Paul’s Dependency On Talmudic Writings: Evidence Of New Testament Borrowing
While Christians would prefer to allude to the notion that Paul, the self-acclaimed “apostle” of Jesus, was “inspired” when he wrote his epistles, the evidences we have researched states otherwise. We have seen how Paul had cited a verse from the “apocryphal books of Elijah” but claimed that he was citing from the book of Isaiah.
Apparantly this citing of quotations from apocryphal or Rabbinic writings was not alien to Paul, for in the epistles of Paul, there are abundant signs that he was extremely familiar with Rabbanic material and constantly refers to them. This is not surprising since Paul himself had admitted to familiarity with Jewish traditions under the tutelage of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
Paul’s Dependency on the Talmudic Writings: The Evidence
In 2 Timothy 3:8, we see that Paul traditionally names two of the Egyptian magicians who withstood Moses as Jannes and Jambres, respectively. He compares the both of them with his enemies, as the following verse records:
“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so do these men oppose the truth, corrupt thinkers as they are and counterfeits so far as faith is concerned.”
The names of these two Egyptian magicians are nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. The Midrash Rabbah on Exodus, however, makes mention of these two names as “Yochani” and “Mamre” respectively, and states:
Amru Yochani uMamre L’Moshe: “teben atah makhnis L’efrayim?” Amar Lahem “L’matah yarqa yarqa sh’qol.”
Yochani and Mamre said to Moshe “Would you carry straw to Afraim?” He [Moses] said to them: “carry herbs to herb-town.”1
The names of these Egyptian magicians also appears in Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat Ki Tisa) 19:19 as a Commentary on Exodus 32:
Forty thousand people had assembled to leave Egypt with the Israelites, and among them were two Egyptians named Jannes and Jambres, who had performed magical feats for Pharaoh2
Thus it is clear that these magicians’ names came from the Rabbinic traditions and had no doubt influenced Paul considerably to include these names in his epistle.
Paul also adopted the current Jewish chronologies in Acts 13:20-21. He alludes to the notion that the Adam of Genesis 1 is the ideal or spiritual, the Adam of Gen 2 the concrete and sinful Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47, also found in Philo, De Opif. Mund i.32). The conception of the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) , of the giving of the Law at Sinai by Angels (Galatians 3:19), of Satan as the god of this world and the prince of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and of the celestial and infernal hierarchies (Ephesians 1:21, 3:10; 4:12; Colossians 1:16; 2:15) are all recurrent in Talmudic writings.
When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:10 that a women ought to have a veil on her head because of the angel, as stated in the following:
“The woman, therefore, ought to have a token of authority on her head, because of the angels”
he demonstrates a very high familiarity with the Talmudic writings, as he is apparently referring to the Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 6:2 as follows:
Binei Elohim. B’nei ha-sarim v’ha-shoftim. Davar acher: b’nei ha-Elohim, hem ha-sarim ha-holkhim bishlichuto shel maqom, af hem hayu mitarvim bahem; kal elohim shebamiqra l’shon marut, v’zeh yokhiach: V’atah tiyeh lo lelohim, r’eh n’tatikha elohim.
THE SONS OF GOD. The sons of princes and rulers. Another explanation of B’nei Elohim is that these were princely angels who came as messengers of God, and they intermingled with the daughters of men. Wherever the word “elohim” appears in the scriptures, it signifies authority, thus the following passages: “And you shall be his master (elohim)” [Exodus 4:16] and “see, I have made you a master (elohim).” [Exodus 7:1]3
Paul obviously believed this Rabbinic tradition which states that angels have mingled with the daughters of men to have included this in his epistle. The Targum, as quoted in the epistle of Jude (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), clearly ascribe the Fall to the angels to their guilty love for earthly women.
The Jewish mind – a notion which is found over and over again in the Talmud, and which is still prevalent among Oriental Jews, is that they never let their women to be unveiled in the public lest the shedin, or evil spirits, should injure them or others. A headdress called khalbi is worn as a religious duty by Jewish women.
