Internet was down yesterday. Here's the stuff:
Let's go over what we know about the synoptic gospels:
They are all very similar, as anyone who has read them back to back or side by side will know. The early church tells us that Matthew came first, then Mark, and then Luke. Therefore, it was said for a long time that Mark condensed Matthew, and Luke used Matthew as well but supplemented it with his own material. There are some problems with this, if one investigates the Greek text. Mark has bad Greek. It's fairly clear that he's a non-native speaker doing the best he can to tell a good story in a foreign language (and he does a pretty good job, I'd say). There are places where Matthew and Luke are obviously correcting Mark's Greek to reflect the proper Koine (or occasionally Attic) idiom. It is therefore regularly assumed that Mark was composed first, and the others follow. A lot of folks like to suggest that the fathers were just making stuff up because they liked Matthew the best (they do use him the most).
What else? There are a lot of sayings where Matthew and Luke agree that are not found in Mark. Did one use the other? Well, many people think this is unlikely because if they had, their narrative would agree more (their narratives disagree fairly often). Therefore, it is said that they must have shared another source, which we usually name “Q.” You'll know what I think about that if you've read my first post.
Take a quick peek at my post from June 15th. It's about a document we don't have that the fathers mention fairly often, a Hebrew version of Matthew. In fact, our earliest witnesses, Papias (c.125), tells us two very interesting things. One is that Matthew compiled the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew. The other thing he tells us is that each one interpreted them as best they could. Here, we actually have one of the church fathers attesting what scholars have been assuming, that there was an early sayings source utilized various evangelists and teachers at the time. Recently, some scholars have also been suggesting that there must have been a Hebrew or Aramaic source used for the sayings of Jesus (particularly Robert Lindsy and the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research).
Well here it is, right here in the fathers; the first place we ought to look, and the last place anyone does. Furthermore, Irenaeus (c.185) gives us a time-frame (Paul and Peter were founding the Church in Rome during the sixties), and possibly a location for the composition of this document ('among the Hebrews;' dare I say Palestine?). I'm liking this Hebrew Matthew more than Q already!
And what has this to do with the composition of our canonical gospels? To state briefly, I would like to suggest that this was the sayings source used by Greek Matthew and Luke in addition to Mark. What about it's content? Well, when one observes the structure of Matthew, one finds five long discourses surrounded by narrative pericopes. When Matthew does disagree with Mark, it is often with regard to the chronology of this material, so as to preserve the integrity of the discourse. I would tend to guess that, in these five discourses, one pretty much has the basic content of Hebrew Matthew. Of course, that is just a guess. Non-extent documents are non-extent (or undiscovered), and I don't want to go over board with this theory, since I think one of the great flaws of modern Gospel scholarship is conjecturing about documents and community histories that nobody has ever heard of, and ignoring the vast wealth of information we actually do have preserved by folks like Eusebius, Josephus, the Rabbis, and others; not to mention the text of scripture itself.
So what does it all mean? Before I bring together all my thoughts on the issue, I'll need to discuss the roll of oral tradition in the transmission of the Gospel in early times, and how that affected the shape of our Gospels. Only after considering this oft neglected reality can we complete the picture.