An old rumor about the Shem-Tob Hebrew text of Matthew seems to be
circulating again, and it seems I am destined to set things straight.
The rumor is that a Hebrew version of Matthew has been found at Qumran.
The full-blown version of the rumor claims that the Shem-Tob Hebrew version
of Matthew originally came from Evan Bohan at Qumran.
The source of the rumor is an article that appeared in Vendyl Jones'
Institute of Judaic-Christian RESEARCHER newsletter Dec. 1991:
FROM PAGE 10:
Now comes the question of an ancient manuscript of the
book of Matthew called the Even Bohan Text. It is also
called the Shem-Tov text. George Howard, Professor of
Religion at the University of Georgia, published a book
on this text by Mercer University press in 1987. There
are several copies of this text around, but gaining access
to the original text of Evan Bohan without revision is
impossible. Paleographic specialists have dated the
original in the last quarter of the first century C.E.
The letter styles are the same as the Qumran so-called
secular scrolls. Modern scholarship, however, attempting
to attribute the scroll to Ben-Tov himself who was
active between 1350 and 1400 C.E....
...Why would Ben-Tov use a paleographic style of
the Qumran period to write a text in the middle ages?
Why is that original not available? Why do all the editors
say that there are numerous mistakes that they had
to correct? Why do the editors not just publish the
text and let the public see the original? Why must
they "doctor it up" and add entire sections? For example,
the Evan Bohan text does not contain the first two
chapters of Matthew. Does this not perhaps relate
to Jerome's statement concerning the Ebionites who
follow only Matthew's gospel and reject Paul's writings
altogether? Is that original Even Bohan text perhaps
the Ebionite document of Matthew which Jerome said
was without the first two chapters?...
...why is the Ben-Tov gospel of Matthew called the
Even Bohan text? Is it not logical to assume that it
was found at Even Bohan?...
FROM PAGE 15
...Now, let's look back to the Even Bohan text of Matthew.
To summarize, the first observation is that the Ben-Tov/Even
Bohan text did not contain the first two chapters of Matthew.
Like Mark, it opens with the ministry of John the Baptist,
or Yochanan Ben-Zachai. That means that the classic
marginal notation, "Omitted by more ancient authorities."
really means, "This passage was added later by the monks."
That is to say that the monks monkeyed with the text.
All the revised forms of the Even Bohan/Ben-Tov texts
are admittedly filled in by the editors because so much
was missing that is in "our" Matthew....
OK now let me set the story straight. To begin with I have nothing against
Vendyl Jones personally. In fact I have known Vendyl for over ten years.
However in this case I have to disagree with some things Vendyl has said.
1. No published paleographic analysis of any Shem-Tob manuscript has
concluded that the text is written in any Qumran type script. I have
examined a photograph of at least one manuscript page of a Shem Tob
manuscript and it is written in the same script as the DuTillet Hebrew
manuscript of Matthew (which I have a complete facsimile of), a script
common to the middleages. Vendyl asks why Shem-Tob would use a Qumran
script. No one knows what scrpt Shem-Tob himself used because his original
manuscript is lost to history, only copies of it remain to us.
2. Shem-Tob's Matthew manuscript was not called "Evan Bohan." Shem-Tob
wrote a polemic treaty against Christianity (or perhaps the Nazarenes) in
one part of this book he transcribed the entire text of Hebrew Matthew, in
sections, each section followed by a polemic against it. The term "Evan
Bohan" was the title of the entire Polemic book and not just of the text of
Matthew which Shem-Tobe transcribed in sections in just one part of that book.
3. I am unaware of any extant Shem Tob text which lacks the first two
chapters of Matthew. George Howard did not add them. If a later editor
altered Shem Tob's original work in this way, then he also mangaed to alter
it so early on that not one manuscript exists which was coppied from a text
which lacked the first two chapters of Matthew. I can only conclude that
Vendyl believes that the text Shem Tob held was the original of Matthew and
that Vendyl also believes that Matthew originally lacked the first two
chapters, so Vendyl has perhaps assumed that the Hebrew copy Shem Tob had
must have lacked them as well. However there is no evidence that the
Hebrew Shem Tob text at any stage lacked the first two chapters of Matthew.
3. Jerome did not say that the original Hebrew Matthew used by the
Ebionites lacked the first two chapters. Jerome did mention having a
Hebrew Matthew which he often identified with the Goodnews according to the
Hebrews, but he claimed to have obtained it from the Nazarenes, not the
Ebionites, and he in fact quoted from its first two chapters. Vendyl must
be thinking of Epiphanius who quotes from an Ebionite text of the Gospel
according to the Hebrews also identified with the original of Matthew.
Epiphanius does quote this text as beginning with the ministry of Yochanan
(John the Baptist) however he also says that this Ebionite text "is not
altogether complete, but adultrated and mutilated" However of the Nazarene
Hebrew version of Mathew he says that they have it "quite complete in the
4. There are no editors that admit altering or adding to the Shem-Tob text
(although Munster admits doing this with the Munster Hebrew Matthew text in
places where his copy was damaged, but that was not a Shem-Tob text).
George Howard did not add anything. The only editors before this were
scribes in the middle ages, and if they added two chapters there is no
record of it.
5. Vendyl asks "Why is the original not available?" - The original of
what? The Original of Shem-Tob's book Evan Bohan was lost centuries ago.
There was no effort by Shem-Tob to preserve his Hebrew manuscript of
Matthew except by copying it into his book. The original is unavailable
because it has been lost for centuries.
While I think Vendyl is mistaken about some of these things let me add:
1. I would love for him to be right, at least about a Qumran origin for
Shem Tob's Matthew.
2. I have nothing against Vendyl. In this case I just think he got some
facts wrong and presented some of his theories as if they were established
3. I continue to believe that Shem Tob is an important Hebrew text
representing a descendant from the original Hebrew and would be interested
in any data supporting Vendyl's claims that may be forthcoming.
I have learned that Vendyl Jones has published some of his false claims
about Shem Tob Matthew as recently as October of 1998:
"Rabbi Shem Tov Ben Isaac Ben-Shaprut... wrote a polemic book
against Christianity. Included in this book was a chapter titled
This chapter is a copy of Matthew written in Hebrew. ...
The Shem Tov text did not contain the first two chapters
of Matthew. Even Professor Howard stated that he had
filled in all the parts missing from the text he copied from
the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
From where did the title "Even Bohan" come?...
Even Bohan is due west from the north end of the Dead Sea....
All that area is now referred to as Qumran.
(Vendyl Jones Research Institute RESEARCHER Oct. '98 p. 14-15)
Vendyl also falsely claims that Codex Sinaticus lacks the first two
chapters. He writes
"That Codex Sinaticus Gospel of Matthew begins with Matthew 3:1."
(Vendyl Jones Research Institute RESEARCHER Oct. '98 p. 14)
The truth is:
1. Shem-Tob's entire book is titled "Even Bohan"
not just the one chapter that has Matthew transcribed into it.
2. The book is called "Even Bohan" (the touchstone) while the location
at Qumran is called "Even Bochan" (the stone thumb). They are not even
the same Hebrew word (as James Taber has pointed out)
3. The Shem Tob version of Matthew DOES contain the first two chapters of
George Howard did NOT add them
4. The Greek Siniatic text of Matthew ALSO contains the first two
chapters. In fact I have a facsimile of the first page of it.
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