We know from several early Christian theologists that the Gospel of Matthew existed in a Hebrew or Aramaic version before parts of NT that were written in Greek were translated into Syriac in the Peshitta edition.

Jerome c. 400, thus very close to date assumed when the Peshitta edition was made, had an example of a «Hebrew» version of the Gospel of Matthew from where he cited some variant readings.

It would not really make sense to translate the Gospel of Matthew into Syriac only from the Greek source if a Hebrew or Western-Aramaic Version already existed. However, it cannot be excluded that the translator did this from the point of view to deliver a translation of the Greek NT.

My question now is:

Are there any passages in present or historical Peshitta editions that cannot be a re-translation of a Greek source?

Are there any manuscripts or fragments left from such Gospel edition (not necessarily as part of the Peshitta edition)?

  • 1
    The practical fact of the matter is that no manuscript has survived that can be identified as Matthew's Hebrew expression of his book. Only Greek manuscripts have ever been found. And there is no evidence that any of the versions (translations eg Syriac, Old Latin etc) are from Hebrew, not Greek. And there are no Patristic Citations of Matthew which can be reliably said to originate in Hebrew. Likewise the Lectionaries. There is simply no available manuscript to work with. It remains an hypothesis, based on the hearsay of Jerome, if indeed that attribution can reliably be proved.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 18:32
  • Unfortunately, there is no evidence, unless you supply it, that Matthew was written in anything other than Koine Greek initially. This undermines the premise of the question.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 20:55
  • @Dottard see accepted answer in hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1366/…, citations of such gospels by Jerome and Eusebius show that there were early versions of Matthew in Hebrew or Western Aramaic.
    – SDG
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


Direct evidence

The closest thing to what you're looking for would be Shem Tob Matthew. It's a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew that was written into a 14th century Jewish polemic against Christianity.

George Howard, who published an extensive review of Shem Tob Matthew (see link above), contended that the Hebrew text was not a translation but was a corrupted descendant of an original Hebrew composition. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence he marshalled was the existence of numerous word-plays in the Hebrew text that are not present in Greek.

Since the author of the 14th century polemic was trying to discredit Christianity, it is implausible that he introduced literary flair into the text of Matthew--that would make the text look better; he wanted to make it look worse. If Judaism had in fact preserved a corrupted version of Hebrew Matthew for ~1300 years, it is unlikely other Jewish scribes would have added literary flourish to the text either.

I'm unaware of any comparable evidence in the Aramaic language.

Indirect evidence

When Robert Lindsay embarked on a project to translate the Gospels into Hebrew he found that they translated far better into Hebrew than he expected (given the assumption they were originally composed in Greek). This led him to conclude that there was a written Hebrew source behind the Greek gospels--that they were just too Hebrew in structure and syntax to be ideas originally assembled in Greek.

A summary of his theory is found here, and the site www.jerusalemperspective.com has a lot of material by him and his proteges.

In my own work on the Synoptic Problem I use Robert Lindsay's observations to argue for a Hebrew original of the Gospel of Matthew. Although I don't use Shem Tob Matthew to build my argument, I do reference it in responding to objections.

  • Thanks for the hint on Shem Tob Matthew. Heard your Youtube; I think it is a possible but not really the most likely theory.
    – SDG
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 12:58

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