Introduction to “The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction” Addendum: Linguistic Features of the Baraita in b. Kid. 66a

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A baraita in the Babylonian Talmud appears to preserve a quotation from a written Hebrew source from the late Second Temple period that contains elements of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew similar to the style in which we believe the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was composed.

This post is the continuation of a discussion from the Introduction to “The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.”

A baraita in the Babylonian Talmud appears to preserve a quotation from a written Hebrew source from the late Second Temple period[1] that contains elements of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew similar to the style in which we believe the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was composed:

מעשה בינאי המלך שהלך לכוחלית שבמדבר וכבש שם ששים כרכים ובחזרתו היה שמח שמחה גדולה וקרא לכל חכמי ישראל אמר להם אבותינו היו אוכלים מלוחים בזמן שהיו עסוקים בבנין בית המקדש אף אנו נאכל מלוחים זכר לאבותינו והעלו מלוחים על שולחנות של זהב ואכלו והיה שם אחד איש לץ רע ובליעל ואלעזר בן פועירה שמו ויאמר אלעזר בן פועירה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך לבם של פרושים עליך ומה אעשה [א″ל] הקם להם בציץ שבין עיניך הקים להם בציץ שבין עיניו היה שם זקן אחד ויהודה בן גודגדא שמו ויאמר יהודה בן גודגדא לינאי המלך ינאי המלך רב לך כתר מלכות הנח כתר כהונה לזרעו של אהרן שהיו אומרים נשבית אמו במודיעים ויבוקש הדבר ולא נמצא ויבדלו חכמי ישראל בזעם ויאמר אלעזר בן פועירה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך הדיוט שבישראל כך הוא דינו ואתה מלך וכהן גדול כך הוא דינך [אמ′ לו] ומה אעשה [אמ′ לו] אם אתה שומע לעצתי רומסם [אמ′ לו] ותורה מה תהא עליה הרי כרוכה ומונחת בקרן זוית כל הרוצה ללמוד יבוא וילמוד…. מיד ותוצץ הרעה על ידי אלעזר בן פועירה ועל ידי יהודה בן גודגדא ויהרגו כל חכמי ישראל והיה העולם משתומם עד שבא שמעון בן שטח והחזיר את התורה ליושנה

An anecdote about king Yannai,[2] who went to Kohalit[3] in the desert and captured sixty cities there. And as he returned he rejoiced with great joy,[4] and he summoned all the sages of Israel and said to them, “Our fathers ate malūḥim[5] in the time when they were engaged in rebuilding the Temple. Therefore let us also eat malūḥim in memory of our fathers.” So they served malūḥim on their tables of gold and ate.

And there was there a certain man, a scoffer, evil[6] and a scoundrel, and Eleazar ben Poirah was his name. And Eleazar ben Poirah said to king Yannai, “O king Yannai, the hearts of the Pharisees are against you.” “And what should I do?” [He said to him,][7] “Make them swear[8] by the plate that is between your eyes.”[9] He tested them [by wearing] the plate [of the high priest’s turban—DNB and JNT] that was between his eyes. There was there a certain elder, and Yehudah ben Gudgeda[10] was his name. And Yehudah ben Gudgeda said to king Yannai, “O king Yannai, the crown of the kingdom is enough for you.[11] Leave the crown of the priesthood to the seed of Aaron.” For some were saying his mother had been a captive in Modiim.[12] And the matter was investigated and nothing was found.[13] And the sages of Israel separated in indignation.[14]

And Eleazar ben Poirah said to king Yannai, “O king Yannai, the commoner who is in Israel—such is the ruling for him. And you are a king and high priest! Shall such be the ruling for you?”[15] [He said to him,][16] “And what should I do?” [He said to him,][17] “If you listen to my counsel, stamp them out.” [He said to him,][18] “And the Torah, what will become of it?” “Behold,[19] it is bound up and left in the corner. Anyone who wants to study it, let him come and study”…. Immediately evil burst forth on account of Eleazar ben Poirah and Yehudah ben Gudgeda,[20] and they slew all the sages of Israel and the world was desolate until Shimon ben Shetach came and restored the Torah to its former place. (b. Kid. 66a)

A coin minted during the reign of Alexander Yannai. One side of the coin (left) depicts an anchor and bears the Greek inscription ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ "King Alexander." The other side of the coin (right) bears a Hebrew inscription with the name Yonatan, of which Yannai is a shortened form. Image courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

A coin minted during the reign of Alexander Yannai. One side of the coin (left) depicts an anchor and bears the Greek inscription [ΑΛΕ]ΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΒΑ[ΣΙΛΕΩΣ] (“of King Alexander”). The other side of the coin (right) bears the title יהונתן המלך (Yehōnātān hamelech, “Jonathan the king”). Yannai (ינאי) is a shortened form of Yehonatan. Image courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

