A. Tacitus (A.D. 54-119)
We possess at least the testimony of Tacitus
(A.D. 54-119) for the statements that the Founder of the Christian
religion, a deadly superstition in the eyes of the Romans, had been put to
death by the procurator Pontius Pilate under the reign of Tiberius; that
His religion, though suppressed for a time, broke forth again not only
throughout Judea where it had originated, but even in Rome, the conflux of
all the streams of wickness and shamelessness; furthermore, that Nero had
diverted from himself the suspicion of the burning of Rome by charging the
Christians with the crime; that these latter were not guilty of arson,
though they deserved their fate on account of their universal misanthropy.
Tacitus, moreover, describes some of the horrible torments to which Nero
subjected the Christians (Ann., XV, xliv). The Roman writer confounds the
Christians with the Jews, considering them as a especially abject Jewish
sect; how little he investigated the historical truth of even the Jewish
records may be inferred from the credulity with which he accepted the
absurd legends and calumnies about the origin of he Hebrew people (Hist.,
V, iii, iv).
Another Roman writer who shows his
acquaintance with Christ and the Christians is Suetonius (A.D. 75-160). It
has been noted that Suetonius considered Christ (Chrestus) as a Roman
insurgent who stirred up seditions under the reign of Claudius (A.D.
41-54): "Judaeos, impulsore Chresto, assidue tumultuantes (Claudius) Roma
expulit" (Clau., xxv). In his life of Nero he regards that emperor as a
public benefactor on account of his severe treatment of the Christians: "Multa
sub eo et animadversa severe, et coercita, nec minus instituta . . . .
afflicti Christiani, genus hominum superstitious novae et maleficae"
(Nero, xvi). The Roman writer does not understand that the Jewish troubles
arose from the Jewish antagonism to the Messianic character of Jesus
Christ and to the rights of the Christian Church.
Pliny the Younger
Of greater importance is the letter of Pliny
the Younger to the Emperor Trajan (about A.D. 61-115), in which the
Governor of Bithynia consults his imperial majesty as to how to deal with
the Christians living within his jurisdiction. On the one hand, their
lives were confessedly innocent; no crime could be proved against them
excepting their Christian belief, which appeared to the Roman as an
extravagant and perverse superstition. On the other hand, the Christians
could not be shaken in their allegiance to Christ, Whom they celebrated as
their God in their early morning meetings (Ep., X, 97, 98). Christianity
here appears no longer as a religion of criminals, as it does in the texts
of Tacitus and Suetonius; Pliny acknowledges the high moral principles of
the Christians, admires their constancy in the Faith (pervicacia et
inflexibilis obstinatio), which he appears to trace back to their worship
of Christ (carmenque Christo, quasi Deo, dicere).
Non-Christian witnesses are of less importance: In the second century
Lucian sneered at Christ and the Christians, as he scoffed at the
Non-Christian gods. He alludes to Christ's death on the Cross, to His
miracles, to the mutual love prevailing among the Christians ("Philopseudes",
nn. 13, 16; "De Morte Pereg"). There are also alleged allusions to Christ
in Numenius (Origen, "Contra Cels", IV, 51), to His parables in Galerius,
to the earthquake at the Crucifixion in Phlegon ( Origen, "Contra Cels.",
II, 14). Before the end of the second century, the logos alethes of Celsus,
as quoted by Origen (Contra Cels., passim), testifies that at that time
the facts related in the Gospels were generally accepted as historically
true. However scanty the Non-Christian sources of the life of Christ may
be, they bear at least testimony to His existence, to His miracles, His
parables, His claim to Divine worship, His death on the Cross, and to the
more striking characteristics of His religion.
Philo, who dies after A.D. 40, is mainly
important for the light he throws on certain modes of thought and
phraseology found again in some of the Apostles. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl.,
II, iv) indeed preserves a legend that Philo had met St. Peter in Rome
during his mission to the Emperor Caius; moreover, that in his work on the
contemplative life he describes the life of the Christian Church in
Alexandria founded by St. Mark, rather than that of the Essenes and
The earlist non-Christian writer who refers
Christ is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus; born A.D. 37, he was a
contemporary of the Apostles, and died in Rome A.D. 94. Two passages in
his "Antiquities" which confirm two facts of the inspired Christian
records are not disputed. In the one he reports the murder of "John called
Baptist" by Herod (Ant., XVIII, v, 2), describing also John's character
and work; in the other (Ant., XX, ix, 1) he disappoves of the sentence
pronounced by the high priest Ananus against "James, brother of Jesus Who
was called Christ." It is antecedently probable that a writer so well
informed as Josephus, must have been well acquainted too with the doctrine
and the history of Jesus Christ. Seeing, also, that he records events of
minor importance in the history of the Jews, it would be surprising if he
were to keep silence about Jesus Christ. Consideration for the priests and
Pharisees did not prevent him from mentioning the judicial murders of John
the Baptist and the Apostle James; his endeavour to find the fulfilment of
the Messianic prophecies in Vespasian did not induce him to pass in
silence over several Jewish sects, though their tenets appear to be
inconsistent with the Vespasian claims. One naturally expects, therefore,
a notice about Jesus Christ in Josephus. Antiquities XVIII, iii, 3, seems
to satisfy this expectation:
About this time appeared Jesus, a wise man (if
indeed it is right to call Him man; for He was a worker of astonishing
deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with joy), and He drew
to Himself many Jews (many also of Greeks. This was the Christ.) And when
Pilate, at the denunciation of those that are foremost among us, had
condemned Him to the cross, those who had first loved Him did not abandon
Him (for He appeared to them alive again on the third day, the holy
prophets having foretold this and countless other marvels about Him.) The
tribe of Christians named after Him did not cease to this day.
