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[JSNT 47 (1992) 117-126]

A NOTE ON SHEM-TOB'S HEBREW


MATTHEW AND THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
George Howard
Department of Religion, University of Georgia, Peabody Hall
Athens, GA 30602, USA

I
A critical issue in New Testament studies is the relationship between
John and the Synoptic Gospels. Until World War II, John was
generally believed to be literarily dependent on the Synoptics.1 This
position is still held today,2 but no longer with a consensus of opinion.
At present the strongest contender for this view is Frans Neirynck
who believes that John knew and used all three Synoptics.3
1. B.W. Bacon, The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate (New York:
Moffat, Yard & Co., 1910), pp. 366-68. Bacon argued that John quoted Mark and
was influenced by Luke, but basically ignored Matthew. B.H. Streeter, The Four
Gospels (London: Macmillan, 1924), pp. 395-417. Streeter argued for John's
dependence on Mark and Luke, but not Matthew.
2. CK. Barrett, The Gospel according to St John (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 2nd edn, 1978 [1962]), p. 14 and passim. Barrett argues that the Fourth
Evangelist was dependent certainly on Mark, probably on Luke, and possibly on
Matthew.
3. F. Neirynck, with the collaboration of J. Delobel, T. Snoy, G. van Belle,
F. van Segbroeck, Jean et les Synoptiques: Examen critique de l'exgse de
M.-E. Boismard (BETL, 39; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1979).
F. Neirynck, 'John and the Synoptics', in M. de Jonge (ed.), L'vangile de Jean:
Sources, rdaction, thologie (BETL, 44; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1977),
pp. 73-106; F. Neirynck, 'John and the Synoptics: The Empty Tomb Stories', NTS
30 (1984), pp. 161-87. See also J.A. Bailey, The Traditions Common to the
Gospels of Luke and John (Leiden: Brill, 1963). Bailey argues that John used Luke
in some passages; in others he used only related traditions. J. Blinzler, Johannes und

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Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992)

In 1938 Percival Gardner-Smith challenged the view of dependence


and argued that the similarities between John and the Synoptics could
be explained on the basis of oral tradition.4 In the years that followed
the view of John's dependence on the Synoptics eroded until in 1968
A.M. Hunter said that John's independence from the Synoptics could
almost be said to represent critical orthodoxy.5 C.H. Dodd was par
ticularly influential in bringing about the new position by his vigorous
arguments in his 1963 study, Historical Tradition in the Fourth
Gospel.6
Between the two extremes (John is dependent on/independent of the
Synoptics) a mediating position has emerged. This position is that John
may have used some of the same sources the Synoptists used, or may
have used parallel and/or overlapping sources to them. He may have
even known one or more of the Synoptics at the time he wrote, but he
did not use the Synoptics directly.
Schnackenburg writes, 'All this suggests that behind John there is an
older tradition, going back to "synoptic" or "pre-synoptic" times, with
many contacts with the synoptic tradition, but still an independent
one'. 7 Again he writes, direct literary dependence of John on the
Synoptics is improbable. The occasional verbal agreements with Mark
could suggest knowledge of this Gospel, but they may perhaps be
explained by oral tradition.'8
D. Moody Smith also articulated the median position:
The Fourth Gospel would not have had any of the synoptics as its
source(s), but neither did it take shape in complete isolation from them.
Since it was composed with matters other than those which concerned the
synoptics primarily in view, it does not reflect them in any consistent and
die Synoptiker (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1965), p. 59. Blinzler argues that
John knew Mark (and perhaps Luke) and reproduced parts of it 'by memory and in a
more or less transformed shape worked into his representation'.
4. P. Gardner-Smith, Saint John and the Synoptic Gospels (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1938).
5. A.M. Hunter, According to John (London: SCM Press, 1968), p. 14.
6. C.H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1963). For others who have argued for independence,
see E.R. Goodenough, 'John a Primitive Gospel', JBL 64 (1945), pp. 145-82;
E. Haenchen, 'Johanneische Probleme', ZTK 56 (1959), pp. 19-54.
7. R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St John (New York: Seabury,
1980), I, p. 38.
8. Schnackenburg, St John, I, pp. 41-42.

