Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?

By G. R. S. Mead

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IT is perhaps not too much to say that the Talmud has been the chief means whereby the Jews have preserved themselves as a nation ever since the time of the final destruction of their Temple, and the extinction of the last shred of their political independence, until the present day. The Talmud is the chief embodiment of that mysterious power which has kept alive the peculiar spirit of Jewry, and never permitted Israel to forget that it was a people apart. 

It is the Talmud which beyond all else has established the norm of life for the Jew; for it is the repository of that multitude of rules of conduct and laws of custom (Halachoth), which the Rabbis, with a bewildering ingenuity (which though intensely serious is frequently a strangely perverse casuistic), deduced from the Law— that Torah, which the Jews, in every fibre of their being, believed had been given by God Himself, who had chosen their fathers from out the nations and for ever bound them to Himself by a special pact and covenant. 

But over and beyond this the Talmud is a vast storehouse of the strangest mixture of wise saws and witty sayings, of legend and folk-lore and phantasy, parable 


and story, homily and allegory, magic and superstition,[1] to be compared to nothing so much as to some seething bazaar of the Orient, where all sorts and conditions of wisdom and folly swarm together and are blended in inextricable confusion. 

The most convenient point of departure for a brief excursion into the domain of systematised Talmudic beginnings[2] is the period from 70 to 200 A.D., which marks the first definite attempts at arrangement (for codification would give the reader a too precise idea of its confused nature) of those rules of custom which constitute the oldest deposit of the existing Talmud in both its forms. 

The fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. deprived the Jews of even that comparative political independence which they had previously possessed. It was a terrible blow to the hopes of the nation, especially to all those who looked for a material fulfilment of the many promises in the sacred rolls which bore the names of their ancient prophets—that if they kept the Law, and were true to their covenant with Yahweh, all enemies should be placed in subjection under their feet. And now not only was the Holy City destroyed and the Elect of the earth prostrate before the hated power of idolatrous Rome, but the Holy Temple itself, the chief means, as they then believed, whereby they were to carry out their covenant, was a heap of ruins! 

It was indeed a terribly tragic moment even in the history of a people inured to tragedy in the past and 

[1]The Haggadic as contrasted with the Halachic element. 

[2] The material itself of the oldest deposit of the Talmud being, of course, of still earlier date. 


destined to a future replete with tragic terrors. It is true that even so the spirit of the Zealots[1] was not yet broken; they were yet stubbornly to essay the fortune of arms in Trajan's time in the opening years of the first century, and again in the desperate attempt of Bar Kochba in the closing years of Hadrian's reign (132-135 A.D.). Burnt with the final shattering of their hopes of a material Messianic victory by the crushing defeat of their champion, even the most irreconcilable were forced to abandon the unequal struggle. 

One thing alone remained to save out of the general ruin in Palestine-----the treasure of the Law. This desolation, they were convinced, had come upon them because they had not rightly kept their covenant with Yahweh. To the keeping of this bond they would now devote all their remaining strength. The “Study “of the Law should be the means of their future deliverance. From this determination, into which they threw all the perseverance of their stubborn nature, there resulted a marvellous enthusiasm for collecting and preserving the traditions of their predecessors concerning the Law, and of still further developing an infinity of rules of conduct and laws of custom to meet all the diverse changes and chances of Jewish life. 

By the end of the second century what were at that time held to be the more authoritative early traditions emerged in a final definitely fixed form—the Mishna. 

[1] They were, so to speak, the national fanatics who appealed to the arbitrament of arms, to Yahweh as God of Battles, and by no means a “philosophical sect," as Josephus would have it, except in so far as religion and politics were one for them. See Bousset (W.), "Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter" (Berlin, 1903), pp.. 187, 188. 


