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Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in English [Updated On 2012]

In this article [We are republishing this from the web archive of 2012] we will talk about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  − Matthew 5:14-16

Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

Another Look Writer shines new light on Matthew’s Gospel By Neil Altman

Biblical critics have offered many theories that challenge the credibility of the Gospels and the events described in the New Testament. But out of the catacombs of history has come new information that will startle skeptics and make the heart of believers rejoice.

Long buried in ancient texts are surprising accounts that will revolutionize old assumptions that Thomas was the only apostle who went to India, that the Jews of Jesus time spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew, that the four gospels were originally written in Greek and that Mark’s Gospel was the first of them.
This newly uncovered information further confirms that Matthew, an eyewitness to the miracles and events of Jesus’ ministry, was indeed the author of the first Gospel and verifies both the Jewishness and early date of the first Gospel.

Now, we have a clear mention that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew – not Greek or Aramaic, as widely thought – and was carried out of Israel by one of the original apostles to the Far East. Two of the earliest Church Fathers and historians, Eusebius and Origen, wrote that a second, long-overlooked apostle, Bartholomew, also went to India and took a Gospel text with him, aacording to Princeton scholar and author Samuel Moffett.

In his ground-breaking book, “A History of Christianity in Asia,” Moffett reveals that Pantaenus, a church historian and missionary who traveled to India in 180 A.D., discovered the copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew that Bartholomew had taken with him.

Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

“It is reported,” wrote Eusebius, a fourth century bishop and church historian, “that among person there who knew Christ, (Pantaenus) found the Gospel according to St. Matthew (which had arrived ahead of Pantaenus by more than a century). For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left them (in India) the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language which they had preserved.”
“There is a shock hidden in that matter-of-fact statement. …The surprise, of course, is the mention of Bartholomew as the pioneer to the East,” Moffett says.

Many scholars are unaware of an apostle other than Thomas ever going to India, and some even doubt that Thomas himself went. Moffett ponders, “What was Bartholomew…doing in India with a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew?”

WHY INDIA?

“Jewish colonies are known to have existed in India from very early times,” Moffett writes. “If there were, as tradition asserts, Hebrew and Aramaic copies of the Gospel in circulation as early as that, it is unreasonable to imagine a Jewish missionary using one in his evangelistic work, for it was the apostolic missionary tradition to preach first to the Jewish community.”

Interestingly, two historical records – the New Testament’s Book of Acts and the writings of the church fathers – confirm some of Moffett’s assertions.

Because the Gospels were so thoroughly Jewish, there was no concept among Jewish believers of preaching to Gentiles. According to Acts, Jewish believers in Israel were horrified to learn that Peter entered a gentile home and preached to gentiles. Jews did not preach to gentiles until the Jewish believers fled from persecution to the Greek city of Antioch in Asia Minor.

While the Book of Acts list the 11 apostles – Judas having hanged himself – it doesn’t say how they were paired. But what is known is that Jesus instructed to work and travel by twos.

So, it would be natural for Thomas to travel with a companion to India and for Bartholomew to have taken along a freshly copied text of Matthew’s Gospel, especially if it were the first and only Gospel written at the time. Jews customarily took their sacred text with them, as we see from the New Testament accounts of Paul’s travels, and it was this Gospel of Matthew that Pantaenus found a century and a half later in India.

Like many Jews of the early centuries, Pantaenus became a follower of Jesus. But it is not only Pantaenus’ academic background as philosopher, his founding of the great theological school in Alexandria and his two renowned disciples, Clement and Origen, that make him so important here.
As Moffet writes, “The fact that Pantaenus was … Jewish … explains his particular attention to the Hebrew copy of the Gospel of Matthew. The fact that he returned to Alexandria with the same Gospel adds enormous validity to its discovery.”

These discoveries about Bartholomew going to India, the existence of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew that was probably written before 50 A.D. and the same text being returned to the West add “another piece of evidence of once again very early dating of the New Testament,” said Douglas Cecil, associate professor or pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Not only do we know where some of the apostles traveled but also Hebrew was far from a dead language at the time of Christ, as many scholars espouse, and it evidently was used by Jews all over the world.

