Something new to quarrel about. (Image: Princeton Univ. Press)
Princeton University Prof. Peter Schaefer has written a new book called "Jesus in the Talmud," which seeks to move beyond mere positivistic compilation of the meager rabbinic sources for the "historical Jesus," and to instead make sense of these cameos as a kind of "counter-narrative" to the Gospels. Who knew that the authors of the Babylonian Talmud knew the Gospels so well? I'm surprised to learn as well that, as the J-Post review points out, Jesus' Sanhedrin trial (not dealt with explicitly in the Talmud) lacked so much in the way of adherence to Jewish law. As it turns out, it's in the Babylonian Talmud that Jesus tends to show up, in what some zealots are calling, "pornographic" detail, whereas, in the Palestinian Talmud, Jesus appears less often, mostly as a target of an attack on magic. Schaefer's historical explanation here is compelling: in post-Constantinian Palestine, more and more the site of inspired imperial patronage, bashing Jesus was risky. But in Sassanian Babylonia, where an attack on Christianity could be construed as an attack on Rome, it was cool. The J-Post review is a little suspect, but Antiquitopia has read the book and provides interesting analysis. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, Schaefer's seen Amos in diapers, so we have to tread carefully here.