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Babylonian Talmud is More Detailed On The Birth Of Jesus Than The Bible

Babylonian Talmud is More Detailed On The Birth Of Jesus Than The Bible

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For historians, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, the Talmud is in many ways the perfect primary source, a first-hand account with a direct connection to Judaism. Through the Talmud, we can learn more about the birth of Jesus as a historical event and, also, the “meaning” of the Star of Bethlehem.

There are two Talmuds: the Babylonian version and the Jerusalem version. This article focuses on the Babylonian Talmud, which is different in key instances. From the Babylonian Talmud we can learn more about Matthew’s nativity story, regarding the birth of Jesus, and, also, the phenomena known to us today at the Star of Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the Talmud, both versions, has often been viewed with doubt and distain by Christian historical scholars. But this is a mistake. Putting aside religious politics, we can see that the birth of Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem are both better described in the Babylonian Talmud than any other ancient source. And here’s why . . .

Babylonian Talmud, vol XXII, Masechet Sanhedrin, Edit. & Print A.J. Menkes & S. Sprechner, Lwow 1864. (Library of Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biala, Poland / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Babylonian Talmud, vol XXII, Masechet Sanhedrin, Edit. & Print A.J. Menkes & S. Sprechner, Lwow 1864. (Library of Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biala, Poland /  CC BY-SA 4.0 )

What Is the Talmud And Why Is It Questioned By Others?

To many, if not most, Christians, the Jewish  Talmud is one of the most confusing and misunderstood books of Judaism. Some scholars choose to avoid it as a historic source for Christianity in favor of the  Torah and the New Testament. The term Talmud, most often, refers to the collection of books known as the Babylonian Talmud. Another collection of books that was written earlier is known as the Jerusalem Talmud.

The Babylonian Talmud has two main components: the Mishnah (c. 200 BC), a written collection of Rabbinic Judaism's Oral Law or the Oral Torah: the laws, statutes, and legal interpretations that were not recorded in the Five Books of Moses (Written Torah); and the Gemara (c. 500 BC), a clarification or explanation by Rabbis of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other topics and expands broadly on the  Old Testament

In layman’s terms, Orthodox Jews believe that the “Oral Law” was given to  Moses while he was on Mt. Sinai along with Written Torah. Then it was passed on orally from Moses to Joshua to the Prophets and, finally, to the  rabbis who wrote it out and referred to it as the Talmud. This occurred when the Jews were being dispersed from Israel during the Jewish Diaspora. And at that time, Jewish leaders were apprehensive that their traditions and knowledge were in danger of disappearing. The Talmud aided in keeping the  Jewish people  together and helped to preserve their heritage.

Babylonian Talmud manuscript copied by Solomon ben Samson, France, 1342 AD. (Sodabottle / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Babylonian Talmud manuscript copied by Solomon ben Samson, France, 1342 AD. (Sodabottle /  CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The term "Talmud" may refer to either the  Gemara alone, or the  Mishnah and Gemara together. The Talmud was written during the  Jewish Diaspora —a time of great antisemitic persecutions by pagan and Christian Roman emperors—and includes several anti-Christian remarks. Because of this, the Talmud has been banned and burned throughout history. With the invention of the printing press, numerous anti-Talmud literature soon followed. Even  Martin Luther contributed to this belief. In  On the Jews and Their Lies , Luther attacks the Talmud, suggesting repeatedly that, “their synagogues be burned, houses torn down, books be taken, and rabbis prohibited from teaching.” Today some scholars even consider Luther’s writings to be the basis of German antisemitism. The Lutheran Church has since denounced the work by Martin Luther, but attacks on the Talmud still persist by many different groups and religions. 

Nevertheless, the Talmud is still the cornerstone of Judaism. Shmuel Safrai in  A History of the Jewish People  neatly summed up the influence of the Babylonian Talmud when he wrote:

 “It became the basic—and in many places almost the exclusive—asset of Jewish traditions, the foundation of all Jewish thought and aspirations and the guide for the daily life of the Jews. Other components of national culture were made known only in so far as they are embedded in the Talmud. In almost every period and community until the modern age, the Talmud was the main object of Jewish study and education. And all the external conditions and event of life seemed to be but passing incidents, and the only true, permanent reality was that of the Talmud.”

