are: ‘On the Eve of Passover they hung

Jesus of Nazareth for sorcery and leading Israel astray.’ This paper argues that other words were added to this tradition in order to overcome three difficulties: a trial date during a festival; the unbiblical method of execution; and the charge of ‘sorcery’.

1. The Origin of Censorship The Munich Talmud is the earliest full manuscript Talmud, penned in

1343.1 A few manuscripts of the Talmud have survived from before the invention of printing as well as many fragments, and these are particularly important because they contain material censored out of the printed editions, most of which concerned Jesus.

Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer in Venice in the early 1500s, spent most of his professional life and family fortune printing 230 major Jewish works, including the Jerusalem Talmud and the massive editions of the Babylonian Talmud and the Mikraot Gedolot (the Rabbinic Bible) with their surrounding commentaries. He worked mainly with Felice da Prato, an Augustinian friar who had converted from Judaism. They followed the page layout invented by the Soncino family for printing the tractate Berakhot in 1483, which has a central 1 H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991): 227-30.

270 TYNDALE BULLETIN 62.2 (2011) Talmud passage with commentaries arranged around the edge of the page. They applied this system to all the tractates and completed the first full printed Talmud in 1520.2 This page layout was so useful that it became standard, and exactly the same layout is still reproduced today for printing the Talmud.

Bomberg’s printing of the Talmud ensured its survival because a few years later, in 1553, Pope Julius III ordered the burning of all Talmuds,3 but multiple printed copies had already spread everywhere.

One was sold in London in 1628 for £26, then went missing, and was rediscovered in 1991 in Sion College’s basement.4 Without Bomberg’s printed edition, the Munich Talmud might be the only full copy of the Talmud which survived. His printing is essentially identical to the normal nineteenth-century edition usually known as ‘Vilna’ though some of these tractates were printed in up to four separate and subtly different editions.5 Censorship helped Bomberg get papal permission to print the work.

In 1518 he petitioned the Venetian Senate to renew his printer’s licence, and took the opportunity to buy the exclusive rights to print the Talmud, which had to be officially endorsed by Pope Leo X.6 The censorship was meant to remove all disparaging passages about Jesus, which included any passages concerning Jesus or Mary and most passages which might involve disputes with Christians.

There is some uncertainty about the origin of Bomberg’s censorship.

Possibly Bomberg inherited censorship which was already present in the manuscripts he used. His edition is based on various manuscripts which were compared to produce his text. However, for the few tractates already printed by the Soncino family in the late 1400s, he 2 Marvin J. Heller, ‘Earliest Printings of the Talmud’ in Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, Sharon Liberman Mintz and Gabriel M. Goldstein (New York: Yeshiva University Museum, 2005): 61-78, esp. 73; online at http:// www.printingthetalmud.org/essays.html.

3 Richard Gottheil and William Popper, ‘Confiscation of Hebrew Books’ in The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. Isidore Singer, Cyrus Adler, (12 vols; New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906).

4 http://www.untoldlondon.org.uk/community/jewish/article/priceless-talmud-display

-lambeth-palace [accessed 16 June 2011].

5 Avraham Rosenthal, The Talmud Editions of Daniel Bomberg: A Comprehensive Collection of All Tractates of the Four Editions by Bomberg, Venice 1520-1549 (Microfiche collection, Jerusalem: IDC, 1997). He discusses the differences in ‘Daniel Bomberg and His Talmud editions’ in Gli Ebrei e Venezia, XIV-XVIII (Proceedings of the international conference in Venice, 1987): 375-416.

6 Heller, ‘Earliest Printings’, 73.

INSTONE-BREWER: Jesus’ Trial in the Talmud was accused of simply copying their edition without comparing manuscripts. This copying is particularly blatant in Sukkah where he left gaps on pages where there are diagrams in the Soncino edition.

Apparently he did not have time to commission his own woodcuts before the printing deadline.7 Some of the manuscripts used by Soncino (including Sanhedrin) had been censored by the Spanish authorities after the Disputation of Tortosa (1414)8 so Bomberg may have inherited this censorship, and he may have used other similarly censored manuscripts.

However, self-censorship is more likely because Bomberg’s missing and altered passages are not identical to anyone else’s. For example, the text in b.Git.57a, which says Jesus was punished with boiling faeces in hell, is uncensored in surviving manuscripts which have this section (Vatican 130, 140; Munich 95) but censored in two different ways in the early printed editions: Soncino simply removes the name ‘Jesus’ while Bomberg substituted ‘the sinners of Israel’.9 Similarly the passage about Jesus’ trial (considered in this paper) is uncensored in surviving manuscripts which include this section (Herzog 1, Firenze II.1:8-9, Karlsruhe 2, Munich 95) but it is censored differently in the early printed editions: the Soncino edition (sometimes called Barco, after the town where it was printed) erased Jesus’ name; but Bomberg’s edition omits the whole passage.10 Censorship was therefore imposed on Jews in the Fifteenth Century, but Bomberg and the Soncino family felt it was necessary to continue this practice, and Jewish councils later ratified this decision.11 7 Heller, ‘Earliest Printings’, 74.

8 ‘Tortosa, Disputation of’, Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972): XV 1270-71.

9 Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2007): 141, where ‘Vilna’ is the Bomberg edition.

10 Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, 139.