A Jewish scholar, Israel J. Yuval of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, discloses another important piece of evidence about Matthew’s Gospel in his 1999 book, “Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times.”

Gamaliel

Yuval writes that Rabban Gamaliel, a leader of rabbinical scholars about 70 A.D., is “considered to have authored a sophisticated parody of the Gospel according to Matthew.”

Clearly, Matthew’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ early life must have been written by then, causing Gamaliel to answer with a parody of Matthew’s Gospel.

If Mark were the first Gospel, it would seem that Gamaliel would have responded to it instead.
In search of what language was used during the time of Christ, we find some interesting clues. Scholar George Howard, in his book “The Gospel of Matthew According to the Primitive Hebrew Text,” quotes an early second century writing by Papias (ca. 60-130 A.D.), bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, as stating that “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language.”

Howard goes on to say, “It has become commonplace (for the past century and a half) to suppose by ‘Hebrew,’ Papias meant ‘Aramaic.’ The subsequent discovery of many … Hebrew documents from Palestine from the general time period of Jesus now show Hebrew to have been alive and well in the first century.”

He also writes of a Hebrew text of the Gospel of Matthew that appears in a 14th century rabbinical text by Shem-Tob, which Howard says is written, “in a kind of Hebrew one would expect for a document composed in the first century.” That is, before 100 A.D. He suggests that this Hebrew text, going back to the time of Christ, may have “served as a model for the Greek.”

It is a common scholarly assumption that the original language of the Gospels was Greek. Yet the church fathers tell us otherwise. Iranaeus, in the second century A.D., tell that Matthew was not the only Gospel writer who write to the Hebrews “in their own dialect.”

Historians Epiphanus and Eusebius, both from the fourth century A.D., tell us that “Matthew issued his Gospel in Hebrew” and that he wrote his Gospel “in his native language.”
A Dallas Theological Seminary professor of New Testament, Darrell Bock, said that according to the tradition of the early church, the language Jesus originally spoke was a Semitic language. He also said that anti-Semitism was involved in some New Testament research and that “some German scholars in the 1930’s and even earlier were anti-Semitic.

William Farmer, a New Testament professor at the University of Dallas and author of the recently published book, “Anti-Judaism and the Gospels,” sees a concerted effort by modern scholars to divorce Jesus from his Jewish roots and language.

“There is an unconscious attempt to remove Judaism from Christianity by making Mark the first Gospel instead of Matthew, which is more Jewish. By making Mark the first Gospel, it discredits Matthew as only a Jewish makeover of Mark and offers and excuse to disregard Matthew.”
But there is other evidence that, if anything, Aramaic and Greek took a backseat to Hebrew among Jews.

Philadelphia Orthodox rabbi and Talmudic scholar Dov Brisman said the Talmud implies that the two great sages of Judaism in 100 BC, Hillel and Shammai, “spoke Hebrew to one another.” He also said the Aramaic version of the Bible was discontinued because Jews only read the Holy Scriptures in the original Hebrew so that nothing would be lost in translation.

Aramaic

The two scholars also assert that Aramaic was not the only Semitic language used by Jews in Israel before and at the time of Christ.

In a paper presented to the Leeds University Oriental Society in 1966 called “Qumram to Edessa,” J.C.L. Gibson wrote, “No doubt that Jews of the homeland continued to speak Hebrew in the everyday life still in the Christian epoch – otherwise how can we explain the emergence of the late form of Hebrew known as Mishnaic Hebrew?”

Milton Fischer, professor of Old Testament at Philadelphia Theological Seminary and the seminary’s former president, provided the coup de grace to the whole matter saying, “Did not Paul to Jews at Jerusalem in Hebrew?”

How could scholars miss this well-known passage of Scripture in the Book of Acts dealing with Paul’s arrest by the Romans and his defence before Jewry?

“And when he (the chief captain) had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs. … And there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew tongue. … And when they heard that he spoke in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence” (Acts 21:39 through Acts 22:2).

It is not only in the language of the Gospels and of Jewry that Biblical critics take issue with the facts of history, but in the historical truth and validity of the Bible.

