A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of
[The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.] Ten stocks came out of Babylon:
1. Priests. 2. Levites. 3. Israelites. 4. Common persons, as
to the priesthood: such whose fathers, indeed, were sprung from priests, but their mothers
unfit to be admitted to the priests' marriage-bed. 5. Proselytes. 6. Liberti,
or servants set free. 7. Nothi: such as were born in wedlock; but that which
was unlawful. 8. Nethinims. 9. Bastards: such as came of a certain mother,
but of an uncertain father. 10. Such as were gathered up out of the streets, whose
fathers and mothers were uncertain.
A defiled generation indeed! and, therefore, brought up out of Babylon in this common
sink, according to the opinion of the Hebrews, that the whole Jewish seed still remaining
there might not be polluted by it. For Ezra went not up out of Babylon, until he had
rendered it pure as flour. They are the words of the Babylonian Gemara, which the
Gloss explains thus; "He left not any there that were illegitimate in any respect,
but the priests and Levites only, and Israelites of a pure and undefiled stock. Therefore,
he brought up with him these ten kinds of pedigrees, that these might not be mingled with
those, when there remained now no more a Sanhedrim there, which might take care of that
matter. Therefore he brought them to Jerusalem, where care might be taken by the Sanhedrim
fixed there, that the legitimate might not marry with the illegitimate."
Let us think of these things a little while we are upon our entrance into the
I. How great a cloud of obscurity could not but arise to the people concerning the
original of Christ, even from the very return out of Babylon, when they either certainly
saw, or certainly believed that they saw, a purer spring of Jewish blood there than in the
land of Israel itself!
II. How great a care ought there to be in the families of pure blood, to preserve
themselves untouched and clean from this impure sink; and to lay up among themselves
genealogical scrolls from generation to generation as faithful witnesses and lasting
monuments of their legitimate stock and free blood!
Hear a complaint and a story in this case: "R. Jochanan said, By the Temple, it is
in our hand to discover who are not of pure blood in the land of Israel: but what shall I
do, when the chief men of this generation lie hid?" (that is, when they are not of
pure blood, and yet we must not declare so much openly concerning them). "He was of
the same opinion with R. Isaac, who said, A family (of the polluted blood) that
lies hid, let it lie hid. Abai also saith, We have learned this also by tradition,
That there was a certain family called the family of Beth-zeripha, beyond Jordan, and a
son of Zion removed it away." (The Gloss is, Some eminent man, by a public
proclamation, declared it impure.) "But he caused another which was such" [that
is, impure] "to come near. and there was another which the wise men would not
III. When it especially lay upon the Sanhedrim, settled at Jerusalem to preserve pure
families, as much as in them lay, pure still; and when they prescribed canons of
preserving the legitimation of the people (which you may see in those things that follow
at the place alleged), there was some necessity to lay up public records of pedigrees with
them: whence it might be known what family was pure, and what defiled. Hence that of Simon
Ben Azzai deserves our notice: "I saw (saith he) a genealogical scroll in Jerusalem,
in which it was thus written; 'N., a bastard of a strange wife.'" Observe, that even
a bastard was written in their public books of genealogy, that he might be known to be a
bastard, and that the purer families might take heed of the defilement of his seed. Let
that also be noted: "They found a book of genealogy at Jerusalem, in which it was
thus written; 'Hillel was sprung from David. Ben Jatsaph from Asaph. Ben Tsitsith
Hacceseth from Abner. Ben Cobisin from Achab,'" &c. And the records of the
genealogies smell of those things which are mentioned in the text of the Misna concerning
'wood-carrying': "The priests' and people's times of wood-carrying were nine: on the
first day of the month Nisan, for the sons of Erach, the sons of Judah: the twentieth day
of Tammuz, for the sons of David, the son of Judah: the fifth day of Ab, for the sons of
Parosh, the son of Judah: the seventh of the same month for the sons of Jonadab the son of
Rechab: the tenth of the same for the sons of Senaah, the son of Benjamin," &c.
