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  Gospel of the Hebrews

The Gospel of the Hebrews, commonly shortened from the Gospel according to the Hebrews or simply called the Hebrew Gospel, is considered by some to be a lost gospel preserved in fragments within the writings of the Church Fathers.

This non-canonical gospel gave an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth detailing his story from the events of his Baptism to his Resurrection.

A major source regarding the Gospel is the testimony of Jerome who received a copy from a Nazarene group while he was at Chalcis between 373 and 376. Jerome records that it was regarded by many of the Nazarenes and Ebionites as the original version of Matthew.

Extant text:
Critical editions of the Gospel of the Hebrews vary, but there is general agreement among modern scholars that seven quotations from Patristic sources are from a distinct Gospel of the Hebrews, although two of these are ambiguous. Hans Waitz (1937) provides a list of the major German scholars who up to that date divide the Jewish-Christian Gospels into different traditions, though Waitz himself argues for only two Gospels. There is now a tendency to reduce the traditional division of the Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Nazarenes and Gospel of the Ebionites to two Gospels, though Klauck (2003) notes that against this hypothesis, the material includes "three extra-canonical narratives of the baptism of Jesus which vary to such an extent that they cannot come from one or even two gospels alone."

The standard critical edition of the Gospel of the Hebrews is by Philipp Vielhauer, translated by George Ogg, in Hennecke and Schneemelcher's New Testament Apocrypha (1962), also reproduced in Cameron (1982) and Lapham (2003).

Scholarship generally holds that it was probably composed in Egypt in the 2nd century and originally in Greek, though Jerome considered the copy he obtained to be an original composition in Hebrew (Against Pelagius 3.2).

Patristic sources and testimony:
There was a strong tradition in the early church, mentioned for by Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome, that Matthew had written a gospel in the Hebrew language. Irenaeus, Epiphanius, and Jerome identify the Gospel of the Hebrews with this Hebrew gospel of Matthew.

Jerome (c.347–420) relates that the Nazarenes and Ebionites believed that the Gospel of the Hebrews was the original Gospel of Matthew (Commentary on Matthew 2 . 12) Epiphanius of Salamis in the Panarion wrote that, "They [Jewish Christians] too accept Matthew's gospel and like the followers of Cerinthus and Merinthus, they use it alone. They call it the Gospel of the Hebrews, for in truth, Matthew alone of the New Covenant writers expounded and declared the gospel in Hebrew using Hebrew script." (Panarion, 30.3.7)

Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor during the first half of the 2nd century, writes that Matthew composed the logia in the Hebrew tongue and each one interpreted them as he was able. He also notes that the story of the Sinful Woman was originally from the Gospel of the Hebrews. Apart from Papias' comment, we do not hear about the author of the Gospel until Irenaeus around 185 who remarks that Matthew issued a written Gospel of the Hebrews (Against Heresies 3.1.1).
Pantaenus, Origen and other Church Fathers also believed Matthew wrote the Gospel of the Hebrews (Church History 5.10.3, 6.25.4) None of these Church Fathers asserted that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek.

Traditionally within orthodox Christianity, the Gospel of Matthew was believed to have been composed by Matthew with some believing it to be the first gospel written. This view is not widely held within contemporary Biblical studies. Most scholars believe that the author of the Gospel of Matthew made use of the Gospel of Mark and another source known as Q. This solution to the origin is known as the Two-source hypothesis. For this and other reasons, the Gospel of Matthew was composed in Greek and not Hebrew as suggested by Papias.

Irenaeus believed Matthew issued a written Gospel of the Hebrews in their own language while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the Church (Against Heresies 3:1). According to Eusebius Hegesippus said Matthew's Gospel was written in Syriac (Ecclesiastical History 3:22-24) a view Eusebius shared (Theophania 4:12). This is repeated in the Stichometry of Nicephorus (c.810). Epiphanius wrote that the Ebionites used only the Gospel of the Hebrews, which was expounded and declared Hebrew using Hebrew script.

