Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?

By G. R. S. Mead

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As we have seen already from the evidence of the early Church Fathers, one of the most persistent charges of the Jews against Jesus was that he had learned magic in Egypt. In the Toldoth Jeschu, while we still hear of Jeschu's learning magic in Egypt, the main feature in the story of his acquirement of miraculous power is the robbing of the Shem (the Tetragrammaton or Ineffable Name) from the Temple at Jerusalem by a strange device. The Talmud, however, knows nothing of this robbing of the Shem from the Temple; but in recording the tradition of the bringing of magic out of Egypt it adds details of the means whereby this magic is fabled to have been conveyed out of the country, and in the variants of the story we can trace the evolution of the strange device whereby Jeschu is said in the Toldoth to have outwitted the magic guardians of the Shem. 

Thus in the Palestinian Gemara we read: "He who scratches on the skin in the fashion of writing is guilty, but he who makes marks on the skin in the fashion of writing, is exempt from punishment. Rabbi Eliezer said to them: But has not Ben Stada brought (magic) spells out of Egypt just in this way? 


They answered him: On account of one fool we do not ruin a multitude of reasonable men."[l] 

The same story is also handed on in the Babylonian Gemara, but with a very striking variant: 

"There is a tradition: Rabbi Eliezer said to the wise men, Has not Ben Stada brought magic spells from Egypt in an incision in his body? They answered him, He was a fool, and we do not take proofs from fools."[2] 

The Tosephta adds yet another variant of the tradition: 

"He who upon the Sabbath cuts letters upon his body is, according to the view of R. Eliezer guilty, according to the view of the wise not guilty. R. Eliezer said to the wise: Ben Stada surely learned sorcery by such writing. They replied to him: Should we in any wise on account of a fool destroy all reasonable men?"[3] 

The mention of R. Eliezer and the name Ben Stada indicate that we have here to do with a Lud tradition; the story, however, must be regarded as one of the oldest of this tradition, for it cites R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, the teacher of Akiba, and the founder of the Lud school. The Palestinian Gemara evidently preserves the oldest and more detailed account. In it the academical discussion has to do with a very nice point of Sabbath breaking. Writing of any kind on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden. The question then 

[1] "Pal. Shabbath," 13d. 

[2] "Bab. Shabbath," 104b. 

[3] "Tosephta, Shabbath," xi. (xii.) towards the end (ed. Zuckermandel, p. 126).


arises: But what if it be on one's skin and not on parchment? Further is there not a difference between scratching in the form of writing,[1] and making marks (that is in some way other than scratching) in the form of writing (that is presumably resembling writing in some way)? 

R. Eliezer meeets the decision of his colleagues with the objection that Ben Stada brought his spells out of Egypt by "marks" on the skin and not by "scratching." These marks on the skin were presumably not letters proper, that is the writing of words in Hebrew, for the discussion is not as to writing, but as to "marks in the fashion of writing." Does it then refer to diagrams or sigils, or drawings of some kind, or to hieroglyphics? 

The Tosephta, it will he noticed, makes havoc of this elaborate argument of the Palestinian Gemara, and ascribes to the "wise" a judgment the very reverse of what they had given according to the Gemara; moreover the "scratching" has become "cutting letters upon the body." 

While as for the Babylonian Gemara the whole account is still further altered; no longer is it a question with Eliezer of refuting the opinion of his colleagues with a regard to the main point, "marks on the skin in the fashion of writing," no longer is it a question even of "cutting letters upon the body," but we have a totally new and startling gloss, namely the bringing out of Egypt by Ben Stada of spells (presumably written on parchment) in an incision in his body. 

[l] Laible (op. cit., p. 46) speaks of this "scratching" as tattooing; but there seems no reason why we should give technical precision to such vague indications. 


