The Hebrew Gospel hypothesis (proto-Gospel hypothesis or Aramaic Matthew hypothesis) is that a lost gospel, written in Hebrew or Aramaic, predated the four canonical gospels. Some have suggested a complete unknown proto-gospel (a so-called Ur-gospel) as the source of the canonical gospels. This hypothesis is usually based upon an early Christian tradition from the 2nd-century bishop Papias of Hierapolis. According to Papias, Matthew the Apostle was the first to compose a gospel, and he did so in Hebrew. Papias appeared to imply that this Hebrew or Aramaic gospel (sometimes called the Authentic Matthew) was subsequently translated into the canonical Gospel of Matthew. Jerome took this information one step further and claimed that all known Jewish-Christian gospels really were one and the same, and that this gospel was the authentic Matthew. As a consequence he assigned all known quotations from Jewish-Christian gospels to the "gospels of the Hebrews", but modern studies have shown this to be untenable. Modern variants of the hypothesis survive, but have not found favor with scholars as a whole.
The hypothesis has some overlap with the Aramaic original New Testament theory, which posits Gospels originally written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew.
Basis of the Hebrew gospel hypothesis: Papias and the early church fathersEdit
The idea that Matthew wrote a gospel in a language other than Greek begins with Papias of Hierapolis, c. 125–150 CE. In a passage with several ambiguous phrases, he wrote: "Matthew collected the oracles (logia – sayings of or about Jesus) in the Hebrew language (Hebraïdi dialektōi — perhaps alternatively "Hebrew style") and each one interpreted (hērmēneusen — or "translated") them as best he could." Some have claimed that by "Hebrew" Papias would have meant Aramaic, the common language of the Middle East beside koine Greek. A 2014 survey of contemporary texts asserts that "Hebraïdi" meant Hebrew and never Aramaic. Nevertheless, Matthew's Greek "reveals none of the telltale marks of a translation." Against this, Blomberg writes that "Jewish authors like Josephus, writing in Greek while at times translating Hebrew materials, often leave no linguistic clues to betray their Semitic sources," although Josephus was an exceptionally unusual person in his knowledge of Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew.
Most scholars do not believe that Matthew is a translation and several theories have been have put forward to explain Papias: perhaps Matthew wrote two gospels, one, now lost, in Hebrew, the other the preserved Greek version; or perhaps the logia was a collection of sayings rather than a gospel (some have suggested it is in fact Q); or by dialektōi Papias may have meant that Matthew wrote in the Jewish style rather than in the Hebrew language.
Nevertheless, on the basis of Papias and other information Jerome (c. 327–420) claimed that all the Jewish Christian communities shared a single gospel (the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews), that was practically identical with the Hebrew or Aramaic Matthew; he also claimed to have personally found this gospel in use among some communities in Syria.
Jerome's testimony is regarded with skepticism by modern scholars. Jerome claims to have seen a gospel in Aramaic that contained all the quotations he assigns to it, but it can be demonstrated that some of them could never have existed in a Semitic language. His claim to have produced all the translations himself is also suspect, as many are found in earlier scholars such as Origen and Eusebius. Jerome appears to have assigned these quotations to the Gospel of the Hebrews, but it appears more likely that there were at least two and probably three ancient Jewish-Christian gospels, and only one of them in a Semitic language.
Quotes by Church FathersEdit
Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. [This is what is related by Papias regarding Mark; but with regard to Matthew he has made the following statements]: Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could. [The same person uses proofs from the First Epistle of John, and from the Epistle of Peter in like manner. And he also gives another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is to be fount in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.]
Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an apostle, first of all composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. Who translated it after that in Greek is not sufficiently ascertained. Moreover, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea, which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected. I also was allowed by the Nazarenes who use this volume in the Syrian city of Beroea to copy it.
He (Shaul) being a Hebrew wrote in Hebrew, that is, his own tongue and most fluently; while things which were eloquently written in Hebrew were more eloquently turned into Greek.— Jerome, 382 CE, On Illustrious Men, Book V
Matthew also issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect.— Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:1 [c.175-185 A.D.]
First to be written was by Matthew, who was once a tax collector but later an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it in Hebrew for Jewish believers.