In this baraita, vav-consecutives (ויאמר, ויבוקש, ויבדילו, ותוצץ, ויהרגו), which are a conspicuous feature of classical BH style not found in other MH compositions,[21] appear side by side with elements familiar from late Biblical and/or Qumran sources (e.g., -שֶׁ instead of אֲשֶׁר for the relative pronoun;[22] כְּרַךְ, “walled city”;[23] הָיָה + participle [היה שמח, היו אוכלים, היו עסוקים, היו אומרים, והיה…משתומם]‎;[24] ‏אַף instead of גַּם for “also”; אָנוּ instead of אֲנַחְנוּ for first person plur.), as well as elements known exclusively from MH, including MH vocabulary (חָזַר, “return”; פָּרוּשִׁים, “Pharisees”; הֲרֵי, “behold”; קֶרֶן זָוִית, “corner”) and loanwords from Greek (הֶדְיוֹט, “commoner,” from ἰδιώτης[25] ).[26]

Note that the BH elements are found in the narrative framework, whereas the MH elements are especially, though not exclusively, concentrated in direct speech. We believe that the linguistic features preserved in this baraita afford a rare sample of the style of Hebrew in which the conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua was composed.[27]

Life Of YeshuaClick here to return to the Introduction to “The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.”



  • [1] See Daniel R. Schwartz, “Remembering the Second Temple Period: Josephus and the Rabbis, Apologetics and Rabbinical Training,” in Erinnerung als Herkunft der Zukunft. Zum Jubiläumssymposium des Instituts für jüdisch-christliche Forschung an der Universaität Luzern (17.-19. September 2006) (ed. Verena Lenzen; Bern: Peter Lang, 2008), 63-83, esp. 71-72; idem, Reading the First Century: On Reading Josephus and Studying Jewish History of the First Century (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2013), 127-128; Vered Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus (b. Qiddušin 66a): A Pharisaic Reply to Sectarian Polemic,” Harvard Theological Review 107.1 (2014): 31-58; Tal Ilan and Vered Noam, “Remnants of a Pharisaic Apologetic Source in Josephus and in the Babylonian Talmud,” in Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity (ed. Menahem Kister, Hillel I. Newman, Michael Segal and Ruth A. Clements; Leiden: Brill, 2015), 112-133.
  • [2] Josephus reports a parallel account in Ant. 13:288-298. However, according to Josephus, the story concerns Alexander Yannai’s (Jannaeus’) father, John Hyrcanus. It is possible that the baraita in b. Kid. 66a and Josephus’ account are based on a common source composed in Hebrew shortly after the events they report. Some scholars have advanced arguments for preferring BT’s identification of the central figure in this story as Yannai. See Gedalyahu Alon, “The Attitude of the Pharisees to Roman Rule and the House of Herod,” in Jews, Judaism and the Classical World (trans. Israel Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997), 18-47, esp. 26-28; M. J. Geller, “Alexander Jannaeus and the Pharisee Rift,” Journal of Jewish Studies 30.2 (1979): 202-211. Especially important are the facts that Yannai was the first Hasmonean ruler to assume both the titles “high priest” and “king,” and that elsewhere Josephus reports that Yannai was pelted with citrons in the Temple during the feast of Sukkot because some believed that Yannai was unfit to serve as high priest because his mother had been taken captive (Ant. 13:372), the same accusation leveled against king Yannai in b. Kid. 66a. Complicating the issue is the fact that the mothers both of John Hyrcanus and of Alexander Yannai were each held captive at different points. In his parallel to b. Kid. 66a, Josephus claims that Hyrcanus’ mother was captured during the revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but, as Geller notes, the only known captivity of Hyrcanus’ mother took place in 135 B.C.E., long after the revolt, when she was imprisoned and killed by Ptolemy (Ant. 13:230-235). Yannai’s mother was imprisoned by her own son, Aristobulus, after the death of John Hyrcanus (Ant. 13:302). Although the sources are silent with respect to the location of her imprisonment, Geller conjectures that Yannai’s mother could have been held captive in Modiim, the ancestral home of the Hasmonean family. Geller’s hypothesis could explain how the parallel accounts in Ant. and BT came to attribute the same story to two different Hasmonean rulers. If, as in b. Kid. 66a, Josephus’ source mentioned Modiim as the place of captivity, Josephus may have mistakenly assumed that the captivity took place during the period of Antiochus—when the Hasmoneans were living in Modiim—and erroneously concluded that the story could only refer to John Hyrcanus. Josephus might therefore have amended his source to read “Hyrcanus” instead of Yannai. See Geller, “Alexander Jannaeus and The Pharisee Rift,” 210.
  • [3] Is Kohalit to be identified with the כחלת mentioned in the Copper Scroll (3Q15 I, 9; II, 13; IV, 1, 11; XII, 10)? On the possible interpretations of כחלת in the Copper Scroll, see the discussion in Judah K. Lefkovits, The Copper Scroll 3Q15: A Reevaluation (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 73-76.
  • [4] Compare Josephus’ reports of celebration at Alexander Yannai’s return to Jerusalem after a successful military campaign (J.W. 1:105; Ant. 13:394). See David Flusser, “A Comment on a Prayer for the Welfare of King Jonathan” (JSTP1, 171 n. 8).