This writing on parchment and hiding the parchment in an incision in the body is precisely the account adopted by the Toldoth Jeschu, and when we come to discuss this second highly complex line of tradition we shall refer again to the subject. All that need be said here is that the Palestinian Gemara seems plainly to have preserved the earlier account, namely the inscribing of some figures, or more probably hieroglyphs, on the skin. The idea in the mind of the Palestinian Rabbis was presumably that the Egyptians were known to be very jealous of their magic lore and did all they could to prevent books of magic being taken out of the country; Jeschu, then, according to the oldest Rabbinic tradition, was said to have circumvented their vigilance by some such subterfuge as that which has been handed on in the story in the Palestinian Gemara.[1] 

The rank growth from the original nucleus of the legend is plainly shown in the Talmud and the Tosephta. What the real inwardness or nucleole of the nucleus may have been we shall perhaps never know, but it may possibly have been derived from some such mystical expression as the "circumcision of the heart," or the hiding of wisdom in the heart. Meanwhile the story under discussion provides a text in the 

[1] It is curious to note that a similar device has been recently made use of by a novelist (A. E. W. Mason, "The Four Feathers," London, 1902). The scene is laid in the Soudan, and on p. 90 we read: "Abou Fatma drove the donkey down amongst the trees. ... In the left shoulder a tiny incision had been made and the skin neatly stitched up again with fine thread. He cut the stitches, and pressing open the two edges of the wound, forced out a tiny package little bigger than a postage stamp. The package was a goat's bladder, and enclosed within the bladder was a note written in Arabic and folded very small." 


Babylonian Gemara for a commentary in the Gemara itself which runs as follows: 

"Ben Stada was Ben Pandera. Rab Chisda said: The husband was Stada, the lover Pandera. (Another their own said): The husband was Paphos ben Jehuda; Stada was his mother' (or) his mother was Miriam the women's hairdresser; as they would say at Pumbeditha, S’tath da (i.e., she was unfaithful) to her husband." [1] 

It is exceedingly difficult to make out from the stopping of this translation who said what, but the sentence "(or) his mother was Miriam the women's hairdresser," seems to be a gloss or interpolation, and the words "as they would say" seem to follow naturally after "Stada was his mother." Be this as it may be, our interesting passage makes it quite clear that by this time legend had reached so rank a growth that even the Rabbis themselves in many places had lost all trace of its origin, of its earliest authentic form. At any rate they were all at sixes and sevens on the subject in Babylonia. All they were quite certain of was that Ben Stada and Ben Pandera were intended for one and the same person, but as to who Stada or Pandera may have been they had no definite information. 

Rab Chisda was one of the most famous Rabbis of the school at Sura (one of the greatest centres of Talmudic activity in Babylonia) and died 309 A.D.; he evidently was greatly puzzled to account for the apparently contradictory aliases bestowed on Jeschu by Rabbinical tradition. The Rabbis of Pumbeditha 

[1] Rab Shabbath," 104b,; repeated in almost identical words in Bab. Sanhedrin," 67a. 


(another of the great centres of Talmudic learning in Eastern Jewry), on the contrary, seem to have preserved a correct tradition of the origin of the nickname Ben Stada, though they appear to have taken Ben Pandera as a proper form. Whether or not the Pumbeditha derivation is correct in the letter, is a question for specialists to decide; it is in my opinion, however, certainly correct in spirit, for, as I have already argued, Ben Pandera came into existence as an offset to the "virgin's son" of Christian popular theology, and I am further persuaded that Ben Stada had also a similar genesis, whatever may have been the precise philological details of their birth. 

That the later Babylonian Rabbis were puzzled and at loggerheads on the subject is quite evident from the record of their Gemara; but that there was elsewhere a certain tradition of the Ben Perachiah date is shown by the additional information contained in the mediaeval Tosaphoth to this passage.

