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7. Jesus’ Disciples One of the most characteristic features of the Gospels is the fact that Jesus gathered a circle of disciples around him. The selection of his disciples was a gradual process, which seems to have begun with four (Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John)1 and ultimately led to the number twelve, clearly alluding to the twelve tribes of Israel.2 The twelve disciples accompanied him until his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, celebrated the Last Supper with him, witnessed the betrayal of one of them (Judas) who delivered him to the authorities, and the remaining eleven saw him after his resurrection.3 It is therefore hardly surprising that the Bavli, immediately after the account of Jesus’ execution, adds another story about his disciples. It is again transmitted as an (early) Baraita:4 Our Rabbis taught: Jesus the Nazarene5 had five disciples, and these are they: Mattai, Naqqai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah. When they brought Mattai (before the court), he [Mattai] said to them [the judges]: Mattai shall be executed? It is written: When (matai) shall I come and appear before God? (Ps. 42:3). They [the judges] answered him: Yes, Mattai shall be executed, since it is written : When (matai) will he die and his name perish? (Ps. 41:6). When they brought Naqqai (before the court), he [Naqqai] said to them [the judges]: Naqqai shall be executed? It is written: You shall not execute the innocent (naqi) and the righteous (Ex. 23:7). They [the judges] answered him: Yes, Naqqai shall be executed, since it is written: From a covert (be-mistarin)6 he executes the innocent (naqi) (Ps. 10:8). When they brought Netzer (before the court), he [Netzer] said to them [the judges]: Netzer shall be executed? It is written: An offshoot (netzer) shall grow forth out of his roots (Isa. 11:1). They [the judges] answered him: Yes, Netzer shall be executed, since it is written : You shall be cast forth away from your grave like an abhorred offshoot (netzer) (Isa. 14:19). When they brought Buni (before the court), he [Buni] said to them [the judges]: Buni shall be executed? It is written: My son (beni), my firstborn is Israel (Ex. 4:22). They [the judges] answered him: Yes, Buni shall be executed, since it is written: Behold I will execute your firstborn son (binkha) (Ex. 4:23). When they brought Todah (before the court), he [Todah] said to them [the judges]: Todah shall be executed? It is written: A psalm for Thanksgiving (todah) (Ps. 100:1). They [the judges] answered him: Yes, Todah shall be executed, since it is written: He who sacrifices the sacrifice of Thanksgiving (todah) honors me (Ps. 50:23). This is a highly sophisticated fight with biblical verses, indeed a fight to the death. Whether the whole unit is an early tannaitic Baraita or a Babylonian fabrication, or whether only the list of the names is the Baraita and the following exegeses are a later Babylonian addition7—this does not really matter for our purpose.8 We are clearly dealing here with a Babylonian tradition that may or may not rely on some earlier Palestinian elements. Nor should we be concerned with the fact that the Bavli lists only five students of Jesus whereas the New Testament has twelve. One could refer to the gradual process of Jesus acquiring his disciples and argue that the Bavli re- flects an earlier stage, before the final number of twelve was reached,9 or that a rabbi like Yohanan b. Zakkai had five prominent students10—but this would be a pseudo-historical explanation of a text11 that has no intention of providing historical information about the historical Jesus and his 76 Chapter 7 disciples. What is important is only the message that the author/editor of our text wants to convey. First of all, the Bavli takes it for granted that Jesus’ disciples were executed like their master. There was, however, no meticulous trial, no charge, no conviction, and no formal death sentence—the five were simply put to death, and we aren’t even told what kind of execution awaited them. We may just presume that they were charged with the same crime with which Jesus was charged: blasphemy and idolatry. And it may be safe to add that they were put to trial and executed immediately after Jesus’ execution . These strange circumstances already suggest the suspicion that...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400827619
Related ISBN
9780691143187
MARC Record
OCLC
368370339
Pages
232
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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