Religion:Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

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Short description: Oldest extant Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew
Shem Tov's book first page

Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is the oldest extant Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew. It was included in the 14th-century work Eben Boḥan (The Touchstone)[1] by the Spanish Jewish Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Isaac ben Shaprut. George Howard[2] has argued that Shem Tov's Matthew comes from a much earlier Hebrew text that was later translated into Greek and other languages. A characteristic feature of this Hebrew gospel is the appearance in 20 places of השם (HaShem, "the Name"), in the abbreviated form ה״, where the Gospel of Matthew has Κύριος ("the Lord").


Shem-Tob ben Isaac Ibn Shaprut was the author of an anti-Christian religious treatise, The Touchstone, completed in 1380 and revised in 1385 and 1400. Often referred to as "The Logic of Shem Tob", it argues against the belief that Jesus is God. It also argues against attributing the role of Messiah to Jesus.

For this reason Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, which is included in this work, is considered the oldest surviving text of a New Testament book in Hebrew.

In 1987, George Howard said (pp. vii, 234) that the translation of the Gospel of Matthew in Shem Tob's work long predates the 14th century and may better represent the original text. His view was rejected by W.L. Petersen and Petri Luomanen.[3] A refutation of the theory that Shem Tob's Hebrew version of Matthew represents the original Hebrew source behind the Gospel of Matthew, using Matt. 5:18 as a test case, is presented on Jerusalem Perspective in David Bivin's, "Has a Hebrew Gospel Been Found?".

Revision of the previous hypothesis and evidences of Medieval and Provençal Origins

The main points that are the object of controversy are the following:

1. The oldest version of a gospel in Hebrew language. Hebrew Matthew has been preserved in the book XII or XIII (according to the two recensions of the piece of religious controversy “The Touchstone” of Shem Tob Ibn Shaprut[4] of the most significant manuscripts which have lasted to our times. The fact of being part of a controversial book involves some problems about authorship, date of the translation and historical context.

2. Identifying marks of the base text or Vorlage.[5] The introduction of the gospel deals with the hypothesis of George Howard, which attributed the version to the genuine Gospel of the Hebrews mentioned by Papias in the second century AD.[6] In the second edition he maintains the antiquity, simply naming it Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and stating this: “The main thrust of this second edition is to demonstrate that the Hebrew Matthew contained in Shem-Tob’s Even Bohan predates the 14th century. In my judgment, Shem-Tob the polemicist did not prepare this text by translating it from the Latin Vulgate, the Byzantine Greek, or any other known edition of the Gospel of Matthew. He received it from previous generations of Jewish scribes and tradents.”.[7] Howard had drawn attention to the probable presence of a fragment of the Arabic Diatessaron written by Issac Ben Velasco in 10th century[8] while W.L. Petersen notices the presence of possible common readings with a Flemish middle ages diatessaron,[9] something which might reinforce a Medieval origin for Hebrew Matthew.

3. Controversial manuscripts. The edition of George Howard is based on a manuscript preserved in the British Library, Adler 26964, for Mt 1,1- 23,22 and complemented by the missing final part, 23,23-28,20, with another version from the Theological Seminary of New York (Ms. 2426 [Marx 16]). The critical apparatus with variants of eight manuscripts is correct, and especially truthful, the manuscript of Leiden. However, the edition unfortunately omits those variants that according to Niclós[10] are the most ancient and worthwhile, because they contain words in medieval romance, preserved in manuscripts of Italian libraries. Especially old and correct is the Neofiti Ms, 17,2 of the Vatican Library and the second one, the Plut II, 17 of the Laurenziana Library of Florence. The use of some vocabulary and lexica in Catalan or Pyrenees romance languages raised the option of tracing its Sitz im Leben back to the Middle Ages and more precisely to locate it in the region of Provence and Catalonia.[11] Another paper,[12] later on, studied carefully the Romance lexicon, especially rich in some fields as legal terminology, daily life, trades and roles, as well as cosmology; moreover, the Hebrew syntax of the text, concluded with narrative patterns based on correct biblical secuences and some rabbinical linguistic idioms. The result was defined as “an effort of Cultural Restitution to Hebrew: the theology of Matthew’s Gospel, which gathers and compiles many expressions and procedures of the Hebrew Bible, passing through the veil of a Jewish mind of the Middle Ages”.[13] The transcription of the words in the romance language proves the fruitfulness of the choice.[14]

The process of creation of Hebrew Matthew

This process has been studied as a text with different layers.[15]

