Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?

By G. R. S. Mead

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IT is in vain to seek for any historical element in the Talmud Mary stories, for they revolve entirely round the accusation of her unfaithfulness to her husband, and, therefore, in my opinion, owe their origin to, and cannot possibly be of earlier date than, the promulgation of the popular Christian dogma of the physical virginity of the mother of Jesus. 'When this miraculous dogma was first mooted is exceedingly difficult to decide. We believe, however, that even at the time of the compilation of the canonical Gospels Joseph was still held to he the natural father of Jesus; as we have seen above, and from this we deduce that even in the reign of Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) the dogma of the miraculous birth was not yet "catholicised."' 

But how far back can we push the first circulation of this startling belief? For instantly it was publicly mooted even by a restricted number of the faithful, it was bound not only to have attracted the widest notice among the Jews, but also to have called forth the most contemptuous retorts from those who not only hated the Pagan idea of heroes born of the congress of divine and mortal parents as a Heathen superstition and an idolatrous belief, but who were especially jealous of the 


legitimacy of their line of descent as preserved in the public records of their families. In this connection there is a passage in the Talmud which deserves our careful attention. It is interesting in other respects, but chiefly because it is found in the Mishna (iv. 3), and therefore puts entirely out of court the contention of those who assert that what is generally regarded as the oldest and most authoritative deposit of the Talmud contains no reference whatever to Jesus; and not only is it found in the Mishna, but it purports to base itself on a still older source, and that too a written one. This remarkable passage runs as follows: 

"Simeon ben Azzai has said: I found in Jerusalem a book of genealogies; therein was written: That so and so is a bastard son of a married woman."[1] 

This Simeon ben Azzai nourished somewhat earlier than Akiba, and may therefore be placed at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century. He was one of the famous four who, according to Talmudic tradition, "entered Paradise"; that is to say, he was one of the most famous mystics of Israel. He was a Chassid, most probably an Essene, and remained a celibate and rigid ascetic till the day of his death. We might, therefore, expect him to be specially fitted to give us some information as to Jesus, and yet what he is recorded to have said is the very opposite of our expectation.

Ben Azzai, we are to believe, declared that he had found a book of genealogies at Jerusalem—presumably then before the destruction of the city in 70 A.D. This book of genealogies can be taken to mean nothing else 

[1] "Jebamoth," 49a. 


than an official record; nevertheless we are told that it contained the proof of Jeschu's bastardy, for "so and so” is one of the well-known substitutes for Jesus and Jesus alone in the Talmud, as has been proved and admitted on either side. 
If we are right in ascribing the genesis of the Mamzer element of the Jesus stories to doctrinal controversy, we can only conclude that the categorical statement we are considering was originally either a deliberate invention, or the confident assertion in the heat of controversy of some imperfect memory that was only too eagerly believed to refer to Jesus. The Jewish apologist on the contrary can argue that this ancient tradition fully justified his forefathers of later generations for their belief in the bastardy of Jeschu as a historic fact authenticated by the records; while if he be an out-and-out rationalist he may even go so far as to claim that the "virgin birth "doctrine was invented in answer to this record, and that there has been no historicising of a mystic fact, as we have supposed, seeing that there are no mystic "facts," but only the baseless imaginings of unbalanced enthusiasm. 

This we cannot believe, and therefore conclude that the earliest Jewish Mary legends came to birth somewhere towards the close of the first century. 

It is exceedingly difficult to classify these Mamzer legends or to treat them in any satisfactory chronological fashion, but it is remarkable that in them there seem to be two deposits of tradition characterised by different names for Jeschu—Ben Stada and Ben Pandera, names which have given rise to the wildest philological speculation, but of which the current mean- 


ing was evidently simply "son of the harlot," whatever may have been their line of descent.[1] Ben Stada occurs exclusively in the Talmud, where it is the most frequent designation of Jeschu, though Ben Pandera is also found; Ben Pandera is found in the Toldoth Jeschu, and as we have seen in the Church Fathers, while Ben Stada is never met with in these sources. 

