Luke’s Joanna and the Talmud’s Yohanni bat Retibi
A woman named “Joanna” is mentioned twice in the Book of Luke; she is mentioned together with Mary Magdalene both times; she is not mentioned in parallel texts in the other gospels.
“And certain women, who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s Steward…” (Luke 8:2-3.)
“And Mary Magdalene, and Joanna…” (Luke 24:10)
While her name is rendered “Joanna” (ιωαννα) in Greek, it is Iohanna in the Vulgate, as it would be in Hebrew; Franz Delisch chose “Yohannah” for his translation of the New Testament into Hebrew. As such it is linguistically related to the well-known name “Hannah” (English equivalent is Anne as well as Hannah; this is the name of Mary’s mother), but “Yohannah” is not otherwise attested in this form in pre-modern Hebrew.
In the King James translation, there is also a male Joanna in Luke’s genealogy of Joseph, Mary’s husband (3:27). He is the grandson of “Zorobabel ben Salathiel,” or Zerubavel ben Shealtiel, the Davidic prince who led a return to Jerusalem from Babylon in the 6th pre-Christian century. Although Zerubavel occurs both in Luke and in Matthew 1:12, Joanna occurs only in Luke’s genealogy. Delitsch’s Hebrew version gives his name Yohanan, a form attested in some Greek versions (but not the Vulgate), and NIV and several other English translations presume this Hebrew basis. This name is linguistically related to Hananiah, a son of Zerubavel in I Chr. 3:19.
Although the name Yohanna is unknown as a woman’s name in pre-modern Jewish literature, the Talmud has a tantalizing reference to a woman named “Yohanni” (which is linguistically the same name as Johanna). It begins with a traditional teaching:
Our Rabbis have taught: A maiden who gives herself up in prayer, a gadabout widow, and a minor whose months are not completed, behold, these things bring destruction upon the world (Sota 22a).
A statement of Rabbi Johanan (third century) is cited to protest the teaching. The Talmud concludes that the teaching is not generally true because Rabbi Johanan learned fear of sin from a maiden who prayed, and hope of reward from a widow who traveled a great distance to attend his synagogue. Nevertheless, according to the teaching of the Rabbis must refer to something! So the participants in the discussion are pressed to determine whether there is any actual example of the type of woman who “brings destruction upon the world.” The answer: the passage refers to someone like “Yohanni bat [the daughter of] Retibi” (Sota 22a).
Yohanni bat Retibi is otherwise unknown from Talmudic literature, indeed she may be the only sorceress whose name is specifically mentioned. Nevertheless, mention without further elaboration may suggest she was familiar to those who named her and to those who included her story in the Talmud—or, as M. Bar-Ilan suggests, “presumably because of internal censorship, the entire story about this woman was removed from the Talmud.” Who was she? The Encyclopedia Judaica calls her a “faith healer,” and the Soncino translation of the Talmud glosses: “She was a widow who by witchcraft made childbirth difficult for a woman and then offered prayer for her.”
Such references are all based on a story told by Rashi (North-east France and the Rhineland, d. 1105) in commenting on the passage in Sota 22a, itself based on earlier, Babylonian traditions.  Rashi tells her story as follows:
She was a widow and a witch (makhshefa). When it came time for a woman to give birth, she would stop up her womb by witchcraft, but after the woman was in great pain she would say: “I will go and pray for mercy; perhaps my prayer will be answered.” She would then go and undo her magic and the child would come out. One time she had a day laborer in her house and she went to the home of a woman in childbirth, and the laborer heard the sound of the spells knocking around in a vessel, just as the child knocks in the mother’s womb. He went and opened the stopper of the vessel and the spells left, and the child was born and it was known that she was a sorceress.
The story is also told in a commentary to this passage ascribed to Rabbi Samson of Sens (France, late 12th-early 13th century).
The Talmudic passage which mentions Yohanni starts with a negative generalization about women, which is demolished by examples of praiseworthy women. Perhaps this is a counter-argument to the suggestion that the New Testament’s positive attitude towards women is unique and distinctive from the Rabbis’ position. Yohanni bat Retibi remains the one example which “saves” the generalization, making it refer not to all religious women, but to a specific paradigm of a woman who appears to be prayerful and doing good, but is in fact a gadabout who destroys the world. She is also clearly an effective sorceress.
