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Ben Stada

BEN SṬADA, or Ben Sṭara, a person mentioned in two apparently unrelated passages in the Tosefta, identified in later tradition with Ben Pandira (Jesus). The first passage is found in Tosefta Shabbat (11:15), which reports a dispute concerning someone who made markings on his flesh. R. Eliezer held such a person liable for the desecration of the Sabbath, while his colleagues considered him exempt from punishment, since this is not the normal way of writing. In support of his position, R. Eliezer said: "Isn't it true that Ben Sṭara (other readings: Siṭra, Soṭra, Sṭada) learned in this way?" To this the Sages replied: "And because of one idiot, we should hold all of the normal people liable?" The second passage concerns the halakhah in Mishnah Sanhedrin (7:10) which permits the authorities to "entrap" someone who seeks to persuade a Jew to engage in idolatry. The Tosefta (San. 10:11), commenting on this halakhah, states: "And that is precisely what they did to Ben Sṭada (other readings: Sṭara) in Lydda – they placed two scholars in hiding [to testify against him] and stoned him." (The spelling of his name is uncertain also in the parallel passages in the Talmudim (see below, and cf. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Feshuta, 1 (1955), 179–80).)

The second baraita, which tells of Ben Sṭada's execution, is brought in the Jerusalem Talmud (Yev. 16:6, 15d) virtually verbatum. The first baraita, which describes his practice of writing on his flesh, is brought in the JT Shabbat (12:4, 13d) in a form very similar to the text of the Tosefta. It differs, however, in one important respect: the rather obscure allusion to Ben Sṭara's eccentric behavior ("Ben Sṭara, 'learned' in this way") is expanded and explained: "Isn't it true that Ben Sṭada [brought witchcraft out of Egypt] in this way?" While it is possible that the Jerusalem Talmud is preserving here an ancient tradition concerning Ben Sṭada, it is equally likely that this is a harmonistic interpretation of Tosefta Shabbat in an attempt to explain why he was executed in Tosefta Sanhedrin.

Both of these traditions were originally brought in the Babylonian Talmud, but they were eliminated in part from later editions as a result of Christian censorship, for reasons that will be made clear immediately. The later printed texts of TB Shabbat 104b read as follows: "R. Eliezer said to the Sages: Isn't it true that Ben Sṭara brought witchcraft out of Egypt by marking on his flesh? They said to him: He was an idiot, and one does not bring proofs from idiots". Here the sugya ends in the later printed editions. The continuation of the sugya, as represented by all manuscripts and the earliest printed text, reads as follows: "[Was he] the son of Sṭara (or: Sṭada)? Wasn't he rather the son of Pandira! Rav Ḥisda said: Sṭara was [his mother's] husband; Pandira was [his mother's] lover. [But his mother's] husband was Papos the son of Judah! Rather, his mother was Sṭara (or Sṭada), his father was Pandira. [But] his mother was Mary the hairdresser (magdala)! Rather [she was called Sṭada] because of what they say in Pumbedita: She cheated (saṭa da) on her husband." The name "Ben Pandira" was understood in the Babylonian Talmud as a euphemism for Jesus (cf. Tosefta Ḥul. 2:24, TB Av. Za. 16b-17a). It is fairly clear, therefore, that this entire talmudic passage is an anti-Christian polemic, ridiculing the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus (see D. Rokeah, "Ben Sṭara is Ben Pantira"). In keeping with this anti-Christian tendency, the version of the second baraita as brought in the uncensored text of TB Sanhedrin 67a reads as follows: "And that is precisely what they did to Ben Sṭada (or: Sṭara) in Lydda, and they hung him on the day before the Passover" – apparently a reference to the crucifixion. The text then continues as in Shabbat ("Was he the son of Sṭara? Wasn't he rather …").

While the Babylonian tradition clearly seems to identify Ben Sṭada with Ben Pantira (Jesus), it is highly unlikely that this reflects any historical tradition deriving from the tannaitic period. On the contrary, it is almost certainly a classic example of the Babylonian Talmud's "creative historiography" which seeks to identify obscure and unknown figures (like Ben Sṭada) with significant and well known figures (like Ben Pantira = Jesus). The Babylonian Talmud here as elsewhere reworks early sources (Tosefta and TJ) in order to achieve its own literary and polemical ends. It is therefore not surprising that inconsistencies remain between the older, more original elements, and the more recent trends and interpretations which coexist in the Babylonian Talmud's final retelling of these stories. Attempts to relate all of these various elements to a particular concrete historical figure will therefore almost always result in contradiction.

For example, Rabbenu Jacob b. Meir *Tam (in early editions of tosafot to Sanhedrin) mentions an interpretation which identifies Ben Stada with Jesus. This suggestion is based on the allusion to Pandira and strengthened by the mention of a Passover execution and of a mother named Miriam (Mary). R. Tam, however, rejects this view, pointing out that Pappos b. Judah lived a century after Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus was executed in Jerusalem and not in Lydda. Modern scholarship has suggested that Ben Stada may have been the Egyptian prophet who, during the administration of the Roman procurator Felix, persuaded "large crowds to follow him to the Mount of Olives," where at his command, "Jerusalem's walls would fall down and he would provide an entrance to the city" (Jos., Ant., 20:169ff.; Acts, 21:38). The only real link between the two, however, is the mention of Egypt. Josephus claimed that the prophet disappeared, whereas Ben Stada (according to the earliest and most reliable evidence) was executed in Lydda, possibly in the second century C.E. (see Derenbourg, Essai sur les formes des pluriels arabes (1867), 468–71). Given the scanty evidence concerning Ben Stada which is preserved in the earliest sources, it is unlikely that any definite identification of the historical figure that stands behind these traditions can be made.


R.T. Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (1903), 37, 344ff.; J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazereth (1929), 20–23; Schoeps, in: HUCA, 21 (1948), 258ff.; Chajes, in: Ha-Goren, 4 (1903), 33–37; D. Rokeah, in: Tarbiẓ, 39 (1970), 9–18.

[Isaiah Gafni / Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.