What can the distribution of genitive absolute constructions in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us about the origins of the Synoptic Gospels?
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.
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.
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).”
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.
A “Hebraism” is a typical feature of the Hebrew language found in another language. The majority of today’s New Testament authorities assume that Aramaic is behind the Semitisms of the New Testament, and that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language. So much so, in fact, that the student who checks standard reference works is informed that the Greek words for “Hebrew” and for “in the Hebrew language” (not only in the New Testament, but in Josephus and other texts) refer to the Aramaic language.
It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.
Jesus made bold messianic claims when he spoke. To thoroughly understand these claims, however, we must get into a time machine and travel back in time to a completely different culture, the Jewish culture of first-century Israel. We must acculturate ourselves to the way teachers and disciples in the time of Jesus communicated through allusions to Scripture.
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.
Until recently, I, a New Testament scholar, was often embarrassed by my level of Greek fluency, even after 35 years of studying this ancient biblical language using the traditional grammatical approach. A lack of true fluency in Greek, active knowledge of the language as opposed to passive, is a scourge. Finding myself in this situation, my disappointment was real, but it was kept hidden from my students.