“Who would dare to say that this passage had been composed in Greek by Matthew . . . ?”

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by Neil Godfrey

Murder of Zechariah / William Hole: Wikipedia

Of course, the same passage can contain at the same time several Semitisms mixed together, the conclusive force of which becomes more pronounced. Let us take a single example:

Matthew 23:25 . . . and so you will draw down on yourselves the blood of every just man (= justs) that has been shed on earth from the blood of Abel the just to the blood of Zachariah, son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the Altar.

Luke 11:50-51 … in order that there be demanded the blood of all the prophets poured out since the creation of the world to this generation, since the blood of Abel up to the blood of Zachariah, who had been murdered between the Altar and the House.

This passage contains two Semitisms of vocabulary (both of them in Luke): to demand the blood of someone means to hold him responsible for a murder and House refers to Temple. This passage contains (also in Luke) a Semitism of transmission: NQY: innocent, just (or, in the plural, NQYYM, as in Jeremiah 19:4) has been confused in Luke with NBY ’ (prophet), which can be written NBY in the spelling of Qumran. This necessitated the altering of the sentence to obtain: the blood of all the prophets. But why compare, in this fashion, the murder of this Zachariah, committed around the year 790 before Jesus Christ, with the murder of Abel committed at the very beginning of the world? One is actually at the beginning of a series, the other is far from being at the end of a series! It is because the murder of this Zachariah in the precincts of the Temple is reported toward the end of the second book of Chronicles, which is the final book of the Hebrew Bible but which is not the last book in the Greek Bible of the Septuagint. In Hebrew this means from the first page of the Bible to the last, but in Greek this no longer signifies anything (and actually for a long time commentators had no understanding of it). Behold, moreover, a Semitism of composition, at one and the same time in Matthew and in Luke! Who would dare to say that this passage had been composed in Greek by Matthew, or Luke, or anyone?

Carmignac, Jean. 1987. The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels. Translated by Michael J. Wrenn. Chicago, Ill: Franciscan Pr. p. 39


For Jean Carmignac, the evidence that the original language of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew and documents used by Luke was Hebrew makes his hypothesis secure.

In order to contradict this conclusion, it would be necessary to provide satisfactory explanations, valid in Greek, for all the cases that have been mentioned. (p. 40)

Arguing a fortiori Carmignac presented only the evidence relating to three of the nine types of Semitisms.

Only the Semitisms of the final three categories (composition, transmission, translation) have been retained in order that no objection could be made regarding either the mother tongue of the authors or their desire to imitate the Septuagint. But even in the first five categories (borrowing, imitation, thought, vocabulary, syntax) and especially in the sixth (style), the abundance of evidence presented goes far beyond any possibility that the author was influenced by his mother tongue or by the prestige of a venerable text. For the Greek of our Gospels testifies to a good knowledge of the language: nouns are correctly declined, the verbs accurately conjugated, and the vocabulary is relatively rich. Our Greek Gospels were not written by semiilliterates; they were written by people who possessed a good solid Greek culture, but who did not express themselves with the independence of a redactor, and who believed themselves obliged to render these precious documents in the most slavish fashion possible. Our Synoptic Gospels are not compositions which were realized in Greek; they are translations made upon the Hebrew (except for the Prologue and the introductions of Luke). And therefore the real authors of Mark and Matthew are their Hebrew redactors. For Luke, the situation is less clear, for we do not know if he himself was the translator or if he relied on the competence of some bilingual collaborator; we cannot be specific about which revisions he inserted into the documents which he found before him. But, in general, these reworkings must have been superficial, as the numerous Semitisms which still exist bear witness. (p. 40)

Carmignac acknowledges that his arguments as set out so briefly for a wide audience will not be enough to persuade specialist scholars. They will want more in-depth technical discussions. No doubt. But till then surely his work makes it difficult to ignore a real possibility of a Hebrew background to the gospels.


Hebrew Hypothesis for Synoptic Gospels Continued

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by Neil Godfrey

The arguments are not widely known so I am setting them out in a series of posts so we can at least begin to ask questions and think about them and have some idea of what questions to raise with specialist scholars. (All posts in this series are archived under the Carmingnac: Birth of the Synoptic Gospels tag.)

As pointed out recently, Jean Carmignac observes nine different types of Semitisms. That same post looked at many of the Semitisms in the #7 type that he believed to be significant for his hypothesis.

