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Chapter 5: Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew

    Hebrew language and manuscript studies are important for an accurate understanding of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Both the Hebrew language and culture strongly influenced the Greek words and thought patterns used in the Christian Scriptures. Though the majority of the Hebrew Scripture quotations come from the Septuagint, by no means is this always true. In some instances, the writer translated directly from Hebrew to Greek when quoting Scripture.

    Thus, a comprehensive study of the Christian Scriptures must also consider Hebrew language documents. In the case of this present study, however, there is even greater need to become acquainted with Hebrew texts, inasmuch as verification of the divine name in the New World Translation Christian Greek Scriptures comes directly from Hebrew sources.[1]

[1] On page 12 in the Foreword of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (1985 edition) the New World Bible Translation Committee says:

    We have looked for some agreement with us by the Hebrew versions we consulted to confirm our own rendering [of the divine name]. Thus, out of the 237 times that we have restored Jehovah's name in the body of our translation, there is only one instance wherein we have no support or agreement from any of the Hebrew versions. But in this one instance, namely, at 1 Corinthians 7:17, the context and related texts strongly support restoring the divine name.

    In this and the following two chapters, we will consider three topics dealing with Hebrew language manuscripts.

An early Hebrew Gospel

    The August 15, 1996 The Watchtower introduced an important book by George Howard.[2] Howard's book, The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text,[3] evaluates the final section (identified as a book) within a work published by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut in the 1380's. This Jewish physician, whom we will identify simply as Shem-Tob, published a polemic[4] entitled Even Bohan (ˆjwb ˆba, "The Touchstone") which consisted of 17 sections or books. On the first page of the introduction, Howard describes Shem-Tob's work.

    Of the original books the first deals with the principles of the Jewish faith, the next nine deal with various passages in the Bible that were disputed by Jews and Christians, the eleventh discusses certain haggadic [commentary] sections in the Talmud used by Christians or proselytes to Christianity, and the twelfth contains the entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew along with polemical comments by Shem-Tob interspersed throughout the text.

[2] The reference appears on page 13 in the article, "Jesus' Coming or Jesus' Presence-Which?"

[3] Permission has been granted from Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 31207 to reproduce material in this chapter from The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text by George Howard, 1987. This includes the Hebrew and English quotations from Shem-Tob's Matthew and miscellaneous citations throughout this chapter taken from Howard's book.

[4] Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines a polemic as, "An aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another."

    Howard's book is concerned with the final portion of Shem-Tob's work in which this Jewish apologist reproduced a complete Gospel of Matthew in the Hebrew language.

The basis of our interest

    We are interested in Howard's work for two reasons. First, Howard presents persuasive evidence that this is a late recension of the actual Hebrew Gospel written by Matthew. If this is true, then this Hebrew Gospel should not be ranked as a Hebrew version, but as an actual descendant of the work of the Apostle himself.

    Howard states that further scholarly work must be done to establish the validity of this claim. Nonetheless, should this Hebrew Gospel of Matthew be fully authenticated as a recension of the lost first century Hebrew Gospel, it will shed important textual light on Christian Scripture manuscript studies. This is an exciting discovery!

    Secondly, the Shem-Tob manuscript is one of the "J" documents listed in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation footnotes. J2 is the actual Shem-Tob Matthew, while J3 and J4 are identified as revisions.[5] The summary of these three "J" references as given in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (1969 edition, pages 28-29) reads,

Matthew in Hebrew. About 1385 a Jew named Shem Tob ben Shaprut of Tudela in Castile, Spain, wrote a polemical work against Christianity entitled Eben Bohan in which he incorporates Matthew in Hebrew as a separate chapter. (Cursive manuscripts of Shem Tob's Eben Bohan are found at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York City.)


