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The Old Syriac as Key to Most Original Hebrew Matthew: DuTillet vs. Shem Tob

The Hebrew versions of Matthew that have come down to us may be categorized into two basic text versions.  The readings we find in the DuTillet and Munster aexhibit a great deal of agreement with each other, with only minor variations from text to text.  We will call this the “Traditional” Hebrew text.  On the other hand, the Shem Tob text, while having a direct relationship with the Traditional Hebrew text, is a very different Hebrew text with many layers of corruption. 

One of the reasons for giving greater authority to the Traditional Hebrew text than to the Shem Tob Hebrew text, is that the Traditional text is found in a wide variety of manuscript sources, with a wide geographic distribution.

On the other hand, the Shem Tob text appears in only one source, it was transcribed into Shem Tob Ben Saphrut’s Evan Bohan.  Although there are several manuscripts of the Shem Tob text, they are all only manuscript copies of Shem Tob’s Evan Bohan.  They all go back to a single copy which Shem Tob copied from.  The Shem Tob manuscripts are not multiple witnesses, but a single witness multiplied many times over.

All of our Hebrew versions of Matthew date only to the middle ages, however we do have Aramaic texts of Matthew that date back to the 4th Century CE.

For reasons best covered in a separate article, or series of articles in the future (as they open a protracted subject), I have concluded the Old Syriac is the oldest, most primitive and original Aramaic version, with the Peshitta being a revision of this Aramaic text toward greater agreement with the Byzantine type of Greek text.


DuTillet and the Old Syriac

Now especially significant is the very close relationship between the Traditional Text, especially the DuTillet text, with the Old Syriac Aramaic version.  In fact the DuTillet Text holds a closer relationship to the Old Syriac than to any other version. 

In his monumental work An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, Matthew Black writes of the DuTillet Version that it “has been shown to contain several unexpected variants found elsewhere in Syriac sources only” (An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts 3rd edition by Matthew Black p. 295)

Not only is there a great deal of general agreement between the DuTillet and Old Syriac versions, but there are two unique passages that stand out as an incredible testimony to the common history of these two versions.

Among the more telling connections between Hebrew Matthew and the Old Syriac are:

1:13 The DuTillet Hebrew manuscript of Matthew contains the missing name “Avner” which occurs between Aviud and Eliakim in the DuTillet Hebrew text of Mt. 1:13.

The DuTillet Hebrew manuscript of Matthew contains the missing name אבנר “Abner” (A Hebrew name which is sometimes spelled אבניר) which occurs between אביהוד  Abiud and Eliakim in the DuTillet Hebrew text of Mt. 1:13. In Hebrew and Aramaic ד “d” and ר “r” look very much alike and are often misread for each other. In this case a scribe must have looked back up to his source manuscript and picked back up with the wrong name, thus omitting “Abner” from the list. The Greek text must have come from a Hebrew or Aramaic copy, which lacked the name “Abner.”

There is amazingly clear evidence for this. The Old Syriac Aramaic version of Matthew was lost from the fourth century until its rediscovery in the 19th century. This ancient Aramaic text has אביור “Aviur” where the Greek has “Aviud” (= אביוד) thus catching the error in a sort of “freeze frame” and demonstrating the reliability of the reading in the Hebrew.

You can see this laid out in detail in my free online commentary to Matthew 1 (On Matthew 1:13)

Another such passage is found in Matt 5:34.  In this passage we see a very unique grammatical nuance in the Hebrew text of DuTillet that is found elsewhere only in the Old Syriac:

Here the DuTillet Hebrew reads:

כי כסא אלהים המה “for it is Elohim’s throne (theirs)”

And the Old Syriac has:

דכורסיה אנון דאלהא  “which is Eloah’s (their) throne”

This is similar to an occasional grammatical phenomena in the Tanak in which Elohim is occasionally paired with plural verbs and adjectives (Gen. 20:13; 35:7; Deut. 4:7; Josh. 24:19; 2Sam. 7:23; Ps. 58:12/11) and pronouns (Gen. 1:26; Gen. 3:22; Gen. 11:7 & Is. 6:8) or is otherwise thought of in the plural (“your creators” Eccl. 12:9). The plural which DuTillet uses in 5:34-35 especially recalls Dan. 7:9 “I watched till thrones were put in place and the Ancient of Days was seated”.


The Definite Article

There is further evidence that the original Hebrew from which Du Tillet is an exemplar is directly connected to the original Aramaic of which the Old Syriac is an exemplar apart from the Greek text. 

Both Hebrew and Greek have a definite article (English “the”).  Yet there seems to be no real connection between where DuTillet uses the definite article and where it appears in the Greek:

Three Examples where the Hebrew has no definite articles but the Greek does have them:

Mt. 3:7 “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees”
Mt. 6:32  “the Gentiles”
Mt. 14: 15  “the villages”

Three examples where the Hebrew does have definite articles and the Greek lacks them:

Mt. 3:8 “the fruit worthy”
Mt. 4: 18 “the net”
Mt. 7:9 “the stone”

This would certainly imply that at some point in between the Hebrew and the Greek the text went through a language that either had a weak definite article or none at all. The likely candidate for such a language would be Aramaic (Syriac) which lacks a definite article.

In other words the evidence indicates that the Hebrew text of DuTillet is not a Hebrew translation of the Greek.  Instead it appears that the Aramaic text represented by the Old Syriac is a direct Aramaic translation of the Hebrew text represented by DuTillet, and that our Greek text is a representative of a Greek version which was translated from the Aramaic. 


Conclusion

Since the Hebrew text of the Traditional Hebrew text of Matthew represented by DuTillet is has a much closer relationship to the Old Syriac version of Matthew than does the Shem Tob text, the evidence would indicate that it is DuTillet rather than Shem Tob which best represents the original Hebrew of Matthew.

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