With a subtle anti-Semitic agenda behind liberal scholarly theories about the Old and New Testaments, biblical critics have developed, according to Ben Levi’s book “Revelation,” a “dogma that nothing original came from the Jews” and that “the existence of miracle, prophecy, and revelation (without which no understanding of the Bible is possible) were denied in a dogmatic fashion.”

These anti-supernaturalists theorized that Matthew and Luke borrowed the language, style and, most importantly of all, the viewpoint of Mark’s condensed version of Jesus’ life, and they expanded on Mark’s account.

This so-called Synoptic (i.e. similar viewpoint) theory was developed and exploited by liberal scholars who did not accept the possibility that four different men who knew Jesus and were his disciples could be divinely inspired to write similar accounts from what they witnessed from their own personal perspectives.

But, the 1993 Catholic Dictionary tells us, “It is the unanimous tradition of Christian antiquity that (Matthew) was the author of the first of the four Gospels.”

Dating Matthew

“The trend of contemporary opinion is that the Gospel of St. Matthew was written after and dependent upon the Gospel of St. Mark. … It is highly unlikely that one of the 12 apostles would have taken his material from Mark, who had not been an (original) apostle.” The Catholic Dictionary also dates Matthew as having been written before 50 A.D. By bringing Matthew’s Gospel to India, Bartholomew would also confirm this early dating, thereby refuting the contemporary theory that Matthew was written between 70 and 125 A.D.

Another aspect of the anti-supernaturalist theory is that the Gospels were written long after the fact. There are still many diehards among biblical critics who accept their own dating of the Gospels and say they were not written by eyewitnesses. It is precisely here, in the clash between unbelief and belief, that liberals and believers cross swords.

Read More: Eeating Pork Can Be Hazardous To Health

Yet the testimony of the early church reminds us that the Gospels have as much to historical as ethical value and that apostles such as Bartholomew and Thomas, eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus, did not give their lives for a mere myth.

-Neil Altman is a Philadelphia-based writer who specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls and religion. He has done graduate work at Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. Conwell School of Theology, and Temple University. He has a master’s degree in Old Testament from Wheaton Graduate School, Ill., and was an American Studies Fellow at Eastern College.

Thank you for the excellent article “Writer Reviews History of Matthew” in last Sundays’ edition. It has consistently been the case that with every succeeding archaeological find, the closer it moves us to a purer message, and further away from the Higher Criticism of the past century or so. Maybe now more of us can concentrate on the message, and much less the missives of the “scholarly” and media-savvy efforts of those like the Jesus Seminar.

The article mentioned George Howard, Shem Tob and the Mishnah, all three of which points toward something that is actually missing in the copies of the New Testament we carry. The Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew by Shem Tob contained the Divine Name Jehovah (YHWH). The Mishnah mentions the use of the Divine Name (Sanhedrin 7:5, Yoma 6:2, Berakhot 9:5) close to Christ’s time, but it is the Talmud that mentions the ritual removal the “Tetragrammata” (YHWH) from the “Books of the Minim” (Christian Scriptures) at Talmud Shabbat 13 (14:5).

George Howard has done extensive study on the Divine Name in the New Testament and has this to say: “The removal of the Tetragrammaton from the New Testament and its replacement with the surrogates KYRIOS and THEOS blurred the original distinction between the Lord God and the Lord Christ, and in many passages made it impossible which one was meant. ..Once the Tetragrammaton was removed and replaced by the surrogate ‘Lord’, scribes were unsure whether “lord” meant God or Christ. As time went on, these two figures were brought into even closer unity until it was often impossible to distinguish between them.

Thus it may be that the removal of the Tetragrammaton contributed significantly to the later Christological and Trinitarian debates which plagued the church of the early Christian centuries.” George Howard, The Name of God in the New Testament, BAR 4.1 (March 1978), 15 Perhaps more discovery will shed light and restore God’s Holy Name to the New Testament with the same honor it places it in the Old Testament, 6800 times.
Semper in Iehouah
-Heinz Schmitz

Notes on Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew

The 14th century polemical treatise Even Bochan [Isaiah 28:16] written by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut Ibn Shaprut], a Castilian Jewish physician, living later in Aragon. 12th/ 13th book contains a Hebrew version of the complete text of Matthew. EB completed in 1380 CE, revised in 1385 & 1400. This is not to be confused with the Sebastian Münster (1537; dedicated to Henry VIII under title The Torah of the Messiah); or Jean du Tillet (1555) versions of Hebrew Matthew. In 1690 Richard Simon mistakenly identified Shem-Tob’s Matthew with the version sof Münster and du Tillet.

