Have you ever been in attendance in a court case, and heard the attorney ask the judge for “permission to treat the witness as hostile”? What is a “hostile witness” anyway?
According to the Business Dictionary, a hostile witness is a person who (in the court’s opinion) gives adverse testimony or displays hostility or prejudice against the party which called him or her to testify. The calling party may cross-examine a hostile witness (with the court’s permission) as if he or she was called by the opposing party.
Now, what would you say if I told you that some of the strongest pieces of evidence for Jesus’ claim to be the Divine Son of God, are found in the writings of people that didn’t even like Him? Men that were His contemporaries. Men that saw His ministry, watched Him perform miracles, and yet despised Him, denied His authority, and wanted Him dead?
Permission to treat these witnesses as hostile, your Honor?
All it takes is a little bit of research into the writings of the Rabbis who were part of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, as recorded in the Jewish Talmud.
You see, the Talmud is a collection of biblical commentaries and Jewish history written down by Jewish Priests and Rabbis (including the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes) over a span of about 500 years, starting about a century before the birth of Jesus, and concluding a few hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Among many fascinating bits of history recorded in the Talmud, is the notice issued by the High Priests of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to have Jesus arrested and killed, as is also recorded in the bible. (see John 11:57 and 18:1-14)
The rabbinical record in the Talmud spells out the indictment against “Yeshu Ha Nozri” (That’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Nazarene”), who they claim “practiced magic and deceived, and led Israel astray.”
Therefore the Sanhedrin decided that “‘He shall be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But no one had anything exonerating to say for Him, so they hung Him on the eve of Passover.” (Sanhedrin 43 a and 107 b, Talmud Babli)
First, a quick word about Passover, and the Jewish concept of a “day”. The Jewish concept of a day starts at sundown. As soon as the sun disappears over the western horizon, the new day officially begins.
The Passover celebration is actually eight days long. The first day is “Preparation Day”, when the lamb was traditionally slaughtered, and other preparations were being made before sundown, when the actual “Feast of Unleavened Bread” began.
The “Feast of Unleavened Bread” is a Sabbath, a holy day when no work is to be performed. It is not “THE Sabbath”, as in Saturday, but it is a Jewish Sabbath. “Preparation Day” is not a Sabbath, so there was much work performed that day getting prepared for the Passover Seder. Some families would have the Seder that night, some the following afternoon. Either way it was on the Passover Sabbath, since the Sabbath starts at sundown.
There is a reason I bring this up. Some historical sources claim Jesus was crucified on Passover. John’s gospel says it was on the eve of Passover, as does the Talmud. Both claims can be seen as correct, for the simple reason that in the common understanding of Passover, both the Preparation Day and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were considered part of the Passover celebration. There could be no Passover Seder without Preparation Day, and vice-versa. Both days are part of the complete Passover celebration.
Now, let’s take a look at the fact that the leaders of the Sanhedrin originally planned on stoning Jesus to death.
This reference to stoning rather than crucifixion is very credible, since the Sanhedrin didn’t have the authority to crucify anyone. Only the Romans could authorize and perform a crucifixion. Jesus had not yet been arrested, and had He been seized anywhere or anytime that Romans were not present, He would likely have been executed by stoning if deemed guilty. Several times throughout the Gospels we read of their failed attempts to stone Jesus to death. (This was in fact the fate of the martyr Stephen as recorded in Acts Ch. 7) And yet they admit that, in the end, He was not stoned, but rather “hung (on a cross) on the eve of Passover.”
The mention of “magic” and “sorcery” is quite remarkable. By definition, sorcery is something extraordinary or supernatural accomplished with help from the demonic. A miracle is similar, though achieved with help from God. Could this admission of supernatural acts be therefore taken as evidence of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the gospels?
Remember that the members of the Sanhedrin, whose writings are recorded in this section of the Talmud, were very hostile toward Jesus. But they could not deny that Jesus performed miracles. They were eye witnesses to many of His miracles, as were the crowds that followed Jesus around. So even though they despised Him, because of the many eyewitnesses they could not deny His miraculous power.
What they COULD do, however, was question the SOURCE of His power, as they did when Jesus cast a demon out of a blind man and healed him, as recorded in Matthew chapter 12.
The Pharisees reacted to this obvious miracle by claiming Jesus “doesn’t cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the Ruler of demons.” (Matt. 12:24)
Jesus responded to this accusation by saying “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matt. 12:25-28)
Notice the same line of reasoning between the Pharisees present in Matthew 12, and those that wrote in the Talmud.
These hostile witnesses therefore give us strong evidence that Jesus did, in fact, perform miracles. Their writings also verify that Jesus attracted large crowds when He preached, and that many people followed Him.
It is also obvious that the chief priests considered His teachings to be quite “revolutionary”, though as far as they were concerned that was not a good thing. They had a vested interest in keeping the status quo. They had a lot of power and prestige at stake, and Jesus was “upsetting the apple cart”.
Besides, He didn’t fit most of their preconceived notions of what the Messiah would be like. They wanted a military leader that would lead Israel in a revolt against the Romans and free them from Roman occupation. As far as they were concerned Jesus was a trouble maker that needed to be done away with. And so the arrest notice went out…..and the rest is History.
As it turns out, though, many of the most intriguing historical events recorded in the Talmud that give evidence for Jesus’ Messianic claims, actually began to occur AFTER He was crucified…..which brings us to our next subject:
JESUS IN THE TALMUD, PART 2: STRANGE EVENTS AT THE TEMPLE