By the third century AD, rabbis attempted to further separate Jesus’ disciples from mainstream Judaism by introducing a controversial legend into the Oral Law. They hoped that this legend would create discomfort among Jesus’ followers and ultimately lead to their expulsion from the Jewish community. This legend, found in the Talmud’s tractate Sanhedrin 107b, claims that Jesus practiced witchcraft and lured the Israelites away from the God of Israel towards idolatry. According to the story, Jesus was a student of Rabbi Joshua ben Perahiah, with whom he had a disagreement. In retaliation, Jesus allegedly studied witchcraft in Egypt with the intention of corrupting the people of Israel.
However, this legend, authored by rabbis centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion, lacks any foundation outside the Talmud and displays a glaring chronological inconsistency. Rabbi Joshua ben Perahiah lived and taught in the second century BC, long before Jesus’ birth. Prof. Avigdor Shinan comments on this discrepancy, noting the implausibility of Jesus being Joshua ben Perahia’s disciple due to the vast difference in their lifetimes:
During his (Joshua Ben Perahia) escape to Egypt, he was joined by one of his disciples, Jesus (yes indeed, the father of Christianity, although it is chronologically impossible!).[i]
Another account involving Jewish believers in Jesus appears in tractate Avodah Zara 17, which details a conversation between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva about a Jesus follower named Jacob of Sechania. Known for his ability to heal in Jesus’ name, Jacob, a Jewish believer in Jesus, is later mentioned in a story where Rabbi Ishmael’s nephew is bitten by a snake. Though Jacob offers to heal the nephew using Jesus’ name, Rabbi Ishmael, aware of the miraculous healing powers ascribed to Jesus’ disciples, declines the offer, allowing his nephew to die.
In the Talmud’s tractate Gittin 56b-57a, another account referencing Jesus describes him enduring eternal punishment in hell, submerged in boiling excrement (yes, poop). This punishment is presented as retribution for his alleged misdeeds and for supposedly leading the people of Israel away from God and towards idolatry.
These intriguing legends underscore the contentious relationship between Jewish believers in Jesus and mainstream Jewish leaders.
This article was an excerpt from my new book: “Why Don’t Jews Believe in Jesus.“
[i] אביגדור שנאן, פרקי אבות: פירוש ישראלי חדש, ידיעות אחרונות, ספרי חמד, ירושלים, 2009, עמ’ 12.