HOWARD Matthew and the Gospel of John

119

coherent way, as Matthew and Luke can be perceived as embodying and


reflecting Mark. But neither can it be said that John wrote to polemize
against or to displace other gospels.9

II
I would like to argue for John's literary dependence on the Synoptics
(primarily on the Gospel of Matthew) and against the second and third
positions stated above, by drawing the reader's attention to the
Hebrew text of Matthew I published in 1987.10 In my judgment there
is reason to believe that the author of the Fourth Gospel used a text
like the Hebrew Matthew and that he then polemized against it. I will
say a few words about the Hebrew Matthew and then present the evidence for my view.
I extracted the Hebrew Matthew from a fourteenth-century Jewish
polemical treatise, entitled Even Bohan, written by the Spanish author,
Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut. In the treatise Shem-Tob quotes the
entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew and occasionally makes disparaging remarks against it. For my edition, I reproduced ShemTob's Gospel text, supplied it with an English translation, and offered
some critical analysis. Since its publication, I have been engaged in
more extensive study of this text and have made periodic updates to
my conclusions.11
9. D. Moody Smith, 'John and the Synoptics: Some Dimensions of the
Problem', NTS 26 (1980), p. 444. See also D. Moody Smith, 'John and the
Synoptics', Bib 63 (1982), pp. 102-13; idem, Johannine Christianity (Columbia:
University of South Carolina Press, 1984), pp. 97-172. Cf. R.E. Brown, The
Gospel according to John (AB, 29; New York: Doubleday, 1966), I, p. xlvii.
Brown argues that by and large the 'evidence does not favor Johannine dependence
on the Synoptics or their sources. John drew on an independent source of tradition
about Jesus, similar to the sources that underlie the Synoptics.' Bent Noack argues
that a cross-fertilization between Johannine and Synoptic traditions took place during
a pre-literary oral tradition period. See B. Noack, Zur johanneischen Tradition:
Beitrge zur Kritik an der literarkritischen Analyse des vierten Evangeliums
(Copenhagen: Rosenkilde, 1954).
10. G. Howard, The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text
(Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987).
11. G. Howard, 'The Textual Nature of Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew', JBL 108
(1989), pp. 239-57; Note on the Short Ending of Matthew', HTR 81 (1988),
pp. 117-20; Primitive Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Tol'doth Yeshu', NTS
34 (1988), pp. 60-70; Note on Codex Sinaiticus and Shem-Tob's Hebrew

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Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992)

Without any hesitation, I can say that Shem-Tob's Matthew is the


most unusual text of the First Gospel extant. It contains a plethora of
readings which are not to be found in any of the Christian codices of
the Greek Gospel. These readings may be explained by the fact that
this text underwent a different process of transmission, since it was
preserved by Jews, independent from the Christian community.
Recently it came to my attention that Shem-Tob's text has numerous
agreements with the Fourth Gospel in places where there is no agree
ment between the Greek Matthew and John. These agreements suggest
that a literary relationship between John and Shem-Tob's Matthew is
much easier to prove than between John and the Greek Matthew. This
is especially true when the polemic in the Fourth Gospel, regarding
John the Baptist, is considered. This polemic appears to be directed
specifically against a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text.
In the remainder of this paper I will attempt to document these
observations. I will proceed by listing 18, mostly unique, agreements
between John and Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew. Then I will present
the evidence that the polemic in the Fourth Gospel regarding John the
Baptist is directed against a description of the Baptist as is found in the
Hebrew Matthew.
John's Agreements with the Hebrew Matthew
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Jn 1.27 (pars. Mt. 3.11; Mk 1.7; Lk. 3.16; Acts 13.25)


'worthy' = Shem-Tob nm Acts.
Jn 1.27 'sandal' (sing.) = Shem-Tob ftitt Acts.
Jn 1.32 (cf. 1.33) (pars. Mt. 3.16; Mk 1.10; Lk. 3.22)
12
'remained' = Shem-Tob nrnttfi.
Jn 2.14 (pars. Mt. 21.12; Mk 11.15; Lk. 19.45)
'found' = Shem-Tob xxm.
Jn 4.46 (pars. Mt. 8.6; Lk. 7.2) 'son' = Shem-Tob a
Jn 6.10 (pars. Mt. 14.21; Mk 6.44; Lk. 9.14)
'the number' = Shem-Tob .

