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3. The Frivolous Disciple Jesus’ role as a disciple and his relationship with his teacher is the subject of yet another colorful story preserved in the Bavli. This time Jesus has a teacher explicitly mentioned by name and is coupled only with Gehazi, one of the other ill-behaved disciples known from the Bible whom we encountered in the previous story. The fate of both Gehazi and Jesus is put under the rabbinic maxim: “Let the left hand push away but the right hand always draw near!”1 Their teachers are now presented as prime examples of (bad) teachers who did not follow this maxim but pushed their students away with both their hands and did not help them to mend their wrongdoing: “Not as Elisha, who pushed Gehazi away with both hands, and not as Yehoshua b. Perahya, who pushed Jesus the Nazarene away with both hands.”2 We know Elisha as Gehazi’s master/teacher from the Bible—but what about the strange connection of Jesus with Yehoshua b. Perahya? The Talmud explains as follows: What was the incident with Yehoshua b. Perahya? When King Yannai killed the rabbis,3 R. Yehoshua b. Perahya4 fled to Egyptian Alexandria. When there was peace, Shimon b. Shetah sent (the following message): “From Jerusalem, the Holy City, to you, Alexandria in Egypt. O my sister, my husband dwells in your midst, and I remain desolate!” He [Yehoshua b. Perahya] arose, went and found himself in a certain inn. They paid him great respect. He said: “How beautiful is this inn/innkeeper (akhsanya)!” He [one of his disciples/Jesus]5 said: “Rabbi, her eyes are narrow.”6 He [Yehoshua b. Perahya] replied: “(You) wicked (student), do you occupy yourself with such (a thought)?!” He sounded 400 Shofar blasts and excommunicated him. He [the disciple] came before him [the rabbi] several times (and) said to him: “Receive me!”, but he [Yehoshua b. Perahya] refused to take notice. One day, while he [Yehoshua b. Perahya] was reciting the Shema, he [the disciple] came (again) before him. (This time) he [Yehoshua b. Perahya] wanted to receive him (and) made a sign to him with his hand. But he [the disciple] thought that he [Yehoshua b. Perahya] was again repelling him. He [the disciple] went, set up a brick and worshipped it. He [Yehoshua b. Perahya] said to him [the student]: “Repent!”, (but) he answered him: “Thus have I learned from you: Whoever sins and causes others to sin, is deprived of the power of doing penitence.” The master said: “Jesus the Nazarene7 practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.” This story8 is situated during the reign of the Hasmonean king (Alexander ) Yannai, who ruled from 103 until 76 B.C.E. and who became entangled in a bloody conflict with the Pharisees. The Pharisees, who opposed his rule, instigated an open rebellion against the king that climaxed in a civil war. When the king finally succeeded in suppressing the rebellion, his opponents were either executed or forced to leave the country. These events are reported in detail by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus,9 and the rabbinic story is a faint echo thereof, anachronistically identifying the Pharisees with the much later rabbis. The hero of the rabbinic narrative , of which our story is a part, is Shimon b. Shetah. Both Yehoshua b. Perahya and Shimon b. Shetah belong to the enigmatic “pairs” (zugot) that are affiliated with the famous “chain of tradition ,” connecting the leaders of rabbinic Judaism with the revelation of The Frivolous Disciple 35 the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.10 After having established the chain of tradition from Moses through the members of the “Great Assembly,” the Mishna proceeds first with certain individuals (Shimon the Righteous , Antigonos from Sokho) and then with altogether five “pairs,” all of them shrouded in the mists of history, reaching safer historical ground only with the last pair (Hillel and Shammai). Yehoshua b. Perahya belongs to the second “pair” (together with Nittai ha-Arbeli), whereas Shimon b. Shetah forms (together with Yehuda b. Tabbai) the third one. Except for Shimon b. Shetah and Hillel/Shammai, little is known about these early “pairs,” who are presented as the “forefathers” of the rabbis . And why of all possible candidates Yehoshua b. Perahya is chosen as the one who fled to Egypt (presumably together with his favorite student) remains dubious.11 A more plausible (although not necessarily historically more reliable) setting is suggested by the parallel...


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