"'Ben Stada.'  Rabbenu Tam says that this is not 'Jeschu ha-Notzri (Jesus the Nazarene), for as to Ben Stada we say here that he was in the days of Pappos ben Jehudah, who lived in the days of Rabbi Akiba, as is proved in the last chapter of Berachoth [61b], but Jeschu lived in the days of Jehoshua ben Perachiah, as is proved in the last chapter of Sota [47a]: 'And not like Rabbi Jehoshua ben Perachiah who pushed away Jeschu ha-Notzri with both hands,' and Rabbi Jehoshua was long before Rabbi Akiba.'  His mother was Miriam, the women's hairdresser,' and what is related in the first chapter of Chagiga [4b]: 'Rab Bibi—the angel of death was found with him, etc., he said to his 


messenger: Go and fetch me Miriam the women's hairdresser'—that means that there lived in the days of Rab Bibi Miriam, a women's hairdresser. It was another (Miriam), or the angel of death was also relating to Rab Bibi a story which happened a long time before."[l] 

"Our Rabbi Tam" is presumably R. Jacob of Troyes (France), who flourished in the twelfth century,[2] but I cannot discover to what school he belonged, and therefore to whom "we say here" refers. Rab Tam, however, categorically denies that Ben Stada was the Jeschu of history, and that, too, in face of the widespread Lud tradition which had so strongly imposed itself upon the Babylonian Rabbis. We have ourselves seen how "Ben Stada" came into existence only somewhere about the end of the first century, when he was born of controversy. Rabbenu Tam, therefore, is quite right when he says that "Ben Stada" lived in the days of Paphos ben Jehuda, who lived in the days of Akiba. The truth of the matter, according to Rab Tam, was that the historical Jeschu lived in the days of Jehoshua ben Perachiah; as to the Rab Bibi story, he adds, it too is a gross anachronism, the Miriam referred to was either some totally different person, or the story has been handed on incorrectly. 

Rabbi Tam and his school, therefore, held solely to the Jehoshua ben Perachiah date; and they apparently rejected all the Ben Stada stories, but whether or no 

[1] "Tosaphoth Shabbath," 104b. 

[2] See Krauas (S.), "Das Leben Jesu" (Berlin; 1902), pp. 227, 274. But Tarn has all the appearance of being a by-name, and we cannot be certain of the identification. 


they also rejected the Jehoshua ben Perachiah story and simply held to the date, we have no means of ascertaining. If the translation given above is correct, they also held to some ancient categorical statement that Jeschu's mother was a certain Miriam whose occupation was that of hair-dressing; but in doing so we believe they unconsciously became entangled in the meshes of the Ben Stada net. 

Miriam, "the women's hair-dresser," seems to be simply another name-play of the Ben Stada and Ben Pandera genus. Miriam, "the women's hair-dresser," is in the original Miriam, "megaddela nesaiia"; and Miriam Megaddela is the twin of Mary Magdalene for all practical purposes in such word-play. But for a Jew the combination "Miriam of Magdala" was equivalent to saying Miriam the harlot, for Magdala, had an unenviable notoriety for the looseness of the lives of its women.[1] As far as Rabbinical tradition, then, is concerned, it seems exceedingly probable that we have here the origin of the otherwise strange combination Miriam the women's hair-dresser, and we should therefore ascribe the time and place of its birth to the same period as the Ben Stada invention and the same circle which produced the Lud legends. 

But the origin of the glyph of the Magdalene, out of whom the Christ Cast seven devils in the historicised Christian tradition, is, in my opinion, to be traced to a mystic Gnostic source and not to controversial wordplay. In Gnostic tradition we find the Sophia in her various aspects possessed of many names. Among them 

[1] "Threni Rabba," c. 2 f. 106 (ed. Wilna); see Kraus, op. cit., pp. 274, 275, 286, 303; see also Laible, op. cit., 16 and 17. 


may be mentioned: the Mother or All-Mother; Mother of the Living, or Shining Mother; the Power Above; the Holy Spirit; again She of the Left-hand, as opposed to Christos, Him of the Right-hand; the Man-woman; Prouneikos or Lustful-one, the Harlot; the Matrix; Eden; Achamoth; the Virgin; Barbelo; Daughter of Light; Merciful Mother; Consort of the Masculine One; Revelant of the Perfect Mysteries; Perfect Mercy; Revelant of the Mysteries of the whole Magnitude; Hidden Mother; She who knows the Mysteries of the Elect; the Holy Dove which has given birth to Twins; Ennoea; and the Lost or Wandering Sheep, Helena (who the Church Fathers said was a harlot whom Simon Magus had picked up at Tyre) and many other names.