The Ben Stada stories are mostly characterised by anachronisms which are as startling as those of the Ben Perachiah date, but which are its exact antipodes. They are further generally characterised by either distinct references to Lud, or by the bringing in of the names of the most famous Rabbis of this famous school of Talmud study. I would suggest, therefore, that these legends might be conveniently called the Lud stories.

[1] See Krauss (S.), "Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen" (Berlin; 1902), p. 276, where full indications of the literature are appended. A probable speculation is that of Bleek in Nitzsch's article, "Ueber eine Reihe talmudischer und patristischer Täuschungen, welche sich an den missverstandenen Spottnamen Ben Pandera geknüpft," in "Theologische Studien und Kritiken" (Hamburg; 1840), pp. 115-120. Bleek supposes that Pandera is a caricature-name to mimic the Greek parqenoV (Parthenos), "Virgin." But there is also perhaps a connection with the Greek panqhr  (Panther), an animal that was regarded as the symbol of lasciviousness. Whether or not there may have been further some connection between this panther-idea and the Egyptian Pasht-cult, it is impossible to say. But Pasht or Bast, the "cat" or "panther" goddess, is supposed to have had rites resembling those of Aphrodite Pandemos, and the girls of her temple were therefore presumably prostitutes. The derivation of "bastard "is given as equivalent to the old French fils de bast, where bast means a "pack saddle." The "son of Bast" in Egypt would have been a like term of unequivocal meaning. Still we can hardly venture to connect these too bast’s, and so must leave the matter as a curious freak of coincidence. 


The Mishna School at Lud (Lydda) is said to have been founded by E. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, the teacher of E. Akiba,[1] and it was doubtless the great reputation of Akiba as the most implacable foe of Christianity which, in course of time, connected the name of Mary with stories of Akiba which originally were perfectly innocent of any reference to the mother of Jesus. Thus, in later times, we find tradition bringing Akiba and Miriam together in personal conversation, we find it still later giving her one of Akiba's contemporaries as a husband, and finally we meet with a curious legend in which Miriam is made the contemporary of a Rabbi of the fourth century! 

But to consider these fantastic developments of Talmudic tradition in greater detail. The following is the famous academical discussion on the refinements of bastardy, which in course of time supplied the Ben Pandera legend with some of its most striking details, as we still find them in various forms of the Toldoth Jeschu. 

"A shameless person is, according to E. Eliezer, a bastard; according to E. Joshua, a son of a woman in her separation; according to E. Akiba, a bastard and son of a woman in her separation. Once there sat elders at the gate when two boys passed by; one had his head covered, the other bare. Of him who had his head uncovered, E. Eliezer said, 'A bastard!' 

[1] But when we are told that the famous Jewish proselyte, Queen Helena of Adiabene, passed fourteen years in Palestine (46-60 A.D.) in close communion with the doctors of the Hillel school at Jerusalem and Lud, there was presumably a school at Lud even prior to the time of Ben Hyrcanus. 


R. Joshua said, 'A son of a woman in her separation !' R. Akiba said, 'A bastard and son of a woman in her separation !' They said to R. Akiba, 'How has thine heart impelled thee to the audacity of contradicting the words of thy colleagues?' He said to them, 'I am about to prove it.' Thereupon he went to the boy's mother, and found her sitting in the market and selling pulse. He said to her,' My daughter, if thou tellest me the thing which I ask thee, I will bring thee to eternal life.' She said to him, 'Swear it to me!' Thereupon E. Akiba took the oath with his lips, while he cancelled it in his heart. Then said he to her, 'Of what sort is this thy son?' She said to him, 'When I betook myself to the bridal chamber I was in my separation, and my husband stayed away from me. But my paranymph[1] came to me, and by him I have this son.' So the boy was discovered to be both a bastard and the son of a woman in her separation. Thereupon said they,' Great is R. Akiba, in that he has put to shame his teachers.' In the same hour they said, 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has revealed His secret to R. Akiba ben Joseph,'"[2] 

Eliezer, Joshua and Akiba were contemporaries, but Akiba was by far their junior; for Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was Akiba's teacher, while Joshua ben Chanania was a disciple of Jochanan ben Zakkai, who died about 70 A.D.; Akiba was put to death in 135 A.D. The setting of the story, therefore, places us somewhere about the end of the first century. 