It is, therefore, easy to guess whence Matthew took the last fourteen generations of
this genealogy, and Luke the first forty names of his; namely, from the genealogical
scrolls at that time well enough known, and laid up in the public repositories, and in the
private also. And it was necessary, indeed, in so noble and sublime a subject, and a thing
that would be so much inquired into by the Jewish people as the lineage of the Messiah
would be, that the evangelists should deliver a truth, not only that could not be
gainsaid, but also that might be proved and established from certain and undoubted rolls
[Of Jesus Christ.] That the name of Jesus is so often added to the name
of Christ in the New Testament, is not only that thereby Christ might be pointed
out for the Saviour, which the name Jesus signifies; but also, that Jesus
might be pointed out for true Christ: against the unbelief of the Jews, who though
they acknowledged a certain Messiah, or Christ, yet they stiffly denied that
Jesus of Nazareth was he. This observation takes place in numberless places of the
New Testament; Acts 2:36, 8:35; 1 Corinthians 16:22; 1 John 2:22, 4:15, &c.
[The Son of David.] That is, "the true Messias." For by no more
ordinary and more proper name did the Jewish nation point out the Messiah than by The
Son of David. See Matthew 12:23, 21:9, 22:42; Luke 18:38; and everywhere in the
Talmudic writings, but especially in Bab. Sanhedrim: where it is also discussed, What kind
of times those should be when the Son of David should come.
The things which are devised by the Jews concerning Messiah Ben Joseph (which the
Targum upon Canticles 4:5 calls 'Messiah Ben Ephraim') are therefore devised, to comply
with their giddiness and loss of judgment in their opinion of the Messiah. For, since they
despised the true Messiah, who came in the time fore-allotted by the prophets, and
crucified him; they still expect I know not what chimerical one, concerning whom they have
no certain opinion: whether he shall be one, or two; whether he shall arise from among the
living, or from the dead; whether he shall come in the clouds of heaven, or sitting upon
an ass, &c.: they expect a Son of David; but they know not whom, they know not
2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his
[Judas.] In Hebrew, Jehudah. Which word not only the Greeks, for want of
the letter "h" in the middle of a word, but the Jews themselves, do contract
into Judah: which occurs infinite times in the Jerusalem Talmud. The same person
who is called R. Jose Bi R. Jehudah, in the next line is called R. Jose Bi R.
5. And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat
[Booz of Rachab.] So far the Jewish writers agree with Matthew, that they
confess Rachab was married to some prince of Israel, but mistaking concerning the person:
whether they do this out of ignorance, or wilfully, let themselves look to that.
Concerning this matter, the Babylonian Gemara hath these words: "Eight prophets and
those priests sprung from Rachab, and they are these, Neriah, Baruch, Seraiah, Maaseiah,
Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanameel, and Shallum. R. Judah saith, Huldah also was of the posterity
of Rachab." And a little after, "There is a tradition, that she, being made a
proselytess, was married to Joshua": which Kimchi also produceth in Joshua 6. Here
the Gloss casts in a scruple: "It sounds somewhat harshly (saith it), that Joshua
married one that was made a proselyte, when it was not lawful to contract marriage with
the Canaanites, though they became proselytes. Therefore we must say that she was not of
the seven nations of the Canaanites, but of some other nation, and sojourned there. But
others say that that prohibition took not place before the entrance into the promised
8. And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;
[And Joram begat Ozias.] The names of Ahazias, Joash, and Amazias, are struck
out. See the history in the books of the Kings, and 1 Chronicles 3:11, 12.
I. The promise that "the throne of David should not be empty," passed over,
after a manner, for some time into the family of Jehu, the overthrower of Joram's family.
For when he had razed the house of Ahab, and had slain Ahaziah, sprung, on the mother's
side, of the family of Ahab, the Lord promiseth him that his sons should reign unto the
fourth generation, 2 Kings 10:30. Therefore however the mean time the throne of David was
not empty, and that Joash and Amazias sat during the space between, yet their names are
not unfitly omitted by our evangelist, both because they were sometimes not very unlike
Joram in their manners; and because their kingdom was very much eclipsed by the kingdom of
Israel, when Ahazias was slain by Jehu, and his cousin Amazias taken and basely subdued by
his cousin Joash, 2 Chronicles 25:23.
