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In the Talmud, Sabbath 31 a it reads, among other things:

[Hillel said] That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.

Now this appears to be a reference to what is said in Tobit (4:15):

See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another.

But Jesus states the positive form of the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 and uses it, like those who wrote Sabbath, to sum up the whole Law, with very similar words:

All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.

Who is taking from whom? Did they come up with this independently? Is the Talmud putting the words of Jesus into the mouth of Hillel (whose grandchild is Gamaliel, whom we might be familiar with), or is it possible that Jesus even learned from Hillel when He was younger? Or again, is Jesus expanding the maxim by inverting it (which naturally goes beyond simply refraining oneself, but actively doing, helping etc.) as He does with other already known laws and rules?

Thanks in advance.

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  • I do not know the answer to this very good question. However, I strongly suspect that Jesus was sufficiently familiar with Hillel (as would His audience) that He changed it to fit with His theology.
    – Dottard
    Jul 3 '20 at 11:33
  • Almost all the teachings of Jesus are recorded in Talmud. Quite a few of them are an abridged version of what Talmud narrates Some are verbatim quoted by Jesus. A few were misquoted by the Greek translator.
    – Yeddu
    May 6 at 19:15
  • You may see some of the videos of Rabbi Michael Skobac where he does a review of the verse of the Greek text by verse review to see how it ties or does not tie with Tanakh. youtube.com/user/tenaktalk/videos
    – Yeddu
    May 6 at 19:18
  • One can wonder if it ever is possible to follow one of the two interpretations of rule, without following the other? Or do the two rules, the negative and the positive, mean the same? One just being a rephrasing of the other. May 8 at 23:32
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    @YedduPrasad Tanak Talk is a woefully anti-Christian circle of post-Christian, Talmud-following Jews who are explicitly and markedly invested in destroying the missionary effort of Christians to spread the gospel of Christ. They are therefore heavily biased and unreliable and unrepresentative of 'the Jewish' interpretation of Scripture — unless by 'Jewish' you mean 'expressly and explicitly antichirist and post-Christian Jewish interpretation?' Especialy insofar as they contradict pre-Christian Jews on the same matters. May 8 at 23:39
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Babylonian Talmud

It is difficult to ascertain with certainty the age of a statement the Babylonian Talmud:

  • It could go back all the way to the attributed speaker
  • It could be a statement based on what the attributed speaker said, but has been developed/expanded upon since that time
  • It could be an incorrect attribution

Much of the material was in oral circulation (and/or through now lost written sources) for many years, making its origin difficult to trace.

The statement was in circulation

For purposes of this answer I will acknowledge that there is no reason why Rabbi Hillel couldn't have said this. Furthermore, the idea (of the negative Golden Rule) is found in earlier sources as well, such as Isocrates of ancient Greece (4th century B.C.):

Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you (see here 3.61)

Tobit (or its sources) may be older than Isocrates; the exact date is unknown.

Jesus frequently dialogued with the religious leaders of His day, and so it is reasonable to accept that He would have been familiar with this idea.

Negative vs. Positive Golden Rule

Both the negative and positive form of the Golden Rule have their roots in the Old Testament:

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:18)

The positive form of the Golden Rule "All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them" may indeed be original to Jesus--there is no definite usage (to my knowledge) of the positive form from an earlier date.

The positive form is an insightful development upon the negative form (negative form was found in Greece, Hillel, Tobit, etc) in that it isn't enough not to do ill; we are called upon to do good.

Conclusion

Whether Jesus learned the negative form of the Golden Rule through the disciples of Hillel or other means, it was an idea circulating in the eastern Mediterranean at His time. (For this reason, I doubt the Talmud derived the negative form of the Golden Rule from Jesus, though I can't rule it out completely)

I suggest that Jesus is expanding the maxim to show the type of life His followers should live, much as He did with other commands in the Sermon on the Mount.

What is the relationship between Sabbath 31a and Matthew 7:12?

The answer is uncertain, but an educated guess would be this:

  • There is no direct literary relationship
  • The basic ideas of each have common, older sources
  • Jesus took the idea a step further
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  • If Anti-semitism is atrocious, then the view of Gentiles by Jews of the ancient world (and thus Gentile philosophers) was far worse — Tobit is set in the 8th century BC; and textual criticism is very often too willing to date something late in order to satisfy its own question-begging standards, so I wouldn't be too quick to assume that Isocrates committed this maxim to writing "before" Tobit or its sources (since to assert as much is to claim that Jews copied from pagan philosophers, or that oral or written but forgotten source tradition is non-existent). May 8 at 22:07
  • I'm not sure the question has a 'the' answer, but since your answer doesn't tell me any more than I already knew (or which was implied by the question itself), I can only give you an upvote. May 8 at 22:08
  • @Sola Gratia you make a fair point about Tobit which I hadn't called out in my answer - I edited to acknowledge this. I agree that question-begging has at least sometimes cast doubt on the chronological reliability of textual criticism. Sorry I can't offer a more definitive answer. In any event, I think the origin of the idea is decidedly Jewish (Leviticus 19:18) May 8 at 22:17
  • @SolaGratia I guess I could have answered more directly =). I amended my conclusion to acknowledge that I don't think there's a direct literary relationship between the two. May 8 at 22:34

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