- The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition
The thesis that the Synoptic Gospels derive in some fashion from a source written in Hebrew or Aramaic has been mooted since the time of Lessing in 1778 but largely fell out of favour in the twentieth and twenty-first century. While hardly anyone doubts that the Synoptic tradition in part embodies materials that originated in an Aramaic-speaking culture, few are prepared to argue that written Semitic sources stood behind the Synoptics. Eusebius and Jerome knew a text closely related to Matthew, and written in Hebrew characters, but this so-called Gospel of the Nazoreans is usually regarded as a retro-translation of Greek Matthew into Aramaic or Syriac. Epiphanius quotes from a gospel that he assumes was a mutilated version of Matthew in use among the Ebionites, [End Page 109] but careful examination shows it to be a conflation of Matthew and Luke in Greek. Distinct from these is yet another “Gospel of the Hebrews” known by Origen, Clement, and Jerome, and whose sayings diverge much more strongly from their Synoptic counterparts. In the volume under review, Edwards attempts to revive the notion of a single Hebrew gospel, not as the source for the entire Synoptic tradition, but only for Luke’s special material and some of what is normally ascribed to Q.
Edwards’s thesis develops in several stages: first, he surveys the Patristic allusions to and quotations of a “gospel according to the Hebrews” and concludes that these diverse citations all come from a single Jewish Christian (Hebrew) gospel. Next, he urges that this gospel has strong affinities with Luke. Then he argues that Luke’s special material displays a high incidence of Semitic formulations, betraying Hebrew rather than Septuagintal influence. These arguments then form the basis for a conclusion that the Hebrew Gospel must be the literary source of Luke’s special material.
None of these arguments is very successful, mainly because they lack both precision and close attention to the features of the texts he tries to analyze. For example, in his analysis of the Ebionite gospel’s citation concerning John the Baptist (in Panarion 30.13.4–6), Edwards’s enthusiasm to detect a strong Lukan component in the fragment causes him to fail to note that Epiphanius’s baptizōn is Markan, that the mention of the Pharisees comes from Matthew 3:9, and that the phrase “all came out to him” comes from Mark and Matthew rather than Luke. And though he concedes that the mention of John’s odd clothing is in Matthew and Mark, not in Luke, he tries to discount the import of this observation by declaring that this detail probably belonged to the “public domain” (69; similarly, 75). Thus details that the “Hebrew Gospel” shares with Luke point to a special relationship with Luke; details shared with Matthew are dismissed as indicators of literary affinity with Matthew. This is a “heads I win, tails you lose” argument.
Throughout, the slimmest similarity to Luke is evidence of contact with Luke, while similarities with Matthew are discounted, mitigated, or ignored. For example, the analysis of the baptismal scene in Panarion 30.13.7–8 acknowledges Lukan elements, but it misses “he saw,” which comes from Matthew or Mark, “the spirit entered into him” which is Markan, the plural of heavens and the phrase about the opening of the heavens, which are closer to Matthew than to Luke, and John’s demurral, which is entirely Matthaean. In his attempt to derive all of the citations of the “Gospel of the Hebrews” from a single gospel, Edwards also ignores the fact that Panarion 30.13.4–6 (normally ascribed to the Gospel of the Ebionites) has a baptismal scene different from that reported in Jerome’s Contra Pelagianos 3.2 (usually ascribed to the Gospel of the Hebrews or the Gospel of the Nazoreans). More careful attention to details might have helped Edwards...