This was the nucleus of our present Talmud, the skeleton, so to say, round which the industry of the next three centuries built up the study of the Law into its full development by completing the Mishna with the Gemara. 
And indeed it seems almost as though it required that something of this kind should have been done if the Jews were to be preserved to play the important part they have played, and doubtless have still to play, in Western history. For had it not been for the eager zeal for this Study displayed by the Palestinian Rabbis of the first two centuries of our era, it is very probable that the Jews would have been entirely absorbed in the nations. It was a period when in Babylonia the descendants of the Jews who had contentedly remained behind at the time of the Return (and they in those days constituted the majority of the nation), had almost entirely forgotten the Law and its traditions; from what we can make out of the dim historical indications, they seem to have been almost utterly ignorant of that for which they subsequently became so famous. In Egypt, again, where very large numbers of the Hebrews were permanently settled, Greek culture and Alexandrian mysticism had gradually weakened the old exclusiveness; philosophy arid cosmopolitanism had greatly sapped the strength of pure legalism and narrow materialism, and the crude objectivity of ancient legend and myth had long been allegorised into subtler forms more suited to immediate intellectual and spiritual needs. The same factors were doubtless at work elsewhere in the Diaspora or Dispersion of Israel, while even in Palestine itself the influence of the 


numerous communities and associations who looked to a more universal view of things had been so strengthened by the crushing disaster which had befallen the nation, that the forces of rigid conservatism were being weakened in every direction, and the ideas of an Israel of God to be formed out of the Righteous of the world, irrespective of race, seemed to threaten the very existence of Jewry as a nation apart. 

Indeed I am by no means certain that there was any widespread orthodoxy in Jewry prior to the days of Mishnaic Rabbinism; these Rabbis seem to me to have played for Judaism the same part that the Church Fathers played for “Nicene" Christianity; they established a canon and an orthodoxy. Prior to this there was an exceeding great liberty of belief; many even rejected the Temple-cultus, at any rate as far as the sacrifices were concerned; there was no general canon of scripture, saving the Pentateuch, and even this, as we shall see later on, was called into question by many; not only so, but even the Temple at Jerusalem was not then regarded as the only place where the national cultus could be practised, for in Egypt in the vicinity of the traditional land of Goshen, the Jews had a temple wherein they worshipped Yahweh for more than two hundred years (circa B.C. 160-A.D. 71).[1] 

As the Talmudic Rabbis created an orthodoxy by developing the Pharisaic traditions, so did their contemporaries, the Massoretic Textualists, stereotype the text of the Torah. At first the Greek translation of the Jews in Egypt had been regarded as equally inspired 

[1] Ginsburg (C. D.), “Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible “(London; 1897), pp. 404, 405. 


with the original on which it was based; but in Mishnaic days, after the rise of Christianity which adopted this translation as its scripture, the day on which the Septuagint translation was made was regarded by the Rabbis as a day of mourning. The Massorah tradition of the text differs widely from the Samaritan and from the original on which the version of the so-called Seventy was made from the third century B.C. onwards, as may be seen from Ginsburg's monumental work. From all sides, then, we have proof that what we call Judaism to-day was not necessarily what Judaism was in the first century before our era, or even in the first century of our era. 

Indeed it seems most highly probable that the strongest factor which helped to intensify Talmudic, that is to say “orthodoxising," activity was the rapid spread of general Christianity, on its emergence from an embryonic stage in which it was hidden in the womb of communities of a somewhat similar nature to those of the Therapeuts. More than ever was it necessary to put a fence round the Torah, that the Law should be preserved by Jews, as Jews, for Jews, when, by means of the ceaseless propaganda of Christianity of all shades, the Gentiles seemed to be robbing the Hebrews of their birthright—of their Law and their Prophets and their Holy Writ. The main claims of the Christians on behalf of their Founder, so argued the Rabbis, were based on mistranslation and misinterpretation of the sacred scriptures of their race. More than ever was it necessary to preserve these writings in their original tongue and purity, and to strengthen the tradition of the authoritative interpretation of their fathers. So 


thought the Rabbis, and unweariedly they laboured to make strong their special tradition and develop it. 

