Vol. 25 (2022): Cromohs
The Jewish ‘Life of Jesus’ in Early Modern Contexts: Case Studies

Foreword: The Jewish ‘Life of Jesus’ (Toledot Yeshu) in Early Modern Contexts: Case Studies

Daniel Barbu
CNRS - LEM (UMR 8584)
Thomas Coryat, Coryat’s Crudities: Reprinted from the Edition of 1611. To which are Now Added, His Letters from India, &c. and Extracts Relating to Him, from Various Authors [...] Together with His Orations, Character, Death, Etc. [...] (London: Printed for W. Cater, et. al., 1776), vol. III, n.p., ‘Coryat’s Letters from India’. Copy at The British Library, digitised by Google books.

Published 2023-01-31


  • Jewish-Christian polemics,
  • Toledot Yeshu,
  • Jews in the early modern world,
  • Hebrew manuscripts,
  • Counter-History


The essays gathered here all concern the history, reception, and circulation of various versions of the Jewish ‘Life of Jesus’ (or Toledot Yeshu) in the early modern period (sixteenth to eighteenth century). Toledot Yeshu is perhaps the most infamous retelling of the gospel narrative of the premodern era. The story is best described as a parody of the Gospels, or perhaps an ‘anti- gospel,’ in which the foundational narrative and basic tenets of Christianity become an opportunity for ridicule and laughter. Jesus himself, whose purportedly shameful origins are narrated in detail, is thus railed as an antihero, a disgruntled student of the rabbis who sought to gain recognition by performing magic and duping the crowds, claiming to be the Messiah foretold by the prophets, but ultimately unable to save himself. The essays gathered in this thematic section of Cromohs are devoted to the early modern contexts of Toledot Yeshu, a period characterised by the dissemination of new versions of the narrative, increased circulation of manuscripts, translations into vernacular languages, and renewed interest—both on the Jewish and on the Christian side—in polemical and apologetic writings.