II. "The seed of the wicked shall be cut off," Psalm 37:28. Let the studious
reader observe that, in the original, in this very place, the letter Ain, which is the
last letter of wicked, and of seed, is cut off, and is not expressed; when,
by the rule of acrostic verse (according to which this Psalm is composed), that letter
ought to begin the next following verse.
III. "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, &c. For I the Lord thy
God am a jealous God; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the
third and fourth generation," (Exodus 20:5.
Joram walked in the idolatrous ways of the kings of Israel, according to the manner of
the family of Ahab, 2 Kings 8:18. Which horrid violation of the second command God visits
upon his posterity, according to the threatening of that command; and therefore the names
of his sons are dashed out unto the fourth generation.
IV. The Old Testament also stigmatizeth that idolatry of Joram in a way not unlike this
of the New; and shows that family unworthy to be numbered among David's progeny, 2
Chronicles 22:2: Ahazias, the son of two and forty years: that is, not of his age
(for he was not above two-and-twenty, 2 Kings 8:26), but of the duration of the family of
Omri, of which stock Ahazias was, on the mother's side; as will sufficiently appear to him
that computes the years. A fatal thing surely! that the years of a king of Judah should be
reckoned by the account of the house of Omri.
V. Let a genealogical style not much different be observed, 1 Chronicles 4:1; where
Shobal, born in the fifth or sixth generation from Judah, is reckoned as if he were an
immediate son of Judah. Compare chapter 2:50.
In the like manner, Ezra 7, in the genealogy of Ezra, five or six generations are
11. And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried
away to Babylon:
[And Josias begat Jechonias.] The sons of Josias were these: the first-born,
Jochanan; the second, Joachim; the third, Zedekiah; the fourth, Shallum, 1 Chronicles
3:15. Who this Shallum was, the Jerusalem Talmudists do dispute: "R. Jochanan saith,
Jochanan and Jehoachaz were the same. And when it is written, Jochanan the first-born,
it means this; that he was the first-born to the kingdom: that is, he first reigned. And
R. Jochanan saith, Shallum and Zedekias are the same. And when it is written, Zedekias the
third Shallum the fourth; he was the third in birth, but he reigned fourth." The same
things are produced in the tract Sotah. But R. Kimchi much more correctly: "Shallum
(saith he) is Jechonias, who had two names, and was reckoned for the son of Josias, when
he was his grandchild" (or the son of his son); "For the sons of sons are
reputed for sons." Compare Jeremiah 22:11 with 24; and the thing itself speaks it.
And that which the Gemarists now quoted say, Zedekiah was also called Shallum, because
in his days 'Shalmah,' 'an end was put to' the kingdom of the family of David: this
also agrees very fitly to Jechonias, Jeremiah 22:28-30.
12. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel
[Jechonias begat Salathiel.] That is, "a son of the kingdom," or
successor in that dignity of the house of David, whatsoever it was, which was altogether
withered in the rest of the sons of Josiah, but did somewhat flourish again in him, 2
Kings 25:27. And hence it is, that of all the posterity of Josiah, Jechonias only is named
by St. Matthew.
Jechonias, in truth, was without children, Jeremiah 22:30; and Salathiel,
properly speaking, was the son of Neri, Luke 3:27: but yet Jechonias is said to beget him;
not that he was truly his father, but that the other was his successor; not, indeed, in
his kingly dignity, for that was now perished, but in that which now was the chief dignity
among the Jews. So 1 Chronicles 3:16, Zedekias is called the son, either of Jehoiakim,
whose brother indeed he was, or of Jechonias, whose uncle he was; because he succeeded him
in the kingly dignity.
The Lord had declared, and that not without an oath, that Jechonias should be without
children. The Talmudists do so interpret "R. Judah saith, All they of whom it is
said, These shall be without children; they shall have no children. And those of
whom it is said, They shall die without children; they bury their children."