Matthew and Hebrews in Hebrew. Sebastian Münster revised and completed an imperfect manuscript copy of Shem Tob's Matthew. This he published and printed in Basel, Switzerland, in 1537. Later, in 1557, Münster published his Hebrew version of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (A copy is found at the New York Public Library.)
Matthew in Hebrew. A revision of Münster's Matthew made and published by Johannes Quinquarboreus, Paris, France, 1551. (A copy is found at the New York Public Library.)

[5] On pages 160-162 in the book cited, Howard argues against Münster's work being a revision of Shem-Tob. However, whether or not J2 is a revision of Shem-Tob is moot from the perspective of its use as a "J" reference. The concern of the New World Bible Translation Committee was the wording used in this Hebrew text, not its source. The use of יהוה (or |h) in J2 remains unaltered. Nonetheless, Howard identifies Münster's work as coming from an older Hebrew tradition rather than from a translation of the Greek text (pp.160-176). Therefore, J3 probably correctly stands as an authentic Hebrew language Gospel and should not be classified as a version. In the same section, Howard identifies Jean du Tillet's Hebrew Matthew as also coming from a Hebrew Gospel source rather than being a translation from Greek. Thus, J1 would also be listed as a Hebrew Gospel rather than a Hebrew version. Re-defining J1, J2, J3, and J4 as Hebrew Gospels originating from an original Hebrew text gives the New World Bible Translation Committee a considerably stronger position than merely identifying these "J" documents as Hebrew versions.

Identification of Shem-Tob manuscripts

    Howard identifies nine Shem-Tob manuscripts used in his study. (That is, nine separate manuscripts of the Shem-Tob Matthew text were available for comparison.) One of the nine is presumably the actual J2 manuscript used by the New World Bible Translation Committee and is housed in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.

    Earlier we discussed textual criticism and the study of variant manuscripts. The nine Shem-Tob manuscripts give an example of this process. On pages x and xi (Roman numerals 10 and 11) of his introduction, Howard identifies all these manuscripts as 15th to 17th century copies. Of these, some are identified as being of fair quality, though they evidence considerable revision in regard to the improvement of grammar and were edited with the view of bringing them into agreement with the wording of the Greek Gospel of Matthew. Other manuscripts he classifies as being of mediocre quality. Some of the manuscripts are incomplete. Two manuscripts are identified as being of high quality with the least amount of copyist editing. Howard generally relied on these latter two high-quality manuscripts for the translation of the Gospel of Matthew included in his book.

The testimony supporting Matthew's Hebrew Gospel

    There is abundant and early evidence that Matthew wrote a Gospel in the Hebrew language. Jerome, writing in the fourth century, is quoted in the reference edition of the New World Translation as follows:

    "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."[6]

[6] New World Translation Reference Edition, 1984, p. 1564.

    There is no reason to doubt the veracity of Jerome's statement. In all likelihood, Matthew,[7] a Jew employed by Rome as a tax collector, was capable of writing in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It is certainly probable that he wrote a Gospel account to his fellow Israelites in the spoken language of the day. It is entirely possible that the Gospel we have today was a translation[8] by Matthew himself from his Hebrew Gospel. Jerome's statement implies that the Hebrew text he copied was identifiable by him as a parallel of the Greek Gospel of Matthew.

[7] It has long been held that the conversational language of Palestine in Jesus' day was limited to Aramaic rather than Hebrew. However, based on manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Howard gives evidence that biblical Hebrew was used as a spoken language in Jesus' day (Op Cit., pp. 155 to 156). Consequently, Matthew could just as well have written in Hebrew as in Aramaic. The reader should be aware, however, that Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related languages. They use a similar script and vocabulary, and primarily differ in areas of grammatical structure.

