Sefer Toledot Yeshu or Toledoth Jeschu (ספר תולדות ישו, The Book of the History of Jesus, or Generations of Jesus, or Life of Jesus) is a medieval “anti-gospel” or parody of the Christian gospel. It exists in a number of different versions, none of which are considered either canonical or normative within rabbinic literature, but which appear to have been widely circulated in Europe and the Middle East in the medieval period (though some scholars disagree with this claim).
The stories claim that Jesus was an illegitimate child, and that he practiced magic and heresy, seduced women, and died a shameful death. But they also show a paradoxical respect for Jesus. As Joseph Dan notes in the Encyclopedia Judaica, "The narrative in all versions treats Jesus as an exceptional person who from his youth demonstrated unusual wit and wisdom, but disrespect toward his elders and the sages of his age."  Robert Van Voorst calls the Toledot a record of popular polemic "run wild". The Toledot’s portrayal of the Christian divinity has provided material for anti-Semitic polemics.
This scurrilous fable of the life of Jesus is a medieval work, probably written down in the tenth century. .... Though its contents enjoyed a certain currency in the oral traditions of the Jewish masses, it was almost totally ignored by official or scholarly Judaism. Anti-Semites have not failed to employ it as an illustration of the blasphemous character of the Synagogue."
- 1 Composition and dating
- 2 Christian response
- 3 Historiography
- 4 Parallels
- 5 Mentions in modern literature
- 6 See also
- 7 Further reading
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Composition and dating
A recent study reports that more than 100 manuscripts of the Toledot exist, almost all of them late medieval (the oldest manuscript being from the 11th century). The earliest stratum of composition was probably in Aramaic. There are recensions extant in Hebrew, and later versions in Judeo-Persian and Arabic as well as Yiddish and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish).
The date of composition cannot be ascertained with certainty and there are conflicting views as to what markers denote dates. For instance, the Toledot refers to Christian festivals and observances that only originated after the 4th century. However, in his Incredible Shrinking Son of Man Robert M. Price states that the Toledot Yeshu is "dependent on second-century Jewish-Christian gospel"
It is unlikely that one person is the author, since the narrative itself has a number of different versions, which differ in terms of the story details and the attitude towards the central characters. Even individual versions seems to come from a number of storytellers.
Some scholars claim that the source material is no earlier than the 6th century, and the compilation no earlier than the 9th century. Although the individual anecdotes that make up the Toledot Yeshu may all come from sources dating before the sixth century, there is no evidence that their gathering into a single narrative is that early. Some scholars, such as Jeffrey Rubenstein, favour a late composition date, posterior to the seventh century. The earliest known mention is an oblique mention by Agobard, archbishop of Lyons, circa. 826, and then another mention by his successor, Amulo, circa 849.  However, since Agobard does not refer to the source by name it cannot be certain that this is the Toledot.
The source material for the Toledot can be said to derive from four sources: (1) Jewish rabbinic literature; (2) canonical Christian scriptures; (3) noncanonical Christian writings; (4) non-Jewish anti-Christian writings of the Roman period.
The largest source of input to the Toledot seems to be anecdotes gathered from various parts of the Talmud and Midrash. These appear to be popular adaptions of material aimed against two Christian doctrines, the virgin birth and the ascension. Some of the Talmudic anecdotes are clearly fictitious or absurd, and some seem incompatible with each other or with known historical fact. In some instances, the Talmudic source of the Toledot is very obscure or of doubtful authenticity, and may not originally have been relevant to Jesus.
Significantly, the Toledot seems to know (though sometimes only superficially) of the miracles of the canonical Gospels, and does not deny their occurrence, but instead attributes them to Yeshu's use of Egyptian magic, or his misuse of the secret Divine Name - though not to diabolical influences.  
The attribution of Yeshu’s paternity to a soldier named Pandera or Pantera can be traced to the second-century Greek philosopher Celsus, though Celsus himself may have picked up this detail from a Jewish source. Jews apparently polemicised actively against the new Christian religion, as can be inferred from the 2nd century Christian writer Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, a fictional dialogue between a Christian and a Jew. In chapter 17 Justin claims that the Jews had sent out "chosen men" throughout the Roman Empire to polemicize against Christianity, calling it a "godless heresy".