Jerome makes frequent reference to the Nazarene Gospel of the Hebrews being composed in Hebrew in his commentaries (Commentary on Isaiah 4, Commentary on Ezekiel 16:3, Commentary on Isaiah 40:9, Commentary on Micah 7:6). Jerome considered that the Gospel of the Hebrews, was written in the Chaldee and Syriac(Aramaic) language but in Hebrew script. Jerome claimed to have translated the whole into Greek (Against Pelagius 3:2) but this is doubted by many scholars since Jerome also made this claim about the Old Testament before he had actually done so. Jerome claimed that a Hebrew original of the Nazarene text was preserved in the library of Caesarea, which Pamphilus of Caesarea had gathered. In recent years some modern scholars have given more credence to Jerome's testimony.

Jerome identifies the readers of this gospel as observant Jews, distinct from the culturally assimilated and Hellenized Jews, for whom the Greek Septuagint had been translated from Hebrew. It was used extensively by the followers of Hegesippus, Merinthus and Cerinthus as well as by the Ebionites and the Nazarenes.

According to Pantaenus, it was also in circulation in India, having been brought there by Bartholomew. Pantaenus became head of the School in Alexandria and was responsible for much of the Library in Caesarea. In this library was preserved a copy of the Gospel of the Hebrews. The Nazarenes of Beroea gave a copy to Jerome.

The title "The Gospel of the Hebrews" designates merely the class of readers among whom it circulated. They were Jewish Christians (or a particular sect of such) who still spoke the Aramaic language.

Patristic Testimony on Non-canonical status:
Origen and Eusebius classed a Gospel of the Hebrews among the "disputed writings" which some reject, but which others class with the accepted books: "And among these some have also placed the Gospel according to the Hebrews , with which those Hebrews who accept Christ are especially delighted" (Church History III.xxv.5) Hence there were a body of Jewish Christians who regarded it as their authority regarding the life, work, and teaching of Jesus. Jerome often cites it as though it were a trustworthy source. Beyond this we know very little of its status.

Patristic Names of Gospels
Different church fathers refer to a Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Apostles, Gospel of the Twelve Apostles as well as The Hebrew Gospel. To distinguish various texts modern scholars generally refer to the Gospels of the Hebrews, Nazarenes, Ebionites respectively.

In the Catalog of Eusebius, only one Hebrew gospel is listed: "And among these some have placed also the Gospel of the Hebrews with which those of the Hebrews that have accepted Christ are especially delighted." (Church History, 3.25.5). Epiphanius mentions only one Hebrew gospel: "They [the Ebionites] call it the Gospel of the Hebrews for, in truth, Matthew alone in the New Covenant expounded and declared the Gospel in Hebrew using Hebrew script." (Panarion, 30.3.7)

Modern Scholarship:
Since no complete text of any Jewish-Christian Gospel survives, a primary task of scholarship is determining how many distinct Gospels are indicated by the patristic evidence. Hans-Josef Klauck in Apocryphal gospels: an introduction (2003) notes that "it has become almost canonical in twentieth-century scholarship to speak of three Jewish-Christian gospels: a Gospel of the Hebrews (EvHeb), a Gospel of the Nazaraeans (EvNaz) and a Gospel of the Ebionites (EvEb)". This, effectively, is the distinction observed by Hans Waitz, Wilhelm Schneemelcher and Philipp Vielhauer in what is often termed the "standard" edition of the New Testament Apocrypha. A notable supporter of this now traditional division into three is Albertus Klijn (1992) who he writes that "The presence of three Jewish Christian Gospels is an established fact." There are those who differ with this conclusion; for example Paul Foster (2008). Part of the reason for three Gospels is the presence of differences in the surviving fragments, particularly the presence of three separate accounts of Christ's baptism, while another factor was the scepticism towards the reliability of the evidence of Jerome. However, Klauck also notes that "In more recent years in a pendulum swing away from this scepticism, there has been a tendency to regard Jerome as more trustworthy." With the result that the division of Jerome's testimony into 2: a Gospel of the Hebrews (EvHeb), a Gospel of the Nazaraeans (EvNaz), is less confident. This still leaves however the problem of the multiple accounts of Christ's baptism, which seem to require at least three sources. Craig A. Evans (2005) views that it is probably more safe to divide the material into Origen's Gospel, Jerome's Gospel, Epiphanius' Gospel, etc.