Matthew', NovT 34 (1992), pp. 46-47; 'Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew and the
Pseudo-Clementine Writings' (Forthcoming).
12. The Old Syriac of Matthew reads 'abode'. Mark tt (W) 33 pc lat boP1 Aeth
read . According to Jerome, In Isaia 11.2 (PL, XXIV, p. 145), the Gospel
according to the Hebrews reads: 'it came to rest upon him' (requievit super eum).

HOWARD Matthew and the Gospel of John


7.
8.
9.

10.

11.
12.

13.
14.
15.
16.

17.
18.

121

Jn 6.13 (pars. Mt. 14.20; Mk 6.43; Lk. 9.17)


'filled' (verb) = Shem-Tob unen.
Jn 6.42 (pars. Mt. 13.55-56; Mk 6.3) 'know' =
Shem-Tob tanin*.
Jn 12.25 (pars. Mt. 10.39; 16.25; Mk 8.35; Lk. 9.24; 17.33)
'he who loves his life' =
Shem-Tob (10.39) lete] m aman.
Jn 12.25 'in this world
for eternal life' -> Shem-Tob (16.25) 3"nm nb.. ."nm 'in
this world.. .for the life of the world to come'.
Jn 13.16 (pars. Mt. 10.24; Lk. 6.40) 'greater' =
Shem-Tob bm.
Jn 13.28 (pars. Mt. 26.23; Mk 14.20; Lk. 22.21)
'no one knew this' - Shem-Tob rrnon *b 'they
did not recognize him'.
Jn 18.10 (pars. Mt. 26.51; Mk 14.47; Lk. 22.50)
'cut off = Shem-Tob nron.
Jn 18.11 (par. Mt. 26.52) 'sheath' = Shem-Tob nm.
Jn 18.16, 25 (pars. Mt. 26.69; Mk 14.66; Lk. 22.56)
/ 'stood/standing' = Shem-Tob now.
Jn 18.39 (pars. Mt. 27.15; Mk 15.6; Lk. 23.17)
'we have a custom' Shem-Tob tamo 'it
was their custom'.
Jn 18.39 'Passover' = Shem-Tob nos.
Jn 19.19 (pars. Mt. 27.37; Mk 15.26; Lk. 23.38)
'Nazarene' = Shem-Tob rntw.

The following are three possibilities for the origin of these


readings: (1) Shem-Tob ferreted them out from the Gospel of John in
the fourteenth century and inserted them into his Hebrew Matthew;
(2) the author of the Gospel of John borrowed them from a ShemTob-type Matthaean text and inserted them into his Gospel; (3) both
the Gospel of John and Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew are dependent
on a common source which contained them.
I find point 1 to be very unlikely. There is no apparent reason for a
fourteenth-century Jewish polemist to lift eighteen readings from the
Gospel of John and insert them into his text of Matthew. So far as I
can tell, he would have derived no polemical value from them. They
do not enhance his arguments against Christianity, nor do they present
the First Gospel in a more unfavorable light.

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Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992)

Number 3 is possible. The Gospel of John and Shem-Tob's Hebrew


Matthew could be dependent on a common source. But, since this
source is no longer extant, if it ever existed, it lies beyond the possi
bility of examination.
This brings us to number 2. It is both possible and open to exami
nation. In my judgment, a case can be made that the author of the
Fourth Gospel borrowed the above readings, and perhaps much more,
from a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text when he wrote his Gospel.
This, of course, is contingent upon a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text
being extant in early times.
In a number of studies I have attempted to show that this is the case.
I have found abundant evidence for the existence of this type of text in
the following writings: the Old Syriac Gospels, the Coptic Gospel of
Thomas, the Pseudo-Clementines, the ToVdoth Yeshu, and a number
of mediaeval Jewish polemical writings.13 Although much more needs
to be explored with regard to the date of the Shem-Tob-type
Matthaean text, the evidence supports a contention that a Matthaean
text like Shem-Tob's was available at least by the second century.
Finally, as we will see below, the Fourth Evangelist polemizes
against John the Baptist precisely as he is depicted in Shem-Tob's
Hebrew Matthew. This suggests the possibility that the author of the
Fourth Gospel had access to a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text when he
wrote his Gospel.
John the Baptist: The Fourth Gospel and Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew
It is well known that the Fourth Gospel includes several remarks
regarding John the Baptist. The Baptist is said to be a witness to the
light, but is not himself the light (Jn 1.7-8). The Baptist says of Jesus,
'He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me' (Jn
1.15, 30). Of himself he says, am not the Christ' (Jn 1.20; 3.28).
When asked if he is Elijah or the prophet, he answers, 'No' (Jn 1.2122). Again of Jesus he says, 'Among you stands one whom you do not
know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am
not worthy to untie' (Jn 1.26-27). He says, 'He [Christ] must increase,
but I must decrease' (Jn 3.30). Finally, it is reported that 'John did no
sign' (Jn 10.41), while Jesus did many (Jn 20.30).

