questions about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew that still remain unanswered

by Yuri Kuchinsky

questions for William Petersen

In his works, W. Petersen demonstrates that Shem-Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew shows multiple textual affinities with the Dutch Diatessaron, a Harmony of the four gospels -- a very unusual text in its own right. This Dutch Diatessaron, of course, happens to show multiple unique parallels with the ancient Aramaic gospels -- so there's a close connection there with the Semitic textual tradition.

So how can this affinity with the Dutch Diatessaron be seen as "proof" that the Hebrew Matthew derives from Greek? This doesn't make any sense at all.

On the other hand, normally, these multiple textual affinities between HMt and the Dutch DT would indicate that they share a common Source X (SX). And yet, this SX still remains an enigma for us. At this point, it can only be seen as a hypothetical text, since nothing like this has turned up anywhere -- in any language.

Still, it can be assumed quite safely that SX was a separate Matthew (as opposed to a gospel harmony).

So this is what Petersen's work demonstrates. These are some positive results. But, beyond that, nothing is really very clear, as it seems to me.

Now, assuming that HMt was a translation, the following important questions would need to be asked.

1. Was HMt an accurate rendering of SX?

2. What was the language of SX? Theoretically, it could have been Aramaic, Latin, or Greek.

3. For what purpose was the translation made?

4. When was the translation made? Theoretically, it could have been at any time between the 1st and 14th centuries.

If a late date is given on the previous question,

5. Why had the translator chosen for his base text such a very odd manuscript as SX? Why, instead, wasn't one of standard Byzantine manuscripts used?

None of these 5 questions have been answered adequately either by Petersen or by Jack Kilmon (who has appealed to Petersen's opinions repeatedly in various Internet discussions). And some of them haven't even been asked yet!

So, in light of this, how can there be any certainty that HMt was a translation?

I conclude that Petersen's opinions re HMt still generally remain quite vague, as well as highly speculative.

Finally, I would like to ask Petersen (or Mr. Kilmon) one more question that seems quite relevant. Namely,

6. What is the larger significance of the fact that HMt is a Western/Peripheral text?

In other words, is it purely accidental that HMt is a Western/Peripheral text? Or should this fact have some special significance for us, as we try to clarify the historical background of the HMt?

So if Petersen is so sure what Shem-Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is all about, it shouldn't be so difficult for him to answer some of these questions for us.

And even the procedure, itself, as proposed by Petersen -- i.e. to postulate a non-existent text, and then to claim all sorts of things about it -- is already highly questionable.

Because even with the existing parallel texts in two languages -- any two languages -- it's often very difficult to say which was a translation of which. Thus, if we can't do it very easily even with the existing texts, how much more difficult would it be to make such a claim for a non-existent text?



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