The topic of the Gospel according to the Hebrews continues to be one of ongoing and heated debate. Scholars do agree that the title, Gospel according to the Hebrews is not a scholarly neologism, nor is it simply a "hypothetical" gospel. They agree that its title was used in the Early Church as well as in the early church catalogs.

Hebrew Gospel hypotheses:
There are various hypotheses concerning the relation of the material preserved by Jerome to the New Testament. The Hebrew Gospel hypothesis of Nicholson (1879) claims two versions of Matthew, Greek and Hebrew, while that of James R. Edwards (2009) is that the Jewish Christian Gospels preserve some of the source material of Gospel of Luke. These hypotheses are contested by scholars such as Hans-Josef Klauck (2002) who writes, "the Gospel of the Hebrews is not to be equated with an Ur-Matthew."

Traditionally, although the Gospel is technically anonymous, it was believed that the Gospel of Matthew was the work of Saint Matthew, and scholars believed that it was an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus Christ. This is still the 'official' position of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Churches. Indeed, Craig Blomberg, F. F. Bruce and Gregory Boyd maintain that the apostle Matthew did write 'his' gospel. They support their position by arguing that, as a former tax collector, Matthew would not have been an ideal person to falsify a gospel.

Nevertheless, most critical scholars still reject Matthean authorship of the first Gospel. Some argue that an apostle and eyewitness of Jesus' ministry would not have used a secondary source, yet the first Gospel relies on Mark for much of its material. Others claim that the perspectives of the book show a fuller development of traditional material and of relations with the Jews than one might expect in an "early Gospel".

The two-source hypothesis is the most commonly accepted solution to the synoptic problem. It argues that Matthew borrowed from two Greek sources, the Gospel of Mark and a hypothetical sayings collection, known by scholars as Q. Therefore Canonical Matthew was composed in Greek at a later time than the Gospel of Mark. More importantly, it was probably not written by Matthew. According to Jerome, the Nazarenes and the Ebionites regarded their version of Matthew as the original (Commentary on Matthew 2).

Scholars of the Tübingen School such as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (d.1827), Christian Friedrich Weber (1806), thought that the Gospel of the Hebrews may indeed be an authentic eyewitness account written by the Apostle Matthew himself. If this is the case, the Gospel of the Hebrews clearly has important data to contribute toward the solution of the synoptic problem. A study of the external evidence regarding this gospel shows that among the Nazarenes and Ebionites existed a gospel commonly called the Gospel of the Hebrews. It was written in Aramaic with Hebrew letters. Its authorship was attributed to St. Matthew. While Jerome regarded his Gospel of the Hebrews was with respect, the Jewish-Christian Gospels were generally regarded as heretical and corrupted texts. Nevertheless the ascription of the source of a Hebrew Gospel to the apostle Matthew was widespread and no Church Father attributes a Hebrew Gospel to anyone other than Matthew. Even Epiphanius, in criticizing the Gospel of the Ebionites recognises the tradition that Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew.

Needless to say, this position has been widely contested. Rudolf Handmann (1888) regarded the Gospel of the Ebionites as a pasticcio which belongs with the dregs of the gospel tradition. Modern scholars, at least until recently, have taken the position as per the Wilhelm Schneemelcher that there were at least three distinct Jewish Gospels:
The Gospel of the Nazarenes, which was read in Semitic speech and used among the Nazarenes and was similar to canonical Matthew.
The Gospel of the Ebionites, which was used by heretical Jewish Christians.
The Gospel of the Hebrews, which has no special relationship to any one of the canonical gospels, but contains syncretistic elements, and shows the heretical character of the Jewish Christian.