[8] Howard presents convincing evidence that the Shem-Tob Matthew (which is J2) is actually a copy of this early Matthew Hebrew Gospel. He then makes the following comments on pages 225 to 226 (Op cit.),

    If the conclusion to this study is correct, namely, that the old substratum to the Hebrew Matthew found in the Even Bohan [J2] is an original Hebrew composition, the question of the relationship of this old Hebrew substratum to the canonical Greek text is of great importance. As stated before, three basic possibilities exist: (1) The old substratum to Shem-Tob's text is a translation of the Greek Matthew. [A conclusion from an earlier discussion], in the judgment of this writer, rules out this possibility. (2) The Greek Matthew is a translation of the old Hebrew substratum. This likewise does not appear to be a possibility. Although the two texts are accounts of the same events basically in the same order, careful analysis of their lexical and grammatical correspondences fails to support the Greek as a translation. (3) Both the old Hebrew substratum and the Greek Matthew represent compositions in their own respective languages. This latter appears to be the best explanation of the evidence. It implies that the two texts are two editions in different languages of the same traditional material with neither being a translation of the other.

    There is evidence from ancient times that this sometimes occurred. Josephus tells us that his work, The Jewish War (75-79 C.E.), was first written in Aramaic or Hebrew and then translated in Greek (Josephus, War 1.3). The evidence suggests, however, that Josephus did not actually translate, in a literal sense, the Semitic original, but, in fact, virtually rewrote the whole account. The Aramaic/Hebrew original apparently served only as a model for the Greek version to follow.

    In regard to the Hebrew and Greek Matthew, their similarity in arrangement and wording suggest that one, as in the case with Josephus, served as a model for the other...Any conclusion in regard to the priority of the Hebrew Matthew vis-a-vis the Greek, or vice versa, must not be hastily drawn. Which one came first will be determined conclusively only after much further study and accumulation of evidence.

    In the book we are consulting by George Howard, he gives further evidence of Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew (pp. 156-157). The following quotations from early writers merely represent a few of the better preserved references:

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.1
    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.
Origen as quoted by Eusebius, H.E. 3.24.6
    As having learnt by tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are unquestionable in the Church of God under heaven, that first was written that according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.
Eusebius, H.E. 3.24.6
    Matthew had first preached to Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent.

    From the abundant evidence available, there would be no reason to doubt that the Apostle Matthew did, in fact, compose a Gospel written in Hebrew. Further, we can be certain that this Hebrew Gospel was copied and circulated for an extended period of time among Hebrew-speaking readers.

Shem-Tob as a recension of Matthew's Hebrew Gospel

    We are unable to give an adequate representation of Howard's valuable work in this brief chapter. At the very least, we will over-simplify the complexity of identifying Shem-Tob's Matthew as a recension of the original Hebrew Gospel. Howard has done a great deal of textual work leading to his conclusions which require appropriate qualification rather than a simple statement identifying J2 (Shem-Tob's Matthew) as the Hebrew Gospel written by Matthew himself.

    Nonetheless, we are left with the fascinating possibility that in J2 we possess a copy of the Apostle Matthew's Hebrew Gospel despite the fact that it has passed through successive generations of unknown copyists and editors. Even though this editing weakens the full impact of the Gospel, it gives us much greater insight into Matthew's work in Hebrew than does any other source known today.

    After a series of comparisons of Shem-Tob's Hebrew text with the Greek canonical Matthew, Howard makes this comment on pages 176-177:

    These examples show that in some way the First Gospel in Shem-Tob fits into a process of textual evolution that began in primitive times and culminated in du Tillet [J1] in the sixteenth century, or possibly later if our survey should include subsequent Hebrew texts of Matthew. The suggestion made here is that the gospel text incorporated into the Even Bohan was not a freshly made translation of the first Gospel by Shem-Tob, but was a reproduction, possibly with some revision by Shem-Tob himself, of an already existing literary Hebrew tradition that had been in the process of evolution for some time.

    On page 223 Howard adds this comment:

    The text also is written in a kind of Hebrew one would expect from a document composed in the first century but preserved in late rabbinic manuscripts. It is basically composed in biblical Hebrew with a healthy mixture of Mishnaic Hebrew and later rabbinic vocabulary and idiom.

