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1. Jesus’ Family The rabbinic literature is almost completely silent about Jesus’ lineage and his family background. The rabbis do not seem to know—or else do not care to mention—what the New Testament tells us: that he was the son of a certain Mary and her husband (or rather betrothed) Joseph, a carpenter of the city of Nazareth, and that he was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, and hence of Davidic origin. It is only in the Babylonian Talmud, and there in two almost identical passages, that we do get some strange information that may be regarded as a faint and distorted echo of the Gospels’ stories about Jesus’ family background and his parents.1 Since neither source mentions, however, the name “Jesus” but instead resorts to the enigmatic names “Ben Stada” and “Ben Pandera/Pantera” respectively , their relationship to Jesus is hotly disputed. I will analyze the Bavli text in detail and demonstrate that it indeed refers to the Jesus of the New Testament and is not just a remote and corrupt echo of the New Testament story; rather, it presents—with few words and in the typically discursive style of the Bavli—a highly ambitious and devastating counternarrative to the infant story of the New Testament. The version of our story in Shab 104b is embedded in an exposition of the mishnaic law, which regards the writing of two or more letters as work and hence forbidden on the Sabbath (m Shab 12:4). The Mishna discusses all kind of materials that might be used for writing, and of objects upon which one might write, and states that the prohibition of writing includes also the use of one’s own body as a writing object. From this the logical question arises: But what about tattoos?2 Are they, too, to be regarded as writing and hence forbidden on Sabbath?3 According to R. Eliezer, the answer is yes (they are forbidden on Sabbath), whereas R. Yehoshua allows it (in the Tosefta parallel it is the Sages). The Tosefta and both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud elaborate further upon this Mishna. According to the Tosefta, R. Eliezer responds to the Sages: “But did not Ben Satra learn only in such a way?”4— in other words, did he not use the tattoos on his body as an aid to facilitate his learning (hence, weren’t they clearly letters and therefore forbidden to be “written” on Sabbath)? This is bad enough, but the two Talmudim come up with an even worse explanation of why tattooing one’s body on Sabbath is forbidden, when they have Eliezer ask: “But did not Ben Stada bring forth witchcraft from Egypt by means of scratches/tattoos (biseritah) upon his flesh?”5 In all three versions the Sages dismiss R. Eliezer’s objection with the counterargument that Ben Satra/Stada6 was a fool and that they would not let one fool’s behavior influence the implementation of Sabbath laws. It is within this context that the Talmud (Shab 104b)7 proceeds with a clarification of the enigmatic “fool’s” family background. The text is only preserved in the uncensored manuscripts and printed editions of the Bavli; I quote according to Ms. Munich 95 (written 1342 in Paris), with some variations in the footnotes: (Was he) the son of Stada8 (and not on the contrary) the son of Pandera ? Said Rav Hisda: the husband (ba (“to deviate from the right path, to go astray, to be unfaithful”). In other words, his mother Miriam was also called “Stada” because she was a sot .ah, a woman suspected, or rather convicted, of adultery. This anonymous explanation is located in Pumbeditha, Sura’s rival academy in Babylonia. Hence, it becomes clear that both explanations begin with the assumption that our hero’s mother had both a husband and a lover, and that they only disagree about the name of the husband (Stada versus Pappos b. Yehuda). The name Pandera for the lover is made explicit only by Rav Hisda but seems to be accepted in the Pumbeditha explanation as well, because it presupposes the mother’s adultery and does not suggest another name for the lover. That Pappos b. Yehuda is identified as the husband originates from another story in the Bavli, transmitted in the name of R. Meir, that Pappos b. Yehuda, when he went out, used to lock his wife in their house—obviously because he had reason to...


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