The People vs. Moses
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Different Jesus
Tue, 04/20/2010

Your JInsider column of March 19 on regrettable moments cites a Talmudic vignette on “rejection of Jesus.” In such a potentially controversial take on this Midrash, the source in Masechet Sotah 47a should have been cited. Further, the variant readings in different Talmudic manuscripts should have been cited.

In the only manuscript that identifies the student as Yeshu haNotzri, better translated as the watcher or guard, but occasionally translated as the Nazarene, the citation is unlikely to have been the historical Jesus, nor is it likely that any traditional Jewish source would have read this back as the Jesus of Christianity. Any reasonable chronology suggests that this Yeshu lived about a century before the historical Jesus, since the rest of the text of this Midrash makes it clear that the incident occurred during the period of King Alexander Jannaeus.

The lesson that the teacher, Rabbi Joshua ben Perahiah, should have been more compassionate with a penitent is valid, and it might well have prevented the alienation of his student from Judaism; this is an important lesson that all should take to heart. However, any association of this as a response to Christianity appears unwarranted.

Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

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