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    Bilam & Jesus

    The angel meets Balaam, Foster Bible Pictures, 1897

    The angel meets Balaam, Foster Bible Pictures, 1897

    Some Talmudic sources appear to identify Bilam (Balaam) with Jesus, e.g. a passage in Sanhedrin 106b where a sectarian (min) asks Rabbi Chanina how old Bilam was.

    There is a mention of Psalm 55:24, “Violent and deceitful men shall not live out half their days,” with the inference that Bilam was 33 or 34, less than half the conventional age of three score and ten (Psalm 90: 10). The sectarian agrees that Bilam was 33 when “Pinchas the robber killed him”.

    The passage is full of difficulties. Rabbi Chanina lived 200 years after Jesus’ time. There does not seem to be any logical reason why a sectarian (does this mean a Christian?) should want to know about Bilam’s age. Yet the figures or 33 or 34 do fit in with Jesus and while the Biblical Pinchas (Phineas) cannot be called a robber, the words “Pinchas the robber” – Pinchas lista’a – may be a garbled reference to Pontius Pilate.

    The most we can say is that some Christian may have been curious to see whether a well-known rabbinic sage like Rabbi Chanina had any knowledge about Jesus, and the whole history became rather mixed up. Presumably the verse from the Psalms became involved because of the word “deceitful” since the rabbis believed that Jesus distorted Judaism, though the adjective “violent” can hardly apply to him.

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