So Kimchi also upon the place; "The word (saith he) means this; That his sons
shall die in his life, if he shall now have sons: but if he shall not now have sons, he
never shall. But our Rabbins of blessed memory say, That he repented in prison. And they
say moreover, Oh! how much doth repentance avail, which evacuates a penal edict! for it is
said, 'Write ye this man childless': but, he repenting, this edict turned to his
good," &c. "R. Jochanan saith, His carrying away expiated. For when it is
said, 'Write this man childless,' after the carrying away it is said, 'The sons of Coniah,
Assir his son, Shealtiel his son.'" These things are in Babyl. Sanhedrim, where these
words are added, "Assir his son, because his mother conceived him in prison."
But the words in the original (1 Chron 3:17) are these...Now the sons of Jechonias
bound [or imprisoned] were Shealtiel his son. Which version both the accents and the
order of the words confirm...
16. And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is
[And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary.] The mother's family is not to
be called a family. Hence the reason may very easily be given, why Matthew brings down
the generation to Joseph, Mary's husband; but Luke to Eli, Mary's father. These two frame
the genealogy two ways, according to the double notion of the promise of Christ. For he is
promised, as the 'seed of the woman,' and as the 'Son of David'; that, as a man, this, as
a king. It was therefore needful, in setting down his genealogy, that satisfaction should
be given concerning both. Therefore Luke declareth him the promised seed of the woman,
deducing his mother's stock, from whence man was born, from Adam; Matthew exhibits his
royal original, deriving his pedigree along through the royal family of David to Joseph,
his (reputed) father.
17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations;
and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and
from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
[Fourteen generations.] Although all things do not square exactly in this
threefold number of fourteen generations, yet there is no reason why this should be
charged as a fault upon Matthew, when in the Jewish schools themselves it obtained for a
custom, yea, almost for an axiom, to reduce things and numbers to the very same, when they
were near alike. The thing will be plain by an example or two, when a hundred almost might
Five calamitous things are ascribed to the same day, that is, to the ninth day of the
month Ab. "For that day (say they) it was decreed, That the people should not go into
the promised land: the same day, the first Temple was laid waste, and the second also: the
city Bitter was destroyed, and the city Jerusalem ploughed up." Not that they
believed all these things fell out precisely the same day of the month; but, as the
Babylonian Gemara notes upon it, That they might reduce a fortunate thing to a holy
day, and an unfortunate to an unlucky day.
The Jerusalem Gemara, in the same tract, examines the reason why the daily prayers
consist of the number of eighteen, and among other things hath these words; "The
daily prayers are eighteen, according to the number of the eighteen Psalms, from the
beginning of the Book of Psalms to that Psalm whose beginning is, 'The Lord hear thee in
the day of trouble,'" [which Psalm, indeed, is the twentieth Psalm]. "But if any
object, that nineteen Psalms reach thither, you may answer, The Psalm which begins, 'Why
did the heathen rage,' is not of them," a distinct Psalm. Behold, with what liberty
they fit numbers to their own case.
Inquiry is made, whence the number of the thirty-nine more principal servile works, to
be avoided on the sabbath-day, may be proved. Among other, we meet with these words;
"R. Chaninah of Zippor saith, in the name of R. Abhu, Aleph denotes one,
Lamed thirty, He five, Dabar one, Debarim two. Hence are the
forty works, save one, concerning which it is written in the law. The Rabbins of Caesarea
say, Not any thing is wanting out of his place: Aleph one, Lamed thirty, Cheth
eight: our profound doctors do not distinguish between He and Cheth": that
they may fit number to their case...
"R. Joshua Ben Levi saith, In all my whole life I have not looked into the [mystical]
book of Agada but once; and then I looked into it, and found it thus written, A hundred
and seventy-five sections of the law; where it is written, He spake, he said, he
commanded, they are for the number of the years of our father Abraham." And a
little after; "A hundred and forty and seven Psalms, which are written in the Book of
the Psalms [note this number], are for the number of the years of our father Jacob.
Whence this is hinted, that all the praises wherewith the Israelites praise God are
according to the years of Jacob. Those hundred and twenty and three times, wherein the
Israelites answer Hallelujah, are according to the number of the years of Aaron,"
They do so very much delight in such kind of concents, that they oftentimes screw up
the strings beyond the due measure, and stretch them till they crack. So that if a Jew
carps at thee, O divine Matthew, for the unevenness of thy fourteens, out of their own
schools and writings thou hast that, not only whereby thou mayest defend thyself, but
retort upon them.
