Tuesday, June 26, 2007

PETER SCHÄFER'S BOOK, JESUS IN THE TALMUD, is reviewed in the Jerusalem Post, by Gershom Gale, editor of The Jerusalem Post Christian edition. He doesn't like it.

In short, it seems he searched several digital editions of the Talmud for possible references to Jesus, and with the understandably meager results of such investigation (after all, Jews are strongly discouraged from naming or discussing a person convicted of a capital crime), constructed his central thesis - that the Talmud's few and enigmatic references to him represent "a highly ambitious and devastating counter-narrative," "a well-designed attack" by Babylonian rabbis who intended to mock the Gospels' accounts of Jesus's birth, life, death and resurrection, while defending his condemnation as a sorcerer who led Israel astray.

The book's nine short chapters cover what the author maintains is the Talmud's description of Jesus's birth and family, his failures as a student and disciple, his work as a Torah teacher, healings done in his name, his execution, his disciples, and his punishment in hell, where he is described as sitting in boiling excrement.

Whether the few scattered words and phrases involved (most referring not to "Jesus" or "Jesus of Nazareth" at all, but rather to one "ben Stada" or "ben Panthera") indeed represent the deliberate and "devastating counter-narrative" posited by Sch fer, I leave to the reader's judgment; however, it seems to me that Sch fer may actually have caught and dissected one or two academic flies, while ignoring at least two elephants in the lab - and all because of his stated fear of "relapsing into the bad habits of positivism."
For more on Jesus in the Talmud see here and follow the links.

UPDATE (27 June): The review is taken apart by Simon Holloway in his Davar Akher blog. (Via the Iyov blog.)