To historians, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other, the Talmud is the perfect primary source. It is a first-hand account with a direct connection to Judaism. It covers the daily laws and legal decisions for Jews, is a biographical dictionary with anthropological information, and is a guideline for rabbinic philosophy and debate. Because Jesus studied the Law and astonished the Temple teachers at age 12 (Luke 2:46-7), we can learn more about how  Jesus lived  and thought by studying the Talmud.

In the Gospel According to Matthew both the birth of Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem are mentioned but only in the vaguest terms. (Michael Flippo / Adobe Stock)

In the Gospel According to Matthew both the birth of Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem are mentioned but only in the vaguest terms. ( Michael Flippo  / Adobe Stock)

In the past the Talmud was used, sometimes without acknowledgement, as a source for  Christian theological works . But are there clues in its volumes that can provide more clarification to Matthew’s  nativity story ? The answer is yes. There are two very interesting verses that contribute to what the author or authors of Matthew wrote just a few generations after the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew is vague on the timing of the birth of Jesus, and what celestial object the  Star of Bethlehem  was. 

Matthew 2:1-2 states:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Matthew provides no clue as to what exactly the star was, provides no date for the event, and does not acknowledge where the Magi came from, only the east (most likely Parthia/Persia).

The Jewish Month of the Nativity

Judaism before and during the time of Christ believed in the idea of the “integral age” of the great  Jewish patriarchs . This meant that those who lived a divine life were born and later died during the Passover month of Nisan. Nisan in the Jewish calendar is the first month of the  ecclesiastical year and the seventh month—eighth month during leap years—of the civil year. It is a spring month and occurs during the Gregorian months of either March or April. In Jewish history and tradition, it was the month of the Creation of the Universe (at the spring equinox), the death of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, Passover, and the birth and death of Isaac.

The Rosh Hashanah tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, which states that the truest Jewish patriarchs were born and died during Passover in the Jewish month of Nisan. (Gylatshalit / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Rosh Hashanah tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, which states that the truest Jewish patriarchs were born and died during Passover in  the Jewish month of Nisan. (Gylatshalit /  CC BY-SA 3.0 )

This belief was written in the  Rosh Hashanah tractate  of the Babylonian Talmud. It states that the truest Jewish patriarchs were born and died during  Passover, in the Jewish month of Nisan. 

Joshua ben Hananiah (died 131 AD), also known as Rabbi Yehoshua, says:

“In Nisan the world was created, and in the same month the patriarchs were born, and in Nisan they also died; Isaac was born on the Passover; on New Year’s Day Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were visited, Joseph was released from prison, and the bondage of our fathers in Egypt ceased. In Nisan our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt, and in the same month we shall again be redeemed.”

If this verse was from the Old Testament it would be highly suggested by Christians today that Jesus was born during the month of Nisan. Jesus has many symbolic links to Isaac. Both are perhaps the best-known “sons” from the Bible. Isaac, the son of Abraham, was spared from human sacrifice. Today Isaac is known as the Father of the Israelites. And Jesus, the Son of God, who was not spared, is known today as the savior of the world by Christians.

The Gospels inform us that Jesus was crucified during Passover around 30 AD. Some early Christians were also keen on the idea of Jesus being born and dying in Nisan at the time of Passover. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 AD—c. 215) wrote in the  Stromata that some of the Gnostic Christians in Alexandria were worshiping the Nativity on the same date as Easter. It can be reasoned that Jesus, a Jewish patriarch, was not only crucified and resurrected during a Passover celebration but was also born as well during a Passover celebration. This fits the belief of important patriarchs of Judaism being born during the month of Passover. It may not prove that Jesus was the savior or King of the Jews as that is a personal belief. However, messiah or not, it would give Jesus the credentials that enough people during his time might follow him or believe he was the chosen one. Another “credential” would be to born under a “star” similar to the one mentioned in Matthew.