The position of Parker (1940) and his followers is that there is only one Hebrew gospel, the Gospel of the Hebrews but that there were several editions of this one gospel in the Early Church.

Although there is still ongoing debate about the Jewish Christian Gospels and "only the very daring, nowadays, venture on speculations in regard to the Gospel of the Hebrews ", most scholars agree with Schneemelcher when he says, "Thus the number of Jewish Gospels -- whether there be one, two or three such gospels -- is uncertain, the identification of the several fragments is also uncertain and, finally the character and the relationship to one another of the several Jewish gospels is uncertain."

B. H. Streeter argued that a third source, referred to as M, and also hypothetical, lies behind the material in Matthew that has no parallel in Mark or Luke. Through the remainder of the 20th century there were various challenges and refinements of Streeter's hypothesis. In 1953, Parker posited an early version of Matthew (Aramaic M) as a primary source. The Church Fathers also wrote of such a source, called the Gospel of the Hebrews.

Scholars agree that there is a connection between the Gospel of the Hebrews and Matthew, but critical scholars generally consider that the extant Gospel of the Hebrews to be translated from a Greek source text into Hebrew and back into Greek. One of the reasons for this view is the opinion that the 4th Century might offer more favourable circumstances for the circulation and perhaps the making of a Hebrew Gospel among Jews than the 1st or 2nd Century.

Although, as Hans-Josef Klauck writes, "the Gospel of the Hebrews is not to be equated with an Ur-Matthew." A study of the external evidence regarding this gospel shows that among the Nazarenes and Ebionites existed a gospel commonly called the Gospel of the Hebrews. It was written in Aramaic with Hebrew letters. Its authorship was attributed to St. Matthew. While the Gospel of the Hebrews was still being circulated and read, the Church Fathers referred to it always with respect, often with reverence. They accepted it as being the work of Matthew.

Although scholarly consensus still holds to Markan priority, some modern scholars believe that the Gospel of the Hebrews was the second source used in the Gospel of Luke and helped form the basis for the Synoptic Tradition. They point out that in the first section of De Viris Illustribus (Jerome), we find the Gospel of Mark listed as the first gospel written, and thus the basis of later gospels. Following it should be Q. However, such a source document (quelle means "source") is absent from Jerome's list, nor is one mentioned by Jerome in his writings. Rather, the first seminal document is not Q but the Gospel of the Hebrews. In "the place of honor" that should be given "the phantom Q" we find a Hebrew usurper.

Scholarly consensus remains overwhelmingly in favor of Markan priority, and this consensus has not been seriously challenged by speculations surrounding the origins of the Hebrew Gospel. That no copy of either Q or the Hebrew Gospel exists makes the determination of their early role in the development of the Synoptic gospels highly conjectural. Nonetheless, arguments in favor of Q as a primary source for Matthew and Luke remain compelling.

Allegations of deliberate suppression of the Hebrew Gospel:
It has been claimed that the rivalry between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians brought about the intentional destruction of Hebrew texts. The doctrinal reason centered on Adoptionism. This theology was a minority Hebrew Christian belief that Jesus was merely human, being born of a physical union between Joseph and Mary. He only became divine, by adoption at his baptism, being chosen because of his sinless devotion to the will of God. The Adoptionist view may date back almost to the time of Jesus reconciling the claims that Jesus was the Son of God with the radical monotheism of Judaism. Both the primary gospels i.e. (the Gospel of the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark) had similar adoptionist views of the incarnation, but the Gospel of the Hebrews was the most radical. Jesus was seen to be "adopted" at his baptism when the voice from heaven declared: "You are my beloved Son, this day have I begotten you."

By the end of the 2nd century, Adoptionism was declared a heresy and it was formally rejected by the First Council of Nicaea (325), which wrote the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and identified Jesus as eternally begotten of God. The Roman Emperor Constantine, fostered the faith as an imperial religion.

Jerome obtained his Hebrew text of Gospel of Matthew from Nazarenes (Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2).

