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Was Jesus a Jew?

by Frank R. Zindler

At long last, my book The Jesus the Jews Never Knew is finished - printed, bound, and ready for sale at twenty bucks a copy. It has taken more than two years to produce and is the most difficult thing I have ever attempted to write. Hopefully, sympathetic readers will not find it to be the most difficult thing they have ever attempted to read! Against all advice, I have attempted to serve two masters - biblical-rabbinical scholars as well as average educated Atheist readers. The book is meticulously referenced for scholars, and they will find all the relevant Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic terms and passages have been examined. At the same time, general readers should not find the scholarly stuff too obtrusive or an impediment to understanding. With more than a little anxiety, however, I await the performance assessments of both groups.

With guileful cunning, I have left the subtitle off the front cover, in order not to frighten the general reader. The sub-title, I fear, is a choker even for scholars: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish Sources. The subtitle is intended to indicate that I have sought evidence of the historical Jesus in all the ancient Jewish literature that has survived to modern times - at least in all the literature that any serious scholar has ever alleged contained allusions to the supposed sage of Galilee.

The Sepher Toldoth Yeshu is a Jewish antigospel that circulated in medieval and early modern times and has been cited as evidence that Jesus was a real person who lived around 100 BCE! In it, Jesus (Yeshu) is the bastard son of a soldier named Panther. Yeshu is not merely betrayed by Judas, in one version of the story he is sodomized by Judas - in mid-air! Brought down to earth by this defilement, he is stoned, instead of crucified, and hung up on a giant cabbage stalk. Full texts of two different versions of the Toldoth are reprinted with annotations and commentary as two appendices. One of the versions is Foote & Wheeler's Victorian booklet The Jewish Life of Christ, which Madalyn Murray O'Hair republished with her own introduction in 1982 and is now out of print.

Although I really did not know what the results of my investigations would be when I started out - indeed, when writing many of the chapters I could not predict what I would have to report as few as two pages later - I was not all that surprised to discover that the ancient Jews had never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Partly this was due to the fact that I had already discovered more than a decade ago that they had never heard of Nazareth! Even so, it was more than a little gratifying to see that my exploration of Jewish sources fully harmonized with the conclusion that I had drawn from other lines of inquiry: the historical Jesus never existed. If Jesus had been a Jew, shouldn't the Jews have known him?

It might be supposed that a book reporting entirely negative results would be a boring affair. While readers will have to be the ultimate judge of that in the instant case, I have to say that I myself was endlessly fascinated by the investigation. For me, sifting through the products of more than two millennia of fraud, misrepresentation, misunderstanding, and superstition was never boring. In fact, discovering that there has been much more interpolation into the texts of the Jewish historian Josephus than modern scholars have realized was really quite exciting. Those who like detective stories will, I think, like this book.

Scientific scholars have been debunking the historical Jesus at least since the time of Charles François Dupuis in the 1790s. Although their books have made brief impressions on small groups of critics, in general, mainline religious scholars have refuted their work by ignoring it. Consequently, the wheel of historicity criticism has had to be reinvented many times during the last two centuries. Never has a Jesus-as-myth book had wide enough circulation to have any effect on ordinary believers. With the meager advertising and circulation resources of American Atheist Press, it is not likely that my book will go too far either. I can hope, however, that the book will get into enough libraries (especially academic libraries) that it may be of help to some future Atheist scholar who will be able, once and for all, to convince the thinking world that Jesus of Nazareth never walked the parched paths of Palestine.


Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.