The first stage of our Hebrew Gospel is the Latin Text of the Vulgate. In his latest paper, Niclós offers a final section about the Vulgate tradition of southern France, a tradition which derives from the Mozarab community (Christian minority under Muslim rule) from the south of Spain (Seville or Cordoba), who migrated to Catalonia (Ripoll), and finally entering the South of France by Carcassonne or Saint Victor of Marseille, making up the Provençal recension of the Vulgate. The reason for that multicultural presence lies in the fact that the region of Septimania or Provence and northern Catalonia were functioning as a cultural unit where the recension of the Bible referred to by Samuel Berger as Provençal was used both for liturgy and Romance translations. The second novelty of the paper consists in tracing back the Ordinary gloss introduced in Mt to a letter from Saint Jerome and a fragment of Rabanus Maurus Commentary of Matthew and other Medieval Scholars. ("The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in Shem Tob's Eben Boḥan, Particular Features and Medieval Sources", 156-157).

The second stage of our gospel was the translation of the New Testament into Provençal, probably from the abovementioned recension of the Vulgate from the south of France, of Visigoth and Septimanian origins. From Provençal, there came a shift from this version to Catalan vernacular language, with some marks of terms from the central Pyrenees.[16] In this Romance stage, mendicant friars, such as Franciscan and Dominicans might have used it as a tool of their catechetical campaign toward the illiterate folk in the area. This translation to vernacular was permitted by the church despite the prohibition of 1229 in Toulouse or 1235 in Tarragona against the Waldensian romance versions; or from 1317 against the Beguines, it is unknown to what extent local and ephemeral.[17] These versions could have been made in the first half of the 13th century, as can be proved by archaic features, such as the division into liturgical chapters for readings with temporal clauses of the type in illo tempore (“at that time”); and even some dozen of amplifications from the Ordinary Gloss which were added to the canonical text.

During the third stage, Hebrew Matthew is conceived as a translation to Hebrew from Catalan Language, between 1250 and 1320. At that moment, the Gospel of Matthew achieved a third layer from the Semitic language of the Old Testament, preserving numerous words of the Catalan from the Pyrenees as evidence of the previous stage. Finally, around 1386, in Tudela (Spain) a Jewish rabbi, Shem Tob Ibn Shaprut accurately copied the Hebrew version made a century earlier by an anonymous Jew, apparently converted, and incorporated his critical commentaries in a piece of religious controversy against Christians, Eben Boḥan (“the Touchstone”). The translation could have reached him through Vincent Ferrer or Cardinal Pedro de Luna.[18] As a result, in final Hebrew Matthew we can obtain a valuable precipitate of biblical vocabulary, lexicon and rabbinical syntax from a medieval Jewish mind, and a layer of Romance terms about laws, flora and Jewish liturgical life; and finally, some traces of an Ancient Vulgate.

In other words, in this translation of the Gospel of Matthew to Hebrew, we notice a settlement of different cultural strata, the Vulgate of southern France recension of Visigoth origin, the ordinary gloss of Laon or the University of Paris, the preaching and liturgy in Romance languages, and more recently Hebrew biblical and rabbinical expressions, as a result of a plain collaboration or voluntary team-work. All this offers scholars, therefore, a new contribution to the reception of the Gospel of Saint Matthew and its cultural background throughout a long period of its history.


Shem Tob's text[19] contains Ha-Shem 19 times:

For ה״, the corresponding Greek Gospel of Matthew text has θεός (22:31), or κύριος (1:22, 24; 2:13, 19; 3:3; 4:7, 10; 21:9, 42; 22:37, 44; 28:2). For one place (5:33) as לה״. Three places it has no corresponding sentence or phrase (21:12; 22:32; 27:9) in NT and OT to contain the word. Once (28:9) it has השם ('name') where the Gospel of Matthew in the Greek New Testament has no corresponding sentence.

It employs not only in Matthew's Old Testament quotations, but also in his narrative, either when introducing such quotations (1:22, 22:31) or in fixed phrases such as "angel of the Lord" (1:24, 2:13, 2:19, 28:2) or "the house of the Lord" (21:12).

