Oooops.. which Matthew is Matthew??
Panteneus, the famous early second century teacher of the first Cathetical collegium in Alexandria, found it necessary to follow the silk road to India in order to find a original copy of the original Gospel according to Matthew.
Panteneus were the teacher of Clement of Alexandria the churchfather and among the greater inspirators of both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox traditions. The time of his travel to India is unclear, but the timeline stretches from 120 at earliest and about 145CE at latest, since he is heard of as having taught at the Cathetical collegium to his last days.
After registering the fact about his voyage, I concluded from the sources I had at hand that – Nothing is heard about a: whether his quest were a success, though it appears to me that the Oriental thought he did. b: whether or not the gospel version in question differs from what the Western church had at that time, or whether indeed it differs from the one version we have and read today. Having read about the adventures of Panteneus to the East to secure a manuscript of an original gospel, I was reminded of James Bruce`s quest to Egypt in order to secure a copy of the famous Secret Book of Enoch – instead of that, by chance, he discovered an ancient codex book containing a cryptic and not before heard about collection of texts, The Books of Ieou – or the books of the saviour, written by an obscure Gnostic sect. Recounting the “exact structure of the treasuries of light” and the secret baptism which Jesus gave his disciples when he returned after his ascent into heaven. As I have already mentioned there is little to be had of information about this curious campaign in the history of the Church, considering how much emphasis some scholars and theologians have had on the primacy of the Gospel according to Matthew (in the sense of it being first) – it stands out as a kind of Quest for the Holy Grail. Much the pity we hear nothing more about it from the encyclopedias, dictionaries, from books on “Biblical Archeology” and so forth.
Browsing around today at the Schoeyen Collection of the Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology… I happened upon this description for a Coptic manuscript fragment in the collection :
MS in Mesokemic (Middle Egyptian or Oxyrhynchite dialect) on papyrus, Oxyrhynchus region, Egypt, 1st half of 4th c., 39 ff. (- ca. 6 ff.), 23×20 cm, single column, (18×14-16 cm), 25-28 lines in a fine regular Coptic uncial.
Context: MSS 2648, 2649, 2651 and 14 ff. of Isaiah (in Mesokemic, ca. 300) were found tipped in among the leaves of the present codex, which originally had ca. 45 ff. Probably from the same hoard as the Chester Beatty papyri, now in Dublin: Chester Beatty Library.
Provenance: 1. Monastery in the Oxyrhynchus region, Egypt (4th c. – ca. 1930); 2. Antiquity dealer, Alexandria (ca. 1930); 3. Private collector, Zürich.
Commentary: The text opens at ch. 5:38 and goes more or less continuously to the end.
The present codex is the earliest Matthew in any Coptic dialect. The 11 chapters, 6-9, 13-17, 22 and 28, and a great number of verses elsewhere, are in addition the earliest witnesses to these parts of the Bible. The text is unique, not following any Coptic nor Greek manuscripts known of Matthew.
Prof. Dr. Hans-Martin Schenke in his editio princeps of the text, has named the manuscript Codex Schøyen, with the siglum Mae 2. (siglum Mae 1 being the Scheide Codex of 5th c.) His conclusions are that the text is not representing a free text transmission in relation to all the other extant Greek and Coptic manuscripts of Matthew, but that it is a correct translation of an entirely different Gospel of Matthew. There is only one other Gospel of Matthew known, the lost Hebrew Gospel of the Jewish Christians mentioned by the church fathers. This would have been the Hebrew exemplar of the Greek translation the present manuscript is based upon. Actually the famous statement by Papias that the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was translated into Greek several times (Eusebius, hist. eccl. III, 39, 16), now come in a new light. Due to a series of textual differences between Codex Schøyen and the Canonical Gospel, it appears that both Gospels derive from different versions of the Hebrew Matthew. The consequence is that the relationship among the Synoptic Gospels has to be entirely re-evaluated, causing far-reaching and dramatic consequences for New Testament research.
Published: Hans-Martin Schenke in the series Manuscripts in The Schøyen Collection, ed. Jens Braarvig; Coptic Papyri, vol. I. Oslo 2001
The example of Pantaneus, and to a certain extent also Papias, both early 2nd century Churchfathers – gives us occasion to wonder whether or not originally there existed one authentic Gospel according to Matthew.. and the one we`ve got today, no matter how much we like and love it, is a later much edited and doctored recension.. and that we cannot (still) know where it is silenced, and where it is silent itself. Dr. Hans-Martin Schenke is right in observing that this may cause far-reaching and dramatic consequences for New Testament research. The majority of biblical scholars agree on the “primacy” of the Gospel according to Matthew per se , and this means that it is the priority of most theologians to look first at Matthew and then compare between the others. Apparently, this is now a bit more complicated – which Matthew is Matthew? Which Book really has primacy?
While Eusebius reports there are several original translations of the original Hebrew Gospel according to Matthew – more or less observing the industry and dynamis of the first Christian communities scribes, he never gives us an inch on how it is determined that the Gospel according to Matthew on the cutting table of the Canonical Synod at Nicaea qualifies as authentic or true, or even originating from one of several Greek versions (not only translations, as we now have found) of the original Hebrew Gospel. What he gives us is assurance that the Gospel of Matthew, or rather a Gospel of Matthew – where among the gospels chosen as authentic and canonical by the Roman Church.