Does an Ancient Jewish Polemic Defame, or Legitimize, the Founder of Christianity?

Thought to have been composed originally in what is now Iraq no later than the 8th century CE, Toldot Yeshu (“The Story of Jesus”) tells an imaginative version of the life of Jesus of Nazareth with a clear anti-Christian intent. Thus, its rabbinic author (or authors) explains the virgin birth as a story concocted by Mary to cover up a premarital affair. Yet, argues Eli Yassif, this work—the earliest known Hebrew “literary biography of a single protagonist”—presents a surprisingly nuanced look at its subject. To explain the wonderworking described in the Gospels, for example, Toldot Yeshu relates a fantastic tale in which Jesus steals the powers of the Tetragrammaton. Yassif writes:

In a religious polemic, there is no move easier to make than to accuse one’s opponent of sorcery, thereby putting him in league with all things evil and demonic. The question that cuts to the heart of Toldot Yeshu’s meaning, then, is why this work, in almost all [of its many manuscript] versions, decided to ignore the longstanding tradition of Jesus as a sorcerer, [found in pagan literature], and instead gave him the Ineffable Name. The story appears to contain the following polemical argument at its base: the foundation of Christianity is rooted in an underhanded theft of one of the most hallowed possessions of Judaism.

But the argument is more complicated still, for it does not deny the truth of Jesus’ actions and the divine source of his power. Toldot Yeshu does not argue that the stories of Jesus’ wonderworking in the New Testament are lies; on the contrary, they are absolutely true because they flow from his getting hold of the holiest power of all, the Ineffable Name. If Jesus, in this narrative, represents Christianity as a whole, then a most bold claim lies between these lines: Christianity is not legerdemain or lies because it springs from the Holiest of Jewish Holies. . . .

Thus, as a folk narrative aimed at the many strata of Jewish society, and not as a polemic intended solely for the learned, Toldot Yeshu seeks to expose . . . the Jewish basis of Christianity, and to argue that the sources of its power and massive success came from Judaism.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: History & Ideas, Jesus, Jewish-Christian relations

 

As Vladimir Putin Sidles Up to the Mullahs, the Threat to the U.S. and Israel Grows

On Tuesday, Russia launched an Iranian surveillance satellite into space, which the Islamic Republic will undoubtedly use to increase the precision of its military operations against its enemies. The launch is one of many indications that the longstanding alliance between Moscow and Tehran has been growing stronger and deeper since the Kremlin’s escalation in Ukraine in February. Nicholas Carl, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Katherine Lawlor write:

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Tehran has traditionally sought to purchase military technologies from Moscow rather than the inverse. The Kremlin fielding Iranian drones in Ukraine will showcase these platforms to other potential international buyers, further benefitting Iran. Furthermore, Russia has previously tried to limit Iranian influence in Syria but is now enabling its expansion.

Deepening Russo-Iranian ties will almost certainly threaten U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe. Iranian material support to Russia may help the Kremlin achieve some of its military objectives in Ukraine and eastern Europe. Russian support of Iran’s nascent military space program and air force could improve Iranian targeting and increase the threat it poses to the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East. Growing Iranian control and influence in Syria will enable the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [to use its forces in that country] to threaten U.S. military bases in the Middle East and our regional partners, such as Israel and Turkey, more effectively. Finally, Moscow and Tehran will likely leverage their deepening economic ties to mitigate U.S. sanctions.

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Read more at Critical Threats

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, U.S. Security, Vladimir Putin