Talmud Documents used in the Jesus Trial

What I’m doing here is explaining actual courtroom evidence that I am confident refers to the person we c Jesus. Some first century documents contain major records of a trial.

How do you prove a historical fact? For example, what if you wanted to prove that Alan Turing was actually gay. You couldn’t prove that from the story about his life, The Imitation Game. A story can be used for many things, but a story is always a kind of hearsay.

I can tell you that I heard something in a courtroom. But you’re generally on much safer ground if you have a trial transcript. It’s generally better to get it in writing.

‘”Alan Turing pleaded guilty in 1952 to being a homosexual. The court sentenced him to chemical castration. In 2016 the court documents related to his trial went on display in Chester, UK.”

If you ask nicely, you can travel to Chester, UK and examine the trial documents. Unless you live in Great Britain such a trip to Chester would take a bit of money and a lot of effort.

You can examine the trial documents I’m talking about below with a little bit of effort, but it won’t cost you airfare.

First, I’m going to give you some background. Second, we will take a look at several documents that I believe were used by Yohanan b. Zakka when he prosecuted Jesus and his friends.

The man we call Jesus was indeed executed, but it wasn’t by crucifixion, it was by stoning.

There was a man named Jesus, and just prior to his execution he did have a conversation with John and Mary. But John is not who you think John was, and Mary is not who you think Mary was.

There really were conversations about Jesus’ guilt or innocence, about whether or not he deserved to die, about how his guilt compared to the guilt of one of his friends, and to the acquittal of two others.

And you know that verse that talks about “a well-known Pharisee” (Luke 14:1)? That Pharisee existed, too. His name was Yohanan b. Zakkai.

This would have referred us to a second, independent historical source that discussed Jesus and people to whom he was connected, but was deliberately suppressed.

When Jesus was on trial, Yohanan b. Zakkai was the prosecuting attorney. But he wasn’t charged with sedition or with smoking peyote. We will see what the charges were when we come to the charge documents below.

Yohanan b. Zakkai was a Pharisee at the beginning of his career. As an expert in the law, he could arrest people, he could testify against people, he could act as the prosecutor (or the judge) in trials. Everything the apostle Paul did in terms of making arrests, acting as judge, these are all things that Rabbi Yohanan did in real life.

Now this Pharisee was in a chronic situation between Jerusalem and Rome. As part of their foreign policy, the Romans loved to establish official cities. This helped to Romanize their territories.

To my knowledge the Romans didn’t start many cities from scratch. Their strategy wasn’t simply to have official cities. The point was to Romanize people already in the cities slowly, step by step. Cities offered ambitious local people lots of incentives to do it Rome’s way.

In Palestine they declared certain cities to be official, Roman cities, almost like Roman territory. They converted settlements like Sepphoris and Tiberias, and Bania, each one, into an official polis. In these newly Roman cities, any free person born there had dual citizenship, and half of that dual citizenship was Roman. Saul of Tarsus was born in Tarsus (duh), an official Roman city, and that’s why he was a Roman citizen AND a member of the tribe of Israel. These dual citizenship people had a real edge on others in town.

So basically anyone born in Sepphoris or Tiberius or Bania had a special amount of pull as a Roman citizen and a special amount of pull as a Jew, or a Syrian, or whatever his parents were originally.

Here’s where it starts to get really interesting. In 30 CE a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee went through this process. It was elevated to the status of official Roman city. So a few miles north of Tiberias there was now Bethsaida-Julias.

No, we don’t have a lot of direct evidence about this event. We do have one piece of tangible evidence, however, a coin. We know the date of this status change because of that coin that was discovered in 1987. It was dug up by Yigail Yadin at the location of ancient Bethsaida. Another scholar, Fred Strickert, studied the inscriptions on the coin and pinpointed the date that Bethsaida became officially Roman: September 22, 30 CE. I am very grateful to people who study stuff like this.

In addition to this coin evidence, we actually know quite a bit about what was involved in this city status change.

