JP readers frequently ask:
Has an ancient Hebrew gospel, which was the source of our canonical gospels, ever been discovered?
David Bivin responds:
Although the church fathers testify that Matthew wrote the words of Jesus in Hebrew, not a single fragment of an early Hebrew manuscript containing Jesus’ sayings has survived from the first centuries of the Christian era.
The entire text of Matthew’s gospel is contained in Even Bohan, a fourteenth-century Hebrew work, and George Howard has published that text of Matthew. Howard’s work is an important contribution to the study of the Semitic background of the Gospels. However, the title of his publication, The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text (Mercer University Press, 1987), has again fueled rumors that an ancient Hebrew manuscript of the sayings of Jesus has been found.
It appears to me that the text of Matthew found in Even Bohan is the translation of a fluent Hebrew writer of the medieval period, rather than a revision of an early Hebrew composition, as Howard claims.