In 1405, the Toledot was banned by Church authorities. A book under this title was strongly condemned by Francesc Eiximenis (d. 1409) in his Vita Christi. But in 1614 it was largely reprinted by a Jewish apostate, Samuel Friedrich Brenz, in Nuremberg, as part of his book vilifying his former religion, titled "Skin Shed by the Jewish Snake".
An indirect witness to the Christian condemnation of the book can be found in one manuscript of the Toledot, which has this cautionary note in its introduction:
[This booklet] should be shown only to people of discretion, for one never knows what the morrow may bring. ... I copied it from three different pamphlets from three different countries, not just one, The contents of all these pamphlets were identical, except that I wrote it in the language of prudence [- namely, Hebrew, because Gentiles do not understand it].
Ramón Martí version
Wagenseil version, 1681
Among the versions of the Toledot, the version published by Johann Christian Wagenseil is perhaps the most prominent.
In 1681 Wagenseil, a professor at the University of Altdorf, published a Hebrew text of the Toledot Yeshu with a Latin translation, in a book titled "Satan's Flaming Arrow" (Tela Ignea Satanae).
The first section treats Jesus's life; later sections deal with the exploits of his apostles. Supplementary chapters tell of Nestorius and his attempts to keep Christians obeying Jewish custom, and the story of Simeon Kepha who is construed to be the Apostle Peter or Paul.
Summary of Wagenseil version
A great misfortune struck Israel in the year 3651 (c. 90 BCE). A man of the tribe of Judah, Joseph Pandera, lived near a widow who had a daughter called Miriam. This virgin was betrothed to Yohanan, a Torah-learned and God-fearing man of the house of David. Before the end of a certain Sabbath, Joseph looked lustfully at Miriam, knocked on her door and pretended to be her husband, but she only submitted against her will. When Yohanan came later to see her, she was surprised how strange his behavior was. Thus they both knew of Pandera’s crime and Miriam’s fault. Without witnesses to punish Pandera, Yohanan left for Babylonia.
Miriam gave birth to Yehoshua, whose name later depreciated to Yeshu. When old enough, she took him to study the Jewish tradition. One day he walked with his head uncovered, showing disrespect, in front of the sages. This betrayed his illegitimacy and Miriam admitted him as Pandera’s son. Scandalised, he fled to Upper Galilee.
Yeshu later went to the Jerusalem Temple and learned the letters of God’s ineffable name (one could do anything desired by them). He gathered 310 young men and proclaimed himself the Messiah, claiming Isaiah’s “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” and other prophets prophesied about him. Using God’s name he healed a lame man, they worshipped him as the Messiah. The Sanhedrin decided to arrest him, and sent messengers to invite him to Jerusalem. They pretended to be his disciples to trick him.
Bound before Queen Helen, the sages accused him of sorcery. When he brought a corpse to life, she released him.
Accused again, the queen sent for his arrest. He asked his disciples not to resist. Using God’s name he made birds of clay and caused them to fly. The sages then got Judah Iskarioto to learn the name. At a contest of miracles between the two, they both lost knowledge of the name.
Yeshu was arrested and beaten with pomegranate staves. He was taken to Tiberias and bound to a synagogue pillar. Vinegar was given to him to drink and a crown of thorns was put on his head. An argument broke out between the elders and Yeshu followers resulting in their escape to Antioch (or Egypt). On the day before the Passover, Yeshu decided to go to the Temple and recover the secret name. He entered Jerusalem riding on an ass, but one of his followers, Judah Iskarioto, told the sages he was in the Temple. On a day before the Passover, they tried to hang him on a tree; using the name he caused it, and any tree they should use, to break. A cabbage stalk, being not a tree, was used successfully to hang him on, and he was buried.
