Jesus of Nazareth 5

Jesus Assignment 5
Paul Fischer
RELG 210

The persecution of an early leader by  pre-rabbinic religious figures sounds familiar to Christians; it is the story of the Crucifixion. Before and besides Jesus, however, other Jewish prophets have been depicted as not only performing miracles (Mishnah, Ta’anith 3.8 B), but also facing execution from the fighting, impatient Jews.

Honi,  a proto-rabbinic figure from the Old Testament, is the first rabbi-like figure in the Mishnah to perform a miracle, that of rain  in a parched land. While these miracles built up Honi’s reputation, they also made him a target for military leaders who needed religious support. Almost 200 years before Christ, Honi was executed through stoning by angry Jews who wanted his help in defeating other Maccabees Jewish factions in their struggle for power in Israel.  
Both miracle performing priests, Christ and Honi, were executed for trying to bring peace to the people. Honi refused to fight against his fellow Semites in the Civil War, though he must have been a potentially useful ally for the warring sides to want him so badly.
The sources for this story date back to some of the most influential Jewish historians of the time. Josephus has a very clear and extensive account of the events of Honi’s life. Less well known are the accomplishments of Hanina, who did not perform miracles, but ordered demons about and predicted death or sickness (Talmud Pesahim 114). Unmentioned in Josephus’ account of the time period, Hanina would have lived just as the last Gospels were being bound and copied across the Mediterranean.
Importantly, in analyzing both stories, Honi bringing rain over a hundred years before Christ and Hanina prophesying health just after Christ’s Resurrection, the greatest consequence is seeing the similarities between the gospel’s miracles and the miracles performed by these “proto-rabbis.” This calls the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles into question because early writers such as the Gospels’writers were in the habit of representing rabbinic figures from the period as miraculous. It could be possible that the entire story of Christ, or certainly the miraculous parts, was created to help solidify his position as a religious leader.
In John 3:43, the healing of the Official’s son, Jesus does not heal the boy, but says only, “Your son will live.” This is similar to the stories of Hanina, who predicted when the sick would live and when they would die (Mishnah, Berakoth 5.5). What is more important, is that the concentration of miracle workers around that time period shows that people  put great faith in the power of miracles at the time, and religious leaders were expected to act with miraculous power.
While there is maybe some cross-fertilization between the story of Christ and the two other Jewish leaders, the greater blow to the authenticity of Christ’s miracles is that these two stories show us that some Rabbis, even without necessarily being miraculous, were acclaimed as such, because that was the custom. It would take a great deal more research, and might be impossible, to find out to what extent these tales are hyperbolic, shared, or to what extent they might be authentic.

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