(See follow-on post here).
In several of my communications with fellow Jews, they maintain that there is either no evidence that the Jesus of the New Testament ever existed or if he did exist, the historical evidence of who he was is very thin. Could we say the same thing about the early Jewish rabbis/sages? In the Introduction to the “Cambridge Companion to the Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature,” we read:
“One of the few traits of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings that appear to be useful for dating the texts is the rabbinic habit of stating laws and other teachings in the names of specific sages and teachers. For the first century of modern talmudic studies, many assumed that securing the dates in which a specific teacher flourished would enable historians to date the composition of his teachings. But it is precisely the “nonauthored” character of rabbinic literature that prevents us from assuming with any degree of historical certainty that Rabbi Akiva or any other rabbinic figure cited in the talmudic discussions “really” said what is attributed to him. Indeed, for most rabbinic sages, we do not have external historical or biographical references, nor do we have extensive internal biographies. In the best case, we know as much about such major rabbinic authorities as Hillel, Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi Akiva, or Rav as we do about the historical Jesus. Often less.” (Editors: Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee). (Here is the list of contributors).
I focus on the last statement, “In the best case, we know as much about such major rabbinic authorities as Hillel, Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi Akiva, or Rav as we do about the historical Jesus. Often less.”
The editors believe that we know very little about Jesus. I think we know a lot about Jesus. However, what I think about the ignorance of these two respected scholars concerning the historicity of Jesus is not my emphasis here. What is relevant is their statement that whatever (little) is known about Jesus, even less is known about Hillel and the early Jewish sages. Talmudists will agree heartily with these scholars’ view that we know very little, if anything, about their (the Talmudists) greatest bugbear – Jesus, but will, in the same breath, vehemently insist that not only did Hillel and the early sages exist, but that they (the Talmudists) have a detailed knowledge of the lives of these early sages as revealed in Jewish works of revelation such as the Talmud. In Talmudism, not only is the Talmud divine revelation, but history as well.