His followers on Sunday told the queen that he was not in his grave, that he ascended to heaven as he had prophesied. As a gardener took him from the grave, they searched it and could not find him. But the gardener confessed he had taken it to prevent his followers from stealing his body and claiming his ascension to heaven. Recovering the body, the sages tied it to horse tail and took it to the queen. Convinced he was a false prophet, she ridiculed his followers and commended the sages.
In the Strassburg Manuscript, Mary was seduced by a soldier called Ben Pandera. The child Jesus shows great impudence by appearing bareheaded and disputing the Law with teachers. The miracle working powers of Jesus are attributed to having stolen the Name of God from the Temple. Jesus claims messianic dignity and is accused of sorcery by the Jews in front of Queen Helena of Jerusalem, but Jesus raises a man from the dead in front of the Queen's eyes and is released. Jesus goes to Galilee where he brings clay birds to life and makes a millstone float. (Klausner notes that the Toledot scarcely ever denies Gospel miracles, but merely changes good to evil.) Judas Iscariot, the hero of the tale, learns the Divine Name as well, and Jesus and Judas fly through the sky engaged in aerial combat, with Judas victorious. The now powerless Jesus is arrested and put to death by being hung upon a carob tree, and buried. The body is taken away and his ascension is claimed by his apostles on the basis of the empty tomb. But Jesus's body is found hidden in a garden and is dragged back to Jerusalem and shown to Queen Helena.
Huldreich version, 1705
A third major recension was published by Johann Jacob Huldreich (or Huldrich) in Leyden, Holland, in 1705, with a Latin translation, as Historia Jeschuae Nazareni by "Johannes Jocabus Huldricus". This was based on a Hebrew manuscript, now lost, and has its own unique variants. A summary of it is presented by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, The Lost and Hostile Gospels (1874, London) pages 102-115, who surmised (because of some of the errors and anecdotes) that it was of medieval German origin, perhaps not even predating Martin Luther (page 115). Baring-Gould noted (pages 69–71) that the Wagenseil version contains historical references that place its 'Yeshu' at least a century before the Jesus and Pontius Pilate of the New Testament, and the Huldrich version contains references that place its 'Yeshu' at least a full century after the time of the Gospels.
Krauss compilation, 1902
Samuel Krauss reprinted a version recounting that Miriam had been betrothed to a nobleman by the name of Yochanan, who was both a descendant of the House of David, and a God-fearing Torah scholar. In Yochanan's absence her neighbor, Yosef ben Pandera forced his way upon her, coercing her into an act of sexual intercourse during her Niddah (i.e., menstruation, a period of ritual impurity during which relations are forbidden according to Jewish Law). The fruit of the affair was a son she named Yeshu, "the bastard son of a menstruate woman."
Krauss's book, Das Leben Jesu nach juedischen Quellen, published in Berlin in 1902, contained a study of nine different versions of the Toledot, and remains the leading scholarly work in the field (but has not yet been translated into English).
The first translation into English seems to date from 1874, when Sabine Baring-Gould published The Lost and Hostile Gospels, which included lengthy summaries of two versions of the Toledot – one called the Wagenseil and one called the Huldreich (so named from the editor of a 1705 Latin edition) - as well as quotations and descriptions of apochryphal and lost gospels of early Christian history. He regarded the Toledot as being a kind of early anti-Christian folklore, largely motivated by the oppression suffered by Jews.
In 1903, G.R.S. Mead, a well known Theosophist, published Did Jesus Live 100 BC?, which treated the Toledoth Yeshu as sufficiently authentic and reliable to postulate, on the basis of its mention of historic figures such as Queen Helene, that Jesus actually lived a century earlier than commonly believed. Baring-Gould (page 71) notes that, although the Wagenseil version named the Queen as Helene, she is also expressly described as the widow of Alexander Jannaeus, who died BCE 76, and whose widow was named Salome Alexandra and she died in BCE 67.