Although according to the Gospel of Matthew, the term Nazarene was applied to Jesus due to his living in a town named Nazareth (Gospel of Matthew 2.23) and Paul was called a Nazarene by Tertullus in the Book of Acts, the sect of Nazarenes is not heard of again till the 4th Century. Controversy over the existence of such a town, and whether it was founded by Nazarenes, continues. A town of Nazareth may have been founded as a place of gathering of nazarites from the Nazarene sect. The term "nazirite" comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning "consecrated" or "separated", exemplified by the story of Samson, Samuel, and David. The relationship between consecrated, anointed, messiah, baptized, and christened would indicate that "Jesus the Nazarite" and "Jesus the Christ" were the same person. A Nazarene warrior cult may have existed prior to Jesus, and may go back to the time of Judas Maccabeus. After his death, it was the term used to identify the Jewish Sect that believed Jesus was the Messiah. When this group grew into the Gentile world, they became known as Christians. By the 4th century, Nazarenes were considered orthodox Christians who embraced the Jewish Law, but rejected Hebrew Heresies. The Nazarenes are generally accepted as being the first Christians who were led by James the Just, who was said to be the brother of Jesus. He led the Church from Jerusalem and had a special experience of the Risen Lord.

Ebionite communities:
Irenaeus wrote that they used only Matthew's Gospel (Against Heresies, 1.26.2) and, Eusebius wrote that the Ebionites used only the Gospel of the Hebrews (Church History, 3.27.4) Epiphanius stated that the Ebionites used a Gospel of the Hebrews which he considered was a corrupted version of Greek Matthew (Panarion, 30).

The origin of the name Ebionite (or Ebionaean) (Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 7 . 22) is debated. Tertullian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus of Rome, Epiphanius, and Jerome ascribed the movement to a heretic named Ebion or Hebion (Tertullian The Prescription Against Heretics 33, On the Flesh of Christ 14.18.; Irenaeus Against Heretics 5.1.3.; Hippolytus of Rome Refutation of All Heresies 7.23. - Heresy of Theodotus; and Epiphanius Heresies 30) Others claim the name Ebionite means "poor one" and is derived from Matthew 5:3, for they rejected material wealth. Eusebius and Origen both claimed the Ebionites' appellation was a term of derision indicating a poverty in intellect, rather than material possessions. (Eusebius Church History 3.27.; Origen Origen de Principiis 4.22). Conflict grew between them and other Christians when the Ebionites failed to embrace the developing Church doctrines of the Virgin birth and Jesus' divinity. They believed Jesus was begotten of God at his baptism.

Conflict also grew over the issue of the Mosaic law, which Hippolytus states that the Ebionites believed remained in full force (Refutation of All Heresies 7.22) They are said to have rejected Paul's teachings and used only one Gospel, the Gospel of the Hebrews.

According to James Hasting's Encyclopædia of religion and ethics (1914) the presentation in the Gospel of the Hebrews is lifelike, Jewish, and primitive, sometimes bordering on the grotesque and drawing near to the apocalyptic texts. The gospel does not bear the marks of having been constructed to inculcate any particular theological tenets, with the exception its Jewish view as to the origin and nature of Christ. It is, in the main, a simple historical narrative whose purpose seems to have been to preserve the living, evangelical tradition for present and future use. Although the Gospel of the Hebrews was not identical to the Greek Gospel of Matthew found in the Bible, they were similar.

According to the 8th Century Stichometry of Nicephorus, the Gospel of the Hebrews was 2200 lines, just 300 lines shorter than Gospel of Matthew. Scholars have been able to study much of the theological structure because of the Fathers of the Early Church.

Matthew and Levi:
Didymus the Blind held a source he calls "the Gospel of the Hebrews" to be informative when he explains that there are many people with two names, that scripture calls Matthew “Levi” in the Gospel of Luke, but they are not the same person (Psalm Commentary 3).