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was
espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
[When as his mother was espoused] No woman of Israel was married, unless she had
been first espoused. "Before the giving of the law (saith Maimonides), if the man and
the woman had agreed about marriage, he brought her into his house, and privately married
her. But after the giving of the law, the Israelites were commanded, that, if any were
minded to take a woman for his wife, he should receive her, first, before witnesses; and
thenceforth let her be to him a wife, as it is written, If any one take a wife.
This taking is one of the affirmative precepts of the law, and is called espousing."
Of the manner and form of espousing, you may read till you are weary, in that tractate,
and in the Talmudic tract, Kiddushin.
[Before they came together.] "In many places the man espouseth the woman;
but doth not bring her home to him, but after some space of time." So the Gloss upon
Distinction is made by the Jewish canons, and that justly and openly, between private
society or discourse between the espouser and the espoused, and the bringing
of the espoused into the husband's house. Of either of the two may those words be
understood, before they came together, or, rather, of them both. He had not only
not brought her home to him, but he had no manner of society with her alone, beyond the
canonical limits of discourse, that were allowed to unmarried persons; and yet she was
found with child.
[She was found with child.] Namely, after the space of three months from her
conception, when she was now returned home from her cousin Elizabeth. See Luke 1:56, and
compare Genesis 38:24.
The masters of the traditions assign this space to discover a thing of that nature.
"A woman (say they) who is either put away from her husband, or become a widow,
neither marrieth, nor is espoused, but after ninety days: namely, that it may be known,
whether she be big with child or no; and that distinction may be made between the
offspring of the first husband and of the second. In like manner, a husband and wife,
being made proselytes, are parted from one another for ninety days, that judgment may be
made between children begotten in holiness," (that is, within the true religion; see
1 Cor 7:14) "And children begotten out of holiness."
19. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a
public example, was minded to put her away privily.
[But Joseph, being a just man, &c.] There is no need to rack the word just,
to fetch out thence the sense of gentleness or mercy, which many do; for,
construing the clauses of the verse separately, the sense will appear clear and soft
enough, Joseph, being a just man, could not, would not, endure an adulteress: but
yet not willing to make her a public example, being a merciful man, and loving his
wife, was minded to put her away privily.
[To make her a public example.] This doth not imply death, but rather public
disgrace, to make her public. For it may, not without reason, be inquired, whether
she would have been brought to capital punishment, if it had been true that she had
conceived by adultery. For although there was a law promulged of punishing adultery with
death, Leviticus 10:10, Deuteronomy 22:22, and, in this case, she that was espoused, would
be dealt withal after the same manner as it was with her who was become a wife; yet so far
was that law modified, that I say not weakened, by the law of giving a bill of divorce,
Deuteronomy 24:1, &c., that the husband might not only pardon his adulterous wife, and
not compel her to appear before the Sanhedrim, but scarcely could, if he would, put her to
death. For why otherwise was the bill of divorce indulged?
Joseph, therefore, endeavours to do nothing here, but what he might, with the full
consent both of the law and nation. The adulteress might be put away; she that was
espoused could not be put away without a bill of divorce; concerning which thus the Jewish
laws: "A woman is espoused three ways; by money, or by a writing, or by being lain
with. And being thus espoused, though she were not yet married, nor conducted into the
man's house, yet she is his wife. And if any shall lie with her beside him, he is to be
punished with death by the Sanhedrim. And if he himself will put her away, he must have a
bill of divorce."
[Put her away privily.] Let the Talmudic tract 'Gittin' be looked upon, where
they are treating of the manner of delivering a bill of divorce to a wife to be put away:
among other things, it might be given privately, if the husband so pleased, either into
the woman's hand or bosom, two witnesses only present.
