The gospel of Matthew, in the Hebrew, has now been translated into English, and
is available from Mercer University Press, in Macon, Georgia (ISBN 0-86554-4700). It
is titled simply, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, by George Howard. It is a fascinating book
to read, and compare with our modern English versions, translated from the Greek copies
of the Gospel. The similarities are most remarkable, as well as the many insights the
Hebrew gives in many textual areas where the Greek seems mystifying.
Says George Howard, it is clear from the evidence that the Hebrew Matthew
contained in the text of Shem Tov's Evan Bohan predates the 14th century – in fact, the
evidence strongly suggests it goes back to the earliest centuries since Christ!
Howard declares that of the nine manuscripts used by Shem Tov Ben Shaprut,
two of the writings are virtually identical, are carefully copied, and show3 minimal
tendency toward scribal error or assimilation to the canonical Greek and Latin.
Shem-Tov's Hebrew Matthew is the earliest complete Hebrew text we now have
of Matthew's gospel. However, Jewish and anti-Christian writings prior to the 14th
century often quote excerpts from Matthew in Hebrew, in a Shem-Tov type form. Says
Howard, "Shem-Tob's comments, scattered throughout the Hebrew text, confirm that this
text is not a creation of the fourteenth century. The comments preserve telltale remarks
implying that Shem-Tob had before him a preexisting Hebrew Matthew" (Hebrew
Gospel of Matthew, page 173).
Although Howard says Shem-Tob's Matthew "does not preserve the original in a
pure form," nevertheless, he adds, "Considerable parts of the original, however, appear to
remain , including its unpolished style, ungrammatical constructions, and Aramaized
The Hebrew gospel of Matthew, he points out, is saturated with literary devices,
such as puns, word connections, and alliteration, which make sense in Hebrew, but are
lost in the Greek form of Matthew. They belong to the very structure of the Hebrew text,
thus showing that the Hebrew is authentic, and was not translated from the Greek texts of
Matthew which were extant.
Interestingly, the Hebrew Matthew text of Shem Tov has "significant agreement"
with the Codex Sinaiticus, which was discovered in the middle of the 19th century, five
centuries after Shem Tov translated his copy from the Hebrew. The Coces Sinaiticus was
discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula where it had been
hidden for many centuries, since the medieval period, until its discovery. As Howard
states, therefore, "The roots for their agreement, therefore, must go back to the early
centuries of the Christian era" (page 192).
Also pointing to the early age of the Shem Tov Matthew, it is striking in that it
has many agreements with the Old Syriac gospel of Matthew, which was displaced by the
Pecrapta text around the end of the fifth century, and only two copies have survived.
However, 'The many readings shared by Shem-Tob and the Old Syriac, therefore,
strongly suggest a relationship, whose roots go back to the early centuries of the
Christian era" says Howard (p. 196).
Howard points out that there are also readings in Shem-Tov's Matthew which
agree with one of the other Gospels, but disagree with the Greek version of Matthew.
This fact, he says, suggest that the author of John's gospel, for example, which was
written later,, must have known of a Shem-Tov type of text for Matthew's gospel, and
used it when he wrote his gospel.