The so-called Star of Bethlehem is still misunderstood but the Babylonian Talmud does tell us more. (gldcreations / Adobe Stock)

The so-called Star of Bethlehem is still misunderstood but the Babylonian Talmud does tell us more. ( gldcreations / Adobe Stock)

Vague And Detailed Descriptions of the Star of Bethlehem

Matthew only briefly describes the celestial object over Bethlehem sometime before the death of Herod in 4 BC as a “star” that rose with no other description. It could have been a comet, conjunction of celestial objects, or a supernova. The only primary source that I have discovered that could be the star was cited from a Chinese astronomical observation made in March of 5 BC (see my previous  Ancient Origins article ). This is a tantalizing source when used in concurrence with the Talmud because it corresponds chronologically with the belief of vital leaders of Judaism being born during the month of Nisan. In 5 BC, Passover was on March 23. But the definition of “star” in the Talmud needs further examination to discover if a comet could also be defined as a star. 

If you guessed that there exists a verse from the Talmud that describes a comet as a star, then you are correct. In the Babylonian Talmud, Tract Horioth, Rabban Gamaliel II, the first leader of the Sanhedrin as  nasi after the fall of the Second Temple in 70 AD, has a dispute with Rabbi Yehoshua over the amount of provisions of food on a trip. Gamaliel says, “There is a star which appears once in seventy years that makes the captains of the ships err, and I thought perhaps it will appear now and make us err, I therefore prepared more food.” The ‘star’ that appears every seventy years is most likely Halley’s comet.

Both Gamaliel and Yehoshua were young men when Halley’s comet made an appearance in 66 AD. In the Soncino version of the Babylonian Talmud the word “appears” is replaced with “rises”, which is even more coherent with Matthew in the NIV translation. Therefore, near the time that Matthew was written, comets were also referred to as stars by the Jewish rabbis and were known to rise in the heavens, like the account in Matthew.

Hayley's Comet was not the Star of Bethlehem, but some other comet might have been. (muratart / Adobe Stock)

Hayley's Comet was not the Star of Bethlehem, but some other comet might have been. ( muratart / Adobe Stock)

The Chinese comet of March 5 BC was not the only comet observed and recorded as a star during Passover. In 66 AD, Halley’s comet returned to the Earth’s vicinity shortly before the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. The comet was first observed by the Chinese in January, and made its closest approach to Earth on March 20, close to the spring equinox. According to the historian Josephus, the Jews were not apprehensive about bad omens. His remarkable account states: 

“Thus it was that the imposter and pretended messengers of Heaven at that time beguiled the wretched people; while the manifest portents that foreshowed the approaching desolation they neither heeded nor credited; but, as if confounded and bereft alike of the eyes and mind, they disregarded the immediate warnings of God. Thus it was when a star resembling a sword stood over the city, and a comet which continued for a year. Thus also it was, when prior to the revolt and the first movements of the war, at the time when the people were assembling for the feast of unleavened bread… By the inexperienced this was deemed favorable, but by the sacred scribes it was at once pronounced a prelude of that whish afterwards happened. (The Jewish War of Flavius Josephus, 1858 Edition)”

Therefore, comets were often referred to as stars by ancient writers. Another interesting fact is that the Crucifixion of Jesus most likely—based on data from the US Navy and NASA—occurred during the month of April in ether 30 AD or 33 AD. Even though this is in a different month of the 5 BCE Passover, it was still in the month of Passover or Nisan. This is because of the difference between the solar based Gregorian calendar and the lunar based Jewish calendar. Even in modern times Easter is sometimes celebrated in March and sometimes April.

I’m working on a new book that is close to completion that explores in greater detail some of the events that were in the heavens at the same time as the March 5 BC comet. There is much that was occurring around Passover of 5 BC that the Magi would have been interested in!

Top image: The birth of Jesus with all its elements: the three kings, the holy family and the Star of Bethlehem.                 Source:  honeyflavour / Adobe Stock

By Robert W. Weber

References

Abbot, Jacob.  Alexander the Great . Akron, OH: New Warner Co. , 1910. 