It is to this period that we owe the formulation of many vague, floating opinions and dim reminiscences into distinct and rigid formularies, and the selection out of many contradictory traditions of a view that should constitute “the tradition." Nay, sometimes the bitterness of controversy brought to birth “traditions“ which had had no previous existence. Just as the industry and high literary ability of the Sopherim, from the time of Ezra (about 440-400 B.C.[1]) to the days of the apocalyptic scribe or scribes of Daniel (about 164 B.C.), and even later, gradually evolved out of originally very scanty materials a grandiose tradition of pre-exilic greatness, priestly legalism, sonorous prophecy, and splendid hymnody,[2] so did the Rabbis of the first Talmudic period, 70-200 A.D., the Tanaim, legalise the tradition evolved by their immediate predecessors,— that all these gradually developed scriptures were not only written throughout by those archaic worthies whose names they bear, and immediately inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that Yahweh himself had given to Moses the five books of the Torah proper written by His own hand. It is on this fundamental presupposition that the whole of the Halachic development of the Talmud is based. These norms of conduct and laws of custom are founded on the Torah, expanded to include all three divisions of the “Books" or “Holy Books," 

[1] The traditional date of Ezra's “promulgation “of the Law is 444, but as late as 397 has been argued for. 

[2] For the latest remarks on the development of Scribism see Bousset, op. cit., pp. 139. “Die Theologen." 


Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa (or Holy Writings),[1] as upon infallible revelation from Deity Himself, extending to every word and letter.

In brief, the Rabbis would have it that the canon of the Old Covenant revelation ceased with Ezra, whereas modern scientific research has shown that in the highest probability it only began with that famous scribe. For the Rabbis of Palestine and Babylonia,[2] then, there was no prophet after Malachi; prophecy and direct inspiration had ceased with Ezra; from that time they would admit no addition to the Law, they acknowledged the authority of no subsequent prophet and of no subsequent scripture. It was for them a question only of the correct tradition of interpretation, and logical development of what had been once for all infallibly laid down. They were to vindicate the authority of the schoolmen and legalists against the claims of subsequent prophecy and apocalyptic of all kinds, and to do so they could find authority for their authority 'solely in the “Oral Law." 

An exceedingly interesting glimpse behind the scenes of scripture industry, before it was stereotyped by the enactments of Talmudic Rabbinism, is afforded by a study of “The Book of Jubilees," which was included in the Alexandrian canon. This interesting expansion of Genesis was written about 135-105 B.C.[3] We have therefore before us a document which by a slight 

[1] Torah, Nebiim, Ketubim. 

[2] The Jews of Alexandria had a far more extended canon. 

[3] See Charles (E. H.), "The Book of Jubilees or the Little Genesis" (London; 1902). The traditional Christian title Little Genesis is a misnomer, as Jubilees is far more voluminous than canonical Genesis; it should rather be called the “Detailed Genesis."


divergence of the wheel of fate might have been included in the Bible, for when we see such a book as Chronicles (a Haggadic tendency writing of the second century B.C., which wrote up Kings and Samuel in the interests of later priestly views) included in the canon, and observe that Jubilees treats the matter of Genesis and Exodus in precisely the same fashion, in the interests of a still later and more developed priestly view than that of the Chronicles' redactor in revising Kings and Samuel, we see the making of scripture in the workshop and the continuation of the industry by the fellowship of the same writing guild, attended by very great success, and only just failing to obtain a place in the Palestinian canon. 

The Jubilees' writer was thoroughly ashamed of many of the crudities of the Ezra redaction of Genesis and Exodus, and rewrote the whole matter to suit the views of his own day and circle; Jewish enthusiasm was on top of the wave in the palmy days of Maccabaean conquest, and the ambition of the priestly fanatics was boundless. The whole spirit of the writer is further characterised by a detestation of all non-Jews which fully justifies the strictures of the classical writers of the first century, and throws a flood of light on the nature of subsequent Zealotism, and the mania of exclusiveness that tickled the vanity of Israel and diabolised the gods of all other nations. Exceedingly interesting also is the document for students of later Talmudic developments, for it presents us with earlier (and that, too, written) forms of Haggada and Halacha which the Rabbis of Mishnaic times were compelled to modify. An acquaintance with the literature of this 


period also shows us how erroneous is the general Jewish persuasion of later days that the "Oral Tradition" had been handed down unchanged. Of great importance also are the readings of the Bible texts which often approximate more closely to those preserved in the Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch (e. 250-200 B.C.) than those of the far later Massorah of the fourth or fifth century. 

