In Part II, I reviewed Semitisms in the synoptic gospels that Jean Carmignac identified in his book, The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983). I focused on those Semitisms that involved the Gospel of Mark. In the process, I noticed a pattern in some of the “Semitisms of Transmission”: words of the Gospel of Mark were changed in the Gospel of Matthew in a way that required the presence of a copyist who used Qumran Hebrew letter forms.
Here is one of the six examples I listed in Part II:
6. “Mark 11:14 speaks of eating of the fruit = YWKL (according to the spelling of Qumran) and Matthew 21:19 to produce fruit YWBL: as the letters B and K resemble each other so greatly, the possibility for confusion is very likely.” (p. 32)
To explain this, I begin with two assumptions.
- I assume that Matthew based his gospel on the Greek Gospel of Mark (not on an intermediary Hebrew version of GMark, which was temporary as I explain in Part I LINK).
- I assume that Matthew wrote an Aramaic version of his gospel prior to writing a Greek version of his gospel. (I take no position on whether that Aramaic version was ‘published’.)
All of Carmignac’s Semitisms of Transmission can be explained by the following process:
- Matthew obtained a copy of (Greek) GMark
- Matthew (or an assistant) translated GMark into Hebrew or Aramaic
- the translated GMark (let us say it was now in Aramaic) was written down by a secretary/copyist who used distinctive Qumran Hebrew letter forms
- Matthew used this Aramaic text of GMark as the basis for Aramaic GMatthew. In the process, Matthew or a (non-Qumran-Hebrew-trained) assistant occasionally misread the first copyist’s letter forms. (Carmignac, who knew Qumran Hebrew, figured out why the misreadings occurred.)
- Matthew and his team translated Aramaic GMatthew into Greek GMatthew.
Why would Matthew write an Aramaic version of GMark?
- As an Aramaic speaker, Matthew would have immediately realized on translating GMark from Greek, that Mark had emulated the style of the LXX by writing his narrative in a Semitic language, then translating it into Greek. Since Matthew wanted to revise—tweak and supplement—GMark without changing his style, Matthew needed a Semitic version of GMark.
- Matthew was a law-observant Judean. The consensus was that he was near the Judean homeland, probably in Antioch in Syria. The local language was Aramaic but well-educated Judeans like Matthew knew Greek as well. I think it likely that his congregation operated in both Greek and Aramaic. Matthew therefore needed to provide GMatthew, his revision of GMark, in both Greek and Aramaic.
The Qumran connection
As mentioned, only one copyist who used Qumran Hebrew letter forms was necessary to produce the misreadings in GMatthew in the Semitisms of Transmission. That copyist had been educated to write with Qumran Hebrew letter forms.
The copyist worked for Matthew, not for Mark’s congregation. They would not have translated GMark for Matthew—their responsibility was only to supply an accurate copy of (Greek) GMark.
When did this copyist work for Matthew? I think that Matthew wrote after Luke, and therefore as late as 150, but the precise date doesn’t matter. We can say that Matthew wrote between 120 and 150, roughly, or at least 50 years after the texts were deposited in the caves at Qumran.
I note that we are talking about the writing style of a copyist. Not the cultural environment of a translator. The logical way for Matthew to have GMark translated is this:
- person #1 reads a clause or sentence of GMark aloud
- person #2 vocalizes that clause or sentence in Aramaic
- person #3, a copyist who uses Qumran Hebrew letter forms, writes down the Aramaic words
Matthew’s copyist who used Qumran Hebrew letter forms
We can infer that Matthew’s copyist was a Judean who had been educated in a direct line from the copyist(s) of some of the Qumran texts.*
If those texts were copied at Qumran, perhaps we have here a sectarian writing style, alive 50+years later. (The sect could have been alive in Matthew’s time, or it could have been dispersed and destroyed during the Bar Kochba War.)
If those texts were part of the Jerusalem Temple library, perhaps all we have here is one (of several?) copyist ‘schools’ that produced acceptable works for the Jerusalem Temple, still alive 50+ years later, its copyists now working in Syria instead of the Jerusalem area. Perhaps these copyists were freelance professionals who provided Judean texts to a variety of Judean communities.
In either case, the term “Essene” may apply. Or not.
What I can say is that Matthew’s copyist found Matthew’s text religiously acceptable. And that Matthew’s copyist was therefore opposed to the Pharisees.
*Note: The reader who wishes to learn about the Qumran texts outside the question of an Essene connection, may find useful Emanuel Tov, Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert, STDJ 54 (Leiden: Brill, 2004)