⭐ The Complete Hebrew Text Of The Gospel Of Matthew Is Still In Existence! ⭐
By William F. Dankenbring
Although many may not be aware of it, Matthew originally wrote his gospel in the Hebrew language. The early church fathers attested to this fact in their writings. Eusebius in his Church History, discussing the canonization of the Scriptures, quoted Origen as follows: “Among the four gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, The Church History of Eusebius, book VI, chap.xxv, 4, page 272). Eusebius himself tells us, “For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence” (ibid., book III, chap. XXIV, 6, page 152). Eusebius quotes Irenaeus also on this matter of Matthew’s gospel. According to Irenaeus, “Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome” (ibid., book V, chap. VIII, 2, page 222). Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, made this statement. He declared, as recorded in Ante-Nicene Fathers, “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church” (book III, chap.I, 1, vol. 1, page 414). Eusebius also quotes Papias, (circa 60-130 A.D.), as the earliest church father who related that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. He declared: “But concerning Matthew he [Papias] writes as follows: ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, The Church History of Eusebius, bk. III, chap.39, 16, page 173). Clearly there was an original gospel account, written by the apostle Matthew, which was written in the Hebrew language! The early church fathers acknowledge it!
Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel
But do we have a copy of Matthew’s gospel in the Hebrew language, as it was originally written, according to these ancient sources? The amazing fact is that the complete Hebrew text of Matthew’s gospel was preserved in the body of a 14th century Jewish polemical treatise entitled Evan Bohar. The author of the treatise, one by the name of Shem Tov Ben Isaac Ben Shaprut, completed his work in 1385 A.D. and revised it several times afterwards. He utilized nine different Hebrew manuscripts of the preserved Gospel of Matthew to compile his translation. Ben Shaprut was no Christian. He was a Jewish rabbi who was writing to defend his faith against the encroachments of Christian theologians. To counter-act the teachings of Matthew, he used Matthew’s original Hebrew Gospel, and carefully compiled his translation. The gospel of Matthew, in the Hebrew, has now been translated into English, and is available from Mercer University Press, in Macon, Georgia (ISBN 0-86554-4700): https://books.google.com/books/about/Hebrew_Gospel_of_Matthew.html?id=4tdEBdVXg3AC
It is titled simply, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, by George Howard.
It is a fascinating book to read, and compare with our modern English versions, translated from the Greek copies of the Gospel. The similarities are most remarkable, as well as the many insights the Hebrew gives in many textual areas where the Greek seems mystifying. Says George Howard, it is clear from the evidence that the Hebrew Matthew contained in the text of Shem Tov’s Evan Bohan predates the 14th century – in fact, the evidence strongly suggests it goes back to the earliest centuries since Christ! Howard declares that of the nine manuscripts used by Shem Tov Ben Shaprut, two of the writings are virtually identical, are carefully copied, and show minimal tendency toward scribal error or assimilation to the canonical Greek and Latin. Says Howard, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of which are written in Hebrew, it is now known for a fact that Hebrew was used as a written medium in the first century – the time of Christ and the apostles. Hebrew, and even Greek, were both spoken in first century Palestine. Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew is the earliest complete Hebrew text we now have of Matthew’s gospel. However, Jewish and anti-Christian writings prior to the 14th century often quote excerpts from Matthew in Hebrew, in a Shem-Tov type form. Says Howard, “Shem-Tob’s comments, scattered throughout the Hebrew text, confirm that this text is not a creation of the fourteenth century. The comments preserve telltale remarks implying that Shem-Tob had before him a preexisting Hebrew Matthew” (Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, page 173). Although Howard says Shem-Tob’s Matthew “does not preserve the original in a pure form,” nevertheless, he adds, “Considerable parts of the original, however, appear to remain, including its unpolished style, ungrammatical constructions, and Aramaized forms” (p.178). The Hebrew gospel of Matthew, he points out, is saturated with literary devices, such as puns, word connections, and alliteration, which make sense in Hebrew, but are lost in the Greek form of Matthew. They belong to the very structure of the Hebrew text, thus showing that the Hebrew is authentic, and was not translated from the Greek texts of Matthew which were extant. Interestingly, the Hebrew Matthew text of Shem Tov has “significant agreement” with the Codex Sinaiticus, which was discovered in the middle of the 19th century, five centuries after Shem Tov translated his copy from the Hebrew. The Coces Sinaiticus was discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula where it had been hidden for many centuries, since the medieval period, until its discovery. As Howard states, therefore, “The roots for their agreement, therefore, must go back to the early centuries of the Christian era” (page 192). Also pointing to the early age of the Shem Tov Matthew, it is striking in that it has many agreements with the Old Syriac gospel of Matthew, which was displaced by the Peshitta text around the end of the fifth century, and only two copies have survived.
However, "The many readings shared by Shem-Tob and the Old Syriac, therefore, strongly suggest a relationship, whose roots go back to the early centuries of the Christian era” says Howard (p. 196). Howard points out that there are also readings in Shem-Tov’s Matthew which agree with one of the other Gospels, but disagree with the Greek version of Matthew. This fact, he says, suggest that the author of John’s gospel, for example, which was written later, must have known of a Shem-Tov type of text for Matthew’s gospel, and used it when he wrote his gospel. Thus, when we look at it objectively, there is strong reason to believe that the Shem-Tov Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is a very useful and helpful copy of the original gospel of Matthew, which was indeed written in Hebrew, according to the early church fathers, based on knowledge handed down to them!
[Pages 8-10, 'New Light on the Seat of Moses']
NOTE: Be sure to see the comments in the section above.