The Rabbis would have it finally that this Oral Law had always existed side by side with the Written Law ever since the days of Moses onwards. In the first chapter of the Mishna tractate "Aboth," or "Pirke Aboth," containing the "Sayings of the Fathers," we are given what purports to be an unbroken succession of individuals, from Moses to the destruction of Jerusalem, who are said to have been the depositories of this Oral Law. The succession runs as follows : Moses; Joshua; the Elders; the Prophets; the Men of the Great Assembly (from Ezra's time to about 200 B.C.); the famous “Five Pairs," as they were called, the last of which were Hillel (about 70 B.C. to 10 A.D.) and Shammai; and finally, Gamaliel and his son Simon. 

Such is the account given in the Mishna of the heredity of its tradition, and it is not surprising that if scientific research not only questions, but actually reverses, the judgment of the Mishnaic Rabbis with regard to the development of the Written Law, for it practically begins where they would have it cease, that modern scholars should hesitate to accept their account of the Oral Law without question. 

Even the most inattentive reader must be struck 


with the vague and fragmentary nature of the line of descent. Evidently little was known of the past; even the history of the great literary activity from the fourth to the second century B.C., which had practically given them their Written Torah in the form in which it lay before them, was utterly forgotten. The "Men of the Great Assembly," who are made so much of in the Talmud as the immediate depositories of the Oral Law from the Prophets, are nameless. The Rabbis evidently knew nothing of a historical nature concerning them; nay, of the succeeding period they can only produce the names of teachers to whom tradition ascribed certain sayings, but of whose life and labours we can glean but the scantiest information, while of their literary activity we hear not a word. 

Accordingly, the very existence of the “Men of the Great Assembly" has been questioned by modern research, and it has been conjectured with great probability, that the historical germ of the traditional idea is to be traced to the general assembly of the people who were called together to accept that Law which had been rewritten by Ezra after the Return (Neh. viii.-x.). “In course of time, instead of an assembly of people receiving the law, a college of individuals transmitting the law was conceived of, and this notion seems to fill up the gap between the latest prophets and those scribes to whom the memory of subsequent times still extended."[1] 

Whatever else is obscure it is clear that the Palestinian Rabbis of the Tanaite period, or first 

[1] Sehürer (E.), “A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ" (Eng. trans., London; 1893), Div. ii., vol. i. p. 355. 


Talmudic age, were busily engaged in establishing a rigid "orthodoxy" for Judaism, and making it strong against manifold "heresies."[1] The history of the past fine literary activity of the nation which had produced not only the great monuments of scripture we still possess in the Old Testament documents, but much else, was utterly forgotten. And if documents, some of which we now know were written as late as the Maccabaean period, could be ascribed with every confidence to a David or a Daniel, we are justified in assuming that the authority given for the Oral Tradition was, for the most part, of a similarly unhistoric nature. No doubt the heredity of the methods employed by the Tanaim could be traced with very great probability as far back as the earliest of the “Five Pairs," somewhere approaching the beginning of the second century B.C.; but the striking fact that the greatest industry could only discover the names of two teachers for each generation, seems to indicate either that no others were known, or that many names and tendencies had had to be eliminated in seeking the paternity of that special tendency which the Tanaim erected into the test of orthodox Jewry. As to the Oral Law being contemporaneous with Moses, we must place this fond belief in the same category with the still more startling claim of later Kabalism, that its Tradition was first delivered by God Himself to Adam in Paradise. 

