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.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what ‘good’ can I do to obtain eternal life?”
Yeshua replied: “Why do you refer to a deed as ‘good’? Call only one thing ‘good’—the Torah. You know how to obtain eternal life: keep the commandments—‘Do not commit adultery; Do not murder; Do not steal; Do not give false testimony.’”
“All these I have kept since I was a child,” the man interrupted.
At that, Yeshua said: “There is something more you should do: Give away all your wealth to charity—you will have heavenly wealth—and become my disciple.”
The growing value placed on charity in the first century C.E. cannot be overstated. As a new sensitivity developed within Judaism that challenged the compensatory “blessings and curses” paradigm of the Hebrew Bible (cf. Deut. 28) as a basis to serve God, so there was a shifting emphasis towards altruistic love embodied in the Levitical commandment, “…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יי; Lev. 19:18).”
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.
Shortly after Robert L. Lindsey’s eureka moment (“Luke is first!”) on February 14, 1962, and at Professor David Flusser’s urging, Lindsey submitted the following article to the editors of Novum Testamentum. The article was published in the journal’s November 1963 issue as “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 6, Fasc. 4 (November 1963): 239-263. Lauren S. Asperschlager, David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton have updated and emended the article to bring it in line with the modifications Lindsey made to his hypothesis over the following 30 years. Pieter Lechner has created the tables and graphics.
In 1959 I found myself attempting to study the Greek text of the Gospel of Mark with a view to translating it to modern Hebrew. The rather strange Greek of Mark, the Hebraic word-order, and the impossibility of rendering to Hebrew some of the special Markan Grecisms (like καὶ εὐθύς and πάλιν, which have no ancient Hebrew equivalents) left me wondering what kind of literary creation we have in this fascinating book.
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.