Howard’s edition based on nine manuscripts of ST dating from 15th to 17th centuries; namely British Library Add no. 26964 for chapters 1:1-23:22; and JTS Ms. 2426 for 23:23-end.

Shem-Tov’s text is basically BH (Vav Consecutive predominates) with a mixture of MH and later rabbinic vocabulary and idiom. In addition the text reflects considerable revision to make it conform more closely to the standard Greek and Latin Gospel texts. The underlying text, however, reflects its original Hebrew composition, and it is the most unusual text of Matthew extant in that it contains a plethora of readings not found in any other codices of Matthew. It appears to have been preserved by the Jews, independent from the Christian community.

It sometimes agrees in odd ways with Codex Sinaiticus. It contains some striking readings in common with the Gospel of John, but in disagreement with the other Gospels. It is very likely that the author of John polemized against the portrait of John the Baptizer that he found in as text such as ST’ Hebrew Matthew. He might well have then known a Shem-Tov type Matthean text. ST also often agrees with the Lukan version of Q. ST also contains 22 agreements with the Gospel of Thomas.

N.B. Sinaiticus, Q, and Thomas were all lost in antiquity but found in modern times-making the parallels with ST all the more remarkable.

The Pseudo-Clementine writings (Recognitions and Homilies) when quoting or referring to Matthew occasionally agree with ST Hebrew Matthew against the canonical Greek versions.

E.g., puns that make sense in Hebrew: Matt 7:6: “Do not throw your pearls before swine [chazir], lest they trample them under foot and turn [yichazru] to attack you.”

Lack of Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matt 28:19-20 is unique but seems to be in codices that Eusebius found in Caesarea: he quotes (H.E. 3.5.2): “They went on their way to all the nations teaching their message in the power of Christ for he had said to them, ‘Go make disciples of all the nations in my name.'”

ST reads: “You go and teach them to carry out all the things that I have commanded you forever.”

Howard argues that Shem Tov did not create the Hebrew Matthew himself (e.g., translating from the Latin) but had an existing Hebrew text to work with-as he sometimes comments on its scribal errors and strange readings. Matt 11:11 is a good case in point, as the Greek, Latin, and all other Matthean witnesses contain the qualifying phrase: “nonetheless, the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Shem Tov comments on the unique Hebrew version he is following, and how its lack of such a phrase implies that John is greater than Jesus. If he were translating from the Latin, Greek, or any other version such a comment would be meaningless.

Papias (Eusebius, H.E. 3.39.16)
“Matthew collected the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.”

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.1
“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews n their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.”

Origen (Eusebius, H.E. 6.25.4)
“As having learnt by tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are unquestionable in the Church of God under heaven, that first was written according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.”

Eusebius, H.E. 3.24.6
“Matthew had first preached to Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent.”

Epiphanius (ca. 315-403), bishop of Salamis, refers to a gospel used by the Ebionites (Panarion 30. 13.1-30.22.4). He says it is Matthew, called “According to the Hebrews” by them, but says it is corrupt and mutilated. He says Matthew issued his Gospel in Hebrew letters. He quotes from this Ebionite Gospel seven times. These quotations appear to come not from Matthew but from some harmonized account of the canonical Gospels.

Jerome also asserts that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew language (Epist. 20.5), and he refers to a Hebrew Matthew and a Gospel of the Hebrews-unclear if they are the same. He also quotes from the Gospel used by the Nazoreans and the Ebionites, which he says he has recently translated from Hebrew to Greek (in Matth. 12.13).

We have quotations from such a source from Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Origen, Didymus, Clement of Alexandria.

None of these surviving quotations seem to have any relationship to our current version of Shem Tov.

