Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Papias on Matthew

Eusebius quotes Papias saying "Matthew put together the oracles [of Jesus] in the Hebrew [Aramaic?] language, and each one interpreted [or translated' them as best he could."

i) The conventional objection to this is that our Gospel of Matthew doesn't read like "translation Greek". For reasons I've given, I think that's a bad argument:

That doesn't mean I think our Gospel of Matthew was translated from an Aramaic original. I'm not taking a position on that. I just think the conventional objection is ill-conceived. 

ii) Given that the church was originally composed of Aramaic-speaking Jews as well as Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles, it would hardly be surprising if someone wrote an Aramaic account of Jesus' life and teachings. That wouldn't have to be on the scale of our canonical Gospels. It might outline the life of Christ, include some miracle stories, a collection of his sayings, and highlight key events, especially the Passion week and Resurrection.

If so, one might ask why that didn't survive. The obvious explanation is that, to survive, it would require scribes who knew Aramaic. In addition, it would require a sufficient constituency to justify the continued preservation of this text.

However, the church rapidly became almost entirely Gentile. You had an irreparable breach between the church and the synagogue. Moreover, Palestinian Judaism suffered massive destruction and dislocation after waging three disastrous, losing wars with the Romans. 

Jewish scribes preserved Jewish writings, in Hebrew and Aramaic (e.g. OT, Mishnah, Aramaic) while Christian scribes preserved Christian writings, in Greek. A Christian writing in Aramaic would fall through the cracks. 

iii) Finally, if Matthew was bilingual, it's quite possible that he initially produced a shorter, simpler edition of the life and teachings of Christ, in Aramaic. Then wrote a later, more expansive treatment in Greek, corresponding to our canonical Gospel of Matthew. If need be, he might have had assistance from educated, Greek-speaking Christians.

That edition would supplant the Aramaic edition. It would be more complete. And it would have a larger, more stable constituency to perpetrate it. 

1 comment:

  1. If you haven't encountered it, IMO, the best work against the idea of Matthew having written a gospel in Hebrew, is part 2 of Alexander Roberts' Discussions on the Gospels.
    I recommend it if you wish to investigate the matter further than "the conventional objection".