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8. Jesus’ Punishment in Hell According to the New Testament, Jesus was indeed resurrected on the third day after his crucifixion, as he had predicted, and appeared to his disciples. The synoptic Gospels do not relate what happened to him after his resurrection (in Luke he blesses the disciples and simply disappears ),1 and only the appendix in Mark adds that he was “taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19). The introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, however, knows more details: There, Jesus presents himself alive after his Passion during forty days(!)2 and, at his last appearance, promises them the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the new faith over the whole earth: (9) When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (10) While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.3 (11) They said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”4 In a reverse movement of the “Son of Man” in Daniel, who comes down with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13), the resurrected Jesus ascends to heaven on a cloud, and the angels explain to the amazed disciples that he will later return from where he has gone, that is from heaven. Hence it is safe to assume that he will stay in heaven until his last and final appearance on earth. It is again reserved to the Babylonian Talmud to tell a counternarrative to the New Testament’s message, in fact the exact opposite of what the New Testament proclaims, namely a most graphic and bizarre story about Jesus’ descent to and punishment in hell. The context is a large aggadic complex about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple during the first Jewish War and of Bethar, the last stronghold of the rebels, during the second Jewish War (the so-called Bar Kokhba revolt). The purpose of the story is to figure out why Jerusalem and Bethar were destroyed. Bethar is not our concern here, but with regard to Jerusalem, the argument goes as follows.5 A certain Bar Qamtza was offended at a banquet and, holding the rabbis partly responsible for this offense, denounces them to the authorities in Rome. He tells the Roman emperor that they are preparing a rebellion and offers, as a proof for this accusation, that they will refuse to offer the customary sacrifice for the emperor in the Temple.6 When the emperor sends his animal for the sacrifice, Bar Qamtza renders it halakhically unfit (adducing a tiny bodily blemish) to be offered at the Temple. The rabbis are nevertheless inclined to sacrifice the unfit animal, in order not to offend the Roman government, but one of their colleagues convinces them that such a poor compromise wouldn’t be acceptable. Hence, the Talmud concludes, because of this uncompromising halakhic rigidity the Temple was destroyed. At first, and historically quite anachronistically, the Romans send the Emperor Nero against the Jews, but Nero, when he realizes that God wants to use him as his tool to punish his people, flees and becomes a proselyte (from whom, grotesquely enough, R. Meir is descendent). Then the Romans dispatch Vespasian, who, when he learns that he is elected emperor, sends Titus in his stead (historically quite correct). Titus defiles the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies (which is the privilege of the high priest only) and fornicating there with a whore on a Torah scroll. The burning of the Temple is not explicitly mentioned; only that Titus robs the utensils of the Temple for his triumph in Rome.7 However, as a punishment for the arrogant and wicked emperor, God sends a gnat, which enters his brain through his nostril and feeds upon his brain for Jesus’ Punishment in Hell 83 seven years.8 When the poor emperor finally dies and they open his skull they find that the gnat had grown into something like a sparrow or even a young dove with a beak of brass and talons of iron. Before he dies, Titus decrees: “Burn me and scatter my ashes over the seven seas so that the...


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