Emotions and the Jewish-Christian Controversy: ‘Toledot Yeshu’ and Its Readers

Room 161, Arts West North Wing, The University of Melbourne,

A seminar by Daniel Barbu, CRASSH Cambridge/CNRS Paris

Of all the books produced by the blindness of the Jews, none is more despicable and more extravagant than the book … entitled Sepher Toldos Jeschut. One reads (in this book) a monstrous life of our Saviour, forged with all the passion and dishonesty imaginable (Voltaire).

The Jewish life of Jesus, or Toledot Yeshu, is one of the most important Jewish anti-Christian traditions. It is a polemical account of the origins of Christianity, which mocks Jesus as an illegitimate child, a false prophet and a charlatan, and describes his disciples as a bunch of violent rogues. The sheer number of manuscripts that have come down to us suggests that Toledot Yeshu was almost a ‘best-seller’ among late medieval and early modern Jews. This ‘blasphemous’ narrative was also discussed by a number of Christian authors (most conspicuously, Martin Luther), with a view to exposing an alleged Jewish ‘hatred’ of Christianity. Its different versions have mainly been considered philologically, with a view to reconstructing the origins and development of the tradition. In this paper I will seek to consider its readers, Jewish and non-Jewish, to examine emotions both in and outside the texts. More specifically, I will ask: How did the story enable Jews to cope with the dominant anti-Jewish Christian discourse and cling to their identity? How did Christian readers react to this narrative? What canToledot Yeshu teach us on the role of emotions in religious polemics?

Dr Daniel Barbu received his PhD in the History of Religion from the University of Geneva in 2012. He has taught at the Universities of Geneva (2008–2014), Bern (2013–2016) and Zurich (2016). In 2018 he will join the CNRS in Paris as Senior Researcher. His research focuses on cultural interactions between Jews and non-Jews in the ancient Mediterranean, Jewish–Christian relations in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and the historiography of religious studies. His present research examines the history of Jewish traditions on the life of Jesus known as Toledoth Yeshu. His first book, Naissance de l’idolâtrie: Image, identité, religion was published in 2016 with Presses universitaires de Liège. Dr Barbu is also one of the editors of the Geneva based journal of anthropology and history of religions, Asdiwal, a member of the editorial board of CROMOHS– Cyber Review of Modern Historiography, and the co-director of the 'Histoiredes religions' series with Labor et Fides publishers.

This seminar is presented by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.

For more information, see http://www.historyofemotions.org.au/events/emotions-and-the-jewish-christian-controversy-toledot-yeshu-and-its-readers/