Dave’s Mailbag: Cite your sources!

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Hello all,

I greatly appreciate it when our readers take the time to poke holes in things we say here. As a skeptic, I want to make it abundantly clear that I love being proven wrong about things; it is only when I find out I was wrong that I have the opportunity to really grow in my knowledge and understanding of the world. So, with that in mind, I want to specifically thank my friend Christian Huls for his response to my post yesterday.

In kind, I want to take some time to respond to his comments point-by-point. Here we go:

Dave, you continually make bold claims and statements as if they are authoritative undisputed fact, site nothing, and stand against ancient testimony that was much closer to the events than you. Your history is more fraudulent than that of Dan Brown’s…

When I’m blogging, I admit that I make less of an effort to cite all my sources for every detail – especially if it interrupts the flow of the post, or if I’m making a humorous point – the way I would in an academic paper. Depending on the subject matter, I often hotlink to sources, and I appreciate you calling me out on this. I will attempt to be more thorough in future posts, and for future reference, if you would ever like to know my source for something I said on here (assuming it’s not original research), please feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll dig it up for you!

You write:

Matthew was not anonymous, nor was it written by someone ignorant of Hebrew. What is your evidence of this? There is good evidence that Matthew’s gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic and later translated into Greek.

I would like to see this good evidence. To my knowledge, the only evidence that favors the idea that Matthew’s gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and later translated to Greek (as opposed to being composed in Greek), is that Papias, as quoted by Eusebius, made an extremely ambiguous reference to this, which modern scholars by and large reject as either a misunderstanding, or an outright error on his part.

According to the beautiful, highly-regarded 4-volume International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (chief ed. Geoffrey Bromiley, a church historian and historical theologian who sadly died two years ago this past August, a Professor of Church History at Fuller Theological Seminary, ordained in the Church of England, with an MA from Cambridge and a PhD, DD, and post-doctoral D.Litt from the University of Edinburgh), to which I am very grateful to have free access anytime I want here at Mizzou’s Ellis Library (considering it’s about $240 on Amazon), the book we now call “The Gospel according to Matthew” was indeed anonymously written, and the modern scholarly view is that it lacks the characteristic linguistic features one would expect to find in a Greek rendering of a work originally composed in Hebrew. I’m quoting: “The gospel itself says nothing about its sources” and “[Matthew's Greek] reveals none of the telltale marks of a translation” (Vol iii p. 281). On page 280: “Early in the 2nd century, Papias referred to Matthew as the collector of “oracles” [sayings] of Jesus; shortly thereafter the Gospel as a whole was attributed to Matthew. Later traditions about Matthew are mixed and unreliable.”

You wrote:

Papias (60-130), as quoted by Eusebius, makes the following obscure statement about the origin of the gospel testifying to both the author and the language (H.E. 3. 39. 16): “Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew language and everyone interpreted as he was able.”

Irenaeus (130-200) (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1; also quoted by Eusebius, H.E. 5.8.2): “Now Matthew brought forth among the Hebrews a written gospel in their language, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and founding the church.”

Origen (185-254) (as quoted by Eusebius, H.E. 6. 25.3-4) asserts, “Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a tax collector, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew [or Aramaic] language.”

Eusebius wrote of Pantaenos (died c. 190), associated with the church in Alexandria (H.E. 5.10.1-4): “One of these was Pantaenos, and it is said that he went to the Indians, and the tradition is that he found there among some of those there who had known Christ the Gospel of Matthew had preceded his coming; for Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them and had left the writing of Matthew in Hebrew letters, which was preserved until the time mentioned” (see H.E. 3.24.5-6). According to Jerome, Pantaenos brought back a copy of this Hebrew version of Matthew to Alexandria (De vir. ill. 36).

Eusebius (H.E. 3.24.6): “For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.”

Jerome (342-420) stated several times that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, and even said that the original Hebrew Gospel was in the library at Caesarea in his day (De vir. ill. 3; see Ad Damas. 20; Ad Hedib. 4).

Epiphanius (315-403) wrote concerning the Nazarenes, “They have the Gospel according to Matthew quite complete in Hebrew, for this Gospel is certainly still preserved among them as it was first written, in Hebrew letters” (Panarion 29.9.4).

