Nazarene Space

A New Source for Hebrew Matthew
James Scott Trimm

The Hebrew versions of Matthew that have come down to us may be categorized into two basic text versions.  The readings we find in the DuTillet, Munster texts exhibit a great deal of agreement with each other, with only minor variations from text to text.  We will call this the “Traditional” Hebrew text.  On the other hand, the Shem Tob text, while having a direct relationship with the Traditional Hebrew text, is a very different Hebrew text with many layers of corruption.  

Recently I have been looking at the marginal notes in an edition of Hebrew Matthew published by Johannes Quinquarboreus Aurilacensis (YQA) in 1551.  JQA was a student of Sebastian Munster.

Muster had published an edition of Hebrew Matthew in 1537 from a manuscript he stated that he had obtained from “among the Jews”.  JQA republished Munster’s Matthew text with marginal notes offering alternate readings.  Unfortunately JQA did not tell us from where he derived these alternate readings?  Were these readings his own Hebrew translations of Greek or Latin versions of Matthew or were that from other manuscripts of Hebrew Matthew?  

I recently found a clear answer to this question while reviewing these marginal notes.  I noticed that JQA gives a marginal note to אביהוד (Abihud) which reads נא אבנר.  נא is a Hebrew abbreviation meaning “in another version” and אבנר is the name “Abner”.  This reading makes it clear that these are alternate readings from other Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew.  This is because this reading is a key variance in the DuTillet Hebrew version of Matthew.  

The DuTillet version of Matthew is taken from a Hebrew manuscript of Matthew which was confiscated from Jews in Rome in 1553. On August 12th, 1553, at the petition of Pietro , Cardinal Caraffa, the Inquisitor General, Pope Julius III signed a decree banning the Talmud in Rome. The decree was executed on September 9th (Rosh HaShanna) and anything that looked like the Talmud, that is, anything written in Hebrew characters was confiscated as the Jewish homes and synagogues were ravished. Jean DuTillet, Bishop of Brieu, France was visiting Rome at the time. DuTillet was astounded to take notice of a Hebrew manuscript of Matthew among the other Hebrew manuscripts. DuTillet acquired the manuscript and returned to France, depositing it in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. It remains there to this day as Hebrew ms. No. 132.

There is a well-known mistake in the Greek text of this passage. While the text itself claims to give three lists of fourteen names (Mt. 1:18), the Greek text contains only 13 names in the last list.  In Matthew 1:13 The DuTillet Hebrew manuscript of Matthew contains the missing name "Avner" which occurs between Aviud and Eliakim in the DuTillet Hebrew text of Mt. 1:13.  

The DuTillet Hebrew manuscript of Matthew contains the missing name אבנר "Abner" (A Hebrew name which is sometimes spelled אבניר) which occurs between אביהוד  Abihud and Eliakim in the DuTillet Hebrew text of Mt. 1:13. In Hebrew and Aramaic ד "d" and ר "r" look very much alike and are often misread for each other. In this case a scribe must have looked back up to his source manuscript and picked back up with the wrong name, thus omitting "Abner" from the list. The Greek text must have come from a Hebrew or Aramaic copy, which lacked the name "Abner."

Amazingly the Old Syriac Aramaic version of Matthew was lost from the fourth century until its rediscovery in the 19th century. This ancient Aramaic text has אביור "Aviur" where the Greek has "Aviud" (= אביוד) thus catching the error in a sort of "freeze frame" and demonstrating the reliability of the reading in the Hebrew.

JQA could not have obtained this reading from the DuTillet Text, because JQA published his work in 1551 and Jean DuTillet would not obtain and publish the “DuTillet” manuscript until 1553.  Moreover JQA gives the name “Avner/Abner” as appearing in place of Abihud rather than in addition to the name Abihud.  

This means that the marginal readings in JQA are definitely supplying us with alternate readings from various other copies of Hebrew Matthew to which JQA had gained access.  In short, these readings give us access to a vast number of readings from an otherwise lost tradition of Hebrew Matthew, readings which should be taken into account in a complete process of textual criticism for understanding the original Hebrew text of Matthew.

I plan to begin publishing some of these marginal notes in coming days.

This is yet another wonderful source for the restoration of Nazarene Judaism (the original Jewish followers of Yeshua).


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