What manuscripts (if any) have Jesus instead of Balaam?

I'm aware that some claim that Balaam is a code-word for Jesus. I know Rabbi Gil Student makes a good argument that it cannot be

I have read that the 19th century Reform scholar Abraham Geiger thought that Balaam was code for Jesus.

This Talmudic passage from the Soncino (an Orthodox British publisher) has "MS.M. Jesus" in the footnotes.


He then went and raised Balaam by incantations. He asked him: Who is in repute in the other world? He replied: Israel. What then, he said, about joining them? He replied: Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.1 He then asked: What is your punishment? He replied: With boiling hot semen.2 He then went and raised by incantations the sinners of Israel.3

3 [MS.M. Jesus].

I have heard that "MS" stands for manuscript.

And if not then what would MS.M. Jesus mean? What is the M after MS.?

I've heard of Hesronot HaShas having parts of the Talmud that were censored by Christian censors. Does that have Jesus in it instead of Balaam? It doesn't seem conceivable to me that Christian censors would've changed Jesus to Balaam though.

I'm interested if anybody before Geiger claimed that Balaam was Jesus. How far back the claim goes and who made it.


Further to and from magicker72's great comments - So we have the Soncino abbreviations http://halakhah.com/tabbrev.html And to my question of what Talmudic manuscripts have Jesus instead of Balaam, it seems none. And to my question of who before Geiger equated Jesus with Balaam, I still see no examples given. It appears that Rabbi Gil student is using a version of the Talmud that has Yeshu, though Gil argues that Yeshu is not Jesus.
http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesus.html and http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesusnarr.html though clearly the Soncino translators of Gittin 57a, believe Yeshu was Jesus http://halakhah.com/gittin/gittin_57.html (footnote for "sinners of Israel" says Jesus - sinners of Israel being a censored version in Soncino's Hebrew and English, Yeshu being the actual version). So looking at the text as Gil's link, so Munich manuscript, not Soncino, it makes clear, Balaam is in boiling semen and Yeshu in boiling excrement with those that mock the sages. "What is your punishment? [Yeshu answered]: In boiling excrement."

  • 1
    Rashi says that this is a result of his advice that the people ended up deprave with the women of Moab. But perhaps the next passage Poshee Israel is about יש"ו
    – kouty
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 9:06
  • 1
    See halakhah.com/tabbrev.html
    – magicker72
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 12:13
  • 1
    That footnote is saying that in the Munich manuscript of Gittin, the words "sinners of Israel" are replaced by "Jesus".
    – magicker72
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 12:25
  • There are those who say that the letters יש"ו are really a roshei taivos for a particular phrase rather than the name of a person and that censors would often replace it with "Akum" Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 13:22
  • 1
    @magicker72 That should probably be in the answer space....
    – MTL
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 13:40

3 Answers 3


You're right, MS stands for manuscript, and the final M stands for Munich. It is the oldest complete manuscript of the Talmud available, which means many consider it to be the most accurate. However as Shalom pointed out, Soncino is NOT citing Jesus as being Balaam, it is citing that Jesus is in place of "sinners of Israel." I think you are seeing Balaam in close proximity to a section of censored Talmud and putting Jesus in the wrong spot. The reason that Geiger and scholars after him think Balaam is a code word for Jesus is the following:

Since the time of Geiger (JZWL, 6 (1868), 31–37) various scholars have tried to view the name Balaam, occurring in many aggadot, as a pseudonym for Jesus. They find their proof in the passage: "A certain sectarian said to Ḥanina 'Have you heard how old Balaam was?' He replied 'It is not actually stated, but since it is written "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days" [Ps. 55:24] he must have been 33 or 34'. He rejoined 'You have spoken correctly; I personally have seen Balaam's Chronicle, in which it is stated, "Balaam the lame was 33 years of age when Phinehas the robber killed him" [Sanh. 106b].'" On the basis that Jesus lived about 33 years and is called a sectarian, it was maintained that Balaam's Chronicle is none other than the Gospels and "Phinehas the robber" Pontius Pilate. However, it is impossible to imagine that a Christian would ask a Jew how old Jesus was, and call the Gospel Balaam's Chronicle or that Pontius Pilate, who is not mentioned even once in the whole of rabbinic literature, should be referred to as Phinehas the robber.

Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0011_0_10113.html

Geiger's and other more recent scholarly arguments citing Balaam as Jesus doesn't really have any concrete evidence, their argument is based on drawing connections based on similarities and oddities. However, when we are dealing with the reality of nearly all surviving texts being censored, it's impossible to find out where the censorship begins and ends. Even our oldest "uncensored" books could have already been censored, with more recent manuscripts being even further censored! Unfortunately we don't have a "dead sea scrolls" of Talmuds. So while Geiger's argument isn't definitive, those who oppose him don't have a concrete answer either because sometimes we have a clear reference to Jesus that is often edited out of most Talmuds. Such as in Sanhedrin 43, giving fuel to Geiger's argument:

enter image description here

‘On the Eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth for sorcery and leading Israel astray.’ This paper argues that other words were added to this tradition in order to overcome three difficulties: a trial date during a festival; the unbiblical method of execution; and the charge of ‘sorcery’.

The name Jesus the Nazerene is clearly mentioned. Sometimes when people talk about "Christian censors" what they really mean is that things were censored for fear of Christian violence toward Jews. So it could be possible that Jews themselves censored their own documents to prevent programs or other riots of violence. And when these things happen, its hard to know where the censorship began and where it ended.

If you want to know how prevalent Jesus shows up in this particular section of Talmud by cross referencing other Talmudic manuscripts, check out this website, which allows you to search by sections and compare manuscripts, I suggest you look up the section of Gittin you're curious about: http://jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/talmud/bavly/selectbavly.asp

Here is a photo of Gittin 57 in question in the Munich Manuscript. You can clearly see the name of Jesus if you look three lines above the large word אתרנגול

enter image description here

It states that Jesus was raised from the dead through incantations: אסקי' לישו בנגיד'. In the standard text this has been altered to read לפושעי ישראל, instead of Jesus.

Sorry that the quality isn't the greatest. If you want to get a more readable version you can directly view the Munich manuscript here. Unfortunately it's not broken off into daf numbers.

When it comes to these arguments there will never be a definitive answer. Because it comes down to things like this: If I am an "Orthodox Jew" and have a belief that only x manuscript of the Talmud Bavli is the correct one, then i have no concern if there are other manuscripts out there that explicitly mention the name of Jesus.

Another issue comes down to this: We have hundreds, sometimes thousands of manuscripts, and most of them vary, so how do you find out which is the correct one. You could make the argument that when most of them agree on something, then the minority of manuscripts that differ are the variant. But when the question comes to the potentiality that something was censored, how do you know which is the actual original, the one that has the rare reading, or the ones that all conform to something? What if the oldest manuscript we have (the Munich) has Jesus in several places, whereas every newer manuscript has the name Jesus missing? What do you do when most of the Ashkenazi manuscripts say x, and the Sepharadi or Yemenite ones say y?

I'm interested if anybody before Geiger claimed that Balaam was Jesus. How far back the claim goes and who made it.

Undoubtedly when you have such similarities in the texts about Jesus and Balaam there will be lots of people who make this argument. But more than likely most people who made this claim in older times probably weren't Jews, as Jews try to talk as little about Jesus as possible. This can lead Rabbis to ignore sections of any manuscripts that could be too problematic.

For more information regarding Jesus in the Munich Manuscript I recommend that you read this article: Jesus of Nazareth's Trial in the Uncensored Talmud. Written by a prominent scholar in Rabbinic Works.

  • There are references to yeshu but how does that fuel geiger's argument that balaam is yeshu?
    – barlop
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 15:09
  • @barlop because we don't know how hevily the Talmud wad censored. And whenever we have a manuscript that shows that Yeshu was censored I a new way, it means that it could be possible that replacing yeshu with balsam might be just one of many censoring tactics
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 17:41
  • Regarding Rabbi Gil Student, he's fairly modern in his orthodoxy and it doesn't look like he limits himself to thinking that "only x manuscript of the Talmud Bavli is the correct one", e.g. when discussing references to yeshu, he writes on sanhedrin 43a angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesusnarr.html "Only one of the approximately four distinct manuscripts available have the title HaNotzri (possibly, the Nazarene). None of the other manuscripts contain that title which make it suspect as a later interpolation, as medieval commentators suggest..."
    – barlop
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 18:44
  • Your answer in part is very misleading, So one of the article's of Gil's doesn't include that example of sanhedrin 43a, but it is just dealing with some claims. The other of his articles literally says there are 4 main passages. One of them is sanhedrin 43a And his arguments Do include sanhedrin 43a When you say "Doing things like Rabbi Gil did in his article where they ignore sections of any manuscripts" That's totally false. I suggest you correct your answer
    – barlop
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 23:24
  • @barlop Please link those other articles and I will correct my answer
    – Aaron
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 1:45

I think you -- and Geiger! -- misread this slightly.