    In these summary statements, Howard is saying that Shem-Tob's Matthew was copied-and possibly further edited by Shem-Tob himself-from a series of manuscripts which traced their origin back to the original Gospel the Apostle Matthew had written in the Hebrew language. Even as we now understand the variations introduced in a text from successive hand copying through generations, we understand the significance of Howard's terminology stating that the present Shem-Tob Matthew "fits into a process of textual evolution."[9] Nonetheless, the importance of the work leading up to this statement (assuming that it can be fully substantiated with additional scholarly efforts) ranks the work of Howard among the dramatic textual advances in Christian Scripture studies.[10]

[9] The reader may well ask why it is so difficult to be certain of the original wording of this text when we are so confident of the wording of the Christian Scriptures. The answer is found in the limited number—and recent age—of extant Hebrew manuscripts available for comparison. There are a limited number of Hebrew Gospels coming from this tradition which are available for study. (That is, only manuscripts which evidence transmission of the original work of Matthew could be used. Hebrew versions must be entirely excluded.) Secondly, of the potential manuscripts which fall into this category, all are recent copies, presumably dating from the 13th century and later. In contrast, we have some 5,000 partial to complete manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures some of which date to the second and third centuries.

[10] It is evident from the footnote references in The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text that others have contributed to this study as well.

    It is intriguing to realize that this book published in 1987 changes our thinking from regarding Shem-Tob's work as a mere translation, to the realization that it may be an actual copy—albeit flawed—of the work of the Apostle himself!

The divine name in Shem-Tob's Matthew

    In the context of this study, our interest in Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew is the use of the Tetragrammaton. Does Shem-Tob use the divine name?

    Howard transcribed the entire Hebrew Gospel according to the most trustworthy extant manuscripts. Of this transcription he says,

    The printed [Hebrew] text preserves the British Library manuscript and D in their relevant sections along with their errors and inconsistencies in spelling and grammar. Periods and question marks have been added editorially to the printed Hebrew. In a few instances where the base text has a lacuna [a missing part within the text], the text of another manuscript is printed within parentheses.

    In addition to the Hebrew text, Howard gives a parallel English translation on the facing page. The line format and verse numbers allow the reader who is unfamiliar with Hebrew to scan the text for the divine name with reasonable certainty.

    Before evaluating the Hebrew text itself, we must review an interesting section of Howard's book under the heading, "The Divine Name" found on pages 201-203. On page 201, he says:

    A set of interesting readings in the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob is a series of passages incorporating the Divine Name symbolized by |h (apparently a circumlocution for µçh, "The Name"). This occurs some nineteen times. (Fully written µçh occurs at 28:9 and is included in the nineteen.) Usually the Divine Name appears where the Greek reads kuvio" [Lord], twice (21:12 mss, 22:31) where the Greek reads qeov" [God], and twice where it occurs alone (22:32; 27:9). (1) It regularly appears in quotations from the Hebrew Bible where the M[asoretic] T[ext] contains the Tetragrammaton. (2) It occurs in introductions to quotations as, for example, at 1:22, "All this was to complete what was written by the prophet according to the LORD "; and at 22:31, "Have you not read concerning the resurrection of the dead that the LORD spoke to you saying." (3) In narratives apart from quotation it occurs in such phrases as "angel of the LORD" or "house of the LORD ." Thus, 2:13, "As they were going, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto Joseph saying"; 2:19, "It came to pass when King Herod died the angel of the LORD appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt"; 21:12, "Then Jesus entered the house of the LORD "; 28:2, "Then the earth was shaken because the angel of the LORD descended from heaven to the tomb, overturned the stone, and stood still."

    We should also consider the information in a footnote from page 202 which says in part,

    By incorporating the Hebrew Matthew into his Even Bohan, Shem-Tob apparently felt compelled to preserve the Divine Name along with the rest of the text. |h in Shem-Tob's Matthew should not be viewed as a symbol for both Adonai and the Tetragrammaton as was customary for Hebrew documents copied during the Middle Ages. The author of the Hebrew Matthew uses Adonai and |h discriminatively. He uses Adonai in reference to Jesus and |h only in reference to God. Since ynwda (often itself abbreviated as @wda) refers to Jesus, not God, throughout the text, the author's use of |h is a symbol only for the Tetragrammaton and in all probability stands for the circumlocution µçh, "The Name."