Deutsch, Gotthard. “Luther, Martin.” In  JewishEncyclopedia.com, American Edition, 55 vols. St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1955. 

Josephus, Flavius, Robert Traill, and Isaac Taylor.  The Jewish War of Flavius Josephus: a New Translation by the Late Rev. Robert Traill, Edited, with Notes, by Isaac Taylor. With Pictorial Illustrations . Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1858. 

Rodkinson, Michael L.  New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud . Boston: Talmud Society, 1918. 

Goldberg, B. Z., Abraham Malamat, and Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson.  A History of the Jewish People . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976. 

Comments

an authority prinicpally because it is very biased and nasty towards Jesus and his mother Mary.  But even some liars tell the truth sometimes.  By that I mean that they may tell the truth regarding some topics and then completely jump the shark w/ their opinions on other topics.  I believe that Jesus was born in September but as to why the exact date isn’t given, I can only speculate.  Also, we have several different calendars to go by provided by different cultures, Roman, Indian, Chinese and Jewish to name a few so the exact date would be hard to pin down anyway.  
The Babylonian Talmud says several things that are absolutely abhorrent, esp about non Jews.  It says that lying to or killing a “goyim” (literally cattle for the slaughter, a degrading word for a non Jew) is permitted.  It basically says that non Jews are the lowest of the low on earth and that any and all persecutions against them are OK, incl pedophilia, no joke.  Surprised the writer didn’t include those items in this article as one of the many reasons that people rightfully reject the Babylonian Talmud.  Why doesn’t Jewdom condemn that book?  Because they largely live by it, most of them are just careful not to admit it publically.  The ones that do are killed like Harold Wallace Rosenthal.  
Funny thing is, they’re only God’s chosen people for one reason and one reason only, God’s love for Abraham and the covenant he made with him as his trusted and obedient servant.  That’s it.  But to hear some Jews tell it, they’re God’s gift to the world.    

Robert W. Weber's picture

Like I said, the Talmud is a primary source. You might not like some of the comments by the Rabbis, but the descriptions of the Jewish traditions and beliefs are valuable. If you have read any book about the Bible, chronology or a study book, it will have information from the Talmud. We know a lot about Judaism and the daily life of Jesus from it. If you want to know how Jews lived and worshiped during the 1st century you need to study the Talmud. I also use primary sources from pagan writers in my research as a HISTORIAN. Noboby ever complains about that. 

How can one say Christians should base their beliefs upon the Talmud? Even most Jews will admit it is anti Christian work and incompatible with Christian beliefs. In fact, it is anti everyone that is not Jewish throughout. It promotes teachings not recognized by any church and is not regarded as canon by any church. If one believes anything in the Bible, one must admit there was an Israel and all Israel were not Jews. Jews were but one tribe. If they bear the irrevocable blessing of Abraham, the other tribes do also, no matter where they are in the world today. This Jew only orientation is a fundamental error.

Hi All,

I hadn't heard of The Babylonian Talmud before; this is an exciting subject to know about. Learn something New everyday.

I thought that asteroids, comet's, an meteors in The Bible were the brimstones hadn't considered them to be seen as Star's.

I do remember however, I think 1833, or maybe 1839, The Stars Fell from Heaven accept it was a meteor shower. I thought it got in all of the newspapers at that time.

This article mentioned that in Matthew it doesn't really share when Jesus was born. According to Luke; it would have occurred when Augustus decided the Whole World was to be Taxed.

So I suppose that It comes down to when Joseph and Mary arrives in Bethlehem.

Has anyone in archeology or anthropology considered using a GPS to clock the best route Joseph an Mary might have taken with the help of riding on a donkey to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

I've seen in paleontology scientist use interactive computer programs to bring the newest dinosaur to life has anyone tried that way? I know it's a stretch I was just wondering.

That's all I have on this article now I have to do more reading on The Babylonian Talmud seriously I've never heard of this Book. Until next time everyone, Goodbye!

Why don’t YOU shut the Hell up and let people disagree if they disagree?  It is not mandatory to agree w/ every aspect of every article on this site.  

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