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Artscroll versus Koren: censored text

June 1, 2012

As I am continuing to look at the English Koren Talmud, I was started to find that it had restored text censored from the Talmud. 

Near the top of Berachos 17b, the text is commenting on Psalms 144:14 “Our leaders are laden, there is no breach and no going forth and no outcry in our open places.”

The Koren translates a portion of the gemara as follows (bold text indicates that this is part of the literal translation, non-bold text indicates that this is interpolated text):

“In our open places”; that we should not have a child or student who overcooks his food in public, i.e., who sins in public and causes other to sin, as in the well-known case of Jesus the Nazarene.

Now, here is the note that appears to that text:

As in the well-known case of Jesus the Nazarene — כְּגוֹן יֵשׁוּ הַנּוֹצְרִי:  In standard vesions of the Talmud, this story appears without the name Jesus the Nazarene, which was removed by censors due to the sensitivity to the Christian society in which they lived.

Another example appears in tractate Sota (47a), where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Peraḥya is depicted as one who pushed aside Jesus the Nazarene with both hands.  The Gemara relates that Yehoshua ben Peraḥya was returning to Jerusalem following his flight to Alexandria in Egypt, together with his student, Jesus the Nazarene.  When they stopped in an inn and were treated well, Yehoshua ben Peraḥya mentioned to Jesus that the service was good.  Jesus responded that the innkeeper was unattractive.  This response led Yehoshua ben Peraḥya to ostracize Jesus.  Yehoshua ben Peraḥya was unable to bring himself to revoke the ostracism until it was too late and Jesus turned away from traditional Judaism.

It should be noted, however, that the story of Yehoshua ben Peraḥya , who was driven from Jerusalem by the Hasmonean King Alexander Yannai, could not have taken place any later than 76 BCE.  Consequently, the reference to Jesus the Nazarene cannot be connected with the individual surrounding whom the Christian faith was established.  Many commentaries suggest that all talmudic references to Jesus refer to another person, or perhaps there was more than one person with that name who lived during the time of the Mishna.

The Artscroll simply omits the reference altogether.  The Soncino does also, although it includes a brief note mentioning with an abbreviation denoting the Munich codex followed by “like the Nazarene.”

Now, I am not claiming that the Koren is particularly scholarly, but at least it mentions briefly the issues with this well-known censored text, and in a fairly even-handed way – pointing out that the references cannot actually match up with the historical Jesus.  Instead, the Artscroll simply pretends the issue does not exist.  So, I think the Koren wins this example.

Note however that the Koren English language for the text does not exactly flow smoothly – e.g., awkward constructions like “the reference to Jesus the Nazarene cannot be connected with the individual surrounding whom the Christian faith was established.”  Since Steinsaltz is such a fluent writer of Hebrew, it is a bit of a disservice to translate him in such awkward English.

(See also this post).

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