|The Historical Jesus
We know that there were more than the
four Gospels traditionally used by the Church because fragments of them
The Nazorean Gospel is one such. We know
about it only because it is quoted in later commentaries:
- Epiphanius (315-403) was Bishop of
Salamis (Cyprus). According to him the Gospel was written in Aramaic and
was used by the Nazoreans of Berea (a town in Syria). He thought it was
a version of Matthew's Gospel.
- Hegesippus was a 2nd century
Christian historian. From the fragments of his works which survive, it
seems he knew of the Gospel of the Nazoreans in 180.
- Eusebius (died about 359) was Bishop
of Emesa in Syria and writer on biblical subjects and on doctrine. He
also knew of the Gospel.
- Jerome (345-420) was renowned scholar
of his time. He identified the Gospel with another entitled The Gospel
to the Hebrews, which he thought was closely related to Matthew's Gospel
and had been written in a Semitic language. Jerome says the Nazorean
Gospel was used by a community living in Berea in Syria.
Modern analysis of the Nazorean
fragments shows that it is based on the Greek text of Matthew. This means
that the later version could well have been translated from Greek into
Aramaic - though not necessarily in a literal or even accurate form. Some
fragments of the Gospel are preserved in Greek, others in Syriac and some
The passages which have survived show
differences from Matthew. In fact, they are cited by the early Christian
writers precisely because they differ from Matthew's Gospel. Scholars
speculate that perhaps the rest of the Nazorean Gospel did therefore not
differ that much from Matthew. If it had, perhaps more passages would have
The Nazorean Gospel changes Matthew in a
number of ways:
* It gives an explanation of a
difficult word in the so-called Lord's Prayer. Jerome writes: "In the
so-called Gospel of the Hebrews, instead of 'the bread we need for today'
I found mahar, which means 'for tomorrow' so that the sense is
'Provide us today with the bread we need for tomorrow' - that is, for the
future." Jerome refers to the Greek word epiousios which could mean
"daily" or "for subsistence" or "for the future." Its meaning is uncertain
* It corrects (wrongly) a
reference in Matthew 23.35 to the "son of Baruch" by inserting "son of
* The story of the healing of the
man with the crippled hand in Matthew 12.13 is filled out. Jerome writes,
"In the gospel that the Nazoreans use, this man who had a crippled hand is
described as a stonemason who called for help with words like this: 'I was
a stonemason making a living with my hands. I plead with you, Jesus, give
me back my health so that I won't have to beg for my food in shame.'"
So what Matthew and Luke do with Mark
and the "Q" source, the Nazorean Gospel does with Matthew. There is a
process of expanding, clarifying and correcting. It went on long after the
four canonical gospels had been completed. At least one later community
thought that Matthew's Gospel was the one to follow (perhaps it was the
only one they possessed). But this didn't mean it was beyond correction
and elaboration - a reminder that their way of looking at history differed
greatly from ours.