We may pass over the strange ascription of an act 

[1] That is, the bridegroom's best man. 

[2] "Kallah,” 18b.


of heartless perjury to Akiba as the means whereby he extorted the confession from the boy's mother, and the far more curious addition at the end of the passage which blesses the God of Israel for revealing "His secret" after the use of such questionable means, with the remark that it would be interesting to know whether Talmud apologetics prefer to abandon the reputation of the Talmud or of its great authority Akiba in this instance, for here there is no third choice. 

What is most striking in the story is that neither the name of the boy nor that of his mother is given. Laible [l] supposes that the story originally contained the names of Jeschu and Miriam, but that the compiler of the Gemara struck them out, both because the mother is described as a pulse-seller, while elsewhere in the .Talmud she is called Miriam the women's hair-dresser, and also because of the startling anachronism of making Miriam and Akiba contemporaries. He holds that the story itself is of early origin, and was originally a Jesus story. 

To this we cannot agree, for if it had been originally intended, as a Jesus story its inventors could not possibly have been so foolish as to introduce Rabbis of the beginning of the second century among the dramatis persona;. This would have been really too inane even for the wildest controversialists at any date even remotely approaching the time when Jews and Jewish Christians were still in contact. 

The main intention of the story is evidently to enhance the reputation of R. Akiba, to display the 

[1] Laible-Streane, op. cit., p. 35. 


depth of his penetration and his fine appreciation of the subtlest shades of bastardy, a subject of great importance in Rabbinical law. It was then presumably a tradition of the Lud school, and at first had no connection whatever with the Jeschu stories. In course of time, when the Mamzer retort to the virgin-birth dogma was popularised in legend and folk-tale, the details of this other famous story of bastardy were added to the originally vague Mamzer legends of Jeschu, and to this source we may conjecture, with high probability, is to be traced the origin of the coarse details of Miriam's unfaithfulness to her husband as found in the various forms of the Toldoth Jeschu. The link was simply the word "bastard"; the rich gain to the legend material finally entirely outweighed the inconvenience of the wild anachronism. 

The story is introduced by the commission of a shocking act of disrespect on the part of one of the boys, for according to Rabbinical law and custom, a teacher was to be treated as worthier of greater honour than all others, even than one's parents. To go uncovered in the presence of a teacher was thus thought to be an act of utter shamelessness; in the West, of course, the very opposite would be the case. Disrespect to the Rabbis as shown in this and other ways is one of the main burdens of accusation brought against Jesus in the Toldoth Jeschu. 

We are, then, justified in supposing that any folktale or legend of infidelity or bastardy stood a good chance of being gradually worked into the Mamzer patchwork. And indeed we find that this was actually the case. The following story is a good instance of this method of conflation. 


"There is a tradition, Rabbi Meir used to say : Just as there are various kinds of taste as regards eating, so there are also various dispositions as regards women. There is a man into whose cup a fly falls and he casts it out, but all the same he does not drink it (the cup). Such was the manner of Paphos ben Jehudah, who used to lock the door upon his wife and go out. And there is another who, when a fly falls into his tumbler, throws it out and drinks it, and this is the way of men generally. When she is speaking with her brothers and relatives, he does not hinder her. But there is also the man, who, when a fly falls into a dish, sucks it (the fly) out and eats it (the dish). This is the manner of a bad man, who sees his wife going out bareheaded and spinning in the street and wearing clothes slit up on both sides and bathing together with men." [1] 

R. Meir was a pupil of Akiba and Paphos (or Pappos) ben Jehudah was Akiba's contemporary. It is not necessary to enter into a consideration of the details of Rabbinic metaphor with regard to the "various dispositions." All we learn from this passage directly with regard to Paphos ben Jehudah is that he locked up his wife; we are, however, led to conclude, indirectly, that she ultimately proved unfaithful to her tyrannical spouse. What, then, more simple than for a storyteller to connect this with the details of unfaithfulness found in his Jeschu repertoire. The erring wife was just like Miriam; before long she actually became Miriam, and finally Paphos ben Jehudah was confidently given as Miriam's husband ! So they had it in later times, had it, we may suppose, at Lud, that most uncritical of legend 

[1] "Gittin," 90a. 


factories, and finally we find even so great a commentator as Rashi (b. 1105 A.D.) endorsing with all confidence this hopeless anachronism, when he says: "Paphos ben Jehudah was the husband of Miriam, the women's hairdresser. Whenever he went out of the house into the street, he locked the door upon her, that no one might be able to speak to her. And that is a course which became him not; for on this account there arose enmity between them, and she in wantonness broke her faith with her husband." 