Theological Motifs of Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew

Ø Preaching to the Gentiles is not mentioned, and is even called the work of the “anti-Christ” in Matt 24:14-15: “And this gospel will be preached in all the earth for a witness concerning me to all the nations and then the end will come. This is the Anti-Christ and this is the abomination which desolates which was spoken of by Daniel as standing in the holy place. Let the one who reads understand.” Ø ST never identifies Jesus as the Christ; e.g. 1:1 “these are the generations of Jesus…”; 1:18 “The birth of Jesus was in this way . . .” etc.

Ø John the Baptizer plays an exalted role: Matt 11:11 “Truly, I say to you, among all those born of women men has risen greater than John the Baptizer.” Phrase “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” is missing. In the Lucan parallel (7:28), mss. 5, 475* and 1080* also omit the qualification. The same reading is inferred in the Pseudo-Clementine Writings, Rec 1.60.1-3, where one of the disciples of John argues that his teacher is greater than Jesus, Moses, and all men and thus the Christ. Also, in Rec 1.63.1 Peter taught the disciples of John not to allow John to be a stumbling-block to them.

Matt 11:13 “For all the prophets and the law spoke concerning [al] John” in contrast to the Greek: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Matt 17:11 “Indeed Elijah will come and will save all the world” in contrast to the Greek: “Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things.” Matt 21:32 “Because John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him. But violent men and harlots believed him and you saw it and did not turn in repentance. Also afterward you did not repent to believe him. To the one who has ears to hear let him hear in disgrace.”

These words are directed to his disciples (v. 28), not to the chief priests and elders as in the Synoptic Greek tradition. The kind of polemic found in the Gospel of John appears to be directed toward an evaluation of John the Baptizer such as that found in ST Matthew. Similar reflective evidence is found in Luke-Acts and the Pseudo-Clementines (noted above). John 1:7-8-He is a witness to the light, but is not the light 1:15, 30-He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me 1:20-I am not the Christ; nor Elijah 1:26-27-Not worthy to untie his sandals 3:30-He must increase but I must decrease 10:41-John did not sign;

Jesus did many (20:30) Indeed Bultman argued that the Prologue was a hymn of the Baptist community, now recast to refer to Jesus (Gospel of John: A Commentary, 17-18). Luke-Acts 3:20-22 John is in prison-then only is baptism of Jesus mentioned! Drops Marks moving account of the death of John (Mark 6//Luke 9) Acts 18:25-Apollos knows only baptism of John Acts 19:1-7-Twelve from Ephesus that only know of John’s baptism

Bibliographic Notes on Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew

Howard, George. The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press; Louvain: Peeters, 1988.

Reviewed by William L Petersen (then at UND) JBL 108:4 (1989): 722-726. Peterson argues that the Dutch Liége Harmony (copied ca. 1280), contains many parallesl to ST, thus showing it is not so “primitive” after all in its unique readings. ST is derived from medieval traditions allied with the Vetus Latina, Vetus Syra, and Diatessaron.

__________. Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. 2nd edition. GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Petersen, William. “The Vorlage of Shem-Tob’s ‘Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 44 (1998): 490-512.

Howard, George. “A Primitive Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Tol’doth Yeshu,” NTS 34 (1988): 60-70.

__________. “A Note on the Short Ending of Matthew,” Harvard Theologial Review 81 (1988): 117-20.

__________. “A Note on Codex Sinaiticus and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” Novum Testamentum 34 (1992): 46-47.

__________. “A Note on Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew and the Gospel of John.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992): 117-26.

__________. “The Pseudo-Clementine Writings and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 40 (1994): 622-28.

__________. “Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew and Early Jewish Christianity.” JSNT 70 (1998): 3-20.

Horbury, William. “The Hebrew Text of Matthew in Shem Tob Ibn Shaprut’s Even Bohan,” in W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Gospels according to St. Matthew. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), pp. 729-38.

Shedinger, R. F. “The Textual Relationship between P45 and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 43 (1997): 58-71.