    The following passages have been reproduced from the Shem-Tob Matthew in George Howard's The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text. The English translation taken from the same book is reproduced under the Hebrew text. The first passage from Matthew chapter one shows two examples within verses 22 and 24 of the surrogate "h which replaces the circumlocution µçh meaning The Name. (In the remainder of the chapter, we will generally identify either the surrogate or a longer written form as simply the circumlocution.) This passage also shows an interesting instance in which there is a variance between the New World Translation and Shem-Tob. At verse 20, the New World Translation reads, "Jehovah's angel," whereas Shem-Tob reads, "an angel." Where applicable in the following examples, the reading from the New World Translation is inserted into the English text in brackets. The divine name is circled and connected to its corresponding translation in the English text.

    In the following two examples, we encounter variations in the circumlocution within the Shem-Tob manuscript itself. The reference at Matthew 5:33 adds the Hebrew letter Lamedh (l) which is the preposition "to" in combination with the circumlocution for the divine name. The reference at Matthew 28:9 shows the circumlocution written in full.

    In the last example, we see a reference using the circumlocution within the Shem-Tob Matthew whereas the New World Translation does not use the divine name.

    The divine name is used 18 times in the Gospel of Matthew within the New World Translation. In contrast, the circumlocution which stands for the divine name (including all variants of its written form) is used 19 times in the Shem-Tob Matthew. Table 3 compares these references in the two Matthew Gospels.

    As one can see, there are no discrepancies in the translation sense between the use of the circumlocution in Shem-Tob's Matthew and the divine name in the same locations of the New World Translation. The variants are merely textual alterations in wording. (We must add, however, that in dealing with textual variations between manuscripts, we may make the statement that certain differences are inconsequential. This does not imply that we are not concerned with the end result of textual studies. When the work is completed, it is our goal to obtain the exact wording of the inspired Scripture writers.) For example, in some instances (1:20, 2:15, and 4:4) Shem-Tob does not include the divine name, whereas the Westcott and Hort text uses Kyrios (Κύριος). The reverse is also true at 27:9. In one instance (27:10) Shem-Tob uses Adonai rather than the circumlocution for The Name. In two instances (22:31-32) the New World Translation uses God rather than Jehovah. At 28:9 Shem-Tob uses "The Name" as a form of greeting whereas the Westcott and Hort Greek text uses the word chairete (Caivreteæ) which is a greeting derived from the word Rejoice.

Table 3. The divine name in Shem-Tob's Matthew compared with the
New World Translation.

    In and of themselves, these are not significant textual differences. What is bothersome, however, is that there is variation of any kind in light of the presumption that the New World Translation represents a corrected text which better reflects Matthew's original Gospel.

    Before leaving this section, it will be of interest to compare the frequency of the footnote citations in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation for each of the four "J" references which come from this Hebrew tradition. The four are: J1Matthew by Jean du Tillet (1555), J2—Shem-Tob's Matthew (1385), J3Matthew by Münster (1537), and J4—a revision of Münster's Matthew by Quinquarboreus (1551). Table 4 indicates the presence (yes) or absence (no) of a footnote citation to the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew text. (Note that the Shem-Tob text does not actually contain the Tetragrammaton, but contains a circumlocution as indicated. In the cases of J1, J3, and J4, we are citing the Kingdom Interlinear Translation footnote without reference to the actual document for verification.)

    If each of the four recensions were perfect transmissions of the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, we would see identical yes or no responses across each line. Of course, no hand copies separated from the original by 1300 years are perfect. Thus, the above table gives an idea of the textual variation which has crept into these recensions during this period of time.

    Table 4 is included merely for its interest in comparing the four Hebrew recensions from this early Hebrew manuscript tradition. The variations in no way cast doubt on the veracity of the Shem-Tob manuscript.