My response:

Quoting again from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol iii, p. 282:

The arguments for the priority of Mark and Matthew’s dependence upon Mark are too strong to be overthrown by the testimony of Papias, which as we have seen is difficult to interpret.

Quoting further still:

Almost all scholars agree that our Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek and is not a translated document”… “Our Greek Gospel of Matthew is not the translation of  a Hebrew or Aramaic original.” “Matthew’s OT quotations are derived from the LXX [Septuagint] rather than the Hebrew text… the Aramaic Gospel supposedly referred to by Papias can at best be a Proto-Matthew… the majority of NT scholars remain convinced that Markan priority is a superior hypothesis. In the face of these problems it must be concluded that either Papias was wrong in what he said or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, that he has been misunderstood, perhaps by the early church fathers (e.g. Irenaeus, Pantauenus, Origen…)

You wrote:

Perhaps there is some evidence that the Greek translator was not fluent in certain Hebrew/Aramaic idioms. For example, the infamous camel through the eye of a needle phrase – in Aramaic, the word for camel and rope are the same. An interesting article on this http://healing2thenations.net/papers/hebrewmt.htm

Consider also the Aramaic words found in Matthew: Emmanuel, raka, and mammon.

My response:

As I stated above, the scholarly view is that Matthew was composed in Greek. This is the majority view, among both believing-Christian and secular scholars, for reasons available in much greater detail here. As stated, it’s possible that some of the sayings of Jesus came to the author of “Matthew” via Aramaic, which seems to be what Papias was talking about when he says that the author collected tá lógia - it really does all depend on the interpretation of that word. But even then, this goes against Markan priority + Q, for which there is much more solid evidential footing, and which is accepted by the majority of modern NT scholars (see Christopher Tuckett’s “The Current State of the Synoptic Problem,”delivered at the 2008 Oxford Conference in the Synoptic Problem).

I think the best we can say is that it’s inconclusive. Quoting the above encyclopedia yet again (p 281), “Although the evidence allows only speculation, it may well be that what Papias referred to was a collection of sayings of Jesus in Aramaic that ultimately, in Greek, became the core of Matthew’s gospel, and that the whole then took the name of the part – ‘the oracles of the Lord.’ Papias was misunderstood not only because of the ambiguity of the word lógia but also because several Jewish Christian Gospels existed in the 2nd cent. (e.g. the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Ebionites, and of the Hebrews), and it was easy enough to suppose that one or all of them originated in the lógia referred to by Papias. Even the great Jerome first identified one of these Gospels, which he examined in Syria, with the work of Matthew, only later to withdraw this conclusion.”

You wrote:

There is also external evidence for the authorship and early existence of the Gospel of Matthew as well.

Clement of Rome (c. 90) used sections of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 7:1-2, 12; with Luke 6:31, 36-38) (1Clem. 13:1-2).

Ignatius used the Gospel of Matthew (c. 100) quoting the phrase “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) in discussing Jesus’ baptism (Smyr. 1).

The author of the Didache (c. 110) quoted from Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer (Did. 8:1-3).

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), whose works I just finished reading in their entirety a few weeks back, frequently quotes from a harmony that he apparently put together of the synoptic gospels. He says that there are only FOUR gospels.

His pupil Tatian (120-180) produced a harmony of the four gospels called the Diatessaron which was the standard text in the Syriac churches until the fifth century. The harmony does not include Jesus’ encounter with the adulteress (John 7:53- 8:11), and no significant text was added. In all, only 56 verses in the canonical Gospels do not have a counterpart in the Diatessaron, mostly the genealogies and the Pericope Adulterae.

Not centuries later. A century later it was in circulation enough that someone had put together a harmony of three of them. They were well known enough even by the critics. And it was common knowledge that there were four, and that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in that order.

Did I say that Matthew was composed centuries ex post facto? I believe I said (or at least, I meant to say) decades, not centuries. If so, that was an error on my part. The consensus scholarly view for the date range of “Matthew’s” gospel is about 15 years after Mark, i.e. circa 85 CE. Aune’s “Blackwell’s Companion to the New Testament,” page 298, specifies the terminus a quo of Matthew’s gospel as “sometime after 70 CE.” He goes on to say:

The range of possibility is 70 to 110 CE. Most scholars prefer a date for Matthew midway between, about 80-90 CE, allowing some years after Mark. This time period is strongly supported by an internal analysis of Matthew and other known historical events.

