The Passion and the Talmud

Terry Mattingly

[COMMENT: An excellent, common sense article.  It is seldom recalled that when the Jews were holding the power, they persecuted the Christians, as Paul himself did. 

The problem is not whether Christians beat up on Jews, or vice versa, the problem is who is holding the power.  As our founding fathers understood, you do not trust anyone with power, you tie them down with the chains of the constitution.  That is the meaning and point of "limited" government.  

Limited government is a Biblical invention, not secular or "enlightenment", Biblical.  That is why the safest place for Jews, other than Israel itself, is a Biblically based country.  I.e., one holding a Judeo-Christian worldview.    E. Fox] 


The ancient rabbinic text is clear about the punishment for those who
twisted sacred law and misled the people of Israel.

Offenders would be stoned and then hung by their hands from two pieces
of wood connected to form a "T." The Talmud once included this example
from the Sanhedrin.

"On the eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth," said the passage,
which was censored in the 16th century to evade the wrath of Christians.
"The herald went out before him for 40 days saying, 'Jesus goes forth to
be stoned, because he has practiced magic, enticed and led astray
Israel. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and declare
concerning him.' And they found nothing in his favor."

If armies of Jewish and Christian scholars insist on arguing about Mel
Gibson's explosive movie "The Passion of the Christ," it would help if
they were candid and started dealing with the hard passages in Jewish
texts as well as the Christian scriptures.

At least, that's what David Klinghoffer thinks.

The Orthodox Jewish writer -- whose forthcoming book is entitled "Why
the Jews Rejected Christ
" -- believes these lines from the Talmud are as
troubling as any included in the Christian Gospels. They are as
disturbing as any image Gibson might include in his controversial epic.

The Talmudic text seems clear. Jesus clashed with Jewish leaders,
debating them on the meaning of their laws. They hated him. Many wanted
him dead.

It is possible, said Klinghoffer, to interpret these documents as saying
that Jesus' fate rested entirely with the Jewish court. The use of
language such as "enticed and led astray" indicated that Jesus may have
been charged with leading his fellow Jews to worship false gods.

There are more details in this confusing drama. Writing in 12th-century
Egypt, the great Jewish sage Maimonides summed up the ancient texts.

"Jesus of Nazareth," he proclaims, in his Letter to Yemen, "... impelled
people to believe that he was a prophet sent by God to clarify
perplexities in the Torah, and that he was the Messiah that was
predicted by each and every seer. He interpreted the Torah and its
precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment, to the
abolition of all its commandments and to the violation of its prohibitions.

"The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before
his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to

Is that it? What role did the Romans play?

In terms of historic fact, stressed Klinghoffer, it's almost impossible
to find definitive answers for such questions. But the purpose of the
Jewish oral traditions that led to the Talmud was to convey religious
belief, not necessarily historical facts.

"If you really must ask, 'Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?',
then you can only conclude that both the Gospels and the Talmud agree
that the Jewish leaders did not have the power to execute him," he said.

"Did they influence the event? The religious texts suggest that they
did, the historic texts suggest that they did not. It's hard to know.
... But if Gibson is an anti-Semite, then to be consistent you would
have to say that so was Maimonides."

Obviously, Klinghoffer is not spreading this information in order to fan
the flames of hatred. His goal, he said, is to provoke Jewish leaders in
cities such as New York and Los Angeles to strive harder to understand
the views of traditional Protestants and Catholics. And it's time for
liberal Christians to spend as much time talking with Orthodox Jews as
with liberal Jews.

It's time to everyone to be more honest, he said.

"I don't see anything that is to be gained for Judaism by going out of
our way to antagonize a Mel Gibson or to antagonize as many traditional
Christians as we possibly can. I think we have been yelling 'Fire!' in a
crowded theater," said Klinghoffer.

"To put it another way, I don't think it's very wise for a few Jewish
leaders to try to tell millions of Christians what they are supposed to
believe. Would we want some Christians to try to edit our scriptures and
to tell us what we should believe?"

Terry Mattingly ( teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic
University and is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for
Christian Colleges & Universities. He writes this weekly column for the
Scripps Howard News Service.

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