Possible Jewish References to Jesus that have been edited for political
Simeon b. Azzai finds a Geneology
This brief passage is the only presumed reference
to Jesus in the Mishna. That it refers to Jesus depends on the
supposition that peloni, 'so and so,' is a veiled reference to Jesus.
There is reasonable evidence that in later Talmudic literature this is
often, perhaps exclusively, the case. It is problematic in this case,
though. In the later literature the Rabbinic authors may have had good
reason to be careful about overt negative references to Jesus, but no
such constraint hindered the compilers of the Mishna. There is, of
course, the possibility that the text was originally explicit, and that
peloni was substituted for yeshu when it became politically expedient.
It seems more likely however that the referent was someone with more
political clout on whom the Rabbis take a subtle delight in finding
'dirt'. See Goldstein for a fuller discussion.
B. Yebamoth 49a, M. Yebamoth 4.13
Translation, quoted from Meade.
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.
Yeshu and Joshua b. Perachiah
This story cannot be directly connected with any
of the traditional events in the life of Jesus, and it is set about 100
years before Jesus presumably lived. Yeshu/Yeshua is not an uncommon
name, and it may be that we simply have a story about a Jewish 'bad boy'
whose name happens to be the same as Jesus'. But as the last sentence
(only in the Sanhedrin version) demonstrates, whatever the original
intent of the story, it came to be connected with the Yeshu/Jesus
traditions in the early medieval period. Even the historical setting --
the reign of Jannai (Alexander Jannaeus, reigned 103-76 BC) -- seems to
have stuck, and is clearly embedded in the Toledoth traditions.
Sanhedrin 107b || Sota 47a (except for the last
This is mostly a somewhat modernized version of
A.M. Streane's translation, quoted in Meade. My modernization has been
informed by Goldstein's translation of the same text
The Rabbis taught: The left should always be used
to push away, and the right, on the other hand to draw nearer. But one
should not do it as Elisha who pushed Gehazi away, nor as R. Joshua ben
Perachiah, who pushed away Yeshu with both hands. What was the problem
with R. Joshua ben Perachiah? When King Jannai ordered the extermination
of the Rabbis, R. Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu fled to Alexandria.
When it was safe to return, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach sent him a letter:
From me, Jerusalem the holy city, to the
Alexandria in Egypt, my sister. My spouse tarries in your midst, and I
Joshua set off at once. During the trip they
happened upon an inn in which they treated him with great respect.
Joshua commented, "How fair is this inn." Yeshu replied, "But Rabbi,
she has unattractive eyes." Joshua replied, "You godless person,
do you fill your mind with such things?" Then he had 400 trumpets
sounded and anathematized him. Yeshu often came and said to him,
"Receive me back." Joshua paid no attention. One day, while Joshua was
reciting the Shema, Yeshu came to him, hoping for a reprieve. Joshua
made a sign to him with his hand.  Yeshu misunderstood, thinking he
had been repulsed, so he went away set up a brick and worshipped it.
Joshua said to him, "Repent!" Yeshu replied, "I learned this from you:
'Anyone who sins and causes the people to sin, is not allowed the
possibility of repentance.'"
 akhsanya can mean
either 'inn' or 'hostess'. Joshua intends one meaning, Yeshu hears
another. On the subject of word plays, it may not be accidental in
this story that 'Yeshu' is a dimmunitive form of 'Joshua'.
 Or perhaps "she is
 Presumably the
hand sign meant that Yeshu should wait until Joshua had finished the
[The Teacher said: "Yeshu practiced sorcery and
corrupted and misled Israel."]
This is a derogatory version of the life of Jesus,
growing out of the response of the Jewish community to Christianity. The
version presented here is most commonly dated to approximately the 6th
century CE. There is no scholarly concensus on to what extent the text
might be a direct parody of a now lost gospel. H.J. Schonfield argued
that it was so closely connected to the Gospel of the Hebrews that he
attempted to reconstruct that lost work from the Toledoth.