Notes on Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew

The 14th century polemical treatise Even Bochan [Isaiah 28:16] written by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut Ibn Shaprut], a Castilian Jewish physician, living later in Aragon. 12th/ 13th book contains a Hebrew version of the complete text of Matthew. EB completed in 1380 CE, revised in 1385 & 1400. This is not to be confused with the Sebastian Münster (1537; dedicated to Henry VIII under title The Torah of the Messiah); or Jean du Tillet (1555) versions of Hebrew Matthew. In 1690 Richard Simon mistakenly identified Shem-Tob’s Matthew with the version sof Münster and du Tillet.

Howard’s edition based on nine manuscripts of ST dating from 15th to 17th centuries; namely British Library Add no. 26964 for chapters 1:1-23:22; and JTS Ms. 2426 for 23:23-end.

Shem-Tov’s text is basically BH (Vav Consecutive predominates) with a mixture of MH and later rabbinic vocabulary and idiom. In addition the text reflects considerable revision to make it conform more closely to the standard Greek and Latin Gospel texts. The underlying text, however, reflects its original Hebrew composition, and it is the most unusual text of Matthew extant in that it contains a plethora of readings not found in any other codices of Matthew. It appears to have been preserved by the Jews, independent from the Christian community.

It sometimes agrees in odd ways with Codex Sinaiticus. It contains some striking readings in common with the Gospel of John, but in disagreement with the other Gospels. It is very likely that the author of John polemized against the portrait of John the Baptizer that he found in as text such as ST’ Hebrew Matthew. He might well have then known a Shem-Tov type Matthean text. ST also often agrees with the Lukan version of Q. ST also contains 22 agreements with the Gospel of Thomas.

N.B. Sinaiticus, Q, and Thomas were all lost in antiquity but found in modern times-making the parallels with ST all the more remarkable.

The Pseudo-Clementine writings (Recognitions and Homilies) when quoting or referring to Matthew occasionally agree with ST Hebrew Matthew against the canonical Greek versions.

E.g., puns that make sense in Hebrew: Matt 7:6: “Do not throw your pearls before swine [chazir], lest they trample them under foot and turn [yichazru] to attack you.”


Lack of Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matt 28:19-20 is unique but seems to be in codices that Eusebius found in Caesarea: he quotes (H.E. 3.5.2): “They went on their way to all the nations teaching their message in the power of Christ for he had said to them, ‘Go make disciples of all the nations in my name.'”


ST reads: “You go and teach them to carry out all the things that I have commanded you forever.”


Howard argues that Shem Tov did not create the Hebrew Matthew himself (e.g., translating from the Latin) but had an existing Hebrew text to work with-as he sometimes comments on its scribal errors and strange readings. Matt 11:11 is a good case in point, as the Greek, Latin, and all other Matthean witnesses contain the qualifying phrase: “nonetheless, the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Shem Tov comments on the unique Hebrew version he is following, and how its lack of such a phrase implies that John is greater than Jesus. If he were translating from the Latin, Greek, or any other version such a comment would be meaningless.


Papias (Eusebius, H.E. 3.39.16)
“Matthew collected the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.”

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.1
“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews n their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.”

Origen (Eusebius, H.E. 6.25.4)
“As having learnt by tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are unquestionable in the Church of God under heaven, that first was written according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.”

Eusebius, H.E. 3.24.6
“Matthew had first preached to Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent.”

Epiphanius (ca. 315-403), bishop of Salamis, refers to a gospel used by the Ebionites (Panarion 30. 13.1-30.22.4). He says it is Matthew, called “According to the Hebrews” by them, but says it is corrupt and mutilated. He says Matthew issued his Gospel in Hebrew letters. He quotes from this Ebionite Gospel seven times. These quotations appear to come not from Matthew but from some harmonized account of the canonical Gospels.

Jerome also asserts that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew language (Epist. 20.5), and he refers to a Hebrew Matthew and a Gospel of the Hebrews-unclear if they are the same. He also quotes from the Gospel used by the Nazoreans and the Ebionites, which he says he has recently translated from Hebrew to Greek (in Matth. 12.13).

We have quotations from such a source from Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Origen, Didymus, Clement of Alexandria.

None of these surviving quotations seem to have any relationship to our current version of Shem Tov.

