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The Naming of Jesus in Hebrew Matthew by Nehemiah Gordon

Book Review

Mr. Nehemiah Gordon is the author of the highly recommended Hebrew Yeshua v. Greek Jesus. In that work, Gordon identified a verse in the Shaprut Shem-Tob Matthew that helped resolve the incongruous notion that Jesus told us to obey all that the Pharisees say. Instead, a small slip of a Hebrew pen was involved. Two mss. of the Shem-Tob show Jesus said obey what "he" (Moses) says not what "they" (Pharisees) say, which resolved the problem. It is a great short book, and worthy of study.

In this book, The Naming of Jesus, Gordon $4 (amazon lnk) provides us another short book with important information.naming of jesus in hebrew matthew graphic

Gordon reminds us that Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew, as the early church recorded. Gordon says that the Shem-Tob Matthew was thought to be a Hebrew translation of a Latin Gospel. However, in 1987 Professor George Howard of Mercer University "wrote a monumental book proving that Hebrew Matthew was not a translation at all but an original work written in Hebrew." (Page 4.)

With that background, Gordon says the Shem Tob was transformed in transmission, yet "it serves as a witness to the original Hebrew gospel and preserves much of the flavor and character of the Hebrew message preached by Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago." (Page 4.)

One of the 28 manuscripts of the Shem-Tob is in the British library and designated Add.26964. The cover of the book contains a reproduction of that manuscript at Matthew 1:18-25.

Gordon contends that this manuscript contains "the original form of Jesus of Nazareth's Hebrew name: Yeshua." (Page 5.) (I contend it is pronounced Yahshua.)

According to the Hebrew Matthew of the Shem-Tob, Joseph is told "you shall call him Yeshua for he will yoshia (save) my people from their iniquities." (Matt. 1:21.) Gordon says this is a word pun between Yeshua and Yoshia. (It is equally a pun between Yahshua and Yoshia.)

Gordon explains Yeshua is a variant of Joshua which in Hebrew is Yehoshua.  He was also known as Yeshua son of Nun. (Nehemiah 8:17.)  The second temple priest Yehoshua was sometimes called Yeshua. (Page 6.)

Gordon also marshalls proof from the Shem-Tob that it must have originally contained the divine name YHVH -- the Tetragrammaton (4 characters). The Shem-Tob uses the well-known abbreviation used by scribes of a single H with a double apostrophe symbol to signify originally the text had YHVH. But out of a concern of loose treatment of the text (e.g., being thrown in the garbage or burned), it would not be written out.

Interestingly, Gordon shows that the Shem-Tob Matthew 1:21 has "for he will save my people from their iniquities." This differs from the Greek which says he will save "his people." The scribe had originally written "his" people, and then crossed it out, and corrected it to "my people." Gordon explains his interpretation: "This probably happened because the scribe was familiar with the Greek version and had a tendency to 'assimilate' Hebrew Matthew to match the Greek." (Page 13.) The scribe in other words fixed his own mistake. Hence, "my people" is more correct.

The Shem-Tob also has Jesus described as a "first-born" son while the Greek standard text does not. (Page 14.) (The Latin Vulgage, Syriac and many Greek texts do have 'first-born.')

All in all, this book is very good to have as further background on the Hebrew Matthew, and is highly recommended to acquire.