Yohanni occurs as a woman’s name in one other location in the Talmud. Rabbi Tarfon (c. 50-120 CE) was teaching his nephews and found they were too quiet, so he misquoted Genesis 25:1 to get their attention “Abraham took another wife, and her name was Yohanni” (Zevahim 62b). In Genesis, the name at the end of the verse is Keturah, Abraham’s concubine after the death of Sarah. Jewish tradition considered Keturah to be a pious woman, perhaps even Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, who became pious and returned to Abraham after the death of her former mistress. Rashi suggests this was just a word to catch their attention, and neither he nor any of the other standard-edition commentators cross-references Yohanni bat Retibi. Yet if Yohanni the Sorceress were indeed notorious, her name would hardly have been “just a word;” rather, her name would clearly have caught students’ attention. The technique of misquoting a well-known verse for dramatic effect, as a teaching or rhetorical technique, was used notably in another Talmudic passage, a debate conducted by the late-2nd century scholar Nathan the Babylonian. Arguing against the proclamation of the calendar in Babylonia—the determination of the calendar was a tradition prerogative of the Palestinian Rabbinate—Nathan paraphrased Isaiah 2:3/Micah 4:2, saying “For the Torah will go forth from Babylonia….” Everyone would have known the correct wording (“…forth from Zion”), and thus the rhetorical sense might have been more like a question: “Shall the Torah go forth from Babylonia?” Perhaps the passage about Abraham’s remarriage, too, was meant to make a point: “Did Abraham take as another wife, the sorceress Yohanni?”
As the name of a man, however, another Yohanni or Johanna is quite well known. Usually he is mentioned together with his brother, Mamre (e.g. Menahot 85a). This is a “Hebrew” form of the name; this pair is better known in the Greek or Aramaic forms of their names, Jannes and Jambres, occurring in 2 Tim. 3:8. They occur also in Rabbinic midrashic works such as Yalkut Shim`oni, and in the Targum Yerushalmi to Numbers 22:22, usually in their Greek forms but sometimes in the Hebrew form of their names; and they are found in numerous early Christian works. Jannes is called Yohanna in the Zadokite fragment. These are identified the two chief magicians of Pharaoh, and as sons of Balaam (or in the Zadokite text, of Belial). Kohler, writing in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1904-6, connects Jannes with Johanni bat Retibi, whom he thinks may have been a “demon belonging to the class of Lillith, or a sorceress,” and with Ketura, whom he believed was connected with magic. He further suggested that Yohanni’s father might explain the versions of the names of Pharaoh’s magicians given by Pliny. Kohler did not mention an Egyptian link for Keturah, although it would be natural to do so in an article on Jannes; the identification with Hagar would provide the link to Egypt (Gen. 16:1.)
Indeed, women in childbirth feared “demons belonging to the class of Lillith” and sorceresses, and amulets and incantations were often prepared to protect against them. In Mesopotamia during late Talmudic times and for generations thereafter, such incantations were often written on terra cotta bowls. The bowls obviously did not have “stoppers,” but many were found upside down; it has been speculated that this was to trap the demons inside, much as was the case with Yohanni’s spells.
It is tempting to add one more correspondence to the list proposed by Kohler a century ago: Luke’s Joanna. Luke’s text suggests that the seven devils flew away when Mary Magdalene was healed, but perhaps the escaping demons are to be associated with Yohanni, as in the story of the day laborer in her house (albeit the story is only attested from the early Middle Ages, not from antiquity). At any rate, exegetes typically stress Joanna’s financial and social station, as in the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s note: “Joanna was one of the women who provided monetary or material aid out of their own pockets and efforts to help Jesus’ band of disciples.” It is hard to argue that the references brought here show incontrovertibly that the woman referred to by the author of the third Gospel was the same as the woman or women referred to by the two Talmudic references, or for that matter, that the Talmudic references should be understood as part of a series of references in Jewish literature associating Jesus with Egyptian magic. Nevertheless, the parallels are suggestive and hint that Joanna should be considered, like Mary Magdalene, to have had an “illness” of which she may have been cured, an illness which related to “demons”—that is, matters of spirit or sorcery rather than physical ailments. For Christian readers of Luke familiar with the Yohanni story, Jesus’ healing her—or someone bearing her name—signifies the triumph of the Godliness he represented over evildoing, the ability of Jesus to inspire true faith in those who were at best hypocritical—and at worst “possessed by demons” or given over to sorcery.
 This paper grew out of a discussion with a former student, Sherry Nanninga Walker. Walker has done substantial research into scholarship about Johanna, and is writing a fictionalized account of Joanna’s life.
 F. Delitsch, The New Testament in Hebrew and English. London: The Society for Distributing the Holy Scriptures to the Jews, n.d. The Greek and Vulgate are found in many commentaries and in /www.greeknewtestament.com/ (checked December 3, 2003). All four versions given for the Greek at this site spell Joanna the same way, in both locations in Luke.
 Although accounts mentioning St. Anne are of great antiquity, her name is unmentioned in the canonical Gospels of the New Testament.
The name-list in the standard dictionary, Even Shoshan, Ha-Milon He-Hadash, is unaware of the New Testament occurrence, and lists “Yohannah” as a woman’s name from the Modern period only. (The edition I examined was Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer, 1970).
 I am grateful to Dr. David Zucker for bringing this reference to my attention. According to greeknewtestament.com, iohanan is in the Byzantine Majority and Alexandrian versions.
Luke’s longer genealogy may reflect the typical Diaspora chronology of Judaism, in which the period between Zerubavel and the end of the Herodian period was substantially longer than the time frame allotted to this period by Rabbinic Judaism, and is similar to the length presupposed by Josephus’ chronology. Matthew would then be a relatively early testimony for the shorter duration for the period evidenced in the Rabbinic work Seder Olam (ascribed to Yose ben Halafta, 2nd Century), in the Talmud, and in all traditional Jewish chronologies. This topic is worthy of further study but is beyond our scope here.