23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they
shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
[Behold, a virgin shall be with child.] That the word virgin, in the prophet,
denotes an untouched virgin, sufficiently appears from the sense of the place,
Isaiah 7:14. King Ahaz there was afraid, lest the enemies that were now upon him might
destroy Jerusalem, and utterly consume the house of David. The Lord meets this fear by a
signal and most remarkable promise, namely, 'that sooner should a pure virgin bring forth
a child, than the family of David perish.' And the promise yields a double comfort:
namely, of Christ hereafter to be born of a virgin; and of their security from the
imminent danger of the city and house of David. So that, although that prophecy, of a virgin's
bringing forth a son, should not be fulfilled till many hundreds of years after, yet, at
that present time, when the prophecy was made, Ahaz had a certain and notable sign, that
the house of David should be safe and secure from the danger that hung over it. As much as
if the prophet had said, "Be no so troubled, O Ahaz; does it not seem an impossible
thing to thee, and that never will happen, that a pure virgin should become a
mother? But I tell thee, a pure virgin shall bring forth a son, before the house of
Hear this, O unbelieving Jew! and shew us now some remainders of the house of David: or
confess this prophecy fulfilled in the Virgin's bringing forth: or deny that a sign
was given, when a sign is given.
In what language Matthew wrote his Gospel.
[Which is, being interpreted.] I. All confess that the Syriac language was the
mother-tongue to the Jewish nation dwelling in Judea; and that the Hebrew was not at all
understood by the common people may especially appear from two things:
1. That, in the synagogues, when the law and the prophets were read in the original
Hebrew, an interpreter was always present to the reader, who rendered into the
mother-tongue that which was read, that it might be understood by the common people. Hence
those rules of the office of an interpreter, and of some places which were not to be
rendered into the mother-tongue.
2. That Jonathan the son of Uzziel, a scholar of Hillel, about the time of Christ's
birth, rendered all the prophets (that is, as the Jews number them, Joshua, Judges,
Samuel, the Books of the Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve lesser prophets)
into the Chaldee language; that is, into a language much more known to the people than the
Hebrew, and more acceptable than the mother-tongue. For if it be asked why he translated
them at all, and why he translated not rather into the mother-tongue, which was known to
all? and if it be objected concerning St. Matthew and St. Paul, that, writing to the Jews,
one his Gospel, the other his Epistle (to the Hebrews), they must have written in the
Syriac tongue (if so be they wrote not in Hebrew), that they might be understood by
First, It was not without reason that the paraphrast Jonathan translated out of the
Hebrew original into the Chaldee tongue, because this tongue was much more known and
familiar to all the people than the Hebrew. The holy text had need of an interpreter into
a more known tongue, because it was now in a tongue not known at all to the vulgar. For
none knew the Hebrew but such as learned it by study. However, therefore, all the Jews
inhabiting the land of Canaan, did not so readily understand the Chaldee language as the
Syriac, which was their mother-language, yet they much more readily understood that than
the Hebrew, which, to the unlearned, was not known at all. Hence it was not without
necessity that the prophets were turned into the Chaldee language by Jonathan, and the
law, not much after, by Onkelos, that they might a little be understood by the common
people, by whom the Hebrew original was not understood at all. We read also that the Book
of Job had its Targum in the time of Gamaliel the Elder; that is, Paul's master.
Secondly, it is no impertinent question, Why Jonathan and Onkelos did not rather
translate into the Syriac language, which was the mother-language to all the people, when
both they themselves were in Judea, while they were employed about this work, and laboured
in it for the use of the Jews that dwelt there? To which we give this double answer; 1.
That, by turning it into the Chaldee language, they did a thing that might be of use to
both them that dwelt in Judea, and in Babylon also. 2. The Syriac language was not so
grateful unto the Jews, who used it for their mother-tongue, as the Chaldee was; as being
a language more neat and polite, and the mother-tongue to the brethren in Babylon, and
which they that came up out of Babylon, carried thence with them into Judea. You may
wonder, reader, when you hear that canon which permits a single man "to say his
prayers in any language, when he asks those things that are needful for him, except only
the Syriac: While he asketh necessaries for himself, let him use any language but the
Syriac." But you will laugh when you hear the reason: "Therefore, by all
means, because the angels do not understand the Syriac language."