In 1937, the Jewish New Testament scholar Hugh J. Schonfield published According to the Hebrews, which theorized that the Toledot was considerably more ancient than commonly thought and may have originally constituted the "Gospel of the Hebrews", a lost (and presumably heretical) book mentioned by name, but not otherwise described, in some early Christian literature. However, scholarly consensus generally sees the Toledot as an unreliable source for the historical Jesus
These books provided translations of the Toledot. Mead included some indelicate verses which Schonfield edited out, but Schonfield was the more erudite scholar, and he identified Talmudic and Islamic passages that may have supplied the content of the Toledoth.
Other Jewish polemic or apologetic sources:
- Jesus in the Talmud
- Sefer Nestor ha-Komer or The Book of Nestor the Priest c.600 CE
- Milhamoth ha-Shem of Jacob Ben Reuben 12C
- Sefer Nizzahon Yashan or Nizzahon vetus 13C
- Sefer Joseph Hamekane of R. Joseph hen R. Nathan l'official 13C (Paris MS)
- The Touchstone of Ibn Shaprut
- Hasdai Crescas
- Leon Modena
Mentions in modern literature
It is also mentioned in Mitchell James Kaplan's historical novel, "By Fire By Water."
- Apocalypse of Zerubbabel
- Gospel of Barnabas
- Marcello Craveri author of the similarly titled The Life of Jesus
- Sefer Toledot Yeshu: sive Liber de ortu et origine Jesu ex editione wagenseiliana transcriptus et explicatus (Sefer Toledot Yeshu: or The Book of the rising and origin of Jesus from the Wagenseiliana edition: Transcription and Explanation)
-  Sabine Baring-Gould, The Lost and Hostile Gospels (1874, London), a study of the Toledot with summaries of both the Wagenseil and Huldreich versions.
-  Samuel Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach juedischen Quellen (1902, Berlin; reprinted by Hildesheim, 1977 & 1994), the most thorough study, of nine versions of the Toledoth (in Hebrew and German).
- Toledoth Yeshu, English translation
-  http://www.essene.com/History&Essenes/toled.htm
-  G.W. Foote & J.M. Wheeler, The Jewish Life of Christ being the Sepher Toldoth Jeshu (1885, London), an English translation of the Toledot, of unknown provenance, with an introduction and notes of Freethinker inclination - "We venture to think that the Christian legend of Jesus may have originated with the Jewish story of Jeshu." This 1885 booklet was retyped (badly, with many proper names uncapitalized) and reprinted, with an introduction by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by the American Atheist Press, Austin, Texas, in 1982.
- Peter Schäfer, Michael Meerson, Yaacov Deutsch (eds.): Toledot Yeshu ("The Life Story of Jesus") Revisited: A Princeton Conference. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen (Germany) 2011. ISBN 978-3-16-150948-3. [Table of Contents: http://scans.hebis.de/HEBCGI/show.pl?27602087_toc.pdf]
- Dan, Joseph (2006). "Toledot Yeshu". In Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Encyclopaedia Judaica 20 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale Virtual Reference Library. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-02-865928-2. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
- Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. WmB Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 122 ff. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9.
- Schäfer, Peter (2002). Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah. Princeton University Press. pp. 211f. ISBN 0-691-09068-8.
- e.g. Roland Worth, Jr. writes: "The distribution of the work within the Jewish communities seems to have been modest." Worth, Roland H., Jr., Alternative Lives of Jesus: Noncanonical accounts through the early middle ages (2003, NC, McFarland & Co.) page 50, citing Morris Goldstein, Jesus in the Jewish Tradition (1950, NY, Macmillan) page 166. See also Hugh J. Schonfield, op. cit., p. 129, who notes, "... only a very limited number of Jews set any store by it. By most it was even at this time regarded as a jest, a dubious after-dinner take for Christmas eve, and those who retailed its sordid details only faintly associated the principal character with the Jesus of the Christians."
- Webster, Nesta H (2000). Secret Societies and Subversive Movements. Book Tree. pp. 21f. ISBN 1-58509-092-1.
- Dan, Joseph, "Toledot Yeshu" in Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. (2007)
- Tolan, John Victor (2002). Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 17f. ISBN 0-231-12332-9.