The Hebrew gospel hypothesis and modern criticismEdit
Composition of Matthew: modern consensusEdit
The Gospel of Matthew is anonymous: the author is not named within the text and nowhere does he claim to have been an eyewitness to events. It probably originated in a Jewish-Christian community in Roman Syria towards the end of the first century AD, and there is little doubt among modern scholars that it was composed in Koine Greek, the daily language of the time. The majority of scholars posits, in accordance with the Two-source hypothesis that the author drew from three main sources: the Gospel of Mark; the hypothetical sayings collection known as the Q source; and material unique to his own community, called M. Mark and Q were both written sources composed in Greek, but some of the parts of Q may have been translated from Aramaic into Greek more than once. M is comparatively small, only 170 verses, and made up almost exclusively of teachings; it probably was not a single source, and while some of it may have been written, most seems to have been oral.
An early modern advocate of the proto-gospel hypothesis was Eichhorn who suggested the existence of an Ur-Gospel in 1794–1804, but this theory won little support in the following years. General sources such as John Kitto's Cyclopedia describe the hypothesis but note that it had been rejected by almost all succeeding critics.
Johann Gottfried von Herder in turn argued for an oral Gospel tradition as an unwritten proto-gospel, leading to Friedrich Schleiermacher's idea of the gospel Papias referred to as being a separate work from canonical Matthew composed only of sayings of Jesus and no narrative, later known as the Q source. This logia would have been the a source for the canonical gospels.
In 1838, Christian Hermann Weisse took Schleiermacher's suggestion of a sayings source (Q) and combined it with the idea of Marcan priority to formulate what is now called the Two-source hypothesis. As the shared passages in Matthew and Luke presumably from Q matched exactly, it was presumed that Q too must have been in Greek, rather than a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic which would likely have resulted in subtly different phrasings.
Acceptance of a proto-Gospel hypothesis in any form was in the 20th century minimal. Critical scholars had long moved on from the hypotheses of Eichhorn, Schleiermacher (1832) and K. Lachmann (1835). Traditional Lutheran commentator Richard Lenski (1943) wrote regarding the "hypothesis of an original Hebrew Matthew" that "whatever Matthew wrote in Hebrew was so ephemeral that it disappeared completely at a date so early that even the earliest fathers never obtained sight of the writing".
Regarding the related question of the reliability of Jerome's testimony also saw few scholars taking his evidence at face value. Helmut Köster (2000) casts doubt upon the value of Jerome's evidence for linguistic reasons; "Jerome's claim that he himself saw a gospel in Aramaic that contained all the fragments that he assigned to it is not credible, nor is it believable that he translated the respective passages from Aramaic into Greek (and Latin), as he claims several times."
One advocate for the existence of a Hebrew gospel was Wilhelm Schneemelcher who cited several early fathers, apart from Jerome, as witnesses to the existence of a Hebrew gospel similar to Matthew - including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius and Hegesippus.
In the 20th century, three French scholars have suggested that Matthew as well as Mark was originally written in Hebrew, although they are an extreme minority. Jean Carmignac studied the Dead Sea Scrolls and found that translating Mark from Greek to Hebrew was surprisingly easy. He wrote the 1987 book The Birth of the Synoptics defending the idea of a Hebrew Mark/Matthew. Likewise, Claude Tresmontant hypothesized a Hebrew originals for all four Gospels in his book The Hebrew Christ (1989). Jean-Marie Van Cangh has supported Carmignac's hypothesis since and authored in 2005 a Hebrew retroversion of the Gospel according to Mark under the title L'Evangile de Marc : un original hébreu ?
The hypothesis in relation to the synoptic problemEdit
The synoptic gospels are the three gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke: they share much the same material in much the same order, and are clearly related. The precise nature of the relationship is the synoptic problem. The most widely held solution to the problem today is the two-source theory, which holds that Mark, plus another, hypothetical source, Q, were used by Matthew and Luke. But while this theory has widespread support, there is a notable minority view that Mark was written last using Matthew and Luke (the two-gospel hypothesis). Still other scholars accept Markan priority, but argue that Q never existed, and that Luke used Matthew as a source as well as Mark (the Farrer hypothesis).
A further, and very minority, theory is that there was a gospel written in Hebrew or Aramaic that was used as a source by one or all of the other synoptics gospel - most often suggested a Hebrew or Aramaic proto-Matthew. Today, this hypothesis is held to be discredited by most experts. As outlined subsequently, this was always a minority view, but in former times occasionally rather influential, and advanced by some eminent scholars. The hypothesis has overlaps with the Augustinian hypothesis and the idea of Aramaic primacy.
