An Almost Unknown Hanina ben Dosa Story and Jesus: Exemplars of First-century Galilean Hasidic Judaism

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This story shows Hanina ben Dosa, one of the most important religious figures in Jewish history, exemplifying some of Jesus’ most profound and radical teachings.

Some time ago, I happened upon an amazing story about the miracle-worker Hanina ben Dosa that is almost unknown and sheds new light on the Jewish background of the Christian gospels. In the last 50 years or so, Gospel scholars, particularly Jewish scholars, have increasingly seen the importance of Jesus’ Jewish origins and his Galilean roots. Further, they have come to understand that Jesus was part of a Galilean branch of Judaism that was more rural and relaxed, and distinctively hasidic (pietistic).[1] Different from the Judean Jews who were urban and scholarly, these Galilean hasidim preferred prayer to Torah study. They were not scholars but charismatic healers and miracle-workers, itinerant preachers and storytellers.[2] Aside from Jesus himself, perhaps the most famous individual of that branch of Judaism was Hanina ben Dosa, a younger contemporary of Jesus.

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Bibliography

Bin-Gorion, M. J. [Berdichevsky, Micah Joseph], 1865-1921. Der Born Judas: Legenden, Märchen und Erzählungen [The Well of Judah: Legends, Fairy Tales and Narratives]. 6 vols. Trans. by Rahel Bin-Gorion [Ramberg]. Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1916-1923. See Vol. 2, pp. 31-32. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015062217693&seq=39

בן-גריון [ברדיצ’בסקי, מיכה יוסף]. “מימים ראשונים; ספורי אגדה; ההגמון הפלאי.” התקופה; ספר שמיני ;תמוז-אלול תר”ף, העורך דוד פרישמן,Warszawa: Wydawnictwo-Sztybel, 1920, עמ’ 115–174. עמ’ 166.‏ [__________. “From Early Days; Fairy Tales; The Wonder Hegemon.” HaTekufahThe Period⟩; Eighth Book; Tammuz-Elul 1920, ed. by David Fryszman, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo-Sztybel, 1920, pp. 115-174. See p. 166 for longer elaborated version of the story.] https://library.osu.edu/projects/hebrew-lexicon/99995-files/99995101/99995101-08.pdf

בן-גריון [ברדיצ′בסקי], מיכה יוסף. ממקור ישראל. כרך א-ו ,תרצ″ח-תש″ה. כרך ג, סעיף יח.‏
[__________. Mimekor YisraelFrom Israel⟩. Vol. 1-6, ⟨ed. by Emanuel Bin-Gorion, Tel Aviv, Dvir,⟩ 1937-1945. See Vol. 3, section 18.]

בן-גריון [ברדיצ’בסקי], מיכה יוסף. “ההגמון הפלאי; סיפור מספר 255.” ממקור ישראל, מס”ע, מרכז סיפורי-עם ופולקלור.‏ [__________. “The Wonder Hegemon; story number 255.” Mimekor YisraelFrom Israel⟩, C. F. F., The Center of Folktales and Folklore.] http://folkmasa.org/b/mi_sipurp.php?mishtane=255.

__________; Mimekor Yisrael. Classical Jewish Folktales, Abridged and Annotated Edition, ed. by Emanuel Bin-Gorion. Trans. by L. M. Lask. Introduction and headnotes by Dan Ben-Amos. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Büchler, Adolf, 1867-1939. Types of Jewish-Palestinian Piety, from 70 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.: The Ancient Pious Men. London: Oxford University Press, 1922. See pp. 90-91. https://archive.org/details/typesofjewishpal1922bc/page/90

Cook, John Granger, 1955-. “Matthew 5.39 and 26.67: Slapping Another’s Cheek in Ancient Mediterranean Culture,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10, 2014: pp. 68-89.

Gaster, Moses, 1856-1939. Report for the Year 1894-1895: 1st Tammuz, 5654, to 30th Sivan, 5655; and, Report for the Year 1895-1896: 1st Tammuz, 5655, to 30th Sivan, 5656; Together with, The ancient Collections of Agadoth, The Sefer ha-Maasiyoth and two Facsimiles. Ramsgate: Judith Montefiore College (printed by W. Drugulin, Leipzig), 1896. See part 1, pp. 42-52 for comments about the manuscript; part 2, section CLXI [161], pp. 115-116 for Hebrew text. https://books.google.com/books?id=0t1EAAAAYAAJ

__________. The Exempla of the Rabbis: Being a Collection of Exempla, Apologues And Tales Culled From Hebrew Manuscripts And Rare Hebrew Books. London and Leipzig: Asia Publishing Co., 1924. See part 1 (The Exempla), section 1, pp. 39-49 for comments about the manuscript; p. 93 for English summary of the story; part 2 (ספר המעשיות), section CLXI [161], pp. 115-116 for the Hebrew text. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiuo.ark:/13960/t7rp1pj3q&view=1up&seq=462; https://archive.org/details/exemplaofrabbisb00gast

__________. The Exempla of the Rabbis: Being a Collection of Exempla, Apologues And Tales Culled From Hebrew Manuscripts And Rare Hebrew Books. New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1968. See prolegomenon by William G. Braude, pp. XIX-XXX.

Herford, R. Travers, 1860-1950. Pirke Aboth: The Ethics of the Talmud: Sayings of the Fathers. New York: Jewish Institute of Religion, 1945; reprint, New York: Schocken, 1962. https://archive.org/details/sayingsoffathers00unse

Safrai, Shmuel, 1919-2003. “Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature,” Journal of Jewish Studies 16, 1965, pp. 15-33. https://www.jjs-online.net/archives/article/516

__________. “Jesus and the Hasidim,” Jerusalem Perspective 42-44, 1994, pp. 3-22. https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2685

__________. “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century,” The New Testament and Christian-Jewish Dialogue: Studies in Honor of David Flusser, Immanuel (series) 24/25, ed. by Malcolm F. Lowe. Jerusalem: Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, 1990, pp. 147-186. http://www.etrfi.info/immanuel/24/Immanuel_24_147.pdf; https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/4452

Vermes, Géza, 1924-2013. “Hanina ben Dosa: A controversial Galilean Saint from the First Century of the Christian Era,” Journal of Jewish Studies 23, 1972, pp. 28-50. https://www.jjs-online.net/archives/article/604

__________ “Hanina ben Dosa: A controversial Galilean Saint from the First Century of the Christian Era (II),” Journal of Jewish Studies 24, 1973, pp. 51-64. https://www.jjs-online.net/archives/article/633

__________. Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s reading of the Gospels. London: Collins, 1973.

I’d like to acknowledge the help I received in producing this article from Professor Brad Young and Ya’akov Love, each with his own contribution. And thanks to Shoshannah Brombacher for her fine artwork.

Notes


  • [1] See Safrai, “Jesus and the Hasidim.”
  • [2] Vermes puts material about Hanina into three categories: “Healer, Miracle-worker, Teacher” (see Vermes, “Hanina ben Dosa,” 28). Safrai notes that rabbinic literature mentions explicitly “the teaching of hasidim” משנת חסידים (see Safrai, “Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature,” 25).

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