  1. Semitisms of Borrowing
  2. Semitisms of Imitation
  3. Semitisms of Thought
  4. Semitisms of Vocabulary
  5. Semitisms of Syntax
  6. Semitisms of Style
  7. Semitisms of Composition
  8. Semitisms of Transmission
  9. Semitisms of Translation

Here is what Carmignac says of the others (with my bolded highlighting):

1. Of Borrowing

e.g. In the Greek gospels we find words like amen, abba, alleluia, and words that transcribe Semitic expressions like messiah, sabbath, pasch, etc.

In themselves, these borrowed words prove nothing, since anyone can quote a few words from a foreign language . . . (p. 21)

2. Of Imitation

Specifically, thinking here of the authors of the gospels imitating the Greek Septuagint even where it translates obvious Semitic turns of phrase:

Each time that a turn of phrase in the New Testament reproduces a turn of phrase from the Septuagint, we will consider it as a possible imitation and, therefore, we will no longer attach any conclusive value to it. (p. 22)

3. Of Thought

Instead of a simple he came, he spoke, he saw, a Semitic phrase would appear as he got up and he came, he opened his mouth and he spoke, he raised his eyes and he saw.

Quoting Joseph Viteau,

“One of the most characteristic marks of the language of the New Testament consists of a total inability to combine, synthesize, subordinate the various elements of thought, and, consequently, construct periodic sentences such as those which the literary language of classical authors presents. To this repugnance or to this inability corresponds a very noticeable tendency to dissociate the elements of thought in order to express them separately. . . . This characteristic of the Greek of the New Testament is to be found constantly in the general structure of the language. . . . Thus there has taken place what we refer to as the dissociation of the Greek language. For the Jew, it was an absence of association and of subordination, as in his own language. For the Greek it was a dissociation of his language as he wrote it himself.” 

Carmignac concludes:

[T]his particular type of Semitism might be able to serve to determine the original milieu of an author, but it would not serve to determine the original language of a work. (p. 23)

4. Of Vocabulary


Instead of saying citizen of the kingdom, invited to the banquet, condemned to Hell, man of good will, slave of the world, servant of the good, candidate for the resurrection, agent of evil, opposed to the Faith, one will say son of the kingdom (Mt 8:12; 13:38); son of the banquet (Mt 9:15; Mk 2:19; Lk 5:34); son of Gehenna (Mt 23:15); son of peace (Lk 10:6); son of this world (Lk 16:8; 20, 34); son of light (Lk 16:8; Jn 12:36; 1 Thes 5:5); son of the resurrection (Lk 20:36); son of perdition (Jn 17:12; 2 Thes 2:3); son of disbelief (Eph 2:2; 5:6; Col 3:6) and the excessively bubbling zeal of James and of John earns for them the surname sons of thunder (Mk 3:17).

Carmignac concludes:

[T]hese Semitisms ought not to be taken into account for they are vestiges of the language which is most familiar to the author not the proof that he actually used this language in the redaction of the work in question. (pp. 23f)

5. Of Syntax

Since syntax is the customary rule which governs the relationships of words among themselves, it supposes a deep knowledge of each language. The correct use of verbs, of prepositions, of conjunctions, of various complements (objects of verbs) is so complicated that it calls for and needs a very long period of practice in order to avoid committing a particular mistake, especially when the languages reflect psychologies as different as the Semitic psychology and the Greek psychology. An example which is quite simple: to say at the house of the king, the Hebrew (and in certain cases the Aramaic) suppresses the article before the first noun and always says at house of the king. A Semite who speaks Greek will therefore have the tendency to omit the article in this case and to preserve his familiar turn of phrase as we certainly meet many times in the New Testament. Another similar simple example: the verbs to say or to speak take the preposition which corresponds quite well to the Greek form, while in Hebrew (but not in Aramaic) they also take the preposition toward: and it is for that reason that we so often find in the Gospels, especially in Luke: to say toward someone or to speak toward someone. (p. 24)

Carmignac concludes:

In theory, they prove nothing about the original language since we can always suppose that the redactors of the Gospels underwent the influence of their mother tongue. However, when these mistakes in syntax go beyond that which is probable—even in the case of a writer who is not well acquainted with a language—we are led to suppose that they derive from a translator who was too slavish in his task, desiring to carbon copy, to the least detail . . .  (p. 24)

6. Of Style


Semitic prose is much more akin to the oral style than Greek prose, which is much more elaborate. It does not seek to construct sentences but more often is content with laying out several clauses joined together by a simple and. Monotony is no deterrent, whereas in Greek there is a tendency to seek variety. Moreover, it does not avoid the repetition of several words of the same root since these redundancies facilitate memory and provide more emphasis for the reciters of these accounts: the sower went out to sow his seed and while he was sowing . . . (Lk 8:5); I have desired with desire (Lk 22:15); they feared with a great fear (Mk 4:41; Lk 2:9); they rejoiced with a great joy (Mt 3:10).

