Friday, October 9, 2009

Hebrew Matthew

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.


  1. Interesting Blog my Friend :) Do you know if people are following this?

    Greetings to the very, very whise guy in Jerusalem.

  2. There are a couple proper followers. I always mention on my facebook when there is an update, and most people always comment there.

  3. The synoptic problem is very interesting, but very rightly named since it is somewhat problematic.
    But I must say that I lean much more towards a strong oral tradition rather than a written document. I'm doing a matthew course now which is lots of fun. I think you would love it, especially since we follow the redactional layers in Q according to their age :D

    Like I said, I prefer oral tradition ratehr than Q1 Q2 and Q3, but I guess an Aramaic sayings source doesn't sound preposterous.. but wouldn't we then have Q?

    I forget the name of the tiny kingdom that was between Judea and Syria, I think many tend to place Matthews writing place there, since alot of Jews had fled the Romans and this tiny kingdom was a safe haven.

    But on other things... Paul and Peter founding the church in Rome in the sixties... You mentioned becoming an Anglican... are you swallowing church tradition with a teaspoon of sugar? :D Just wondering exactly how you understand that, since we know the church in Rome was not started by Paul, do you then mean that Paul and Peter gave their apostolic blessing to an already existing church?
    I visited a prison they were supposed to have been kept in together, with angelic apparitions and etc. It didn't convince me of the tradition, I find it hard to believe they worked together like that.

  4. I forgot to post my name..
    My name is Helgi :D

  5. I admit that Hebrew Matthew is doesn't sound altogether different from Q. The main distinctions I'd like to point out are these: Language. Most scholars seem to believe that Q was in Greek, or at least the form of Q used by our evangelists. The document I propose was in Hebrew or Aramaic, or both (something common enough in Jewish documents of the period). I realise that some scholars are now coming to think that this was probably the case. Secondly, I differ a bit in terms of content. I think the content was essentially what we have in the five major discourses of our Canonical Matthew, along with some small narrative settings on occasion, as we find in the Mishnah and Talmud. Essentially, you have the teachings of a 'great rabbi' gathered by one of his disciples in a form that was usual for rabbinic teaching at the time; Topical arrangement, lots of sayings, a few small narratives. Essentially, a document containing the main body of the original Palestinian oral tradition, and it is this foundation upon which Canonical Matthew reshapes the narrative of Mark (I would also submit that Greek Matthew was translated in accord with the Greek oral tradition current at the time). Of course, this means, naturally, that there were huge amounts of overlap in Mark and Hebrew Matthew, which one who puts an emphasis on oral tradition would expect. I think Luke also used this document, probably in addition to Mark, as well as consulting other tradition strains of tradition and eyewitnesses; A 'Critical Evangelist,' if you will... but more about the composition of the canonical gospels later.

    As to taking my church tradition with sugar: Lately, I've been swallowing most tradition (church and otherwise, provided they are early enough) with a degree of optimism that most western institutions would find frightening.

    What do I mean? Provided a tradition is close enough to the actual event, I like to accept it in so much as it is not disproven or contradicted by substantial evidence. I realise that the accounts we have do mislead us from time to time. That is clear. All historians are revisionists. At the same moment, I realise that the people who recorded those traditions had access to all kinds of sources that we do not have, and were not usually wilfully deceiving us. Where I do have a great deal of doubt is in the notion that a 21st century revisionist will be able to give us a more accurate idea of what happened in the first century than an second century revisionist.

    I recognise that they may sometimes lead me to false conclusions, but I think I will generally be all the better off for having attempted to account for all the data on the matter.

    As to the particular matter of Paul and Peter: It is clear enough from scripture that they were not the founders of the church in Rome. We know that Paul, at least, worked there in the early sixties. Church history tells us that Peter worked there a bit later, though there was some overlap. I don't know if they worked together. They were apparently acquainted, as we find in Acts and Galatians. Presumably they worked in harmony, if not side by side. As far as traditions that originate hundreds of years after the fact, I tend not to bother much about them - But I don't rule them out simply on the basis that 'I find it hard to imagine.' Most of the things I believe to be true about the faith, about science, and about history I find 'difficult to imagine.' The world is a strange place. I don't know about any angelic apparitions in Rome, however. More likely, they had Anglican apparitions, which I am having on a regular basis, these days.

    My name is Aaron.

  6. Interesting. I love reading your blog! keep it coming and do it more often... please.