Holy Spirit:
Within Judaism, the Shekinah (or "visible" cloud of the Presence) is a feminine word, thought to be Yahvah's feminine aspect; therefore, they called the Spirit the "mother". Thus in the Gospel of the Hebrews we should not be surprised, that after the temptation of Jesus it says, “Even so did my Mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs, and carried me to the great mountain Tabor." It should also be noted that “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine, while in Latin it is masculine and in Greek it is neuter.

Brotherly love:
This is an important theme among Hebrew Christians. In the Gospel of the Hebrews one of the greatest sins is, "To grieve the spirit of one's brother" and we also read that the Lord spoke to his disciples saying, "And never be joyful except when you look on your brother with love." (Jerome Commentary on Ezekiel 18.7 Commentary on Ephesians 5.4)

The rich young man:
In the Gospel of the Hebrews:

The second rich youth said to him, “Rabbi, what good thing can I do and live?” Jesus replied, “Fulfill the law and the prophets.” “I have,” was the response. Jesus said, “Go, sell all that you have and distribute to the poor; and come, follow me.” The youth began to fidget, for it did not please him. And the Lord said, “How can you say, I have fulfilled the law and the prophets, when it is written in the law: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' and many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are covered with filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?” And he turned and said to Simon, his disciple, who was sitting by Him, “Simon, son of Jonah, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Origen Commentary on Matthew 15.14).

The sinful women:
Papias tells us that the Gospel of the Hebrews also gives story of a woman accused of many sins before the Lord. Lyman Abbott (1879) noted the connection to the sinful woman in John's Gospel.

Emphasis on James
This Gospel puts a particular emphasis on James the Just, as head of the Jerusalem church, and especially concentrates on arguing for obedience to Jewish law. The gospel contains an independent legend that the first resurrection appearance was witnessed by James. The gospel also recounts that James was present at the Last Supper. The stories are in contradiction to the canonical gospels which recount that James and his brothers were not followers of Jesus prior to the Resurrection, which John 7:5 mentions such unbelief explicitly. At the Feast of Weeks, however, Judas the brother of James, is at least listed among the group of believers (Acts 1:14) Jude, in his own epistle, claims that he is the same "brother of James" (Jude 1). Paul would seem to provide the evidence that Jesus did, in fact, visit James after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7) but after Cephas and the twelve, then more than five hundred "brethren" who were still alive at the time of Paul's writing: "After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles". During the beginning of Jesus's ministry, James did not believe Jesus was the Messiah; however, there was some great catalyst that changed his mind, for he became the leader of the Nazaraean community in Jerusalem and produced the Epistle of James written before 61 C.E. When he was stoned by the Sanhedrin under the authority of Ananus, the son or grandson of Annas who had been responsible for bringing Jesus to trial (Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.200)

Eusebius quotes Hegesippus, who states: "This apostle was consecrated from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a bath. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary. He never wore woolen, but linen garments [i.e. as the priests did]...And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just, and Oblias (or Zaddick and Ozleam) which signifies justice and protection of the people. Some of the seven sects [of Judaism], therefore, of the people, mentioned by me above in my Commentaries, asked him what was the door to Jesus? And he answered, 'that he was the Saviour.'. From which, some believed that Jesus is the Christ...".(Eusebius, Church History, 2.23) In the Gospel of the Hebrews it is written as follows:

Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him, for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the Lord's cup until he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And Lord says, "Bring a table and bread." And it is added, "He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him, "My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep."(On Illustrious Men, 2).

"A bodiless demon":
The gospel quotation found in the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans may be one of the oldest recorded sayings of Jesus. An Exegesis of the Sayings of the Lord by means of an in-depth analysis of the available Patristic evidence as well as a comparison with the Hebrew Gospel tradition, leads to this conclusion.

The Gospel of the Hebrews states that when the Risen Lord came to those with Peter, Jesus said to them, “Take hold of me, handle me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon.” Jerome also points out that the Apostles thought the resurrected Jesus to be a spirit, for in the Gospel of the Hebrews Jesus says that he is not a “A bodiless demon”.