Hayyim ben Yehoshua: A Critique

Hayyim ben Yehoshua has a piece called The Myth of the Historical Jesus that can be found all over the Net, and it amounts to 21 printed pages, but at the end there are only seven footnotes -- one from John Allegro's Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (a work so erroneous that a group of scholars of varying religious persuasions took out an ad in a major newspaper saying how bad it was); one from Randel Helms' Gospel Fictions (see here); one from Cohen's Mind of the Bible Believer (here); one from the Talmud, one from a Christ-myth book written in 1913.

The closest we get to a real scholar is Joseph Campbell, who made it on PBS explaining how Christianity stole everything from all of the other religions.

So who is Hayyim ben Yehoshua? He is a Jewish "anti-missionary" who claims that Jesus does not exist; his credentials are unstated and unknown. The following is typical of his expression:

To be perfectly thorough you should take time to do some research on the historical personalities mentioned by the missionaries and present hard evidence of their existence. At the same time you should challenge the missionaries to provide similar evidence of Jesus's existence. You should point out that although the existence of Julius Caesar, or Queen Elizabeth, etc., is accepted worldwide, the same is not true of Jesus. In the Far East where the major religions are Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism and Confucianism, Jesus is considered to be just another character in Western religious mythology, on a par with Thor, Zeus and Osiris. Most Hindus do not believe in Jesus, but those who do consider him to be one of the many avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. Muslims certainly believe in Jesus but they reject the New Testament story and consider him to be a prophet who announced the coming of Muhammed. They explicitly deny that he was ever crucified.

"To sum up," Hayyim says, "there is no story of Jesus which is uniformly accepted worldwide. It is this fact which puts Jesus on a different level to established historical personalities."

Really? What does the opinion of people hundreds of years from the first century and thousands of miles removed from the Near East, reinterpreting data according to their own paradigms, have to do with anything? The same could be said also of Hitler, about whom thousands of biographies have been written, many emphasizing different aspects of his personality. But is he a myth too?

He says: "Although modern Christians claim that Christianity only started in the first century C.E., it is clear that the first century Christians in Israel considered themselves to be a continuation of the Notzri movement which had been in existence for about 150 years. One of the most notorious Notzrim was Yeishu ben Pandeira, also known as Yeishu ha-Notzri. Talmudic scholars have always maintained that the story of Jesus began with Yeishu."

Which Talmudic scholars, please? Jacob Neusner? Geza Vermes? No such as this fills their pages, and Hayyim offers not so much as a footnote for reference here. Some of them do recognize the cites Hayyim gives as being connected to Jesus (that he had five disciples, that he was a sorceror, etc.) but others disagree, and none of them connect it to any person 150 years earlier, and only mythers like Hayyim make such a link, usually by relying on the Toledeth Yeshu. Actually most scholars -- and even atheists, as on the Secular Web -- consider the Talmud references to Jesus historically almost useless.

Here's another argument without basis: "The Hebrew name for Christians has always been Notzrim....There were already people called Notzrim at the time of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah (c. 100 B.C.E.)."

From this Hayyim has all kinds of ideas, but the fact is that the title of notzrim is found in only two copies of a general proscription against sectarian or deviant Jews, but from the Cairo synagogue "dump" for old mss. (in all other versions of the same document, the reference to notzrim is not found at all)and otherwise the only evidence that Jews called Christians "Nazarenes" is found in Jerome and Epiphanus c. 375-400 AD. The term therefore came into use sometime between 150-400 AD. [Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, 68-9]

But based on such slender threads, Hayyim has his own reconstruction to offer, with no documentation to speak of. Jesus' father being Joseph is explained thusly: "The Samaritans considered themselves to be 'Bnei Yoseph' i.e. 'sons of Joseph,' and since they believed that Jesus had been their Messiah, they would have assumed that he was a 'son of Joseph.' The Greek speaking population, who had little knowledge of Hebrew and true Jewish traditions, could have easily misunderstood this term and assumed that Joseph was the actual name of Jesus's father."

Really? We want to know: When some Samaritan missionary called Jesus "son of Joseph," why would this title be especially applied to Jesus, if it was a popular title for all Samaritans? What's the point, exactly, of making light of this? Hayyim thinks this explains confusion in Jesus' genealogies; we think Glenn Miller does it better.

If this was something Samaritan missionaries alone did, what was their proportion to non-Samaritan missionaries, and why didn't non-Samaritans say or do something about this? What is the evidence that the Samaritans had the numbers, power, or influence to make this interpretation superior?

There isn't any -- and I would go as far as daring to say that Hayyim is making this up.

We are told:

The story that Mary (Miriam) the mother of Jesus was an adulteress was certainly not acceptable to the early Christians. The virgin birth story was probably invented to clear Mary's name. The early Christians did not suck this story out of their thumbs. Virgin birth stories were fairly common in pagan myths. The following mythological characters were all believed to have been born to divinely impregnated virgins: Romulus and Remus, Perseus, Zoroaster, Mithras, Osiris-Aion, Agdistis, Attis, Tammuz, Adonis, Korybas, Dionysus. The pagan belief in unions between gods and women, regardless of whether they were virgins or not, is even more common.

Yes, just follow the links. These are the ones I (or in one case Glenn Miller) have checked up on, and none of them are products of virgin conceptions. Virgin "births," maybe -- if you count things like slipping divine sperm in through fruit as not violating virginity. Technically this may be true. Comparatively, it's nothing like the NT account.

You'll see the same about "crucified" and resurrected divinities in Hayyim's material as well. He also repeats the litany about Peter being named after a deity from the Egyptian Book of the Dead; as with Acharya S, I challenge anyone to find this for me in the online version I linked to in that article.

We are told, "Even today, editions of the Talmud used by Christian scholars lack these passages [that refer to Jesus]." Odd, then, how you can find them referred to even in Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Which editions of the Talmud are these, and which Christian scholars? Hayyim makes innumerable vague claims that this, without any citation or quotation, throughout his material.

You won't find much new here that isn't already answered on this page, but here are a few odd statements otherwise:

So it is that we may freely dispense with attention to another Internet-based critic of Christianity.

-JPH