ו׳ באלול ה׳תשע״ז (August 28, 2017)

Sanhedrin 43a-b: An Announcement Before Execution

Today’s daf includes a section of the Gemara that was censored and does not appear in standard texts of the Talmud.

The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that before the condemned man is taken to be killed a public announcement is made: So-and-so the son of So-and-so is to be taken to be killed by stoning for committing a particular capital crime. Anyone who has anything to say on his behalf should come forward to speak up for him.

The Gemara makes a point of noting that according to the Mishna the public announcement is made at the time that the death penalty was to be carried out. This stands in apparent contradiction with the following story that appears in a baraita:

On the eve of the Passover Jesus was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything on his behalf, let him come forward.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

The Gemara concludes that Jesus’s situation was unique since he was connected with the government. Since the government was interested in his case, the Jewish court wanted to ensure that everyone would recognize that he was given every opportunity to defend himself.

Having mentioned Jesus, the Gemara lists his five disciples, Mattai, Nakai, Netzer, Buni and Toda, all of whom are presented as offering biblical proof that they should not be killed based on how their names appear in Tanakh, and respond with corresponding passages that show that these names – and the people attached to them – can be destroyed.

All of the Talmudic stories that refer to Jesus are confusing and difficult to understand, particularly since they do not parallel stories about Jesus that appear in other sources. It is possible that we have hints here to incidents that were not preserved in other traditions.

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