There are what are called Flavian city charters. Hikers, picnickers and archaeologists have been digging up these charters for a long time. They may find one or two “pages”, they may find six. They were made of bronze. In an original Flavian city charter there were were 10 bronze tablets, which were on display in the city square for public inspection. Each plate had detailed directions about how to run a Roman city. There were 95 sections in every charter, covering every aspect of govern a Roman polis. By comparing these artifacts we know the charters were almost identical throughout Europe. This boiler plate made empire-building very efficient.

Anyone who became mayor or vice mayor or was born in that city became a Roman citizen automatically. That was an incentive for locals to get involved in Roman governance. The empire was not built on swords and Roman armies alone. The Romans used all kinds of inducements to get people to become productive members of the empire, and citizenship was one of the big ones. Lots of privileges came to smart people who knew how to use them.

We’ll get to the trial documents in just a moment.

Every time Rome established an official Roman city in Palestine, it nibbled away at Jerusalem’s hegemony. This city strategy was so effective in that it absolutely had to be countered by the Jerusalem Temple state.

Jerusalem was fighting a losing battle. They resisted the Babylonians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans. Their habit was to figure out how cooperate  just enough,, and resist total absorption.

So this Pharisee named Yohanan b. Zakkai went to work figuring out how to retain a foothold in Bethsaida. At some point he came up with a strategy.

Now the Jews hated intermarriage, they hated what they called moral pollution of their good Jewish offspring marrying outsiders. And of all the things they detested about this mixing, they hated homosexuality the most. They called gay and lesbian sex “The Sin of the Gentiles”.

They also had a strict policy of enforcing Jewish law on anyone living in Jewish territory, which should come as no surprise. This is one of the points of having a country. There are two verses in the Pentateuch which said they were to have one law for the native-born, and the same law for strangers and outsiders. If you were Syrian and lived in Jerusalem you knew what the Jewish laws were and you obeyed them. Or you suffered the consequences, legally.

Any organized country applies its laws to foreigners, whether they are visiting tourists or alien merchants,

But with Bethsaida becoming official Roman territory, everything in the region was going to change. We don’t understand everything about these two legal systems but we can discern the likely reasoning behind the Pharisaic legal strategy.

Ribaz (Yohanan b. Zakkai) wanted to keep a foot in the door for Torah. This status change in Bethsaida was a last-ditch opportunity. If he could get a Roman court to go on record allowing them to execute a non-Jew, like a Syrian or a.Syrophonecian,  for messing around sexually with a gay or lesbian Jew, this precedent could be used in courtrooms throughout the diaspora. It was a high-stakes gamble, but his jurisdiction presented him with an unique opportunity for a test case.

So Ribaz looked around for test cases. The city of Bethsaida itself was the first place to look. It was a Roman administrative hub for the smaller cities around it.

What ended up happening was a pair of arrests, there were arrests in Bethsaida and arrests in Chorazin, a satellite city. A mixed race pair of men were arrested in the larger city, and a mixed race pair of women in the smaller. These pairs of gays and lesbians could could set a precedent the diaspora could use throughout the empire.

Now the judge in this case was roughly equivalent to a  regional governor. His name was Philip the Tetrarch, and was one of the sons of Herod the Great.

Philip was what we would today call a secular Jew. He was ideal to rule a territory like this. He had been educated in Rome, which was typical for princes from cooperating territories. Philip knew Roman religion, Roman politics, Roman history, and Roman law. He probably picked up various Roman social attitudes as well.

He was equipped to assist Rome in the transition from local government to Roman Imperial government. This included embracing diversity.and tolerating differences.

We know from the sources that Philip the Tetrarch and Yohanan b. Zakkai both operated in this region at the same time. The Talmud tells us that R. Yohanan practiced law in the Galilean city of ‘Arav for 18 years (Shabbat 16:7). ‘Arav was about 17 miles from Bethsaida if memory serves. And we know that Philip the Tetrarch ruled his territory from 4 BCE to 34 CE. So, historically speaking, we know these two officials had met one another. Probably on many occasions. They were both active in the vicinity during the time in question.