11 Paul L. B. Drach, De l’harmonie entre l’Eglise et la synagogue, ou, Perpétuité et catholicité de la religion chrétienne (Paris: P. Mellier, 1844): I 168 cites a rabbinic encyclical from Poland in 1631: ‘we enjoin you, under the pain of excommunication major, to print nothing in future editions, whether of Mishna or of the Gemara, which relates whether for good or evil to the acts of Jesus the Nazarene, and to substitute instead a circle like this ‘O’, which will warn the Rabbis and schoolmasters to teach the young these passages only viva voce. By means of this precaution the savants amongst the Nazarenes will have no further pretext to attack us on this subject.’ http:// www.archive.org/ stream/ delharmonieentr00unkngoog#page/ n206/ mode/ 2up accessed 12 Oct.2011.

272 TYNDALE BULLETIN 62.2 (2011)

2. Censored Passages The Munich Talmud is therefore the only uncensored copy of the whole Talmud, though even this is censored in some respects. The name of Jesus and other words are frequently very faint, as though someone has attempted to erase them. In the passage about Jesus’ trial, the two occurrences of the name ‘Yeshu ha-Notzri’ have been partially erased in this way, as well as parts of the following passage about the names of his disciples. However, the original Hebrew is still visible, and it has been reconstructed by examination of the manuscript. These reconstructions are usefully collected in an appendix by Herford.12 The censored passages are almost all late anti-Christian polemics.

They have been collected and analysed by Herford and more recently in great detail by Schäfer.13 The name of Jesus does not always occur in censored passages. Some refer to ‘Ben Stada’ (‫ )בן  סטדא‬or ‘Ben Pandira’ (‫,)בן  פנדירא‬but there is good evidence that these are pseudonyms for Jesus in such passages. In b.San.67a both these names are used for the same person who is described as ‘hung on the Eve of Passover’—the same phrase which is used of Yeshu ha-Notzri in b.San.43a. Also, Tosephta refers to ‘Yeshu ben Pandira’ ( ‫ישו  בן‬ ‫,)פנדירא‬and it has a story about a follower of him, Jacob of Kephar Sekhania who met Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (late First or early Second Century) in Sepphoris near Nazareth (t.Hull. 2:23). Tosephta’s version of this story says that he taught Eliezer a saying of the minim—a term which refers to heretics, including Christians. The saying itself is found at b.AZ.17a, where the Munich Talmud attributes it to ‘Yeshu haNotzri’ (‫.)ישו הנוצרי‬ When later Talmudic rabbis debated these names, they concluded that the same person was called both ‘ben Stada’ and ‘ben Pandira’ because one was the name of his mother’s husband and the other was her lover, so they concluded that Yeshu was illegitimate. One rabbi thought that ‘Stada’ was the name of his mother, because it is similar to soṭah (‫‘,סוֹ טָה‬unfaithful’), but others pointed out that her name was actually Miriam—i.e. Mary (b.Shab.104b).14 12 R. Travers Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London: Williams & Norgate, 1903; New York, KTAV, 1975): 406.

13 Herford, Christianity; Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud.

14 This discussion is only in uncensored Talmuds.

INSTONE-BREWER: Jesus’ Trial in the Talmud Some scholars have concluded that these multiple names represent a more than one individual, who have become confused,15 though Schäfer argues that the alternative names may be intentionally enigmatic or offensive.16 The prehistory of these traditions is probably impossible to trace but, as Schäfer points out, the congruence of the date of execution—the day before Passover—is too striking to ignore, and the differences between the details in the Talmud and Gospel could be due to deliberate misrepresentation by later Jews.17 The passage about Jesus’ trial at b.San.43a is unique among these censored traditions because part of it may date back to the time of Jesus (as argued below). Most scholars dismiss its historical value, arguing that details like the herald for forty days show it is hopelessly inaccurate. Any similarity to the Gospel account is explained as dependence on Christian traditions—probably on the Gospel of John because this alone states that Jesus was killed on Passover Eve.18 However, this dismissal is perhaps an overreaction against earlier uncritical readings.19 Others, with a more nuanced approach, have recognise that an earlier core has been heavily edited20 so unhistorical details do not require a rejection of the complete tradition.

15 John P. Meier. A Marginal Jew Volume 1: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (The

Anchor Bible Reference Library; New York: Doubleday, 1991): 96 n. 44 refers to Johann Maier. Jesus von Nazareth in der talmudischen Überlieferung (Erträge der Forschung; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1978): 237, and others who conclude that Ben Stada was certainly a separate individual, and possibly Ben Pandira, and that their traditions became linked with the Jesus traditions at a very late stage, and calls this ‘a common opinion’.

16 Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, 16-18.

17 Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, 12.

18 This is the general conclusion of Paul Winter, On the Trial of Jesus (Studia Judaica, Forschungen zur Wissenschaft des Judentums 1; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1961): 201-202; Simon Légasse, The Trial of Jesus (London: SCM, 1997): 4-6;

Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994):

2:376-77; Walter Grundmann, ‘The Decision of the Supreme Court to Put Jesus to Death (John 11:47-57) in Its Context: Tradition and Redaction in the Gospel of John’ in Jesus and the Politics of His Day, ed. Ernst Bammel and C. F. D. Moule (Cambridge: CUP, 1984): 300.

19 This is exemplified in Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching (London: Allen & Unwin, 1925); see the historical survey in David R.

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