13. Cf. the references in nn. 10 and 11 above.

HOWARD Matthew and the Gospel of John

123

Such remarks have led scholars to speculate that the author of the
Fourth Gospel was polemizing against the followers of John the
Baptist, who exalted their master above Jesus. At the end of the last
century Baldensperger argued for this position.14
Bultmann held a similar view. He also argued that the Prologue to
John was originally a hymn of the Baptist community, which the
Evangelist, a former member of this community, had changed to refer
to Jesus.15
Others accept the polemic against John the Baptist in the Fourth
Gospel, but argue that this is not a major concern in John,16 or that
the evidence for a rival Baptist community, against which the author
of John could polemize, is too scanty to be conclusive.
Brown, for instance, lists as the evidence for a Baptist community
the following: (1) Acts 18.25. Apollos is said to have known only the
baptism of John; (2) Acts 19.1-7. reference is made to twelve
Ephesian disciples who had received John's baptism; and (3) the thirdcentury (perhaps based on second-century sources) Pseudo-Clementine
Recognitions 1.54, 60 (PG, I, cols. 1237-38 and 1240) where it is said
that the disciples of John declared their master to be the messiah.
Brown concludes that this evidence is too scanty to argue that a rival
Baptist group in the first century claimed that John was the messiah.17
One might add the evidence of the Synoptic Gospels. They report
that some of the contemporaries of John and Jesus confused their
identities (Mk 6.14; 8.28); others wondered whether John might be
the Christ (Lk. 3.15). Also considerable attention has been given to
the first chapter of Luke, some scholars arguing that John receives an
exalted position in his birth account, and that this account is based on
ancient Baptist sources.18
Nevertheless, it is difficult to identify clear-cut evidence for a
Baptist community in the first century, which elevated John the
14. W. Baldensperger, Der Prolog des vierten Evangeliums, sein polemischapologetischer Zweck (Tbingen: Mohr, 1898).
15. R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1971), pp. 17-18.
16. Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St John, pp. 167-69.
17. Brown, The Gospel according to John, p. lxviii.
18. D. Vlter, 'Die Apokalypse des Zacharias im Evangeliums des Lucas',
Theologisch&Tijdschrift 30 (1896), pp. 244-69; M. Goguel, Au seuil de l'vangile:
Jean Baptiste (Paris: Payot, 1927), p. 74.

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Journal for the Study of the New Testament Al (1992)

Baptist to messianic status, and with whom the Gospel of John was in
conflict.
John A.T. Robinson says,
The sole direct evidence that there was such a group at any time is in fact
confined to two passages in the Clementine Recognitions (1.54 and 60),
which are notoriously unreliable as history and cannot at best take us back
beyond the second and third centuries AD.19
Earlier Robinson wrote,
That there were elements of John's following which did notfindtheir way
into the Church is indeed very probable; that these elements constituted a
rival group to Christianity in the first century, with a competing
Christology, is, I believe, without any foundation whatever.20
When I first examined Shem-Tob's text of Matthew, I was immediately struck by its treatment of John the Baptist. It, in fact, depicts the
Baptist in messianic terms. If the polemic in the Fourth Gospel was
directed against the followers of John the Baptist, one could hardly
think of a more appropriate document to represent this community
than Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew. In order to demonstrate this point,
I direct the reader to the following passages.
Matthew 11.11. 'Truly I say to you, among all those born of women
none has risen greater than John the Baptizer.' The familiar phrase
that follows in the Greek text, 'yet he who is least in the kingdom of
heaven is greater than he', is absent in the Hebrew. Shem-Tob's text
leaves John's premier greatness unmodified.
There is further evidence that this type of text circulated in the
ancient world. In the Lukan parallel (Lk. 7.28) MSS 5, 475* and
1080* omit all qualification to the Baptist's greatness, in agreement
with Shem-Tob's reading.
This reading can also be inferred from the Pseudo-Clementine
writings. In Recognitions 1.60.1-3, it is reported that one of the disciples of John argued from the words of Jesus that John, not Jesus, is
the Christ. The Clementine text reads as follows:

