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Although the name Yeshu does not appear here (it may have been censored, as it was in other places in the Talmud, by later rabbinical authorities, fearful of Christian reactions), there is no doubt that the “Ben-Pandera” of this discussion is Jesus. The reference to Egypt (to which, according to the New Testament, the young Jesus was taken by his parents); the identification of Ben-Pandera with a magician (a common rabbinical explanation of the miracles Jesus was said to have worked) or a madman; the name Miriam (from which comes the New Testament Mary) as that of Ben-Pandera’s mother; the confusion of her with the New Testament figure of Mary Magdalene, whose name is attributed to her being a dresser (m’gadla) of hair — all this can’t possibly be coincidence.
Pantera, which indeed means a panther in Latin, was a not uncommon name in the Roman Empire. It may have been a Jewish pun on Greek parthenos, “virgin,” in allusion to the Christian belief in Jesus’ birth to a virgin mother. The second-century Origen’s statement that Jesus was claimed by the Jews to have been the son of a married Jewish woman and her lover, a Roman soldier of that name, is thus reflected in the story in Shabbat, which is set in the age of another second-century figure, the renowned Palestinian rabbi Eliezer ben-Hyrcanos. The talmudic redaction of this story, however, dates to sixth-century Babylonia, which is the reason for the many speculative guesses found in it. By then, no one remembered the original story very clearly, and a rival tradition had arisen that Jesus’ father was called Stada — a name of unexplained origin that seemed strange to the rabbis, who tried explaining it by means of a pun on the Aramaic words s’tat da. But that Ben-Stada, Ben-Pandera and Yoshke Pandre are the same is clear. All refer to Jesus of Nazareth.
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