THE HEBREW MATTHEW AND LUKE:

AN IMPORTANT KEY TO THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM


by Yuri Kuchinsky



Greetings, friends,

Prof. George Howard's edition of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, first published in 1987, presents us with quite a fascinating text of Matthew. Howard extracted this complete Hebrew text of Matthew from a medieval Commentary "Even Bohan" by a Jewish scholar Shem-Tob, and he edited it quite competently. This version of Matthew was essentially unknown to scholarship prior to 1987... Unfortunately, as the wheels of New Testament scholarship grind rather slowly, this text still remains essentially unknown to your average NT scholar...

A close examination of this Hebrew version of Matthew reveals many surprises. Indeed, this is a very unusual text, with many unusual readings. At the same time, a great many of these unexpected readings also find close parallels in the ancient Old Syriac Aramaic versions of Mt, and in other very ancient Mt manuscripts... And so, while this is indeed a medieval text, still, it seems to have its antecedents in ancient times -- in the early Christian centuries.

One very remarkable -- and very wide-ranging -- feature of this Hebrew Matthew is its many close parallels with the gospel of Luke (both the canonical Luke, as well as the ancient Aramaic versions of Luke).

How deep are these parallels? They can be found all over -- both in the narrative parts, and in the sayings material. There seem to be literally hundreds of these parallels between the Hebrew Matthew and Luke!

This unusual feature of the Hebrew Matthew was certainly duly noted by George Howard, although he mostly focused on those HMt/Lk parallels as found in the sayings material (i.e. the hypothetical "Q-Source"). But the narrative parts of Hebrew Matthew certainly do not lack in these parallels either, as we shall soon see...

So how are we to explain all these highly unusual parallels between the HMt and Lk?

Are we to suppose that they were added at some later point to an already existing Hebrew text of Matthew? In other words, let's say that, once upon a time, someone took a standard canonical text of Matthew (either in Greek or in Latin), and translated it into Hebrew. And later, someone else took this hypothetical 'pure' Hebrew Matthew, and said, "Hmm... why don't I rework this now, and start adding up -- here, there and everywhere -- all sorts of readings and passages from Luke?" (This would presumably be from a Greek or Latin Lk?)

Sorry, folks, but this just doesn't make any sense... There just wouldn't seem to be any rhyme or reason in this type of an activity by any medieval Hebraic scribe of Matthew.

It is much more reasonable, on the other hand, to suppose that all these Lukan parallels go back to the earliest version of this Hebrew Matthew text.


THE LUKAN PRIORITY

So, essentially, what I'm saying is that all this can be seen as a good argument for Lukan priority!

Indeed, if Luke was the earliest gospel, and if Mt was originally based on Lk, then it would be quite natural for the earliest version of Mt to be quite close to Lk. Thus, Howard's edition of Hebrew Matthew still seems to preserve such an early version of Mt, that is still very close to Lk...

It's really quite hard to think of any other possibilities in this case, as far as I'm concerned.

Either all these Lukan parallels were all original to this Hebrew text of Mt, or they were all added at some later point in one fell swoop. There doesn't really seem to be any middle ground here -- i.e. it is very difficult to envision any sort of a gradual 'leaking' of all this Lukan material into HMt. And neither does any sort of a massive late Lukan 'revision' of Mt make any sense.

And now, for an illustration of what I've been saying.


HEALING OF THE BLIND BEGGAR IN THE HEBREW MATTHEW 20:29-34, AND THE LUKE 18:35-43 PARALLELS

This Healing of a Blind Beggar scene in HMt 20:29-34 is quite unusual, and it's quite unlike what we find in our standard canonical Matthew. In fact, the Hebrew Matthew version of this scene happens to be highly Lukan in its character.

So this can be seen as providing yet additional support for the idea that the earliest version of this Matthean passage had been based on Lk.

To begin with, as can be seen below, this HMt passage happens to include most of Lk 18:36-37, and some other characteristically Lukan elements, as well, especially at the end of this episode.

Also, according to HMt -- and unlike in any other known versions of Matthew -- the healing of the blind beggar takes place at the entrance to Jericho, rather than at the exit, which is again very similar to what we find in Lk...

(Actually, the same feature is also found for this pericope in the Old Latin MS Bobiensis, which is widely considered as the oldest of all our Old Latin manuscripts -- but in the Bobiensis version of Mark's gospel. So this would seem like a very early feature indeed. Apparently, I'm the first to point out this particular very unusual parallel.)

(Also, all these developments do have some connection with the Secret Gospel of Mark, because the Bobiensis Mk may help us to clarify that famous gap in the canonical Mk 10:46, where Jesus enters Jericho, and then mysteriously exists it right away. Since in both the Bobiensis Mk and in the HMt Jesus is credited with performing a healing miracle while entering Jericho, this incident might have filled that famous narrative gap in Mk at some stage... But now it's not the time to deal with all this -- other than just to say that the overall priority of Luke idea does seem to clarify the history of Secret Mark considerably. But I will have to save this matter for another essay.)