Text from Goldstein, Jesus in the Jewish Tradition,
pp. 148-154. Most of the notes are mine, but they are clearly marked
([G] = Goldstein, [AH] = me)
 About 90, BC. [G]
 Some traditions
say 'Egypt'. [AH]
 Sexual impurity
(incest, adultery, prostitution, etc.). [AH]
 In one version of
this admission, she confesses that not only is Yeshu the product of an
illicit union, but she was ritually unclean from mensturation at the
time as well (Sexual contact even with a woman's husband is not lawful
during, or, in Rabbinic law, for some time after, mensturation). [AH]
 Salome Alexandra.
 Some traditions
say 'Egypt'. [G]
 In a variation on
the story, Judah is able to out-miracle Yeshu in the sign contest
without defiling him. Yeshu is discredited and arrested, and, as in
this story, his followers are able to break him free, but he still
remembers the Ineffable Name. He escapes to Egypt in hopes of learning
Egyptian magic as well (regarded as the best magic in the world).
Judah comes to Egypt and infiltrates the disciples, posing as one
himself. It is from this vantage point that he is able to cause Yeshu
to forget the magical Name, resulting in the latter's desire to return
to Jerusalem and relearn it. Judah sends warning to the Sages, along
with his plan to arrest him. [AH]
 Aramaic: Ga'isa.
 Or cabbage stalk.
In the year 3671 in the days of King Jannaeus,
a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain
disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera.
He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah.
Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and
chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the
royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing.
At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera,
attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully
upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by
pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she
was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her
Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam
expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was
thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the
terrible mistake on the part of Miriam. Whereupon Yohanan went to
Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah and related to him the tragic seduction.
Lacking witnesses required for the punishment of Joseph Pandera, and
Miriam being with child, Yohanan left for Babylonia.
Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua,
after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu. On the
eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was
taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish
One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with
his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the
discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate
that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah.
Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the
Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law
and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest
of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to
further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered
through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of
Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. After this became known, it was
necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee.
After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene ruled
over all Israel. In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on
which were engraven the letters of God's Ineffable Name. Whoever
learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do
whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one
should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron
pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone
enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and
immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten.
Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name;
he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his
thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the
lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house
he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the
writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters.
He gathered about himself three hundred and ten
young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of
being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu
proclaimed, "I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and
said, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call
his name Immanuel.'" He quoted other messianic texts, insisting,
"David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: 'The Lord said to me,
thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.'"
The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was
the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore,
brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the
man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed.
Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest.
When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem,
the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu. They sent
messengers, Annanui and Ahaziah, who, pretending to be his disciples,
said that they brought him an invitation from the leaders of Jerusalem
to visit them. Yeshu consented on condition the members of the
Sanhedrin receive him as a lord. He started out toward Jerusalem and,
arriving at Knob, acquired an ass on which he rode into Jerusalem, as
a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah.
The Sages bound him and led him before Queen
Helene, with the accusation: "This man is a sorcerer and entices
everyone." Yeshu replied, "The prophets long ago prophesied my coming:
'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,' and I am
he; but as for them, Scripture says 'Blessed is the man that walketh
not in the counsel of the ungodly.'"
Queen Helene asked the Sages: "What he says, is
it in your Torah?" They replied: "It is in our Torah, but it is not
applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: 'And that prophet which
shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded
him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that
prophet shall die.' He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of
Yeshu spoke up: "Madam, I am the Messiah and I
revive the dead." A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the
letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen
was greatly moved and said: "This is a true sign." She reprimanded the
Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu's dissident
followers increased and there was controversy in Israel.
Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came
before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was
leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to
The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming
himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a
struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: "Wage no
battle." He would prove himself by the power which came to him from
his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of
clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a
millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it
floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the
behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to
the Queen. She trembled with astonishment.
Then the Sages selected a man named Judah
Iskarioto and brought him to the Sanctuary where he learned the
letters of the Ineffable Name as Yeshu had done
When Yeshu was summoned before the queen, this
time there were present also the Sages and Judah Iskarioto. Yeshu
said: "It is spoken of me, 'I will ascend into heaven.'" He lifted his
arms like the wings of an eagle and he flew between heaven and earth,
to the amazement of everyone.
The elders asked Iskarioto to do likewise. He
did, and flew toward heaven. Iskarioto attempted to force Yeshu down
to earth but neither one of the two could prevail against the other
for both had the use of the Ineffable Name. However, Iskarioto defiled
Yeshu, so that they both lost their power and fell down to the earth,
and in their condition of defilement the letters of the Ineffable Name
escaped from them. Because of this deed of Judah they weep on the eve
of the birth of Yeshu.
Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a
garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do
nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name.
Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of
Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they
gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns.
