The Calumny of Christ and Its Redemption

From the eighteenth century onward, deists and freethinkers drew from the ancient antichristian polemics of the Jews, particularly those recorded in Sefer Toledot Yeshu (Book of the Life of Jesus) and passages from the Talmud.  The former, sometime described as the “counter-gospel,” had circulated among European Jews from the ninth century and incorporated much older oral traditions.  Its original purpose was to fortify Jews against conversion to Christianity with a repellently shocking narration of the life of Jesus.[1]

In the Toledot Jesu, Jesus is described as a bastard conceived when a Roman soldier named Joseph Pandera raped Mary, a disreputable hairdresser, who was betrothed to another man, and moreover in menses and therefore unclean.  Jesus grew and became a sorcerer with diabolical assistance, and by his tricks seduced men, just as his father had seduced his mother.  Jesus was, therefore, righteously hung from a cabbage stalk until he died.  A gardener (or Judas) then stole the corpse from the tomb, so that the disciples of Jesus could not do so, and Christ’s body was dragged through the streets by the hair, which was tied to the tail of a horse.  When the hair tore free from the scalp, the resulting baldpate became the model for the tonsure of Christian monks.

 In the eighteenth century Voltaire discussed the Toledot Jesu (and other antichristian works) in a tone of mock indignation, thereby spreading while ostensibly deploring, the story that Jesus was, as he put it, the “the adulterous son” of Mary and a soldier called “Joseph Pander, or Panther.”[2]  By the turn of the eighteenth century the American freethinker Elihu Palmer was stating as a fact that the Christian’s “pretended Savior is nothing more than an illegitimate Jew, and their hopes of salvation through him, rest on no better foundation than that of fornication or adultery.”[3]  In 1811 a man named Ruggles was tried, convicted, and sent to prison for five months (an extraordinary sentence) for shouting out in a public place “Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore.”[4]  In 1823 Richard Carlile published an English translation of the Toledot Jesu, in which the translator, an anonymous Jew, testified that the book was “considered of authority by wise men of our nation.”[5]  An American edition of the Todedot Jesu was not published until 1879, when it appeared as part of a longer antichristian polemic by William Henry Burr, called Revelations of Antichrist.  Excepts were published in the Boston Investigator and the New York Truth Seeker.

Viewed as a secular artifact, Toledot Jesu was a cultural prophylactic that prevented Jewish assimilation into the Christian majority by representing the Christian religion as profane, obscene, and ridiculous.  Its representation of Christ’s conception is blasphemous to a Christian, but it inoculated Jews against the charisma of the Virgin Birth, the Virgin, and her Son.  A medieval cathedral would appear as an obscene joke to anyone raised on the Toledot Jesu, the people in that cathedral as so many dupes, panderers, and fools.

Jews of course charged Christ with black sorcery in his lifetime.  He answered this charge by saying that no sorcerer can compel demons to do good works, and that the Jews’ own “house” would soon be a nest of evil spirits.  In Christ’s lifetime the charge of black sorcery was a prophylactic against the charisma of Christ; in the middle ages it was a prophylactic against the charisma of the Church.  If Christ was a black sorcerer, so were his apostles and their successors, and every later-day miracle was just more diabolical dark art.

The Toledot Jesu maintains that Christ was not hung from a “tree” but from a cabbage stalk.  It tells us this was because Christ had by dark art foreseen that he was destined to die by hanging from a “tree,” and to prevent this end and obtain eternal life had cast a spell on all trees.  Thus when the Jews attempted to hang Christ for sorcery and blasphemy, they found no tree (or stock of wood) would bear his weight.  But a cabbage stalk, being a mere vegetable, was not covered by the sorcerer’s spell.[6]  Indeed, so eager was the humble cabbage stalk to help rid the world of this bad man that it swelled to a great size and became “stiff as a beam.”

I have not found evidence to support my opinion, but the swollen and rigid cabbage stalk strikes me as a phallic symbol.  That the phallus was instrumental in removing Christ from the world strikes me as darkly prophetic.

 Although Christians may at first resent the blasphemies in the Toledot Jesu (and Talmud), these blasphemies actually confirm the historicity of Jesus and the principle events of his life.  The Jews developed the main lines of their “counter-gospel” by the second century and it is highly significant that they wrote this “counter gospel” to defame a real man and not debunk a popular myth.  Packed inside all the filthy scurrility of the story of Joseph Pandera and the wanton hairdresser Mary, there is, for instance, the admission that a real boy named Jesus was born under remarkable circumstances. Packed inside all the jeering calumny of dark arts, there is the admission that the man named Jesus did remarkable things.  As one writer puts it,

“It is a priori improbable that learned Jews, living in the same country and in the same historical atmosphere, should have neglected a whole series of continuous opportunities to show that the Christian Jesus never existed.”[7]

[1]) Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), p. 122.

[2]) Voltaire, Essays and Criticisms (New York: Peter Eckler, 1920), p. 74; A Philosophical Dictionary, two volumes (London: W. Dugdale, 1843), vol. 2, p. 215.

[3]) Elihu Palmer, Principles of Nature (London: R. Carlile, 1823), p. 25.

[4]) Robert Baird, Religion in America (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1844), p. 125.

[5]) G. W. Foote and J. M. Weeler, The Jewish Life of Christ (London: Progressive Publishing, 1885), preface.

[6]) Thomas James Thorburn, Jesus the Christ: Historical or Mythical.  A Reply to Professor Drews’ Die Christusmythe (Edliburgh: T. & T. Clarkm 1912), p. 146.

[7]) A. E. Crawley, The Tree of Life: A Study of Religion (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1905), p. 165.

6 thoughts on “The Calumny of Christ and Its Redemption

  1. “Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

  2. Where is the evidence for the claims?
    Who were the witnesses to such acts?
    How much of that ‘history’ is just to stir up fear, uncertainty and doubt, like the intelligence services do routinely?

    • Our evidence for the gospels began as experience. Experience became memory, memory became tradition, and then someone wrote the tradition down. I can’t speak for the evidence supporting the counter-gospel.

      • The evidence was written down quite quickly. It is also mere propaganda that the Gospels were written much later.


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