So let us first examine this whole passage in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. This is how George Howard translates it (the brackets as included below are his).

*The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, G. Howard, ed., Mercer, 1995.*

HMt 20:29 They entered into Jericho and a crowd followed him.
30 Behold, two blind men came out beside the road. They heard the noise of the multitude, and (asked) what this might be. It was said to them: The prophet Jesus from Nazareth is coming. Then they cried out saying: Son of David, have mercy on us.
31 But the crowd rebuked them (saying: Be silent;) they nevertheless were crying out and saying: Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.
32 So Jesus stopped, called them and said: What do you want [me] to do for you?
33 They said: Lord that our eyes might be opened.
34 Jesus had pity on them, touched their eyes and said to them: Your faith has healed you. Immediately they saw, praised God, and followed him. Then, all the people praised God because of this.

And now, I will point out the parallels here with Lk, with Mk, as well as with both. I will be colouring and numbering these parallels as they occur.



RED: Lucan features in the text of HMt
YELLOW: Markan feature in the text of HMt
GREEN: Mk/Lk features in the text of HMt




HMt 20:29 They entered into {1Lk} Jericho and a {2Lk = omit "great"} crowd followed him.
30 Behold, two blind men came out beside the road. They heard the noise of the multitude, and (asked) what this might be. It was said to them: The prophet Jesus from Nazareth is coming {3Lk 18:36-37}. Then they cried out saying {4Lk}Son of David, have mercy on us {the order of these words is according to 1Mk/Lk}.
31 But the crowd rebuked them (saying: Be silent;) they nevertheless were crying out and saying: Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us {the order is 2Mk/Lk}.
32 So Jesus stopped, called them and said {1Mk}: What do you want [me] to do for you?
33 They said {5Lk = omission}: Lord that our eyes might be opened.
34 Jesus had pity on them, touched their eyes and said {3Mk/Lk} to them: Your faith has healed you {4Mk/Lk}Immediately {5Mk/Lk} they sawpraised God {6Lk}, and followed him. Then, all the people praised God because of this {7Lk}.

NOTES:
"the noise of" (in verse 30) = this phrase is also found in the Old Syriac Lk 18:36.
"they saw" (in verse 34) = this is a well attested Western/Peripheral variant, including in the Old Syriac gospels (including the OS Lk), as well as in many other WP manuscripts.

IN TOTAL WE HAVE:

8 unique Lk features (including "the noise of").
1 unique Mk feature.
5 Mk/Lk features.
__________________________________

14 early features altogether

Thus, what we find here in the HMt are the 14 early features, that are also attested either in Lk, in Mk, or in both.

Clearly, this HMt text is particularly close to the Lukan version of this narrative. As I say, it makes plenty of sense to think that all these Lukan features had already been there in the earliest edition of HMt, that was probably based on some very early version of Luke -- whatever language it may have been in, whether it was Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek...

While someone might still try to argue that these rather unusual Lukan features of HMt were introduced at some later point, as some sort of a 'later harmonisation', there doesn't really seem to be any logical reason why anyone would want to do this during some later historical period.

Indeed, why would any late editor of this Hebrew text take the (presumably?) Greek version of Luke, and start to translate all those Greek phrases, and to incorporate them into the previously existing 'pure' Hebrew version Matthew? This really seems highly unlikely...

So what has been presented here so far is really just a tip of the iceberg. Everywhere one looks in HMt, one sees Lukan words and phrases. (As an example, George Howard, on pp. 201-202 of his 1995 edition of Hebrew Matthew, has a long listing of such parallels that he found, although these are just in the Sayings material.)

Such an abundance of Lukan features in Hebrew Matthew certainly needs to be explained in a rational way. And the explanation that I'm offering here seems to be the only one that makes any logical sense. All these Lukan features of HMt seem to be the remnants of a very early version of Luke, that served as the basis for the earliest version of Matthew. And this is what our Hebrew Gospel of Matthew seems to be still preserving for our benefit.

It certainly seems to me that mainstream NT scholarship should pay more attention to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, that George Howard has uncovered for us, by rescuing it from oblivion. While it is admittedly not the original version of Matthew, and while it does seem to contain, here and there, some late corruptions and elaborations, it is still substantially a very ancient and conservative text of Matthew -- preserving much precanonical material.

Thus, the solution for the Synoptic Problem that emerges from all this is that -- while admittedly not free from some later corruptions -- Luke is still substantially our earliest Christian gospel, that originally served as the basis for both Mk and Mt.

All the best,

Yuri.



Go to Yuri's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew Page.

Go to Yuri's New Testament Research Page.