The reason why Solomon’s bed was guarded by sixty valiant men with drawn swords was because of fear in the night. (Cant iii 7, 8). This is alluded to the following story in Pesachim 112b:
“Lo yetse Y’chidi bifnei; lo b’leilei r’vi’iyot, v’lo b’leilei shabatot, mifnei she-Agrat bat Machalat, hi ushmoneh esreh ribo shel malakhei chabalah yotsin , v’kal echad v’echad yesh lo r’shut l’chaber bifnei atsmo.”
“Do not go out at night. Not on Wednesday night or on Sabbath night, because Igrath (Agrat) the daughter of Mahalath (Machalat) along with 180,000 destroying angels are out, each with permission to cause destruction independently.”4
They are called ruchin, shedin, lilin, tiharim.
Again, in Romans 4:5-12, Paul evidently accepts the tradition, also referred to by St. Stephen, that Abraham had been uncircumcised idolater when he first obeyed the call of God, and that he then received a promise – unknown to the text of the scripture – that he should be the heir of the world. (Romans 4:13, cf. Joshua 24:15). In Romans 9:9, whereby it states:
“For this is the message of the promise, ‘At about this time next year, I will come, and Sarah will have a son’”
it has been supposed, from the form of his quotation, that he is alluding to the Rabbinic notion that Isaac was created in the womb by a fiat of God. In Galatians 4:29, whereby it says
“But just as then the one born in a fleshly way persecuted the one born in accord with the Spirit, so too at present”
this is in accordance to the Haggadah tradition that Ishmael had not only laughed, but also jeered, insulted, and mistreated Isaac. Thus we find the following in Sanhedrin 89b:
“Rabbi Levi aamar: achar d’varaiv shel Yishma’el l’Yitschaq. Aamar lo Yishma’el l’Yitschaq: ‘Ani gadol mimkha b’mitsot, she-atah malta ben sh’monat yamim, v’ani ben sh’lash esreh shanah.’ Aamar lo: ‘Uvever echad atah m’ghareh bi? Im omer li ha-Qadosh, baruch Hu, z’vach atsmkha l’fanay, ani zovech.’ Miyad v’ha-Elohim nisah et Avraham.”
Rabbi Levi said: These are the words of Ishmael to Isaac. Ishmael said to Isaac: “I am greater than you in commandments, for you were circumcised at eight days old, and I when I was thirteen years old.” He [Isaac] said to him: “You tease me over one organ? If the Holy One, blessed be He, says to me ‘sacrifice yourself to me,’ I will sacrifice myself.” Immediately God tested Abraham.5
In 2 Corinthians 11:14, whereby we read that:
“…and no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light”
Paul adhered to the notion that the angel who wrestled with Jacob was Satan assuming the semblance of an Angel of Light. There is a remarkable resemblance to the smitten rock in the wilderness, which in 1 Corinthians 10:4 is called
“…a spiritual following rock.”
To the Rabbis the rock, from which water flowed, was round and like a swarm of bees, and rolled itself up and went with them in their journeys. When the Tabernacle was pitched, the rock came and settled in its vestibule. Then Israel sang the following:
“Spring up, O well; sing ye to it!” (Numbers 21:17)
and it sprang up. Paul’s instant addition of the words:
“[…]which rock was Christ”
has Haggadistic elements which, in the national consciousness, had got mingled up with the great story of the wanderings in the Wilderness. Seven such current national traditions are alluded to in St. Stephen’s speech.
The Rabbinic teachings as recorded in the Talmudic writings was influential for Paul, and it is with these traditions in his mind that he had based his epistles on. Some of these stories have no basis in the Tanakh or the Old Testament, but only in the Talmud of the Jews. This clearly shows that Paul’s claim of being an “apostle” of Jesus and was divinely “inspired” in his writings can certainly be cast into reasonable doubt. The evidences as shown above clearly shows that Paul had resorted to heavy borrowing from the Jewish traditions as recorded in the Talmudic writings.
- English-Hebrew of Shemot Rabbah (Midrash Rabbah on Exodus), 7:12
- Midrash Tanchuma’s Commentary on Exodus 32, Samuel A. Berman (trans.), Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu (KTAV Publishing, 1996), p. 598
- Rashi’s Commentary on B’reshit (Genesis), 6:2
- Pesahim 112b, Babylonian Talmud
- Sanhedrin 89b, Babylonian Talmud