- Van Voorst. p. 123
- Flannery, Edward H., The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-three centuries of Anti-Semitism (1965, NY, Macmillan) page 283 (footnote 30 to chapter 2).
- Ben Ezra, Daniel Stokl, An Ancient List of Christian Festivals in Toledot Yeshu, Harvard Theological Review, vol. 102, nr. 4 (Oct. 2009) pages 483-484.
- Gero, Stephan (1988). "Apocryphal Gospels: A Survey". Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (in German / English). Teil II (Band 25 (5 Teilband)): 3991f. ISBN 978-3-11-011893-3.
- Ben Ezra, Daniel Stokl, An Ancient List of Christian Festivals in Toledot Yeshu, Harvard Theological Review, vol. 102, nr. 4 (Oct. 2009) p. 488; also, Leiman, Sid Z., The Scroll of Fasts: The Ninth of Tebeth, Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. n.s. 74, nr. 2 (Oct. 1983) p.186-188, p.195. See also Van Voorst, ‘’op. cit.’’, p.122, 127.
- Maas, Michael (2005). The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian. Cambridge University Press. p. 406. ISBN 0-521-81746-3.
- Price, Robert (2003) Incredible Shrinking Son of Man pg 40
- Worth, Roland H., Jr., Alternative Lives of Jesus: Noncanonical accounts through the early middle ages (2003, NC, McFarland & Co.) pages 49-50; also, Dan, Joseph, "Toledot Yeshu" in Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd ed. 2007, Farmington Hills, Mich., Macmillin Reference USA) page 29; "The complete narrative, which could not have been written before the tenth century, used earlier sources ....".
- Klausner, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth: His life, times, and teaching (orig. 1922, Engl. transl. 1925, London, George Allen & Unwin) pages 52-53 ("The present Hebrew Tol'doth Yeshu, even in its earliest form, ... was not composed before the tenth century").
- Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, Stories of the Babylonian Talmud’’ (2010), p 272: "There is not one shred of evidence that Toledot Yeshu existed in written form in Babylonian in the seventh century, as Gero claims it did, nor that the Bavli knew it."
- Agobard of Lyons, De Iudaicis Superstitionibus, cited in Van Voorst, op. cit.
- Schonfield, Hugh J., According to the Hebrews (1937, London: Duckworth) pages 29-30.
- See Klausner, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth: His life, times, and teaching (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1925), page 53 note.
- E.g., the Talmudic references in Division 1.A of Herford, R. Travers, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (1903, London; reprinted 1966, NJ, Reference Book Publ'rs) pages 35-96 https://archive.org/details/christianityinta00herfuoft .
- Klausner, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth: His life, times, and teaching (orig. 1922, Engl. transl. 1925, London, George Allen & Unwin) pages 26 & 51 ("the book contains no history worth the name"), as an example.
- For example, the "nativity" account in chapter 1 of the Strassburg version of the Toledot is derived from Kallah, a purported Talmudic tractate whose provenance is so uncertain that it did not appear in print until 1864. (See Herford, R. Travers, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London, 1903) pages 487-50; Strack, H.L., & Stemberger, G., Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991) page 250; Klausner, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth: His life, times, and teaching (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1925) page 52.) Moreover, the anecdote in Kallah may not refer to Jesus at all (See Schonfield, Hugh J., According to the Hebrews (London: Duckworth, 1937) page 222; Herford, op.cit, page 49; and Klausner, op.cit., page 31.
- Concurrences with the gospel accounts include the fact that Jesus's parents were named Joseph and Mary; that he was born in Bethlehem; that he was bold toward the Jewish elders; that he could perform miracles (here made out to be sorcery); that he claimed to be born of a virgin; that he claimed to be the Son of God; that he applied Isaiah 7:14 to himself; that he raised the dead; that he healed a leper; that Jews fell down and worshipped him; that he entered Jerusalem upon an ass; that he applied to himself Zacharias 9:9; that he charged the Jews with being stiff-necked people; that he applied to himself the 2nd and 110th Psalms; that he walked on water; that he was betrayed by Judas; that he was scourged, crowned with thorns, and given vinegar to drink; that he was put to death on the Passover and buried before the Sabbath began; and that his twelve apostles spread a story of his resurrection.
