Multiple sources

A rebellious Jesus in a Toledot Yeshu fragment of the Cairo genizah

Recently my attention has been drawn to the latest issue of JJMJS. I have read Evans’ and van Putten’s article “I am the Messiah and I Can Revive the Dead” – A Critical Note on T.S. NS 164.26, a Fragment of the Toledot Yeshu, which is part of this JJMJS issue, with great enthusiasm. Especially the English translation of this Cairo Genizah sheet (recto/verso) is a revelation.

Introductory remarks

  • Prior to their translation the authors mention the following sigla:
    • […] indicates damaged text
  • (…) denotes an addition of the editor.
  • Below I give only the verses that relate to my theory of the ‘war’ origins of Christianity.
  • Jesus is the protagonist of the story.

Translation

Recto

  1. … […. This man]
  2. is a soothsayer, and he destroys the people of [Jerusalem?]

  3. And his signs are that “In his days he will liberate all of
  4. Israel, and they will live secure from the enemies” (Jer. 23:6) …
  5. [and there was] great [strife in Israel], and they started to [come together to him; and they joined] him. …

Verso

  1. … . The queen sent horsemen after him. And so they found him in Galilee and he had already led
  2. her people astray. …
  1. … . The horsemen
  2. stopped in order to capture him and take him to the
  3. queen. The people of Galilee did not let them and they intended
  4. to fight them.

Discussion

Toledot Yeshu is a group of varied Jewish manuscripts, of which the texts that mention a certain queen Helen are a subgroup. The fragment being discussed is found in this subgroup, so the queen mentioned in verses 7 and 12 of the verso page is Queen Helen. In her excellent article Polymorphic Helena,1 Galit Hasan-Rokem shows that, in the absence of chronological markers in the text, characteristics of at least two historical Queen Helens can be discerned in the texts: Queen Helen of Adiabene (first half of the first century CE) and Helena Augusta, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine (third/fourth century CE). Queen Helen of Adiabene best fits the chronology of the birth of Christianity, and members of the royal house of Adiabene took part in the rebellion against Rome, which could explain the warlike atmosphere of this fragment. However, as the Adiabene princes and their troops sided with the Jewish rebels and as the horsemen in this fragment are clearly the enemies of Jesus and his Galilean following, I believe this fragment does not refer to queen Helen of Adiabene or to involvement of the Adiabene royals in the war against Rome. More probably the hostile horsemen refer to Roman cavalry, to which the Roman empress Helena Augusta – although chronologically misplaced – can be linked.

Toledot Yeshu is not a historical work, therefore its analysis does not yield strong evidence but is instead suggestive. These suggestions become stronger with the frequency of the connections occurring and are numerous in this fragment.

I start my discussion with the verso side, which yields the strongest clues.

  • In verse 4, people come to Jesus while there is great strife in Israel. The gathering of a multitude of people is reminiscent of Mark 3:7-8: (7) Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea (8) and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and form about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him. The use of similar paired verbs in both fragments, ‘followed’ and ‘came (to him)’ in Mark, and ‘(started to) come together’ and ‘joined (him)’ points at the dependence of T.S. NS 164.26 on Mark 3. The ‘great strife in Israel’ is not specified but the first that comes to mind is the great revolt of 66-70 CE. Other verses of this fragment support a war reading of the ‘great strife’ (see below).
  • Verse 7 tells that ‘the queen sent horsemen after him’. These horsemen in the context of a major conflict suggest cavalry, more specifically Roman cavalry.
  • Then follows ‘so they found him in Galilee’, which seems to mean there was a confrontation between Jesus and the Roman cavalry in Galilee. In book III:497 of The Jewish War, Josephus describes the attack of the Roman cavalry on the Galilean city Tarichaeae that was defended by Jesus son of Saphat (according to my theory the Jesus of the gospels) and his revolutionary army.
  • ‘He had already led her people astray’ is rather obscure but also points at the opposition between Jesus and Queen Helen’s people, the Romans.
  • In verses 10-12 ‘the horsemen stopped in order to capture him and take him to the queen’, in other words the Roman cavalry tried to take Jesus prisoner and to bring him before the Queen. There was no Roman queen or empress present in Galilee during the rebellion, but the future emperors Vespasian and Titus commanded the Roman army, so there is an ‘empress’ / ‘emperor’ link. The Romans did not succeed in taking Jesus prisoner. Jesus and his following fled to Jerusalem, as Josephus describes in War III:498.
  • Further on in verses 12 and 13 ‘the people of Galilee did not let them and they intended to fight them.’ The resistance of the Galileans seems to be the reason why the Romans were not able to capture Jesus.
  • Verses 1 and 2 of the recto side mention that Jesus destroyed the people of Jerusalem. In the context of the great revolt this sentence may refer to the internal strife between different factions in Jerusalem in the years 68/69 CE, with Jesus as one of the leaders of the Zealot faction. This civil war had many casualties.
  • In verses 7 and 8, Jeremiah 23:6 is applied to Jesus: In his days he will liberate all of Israel, and they will live secure from the enemies. To liberate Israel from the Romans and to live secure from this enemy was the main goal of the Great Revolt. Jesus son of Saphat was one of the most important Galilean leaders of the rebellion. Luke 1:71 and 74 are likewise reminiscent of this Jeremiah verse.
  • Galit Hasan-Rokem, Polymorphic Helena – Toledot Yeshu as a Palimpsest of Religious Narratives and Identities in Toledot Yeshu (“The Life Story of Jesus”) Revisited: A Princeton Conference. Peter Schäfer, Michael Meerson, and Yaacov Deutsch, editors. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011, pp. 247-82.

Although Toledot Yeshu does not convey overt historical information, this tiny fragment from the vast number of Cairo Genizah documents seems to support Jesus’ activity as a rebellion leader during the war of the Jews against the Romans, and so my theory.