But even eight or nine centuries before Rashi's time the Babylonian Rabbis had found the Ben Stada Lud developments a highly inconvenient overgrowth of the earlier Ben Perachiah date, as we shall see later on, and it is strange to find Rashi so ignorant of what they hid to say on the subject. 

Startling, however, as is the anachronism which we have been discussing, it is but a mild surprise compared with the colossal absurdity of the following legend, if we interpret it in the traditional fashion. 

"When Rab Joseph came to this verse (Prov. xiii. 23), 'But there is that is destroyed without judgment,' he wept. He said: Is there really someone who is going (away), when it is not his time? Certainly (for) so has it happened with Rab Bibi bar Abbai; the angel of death was found with him. The former said to his attendant, Go, bring me Miriam the women's hairdresser. He went and brought him Miriam the children's teacher. The angel of death said to him, I said Miriam the women's hair-dresser. The messenger said to him, Then I will bring her [the other] back. The angel of death said to him, Since thou 


hast brought her, let her be reckoned (among the dead)." 

Rab Joseph bar Chia was born at Still, in Babylonia 259 AD; he was head of the famous Babylonian Rabbinical School at Pumbeditha. The only R. Bibi we know of flourished in the fourth century, and that this Bibi was believed to have been the seer of the death-bed vision is quite evidemt from the following note of the Tosaphoth on the passage: 

"'The angel of death was found with him, who related what had happened to him long ago, for this story as to Miriam the women's hair-dresser took place in the time of the second temple, for she was mother of that so and so [i.e., Jeschu], as is related in (treatise) Shabbath [104b]." 

It is by no means clear what the writer of the Tosaphoth meant precisely by " the time of the second temple” He probably, however, meant the time before the new and splendid edifice of Herod replaced the second temple proper, the meagre building that had become gradually overlooked by the gorgeous Greek palaces of the nobles of Herod's days. 

It must be remarked, however, that this explanation does great violence to the wording of the story as it is found in the Gemara. Can it be then that some other Bibi was originally referred to, and that the story was subsequently transferred by posterity to his far later but more famous namesake? 

That the simple words "bastard" and "adulteress”were strong enough indications of suitability for the match-makers of legend to unite in marriage stories 

[1] "Chagiga," 4b. 


otherwise the strongest incompatibility of age and date, we have already seen; that the very common name of Miriam should further expand this family circle of cross-breeds is therefore quite to be expected.

And this will doubtless be held by most sufficiently to account for the transference to the address of Miriam the mother of Jeschu of the following two legends, but closer inspection warns us not too lightly to accept this explanation. In one of the tractates of the Palestinian Talmud we are given the story of a certain devout person who was privileged to see a vision of some of the punishments in hell. Among other sights. 

"He saw also Miriam, the daughter of Eli Betzalim, suspended, as B. Lazar ben Jose says, by the paps of her breasts. E. Jose ben Chanina says: The hinge of hell's gate was fastened in her ear. He said to them [? the angels of punishment], Why is this done to her? The answer was, Because she fasted and published the fact. Others said, Because she fasted one day, and counted two days (of feasting) as a set-off'. He asked them, How long shall she be so? They answered him, Until Simeon ben Shetach comes; then we shall take it out of her ear and put it into his ear."[l] 

As R. Jose ben Chanina was a contemporary of R. Akiba, E. Lazar ben Jose was presumably a Rabbi of an earlier date, but I can discover nothing about him. The main point of interest for us is the sentence, "until Simeon ben Shetach comes." This can only mean that at the time of the vision Simeon ben Shetach was not yet dead, and therefore this Miriam was at latest 

[1] "Pal. Chagiga," 77d.


