In John Haley’s book Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, we see Mr. Haley make reference to the Jewish Talmud in support of the idea that the genealogy in Luke is that of "Mary the daughter of Heli." Mr. Haley writes:
"It is INDIRECTLY CONFIRMED [emphasis mine] by Jewish tradition. Lightfoot cites from the Talmudic writers concerning the pains of hell, the statement that Mary the daughter of Heli [sic] was seen in the infernal regions, suffering horrid tortures. This statement illustrates, not only the bitter animosity of the Jews toward the Christian religion, but also the fact that, according to received Jewish tradition, Mary was the daughter of Heli; [sic] hence, that it is her genealogy which we find in Luke." (John Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, page 326.)
Notice that this assertion is without a citation to the Talmud, but instead admittedly references John Lightfoot’s (A.D. 1602-1675) four-hundred year old work Horae Hebraicae on Luke 3:23 ( i.e. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica). After tracking down Lightfoot’s work, we discover an interesting but obfuscatory sentence before the actual reference:
"There is a discourse of a certain person who in his sleep saw the punishment of the damned. Amongst the rest which I would render thus, but shall willingly stand corrected if under a mistake;"
Now here’s the all important reference:
"He saw Mary the daughter of Heli amongst the shades. R. Lazar Ben Josah saith, that she hung by the glandules of her breasts. R. Josah Bar Haninah saith, that the great bar of hell's gate hung at her ear." (see: http://philologos.org/__eb-jl/luke03.htm ).
After that often quoted reference, Lightfoot says something that should draw visible caution flags, unfortunately though, such caution flags are almost never seen:
"If this be the true rendering of the words, which I have reason to believe it is, then thus far, at least, it agrees with our evangelist, that Mary was the daughter of Heli...." (Ibid.)
This is interesting because apologists like Mr. Haley base their assertion on Lightfoot’s admitted questionable assumption of the text. But lets now remove ourselves from secondary source information, and look at the Talmud itself.
According to the The Talmud of the Land of Israel we read:
"R. Eliezer bar Yos’e said that he saw Miriam, the daughter of 'LYBSLYM [Jastrow—the leeklike sprouts of onions], hanging the nipples of her breasts. R. Yost b. Hanina said, "The pin of the gate of Gehenna was fastened to her ear."
[Note of proper citation and credit: The Talmud of the Land of Israel, Vol. 20: "Hagigah and Moed Qatan." Tr. Jacob Neusner. University of Chicago Press, 1986 ISBN 0-226-57679-5. Passage: "L." Note: Tim Taylor of Errancy located this reference to make this example possible.]
Here, we discover that Professor Rabbi Neusner, the modern translator of this passage, has left the ALL important Hebrew word "LYBSLYM" untranslated. So the question still looms: does "LYBSLYM" translate to Heli/Eli?
As an aid in helping us answer this question, Rabbi Neusner cites in brackets "[ ]" professor Marcus Jastrow (Jastrow is a Rabbi of great respect and prestige in the Jewish community) as what appears to be a play on words (i.e. "Jastrow - the leeklike sprouts of onions"). Seeking clarification on this textual anomaly, the present writer contacted the academic department of the Jewish Theological Seminary with the intentions of speaking to the distinguished scholar of Rabbinics, Dr. David Kraemer, about the translation of "LYBSLYM." Dr. Kraemer response was:
"The term you ask about translates most simply into "the leaves of onions." The Hebrew words (and there are two words here) are 'alei betzalim. This is admittedly a very odd name, and it may well be a play on some other phrase. (The story itself suggests that something very odd is going on here.) There is nothing obvious that demands that we read this story as referring to Mary [of the New Testament], but it is not impossible." (E-mail correspondence 8/09/01).
While Dr. Kraemer does not entirely exclude the Talmudian passage from referencing the Mary of the New Testament. What seems to be certain here, is that "LYBSLYM" more accurately "alei betzalim," does NOT literally translate as "Heli/Eli," but may or may not be a play on words in that regard.
Nevertheless, scholars who have extensively studied the contextual evidence see no connection. Herford Travers, author of Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, comments:
"There is, in Jerusalem Hagigah 77d, a reference to a certain Miriam the daughter of 'Eli, whom, on account of the name (cf. Luke iii.23), one might be tempted to connect with the story of Jesus; but there seems to be no suspicion on the part of the Talmud of any such connection, and what is told about her does not seem to me to point in that direction." (Herford Travers, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, pg, 43. Note: Book available on-line: ).
Scholar Norvall Geldenhuys echoes this sentiment as he leans on the work of respected German scholars Strack and Billerbeck who also does not see any connection:
"The Miriam, daughter of Eli, who is referred to in the Talmud (Chagigah 77d), has in all probability nothing to do with Mary the mother of Jesus, as is made plain in Strack-Billerbeck ( in loc .)" (Geldenhuys, Gospel of Luke , 154 n. 5).
While the evidence is not totally conclusive at this point. What has been shown here is the HUGE question mark that is placed over the assertion that "according to received Jewish tradition, Mary was the daughter of Heli/Eli." There are simply to many complications surrounding this Talmudian reference to make such a claim.