The Talmud A Closed Book Even When Open

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fa thers (Galatians 1:13-14).

Most Christians have never heard of the Talmud. I have never met a Christian who claims to have read all of it, meaning all 34 fat volumes. It was a closed book for English-speaking people until the 1950's. In effect, it still is.1 The Christian (and probably the non-Orthodox Jew) who may have heard of it but who has never read in it probably believes that it is a large Bible commentary on the Old Testament. This assumption is incorrect.

The problem Christians face is that there is no work of serious yet forthright scholarship on the Talmud that is written by a Trinitarian, Bible-believing Christian. Alfred Edersheim, the mid-

1. Israel Shenker refers to David Weiss' leisurely reading of it on vacations, without Weiss' normal line-by-line analysis, "as though it were an open book." Shenker, "A Life in the Talmud," New York Times Magazine (Sept. 11, 1977). Professor Robert L. Wilken of the University of Virginia calls the Soncino edition of the Talmud a closed book In-right (May 16, 1988). A more readable translation, but probably with modifications, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, is scheduled for publication, beginning in 1990. Time (Jan. 18, 1988) reports that84% of Israeli Jews surveyed said that they had never read any of it.

nineteenth-century convert from Judaism who taught at Oxford and who wrote The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, and Old Testament History, could have written such a work, but he chose not to, although his History of the Jewish Nation does include a 21-page section on Jewish law in the Talmud and Mishnah.2 (Under the section, "Jewish Theology," he admitted: "In attempting to arrange the doctrinal views of the Rabbins, we are bewildered by a mass of erroneous, blasphemous, and even contradictory Statements."3 1 would add: especially we find contradictory statements, for dialecticism4 is the reasoning process of the Talmud. Solomon Schechter's restrained comment in 1901 is accurate: "This indifference to logic and insensibility to theological consistency seems to be a vice from which not even the later successors of the Rabbis - the commentators of the Talmud - emancipated themselves entirely."5 Or more impishly, "Whatever the faults of the Rabbis were, consistency was not one of them."6) Even today, there are remarkably few serious works on the Talmud in English written by Jews, and none of them that I have read even mentions the disturbing material that I will briefly refer to in this book.

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