Early modern periodEdit
Richard Simon of Normandy in 1689 asserted that an Aramaic or Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, lay behind the Nazarene Gospel, and was the Proto-Gospel. J. J. Griesbach treated this as the first of three source theories as solutions to the synoptic problem, following (1) the traditional Augustinian utilization hypothesis, as (2) the original gospel hypothesis or proto-gospel hypothesis, (3) the fragment hypothesis (Koppe); and (4) the oral gospel hypothesis or tradition hypothesis (Herder 1797).
18th century: Lessing, Olshausen, EichhornEdit
In 1778, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing posited several lost Aramaic Gospels as Ur-Gospel or proto-Gospel as a common sources used freely for the three Greek Synoptic Gospels. He was followed by Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, who in 1804 provided a comprehensive basis for the proto-gospel hypothesis and argued for an Aramaic original gospel that each of the Synoptic evangelists had in a different intermediate form.
19th century: Nicholson, HandmannEdit
Edward Nicholson (1879) proposed that Matthew wrote two Gospels, the first in Greek, the second in Hebrew. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915) in its article Gospel of the Hebrews noted that Nicholson cannot be said ...[to] have carried conviction to the minds of New Testament scholars."
20th century: Zahn, BelserEdit
Related is the "Aramaic Matthew hypothesis" of Theodor Zahn, which propounded the existence of an early lost Aramaic version of Matthew. In Zahn's opinion, Matthew wrote a complete Gospel in Aramaic; Mark was familiar with this document, which he used while abridging it. Matthew's Greek translator utilized Mark, but only for form, whereas Luke depended upon Mark and secondary sources, but was not acquainted with "Aramaic Matthew". Setting him apart from some earlier scholars, Zahn did not believe Hebrew Matthew was identical to the surviving fragments of the Jewish-Christian gospels instead he understod them as derivative works.
J. E. Belser held a similar view to Zahn and suggested that Matthew first wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, a Greek translation of it being made in 59–60, and Mark depended on Matthew's Aramaic document and Peter's preaching in Rome. Luke made use of Mark, of Matthew (both in Aramaic and Greek), and also of oral tradition.
21st century Edwards, CaseyEdit
James R. Edwards, in The Hebrew Gospel and the development of the synoptic tradition (2009), suggested that a lost Hebrew Ur-Matthew is the common source of both the Jewish-Christian Gospels and the unique L source material (material not sourced from Mark or Q) in the Gospel of Luke. His thesis has not been accepted by other scholars.
Maurice Casey argues in Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (2014) that Matthew did compose a sayings collection in Aramaic (a proto-Matthew) that is the source for both the Greek canonical Matthew and Luke. Casey suggests that this is what Papias meant when he said that "each (person) translated/interpreted them as he was able" and that later Church fathers confused proto-Matthew with the Greek Gospel of Matthew. Casey also argues that the Greek Gospel of Matthew is a composite work (that also made use of Mark) that was, in accordance with common custom at the time, attributed "to the fountainheads of tradition" i.e. Matthew.
- Köster 2000, p. 207.
- Bromiley 1979, p. 571.
- Turner 2008, p. 15–16.
- Bromiley 1979, p. 281.
- R. Buth and C. Pierce "Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean 'Aramaic'?" in Buth and Notley, edd., The Language Environment of First Century Judaea, Brill, 2014:66-109.
- Blomberg 1992, p. 40.
- Translation from the Latin text edited by E. C. Richardson and published in the series "Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur,". Vol. 14. Leipzig. 1896. pp. 8, 9.
- "Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica". Perseus Digital Library. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
- Maier, Paul (2007). Eusebius: The Church History. ISBN 978-0825433078.
- Duling 2010, p. 298, 302.
- Aland & Aland 1995, p. 52.
- Burkett 2002, p. 175–6.
- Koester 1990, p. 317.
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 137–9, 143–8.
- Powers 2010, p. 481: 'Others have taken up this basic concept of an Ur-Gospel and explained the idea further. In particular JG Eichhorn advanced (1794/1804) a very complicated version of the primal Gospel hypothesis that won little support, and then K Lachmann developed (1835) the thesis that all three Synoptics are dependent on a common source...'
- Kitto, John (1865), A Cyclopedia of Biblical literature, p. 158,
We are thus brought to consider Eichhorn's famous hypothesis of a so-called original Gospel, now lost. A brief written narrative of the life of Christ is supposed to have been in existence, and to have had additions made to it at different periods. Various copies of this original Gospel, with these additions, being extant in the time of the evangelists, each of the evangelists is supposed to have used a different copy as the basis of his Gospel. In the hands of Bishop Marsh, who adopted and modified the hypothesis of Eichhorn, this original Gospel becomes a very complex thing. He supposed that there was a Greek translation of the Aramaean original Gospel, and various transcripts...