19. J.A.T. Robinson, The Priority of John (London: SCM Press, 1985),
p. 172.
20. J.A.T. Robinson, 'Elijah, John and Jesus: An Essay in Detection', NTS 3-4
(1956-58), p. 279 n. 2.

HOWARD Matthew and the Gospel of John

125

Jesus himself declared that John was greater than all men and all prophets.
'If, then', said he, 'he be greater than all, he must be held to be greater
than Moses, and than Jesus himself. But if he be the greatest of all, then
must he be the Christ.'21
Clearly this argument has validity only if based on a Shem-Tob-type
text.
Matthew 11.13. Tor all the prophets and the law spoke concerning
(?v) John.' This is to be contrasted to the Greek which reads: Tor all
the prophets and the law prophesied until () John'. 2 2
Matthew 17.11. 'He answered them and said: Indeed Elijah will come
and will save (iPBfm) all the world.' This is to be contrasted to the
Greek which reads: 'He replied, "Elijah does come, and he is to
restore () all things'".
Matthew 21.32. 'Because John came to you in the way of righteous
ness and you did not believe him. But violent men and harlots believed
him and you saw it and did not turn in repentance. Also afterward you
did not repent to believe him.' The Greek reads in basic agreement
with this text, but, in the canonical Matthew, the words are spoken to
the chief priests and the elders of the people (v. 23). In the Hebrew
they are spoken to Jesus' own disciples (v. 28) and the following
comment, absent in the Greek, appears: 'He who has ears to hear let
him hear in disgrace'.
In summary, this series of readings asserts that none is greater than
John, the prophets and the law spoke concerning John, John (Elijah) is
to save all the world, and Jesus' own disciples are disgraced for not
having believed John.
This is clearly a description of John the Baptist which traditional
Christianity, including the Fourth Gospel, reserved for Jesus. One can
assume, I think, that if the author of the Fourth Gospel had had access
21. et ecce unus ex discipulis Iohannis adfirmabat, Christum Iohannem fuisse, et
non Iesum; in tantum, inquit, ut et ipse Iesus omnibus hominibus et prophetis
maiorem esse pronuntiaverit Iohannem. si ergo, inquit, maior est omnibus, sine
dubio et Moyseo et ipso Iesu maior habendus est. quod si omnium maior est, ipse est
Christus.
22. The Greek reflects the Hebrew , a strikingly similar form to Shem-Tob' s bv.

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Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992)

to a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text, he would have regarded it as


heresy. And if he had polemized against this text, he would probably
have done so precisely as his polemic against the Baptist now reads.
Conclusions
It seems to me that the above discussion has something to say regarding the relationship of the Fourth Gospel to the Synoptics. As a bare
minimum, the following should be stated:
1.

2.

The Gospel of John is dependent on the Gospel of Matthew.


This dependence, however, can be established with more
certainty on a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text than on the
canonical Greek.
A Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text provides a basis for
explaining the polemic against John the Baptist in the Fourth
Gospel. It also shows that the relationship between the Fourth
Evangelist and Matthew was, to some extent, one of hostility.

ABSTRACT
There is reason to argue that the Gospel of John is dependent upon a Shem-Tob-type
text of Matthew. There are eighteen readings in the Hebrew Matthew in agreement
with the Fourth Gospel where there is no agreement between the Greek Matthew and
John. The origin of these agreements may be due to the author of the Fourth Gospel
borrowing from a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text. The Hebrew Matthew elevates
John the Baptist virtually to messianic status. The polemic in the Fourth Gospel
against John the Baptist may be directed toward a Shem-Tob-type Matthaean text.

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