The HEBREW GOSPEL HYPOTHESIS (or PROTO-GOSPEL HYPOTHESIS or Aramaic
Matthew hypothesis) is a group of theories based on the proposition
that a lost gospel in Hebrew or
Aramaic lies behind the four canonical
gospels . It is based upon an early Christian tradition , deriving
from the 2nd century bishop
Papias of Hierapolis , that the apostle
Matthew composed such a gospel. Papias appeared to say that this
Aramaic gospel was subsequently translated into the
canonical gospel of Matthew, but modern studies have shown this to be
untenable. Modern variants of the hypothesis survive, but have not
found favour with scholars as a whole.
* 1 Basis of the Hebrew gospel hypothesis: Papias and the early
* 2 Composition of Matthew: modern consensus
* 3 Modern forms of the hypothesis: the synoptic problem
* 3.1 The synoptic problem
* 3.2 Early modern period
* 3.3 18th century: Lessing, Olshausen
* 3.4 Nicholson, Handmann
* 3.5 Edwards
* 4 The Hebrew gospel hypothesis and modern criticism
* 4.1 Multiple
* 4.2 19th century
* 4.3 20th century
* 5 References
* 6 Bibliography
BASIS OF THE HEBREW GOSPEL HYPOTHESIS: PAPIAS AND THE EARLY CHURCH
The idea that some or all of the gospels were originally written 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." By "Hebrew" Papias would
Aramaic , the common language of the Middle East beside
koine Greek On the surface this implies that Matthew was originally
written in Hebrew (Aramaic), but Matthew's Greek "reveals none of the
telltale marks of a translation." However, Blomberg states that
"Jewish authors like Josephus, writing in Greek while at times
translating Hebrew materials, often leave no linguistic clues to
betray their Semitic sources."
Scholars have put forward several theories 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 the gospel; 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 this and other information
Jerome (c. 327–420) claimed that all the Jewish Christian
communities shared a single gospel, 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
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
Jewish-Christian gospels , only one of them in a Semitic
COMPOSITION OF MATTHEW: MODERN CONSENSUS
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 author, who is not named in the
text itself but who was universally accepted by the early church to be
the apostle Matthew, drew on three main sources, the
Gospel of Mark ,
the alleged sayings collection known as the
Q source , both in Greek,
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, 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.
MODERN FORMS OF THE HYPOTHESIS: THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM
THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM
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 single
gospel written in Hebrew or Aramaic.
EARLY MODERN PERIOD
Richard Simon of Normandy in 1689 asserted that an
Aramaic or Hebrew
Gospel of Matthew, lay behind the Nazarene Gospel, and was the
J. J. Griesbach treated this as the first of three
source theories as solutions to the synoptic problem , following (1)
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
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing whose New hypothesis on the
Evangelists, 1778 suggested a lost Hebrew Gospel as a free source for
the Synoptic Gospels
A comprehensive basis for the original-gospel hypothesis was provided
in 1804 by
Johann Gottfried Eichhorn , who argued for an Aramaic
original gospel that each of the Synoptic evangelists had in a
Related is the "
Aramaic Matthew hypothesis" of
Theodor Zahn , who
shared a belief in an early lost
Aramaic Matthew, but did not connect
it to the surviving fragments of the
Gospel of the Hebrews in the
works of Jerome.
18th Century scholarship was more critical. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
(1778) posited several lost
Aramaic Gospels as UR-GOSPEL or
PROTO-GOSPEL common sources used freely for the three Greek Synoptic
Johann Gottfried Eichhorn posited four intermediate
Johann Gottfried von Herder argued for an oral
Gospel tradition as an unwritten Urgospel, leading to Friedrich
Schleiermacher 's view of
Logia as a Gospel source. Hermann
Olshausen (1832) suggested a lost Hebrew Matthew was the common
source of Greek Matthew and the
Jewish-Christian Gospels mentioned by
Jerome and others.
Léon Vaganay (1940), Lucien
Xavier Léon-Dufour and Antonio Gaboury (1952) attempted to
revive Lessing's proto-gospel hypothesis.
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 ... have carried conviction to the minds of
New Testament scholars."
Rudolf Handmann (1888) proposed an
Gospel of the Hebrews but
reasoned that this was not the Hebrew Matthew and there never was a
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 . A review of Edwards' book, including the reproduction of a
diagram of Edwards' proposed relationship, was published by the
Society of Biblical Literature 's
Review of Biblical Literature in
THE HEBREW GOSPEL HYPOTHESIS AND MODERN CRITICISM
MULTIPLE JEWISH-CHRISTIAN GOSPELS
Carl August Credner (1832) identified three
Gospel of the Nazarenes
Gospel of the Nazarenes , the Greek Gospel of the Ebionites
cited by Epiphanius in his Panarion, and a Greek gospel cited by
Origen , which he referred to as the
Gospel of the Hebrews . In the
20th Century the majority school of critical scholarship, such as Hans
Philip Vielhauer and Albertus Klijn , proposed a tripartite
distinction between Epiphanius' Greek Jewish Gospel, Jerome's Hebrew
(or Aramaic) Gospel, and a Gospel of the Hebrews, which was produced
by Jewish Christians in Egypt, and like the canonical Epistle to the
Hebrews was Hebrew only in nationality not language. The exact
identification of which Jewish Gospel is which in the references of
Origen and Epiphanius, and whether each church father had one
or more Jewish Gospels in mind, is an ongoing subject of scholarly
debate. However the presence in patristic testimony concerning three
different Jewish Gospels with three different traditions regarding the
baptism of Christ suggests multiple traditions.