Two test cases were prepared. One Jew and one Syrian in each chosen couple. Why and how the particular couples were selected would certainly be significant, but not here. We’re just trying to nail down the fact of a trial.

One thing at a time.

For a trial, the charging documents had to be prepared by the prosecutor. The Romans had been negotiating legal cases with tribes, allies and subject peoples for centuries. There were peregrine courts. There were peregrine praetors. Peregrine preators were officials responsible for everything related to non-Romans. They were similar, I suppose, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the US. Anything related to non-Romans was handled by qualified special officials.

On occasion, a local government would need to prosecute a case against a Roman citizen. If a Roman killed or defrauded a non-Roman, there had to be a way to obtain justice.

Now if the action was a crime in Rome and a crime in Tarsus, that case would be fairly simple. But if the activity was a crime ONLY in a province but not a crime in Rome, that would present a challenge for the local legal experts. The local expert would have to know Roman law quite well, and find a way to shoehorn the particulars of the local case into Roman jurisprudence.

I have referred to that as translating local law into categories that would be acceptable in a Roman court, to a Roman jurist.

That was the challenge faced by Yohanan b. Zakkai. The Romans had no outright prohibition of same-sex activity. Some activities were locked down on by some Romans, and certain arrangements between the members of a couple could result in penalties for a Roman, but there was no absolute prohibition. Being a sexually active gay or lesbian was, with certainty, not a capital offense for the Romans.

Somehow, Yohanan b. Zakkai needed to convince Philip the Tetrarch that it was legal for a Syrian (or any non-Jew) to be executed for having sex with a Jew. That would be a tough sell.

We now approach our destination, the prosecution documents.

Yohanan b. Zakkai prepared two charge documents to present to the judge. Each document explained the speciific charges against the accused, explaining their rationale since these charges depended on rabbinic extrapolation of the Torah.

One document explained how a gay Gentile was like the high place paraphernalia that was ordered destroyed. The other document explained how a lesbian Gentile was like a cow approached for sex by a Jewish woman.

R. Yoḥanan’s explanation could have been identical to centuries of Jewish legal understanding. Anyone who reads Hebrew can investigate this as they wish.

These two charge documents were necessary because of the gender gender differences in the law. In this case, the animal having sex with the Jewish woman had to be not just a beast but a cow.

Both laws were from the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) and required the destruction of something not normally subject to Torah.

In one case the objects to be destroyed were the paraphernalia connected with sexual worship at the indigenous high places in Israel. Wood and stone are not usually punished if they disobey the law. In the second case, the thing to be destroyed was a beast, specifically a cow.

The Ashera pole and the stone altar illustrate the intentional flexibility of some laws in the Torah. The Asherah pole was a phallic symbol. The stone altar was where a cult priestess or priest would recline for sex with the worshiper. This female symbol was to be destroyed. Through extrapolation, the male and female paraphernalia destruction includes male and female sexual transgressors.

The Court ruling in Luke 17 demonstrates that this Talmudic reasoning was actually exercised and the penalty actually imposed. These passages are not classroom what-ifs.

Whether or not this utility through extrapolation was intentional in the Torah, I don’t know. But I suspect it was.

There are two Tanakh commands to destroy cattle. One case requires the destruction of a bull who gores someone to death. The other is in the case of a beast or cow approached for sex by a woman.

These penalties are not intended as punishment. You do not destroy wood or stone objects to punish them. Punishment is literally not possible. The situation is slightly different for a cow, or an anonymous beast. A beast could conceivably be punished to correct behavior, but not a habitual man-killing bull. Such an animal is put down for the safety of human beings. Both charge documents disavow sin and punishment as factors.

The phallic symbol and the sex altar could only remind people of forbidden sex. The “cow” wandering through the marketplace could only remind people of its sex with the executed Jewish woman. To protect people from confusing and tempting reminders of sexual sin, certain  non-Jewish things must be destroyed.