You wrote:

The earliest fragments of Matthew are dated to the middle or latter half of the first century.

Source? The earliest fragment of Matthew of which I am aware is \mathfrak{P}104, over at the Sackler Library at Oxford (aka P.Oxy.LXIV 4404), which dates to the late 2nd century. Here’s a lay source chart indicating that it’s the earliest known fragment. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri database also lists it as “late second century.”

You wrote:

Just because a modern skeptical “scholar,” who doesn’t believe in God and presupposes that miracles are impossible, postulates that these were written in different order, assembled, etc. does prove it to be so.

Couldn’t agree with you more ;)

You wrote:

These were not merely voted upon out of hundreds of gospels centuries later, but the councils merely affirmed what was already accepted by the churches, as evident by the lists of scriptures by earlier writers.

I don’t see how a council affirming what was “accepted” by tradition lends any credibility to the tradition per se. Lists of scriptures by earlier writers only means that those scriptures, in some form or another, were in existence at that time. We have no way of knowing what they contained or how much they were altered or edited in between. If a Muslim council were to get together today and “affirm” that Muhammad was a true prophet of God, on the basis of earlier writers of the Qur’an and the Hadith, would that be convincing to you? As good scholars (and good scholars and by nature skeptical!), we’d also want to see solid independent, unbiased, external evidence, preferably evidence that comes from undisputed eyewitnesses, etc.

You wrote:

Regarding riding on the colt and the foal of the donkey, this is easily reconciled if the two animals are tied together and if Messiah is riding side saddle on the adult with His feet on the foal. Though this is not even necessarily so either. It could have simply been that the foal remained tied to the other and no one was riding on it.

It’s possible, sure. It’s not parsimonious, and it doesn’t explain why “Luke,” “John,” and “Mark” all specify one animal, as does the alleged prophecy in Zechariah.

You wrote:

Furthermore, early hostile eyewitnesses could have easily disputed this and none did.

You’re right; in fact it’s even worse than that: Early hostile eyewitnesses didn’t mention any of these events at all – almost as if these events never happened and were made up by the gospel writers decades later!

I also want to point out one more thing. You (rightly) called me out for making bold assertions without citing my sources. I hope that I have corrected this to your satisfaction. However, I noticed something in reading over what you wrote…

- “Matthew was not anonymous, nor was it written by someone ignorant of Hebrew…”
- “There is good evidence that Matthew’s gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic and later translated into Greek…”
-  “Papias (60-130), as quoted by Eusebius, makes the following obscure statement about the origin of the gospel…”

The first two things, I would like to ask you, in turn, to provide citations for. But it was this last bit that caught my eye in particular, when you said “makes the following obscure statement…”

I realized I’d read that exact line before. After a quick Google search, I realized you had simply copied & pasted pretty much the entirety of your post from a webinar workbook provided to students of Barry Smith’s Religious Studies 2033 class, “The New Testament and its Context,” at Crandall University in New Brunswick, Canada, a tiny, private Baptist school operated by the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches and founded in 1949 as the “United Baptist Bible Training School,” before they changed the name to something that sounded a little less backwater.

By bizarre coincidence, I happen to be familiar with Smith’s research; he went to McMaster Divinity School and also got his PhD from McMaster University in Ontario, where an old friend & colleague of mine happens to teach anthropology (my friend got her undergraduate degree in anthropology here at Mizzou, where I also study anthropology).

If we’re talking about citing sources, I’m not so sure Dr. Smith would be so happy to hear about this, haha. I also want to point out, as I spelled out above, that this interpretation directly opposes the majority view of NT scholars. Not that Dr. Smith isn’t entitled to his professional opinion, but I don’t think it makes sense, if we’re truly trying to unravel this mystery, to draw from 1 uncredited source that contradicts the majority view, without providing overwhelming evidence in favor of this view (re: the assertion that Matthew was not anonymous, the “good evidence” that it was translated into Greek, etc). Am I to understand that the “good evidence” you refer to is simply Papias’ third-hand say-so (4th-century Eusebius, quoting 2nd-century Papias, writing about the as-yet-untitled 1st-century gospel of “Matthew”)?

Thanks again for your feedback, Christian!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

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Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

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