  Matthew Shem-Tob J1 J3 J4
    1:20 no no yes no
    1:22 yes yes yes no
    1:24 yes no yes yes
    2:13 yes no no no
    2:15 no no no no
    2:19 yes no no yes
    3:3 yes yes no yes
    4:4 yes yes yes yes
    4:7 yes yes yes yes
    4:10 yes yes yes yes
    5:33 yes yes yes no
    21:9 yes no no yes
    21:42 yes yes yes yes
    22:37 yes yes no no
    22:44 yes yes no yes
    23:39 yes yes yes yes
    27:10 yes yes no yes
    28:2 yes no no yes

Table 4. The divine name in Shem-Tob's Matthew (J2) compared with the
use of the divine name in J1, J3, and J4.

The crucial issues

    The differences between the Shem-Tob Matthew and the representation of Matthew in the New World Translation Christian Scriptures are not great. Nonetheless, two areas of comparison between a probable recension of Matthew's ancient Gospel and the New World Translation's Matthew surprise us in light of the assertion that the New World Translation reinstates the divine name which was removed by carelessness and heresy.

  1. We would expect that an accurate restoration of the Gospel of Matthew would parallel the use of the divine name in a recension of Matthew's Hebrew language Gospel with high precision. However, as we have seen in Table 3, this is not the case. In spite of the fact that there is precise correspondence in 15 instances where Shem-Tob uses The Name (or a related form) and the New World Translation uses Jehovah, we are, nonetheless, left with eight instances in which one or the other does not exactly correspond in the use of the divine name. Considering the claim that the New World Translation restores the wording of the Christian Scriptures to its original written form, this variation is too large to be acceptable. Stated in mathematical terminology, we have only a 0.65 correlation, whereas we would expect close to a 1.00 correlation for a true restoration. (That is, of a total of 23 occurrences of the divine name in either or both the Shem-Tob Matthew and the Gospel of Matthew in the New World Translation, there is agreement in 15 instances. Thus, 15 divided by 23 equals 0.65, whereas the ideal of 23 divided by 23 equals 1.00.)

  2. In and of itself, the presence of a circumlocution meaning The Name ("h) rather than the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) itself is not of great significance considering typical textual variants found within textual criticism studies. In this case, however, it is cause for concern. The New World Bible Translation Committee assures us that Matthew used the Tetragrammaton. This is in sharp contrast to Matthew's use of a circumlocution.[11] If Matthew wrote "h in its surrogate form, or even µçh (The Name in written form), he did not, in fact, write יהוה. As we have already seen, Shem-Tob's Matthew is a recension which "fits into a process of textual evolution." We may speculate that Matthew himself used the Tetragrammaton and it, too, was changed in time. However, we are nonetheless confronted with the reality that the current text we possess which gives indication of Matthew's Hebrew writing does not use the Tetragrammaton.

[11] In the "Questions from Readers" from the August 15, 1997 The Watchtower, the following question and answer is given:

Is the Tetragrammaton (the four Hebrew letters of God's name) found in the Hebrew text of Matthew copied by the 14th-century Jewish physician Shem-Tob ben Isaac Ibn Shaprut?

    No, it is not. However, this text of Matthew does use hash-Shem' (written out or abbreviated) 19 times, as pointed out on page 13 of The Watchtower of August 15, 1996.

    The Hebrew hash-Shem' means "the Name," which certainly refers to the divine name. For example, in Shem-Tob's text, an abbreviated form of hash-Shem' appears at Matthew 3:3, a passage in which Matthew quoted Isaiah 40:3. It is reasonable to conclude that when Matthew quoted a verse from the Hebrew Scriptures where the Tetragrammaton is found, he incorporated the divine name in his Gospel. So while the Hebrew text that Shem-Tob presented does not use the Tetragrammaton, its use of "the Name," as at Matthew 3:3, supports the use of "Jehovah" in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

    Shem-Tob's text of Matthew included "the Name" where there is good reason to believe that Matthew actually used the Tetragrammaton. Thus, since 1950, Shem-Tob's text has been used as a support for employing the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and it still is cited in The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References.