 I have chosen to standardize all transliterations this way; this choice is arbitrary; arguably, the form Johani should have been adopted as it is more common in English-language translations and discussions of the passages in which this name is found. Other transliterations might be Johanne, Yohane, Yochany etc.
 See for example, Bacher, Die Agada der Tanaiten, Strassburg: Trübner, 1903 (2nd edition) p. 350 (357 of 1st edition), where he renders “Jochani (Johanna)” and simply “Johanna” in the note; this is a reference to the account of Rabbi Tarfon in Zevahim 62b, mentioned below.
 Translation: A. Cohen, Sotah, in Soncino Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino, 1936, p. 111; I have examined the traditional edition, and then used Soncino as my source for all Talmud translations unless otherwise indicated.
 Usually, “Rabbi Yohanan” refers to R. Yohanan bar Nappaha, d. 279. See Strack, Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, Mineapolis: Fortress 1992, 94-95. Dating of many of the Rabbis mentioned in the Mishna and Talmud should be considered fairly accurate, but any attempt to date rulings, sayings and stories based on the Rabbis to whom they are ascribed should be treated with care.
 On witches in the Talmud, see the very interesting paper of M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Witches in the Bible and in the Talmud’, Herbert W. Basser and Simcha Fishbane (eds.), Approaches to Ancient Judaism, New Series, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993, V, pp. 7-32. With slight changes this paper is included as a chapter in: M. Bar-Ilan, Some Jewish Women in Antiquity, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press (Brown Judaic Studies 317), 1998. This paper was examined in electronic format for purposes of the present research: http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/witches.html (accessed March 20 2002).
 Article “Magic”; it says she was a “Jerusalem faith healer” but gives no indication as to how her city was known. Bar-Ilan thinks it is not clear whether she was a Palestinian witch or a Babylonian witch.
 Note to translation of Sotah 22a, p. 111.
 Rashi’s version—found in nearly every edition of the Talmud—is the best known today, and is the one reproduced here. Bar-Ilan translates the story of Yohanni as told by Rabbi Nissim Gaon, cited in B. M. Levin, Otzar HaGeonim (The Treasury of the Geonim), 11, Sotah, Jerusalem 1942, pp. 241-242, which is very similar to Rashi’s version. He also translates another version published by S. Abramson, “Le R. Barukh ben Melekh,” Tarbiz, 19 (1948), pp. 42-44, with a few minor differences.
 The commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot Sans (the commentary ascribed to Rabbi Samson) are reproduced in traditional editions of the Talmud. The Tosafot Sans on Sotah printed in traditional editions of the Talmud is probably not by Samson of Sens, according to J.N Epstein, writing in Tarbiz 5712 (1952) pp. 203-4, whom Urbach said had “proven this with decisive arguments,” Ba‘alei Ha-Tosafot [Hebrew] Jerusalem: Bialik, 1980, p. 291. In any event, there are no significant variations between the stories. Perhaps it is more significant that a check did not reveal any other comments about this character appearing in any of the numerous commentaries found in traditional editions, both those on the Talmud page itself and those reproduced in appendices.
 Strack-Stemberger, p. 80, citing an article by Neusner for the dates.
 See Ginzberg, 5:264, n. 309 for references, including a reference to Jerome.
 Rashi’s gloss is found in his comment on the passage, Zevahim 62b. Neither Rashi nor any other commentator reproduced on this page or in the major commentaries published in the standard Talmud editions cross-references Yohanni bat Retibi.
 Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 6:13 40a, Sanhedrin 1:2 19a “For the Torah shall go forth from Babylon, the word of the Lord from the Pekod River.”
 Spelled with a final aleph, and without the vav, i.e., it could be Yahanna or even Yahna—perhaps closer to the form “Jannes” as it is typically found in Greek. Schechter, Fragments of a Zadokite Work, New York: Ktav reprint, 1970, 5:18.
 For references see Ginzburg, Legends of the Jews, index. s.v. Jannes; M. Stern, art. “Jannes and Jambres” in Encyclopedia Judaica, and Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, Art. “Jannes and Jambres,” and “Jannes and Jambres” by Kaufman Kohler, Jewish Encyclopedia, New York Funk and Wagnalls 1906, 7:71.
 Kohler, ibid.
 There is a substantial literature about Lillith; a starting point might be G. Scholem, “Lillith” in Encyclopedia Judaica. On the Magic Incantation Bowls, see especially J. Naveh and S. Shaked, Amulets and magic bowls: Aramaic incantations of late antiquity Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998 (third edition) especially the special appendix to Bowl 12 which treats the Lillith legend.
 David Noel Freedman ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 1997, 1992). Compare Hastings, who mentions the cure as well as the support. (I am grateful to Sherry N. Walker for bringing this to my attention.)