A Little Background
There is a certain Hebraic Roots personality to whom I usually do not listen anymore. I had determined that I've got better ways to spend time than sifting the truths he presents from the bunk that tends to accompany them.
Recently, I was compelled to give this personality another chance. While I cannot say I regret watching several more hours of his presentations, I can say I made the right decision when I removed a reference to his website from my Links page years ago. If you don't know what he's talking about, he can be very convincing—and misleading.
As I've stated elsewhere: If one has a defensible position, then one does not have to lie, cheat, and bully. Based on this belief, it's obvious to me that this certain personality and his guest speaker have no case to support their claim for (among other things) their Hebrew original of the Book of Matthew. This article offers some food for thought in response to their deceitful presentation regarding "Hebrew Matthew."
I will refer to this personality as "Mr. X." I will refer to his guest speaker as "Mr. Y." You will know who they are if/when you encounter them.
What's the Problem?
There are many people who believe there are Hebrew originals behind the so-called New Testament writings. Of course, I believe most of the original writings were Aramaic; but I have an open mind, so I watched the multi-part presentation that promised to show the Hebrew original of Matthew. In the presentation, Mr. X stated (correctly) several times that the Greek was translated from Aramaic. He also reminded us that most of our English versions are translations from Greek. But he went on to say that the Aramaic was translated from Hebrew as he would show (which he never did show) and that only the Hebrew can solve certain dilemmas that confront us in the Book of Matthew.
That's the problem (one of them, anyway). Mr. X is telling the world that without this "Hebrew original" of Matthew, Yeshua appears to be a hypocrite. That sounds scary, doesn't it? Well, let's take a look.
Where's the Evidence?
To present his evidence, Mr. X hands us off to Mr. Y who we're told is a Dead Sea Scroll scholar, a linguistic expert fluent in Hebrew and Aramaic. Sounds good—until you understand that we're supposed to accept what he presents simply because he's an "authority"! I find it telling that we are promised evidence of this original Hebrew Matthew but what we get is misdirection and a lengthy appeal to authority with comments about how there is just so much evidence that it cannot be presented.
This proposed original Hebrew Matthew is the so-called Shem Tov version. The first question to ask when someone starts talking about "the Shem Tov Matthew" is the same question to ask when someone starts talking about "the Greek New Testament": "Which one?" Mr. Y readily admits there are many versions of this document with many variations, but he claims to have found an original version! Of course, we have to take his word for it...
This supposed original Hebrew adds "falsely" to Matthew 5:34 so that Yeshua doesn't say "do not swear at all" but he says "do not swear falsely" instead. Why is that important? It's because it's written in the Torah that "you shall not swear by my name falsely." It's also written in the Torah that "you shall swear by his name." The argument is that if Yeshua said "do not swear at all," then he is speaking against the Torah by adding to it and by taking away from it. Does it hold?
Much of the presentation is devoted to explaining Pharisaism. Pharisees believe there is a written Torah and and oral Torah (theirs). Yeshua constantly was teaching against this evil "oral Torah." And what does Yeshua say so many times in Matthew 5? He says "you have heard it said..., but I say..." Not once does he say "it is written..., but I say..." Obviously, he is not speaking against the written Torah! There is no doubt of this. John Wesley Etheridge's translation from Aramaic reads:
Mat 5:43 You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. [Master of enmity.]
Though it is written "You shall love your neighbor...," it is not written "... and hate your enemy." Matthew 5 is recording Yeshua's responses to things that have been said.
While we don't know all that was said, there are clues in Matthew 23 where Yeshua says:
Mat 23:16 Woe to you, ye blind guides, who say, That [to him] who sweareth by the temple, it is nothing; but if he swear by the gold which is in the temple, he is liable!
It sounds to me like the "blind guides" were saying it was OK to swear falsely as long as one was careful with his wording, and it sounds to me like Yeshua was saying in Matthew 5 to not behave like them; simply speak plainly and truthfully instead:
Mat 5:37 But let your discourse be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these is from the evil.
We do not need to have "falsely" added to Matthew 5:34 to keep Yeshua from appearing to speak against the Torah. That's a good thing, too, because that would cover for only one case of "it's been said, but I say"! How would this particular version of Shem Tov Matthew cure the other cases? It wouldn't.
It's claimed that this Shem Tov Matthew clears up a problem in Matthew 23.
Matthew 23:3 tells us that since the scribes and Pharisees "sit in the seat of Moses," we have to do whatever "they" say. We're told that this version of Shem Tov Matthew tells us instead to do whatever "he" says—obey Moses and not the scribes and Pharisees. Whew! I'm glad that got cleared up!
Here's Matthew 23:1-3 from Etheridge's translation from Aramaic:
Mat 23:1 Then Jeshu discoursed with the multitudes and with his disciples,
Mat 23:2 and said to them, Upon the chair of Musha sit the scribes and the Pharishee.
Mat 23:3 Every thing, therefore, which they tell you to observe, observe and do; but after their practices do not act; for they say, and do not.
The question to ask is "What does it mean to sit upon the chair of Moses?" And the answer may have something to do with actually sitting upon "the chair of Moses"! There were actual chairs—or seats—in synagogues from which the Torah and the Prophets were read. Such a seat was called "the chair of Moses." So there is no problem here. It makes perfect sense to say "Do what they read to you from Scripture, but do not behave like them because they don't practice what they preach from the chair of Moses."
Mr. Y shows us some of the the Hebraic structures, poetry, and word plays present in Shem Tov Matthew. He demonstrates that these features are not present in the Greek or English translations. The point is stressed that all of this linguistic evidence proves that the original text had to be Hebrew. Please note: This "authority" conveniently ignores Aramaic. Why? Because this type of evidence supports an Aramaic original just as well!
But wait, there's more: Probably knowing he has to address the "Aramaic" issue, we are treated to more smoke and mirrors. Enter Acts 26:14...
For starters, Mr. Y tells us that we haven't yet uncovered the original Hebrew behind Acts and that we have only "the Greek translation"! That, my friends, is an outright lie. There is indeed an Aramaic version of Acts. Why the lie? Because now Mr. Y again may ignore the Aramaic and then use Greek—and English—for his "proof" against Aramaic primacy.
The NIV is held in low regard by many. It's frequently mocked as the "Nearly Inspired Version"—and Mr. Y makes it a point to call it exactly that. The NIV tells us in Acts 26:14 that Yeshua spoke to Shaul (Paul) in "Aramaic." Mr. Y then shows that the Greek word translated in the NIV as "Aramaic" is "Hebraidi." Then he asks if there are any Greek scholars or any three-year-olds in the audience that can tell him what "Hebraidi" means, and he starts yelling about how it's obvious that it's "Hebrew" and that Yeshua spoke to Paul in Hebrew! He spoke Hebrew!
So I guess the argument goes something like this: "The NIV is bad, the NIV says that Yeshua spoke to Shaul in Aramaic, therefore Yeshua did not speak Aramaic and the original texts of the New Testament must be Hebrew." Well, either Mr. Y is incapable of reasoning his way though an open door or his intent is to mislead people. (For the record, it's debatable whether ancient references to "Hebrew" actually may mean "Aramaic." I believe that's why we see the "bully" tactics employed here by Mr. Y.)
There may be evidence somewhere for a Hebrew original of the Book of Matthew, but Mr. X and Mr. Y do not present it. Instead, they engage in various forms of deception to promote their claim.
Whenever I realize someone is trying to deceive me, I have to ask why. So I have to ask...
Why are Mr. X and Mr. Y willfully deceiving Torah fans?