First there's a discussion of Balaam, and then a discussion of "the sinners of Israel."

It's very likely that that second conversation had at one point said "Jesus" (now which Jesus the Talmud discussed ... is a different question), and that was censored and replaced with "the sinners of Israel." (Which makes sense, as the Talmud describes Jesus as a sinful Jew.)

So I'm not aware of anyone before Geiger that suggested "Balaam = Jesus." In fact, the uncensored manuscript strongly indicates they were two different characters being discussed.

It also makes little sense as the Talmud's discussion of Balaam repeatedly state that he was a non-Jew (in legal discussions; in lists of famous non-Jewish prophets; in lists of Jewish and non-Jewish sinners), while the Jesus of the Talmud was a Jew.

In short: no such manuscript, no such interpretation other than Geiger.

  • Your answer seems to be incorrect. There is such a manuscript. Please see answer above.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 19:46
  • @Aaron29, the manuscript says "first he talked to Balaam, then to Jesus." That means they're two different people! The censored editions changed "Jesus" to "Jewish sinners", not "Balaam"!
    – Shalom
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 20:17
  • Wow, i clearly got mislead by the questioner, it's hard to explain how. You're right. i think there are a few things going on here, along with a misunderstanding of how soncino is sourcing. Will edit my answer and delete my comment on your question in a few minutes.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 20:35
  • i've made edits to my question. i don't think Geiger was talking about this section of Talmud as a Jesus prooftext, please see my updated answer.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 20:52

Note- This answer does mention some things from Aron's answer and magic's comment, but also addresses the Geiger question too

what manuscripts (if any) have Jesus instead of Balaam?


(And your question there would be, what manuscripts, if any, have has Yeshu been replaced by Balaam. Answer is none. There are instances of Yeshu and of Balaam).

And the censorship in that passage quoted from soncino's publication of the talmud, it's Yeshu that has been replaced with "the sinners of israel"

what would MS.M. Jesus mean? What is the M after MS.?

MS=manuscript M=Munich

The Munich Manuscript

see reference provided by the commenter magicker72 http://halakhah.com/tabbrev.html

It list the abbreviations table from the 1952 Soncino publication of the Talmud

And of course, the manuscript has Yeshu, not Jesus

Jesus's name is understood by academics to have been Yeshua. Yeshu might be a shortened form, possibly derogatory, since Yeshu is also an abbreviaton for Ymach Shmo VeZichroh, meaning 'may his name and memory be destroyed'.

MS. Manuscript (Plural MSS.).

MS.M. Munich Codex of the Talmud.

The Munich Manuscript is complete and from 1343.

The Vilna talmud is 19th century.

I've heard of Hesronot HaShas having parts of the Talmud that were censored by christian censors. Does that have Jesus in it instead of Balaam?


It doesn't seem conceivable to me that christian censors would've changed Jesus to Balaam though.

no censor did.

Also, when it comes to censorship, re whether it was christian authorities censoring, or whether it was self-censorship in order to help get permission to print it. When censorship begun, it was imposed by Christian authorities after the Disputation at Tortosa , that disputation took place 1413-1414. After that it was self-censorship by publishers to help get permission to print it. (Note that of the two famous publishers, Bomberg was not Jewish , though of course the Soncino family were)


The soncino quote from tractate Gittin, has Yeshu replaced with "sinners of israel", and a footnote saying that the MS M has Jesus. (so it's the view of Soncino that Yeshu there, and perhaps anywhere, is Jesus). That Brewer article also identifies Yeshu as Jesus.

I'm interested if anybody before Geiger claimed that Balaam was Jesus. How far back the claim goes and who made it.

Doing a search on google books, I got this

Pharaoh's Counsellors: Job, Jethro, and Balaam in Rabbinic and ... https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=vNEOAAAAIAAJ

Judith Reesa Baskin - 1983 - ‎Snippet view The identification of Balaam with Jesus was apparently initiated in a letter written by S.J.L. Rapaport in l833. Abraham Geiger gave impetus to the suggestion in l868 with the publication of Bileam und Jesus. S. Krauss wrote on "Balaam," JE: .

So it was the time of Geiger(and SJL Rapaport), it was initiated by a letter to Geiger, from SJL Rapaport in 1833.

  • Note Eruvin 21b mentions the view that those that mock the words of the sages are punished by boiling in excrement. And that view is then challenged. sefaria.org/Eruvin.21b?lang=bi
    – barlop
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 2:23

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