The great host of books which have been written upon the early history of Christianity have, amidst all their differences, one characteristic in common. They are almost entirely based upon the study of Christian documents. This of course is natural, and no investigation which should neglect those documents would lead to results of any value. But the field of inquiry is not exhausted when the Christian literature has been thoroughly explored. There is a Jewish literature which also needs to be examined. Considering that, historically, Christianity is an outgrowth from Judaism, and that the Judaism with which the origin of Christianity was contemporary was the Judaism not of the prophets but of the Rabbis, it is obvious that the Rabbinical literature must also be consulted if a thorough investigation into the origin of Christianity is to be made. The necessity of examining the Rabbinical literature is of course denied by no scholar who has written on early Christian history, but such examination cannot be said to have been as yet thoroughly carried out. For the most part a few references are given to passages in the Mishnah and the Gemaras, or a line or two translated. Few readers have at hand the means of verifying these references; and thus even the careful and accurate scholarship of writers like Keim and Schurer does not prove very helpful, since their readers cannot go to the sources which are pointed out. And even Keim and Schurer indicate but a small proportion of the material which is available in the Rabbinical literature. Edersheim does know that literature as none but a Jew can know it, and makes abundant reference to it; but the value of his work as a historical study is much diminished by a strong theological bias, apart from the fact already mentioned, that it is usually impossible for the reader to verify the quotations. No blame of course attaches to these and many other scholars, who have made incidental reference to the Rabbinical literature, for the incompleteness and scantiness of such reference. It can hardly be said to come within the scope of any of the works referred to above to give in full the Rabbinical material to which reference is made.
It is the object of this book to try and present that material with some approach to completeness, in order to put within the reach of scholars who have not access to the Rabbinical literature the full text of the passages bearing on the subject, together with translation and commentary. It is hoped that this may be the means of supplying a want that as yet remains unsatisfied, viz., of a work that shall let the Christian scholar know what the Rabbinical literature really does contain bearing on the origin and early history of Christianity. It would be rash to say that the collection of passages contained in this book is exhaustive; in a great wilderness like the Talmud and the Midrashim one can never be sure that some passage of interest and importance has not been overlooked. But I believe it will be found that the chief material available for the purpose has been gathered together; and though it should not be quite complete, it will yet suffice to throw light upon several points of interest. Even if the reader should be of opinion that, after all, the Rabbinical literature does not add much to what is known of Christian history from other sources, he may at least reflect that now he does know what that Rabbinical literature contains.
The period covered by the passages cited extends to the middle of the fourth century A.D., i.e., roughly speaking, the period for which the Talmud is available. No reference whatever will be made to mediaeval polemics between Jews and Christians. My object is to put before the reader all that I can find which illustrates the relation between Jews and Christians during the first four centuries of the common era, and to do this solely from the Jewish side. I shall make no attempt whatever to present the case from Christian documents, because this has already been thoroughly done. Further, I wish to write solely from the point of view of historical scholarship, with no bias towards either of the two great religions whose representatives are mentioned in the passages dealt with. My only aim is to present facts, in the shape of statements contained in ancient Jewish writings, and to extract from those statements whatever information they may afford bearing on the historical problem of the early history of Christianity. As a Christian who has for several years found his chief and absorbing intellectual interest in the study of the Rabbinical literatureso far as other and more pressing claims on his time would allowI offer this book as a contribution to Christian scholarship, and I trust that the great Jewish scholars, whose works have been of so much help to me, will not frown on my small incursion into their domain.
I have only to add an expression of cordial thanks to the Rev. S. Alfred Steinthal for his kindness in reading the proofs.
Remember the future.
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