All these terms refer to Sophia or the "Soul"—using the term in its most general sense—in her cosmic or individual aspects, according as she is above in her perfect purity; or in the midst, as intermediary, or below as fallen into matter.[1] 

By help of the above apparently unrelated data the thoughtful reader may now be able to sift out some of the elements from the chaos of myth and legend with which we are dealing. Personally we should prefer to continue with the mystical side of early Christianity and take ourselves out of the hurly-burly of vulgar controversy, but the necessities of the task upon which we are engaged compel us to return to the Talmud Lud stories, and the account they give of the condemnation and death of Jesus.

 Both Talmuds contain a short statement 

[1] See my "Fragments of a Faith Forgotten" (London; ] 900) PP. 334, 335. 


referring to this, which in both cases is appended to the following passage from the Mishna: 

"In the case of all the transgressors indicated in the Torah as deserving of death, no witnesses are placed in concealment except in case of the sin of leading astray to idolatry. If the enticer has made his enticing speech to two, these are witnesses against him, and lead him to the court of justice, and he is stoned. But if he have used the expression not before two but before one, he shall say to him: 'I have friends, who have a liking for that.' But if he is cunning, and wishes to say nothing before the others, witnesses are placed in concealment behind the wall, and he says himself to the seducer: 'Now tell me once again what thou wast saying to me, for we are alone.' If he now repeats it, the other says to him: 'How should we forsake our heavenly Father, and go and worship wood and stone?' If then the enticer is converted, well and good; but if he replies: 'This is our duty; it is for our good,' then those who are standing behind the wall bring him before the court of justice, and he is stoned."[l] 

The Mishna apparently approves of lying to the enticer to compass his legal condemnation, "For we are alone," says the enticed, when there are others behind the wall. It is also to be noticed that the legal punishment twice referred to for the offence of seducing to idolatry is stoning.

To the above quoted passage from the Mishna the Palestinian Gemara adds : 

" The enticer is the idiot, etc.—Lo, is he a wise man?

[1] "Pal. Sanhedrin," 25c; "Bab. Sanhedrin, "67a. 


No: as an enticer he is not a wise man; as he is enticed he is not a wise man. How do they treat him so as to come upon him by surprise? Thus; for the enticer two witnesses are placed in concealment in the innermost part of the house; but he is made himself to remain in the exterior part of the house, wherein a lamp is lighted over him, in order that the witnesses may see him and distinguish his voice. Thus, for instance, they managed with Ben Sot'da [a variant of Stada or Satda] at Lud. Against him two disciples of learned men were placed in concealment and he was brought before the court of justice, and stoned."[l] 

The Babylonian Gemara is somewhat different, and runs as follows: 

"'And for all capital criminals who are mentioned in the Torah they do not lay an ambush, but (they do) for this criminal.' 

"How do they act towards him? They light the lamp for him in the innermost part of the house, and they place witnesses for him in the exterior part of the house, that they may see him and hear his voice, though he cannot see them. And that man says to him .- Tell me what you have told me when we were alone. And when he repeats (those words) to him, that man says to him: How can we abandon our God in Heaven and practise idolatry? If he returns it is well; but when he says: Such is our duty, and so we like to have it, then the witnesses who are listening without, bring him to the tribunal and stone him. And thus they have done to 

[1] "Pal. Sanhedrin," vii. 25d; also "Pal. Jabamoth," xvi. 15d. 


