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The Allegedly Sinful Woman in the Gospel according to the Hebrews?

I mentioned that the story of the allegedly sinful woman was interpolated into Codex Bezae and later manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Yet the fourth century church historian Eusebius did not find it in his manuscript of John’s Gospel, nor did he identify it with the account in Luke 7:36-50, but he inferred that his source Papias had located it in the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews (cf. Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17). Didymus the Blind was more vague when he mentions that he found it in “certain Gospels” in his commentary on Ecclesiastes. Didymus, however, cites a tradition from the Gospel according to the Hebrews in his Commentary on the Psalms 184.9-10 and it is plausible that this was one of his sources for the story. I do not think the Gospel according to the Hebrews dates back as early as Papias, but I do accept that the oral tradition known to Papias developed over time and was eventually included in this text.

This raises another issue. While there are some scholars who continue to argue for the Patristic view that there was a single Gospel according to the Hebrews that was a significant source for the early Jesus tradition (e.g., Pritz, Edwards, Sloan), the majority position is that there were three different Gospels that the church authorities mistakenly lumped together (e.g., Vielhauer, Strecker, Klijn, Klauck, Frey). The three reconstructed Gospels are an eclectic Greek text cited by the Alexandrian Fathers (i.e. the Gospel according to the Hebrews), a Greek harmony of the Synoptic Gospels cited by the fourth century Epiphanius of Salamis (i.e. the Gospel according to the Ebionites), and an Aramaic Gospel that Jerome (mistakenly?) thought to resemble Matthew’s Gospel (i.e. the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans). The last approach that has found some recent champions (Luomanen, Gregory) accepts the existence of the first two reconstructed Gospels, but argues against the existence of the so-called Gospel according to the Nazoraeans by proposing that Jerome just knew an Aramaic translation of Matthew’s Gospel circulating among Christians known as the Nazoraeans and confused it with the source cited by earlier Greek Christian commentators as the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Here is a brief bibliography:

  • Edwards, James R. The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  • Evans, Craig. “The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition” in Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Edited by Oskar Skarsaune and Reider Hvalvik. Peabody: Hendrikson, 2007.
  • Frey, Jörg. “Die Fragmente judenchristlicher Evangelien” in Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung. I. Band: Evangelien und Verwandtes. Teilband 1. Edited by Christoph Markschies and Jens Schroter. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.
  • Gregory, Andrew. “Jewish Christian Gospels” in The Non-Canonical Gospels, 54-67. Edited by Paul Foster. London: T&T Clark, 2008.
  • Klijn, A. F. J. Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
  • Klauck, Hans Josef. Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction. Translated by Brian McNeil. London: T&T Clark, 2003.
  • Kok, Michael J. “Did Papias of Hierapolis Use the Gospel according to the Hebrews as a Source?” Journal of Early Christian Studies 25.1 (2017): 29-53.
  • Luomanen, Petri. Recovering Jewish-Christian Sects and Gospels. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
  • Pritz, Ray A. Nazarene Jewish Christianity: From the End of the New Testament Period until its Disappearance in the Fourth Century. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988.
  • Vielhauer, Philipp and Strecker, Georg. “Jewish Christian Gospels” in New Testament Apocrypha I: Gospels and Related Writings, 560-660. Edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher. Translated by R. McL. Wilson. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991.


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