DOES THE TALMUD PROVE THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW TO BE EARLY?
I don't think so.
Talmud confirms an early Gospel of Matthew (Toronto Star)
NEIL ALTMAN AND DAVID CROWDER
An ancient Jewish parody that quotes the New Testament's Gospel of Matthew may refute a major argument by biblical scholars who challenge the credibility of the Bible.
For more than a century, liberal scholars have contended that the Christian gospels are unreliable, second-hand accounts of Jesus' ministry that weren't put on paper until 70 to 135 A.D. or later � generations after those who witnessed the events of Jesus' ministry were dead.
Today's more liberal scholars say the Gospel of Matthew may have been aimed at Jews but it was written in Greek, not Hebrew.
They also believe that the Book of Mark, written in Greek, was the original gospel, despite the traditional order of the gospels in the Bible, putting Matthew first.
But a literary tale dated by some scholars at 72 A.D. or earlier, which comes from an ancient collection of Jewish writings known as the Talmud, quotes brief passages that appear only in the Gospel of Matthew. In his 1999 book, Passover And Easter: Origin And History To Modern Times, Israel Yuval of Jerusalem's Hebrew University says that Rabban Gamaliel, a leader of rabbinical scholars in about 70 A.D., is "considered to have authored a sophisticated parody of the Gospel according to Matthew."
In Rabbi Gamaliel's story, a daughter whose father had died offers a golden lamp as a bribe to a Christian judge known for his honesty, seeking a decision that would allow her to share her father's estate with her brother.
When the judge suggests that dividing the estate would be proper on the basis of a new law that had superseded the ancient Law of Moses, Gamaliel argues that the judge is wrong and loosely quotes a statement attributed to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.
"Look further in the book, and it is written in it, `I have not come to take away from the Law of Moses nor add to the Law of Moses ... '" Gamaliel replies, and wins the case on the basis of that argument or the bribe he gave the judge � a "Libyan ass."
The argument, in a nutshell (and by all means read the whole article), is that the Talmud quotes Rabbi Gamaliel as quoting something rather like a passage in Matthew (5:18-19). Therefore he knew the Gospel of Matthew and it must have existed by his time, which, the authors say, means it must have been written before 70 or 72 C.E. (I'm not sure exactly why. Is this when he died? Or is the story set in pre-revolt Jerusalem?) Anyhow, I'll take their word about Gamaliel's date. There are still some big problems with the argument.
1. The Babylonian Talmud (the Bavli
) was edited around 600 C.E. and the Palestinian Talmud (the Yerushalmi
) around 400. Whichever Talmud they're talking about (probably the Bavli
but they don't say - and they don't give the exact reference either) the story of the first-century saying of Gamaliel comes to us from a text edited many centuries later. How do we know that this isn't a much later legend which puts the saying in his mouth on the basis of knowing the Gospel of Matthew? Granted, the Talmud sometimes preserves early material, but earliness has to be proved, not assumed.
2. Even if Rabbi Gamaliel actually said this, the saying is not all that close to the Gospel of Matthew. How do we know that it isn't an oral tradition that Gamaliel picked up from Jesus' followers and which was later used independently by the author of Matthew?
Perhaps the book addresses these issues, but this article certainly doesn't convince me.
UPDATE (15 December): Stephen Goranson e-mails:
As your blog properly observed, Jim, the Altman and Crowder article does not prove (nor exclude) an early date for the Gospel of Matthew. (Nor did their similar article in the Kansas City Star, 7 July 2003.) Gamaliel the II--to whom the story was apparently attributed--lived many years after their date. But if this prompts anyone to read the article to which Israel Yuval referred, that may be worthwhile: Burton Visotzky, "Overturning the Lamp," JJS 38 (1987) 72-80. It's a good article, as my dissertation noted. But his nuanced reading of b.Shabbat 116a-b certainly allows for later dating. In any case, this section has potentially interesting information about a gospel, evangelion--punned against as (avon-gilyon, book of sin or )aven-gilyon, book of vanity--and the verse said to be at the end of the book.
The section is quite interesting. It includes a discussion of whether to save books of the minim (heretics) in the case of a fire. Via puns, as long
recognized by many scholars (my 1990 diss. pp92-94 has bibliography), these are the houses of the Nazarenes and Ebionites, Be Nitsraphi and Be )Abidan. See Anchor Bible on how these two terms evolved. Gamaliel II, of course, was associated in Talmud with the origin or revising of the Birkat ha-minim, the blessing/curse on heretics, known in many versions.
The Talmud version gives the mirror image of the account of heretics in Epiphanius (Panarion, 29 & 30). For the Christian Epiphanius (circa 375), the Ebionites were the more heretical of the two groups. For the rabbis, none would save books from the Nazarene house, but some consideration was allowed for possibly rescuing books from the house of Ebionites.