Shem Tov - Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

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תולדות יהושוע

(History of Jesus)

Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

 

This is the photograph of a page of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, contained in a Sephardic treaty known by the name of “Even Bohan”. It was compiled and completed around the year 1385, by the Jewish doctor Ben Shem Tov Ben Isaac Shaprut, in the town of Tarazona de Aragon (Spain).

     Although his original work is lost, there are several complete copies of his manuscripts, produced between the 15th and the 18th centuries. One of the copies of his thirteenth book, written in semi cursive Sephardic writing and dated in 1584, is today preserved in the Library of the University of Leiden, and starts on page 413, the report of Besorath Matahy or the Good News according to Matthew.

 

    This gospel of Matthew compiled in 18 manuscript pages, surely comes from copies of previous Jewish copyists, and even if in the 80's was considered to be a version of Greek or Latin texts, a linguistic study conducted by George Howard of the Mercer University, Georgia (USA), verified that the Hebrew text of the Gospel could not be explained as a translation from Greek.

 

    First, we often find in the text sentences constructed with words coming from roots phonetically very similar, but with a totally different meaning (paronomasia). This wording is meant to embellish the text and is very typical of the wording we find in the Hebrew Scriptures, and also in the way that Jesus used to speak. For example when he says: “If your eye causes you to stumble (tajshilja) throw it away from you (tashlijeha)”, (Matthew 18:9) he uses two words with a very different meaning but with a very similar reading, and this kind of wording would not come to mind if the text simply was a translation from Greek or Latin.

    Second, the Greek version of Matthew seems at some points, difficult to understand, while the Hebrew text is easily understood, besides, it does not seem logical that a fourteenth-century rabbi would be interested in translating a text condemned by his own people, striving also to beautify it.

   However, even if the Hebrew Gospel was a translation from the Greek one, the fact is that the translated text is somewhat different from the one we have today, and we may consistently conclude that due to the troubled history of Christianity after the death of the apostles, the Shem Tov compilation differs from the current text because it does not include the corrections and the interpolations experienced by the Greek Scriptures during the first centuries.

 

    The study of the sources of the canonical writings is not only interesting it also is an essential measure for a better understanding of Scripture. Paul recommends the disciples to do so and be alert, when he tells them: “I ​​beseech you brethren, that in regard to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, do not be easily confused or confounded by speeches, by statements allegedly inspired or by any letter that pretends to be ours and says that the Day of Yahuh is imminent. Do not be deceived by anyone, because it can not arrive before the apostasy, before the man of sin reveals himself, the son of destruction, the opponent who exalts himself over anything considered divine or object of reverence and taking seat in a divine place, holds divinity”. (2Thessalonians 2:1..4)

    In line with this warning, Peter says:: “Consider that the patience of our Lord is for salvation, as our beloved brother Paul writes, exposing these things in all his letters, according to the wisdom to him granted. However, there is in them some things which are difficult to understand, and are twisted by the ignorant and the immature, as they also do with the rest of Scriptures for their own destruction”. (2 Peter 3:15..16)

 

    The Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339), heir to the extensive library of Pamphilus, that kept a copy of the original text of Matthew, if not the same original text, confirmed in chapter 24 of the third book of his “Ecclesiastical History” that Matthew “wrote in Hebrew the Gospel that bears his name”. It is therefore well known that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew and Greek, and that the Hebrew text circulated among the Jewish Christians.

    Jerome (331-420), author of the Latin version of Scripture known as the 'Vulgate', confirms the existence of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and declares: “Matthew, who is also Levi ... composed a gospel ... in Hebrew language and characters ... Furthermore, it is preserved to this day in Caesarea, in the library so diligently collected by the martyr Pamphilus”. (Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Writers)

    The Hebrew version compiled by Shem Tov comes as does the Greek one, of Matthew, but is to some extent independent and confirms a fact now widely recognized: the words that we read today at the end of Chapter 28, are not those written by the apostle.

    These are the words that conclude chapter 28 in Matthew's Hebrew Gospel, and their translation:

 

 

        18 Jesus came to them and said: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me,

        19 you go to them

        20 and take care of them so that they fulfill all the things I have commissioned you. (I am)
            with you forever”.

 

    The Greek version used by Eusebius poured more widely these verses, but in no way changing the sense of the Hebrew text, because when he quotes in his Ecclesiastical History (Book 3, Chapter 5:2), part of Matthew 28:19, he writes: “Poreuthentes mathêteusate panta ta ethnê en to onomati mou”, or “Go and make disciples of all nations in my name”, and when he cites the entire conclusion in his Evangelical Demonstration (Book 3, Chapter 6, paragraph 32, and Book 5, Chapter 26, paragraph 3), he writes: “Go and make disciples of all nations in my name, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you every day until the end of times”.

 

    Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare (1856 -1924) a British orientalist, Fellow of University College in Oxford, and Professor of Theology at the University of Oxford, gave testimony to this fact and wrote: “Of the patristic witnesses to the text of the New Testament as it stood in the Greek MSS (manuscripts), from about 300-340, none is so important as Eusebius of Caesarea, for he lived in the greatest Christian library of that age, namely that which Origen and Pamphilus had collected. It is no exaggeration to say that from this single collection of manuscripts at Caesarea derives the larger part of the surviving ante-Nicene (prior to the Council of Nicaea) literature…

    It is therefore import to ask how Eusebius read this text. He cites it again and again in his works written between 300 and 336, namely in his long commentaries on the Psalms, on Isaiah, his Demonstratio Evangelica, his Theophany only preserved in an old Syriac version in a Nitrian codex in the British Museum written in AD 411, in his famous “History of the Church, and in his panegyric of the emperor Constantine. I have, after a moderate search in these works of Eusebius, found eighteen citations of Matthew 28:19, and always in the following form:

Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I commanded you. (Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, edited by Erwin Preuschen in Darmstadt in 1901)

                                   

The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is in the following libraries:

 

Library Add. No. 26964

Ms. Heb. 28, Rijksuniveriteit Library, Leiden

Ms. Mich. 119. Bodeleian Library, Oxford

Ms. Opp. Add. 4 '72. Bodeleian Library, Oxford

Ms. 2426 (Marx 16) Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.

Ms. 2279 (Marx 18) Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.

Ms. 2209 (Marx 19) Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.

Ms. 2234 (Marx 15) Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.

 

The Hebrew version of Matthew compiled by Shem Tov, is also available upon request, at the Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia ISBN 0-86554-470-0. And it can also be obtained from the Century Publishers of California.