At the beginning of various movies and m programs we see trigger warnings about things that might upset people. Such triggers exist in daily life. If you drive past a place where you have experienced things that you would prefer not to repeat, those locations can be triggers. In conversation, simply referring to a particular place or person can trigger emotional responses. “I asked you never to speak that name again.”

So these two charge documents began by explaining the legal grounds for destroying things, things that are not otherwise subject to penalties demanded by law.

After this, each charge document explains that the reason for destroying the high place paraphernalia and the cow is not punishment for sin, but for the protection of the living. (This protection is related to my discussion of Yohanan b. Zakkai in chapter 2 of my book, The Galilee Episode.)

(You can find these two Torah charge documents at the end of this article.)

In addition to the two charge documents, there is a third document related to this specific trial. This kind of document has a specific label in both Latin and Hebrew. In Roman law it is called a responsa. In Hebrew it is known as She’elot u-Teshuvot (Hebrew: שאלות ותשובות‎ “questions and answers”). What follows is precisely such an answer

“R. Yohanan said: ‘Grind’ means nothing else than [sexual] transgression; and thus it is stated: “Then let my wife grind unto another”. [Job 31:9-10] It teaches [in Judges 16:20-21] that [Samson did grind in the prison house], everyone brought his wife to him to the prison that she might bear a child by him [who would be as strong as he was].”

The following text is the judges verdict in the same case. This text is not from the Talmud, but from the New Testament, the book of Luke.

Most of us were never prepared to recognize and understand an actual legal verdict in Luke, not in chapter 17. When the text was being compiled and re-edited, someone decided to put this action in a vague, hazy future somewhere. So we learned to not inquire too deeply, since it probably didn’t relate to us anyway.

Or we may not have taken the predictive element seriously, but thought that the original writers and redactors had taken it seriously, so we ended up analyzing it prophetically and predictably anyway. It wasn’t that we believed it was actually prophecy, but many of us believed the original writers wrote it as prophecy.

Or, ideologically, we accepted the Sola Scriptura teaching we had been taught at church and in our seminaries. This cut us off from the Talmud and Josephus. These texts match the time frame and the geographic region. They could have helped us understand. But the texts haven’t gone away. We still have them if we want to check it out. The sources are available online if you don’t have a copy of the Bible or the Talmud laying around the house.

Now there’s not much that prepares the modern reader to understand the following text from the New Testament. We are used to parables, some genealogy, some apocalyptic, even some mystical and poetic stuff.

When I first studied this, I said to myself “Hebrew poetry.” I had a class in Hebrew poetry in college, and the parallelism in these two verses looked to be straight up poetic parallelism. But I was incorrect. Wrong genre. The correct answer is — law. It’s from the legal genre, directly out of law.

Luke 17:34-35
The Judge’s Verdict

◼️ “[I tell you, in that night,]
Two men will be in one bed,
one will be seized, and the other left.
Two women will be grinding together,
one will be seized, and the other left.” (Darby)

These are the two couples that were put on trial for sexual transgression. We’ll get to that assertion momentarily. In each couple there was one Jewish person and one Syrian person.

Answer to the Judge’s Question: “What Does ‘Grind’ Mean?”

◼️  Tractate Sotah, Folio 10a (Grind)

“R. Yohanan said: ‘Grind’ means nothing else than [sexual] transgression; and thus it is stated: “Then let my wife grind unto another”. [Job 31:9-10] It teaches [in Judges 16:20-21] that [Samson did grind in the prison house], everyone brought his wife to him to the prison that she might bear a child by him [who would be as strong as he was].”

These two texts use the same word. One text is a “responsa” which defines the word “grind” in response tof a judge’s query. The other text (in Luke) is the judge’s verdict. The charges against both couples were sexual transgression.