Carmignac concludes:

But once again, no valid argument can be derived from these customary habits of style for a Semite could preserve them, even when he was expressing himself in Greek. . . . 

We enter different territory when it comes to poetry, however, and here Carmignac writes

If the poems of the Gospels had been composed in Greek, they would have had to depend upon the laws of Greek poetry; but this is clearly not the case. The Benedictus, the Magnificat, the Our Father, the Prologue of John, the Priestly Prayer of John 17 do not respect any of these laws of Greek poetry; rather they are constructed according to the rules of Hebrew poetry. (p. 25)

There is another point, however.

In Hebrew, there is great preference shown for beginning a work or introducing a new development by wayyeht (and it came about); then follows an indication of time, which is generally an infinitive introduced by the preposition in (= in the doing of it, that is to say, while he was doing)’, the sentence is then continued by another verb, usually preceded by and. This turn of phrase is found almost 300 times in the Old Testament. The Septuagint then translates literally kai egeneto en tô (= and it happened in the doing), then it usually expresses the indication of time by an infinitive followed by its subject and by its objects, then it continues the sentence by kai [and) followed by another verb in the indicative. The result is as bizarre in Greek as it is in English: and it happened in the doing of it (this or that) and (such a person) said. . . . This barbaric turn of phrase is never found in the works of the New Testament which have certainly been composed in Greek: the second part of Acts,18 the Epistles and even the Apocalypse, but it is found twice in Mark, six times in Matthew and thirty-two times in Luke. 

Carmignac concludes:

However, since this turn of phrase exists in the Septuagint, let us agree not to insist upon it and concede that it could have been inspired by a desire to imitate the Septuagint. (p. 26)

7. Of Composition

See A Semitic Original for the Gospels of Mark and Matthew?

8. Of Transmission

Mistakes are bound to happen when reading early Hebrew given that vowels are not represented in the text and several consonants are easily confused with one another.

Some indications of confusion concerning a Hebrew original:

In Mark 1:7 and Luke 3:16, John the Baptist says: I am not worthy to unfasten (lâshèlèt) the strap of his sandals, but according to Matthew 3:11 he says: I am not worthy to carry (lâs’ét) his sandals. . . .

Then there’s that grain of mustard seed:

Matthew 13:32 and Luke 13:19 say that the grain of mustard becomes a tree, which is a definite exaggeration, for this plant hardly exceeds a meter and a half or two meters. Mark 4:32, on the contrary, says that it has branches that are so great that birds nest there. All would be explained if Mark, who seems to be inspired by Ezekiel 17:23, had rendered ‘NP (pronounce ‘anâph) branch, as in Ezekiel, and if a copyist prior to Matthew and to Luke had read ‘S (pronounce ‘ès) tree, since in the style of calligraphy in Qumran, the letters N and P, if they come together and touch one another, resemble the letter Ṣ. (p. 31)

Does Jesus begin to teach or begin to show?

In Mark 8:31 Jesus begins to teach (LHWRWT = lehôrôt) and in Matthew 16:21 he begins to show (LHR’WT = lehar’ôt). The two words are very easily confused with each other since, according to the style of calligraphy, in Qumran, the first could lose a W and the second its ’ so that each one would end up looking like LHRWT. (p. 31)

Did Jesus pass through the villages or the region of Caesarea Philippi?

Mark 8:27 says that Jesus passed through the villages of Caesarea Philippi and Matthew 16:13 the regions of Caesarea Philippi. The general meaning is the same, but the passage from one word to the other could have been brought about by the resemblance between QRYWT = qiryôt: villages and QSWWT = qesawwôt: regions, since Y and W are written almost in the same way. (p. 32)

Go to hell or be thrown into hell? Continue reading “Hebrew Hypothesis for Synoptic Gospels Continued”


Hebrew Hypothesis for Gospels of Matthew and Mark continued

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by Neil Godfrey

From Damien Mackey‘s academia.edu page, article: Fr Jean Carmignac dates Gospels early

Here is a little more background for anyone interested in Jean Carmignac’s hypothesis that the Gospels of Mark and Matthew were originally written in the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have excerpted sections from Carmignac’s preface and first chapter. The bolded highlighting is mine to enable a quick perusal of key points.