Again, the fact that the appeal for authority was to 

[1] See Weinstein (N. J.), “Zur Genesis der Agada" (Gottingen; 1901), “Die Minim," pp. 91-156, and “Kampf des Patriarchats gegen das Eindringen polytheistischer Ideen in die Gelehrten-Kreise des palastinischen Judenthums," pp. 157-252. 


an oral and not to a written source, is at first sight strange when we remember that there were thousands of books in existence, some of them claiming the authority even of an Enoch or an Adam. Thus the writer of “IV. Esdras," which in every probability was composed under Domitian (85-96 A.D.), tells us (xiv. 18 ff.) “that Ezra prays to God to grant him his Holy Spirit that he may again write out the books . . . which had been burnt (with the temple, one understands). God bids him take to himself five companions, and in forty days and nights he dictates to them ninety-four books, of which seventy are esoteric writings, and the remaining twenty-four are the canon of the Old Testament."[l] It is moreover to be noticed that the numbers differ greatly in various forms of the text; thus we have eighty-four instead of ninety-four, but also 204, 904, and 974. But whatever may have been the number in the original text, this much we learn, that there existed at the end of the first century A.D. a very different view from that so strongly insisted on by the builders of the Talmud----namely, that there was a very extensive written tradition not only contemporaneous with the Torah, but of equal inspiration with it, nay, of so precious a nature that it was kept apart and guarded from public circulation. 

The adherents of this view, who, we know from the indications of the many mystic communications of the time and also of preceding centuries, were very numerous, seem, it is true, to have been as ignorant of the actual history of the development of the twenty-four 

[1] K. Budde's art., "The Canon," § 17, in the "Encyclopaedia Biblica." 


(or twenty-two) books of the Torah as were the Tanaim, and this is strange, seeing that it is in the greatest probability to their predecessors that we must assign the writing of the more spiritual elements into the Torah itself. It was these esotericists and their communities who were in intimate contact with that ever-widening and spiritualising tendency which we can trace in Essenism, Therapeutism, Philonism, Hermeticism, arid Gnosticism; and it is their writings which as strongly influenced the development of Christianity as did the twenty-four books of the Torah. 

Doubtless all of these schools and associations had oral as well as written traditions, but their main interest was vision and apocalyptic. They devoted themselves to the culture of prophecy and the practice of contemplation, and their whole energy was centred on the unfolding of those mysteries of the inner life which gave them a certainty of heavenly things. Whereas the chief concern of the Tanaim was the separation of the national life from contact with all “foreign" religious influences by the ever more and more stringent insistence upon that peculiar legalism which the others had found, or were finding, more and more irksome, or had entirely cast off for a more liberal spiritual interpretation, suited to the needs of those who were gathered round the cradle of the infant Proteus that was destined to develop eventually into a new world-faith. 

It seems somewhat a sign of weakness that in the midst of so much that was written conservatism had to rely entirely on an oral tradition for its authority. Be that, however, as it may, the lack of written authority 


for establishing the Mishnaic legalism as the orthodoxy of Israel seems gradually to have evolved a virtue out of necessity, and we find it repeatedly laid down in the Talmud that the tradition must on no account be written down hut solely committed to memory. Indeed later times would have it that not only was the Mishna never written down even when it had reached its final form about 200 A.D., but that the whole voluminous contents of the Talmud Completion, or Gemara, were never committed to writing until the time of the Saboraim[1] (500-650 A.D.), the schoolmen who followed the Amoraim or those who wove the Gemara on to the Mishna. 

But in spite of what we know of the prodigious memorising faculty of orientals,[2] and in spite of the fascinating stories told of the marvellous feats of memory of the Talmud scholars, while we might be tempted to accept the oral tradition of the far less voluminous and comparatively less complex Mishna text, the enormous mass and utterly confused and chaotic nature of the contents of the Gemara make it very difficult to believe that it was handed on solely by verbal repetition. Indeed, it seems far more probable that the Mishna was fully committed to writing at the time of its final redaction about 200-207 A.D.; for when we hear of its completion at this date, it is difficult to understand how an authoritative form of codification of such heterogenous material could have been arrived at by 

[1] See Strack (H. L.), “Einleitung in den Thalmud “(Leipzig; 1900, 3rd ed.), p. 55. 

[2] Even Western scholars have declared that the oral tradition, of a Vaidic text, for instance, is to he preferred to a written copy. 


the exercise of the memory alone; and if this be true of the Mishna, much more must it hold good for the far more voluminous matter of the Gemara. 