The five primary source documents discussed above are
   ◼️Massekhet Semahot 8.7 (Execute the Gay Gentile)
   ◼️ ySanhedrin 7.5 (Execute Lesbian Gentile)
   ◼️  Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:2 and Tosefta Sanhedrin 3:2
(Antigone, Trial & Execution for the “Cow”, etc.)
   ◼️ Tractate Sotah, Folio 10a (Talmud definition of “grind”)
   ◼️ Luke 17:34-35  (Trial verdict uses “grind”)

The two charge documents follow.

◼️ Massekhet Semahot 8.7

(Note the transgression, and the human application of the original non-human, inanimate example.)

The dorshe hamurot used to say, You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom thou shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills, and under every green tree; you shall tear down their altars, and dash to pieces their pillars (Deut. 12:2-3).

How did the wood and stones sin? [They did not sin.] But on account of them there came upon man confusion, and therefore Scripture said, You shall destroy their altars.

And behold it is a deduction: If in the case of stone and wood, which have neither merit nor demerit, neither good nor evil, because on their account confusion comes upon man, Scripture said to destroy their altars, a man who causes others to sin, and turns them from the way of life to the way of death, how much more so will he suffer.

◼️ ySanhedrin 7.5

(Note the transgression, and the human application of the original non-human animal example.)

And so too, if a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast, they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:16).

If the woman sinned, what sin did the beast commit? [It did not sin.] But because there came upon man confusion on its account,

Scripture said to kill the beast, that the cow should not go into the market place and people say, “See, there is the cow on whose account so-and-so was put to death.”

Yoḥanan b. Zakkai’s commentary follows here. [Neusner’s comment.]

And behold, it is a matter of deduction: If in the case of the beast, who has neither merit nor demerit, because on its account man was brought into confusion, Scripture said to stone it, a man who causes his fellow to sin, and leads him from the way of life to the way of sin, how much the more (will he suffer).

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Devotional, Galilee, Gay Jew Jesus Trial, Grinding, Jesus and Homosexuality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Talmud Documents used in the Jesus Trial

  1. Lodewijk Langeweg says:

    The male symbolizes the intellect, reason, the female the soul, and feeling. When the intellect engages with the merely human understanding it sins -misses God- and that misunderstanding will will be removed by God’s Spirit or divine understanding. God’s Self Knowledge.
    When the soul identifies -unites- with human feelings and nature, also it misses the point, the point being God in us. And also that merely human feeling will be taken away by God to be replaced by His divine Bliss.
    This is God the Son’s dream, a dream of death in which God experiences being but human instead of divine. Making Him consciously or subconsciously cry out:
    “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me??”
    ” But I am a worm and no man, a reproach of men and despised by the people.”
    ~Psalm 22: 1 and 6
    “Then the Lord awakened as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.”
    ~Psalm 78:65
    For the Hebrew – Greek Interlinear of Psalm 78:
    (In some Bibles the Hebrew was translated as saying that the Lord awakened as a drunk man after stupor. Speaking of blasphemy…
    But the mystics of old explained that the wine is a parable for the spiritual enjoyment of the Godhead, An example of that is found in The Book of Privy Counseling by the same author of The Could of Unknowing.)


    • Lodewijk Langeweg says:

      As an example for us to understand the spiritual development in us, God in human appearance:
      “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
      ~Luke 2:52
      But when the mere idea comes up in us that God loves us so much that He is willing to even experience being us, which for God compared to the infinitely great loving Bliss of His divinity is like letting Himself be spiritually tortured to death, a crucifixion and descend into hell, stooping Himself down to the human experience to raise us up to Himself, thus giving us His Self, then hard hitting accusations may come up like stones thrown at us by those parts of our subconscious -symbolized as Jews- that know the greatness of God, but not knowing yet that His greatness is in His infinitely great pure altruistic Love for us for which He is now experiencing being us, that also we may have the joy of God, and thus God having His joy again, recuperating what He had given up for us, all to our eternal living benefit as a living inheritance:
      “Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of
      those works do ye stone me?
      The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”
      ~John 10:31-32
      If a loving human father already wills for his children that they be at least as happy as he is and not less happy, shall God our Father not will that for us His divine offspring, spiritual extensions of Himself?


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