Evidence of Innocence Sought in Vain

This is one of the (few early) passages that Goldstein judges to be a possibly authentic reference to Jesus. He identifies two difficulties: the details do not fit well with the gospel accounts, and Yeshu / Yeshua / Yeshoshua (all forms of the same name) was an extremely common name. In its favor, the fact that this Yeshu is executed around Passover, as was Jesus, makes it less likely that it intends some other Yeshu/a. Differences in detail probably simply reflect a tradition widely divergent from the Christian gospels. There is, as with many of these stories, the strong possibility that stories about other Yeshu/as or accused magicians have mingled with authentic Jesus traditions to create a new story. The story is hard to date with any confidence, but it cannot be later than about 220, CE (Goldstein:29). The italicized section is Amoraic, 4th c. at the earliest. [AH]

Baraitha Bab. Sanhedrin 43a
The translation is informed by both Goldstein:22,109ff and Mead:178f,210f.

There is a tradition (in a Barraitha): They hanged Yeshu on the Sabbath of the Passover[1]. But for forty days before that a herald went in front of him (crying), "Yeshu is to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and lead them away from God[2]. Anyone who can provide evidence on his behalf should come forward to defend him." When, however, nothing favorable about him was found, he was hanged on the Sabbath of the Passover[1].
Ulla[3] commented: "Do you think that he belongs among those for whom redeeming evidence is sought? Rather, he was a seducer [of whom] the All-merciful has said: 'Show them no pity... and do not shield them.' (Deut 13.8b NRSV)[4] In Yeshu's case, however, an exception was made because he was close to those who held [political/religious] authority."

Jesus' Students/Disciples


This is in the same larger context. Who, exactly, these disciples are is not clear. Mattai is likely to be Matthew. For the others scholarship has resorted to what is, at best, educated speculation. The fact that there are five rather than twelve suggests that we look elsewhere than Christian tradition to solve the problem. It may not be coincidence that both Yohanan b. Zakkai and Akiba each have five students (Goldstein:32). The italicized section is Amoraic, and, incidentally, contains several bad etymologies (Mattai/mathai, Nakki/naki, bunnibeni). [AH]

There is a tradition (in a Barraitha): Yeshu had five students[4]: Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah.

When Mattai was brought to trial, he said to the judges, "Should Mattai be executed? But scripture says, 'When [mathai] shall I come and behold the face of God?'" (Ps 42.2b RSV) They replied, "Yes, Mattai should be executed, for scripture says, 'When will he die, and his name perish?'" (Ps 41.5b RSV)
When Nakkai was brought, he said to them, "Should Nakkai be executed? But scripture says, 'Do not slay the innocent[naki] and righteous.'" (Ex 23.7b RSV) They replied, "Yes, Nakkai should be executed, for scripture says, 'in hiding places he murders the innocent.'" (Ps 10.8b RSV)
When Netzer was brought, he said to them, "Should Netzer be executed? But scripture says, 'a branch[netzer] shall grow out of his roots.'" (Is 11.1b RSV) They replied, "Yes, Netzer should be executed, for scripture says, 'you are cast out, away from your sepulchre, like a loathed branch.'" (Is 14.19a RSV)
When Bunni was brought, he said to them, "Should Bunni be executed? But scripture says, 'Israel is my firstborn son[beni].'" (Ex 4.22b RSV) They replied, "Yes, Bunni should be executed, for scripture says, 'behold, I will slay your firstborn son[benkha].'" (Ex 4.23b RSV)
When Todah was brought, he said to them, "Should Todah be executed? But scripture says, 'A psalm for Thanksgiving [todah].'" (Ps 100.heading RSV) They replied, "Yes, Todah should be executed, for scripture says, 'He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me.'" (Ps 50.23a RSV)


[1] 'Sabbath of the Passover'. alt: 'on the eve of the Passover.' One ms. reads "on the Sabbath on the eve of Passover.'

[2] See the same charge in Sanhedrin 107b and Sota 47a.

[3] Ulla. Late 3rd / early 4th c. CE (Goldstein:109).

[4] Deuteronomy 13.6-9 command that those who lead Israel to worship other gods are to be executed:

If anyone secretly entices you... saying, "Let us worship other gods",... you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. [NRSV].

[5] 'Students': or 'disciples'. Heb: talmidim. See the discussion in the introduction above..


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