contemporary with him and therefore can very well be placed in the days of his older contemporary Joshua ben Perachiah. As to Eli Betzalim,[1] I can discover nothing about him. It is true that a certain Eli is given as the father of Joseph in the genealogy incorporated into the third Gospel, a genealogy which would be quite useless if at the time of its compilation Jesus had not been regarded as the natural son of Joseph, but in the very different genealogy prefixed to the first Gospel, and also purporting to give the descent of Joseph, a certain Jacob takes the place of Eli and the name Eli is not found. But even had the two genealogies agreed, we should not have been helped at all, for they are given as the genealogies of Joseph and not of Mary. 
It would also be of interest to know in what Simeon ben Shetach had offended, for he is otherwise known as the Rabbinic president of the golden age of Pharisaean prestige in the days of Queen Salome, as we have seen above. In any case the story is an ancient one, for already in the days of Rabbi Lazar and Rabbi Jose there were variants of it.

The phrase "hinge of hell's gate" is curious, and argues an Egyptian (or perhaps Chaldaean) setting; it may be compared with the "pivot of the gate of Amenti" of the Khamuas folk-tales, where they relate the punishment of "Dives in Hades." "It was commanded that he should be requited in Amenti, and he is that 

[1] Krauss ("Leben Jesu," p. 224) translates "Eli Betzalim" by "Zwiebelblatt" (Onion-leaf) and (p. 225) refers to this Miriam as M. Zwiebelblatt, but does not venture on any explanation. The onion, however, was a symbol of lasciviousness, and may, therefore, perhaps be taken as a synonym of harlot. 


man whom thou didst see, in whose right eye the pivot (?) of the gate of Amenti was fixed, shutting and opening upon it, arid whose mouth was open in great lamentation."[1] 

Finally, in these Talmud Mary-legends we come to the thrice-repeated Miriam daughter of Bilga story, which runs as follows: 

"Bilga always receives his part on the south side on account of Mirian, daughter of Bilga, who turned apostate and went to marry a soldier belonging to the government of Javan,[2] and went and beat upon the roof of the altar. She said to him : 'Wolf, wolf, thou hast destroyed the property of the Israelites and didst not help them in the hour of their distress!'"[3] 

This Miriam of Bilga can hardly be supposed to mean the actual daughter of Bilga of I. Chron. xxiv. 14, the head of one of the priestly courses of the house of Aaron. It must mean simply that Miriam was the daughter of one of the priests of the Bilga course or line of descent, for in the days of Bilga himself we 

[1]Griffith (F. Ll.), "Stories of the High Priests of Memphis" (Oxford; 1900), p. 49. See also "The Gospels and the Gospel" (London; 1902), pp. 175-180, where I have pointed out the importance of this episode in the new-found demotic papyrus as a probable source of the Dives and Lazarus story. Was Lazar the name of the seer in. some Jewish variant of these popular Egyptian folk-tales? And has some alchemy of name-transmutation brought to birth the name Lazarus of the Dives story of the third Gospel writer? The speculation is a wild one, but not wilder than the transformations of legends with which folk-lorists are on all hands well acquainted. 

[2] That is, Greece (Ionia).

[3] "Pal. Sukka," 55d, also in substantially identical words, "Bab. Sukka," 56b, and in "Tosephta Sukka," iv. 28. 


know of no attack on Jerusalem by the Greeks, as the story evidently suggests. 
In this case, however, it does not seem to be the Talmud or the Jews themselves who connect this story with Miriam, mother of Jeschu, but Dalman,[1] who leaves us to suppose that it is one of the censured passages of the Talmud. What ground, however, Dalman has for bringing this story into relation with the Mary-legends I cannot discover; he seems to depend on Laible,[2] who refers to Origen quoting Celsus as making his Jew declare that "Mary gave birth to Jesus by a certain soldier, Panthera." 

If, because of this, we are to take the above as a Mary story, it should be noticed that the "soldier "is of the" house of Greece," and therefore the date of the incident must be placed prior to the first Roman occupation of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 B.C.; so that in it, in any case, we find a confirmation of the Ben Perachiah date.

This brings us to the end of our Mary stories; our next chapter will deal with the remaining Talmud Ben Stada Jesus stories. 

[1] Dalman-Streane, op. cit., p. 20n. 

[2] Ibid., p. 19.

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