New light on Christian Scripture studies

    Our search in this book is for new light on ancient Christian Scripture manuscripts. We are particularly looking for information which was unavailable to the New World Bible Translation Committee in the late 1940's. Most certainly the discovery that Shem-Tob's work is no longer considered a Hebrew version is new light indeed! In the 1969 edition of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (page 16), the New World Bible Translation Committee is quoted as saying,

    There is evidence that various recensions of the Hebrew and Aramaic versions of Matthew's account persisted for centuries among the early Jewish Christian communities of Palestine and Syria. Early writers, such as Papias, Hegesippus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Symmachus, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Pamphilus, Eusebius, Epiphanius and Jerome, give evidence that they either possessed or had access to Hebrew and Aramaic writings of Matthew.

    How delighted these men would be today to see this confirmation in George Howard's book of their early statement. In 1950, they could only look back to evidence of the use of these Hebrew and Aramaic recensions of Matthew's account. In all probability, today we are able to look at a reconstructed Hebrew Gospel of Matthew itself!

    If this document is ultimately verified as a late copy of Matthew's Hebrew Gospel, we will, for the first time in modern biblical studies, have limited access to his lost Hebrew Gospel. Of course, editorialized changes over the centuries have reduced its precision. Yet, it remains a valuable research tool.

    The work of Shem-Tob has been known among Jewish and Christian scholars since it was published in the late 14th century. As such, it was cited 16 times in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation footnotes as a Hebrew version with the identification nomenclature of J2. With Howard's recent research, however, we have an entirely new insight into the reading of Matthew's Hebrew Gospel which was available only through speculation to those working on the New World Translation between 1947 and 1949.

    We now know that the best surviving recension from the work of the Apostle Matthew verifies the use of the divine name in the 20 instances indicated in Table 3. We also know that these same 20 instances use a circumlocution rather than the Tetragrammaton and that they differ in verse location from the 18 references to Jehovah in the New World Translation.

Chapter Summary. Shem-Tob, a Jewish physician writing in the 1380's, included a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew as the last book in his polemic against Christianity. There is convincing evidence that this old Hebrew Gospel is a revision (passing through many copyists and editors) of the Hebrew Gospel written by the Apostle himself. If this ultimately proves to be true, then the "J" reference used in the footnotes of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation identified as J2, is, in fact, the closest reproduction of this early work.

  1. There should no longer be any reasonable debate that Matthew wrote a Hebrew language Gospel. Early writers such as Jerome, Irenæus, Origen, and Eusebius have left ample testimony to this work.

  2. The evidence presented by George Howard indicates that Shem-Tob's Matthew was not a translation from Greek sources. Rather, it contains a Hebrew writing style which marks it as a document which was composed in the first century using biblical Hebrew and subsequently edited in the following centuries.

  3. Shem-Tob's Matthew uses the divine name. However, it is not in the form of the Tetragrammaton, but is rather a surrogate form of the circumlocution The Name ( "h). Though it is impossible to tell from the present form of this Gospel whether or not Matthew actually used the Tetragrammaton, the substantial evidence remaining today gives no support for this claim.

  4. The correlation between the use of the circumlocution for the divine name in Shem-Tob's Matthew and the use of Jehovah in the Christian Scriptures of the New World Translation is not strong. There are 15 instances in which the two agree, and eight in which there is a variance. This gives a correlation of a mere 0.65, in contrast to an ideal 1.00. It would be expected that a restored Gospel of Matthew would more closely approximate a recension of the work of the Apostle himself.

  5. The Shem-Tob Matthew gives a wonderful example of new light in biblical texts. This knowledge regarding the Hebrew Christian Scriptures was not available to the Bible Translation Committee prior to the publication of the New World Translation in 1950.

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