Whether they distinguish the Syriac language here from the pure Chaldee, is not of
great moment solicitously to inquire: we shall only produce these things of the Glosser
upon Beracoth, which make to our purpose:--"There are some (saith he) who say, that
that prayer which begins 'sermon,' is therefore to be made in the Syriac language, because
it is a noble prayer, and that deserves the highest praise; and therefore it is framed in
the Targumistical language, that the angels may not understand it, and envy it to
us," &c. And a little after; "It was the custom to recite that prayer after
sermon: and the common people were there present, who understood not the Hebrew
language at all; and therefore they appointed it to be framed in the Targumistical
language, that it might be understood by all; for this is their tongue."
Mark, the Hebrew was altogether unknown to the common people: no wonder, therefore, if
the evangelists and apostles wrote not in Hebrew when there were none who understood
things so written, but learned men only.
That also must not be passed over, which, at first sight, seems to hint that the Syriac
language was not understood even by learned men. "Samuel the Little, at the point of
death, said, Simeon and Ismael to the sword; and all the other people to the spoil: and
there shall be very great calamities." And because he spoke these things in the
Syriac language, they understood not what he had said. This story you have repeated in
the Babylonian Gemara, where the words of the dying man are thus related; Let the Glosser
upon the place be the interpreter: "Simeon and Ismael to the sword [that is,
Rabban Simeon the prince, and R. Ismael Ben Elisha the high-priest, were slain with the
sword], and his fellows to slaughter [that is, R. Akibah and R. Chananiah Ben
Teradion were slain by other deaths; namely R. Akibah by iron teeth, and R. Chananiah by
burning alive before idols]; and the other people for a prey: and very many calamities
shall fall upon the world."
Now where it is said that, "They understood not what he said, because he spake in
the Syrian tongue," we also do not easily understand. What! for the Jerusalem doctors
not to understand the Chaldee language! For Samuel the Little died before the destruction
of the city; and he spake of the death of Rabban Simeon, who perished in the siege of the
city; and he spake these things when some of the learnedest Rabbins were by: and yet that
they understood not these words, which even a smatterer in the oriental tongues would very
Therefore, perhaps, you may beat out the sense of the matter from the words of the
author of Juchasin, who saith, He prophesied in the Syriac language, But now, when
prophecies were spoken only in the Hebrew language, however they understood the sense of
the words, yet they reputed it not for a prophecy, because it was not uttered in the
language that was proper for prophetical predictions. But we tarry not here. That which we
would have is this, that Matthew wrote not in Hebrew (which is proved sufficiently by what
is spoken before), if so be we suppose him to have written in a language vulgarly known
and understood; which, certainly, we ought to suppose: not that he, or the other writers
of the New Testament, wrote in the Syriac language, unless we suppose them to have written
in the ungrateful language of an ungrateful nation, which, certainly, we ought not to
suppose. For when the Jewish people were now to be cast off, and to be doomed to eternal
cursing, it was very improper, certainly, to extol their language, whether it were the
Syriac mother-tongue, or the Chaldee, its cousin language, unto that degree of honour;
that it should be the original language of the New Testament. Improper, certainly, it was,
to write the Gospel in their tongue, who, above all the inhabitants of the world, most
despised and opposed it.
II. Since, therefore, the Gentiles were to be called to the faith, and to embrace the
Gospel by the preaching of it, the New Testament was written very congruously in the
Gentile language, and in that which, among the Gentile languages, was the most noble; viz.
the Greek. Let us see what the Jews say of this language, envious enough against all
languages besides their own.
"Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel saith, Even concerning the holy books, the wise men
permitted not that they should be written in any other language than Greek. R. Abhu saith
that R. Jochanan said, The tradition is according to Rabban Simeon; that R. Jochanan said,
moreover, Whence is that of Rabban Simeon proved? From thence, that the Scripture saith,
'The Lord shall persuade Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Sem': the words of
Japhet shall be in the tents of Sem": and a little after, God shall persuade
Japhet; i.e. The grace of Japhet shall be in the tents of Sem." Where the
Gloss speaks thus; "'The grace of Japhet' is the Greek language; the fairest of those
tongues which belonged to the sons of Japhet."
"Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel saith, Even concerning the sacred books, they
permitted not that they should be written in any other language than Greek. They searched
seriously, and found, that the law could not be translated according to what was
needful for it, but in Greek." You have this latter clause cut off in Massecheth
Sopherim, where this story also is added: "The five elders wrote the law in Greek for
Ptolemy the king: and that day was bitter to Israel, as the day wherein the golden calf
was made, because the law could not be translated according to what was needful for
it." This story of the 'five interpreters' of the law is worthy of consideration,
which you find seldom mentioned, or scarce anywhere else. The tradition next following
after this, in the place cited, recites the story of the Seventy. Look at it.
When, therefore, the common use of the Hebrew language had perished, and when the
mother Syriac or Chaldee tongue of a cursed nation could not be blessed, our very enemies
being judges, no other language could be found, which might be fit to write the (new)
divine law, besides the Greek tongue. That this language was scattered, and in use among
all the eastern nations almost, and was in a manner the mother tongue, and that it was
planted every where by the conquests of Alexander, and the empire of the Greeks, we need
not many words to prove; since it is every where to be seen in the historians. The Jews do
well near acknowledge it for their mother-tongue even in Judea.
"R. Jochanan of Beth Gubrin said, There are four noble languages which the world
useth; the mother-tongue, for singing; the Roman, for war; the Syriac, for mourning; and
the Hebrew, for elocution: and there are some who say, the Assyrian for writing."
What is that which he calls the mother-tongue? It is very easily answered, the Greek, from
those encomiums added to it, mentioned before: and that may more confidently be affirmed
from the words of Midras Tillin, respecting this saying of R. Jochanan, and mentioning the
Greek language by name. "R. Jochanan said, There are three languages; the Roman, for
war; the Greek, for speech; the Assyrian, for prayer." To this also belongs that,
that occurs once and again in Bab. Megillah, In the Greek mother tongue. You have
an instance of the thing; "R. Levi, coming to Caesarea, heard some reciting the
phylacteries in the Hellenistical language." This is worthy to be marked. At
Caesarea flourished the famous schools of the Rabbins. The Rabbins of Caesarea are
mentioned in both Talmuds most frequently, and with great praise, but especially in that
of Jerusalem. But yet among these, the Greek is used as the mother-tongue, and that in
reciting the phylacteries, which, you may well think, above all other things, in Judea
were to be said in Hebrew.
In that very Caesarea, Jerome mentions the Hebrew Gospel of St. Matthew, to be laid up
in the library of Pamphilus, in these words: "Matthew, who was also called Levi, from
a publican made an apostle, first of all in Judea composed the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew
letters and words, for their sakes, who were of the circumcision and believed. Which
Gospel, who he was that afterward translated it into Greek, it is not sufficiently know.
Moreover, that very Hebrew Gospel is reserved to this day in the library at Caesarea,
which Pamphilus the martyr, with much care, collected. I also had leave given me by the
Nazarenes, who use this book in Berea, a city of Syria, to write it out."
It is not at all to be doubted, that this Gospel was found in Hebrew; but that which
deceived the good man was not the very handwriting of Matthew, nor, indeed, did Matthew
write the Gospel in that language: but it was turned by somebody out of the original Greek
into Hebrew, that so, if possible, the learned Jews might read it. For since they had
little kindness for foreign books, that is, heathen books, or such as were written in a
language different from their own, which might be illustrated from various canons,
concerning this matter; some person converted to the gospel, excited with a good zeal,
seems to have translated this Gospel of St. Matthew out of the Greek original into the
Hebrew language, that learned men among the Jews, who as yet believed not, might perhaps
read it, being now published in their language: which was rejected by them while it
remained in a foreign speech. Thus, I suppose, this gospel was written in Greek by St.
Matthew, for the sake of those that believed in Judea, and turned into Hebrew by somebody
else, for the sake of those that did not believe.
The same is to be resolved concerning the original language of the Epistle to the
Hebrews. That Epistle was written to the Jews inhabiting Judea, to whom the Syriac was the
mother-tongue; but yet it was writ in Greek, for the reasons above named. For the same
reasons, also, the same apostle writ in Greek to the Romans, although in that church there
were Romans, to whom it might seem more agreeable to have written in Latin; and there were
Jews, to whom it might seem more proepr to have written in Syriac.