  • [5] The root of the name מַלּוּחַ (malūaḥ, plur. malūḥim) suggests that some kind of salty plant is intended. The malūaḥ is mentioned once in the Bible as a poor-man’s food (Job 30:4). Although malūḥim is usually rendered “mallows,” Zohary identified this plant as the shrubby orache. See Michael Zohary, Plants of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 145. See also Zev Vilnay, Legends of Galilee, Jordan, and Sinai (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), 293-294.
  • [6] Most printed editions of the Babylonian Talmud read לב רע (“evil-hearted”), but לב is omitted in the most reliable manuscripts and editions. See Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 32 n. 7.
  • [7] Although omitted in printed editions, א″ל (“he said to him”) is found in some manuscripts.
  • [8] On the use of the Aramaic root ק-ו-מ (“swear”) in Hebrew contexts, see Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 33 n. 11.
  • [9] The plate on the high priest’s diadem was inscribed with the Tetragrammaton (Exod. 28:36). Eleazar ben Poirah proposed that king Yannai make the Pharisees swear by the Divine Name on the golden plate that they recognized Yannai’s authority as both high priest and king. Cf. Jesus’ criticism of swearing by the altar and other furnishings in the Temple (Matt. 23:16-22).
  • [10] Yehudah’s patronymic appears in several different forms in the manuscripts and printed editions, including גדידיה (Gedidyāh), גדירא (Gedērā’), and גדריא (Gādriyā’). The form גודגדא (Gūdgedā’) occurs in a geniza fragment, in some manuscripts, and other versions. See the discussion in Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 33 n. 13.
  • [11] Noam notes that רב לך (“enough for you”) is an allusion to the story of Korah’s rebellion where the phrase רב לכם (“enough for you,” i.e., “You have gone too far!”; JPS) occurs in Num. 16:3, 7. See Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 41.
  • [12] An anonymous group insinuated that since Yannai’s mother had been a captive the legitimacy of her offspring was in doubt (cf. Jos., Ant. 13:372). The prohibition against priests marrying women who were taken captive is based on Lev. 21:7 and is attested in Josephus (Ant. 3:276; Ag. Ap. 1:35) and in early rabbinic literature (m. Ket. 2:9). The slander against Yannai was found to be baseless since although Yannai’s mother had been held captive it was long after Yannai had been born.
  • [13] Noam notes that this sentence alludes to Esth. 2:23. See Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 39-40.
  • [14] On the interpretation of ויבדלו חכמי ישראל בזעם, see Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 33 n. 14, 43-44.
  • [15] The point of Eleazar’s comment is obscure. Baumgarten interprets Eleazar ben Poirah’s statement this way: “…even a non-royal Israelite would have been justified in being angry and expecting other guests to support his honor” (Albert I. Baumgarten, “Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple Period,” Dead Sea Discoveries 2.1 [1995]: 14-57; quotation on p. 44). Schwartz, on the other hand, suggests there is a lacuna in the baraita which can be supplemented by Josephus’ parallel account, according to which “the adviser urged the king to have the Pharisees propose a punishment for the maligner, and when they suggested a lenient punishment the king was outraged” (Daniel R. Schwartz, “On Pharisaic Opposition to the Hasmonean Monarchy,” in Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity [Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1992], 49 n. 23).
  • [16] In printed editions אמ′ לו (“he said to him”) is omitted, but it appears in some manuscripts.
  • [17] In printed editions אמ′ לו (“he said to him”) is omitted, but it appears in some manuscripts.
  • [18] In printed editions אמ′ לו (“he said to him”) is omitted, but it appears in some manuscripts.
  • [19] Instead of הרי (“Behold”), MS Vatican 111 reads והלא היא (“And is it not…?”).
  • [20] In printed editions, Yehudah ben Gudgeda’s name is omitted in this sentence, but it appears in manuscripts and a geniza fragment. See Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 43.
  • [21] See Moses H. Segal, “Mišnaic Hebrew and its Relation to Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic,” Jewish Quarterly Review [Original Series] 20 (1908): 637-737, esp. 682.
  • [22] See Segal, “Mišnaic Hebrew,” 659-660.
  • [23] Although unattested in BH, the noun כְּרַךְ is found once in DSS (cf. 4Q468g 1 I, 5).
  • [24] See Segal, “Mišnaic Hebrew,” 698-700.
  • [25] See Jastrow, 333.
  • [26] For a detailed linguistic analysis of the baraita in b. Kid. 66a, see Noam, “The Story of King Jannaeus,” 53-57.
  • [27] Citing m. Peah 2:2; m. Bab. Kam. 1:2; Sifre Num. 22, to 6:2 (ed. Horovitz, 26); and b. Kid. 66a as examples, Safrai wrote, “the earliest sayings in tannaic literature are written in a Hebrew which is similar to that of late biblical works such as Esther and Daniel” (Shmuel Safrai, “Literary Languages in the Time of Jesus,” under the subheading “Major Genres and Works”). Cf. Chaim Rabin, “Hebrew and Aramaic in the First Century” (Safrai-Stern, 2:1016 n. 2), who also cites the story about the Levites and the innkeeper at the end of m. Yev. 16:7.

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