As George Howard, referring to Ha-Shem as "the Divine Name", wrote:

The Divine Name occurs in the following situations:
  1. In quotations from the Hebrew Bible where the MT contains the Tetragrammaton.
  2. In introductions to quotations. For example: 1:22 "All this was to complete what was written by the prophet according to the Lord”; 22:31 "Have you not read concerning the resurrection of the dead that the Lord spoke to you".
  3. In such phrases as "angel of the Lord" or "house of the Lord": 2:13 "As they were going, behold the angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph"; 2:19 "It came to pass when King Herod died the angel of the Lord in a dream to Joseph in Egypt"; 21:12 "Then Jesus entered the house of the Lord"; 28:2 "Then the earth was shaken because the angel of the Lord descended from heaven to the tomb, overturned the stone, and stood still."[20]

Recent editions and translations

The first translation of Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew into English was George Howard's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, published in 1987. A Polish translation by Eliezer Wolski (Eliyazar Ben Miqra), a Jewish theologian and Chassidic sympathizer, appeared in 2017. He presented the Hebrew text in stylized font imitating first-century Hebrew script. Grzegorz Kaszyński made another translation into Polish and published it along with Howard's English translation and other translations into European languages.

The following table (in Polish) shows how these translations represented the phrase "ha-Shem".

Twenty-two translations of "Ha-Shem" in Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew
HaSzem - tabela (GKasz).png

Extant manuscripts

28 manuscripts containing the Gospel of Matthew of Shem Tob are known to have survived until the present time. These manuscripts are dated between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most significant manuscripts are:

  • Ms. British Museum Library Add. No. 26964, London
  • Ms. Heb. 28, Rijksuniveriteit Library, Leiden, Netherlands
  • Ms. Mich. 119. Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Ms. Oppenheim Add. 4° 72, Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Ms. Oppenheim Add. 4° 111, Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Ms. 2209 (Marx 19), Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York
  • Ms. 2234 (Marx 15), Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York
  • Ms. 2279 (Marx 18), Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York
  • Ms. 2426 (Marx 16), Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York
  • Ms Vat.ebr.101, Vatican Library

Translations into other languages

There are translations of the Gospel of Matthew from the work of Shem Tob in several European languages. Among them are:

  • Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, George E. Howard (1985)
  • Messianic Natzratim Study Bible, Bill Carlson (1993)
  • The Book of God: Matthew, Tov Rose (2013)
  • Hebrew Matthew Shem Tov (PDF), ? Newton (, 2013
  • Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew: Sacred Name Version, Daniel W. Merrick (2015)
  • Hebrew Matthew, vol. One (Chapters 1–12), Jason S. Lorent (2017)
  • Evankeliumi Matteuksen mukaan – Shem Tob, Tuomas Levänen (2015)[21]
  • Livre de Mattityahou d'apres le texte Hébreu Shem Tov, Ruth ...?... (2012)[22]
  • Toldot Iehoshua. La Historia de nuestro Rav el Mashiaj Iehoshua Ben Iosef de Natzrat por: Matityah HaLevi, Avdiel Ben Oved (2004)
  • [Toldot Jeshua al-pi Matitjah] / Historia de Yeshúa Según Matityah, José Antonio Álvarez Rivera (2009–2010)
  • Evangelio Hebreo de Mateo, versión critica de los 116 capítulos, Eliahu Almani, Oraj HaEmet (2010)[23]
  • J. V. NICLÓS ALBARRACÍN, El evangelio de san Mateo en hebreo (en la edición del Eben Bohan de Shem Tob ibn Shaprut), Madrid, 2018
  • Hebreeuws Mattheüs (online version), 2014-2023[24]
  • Het Mattheüsevangelie (vertaald vanuit het Hebreeuws), 2020[25]
  • Ewangelia św. Mateusza po hebrajsku, Eliezer Wolski (2017)
In preparation:
  • Ewangelia według Mateusza z dzieła Szem-Toba ’Ewen Bōḥan (Kamień Wypróbowany) – wydanie z tekstem hebrajskim, przypisami, Dodatkiem Analitycznym oraz uwypukleniem różnic wobec kanonicznego tekstu, Grzegorz Kaszyński
  • Hebrajska Ewangelia według św. Mateusza (Shem Tob), Piotr Goniszewski
  • Evangelho segundo Matityah Shem Tov: História de Yeshu Segundo Matityah de Shem Tov Ben Isaac, Maurício Carijo (2012)[26]
  • Torat Yehoshua Segundo o Evangelho Hebraico de Mateus, Bruno Summa, 2019
  • Shem Tov Evanghelia Mathyahu ebraic-română-text online, Obedeya Dorin David Aurel Ben Aharon Cohen (chapters 1–12), 2013[27]
  • Евангелие от Матфея на иврите в издании Шем-Това ибн-Шапрута (с параллельным русским переводом), A.С. Manykian (Манукян), Dniepropietrowsk 2015
  • Еврейское Евангелие от Матфея переданное Шем-Товом (chapters 1–3), Eliseus?, 2016
  • Jevanđelje po Mateju: preveo sa hebrejskog (PDF), Željko Stanojević, 2010

Claim of support received

The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (1969), published by the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower Society, refers to Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (indicated by the siglum J²) in support of its decision to introduce "Jehovah" into the text of the New World Translation of the New Testament.