With regard to the Halachic contents of the Mishna, it may, of course, have been that the tradition of the precedents on which the lawyers based their decisions had been kept private as the hereditary possession of a special profession; but surely some brief written notes had existed, perhaps also private collections of notes been made, even prior not only to the time of an Akiba in the beginning of the second century, but even of a Gamaliel in the days of Paul.[1] 

Are we to believe that a Joshua ben Perachia and a Nithai, a Judah ben Tabbai and a Simon ben Shetach, a Shemaiah and an Abtalion, a Hillel and a Shammai, a Gamaliel and an Akiba, left nothing in writing? [2] They surely must have done so. And if this holds good with regard to the tradition of the most authoritative Halachoth, much more is it likely to have been the case with that huge mass of Haggadic legend and homily, and flotsam and jetsam of like nature, with which the Talmud is filled. Indeed, a scientific review of all the Talmud passages germane to the question, reveals a most confused state of mind on the subject, even among the many makers of that stupendous patchwork themselves. While on the one hand we find it most stringently forbidden to write down Halach- 

[1] At the final redaction of Rabbi Judah's Mishna there existed already a number of previous Mishnas (e.g., of R. Akiba, of E. Nathan, of A. Meir). It is said even that there are traces in the Talmud of Mishnas attributed to Hillel and other early Tanaiin. 

[2] See Block (J. S.), "Einblicke in die Geschichte der Ent. atehung der talmudischen Literatur “(Wien; 1884), pp. 2 ff. 


oth, we come across isolated references to older written Halachoth; and though the writing of Haggadoth as well is apparently included in the general prohibition, we meet with very precise references to Haggada books and even collections of such books.[1]

In fact, while the North-French Rabbis of the Middle Ages held that the Talmud was never committed to writing till after its final completion at the end of the fifth century A.D., the Spanish Rabbis maintained that the Mishna was written down by Rabbi Jehuda (136-217 A.D.), the Palestinian Gemara by Rabbi Jochanan (199-279),[2] and the Babylonian Gemara by Rab Aschi (375-427) and Rab Abina (head of the Sura School 473-499). This difference of opinion was probably owing to the fact that the French Rabbis had to depend almost entirely on their memories, owing to the burning of their MSS. by the Inquisition, while the Spanish Rabbis of an earlier date were still in enjoyment of their literary liberty. 

But whatever may have been the precise mode of the genesis, development and transmission of the text until it reached its full growth in the form which now lies before us, and however difficult it may be to sift out reliable historical data from the dim and confused indications of its contradictory assertions, the tractates of the Talmud remain like the mounds of some great buried city of the past to challenge the industry and ingenuity of the courageous explorer to ever fresh 

[1] See Block's "Einblicke," pp. viii, ix; and Strack's “Einleitung," § 2, “Das 'Verbot des Schreibens,'" pp. 49-55. 

[2] And this in face of the fact that many of the authorities cited in the Palestinian Gemara lived after R. Jochanan, some even a century later. 


exertions, in the hope of laying bare traces from which the outlines of some of the ancient buildings may be reconstructed. 

And to none can the Talmud be of greater interest than to the student of Christian origins. We will not go so far as to say with Reuchlin that the Talmud (or even the Mishna) is a book “written by Christ's nearest relations," but it is ungainsayable, as has so often been pointed out before, that every purely ethical precept in the Gospels can be paralleled in the Talmud by sayings ascribed to the ancient Rabbis of Israel. 

In the Talmud we have a strong stream of tradition which generation by generation, we might almost say year by year, runs parallel with the primitive streamlet which so rapidly widens out into the river, and finally into the flood of Christianity. Here, if anywhere, should we expect to find reliable information as to how what subsequently became the great religion of the West arose, who was its founder, what the matter and method of the teaching, and who were the earliest followers of the teacher. 

But before we discuss the passages which are said to refer to Jesus, we must give some rough idea of the history of the written Talmud, and show how these passages were gradually singled out to form the ground of bitterest controversy and persecution.

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