Ben Stada at Lud and they hanged him on the day before Passover.[1] 

Both these accounts are part and parcel of the Lud tradition. The accusation in both cases is the sin of leading away in idolatry; the death in both cases is by stoning, clearly stated in the Palestinian Gemara, and clearly inferred from the Babylonian, which, however, adds that Jeschu was hanged on the day before the Passover; that is to say, apparently, that after stoning, his body was hanged or exposed for a warning; at any rate this would be the only meaning attached to the statement by a Jew who had never heard the Christian tradition (and the Talmud Jews evidently refused to listen to a word of it), for the Jewish custom was to expose the body of an offender who had suffered the penalty of death by stoning, on a post as a warning to all. 

The name "Lud," however, warns us against seeking for any historical basis in the details of the story, and we should, therefore, dismiss it with the rest of the Lud legends were it not that there exists still another Talmud tradition referring to the subject, and in this the name Lud does not appear. This tradition runs as follows: 

"But there is a tradition: On the Sabbath of the Passover feast Jeschu was hung [sic,? hanged]. But the herald went forth before him for the space of forty days, while he cried: 'Jeschu goeth forth to be executed because he has practised sorcery and seduced Israel and

[1] "Sanhedrin 57a; the passage is continued in almost the same words as in 'Bab. Shabbath," 104b. "Ben Stada was Ben Pandera," etc., on which we have already commented at length. 


estranged them from God.[1] Let any one who can bring forward any justifying plea for him come and give information concerning it.' But no justifying plea was found for him, and so he was hung on the Sabbath of the Passover festival. Ulla has said, But dost thou think that he belongs to those for whom a justifying plea is sought? He was a very seducer, and the All-merciful has said [Deut. xiii. 8]: 'Thou shall not spare him, nor conceal him.' However, in Jeschu's case it was somewhat different, for his place was near those in power."[2] 

Here there is no mention of Lud, but on the contrary there is no mention of stoning but only of hanging. Laible[3] supposes that "Sanhedrin," 43a, was originally a continuation of "Sanhedrin," 67a, and that therefore the omission of "Lud "is quite understandable, seeing that it had occurred immediately before. It is, however exceedingly difficult to believe in such a slicing up of an originally consecutive account, and therefore I am inclined to think that in the passage just quoted we have, if not the original form of the later Lud legend, at any rate an entirely independent account. The story seems to be in the nature of an apology for the execution of Jeschu. The hanging is admitted, but not the crucifixion (of which both Talmud and Toldoth know nothing), and it is interesting in this connection to remember that "hanging" is also preserved in Christian tradition as an equivalent of crucifixion. Whether or not this "hanging" in the minds of the Rabbis was 

[1] This formal charge is repeated twice in the Babylonian Gemara, "Sanhedrin," 107b, and "Sota," 47a. 
[2] "Bab. Sanhedrin," 43a. 
[3] Op. cit, p. 85. 


at this time thought of as the immediate method of death, and they intended further to admit this infringement of the canonical penalty of stoning, is difficult to decide. The formal charge, however, brought against Jeschu is given as that of "having practised sorcery and reduced Israel and estranged them from God." These: words can only refer to leading away to "idolatry," and the penalty for this was, as we have seen, stoning. 

But Ulla, a Palestinian Rabbi of the beginning of the fourth century, objects: Why all this precaution when Jeschu was plainly guilty of the charge? We have nothing to apologise for. On this the compiler of the Gemara remarks that Ulla is mistaken in taking this old tradition for an apology or a plea that every possible precaution was taken that Jeschu should have the fullest possible chance given him of proving his innocence. The real reason for all those precautions was that Jeschu was a person of great distinction and importance, and "near those in power" [1] at the time, that is to say presumably, connected by blood with the Jewish rulers—a trait preserved in the Toldoth Jeschu, as we shall see later on. So much, then, for the Lud Jesus stories. We shall next treat of some stories with a name transformation stranger even than Ben Stada. 

[1] Laible (op. cit., p. 87) interprets this as referring to the "Roman authorities," and so tries to drag in Pilate by the hair; but in this, as in so much else, Laible seems incapable of taking a purely unbiassed standpoint, for he naively presupposes throughout the absolute historicity of every detail found in the canonical Gospel stories.

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