To the editor,
Kudos to my landsemann David S. Farkas on his fascinating and well-presented “Of Fish & Fishermen: An Unknown Christian Reference in the Talmud.”
I would add the following: In presenting the difficulty with the text of Sanhedrin 107b – that Jesus erected a brick and worshiped it – Farkas notes that “No tradition has come down to us that bricks were a particular mode of worship among the early Christians, or indeed, among any group in antiquity” (63). It should be noted that TB Avodah Zarah (46a and 53b) discusses at length this very phenomenon of erecting a brick and worshiping it, which would indicate that such a practice did exist – at least in the first generation of Babylonian Amaraim who discuss the issue there. Unless one assumes a strange coincidence, this would indicate that our version of Sanhedrin is correct. (Unless, perhaps, a copyist couldn’t understand why Jesus would string a fish and worship it – and so he assumed, based on the above sugyos, that it should really read “a brick”!)
As to why Jesus would erect a brick and worship it: The gist of the passage would strike me as saying that in the throes of his rejection from his rebbe, Jesus felt compelled to make an immediate and total break with Judaism – hence the severest sin of idolatry. A brick is a common object found lying around and may have been the first item he came upon. It’s also easy to confer upon it the halakhic status of an idol, by simply erecting it for that purpose, as discussed in the above sugyos, which Jesus may well have been familiar with.
All of this has no real bearing upon the primary contribution of Farkas’ article – the resolution of the Mishnah Beitzah, as the significance of the fish in early Christianity is independently established. It remains an excellent example of how good research and creative thinking can expand our understanding of Hazal.
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