- Davidsohn, Samuel (1848), An Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 391,
Perhaps Eichhorn's hypothesis weakens the authenticity. It has been rejected, however, by almost all succeeding critics.
- Neue Hypothese über die Evangelisten als bloss menschliche Geschichtsschreiber [New hypothesis on the Evangelists as merely human historians], 1778.
- Nellen & Rabbie 1994, p. 73: 'I am referring here to the Proto-Gospel Hypothesis of Lessing and the Two Gospel Hypothesis of Griesbach. These theories tried to explain the form of the Gospels by assuming that they are...'
- Farmer, William Reuben, The Synoptic Problem a Critical Analysis, pp. 13–6.
- Lenski, Richard CH (2008) , "The Hypothesis of an Original Hebrew", The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel 1–14, pp. 12–14,
Various forms of this hypothesis have been offered...
- Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 207,
This hypothesis has survived into the modern period; but several critical studies have shown that it is untenable. First of all, the Gospel of Matthew is not a translation from Aramaic but was written in Greek on the basis of two Greek documents (Mark and the Sayings Gospel Q). Moreover, Jerome's claim that he himself saw a gospel in Aramaic that contained all the fragments that he assigned to it is not credible, nor is it believable that he translated the respective passages from Aramaic into Greek (and Latin), as he claims several times. ...It can be demonstrated that some of these quotations could never have existed in a Semitic language.
- Wilhelm Schneelmelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, volume 1, 1991 p. 134-178 Note by Schneemelcher "Jerome thus reluctantly confirms the existence of two Jewish Gospels, the Gospel according to the Hebrews and an Aramaic gospel. That the latter was at hand in the library in Caesareas is not to be disputed; it is at any rate likely on the ground of the citations of Eusebius in his Theophany. It will likewise be correct that the Nazaraeans used such an Aramaic gospel, since Epiphanius also testifies to this. That the Aramaic gospel, evidence of which is given by Hegesippus and Eusebius, is identical with the Gospel of the Nazaraeans, is not indeed absolutely certain, but perfectly possible, even very probable…
- Carmignac, Jean (1987). The Birth of the Synoptics. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780819908872.
- Van Cangh, Jean-Marie (2005). L'Evangile de Marc : un original hébreu ?. Bruxelles: Editions Safran. ISBN 9782960046984.
- Histoire critique du texte du Nouveau Testament, Rotterdam 1689.
- Orchard, Bernard; Longstaff, Thomas R. W. (2005-10-06). J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text - Critical Studies 1776-1976. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-02055-8.
- Commentatio qua Marci evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae commentariis decerptum esse monstratur, Ienae 1794,
- Marcus non epitomator Matthaei, Programme Universität Gottingen (Helmstadii, 1792); reprinted in D. J. Pott and G. A. Ruperti (eds.), Sylloge commentationum theologicarum, vol. I (Helmstadii, 1800), pp. 35-69.
- Von Gottes Sohn, der Welt Heiland, nach Johannes Evangelium. Nebst einer Regel der Zusammenstimmung unserer Evangelien aus ihrer Entstehung und Ordnung, Riga, 1797.
- Reicke, Bo (1965), Monograph series, vol. 34, Society for New Testament Studies, pp. 51–2,
...whereas the last one was made public only after the final version of his Commentatio had appeared. The three source-theories referred to are these: (2) the Proto-Gospel Hypothesis; (3) the Fragment Hypothesis; (4) the Tradition Hypothesis. …Richard Simon... He asserted that an old Gospel of Matthew, presumed to have been written in Hebrew or rather in Aramaic and taken to lie behind the Nazarene Gospel, was the Proto-Gospel.
- "Neue Hypothese über die Evangelisten als blos menschliche Geschichtsschreiber betrachtet", in Karl Gotthelf Lessing (ed.), Gotthold Ephraim Lessings Theologischer Nachlass, Christian Friedrich Voß und Sohn, Berlin 1784, pp 45-73.
- Mariña, Jacqueline (2005), The Cambridge Companion to Friedrich Schleiermacher, p. 234,
Lessing argued for several versions of an Aramaic Urgospel, which were later translated into Greek as the... Eichhorn built on Lessing's Urgospel theory by positing four intermediate documents explaining the complex relations among the... For Herder, the Urgospel, like the Homeric...
- Einleitung in das neue Testament, Leipzig, Weidmann 1804.
- Schnelle, Udo (1998), The history and theology of the New Testament writings, p. 163.
