Does the Talmud Teach That Jesus is Burning in Hell?
Is it true that the Talmud teaches that Jesus is burning in excrement in hell? That he was a sorcerer and a deceiver? That his mother, Mary, conceived him in adultery? If so, this would be quite ugly, and it would be perfectly understandable why Christians would be grieved and even outraged. But is it true?
There’s actually a serious debate about whether the Talmud mentions the Jesus of the New Testament at all. (There’s also debate about whether it ever mentions Mary.) There are some traditional Jews who claim that the Talmud never speaks about Jesus. There are Jewish scholars who believe there are some definitive, negative references, while questioning some of the other references. And there are critics of Judaism who find abundant, blasphemous references to Jesus (and his followers) in the Talmud and rabbinic literature.
Before we answer that question, allow me to give you some perspective.
What is the Talmud?
The Talmud is not a book but a collection of books — a massive collection. In standard editions, it is more than 6,200 pages, and it is filled with legal discussion and debate, digging into every possible aspect of Jewish law. (If you find the legal parts of the Old Testament hard to understand, you’ll find the Talmud impossible to understand.)
And in the midst of lengthy legal discussions and debates, you’ll find fascinating interpretations of Scripture, edifying stories, and all kinds of interesting (and even bizarre) folklore and traditions. As for Jesus, if he is mentioned, it is only in the most peripheral way, since the focus is on Jewish law and practice.
You might say, “I don’t care how peripheral the references to Jesus might be. If they’re anything like what I’m being told, then the Talmud is evil.” You’re certainly entitled to that opinion, and I myself have written a detailed book, explaining why I do not follow the Talmud.
But what I want to make clear is that the Talmud does not focus on Jesus. Its purpose is not to attack Jesus. And if — I repeat, if — it mentions him by name, even in terrible ways, it represents less than .001 percent of the material in the Talmud.
There’s something else, though, that we need to remember. Most religious traditions say things that are very offensive to people of other religions.
Is Muhammad in Hell?
For example, I recently asked on Twitter, “As a Christian, if you believe Muhammad is a false prophet, does that mean he is in hell?” The three choices were: 1) yes, in hell; 2) not in hell; and 3) not for me to say.
Remarkably, 76 percent said that Muhammad was in hell while only 1 percent said he was not. (The other 23 percent responded with, “not for me to say.”) Do you know how offensive that is to Muslims? Even to intimate such a thing in a religious Muslim country could mean instant death.
That’s how much he is revered as the perfect man and the seal of the prophets in Islam. Yet, for many Christians, it’s a no-brainer: “Of course he’s in hell.”
Those same Christians will also say that the greatest rabbis in Jewish history, men revered for their devotion to God and their piety and their holiness, were also in hell, since they didn’t believe in Jesus. And they would say this without batting an eyelash. “Jesus is the only way to heaven, and without him, we’re lost.”
Jewish Religious Leaders
They would feel the same way about contemporary rabbis, like an ultra-Orthodox leader who died in 2017 at the age of 104, living for decades in poverty while giving away countless thousands of dollars to needy Jews. To see the sacrificial way he lived is shocking.
But many Christians would say at once, “His good works could not save him. He is lost and burning in hell right now.” When I first came to faith in Jesus at the age of 16, the local rabbi befriended me, and we spent many hours talking together. One day he expressed how hurt he was when he read Matthew 23, where Jesus pronounced 7 woes on the Jewish religious leaders. He called them hypocrites, blind guides, vipers, and children of hell.
The rabbi said to me, “These men are my heroes. They were spiritual giants. How could Jesus say such ugly things about them?”
Obviously, as a follower of Jesus, I trust the Lord’s judgment. And that means I believe his assessment of these men to be accurate. He saw an inner corruption in their lives even though they looked good on the outside. At the same time, he was not indicting all the Jewish leaders of his day, nor was he indicting all Jewish leaders throughout history. But I can certainly understand why my friend was offended.
Christian ‘Hatred of Jews’
Ironically, many Jewish scholars believe that there are negative references to Jesus in the Talmud but that they are a direct response to Christian hatred of Jews. Some believe that the Talmudic statements are responses to the New Testament’s negative portrayal of their leaders. Others point to early Christian writings which demonize Jews, or to persecution of the Jews under Constantine and his successors.
Whatever the case, before we condemn the Talmud for its hateful, blasphemous statements about Jesus, let’s understand how our beliefs can sound to others. As to the negative statements in the Talmud about Jesus and Mary, some probably do exist, but they are few and far between and quite limited in scope.
Naturally, I find the statements deplorable, ugly, and inexcusable (if, to repeat, they truly refer to them). And I hate the fact that traditional Jews believe these libels about our Messiah. But I understand that this is not what the Talmud is about, and I recognize how my own beliefs can sound very offensive to people of other faiths.
I also remember Peter’s words when preaching to a Jewish crowd shortly after the crucifixion: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). Then, having told them the truth, he called them to repent and receive mercy. And I remember the words of Jesus himself as he was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).