Theological Motifs of Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew

Ø Preaching to the Gentiles is not mentioned, and is even called the work of the “anti-Christ” in Matt 24:14-15: “And this gospel will be preached in all the earth for a witness concerning me to all the nations and then the end will come. This is the Anti-Christ and this is the abomination which desolates which was spoken of by Daniel as standing in the holy place. Let the one who reads understand.”

Ø ST never identifies Jesus as the Christ; e.g. 1:1 “these are the generations of Jesus…”; 1:18 “The birth of Jesus was in this way . . .” etc.

Ø John the Baptizer plays an exalted role: Matt 11:11 “Truly, I say to you, among all those born of women men has risen greater than John the Baptizer.” Phrase “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” is missing. In the Lucan parallel (7:28), mss. 5, 475* and 1080* also omit the qualification. The same reading is inferred in the Pseudo-Clementine Writings, Rec 1.60.1-3, where one of the disciples of John argues that his teacher is greater than Jesus, Moses, and all men and thus the Christ.

Also, in Rec 1.63.1 Peter taught the disciples of John not to allow John to be a stumbling-block to them. Matt 11:13 “For all the prophets and the law spoke concerning [al] John” in contrast to the Greek: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Matt 17:11 “Indeed Elijah will come and will save all the world” in contrast to the Greek: “Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things.” Matt 21:32 “Because John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him.

But violent men and harlots believed him and you saw it and did not turn in repentance. Also afterward you did not repent to believe him. To the one who has ears to hear let him hear in disgrace.” These words are directed to his disciples (v. 28), not to the chief priests and elders as in the Synoptic Greek tradition. The kind of polemic found in the Gospel of John appears to be directed toward an evaluation of John the Baptizer such as that found in ST Matthew.

Similar reflective evidence is found in Luke-Acts and the Pseudo-Clementines (noted above). John 1:7-8-He is a witness to the light, but is not the light 1:15, 30-He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me 1:20-I am not the Christ; nor Elijah 1:26-27-Not worthy to untie his sandals 3:30-He must increase but I must decrease 10:41-John did not sign;

Jesus did many (20:30) Indeed Bultman argued that the Prologue was a hymn of the Baptist community, now recast to refer to Jesus (Gospel of John: A Commentary, 17-18). Luke-Acts 3:20-22 John is in prison-then only is baptism of Jesus mentioned! Drops Marks moving account of the death of John (Mark 6//Luke 9) Acts 18:25-Apollos knows only baptism of John Acts 19:1-7-Twelve from Ephesus that only know of John’s baptism

Bibliographic Notes on Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew

Howard, George. The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press; Louvain: Peeters, 1988.

Reviewed by William L Petersen (then at UND) JBL 108:4 (1989): 722-726. Peterson argues that the Dutch Liége Harmony (copied ca. 1280), contains many parallesl to ST, thus showing it is not so “primitive” after all in its unique readings. ST is derived from medieval traditions allied with the Vetus Latina, Vetus Syra, and Diatessaron.

__________. Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. 2nd edition. GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Petersen, William. “The Vorlage of Shem-Tob’s ‘Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 44 (1998): 490-512.

Howard, George. “A Primitive Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Tol’doth Yeshu,” NTS 34 (1988): 60-70.

__________. “A Note on the Short Ending of Matthew,” Harvard Theologial Review 81 (1988): 117-20.

__________. “A Note on Codex Sinaiticus and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” Novum Testamentum 34 (1992): 46-47.

__________. “A Note on Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew and the Gospel of John.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992): 117-26.

__________. “The Pseudo-Clementine Writings and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 40 (1994): 622-28.

__________. “Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew and Early Jewish Christianity.” JSNT 70 (1998): 3-20.

Horbury, William. “The Hebrew Text of Matthew in Shem Tob Ibn Shaprut’s Even Bohan,” in W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Gospels according to St. Matthew. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), pp. 729-38.

Shedinger, R. F. “The Textual Relationship between P45 and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 43 (1997): 58-71.

Final Words

So, in this article we published about Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. We just republished this article from the web archive of 2012 as this site gone down and I thought people might be looking for this. So we decided to re publish it. If have any feedback, please share in the comments or contact us here.

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