  1. "The British Library MS Viewer". 
  2. Petersen, William L. 1989. Review of G. Howard, The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text, in Journal of Biblical Literature 108: 722-726.
  3. Petri Luomanen, Recovering Jewish-Christian Sects and Gospels (BRILL 2011), p. 3.
  4. J. V. NICLÓS, Šem Ṭob ibn Šapruṭ: “La piedra de toque” (Eben Boḥan): una obra de controversia judeo-cristiana: introducción, edición crítica, traducción y notas al libro I, Madrid, 1997, pp. [58]-[80]
  5. NICLÓS, El evangelio de san Mateo en hebreo, pp. 23-32
  6. G. HOWARD, The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text, Macon (Georgia), 1987. Reprinted in 1995 as Hebrew Gospel of Matthew
  7. HOWARD, The Gospel of Matthew,p.155
  8. Ángel Custodio López y López,"La traducción de los Evangelios al árabe por Isaac Ben Velasco de Córdoba en el siglo X a. D.",Boletín Millares Carlo, Nº. 13, 1994,pp.79-84
  9. W. L. PETERSEN, “Some Observations on a Recent Edition of and Introduction to Shem-Tob’s ‘Hebrew Matthew’”, TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 3 (1998); id., “The Vorlage of Shem-Tob’s ‘Hebrew Matthew’”, New Testament Studies, 44 (1998), pp.490-512
  10. “L’Évangile en hébreu de Shem Tob ibn Shaprut: Une traduction d’origine judéo-catalane due à un converti, replacée dans son Sitz im Leben”,Revue biblique, 106 (1999) pp.374-377
  11. J. V. NICLÓS, “L’Évangile en hébreu de Shem Tob ibn Shaprut", pp.358-359
  12. RAURET-J. V. NICLÓS, “Aspectos gramaticales en el Evangelio en hebreo de ‘la piedra de toque’ de Ibn Šaprut”, Liber Annuus / Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 51 (2001), pp. 145-182
  13. abstract of the paper in JSTOR:, consulted on 14/03/2019
  14. José-Vicente NICLÓS ALBARRACÍN, The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in Shem Tob's Eben Boḥan, Particular Features and Medieval Sources, Revue des Études Juives, pp.181,1-2, janvier-juin 2022, 156-157
  15. J. V. NICLÓS ALBARRACÍN, El evangelio de san Mateo en hebreo (en la edición del Eben Bohan de Shem Tob ibn Shaprut), Madrid, 2018, 23-70; José-Vicente NICLÓS ALBARRACÍN, The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in Shem Tob's Eben Boḥan, Particular Features and Medieval Sources, Revue des Études Juives, pp.137-157
  16. NICLÓS,"The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in Shem Tob's Eben Boḥan, Particular Features and Medieval Sources", pp.148-153
  17. S. BERGER, Histoire de la Vulgate pendant les premiers siècles du moyen âge, Paris, 1893, pp. 10, 72-82
  18. J. V. NICLÓS, “La disputa religiosa de D. Pedro de Luna con el judío de Tudela D. Shem Tov ibn Shaprut en Pamplona (1379): El contexto en la vida y la predicación de Vicente Ferrer”, Revue des études juives, 160 (2001), pp. 409-433
  19. Hebrew Gospel of Matthew or Even Bohan: The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew 2nd edition (Mercer University Press 1987). This gives the full text of Shem Tob's Gospel and Howard's translation, but without Howard's commentary, while Google Books gives only a limited preview of Howard's book.
  20. George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (Mercer University Press, 2005). p. 22
  21. "Evankeliumi Matteuksen mukaan" (in fi). 2015. Retrieved April 21, 2018. 
  22. "Livre de Mattityahou d'après le texte Hébreu Shem Tov" (in fr). October 15, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2018. 
  23. "Mateo Hebreo -שם טוב". Retrieved November 19, 2018. 
  24. Hebreeuws Mattheus
  25. [bare URL PDF]
  26. Evangelho segundo Matityah_Shem Tov
  27. Obedeya Dorin David Aurel Ben Aharon Cohen (July 2013). "Shem Tov Evanghelia Mathyahu ebraic-română-text online" (in ro). Retrieved May 5, 2018.