Eichhorn's Ur-Gospel hypothesis (1794/1804) 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.
Acceptance of an original Gospel hypothesis in any form in the 20th
century was minimal. Critical scholars had long moved on from the
hypotheses of Eichhorn, Schleiermacher (1832) and K. Lachmann (1835).
Regarding the related question of the reliability of Jerome's
testimony also saw few scholars taking his evidence at face value.
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
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." However, Lenski and Koster’s
views are in sharp contrast with those of Schneemelcher. Schneemelcher
cites several early fathers as seeing Hebrew Matthew including Clement
of Alexandria (Stromata 2.9.45 and 5.14.96),
Origen (in Joh. vol.
II,12; in Jer. Vol. XV,4; in MT. vol. XV,p. 389 Benz-Kloostermann),
Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica 3.25.5, 3.27.1-4, 3.39.17. 4.22.8
“Regarding Hegissipus (c. 180) and his memoirs
Eusebius reports: He
quotes from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and from the Syriac
(Gospel) and in particular some words in the Hebrew tongue, showing
that he was a convert from the Hebrews”, 3.24.6, 3.39.16, 5.8.2,
6.24.4, Theophania 4.12, 5.10.3),
Jerome (Note by Schneemelcher
Jerome thus reluctantly confirms the existence of two Jewish
Gospels, the Gospel according to the Hebrews and an
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…).
* Bible portal
* ^ A B C Köster 2000 , p. 207.
* ^ A B C Bromiley 1979 , p. 571.
* ^ A B Turner 2008 , p. 15–16.
* ^ Blomberg 1992 , p. 40.
* ^ Duling 2010 , p. 298, 302.
* ^ Aland 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, 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.
* ^ Einleitung in das neue Testament, Leipzig, Weidmann 1804.
* ^ Schnelle, Udo (1998), The history and theology of the New
Testament writings, p. 163 .
* ^ 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
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…
* ^ "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
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...
* ^ Neue Hypothese über die Evangelisten als bloss menschliche
Geschichtsschreiber , 1778 .
* ^ Reicke , p. 52: ‘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. In 1778
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in Wolfenbuttel identified the...’
* ^ Nellen, Rabbie & 1994 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...
* ^ Nachweis
* ^ Edwards (2009), The Hebrew Gospel and the development of the
synoptic tradition, p. xxvii .
* ^ Reicke 2005 , p. 52: ‘No 2, the Proto-Gospel Hypothesis,
stems from a remark of Papias implying that Matthew had compiled the
Logia in Hebrew (Eusebius, History III. 39. 16). Following this,
Jerome held that there was an older Gospel of…’
* ^ 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): 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).’
* ^ Vaganay, Léon (1940), Le plan de l'Épître aux Hébreux (in
* ^ 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
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
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...
* ^ Orr, James, ed. (1915), "Gospel of the Hebrews", International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia .
* ^ Handmann, R (1888), "Das Hebräer-Evangelium" , 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) .
* ^ Friedrichsen, Timothy A (March 2010), "Review" (PDF), RBL .
* ^ Beitrage zur Einleitung in die biblischen Schriften (in
German), Halle, 1832 .
* ^ Vielhauer, cf. Craig A. Evans, cf. Klauck
* ^ Vielhauer, Philip, "Introductory section to Jewish Christian
Gospels", Schneemelcher NTA, 1 .
* ^ 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
* ^ Davidsohn, Samuel (1848), An Introduction to the New Testament,
3, p. 391, Perhaps Eichhorn's hypothesis weakens the authenticity. It
has been rejected, however, by almost all succeeding critics.
* ^ 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, 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
* Aland, Kurt; Aland, Barbara (1995), The Text of the New Testament:
An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and
Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, Wm B Eerdmans .
* Blomberg, Craig A, ed. (1992), Matthew, Broadman .
* Bromiley, Geoffrey W, ed. (1979), International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia: A–D, Wm B Eerdmans .
* Burkett, Delbert (2002), An introduction to the New Testament and
the origins of Christianity, Cambridge University Press, ISBN
* Cameron, Ron (1982), The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel
Texts, Westminster John Knox .
* Duling, Dennis C (2010), "The Gospel of Matthew", in Aune, David
E, Blackwell companion to the New Testament, Wiley-Blackwell .
* Ehrman, Bart D (2003), Lost Scriptures, OUP .
* ———; Plese, Zlatko (2011), The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and
* Harrington, Daniel J. (1991), The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical
* Koester, Helmut (1990). Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History
and Development. Trinity Press. ISBN 978-0-334-02459-0 .
* Köster, Helmut (2000) , Introduction to the New Testament:
History and Literature of Early Christianity (2 ed.), Walter de
Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-014692-9 .
* Lapham, Fred (2003). An Introduction to the New Testament
Apocrypha. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN
* Nellen, Henk JM; Rabbie, Edwin (1994),