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Toledot Yeshu, or “Stories about Jesus,” have been transmitted by Jews for centuries but only recently have begun to garner signifcant scholarly attention as part of a tradition of anti-Christian polemic. This paper contends that the varied depictions of Jesus’ conception in the Toledot corpus refect the intracommunal issues of forced conversion, apostasy, and overfamiliarity with non-Jews. The theme was neither new to the Toledot nor a product of the late-antique and medieval contexts that Jewish stories of Jesus frst circulated in. Rather, it echoes biblical representations of, and admonishments against, illicit relationships with non-Jews which ancient authors commonly depicted through a typology of sexual promiscuity. It is only when viewing Toledot presentations of Jesus’ conception in light of both contemporary events and the Jewish biblical literary tradition that we are able to grasp their previously unnoted functions as 1) Jewish selfcriticism regarding intercommunal relations; and, 2) a didactic warning to future generations against making similar mistakes.


Originally published in Shofar 33.2 (2015): 87-102