The oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament were written in Greek, but by comparing Matt. 1:21 in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek with the knowledge of the naming formula so common in the Hebrew Bible, we see that this verse only makes sense in Hebrew. Since the naming formula depends on a wordplay that does not work in Greek or Aramaic, Matt. 1:21, or the oral tradition behind it, had to be in Hebrew.
In this article, Dr. Robert Lindsey discusses the importance of the so-called “minor agreements” of Luke and Matthew against Mark for properly understanding the interrelationship of the Synoptic Gospels. David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton collaborated with Lauren Asperschlager to bring this article, which previously existed only as an unfinished draft, to Jerusalem Perspective subscribers.
Dr. R. Steven Notley is a contributor to Jerusalem Perspective and member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. He is Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Nyack College in New York. In this lecture Dr. Notley discusses examples of how the Hebrew language influenced the Greek text of the canonical Gospels.
Despite the popularity of the modern suggestion that the Synoptic Gospels are the end result of several decades of oral transmission, the internal evidence indicates that this is not the case. Dozens of pericopae in Matthew and Luke translate to Hebrew so easily and so idiomatically that we must conclude that the Synoptic Gospels are the result of literary transmission.
In translating the Greek texts of the Gospels into Hebrew, Dr. Lindsey found that many passages could be rendered literally with almost no change of word order. The result was a Hebrew version that often sheds fascinating light on the meaning of Jesus’ words, so much so that Lindsey came to believe the Greek sources Matthew, Mark and Luke used were rendered very literally from Hebrew originals. This Hebraic perspective sometimes explains Gospel passages that have long been considered difficult or ambiguous. In the following article, Lindsey presents one example of what has been considered a uniquely idiosyncratic expression of Jesus, but which a Hebraic perspective reveals to be a familiar phrase from the Scriptures.
Parallelism is a central feature of Hebrew poetry. It permeates the words of biblical poet and prophet. The frequency with which parallelism occurs in the utterances of Jesus is surprising, and leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Greek source (or, sources) used by the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke derive(s) from a Greek translation (or, translations) of Hebrew documents.
Rather than looking at isolated words or expressions that appear to be Hebraisms, or, examining a category, or type, of Hebraism, let’s take a complete story from the life of Jesus: Luke 9:51-56, a story found only in the Gospel of Luke. This approach will allow us to gain an impression of the density of Hebraisms that often exists in gospel passages. I followed this approach in writing ” Cataloging the Gospels’ Hebraisms: Part One,” pointing out the density of Hebraisms in Matthew 13:16-17.
Why would anyone in his or her right mind want to speak a “dead” language, a language that no one speaks? The answer: Because only by speaking a language does one internalize it, and it was high time, Randall and I felt, having tasted fluency in Hebrew, that we should gain an active knowledge of Koine Greek.
Day by day, modern Hebrew is enriched by the vocabulary of many languages, but particularly by English, the world’s “international language.” Hebrew picks up hundreds of English words each year. Such borrowings from English, written in Hebrew letters, feel Hebrew to most Israelis. Usually, Hebrew speakers are not aware that such loan words did not originate in Hebrew.
One of the recently published Dead Sea Scroll documents is known as the “Register of Rebukes.” Only parts of eleven lines of a column of this document have survived. However, even these few words and parts of words are enough to see that the document, or a portion of it, was a list of the sect’s members who were rebuked because they had violated community laws.
Based on archaeological excavations near the southern wall of the temple, the research of Shmuel Safrai, and a nuance of the Hebrew verb that is one of the equivalents for Greek ekballein (drive out, banish; throw out; throw away, reject; cast out of a place, expel; remove, get rid of; put out), it may be necessary to reinterpret the gospel accounts of Jesus’ “cleansing” of the temple, even suggesting a different location for Jesus’ action.
The most frequent request we receive from readers is: “Have you published a list of Hebraism you assume are embedded in the Greek texts of the gospels?” Hebrew idioms leap out from every page of Jesus’ life story, and I began cataloging them years ago. I discussed a number of them in the Appendix to Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, for example: “bring out your name bad” (pp. 115-117), “the appearance of his face was altered” (pp. 117-119), “lay these things in your ears” (pp. 119-123), and “he set his face to go” (pp. 123-126).