- Frey, Joseph Samuel CF (1837). Joseph and Benjamin: a Series of Letters on the Controversy between Jews and Christians 1. New York: Peter Hills. p. 214.
- Trachtenberg, Joshua, The Devil and the Jews (1961, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Society) page 230 (footnote 11 to chapter 4).
- e.g.,the Strassburg version of Toledot tells the story that Yeshu, using magic, made clay birds come to life and fly. This closely resembles a story about the young Jesus found in the apocryphal “Infancy gospel of Thomas” and “Infancy gospel of pseudo-Matthew”. See Schonfield, Hugh J., According to the Hebrews (London: Duckworth, 1937), page 43; James, M.R., The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), pages 49, 55, and 76; Mead, George R.S., Did Jesus Live 100 BC? (London: Theosophical Publ'g Society, 1903), pages 264-265. For other examples see Baring-Gould, Sabine, The Lost and Hostile Gospels: an essay on the Toledoth Jeschu, and the Petrine and Pauline Gospels of the first three centuries of which fragments remain (London, 1874), pages 103-104.
- Cited by Origen, Contra Celsus 1.32
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho ch. 17.
- Schonfield, Hugh J., The History of Jewish Christianity, (1936, London, Duckworth) page 129.
- Carmilly-Weinberger, Moshe, Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Jewish History (1977, NY, Yeshiva Univ. Press) pages 185-186.
- McMichael, Steven J; Susan E. Myers (2004). Friars and Jews in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 157. ISBN 90-04-11398-3.
- Carmilly-Weinberger, Moshe, Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Jewish History (1977, NY, Yeshiva Univ. Press) page 186.
- Carmilly-Weinberger, Moshe, Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Jewish History (1977, NY, Yeshiva Univ. Press), page 185 (quoting a reprint in Krauss).
- Falk, Gerhard, The Jew in Christian Theology: Martin Luther's anti-Jewish Von Schem Hampharos, previously unpublished in English, and other milestones in church doctrine concerning Judaism (1992, Jefferson, NC, McFarland) 296 pages.
- Carmilly-Weinberger, Moshe, Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Jewish History (1977, NY, Yeshiva Univ. Press) page 185.
- Van Voorst. pp. 123–6.
- Klausner, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth: His life, times, and teaching (orig. 1922, Engl. transl. 1925, London, George Allen & Unwin) page 51.
- Schonfield, Hugh J., According to the Hebrews (1937, London: Duckworth) page 31.
- Later Slavonic versions portray Mary as active in the adulterous affair. Schafer, Op cit.
- https://archive.org/details/lostandhostileg00barigoog Baring-Gould, Sabine, The Lost and Hostile Gospels: an essay on the Toledoth Jeschu, and the Petrine and Pauline Gospels of the first three centuries of which fragments remain (London, 1874). The Wagenseil Toledoth is summarized on pages 76-101, the Huldreich version summarized on pages 102-115.
- Mead, George R.S., Did Jesus Live 100 BC? (1903, London, Theosophical Publ'g Society) 440 pages, the Toledoth text (primarily from Strassburg ms) on pages 258-280; https://archive.org/details/didjesuslive100b00meaduoft .
- Schonfield, Hugh J., According to the Hebrews (1937, London: Duckworth) 272 page, the Toledoth text (primarily from the Stassburg ms) on pages 35-61.
- According to Van Voorst, "It may contain a few older traditions from ancient Jewish polemics against Christians, but we learn nothing new or significant from it". However, Jane Schaberg contends that the Toledot lend weight to the theory that Mary conceived Jesus as the result of being raped. See Van Voorst, ‘’op. cit.’’
- Browning, Robert (1910). Phelps, William Lyon, ed. Robert Browning's Complete Works. F DeFau & company. p. 144.