Gospel of the Nazarenes


NAZARENES, GOSPEL OF THE. A divergent but not heretical Aram. form of the canonical gospel of Matthew which was circulated during the 2nd cent. in Syria, being used by a Jewish Christian sect which was known as the “Nazarenes.” Modern scholarship does not regard this as the Heb. or Aram. original of Matthew, although much confusion has resulted from Jerome’s claim to have tr. this gospel into both Gr. and Latin. Jerome is the chief source of information about it. The confusion has come because Jerome could be understood to establish this as the Aram. original from which the Gr. canonical Matthew had been tr. Also he referred to the document upon which he worked as “The Gospel according to the Hebrews,” which is a misnomer because that terminology actually identified a different gospel. Jerome seems to have learned of this document from Apollinaris who used it in his commentaries, as if it were the original form of Matthew. In fact, Jerome’s many citations of the Gospel of the Nazarenes seem to have come from the commentaries of Apollinaris. Scholars believe that the copy which eventually came into the possession of Jerome had been used by Eusebius who indicated in his writings that he knew of this Gospel of the Nazarenes. Jerome also mistook many citations in Origen from the Gospel According to the Hebrews as belonging to the Gospel of the Nazarenes.

By comparison to the canonical gospel of Matthew the Stichometry of Nicephorus assigned the Gospel of the Nazarenes 2,200 lines, some 300 fewer than Matthew. This suggests that much which was in Matthew was left out of the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Some scholars have accepted the Oxyrhyncus Sayings as extracts of this gospel. If that be true, there must also have been much material in it that was not in Matthew for, from the two brief fragments of the Sayings, eight of the thirteen sayings are different from anything in the canonical Matthew. It does appear to have had the narrative of Christ’s birth and infancy and to have been an attempt at a complete account of Jesus’ ministry. Several variant readings have attracted interest, e.g., it was the lintel of the Temple that fell at the time of the crucifixion rather than the veil of the Temple that was rent, the suggestion of Mary to her son that he go to John to be baptized, etc. Some 5th-cent. MSS from Jerusalem known as the Zion MSS preserve as marginal readings many variants from this gospel. Also M. R. James has collected the citations of the Fathers from this document in The Apocryphal New Testament (1924), 3-6.