From the Preface:

. . . . May I be pardoned above all for having written this book. I decided upon it only after a good deal of soul searching. For my original plan was to pursue my research as far as possible, to present it in a number of large technical volumes and only then to offer my research to the public at large in a little volume which would be less forbidding. But several friends convinced me to begin with this little volume. They made the point that I ran the risk of being six feet under before finishing the larger works and that for several years my research has, in no way, altered my conclusions so that I can therefore honestly begin to share it with others. The future will show if I have been correct in paying attention to these friends.

In this work, I have endeavored to make sure that it contains no polemics. I name no one nor do I have anyone in mind. I know very well that the views set forth here are not in conformity with the current vogue in exegesis. I have not attempted to refute arguments which may support opinions different from my own. I am proposing the results of research pursued since April 1963, more than twenty years. My research has convinced me, and I would like to share my firm beliefs with others. I furnish proofs which have led me to one or another conclusion; I would have been able to give many others, but these would have gone beyond the general purpose of a book which was intended for the public at large. These I am reserving for more technical works. Thus readers will now be able to compare what I think with what they are hearing said all around them. It is up to them to weigh the arguments and to judge freely for themselves.

In order not to stifle these poor readers, I have decided not to give all the specific references to works which I have utilized, save in certain particularly important cases. Complete bibliographies will appear in the larger volumes which are presently in preparation.

In order to show clearly the subjective character of this work, which is merely the presentation of my personal research, I would have preferred to title it: “Twenty Years of Work on the Formation of the Synoptic Gospels.” An objection was raised that this title is too long and not particularly catching. But it is more exact.

I believe myself sincere in my quest for the truth. If I am presented with convincing proofs, I will always be ready to improve and even to modify my present conclusions.

From Chapter I: Elaboration of the Hypothesis Continue reading “Hebrew Hypothesis for Gospels of Matthew and Mark continued”


A Semitic Original for the Gospels of Mark and Matthew?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Jean Carmignac

I don’t know if the Gospel of Mark did begin its life as a Hebrew text but in the light of the previous post it is necessary to share some of the reasons a few scholars (or at least Jean Carmignac : see also Wayback Machine) have thought it did.

Chapter three of The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels sets out the history of research into semitisms in the gospels and discusses in some detail nine types of them.

  1. Semitisms of Borrowing
  2. Semitisms of Imitation
  3. Semitisms of Thought
  4. Semitisms of Vocabulary
  5. Semitisms of Syntax
  6. Semitisms of Style
  7. Semitisms of Composition
  8. Semitisms of Transmission
  9. Semitisms of Translation

I’ll post here a few of the parts in #7, Semitisms of Composition. Carmignac suggests that there are numerous turns of phrase in our Greek gospels that would not exist in our Greek texts unless they had been translated from a Semitic or Hebrew language original.

Crying in the wilderness

After its title: Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, the Gospel of Mark begins in the following fashion:

As it is written in the Prophet Isaiah “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

20. The word “and” is not found in all the manuscripts, and one has good reason for thinking that it does not any longer figure in the primitive Greek text.

There was John baptizing in the desert (and)20 preaching (Mark 1:1-4).

How did this citation from Isaiah (which combines Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 in a form other than is found in the Septuagint, and Isaiah 40:3) come about? (p. 27)

Carmignac finds a simple answer to his question. Isaiah 40:3 begins with “voice crying in the wilderness”:

קול qôl voice
קורא qôré’ crying
במדבר bemidbâr in the wilderness
22. The initial syllable we corresponds to the conjunction “and ” present in certain Greek manuscripts but not in all.
23. The pesher consists in describing a present situation in the terms of a passage from the Old Testament.

. . . . and if Mark 1:4, is retranslated into Hebrew, we obtain the following: wayyehî Yôhânân matbtîl bemidbâr (we) qôré.22

The words bemidbâr (in the wilderness) and qôré’ (crying or preaching) are taken from Isaiah and applied to John the Baptist according to the process which is known as pesher, such as it was practiced at the time at Qumran (and elsewhere).23

The pesher only works in Hebrew, not with the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah. In the Greek text of Mark 1:4 a different word is used for John’s crying or preaching (κηρύσσων / kérussôn) whereas the Greek text of Isaiah 40:3 used “bôontos“. 

In order that the pesher be noticed in English, it would be necessary to use the verb proclaim twice: from Isaiah, the voice proclaiming in the desert and from Mark, in the desert proclaiming a baptism of conversion.) Thus the citation from Isaiah only agrees with the account of Mark in Hebrew, but not in Greek in which its meaning disappears. (p. 27)

Forgive us our debts

Continue reading “A Semitic Original for the Gospels of Mark and Matthew?”