Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera
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Tiberius Pantera's tombstone in Bad Kreuznach
Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera (c. 22 BC – AD 40) was a Roman soldier whose tombstone was found in Bingerbrück, Germany, in 1859.
A historical connection from this soldier to Jesus has long been hypothesized by numerous scholars, based on the claim of the ancient Greek philosopher Celsus, who, according to Christian writer Origen in his Contra Celsum ("Against Celsus") (Greek Κ;α;τ;ὰ; Κ;έ;λ;σ;ο;υ;, Kata Kelsou; Latin Contra Celsum), was the author of an anti-Christian work titled 'The True Word' (Greek Λ;ό;γ;ο;ς; Ἀ;λ;η;θ;ή;ς;, Logos Alē;thē;s).
Celsus' work was lost, but in Origen's account of it Jesus was depicted as the result of an affair between his mother Mary and a Roman soldier. He said she was "convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Pantera". Tiberius Pantera could have been serving in the region at the time of Jesus's conception. Both the ancient Talmud and medieval Jewish writings and sayings reinforced this notion, referring to Jesus as "Yeshu ben Pantera" (Jesus, son of Pantera).
The Talmudic accounts in detail
Yeshu ben Pandera
Tosefta and Talmud references
Main article: Jacob the Min
In the Tosefta, Chullin 2:22-24 there are two anecdotes about the min (heretic) named Jacob naming his mentor Yeshu ben Pandera (Yeshu son of Pandera).
Chullin 2:22-23 tells how Rabbi Eleazar ben Damma was bitten by a snake. Jacob came to heal him (according to Lieberman's text) "on behalf of Yeshu ben Pandera". (A variant text of the Tosefta considered by Herford reads "Yeshua" instead of "Yeshu". This together with anomalous spellings of Pandera were found by Saul Lieberman who compared early manuscripts, to be erroneous attempts at correction by a copyist unfamiliar with the terms.)
The account is also mentioned in corresponding passages of the Jerusalem Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2:2 IV.I) and Babylonian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 27b) The name Yeshu is not mentioned in the Hebrew manuscripts of these passages but reference to "Jeshu ben Pandira" is interpolated by Herford's in his English paraphrasing of the Jerusalem Talmud text. Similarly the Rodkinson translation of the Babylonian Talmud account interpolates "with the name of Jesus".
Chullin 2:24 tells how Rabbi Eliezer was once arrested and charged with minuth. When the chief judge (hegemon) interrogated him, the rabbi answered that he "trusted the judge." Although Rabbi Eliezer was referring to God, the judge interpreted him to be referring to the judge himself, and freed the Rabbi. The remainder of the account concerns why Rabbi Eliezer was arrested in the first place. Rabbi Akiva suggests that perhaps one of the minim had spoken a word of minuth to him and that it had pleased him. Rabbi Eliezer recalls that this was indeed the case, he had met Jacob of the town of Sakhnin in the streets of Sepphoris who spoke to him a word of minuth in the name of Yeshu ben Pandera, which had pleased him. (A variant reading used by Herford has Pantiri instead of Pandera.)
Avodah Zarah, 16b-17a in the Babylonian Talmud essentially repeats the account of Chullin 2:24 about Rabbi Eliezer and adds additional material. It tells that Jacob quoted Deuteronomy 23:19: "You shall not bring the fee of a whore or the price of a dog into the house of the Lord your God in fulfillment of any vow." Jacob says that he was taught this by Yeshu. Jacob then asked Eliezer whether it was permissible to use a whore's money to build a retiring place for the High Priest? (Who spent the whole night preceding the Day of Atonement in the precincts of the Temple, where due provision had to be made for all his conveniences.) When Rabbi Eliezer did not reply, Jacob quoted Micah 1:7, "For they were amassed from whores' fees and they shall become whores' fees again." This was the teaching that had pleased Rabbi Eliezer.
“Jesus, son of Pantera” Nov
by Robin Helweg-Larsen
About 177 AD the Greek philosopher Celsus, in his book ‘The True Word’, expressed what appears to have been the consensus Jewish opinion about Jesus, that his father was a Roman soldier called Pantera. ‘Pantera’ means Panther and was a fairly common name among Roman soldiers. The rumor is repeated in the Talmud and in medieval Jewish writings where Jesus is referred to as “Yeshu ben Pantera”.
Pantera's gravestone is the one on the left
In 1859 a gravestone surfaced in Germany for a Roman soldier called Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera, whose unit Cohors I Sagittariorum had served in Judea before Germany – romantic historians have hypothesized this to be Jesus’ father, especially as ‘Abdes’ (‘servant of God’) suggests a Jewish background.
Tib(erius) Iul(ius) Abdes Pantera
Sidonia ann(orum) LXII
stipen(diorum) XXXX miles exs(ignifer?)
coh(orte) I sagittariorum
h(ic) s(itus) e(st)
Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera
from Sidon, aged 62 years
served 40 years, former standard bearer (?)
of the First Cohort of Archers
The gravestone is now in the Römerhalle museum in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
It appears this First Cohort of Archers moved from Palestine to Dalmatia in 6 AD, and to the Rhine in 9 AD. Pantera came from Sidon, on the coast of Phoenicia just west of Galilee, presumably enlisted locally. He served in the army for 40 years until some time in the reign of Tiberius. On discharge he would have been granted citizenship by the Emperor (and been granted freedom if he had formerly been a slave), and added the Emperor’s name to his own. Tiberius ruled from 14 AD to 37 AD. Pantera’s 40 years of service would therefore have started between 27 BC and 4 BC.
As Pantera would probably have been about 18 when he enlisted, it means he was likely born between 45 BC and 22 BC. He could have been as old as 38 or as young as 15 at the time of Jesus’ conception in the summer of 7 BC.
In 6 AD when Jesus was 12, Judas of Galilee led a popular uprising that captured Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee. The uprising was crushed by the Romans some four miles north of Nazareth. It is possible (and appealing to lovers of historical irony) that Pantera and Joseph fought on opposite sides. As Joseph is never heard of again he may well have been killed in the battle, or have been among the 2,000 Jewish rebels crucified afterwards.
So Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera is indeed a possibility as Jesus’ father. The only thing we know for certain is that Mary’s husband Joseph wasn’t the father, and that Mary was already pregnant when they married. It could have been rape, or Mary may have been a wild young teen who fell for a handsome man in a uniform, even if he was part of an occupying army. It happens.