Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hebrew proto-Matthew?

On 3rd Nov Jim Deardorff commented on my August 20th post ("still looking for a satisfactory source theory"). He observes that I omitted reference to the source theory he ascribes to—that of a modifed Augustinian Hypothesis. In this scenario a Hebrew (proto)-Mt is the source used by Mk and by Lk (who uses both). Later on Hebrew (proto)-Mt is translated (and updated) into the Greek version we now know. I quote here the substance of Deardorff’s comment:

Matthew, written by a man of strong Jewish background, contains alot of anti-gentile statements. How would this have affected subsequent Gospel writers who had been engaged for years or decades in evangelizing gentiles?

In Rome, the writer of Mark, if following Matthew, is easily viewed as strongly anti-Jewish. He portrayed the Jewish disciples (even the Jewish people) as unworthy of Jesus, upon comparing many parallel passages of Mark & Matthew. He removed Matthew's anti-gentile comments and slurs. The writer of Luke valued the Judaic teachings in Matthew more favorably, and so re-instated much of what Mark omits from Matthew. However, he did so in totally different contexts, thereby showing his disdain for the writer of Matthew and its statement that Jesus had come only to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. So he went out of his way to show his preference for pro-gentile Mark over anti-gentile Matthew.

The reasoning is given as an attempt to explain why Mt is somewhat anti-Gentile while Mk seems somewhat anti-Jewish. But how can we say that being anti-Gentile (if indeed it is) is any more likely to be written earlier? And can Mk really be labelled anti-Jewish? These are hardly strong arguments but they should nevertheless be accounted for by one’s source theory. So how might, for example, the Farrer theory (Mk-Mt-Lk) take the above observations into account? I guess there is little anomalous here since Mt is seen to have corrected Mk’s overly Gentile portrait of Jesus and finally Lk tempers Mt’s overly ethnic portrait [very few source theories have claimed much in terms of describing how Jn relates to the Synoptics].

Though not mentioned here by Deardorff I believe this modified Augustinian hypothesis is actually based on Papias’ brief statement concerning Mt ("So Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language and each person interpreted them as best he could"). I don’t know how confident we can be in knowing to what Papias was referring or to what Papias was thinking of here. "Q" has been one contender for the Hebrew oracles but Deardorff would see a proto-Matthew as source for our Greek Mark. Papias is writing in the early second century and he mentions the notion as a tradition and we don’t really know what he had in mind. In a small e-list I belong to (GPG), E Bruce Brooks has asserted that by the time Papias is writing there would be local versions/translations (including a Hebrew translation) of the Gospels in existence and that Papias’ tradition knew of a Hebrew Gospel (translation). I would support and articulate this tendency by saying that it does seem that early Christian documents were originally published for a rather wide public (i.e. Greek—indeed the Gospel was supposed to be an important Announcement/Proclamation) and over time more local translations were made for local communities. The earliest Christian documents were, after-all, written by the Jewish Paul in Greek and as a Christ-believer he seemed interested in evangelising widely and so using Greek was his best option. This tension (between a Greek gospel and an initial Aramaic-speaking group of disciples) has never really been successfully resolved to my knowledge. It would seem that a document’s language should be appropriate to its purpose but I don’t know yet how exactly to use this idea. I see little reason to publish Jesus’ teachings in a local Aramaic dialect since this would only serve a small group/purpose. Publishing in Hebrew makes more sense since it is a more appropriate medium suited to a Jewish teacher and for a Jewish audience (hence outside the Greek Gospels Jewish parables are apparently only preserved in Hebrew). Local dialects are simply not very suited to wider publication and when it comes to spoken dialects the variety of informal and formal is even more tailored to individual contexts. How does this help us to understand the Gospel sources? I’m not sure.
I suggest Papias is handing down a tradition that knows/assumes that Hebrew is the most appropriate language in which to render the oracles of a Jewish teacher/prophet. We would need more evidence than this "tradition" to be able to demonstrate that any of the Greek Gospels are translations made from Hebrew. Until then I will remain rather suspicious of Papias’ claim for Hebrew "oracles" composed by "Matthew" prior to being translated into Greek. Sounds too conveniently appropriate for what Matthew "must have done". I currently support E Bruce Brooks assertion that a Hebrew translation of Mt was a secondary development but I would be happy to be shown that reconstructing a Hebrew version of Matthew is something natural.

I have just now noticed Jim Deardorff’s website unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to take even a summary look at it yet

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