There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained
followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with
Yeshu to the region of Antioch; there Yeshu remained until the eve
of the Passover.
 Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to
acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a
Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his
disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down
before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten
followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto apprised the Sages that
Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a
vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he
would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was
seized. Asked his name, he replied to the question by several times
giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse
quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages.
Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the
eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on
a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced
by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to
pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant
more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon
prayer, for it is written in Scripture, "His body shall not remain all
night upon the tree." They buried him outside the city.
On the first day of the week his bold followers
came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly
the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to
heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found
in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from
the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the
sand over which the waters flowed into the garden.
Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe
penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of
three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden
saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the
ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in
order that Yeshu's followers should not steal the body and then claim
that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it
to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the
words, "This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven."
Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and
led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.
The disciples went out among the nations--three
went to the mountains of Ararat, three to Armenia, three to Rome and
three to the kingdoms buy the sea, They deluded the people, but
ultimately they were slain.
The erring followers amongst Israel said: "You
have slain the Messiah of the Lord." The Israelites answered: "You
have believed in a false prophet." There was endless strife and
discord for thirty years.
The Sages desired to separate from Israel those
who continued to claim Yeshu as the Messiah, and they called upon a
greatly learned man, Simeon Kepha, for help. Simeon went to Antioch,
main city of the Nazarenes and proclaimed toe them: "I am the disciple
of Yeshu. He has sent me to show you the way. I will give you a sign
as Yeshu has done."
Simeon, having gained the secret of the Ineffable
Name, healed a leper and a lame man by means of it and thus found
acceptance as a true disciple. He told them that Yeshu was in heaven,
at the right hand of his Father, in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1. He
added that Yeshu desired that they separate themselves from the Jews
and no longer follow their practices, as Isaiah had said, "Your new
moons and your feasts my soul abhorreth." They were now to observe the
first day of the week instead of the seventh, the Resurrection instead
of the Passover, the Ascension into Heaven instead of the Feast of
Weeks, the finding of the Cross instead of the New Year, the Feast of
the Circumcision instead of the Day of Atonement, the New Year instead
of Chanukah; they were to be indifferent with regard to circumcision
and the dietary laws. Also they were to follow the teaching of turning
the right if smitten on the left and the meek acceptance of suffering.
All these new ordinances which Simeon Kepha (or Paul, as he was known
to the Nazarenes) taught them were really meant to separate these
Nazarenes from the people of Israel and to bring the internal strife
to an end.
Other Jewish writings
character of Jesus Christ is also attested by the hostile Jewish
literature of the subsequent centuries. His birth is ascribed to an
illicit ("Acta Pilati" in Thilo, "Codex apocryph. N.T., I, 526; cf.
Justin, "Apol.", I, 35), or even an adulterous, union of His parents
(Origen, "Contra Cels.," I, 28, 32). The father's name is Panthera, a
common soldier (Gemara "Sanhedrin", viii; "Schabbath", xii, cf.
Eisenmenger, "Entdecktes Judenthum", I, 109; Schottgen, "Horae Hebraicae",
II, 696; Buxtorf, "Lex. Chald.", Basle, 1639, 1459, Huldreich, "Sepher
toledhoth yeshua hannaceri", Leyden, 1705). The last work in its final
edition did not appear before the thirteenth century, so that it could
give the Panthera myth in its most advanced form. Rosch is of opinion that
the myth did not begin before the end of the first century.
The later Jewish writings show traces of
acquaintance with the murder of the Holy Innocents (Wagenseil, "Confut.
Libr.Toldoth", 15; Eisenmenger op. cit., I, 116; Schottgen, op. cit., II,
667), with the flight into Egypt (cf. Josephus, "Ant." XIII, xiii), with
the stay of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve (Schottgen, op. cit.,
II, 696), with the call of the disciples ("Sanhedrin", 43a; Wagenseil, op.
cit., 17; Schottgen, loc. cit., 713), with His miracles (Origen, "Contra
Cels", II, 48; Wagenseil, op. cit., 150; Gemara "Sanhedrin" fol. 17); "Schabbath",
fol. 104b; Wagenseil, op.cit., 6, 7, 17), with His claim to be God
(Origen, "Contra Cels.", I, 28; cf. Eisenmenger, op. cit., I, 152;
Schottgen, loc. cit., 699) with His betrayal by Judas and His death
(Origen, "Contra cels.", II, 9, 45, 68, 70; Buxtorf, op. cit., 1458;
Lightfoot, "Hor. Heb.", 458, 490, 498; Eisenmenger, loc. cit., 185;
Schottgen, loc. cit.,699 700; cf."Sanhedrin", vi, vii). Celsus (Origen,
"Contra Cels.", II, 55) tries to throw doubt on the Resurrection, while
Toldoth (cf. Wagenseil, 19) repeats the Jewish fiction that the body of
Jesus had been stolen from the sepulchre.