- Edwards (2009), The Hebrew Gospel and the development of the synoptic tradition, p. xxvii.
- Neusner, Jacob; Smith, Morton (1975), Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman cults: Studies for..., p. 42,
...developed out of this latter form of the proto-gospel hypothesis: namely Matthew and Luke have copied an extensive proto-gospel (much longer than Mark since it included such material as the sermon on the mount, etc.
- Bellinzoni, Arthur J; Tyson, Joseph B; Walker, William O (1985), The Two-source hypothesis: a critical appraisal,
Our present two-gospel hypothesis developed out of this latter form of the proto-gospel hypothesis: namely Matthew and Luke have copied an extensive proto-gospel (much longer than Mark since it included such material as the sermon on...
- Powers 2010, p. 22‘B. Reicke comments (Orchard and Longstaff 1978, 52): [T]he Proto-Gospel Hypothesis... stems from a remark of Papias implying that Matthew had compiled the logia in Hebrew (Eusebius, History 3.39.16). Following this, Epiphanius and...’
- Nellen & Rabbie 1994, p. 73: ‘I am referring here to the Proto-Gospel Hypothesis of Lessing and the Two Gospel Hypothesis of Griesbach. ... 19 (on Lessing's Proto-Gospel Hypothesis, "Urevangeli- umshypothese") and 21-22 (on Griesbach's Two Gospel Hypothesis).’
- Orr, James, ed. (1915), "Gospel of the Hebrews", International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
- Handmann, R (1888), "Das Hebräer-Evangelium" [The Hebrew Gospel], Texte und Untersuchungen (in German), Leipzig, 3: 48
- Schaff, Philip (1904), A select library of Nicene and post-Nicene fathers,
Handmann makes the Gospel according to the Hebrews a second independent source of the Synoptic Gospels, alongside of the "Ur-Marcus" (a theory which, if accepted, would go far to establish its identity with the Hebrew Matthew).
- Vaganay, Léon (1940), Le plan de l'Épître aux Hébreux (in French).
- Hayes, John Haralson (2004), "The proto-gospel hypothesis", New Testament, history of interpretation,
The University of Louvain was once a center of attempts to revive Lessing's proto-gospel theory, beginning in 1952 with lectures by Leon Vaganay and Lucien Cerfaux 8, who started again from Papias's reference to a...
- Reicke, Bo (1986), The roots of the synoptic gospels
- Hurth, Elisabeth (2007), Between faith and unbelief: American transcendentalists and the…, p. 23,
Ralph Waldo Emerson was even prepared to go beyond Johann Gottfried Eichhorn's Proto-Gospel hypothesis, arguing that the common source for the synoptic Gospels was the oral tradition. The main exposition of this view was, as Emerson pointed out in his fourth vestry...
- Interpretation, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 1972,
Gaboury then goes on to examine the other main avenue of approach, the proto-Gospel hypothesis. Reviewing the work of Pierson Parker, Leon Vaganay, and Xavier Leon-Dufour (who is Antonio Gaboury's mentor), the writer claims that they have not...
- Hurth, Elisabeth (1989), In His name: comparative studies in the quest for the historical…,
Emerson was even prepared to go beyond Eichhorn's Proto-Gospel hypothesis and argued that the common source for the synoptic Gospels was the oral tradition. The main exposition of this view was, as Emerson pointed out in his fourth...
- Einleitung in das Neue Testament, Leipzig 1897.
- A. T. Robertson (1911), Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew,
What is its relation to the Aramaic Matthew? This is the crux of the whole matter. Only a summary can be attempted. (a) One view is that the Greek Matthew is in reality a translation of the Aramaic Matthew. The great weight of Zahn's...
- Homiletic review, 1918,
The chief opponent is Zahn, who holds that the Aramaic Matthew comes first. Zahn argues from Irenseus and Clement of Alexandria that the order of the gospels is the Hebrew (Aramaic) Matthew, Mark, Luke…
- Zahn, Theodor (1910). Das Evangelium des Matthäus. Internet Archive. Leipzig : Deichert. pp. 20ff.
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Gospel of St. Matthew". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2022-06-23.
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- Kloppenborg, John S. (2011-04-14). "The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition (review)". Toronto Journal of Theology. 27 (1): 109–111. doi:10.1353/tjt.2011.0000. ISSN 1918-6371. S2CID 144873030.
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- ———; Plese, Zlatko (2011), The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, OUP, ISBN 9780199831289
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- Powers, B Ward (2010), The Progressive Publication of Matthew, B&H Publishing Group.
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