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4. The Torah Teacher The Talmud does not relate anything about Jesus’ life until his very end, his violent death. It does have, however, some vague notion of him as a Torah teacher, and this is quite in accordance with Jesus’ portrayal in the New Testament (see in particular the so-called Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7; according to Luke 19:47, Jesus was teaching every day in the Temple, and “the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him”).1 One story in the Bavli presents Jesus as such a Torah teacher, in dialogue with the contemporary rabbis, and even preserves his halakhic exegesis. In the typical rabbinic fashion, his teaching is transmitted through the mouth of one of his faithful students. However, what is striking here is the fact that the story is not concerned with Jesus himself (and also very little with his student) but rather with a supposed rabbinic follower of Jesus and his teachings, in other words, that it attacks the Christian sect through the mirror of the rabbinic perception of Christianity. The story appears in Bavli Avodah Zarah 16b–17a, but this time we are in the possession of earlier Palestinian parallels.2 I translate the Bavli version according to the Vilna edition and will refer to the variant readings in the Bavli manuscripts as well as in the parallels where necessary: Our rabbis taught: When R. Eliezer was arrested because of heresy (minut), they brought him up to the tribune to be judged. The [Roman] Governor (hegemon) said to him: “How can an old man like you occupy himself with such idle things?” He [R. Eliezer] answered : “I acknowledge the judge as reliable (ne>eman)!”3 Since the Governor thought that he referred to him—though he really referred to his Father in Heaven—he said to him: “Because you have acknowledged me as reliable,4 dimissus:5 you are acquitted!” When he [R. Eliezer] came home, his disciples arrived to comfort him, but he would accept no consolation. Said R. Aqiva to him: “Master, will you permit me to say one thing of what you have taught me?” He answered: “Say it!” He [Aqiva] said to him: “Master, perhaps you encountered (some kind of) heresy (minut) and you enjoyed it and because of that you were arrested?” He [R. Eliezer] answered him: “Aqiva, you have reminded me! Once I was walking in the upper market of Sepphoris when I came across6 someone/one of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene,7 and Jacob of Kefar Sekhaniah8 was his name. He [Jacob] said to me:9 It is written in your Torah: You shall not bring the hire of the harlot [or the pay of a dog into the house of the Lord, your God] (Deut. 23:19). May such money be used for making a latrine for the High Priest? To which I made no reply. He [Jacob] said to me: Thus was I taught [by Jesus the Nazarene]:10 For from the hire of a harlot was it gathered11 and to the hire of a harlot shall it12 return (Mic. 1:7)—it came from a place of filth, and let it return to a place of filth. This word pleased me very much, and that is why I was arrested for heresy (minut). Because I transgressed what is written in the Torah: Keep your way far from her (Prov. 5:8)—this refers to heresy (minut); and do not come near to the door of her house (ibid.)—this refers to the ruling power (rashut).” There are some who say: Keep your way far from her (Prov. 5:8)— this refers to heresy and the ruling power;13 and do not come near to the door of her house (ibid.)—this refers to the harlot.14 And how far (is one to keep away)? Rav Hisda said: Four cubits. This strange story, marked by its introductory formula as a Baraita and hence an early Palestinian tradition, leaves more questions open than it 42 Chapter 4 answers. First of all, it remains completely unclear why R. Eliezer was arrested and what the heresy was of which the Roman governor suspected him. R. Eliezer is the famous Eliezer b. Hyrkanos (late first–early second century C.E.), the favored disciple of Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai and the paragon of rabbinic zeal and determination.15 The Roman authorities, however, certainly...


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