The “Cochin” Hebrew Gospels – Hebrew Translation of the Peshitta
James Scott Trimm
Some excitement has been recently generated around the “Cochin” Hebrew Gospels. In fact, in his book Messianic Church Arising (Sons of Zion vs Sons of Greece Volume Two) Dr. Miles R. Jones boldly declares “These Gospels have been ascertained to have come from a first century source!“ (p.265)
On page 262 Jones gives us his “Authentication of the Cochin Hebrew Gospels” in which he demonstrates a connection to the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Which he regularly refers to ambiguously as the “Hebrew Gospel” in his books).
We read in the Goodnews according to Matthew that at the death of Yeshua:
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
The fourth century “Church Father” Jerome writes concerning The Gospel According to the Hebrews (a Gospel use by the ancient sect of the Nazarenes along side our familiar four):
“But in the Gospel which is written in Hebrew characters we read not that the veil of the Temple was rent, but that the lintel of the Temple of wondrous size was broken and even forced asunder.”
(Jerome; Letter 120 to Hedibia; Jerome on Mat. 27:51)
Also in the Historia passionis Domini we read likewise:
“Also in the Gospel of the Nazarenes we read that at the time of Messiah’s death the lintel of the Temple, of immense size, had split (Josephus says the same and adds that overhead awful voices were heard which said: ‘Let us depart from this abode’.”
(Historia passionis Domini; MS: Theolog. Sammelhandschrift 14th-15th Century, foll. 65r)
The lintel was a crossbeam over the doorway to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The lintel stood atop pillars eight stories high which formed this doorway. The lintel was some thirty feet across and made of solid stone. It would have weighed about 30 tons! At the death of Yeshua there was an earthquake. This earthquake caused the lintel to split, breaking in the middle. It would have been no small event when the two pieces of this thirty ton lintel came crashing down eight stories! The veil hung from the lintel and the hekel doors were attached to the pillars. When the lintel broke it caused the veil to be rent in two from top to bottom. (In the Jewish culture it is common for a father to morn the death of his son by renting his garment in just such a fashion.)
Dr. Miles Jones maintains that the Cochin Gospels reflect this reading, and that this is their “authentication” by which he ascertains that they “come from a first century source”. As evidence Jones cites the Hebrew readings of Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45 from the Cochin Gospels (ibid page 262) He begins with Matthew 27:51 as follows:
ובמהרה פני הדלת של ההיכל נתבצע לשנים מן תחילתו עד םופו וארץ נזדעזע ואבנים נסתרו
Which Jones translates:
“And suddenly the face of the entry to the Temple was split in two from the beginning until the end and the earth shook and the [heavens] were hidden.”
Jones then quotes Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45 from the Cochin manuscript, each with the phrase פני הדלת which Jones renders “the entry of the Temple”. This is supposed to be proof of the first century origin of the text in the Cochin Gospels.
The truth is that this Hebrew phrase פני הדלת literally “the face of the door” is merely a literal Hebrew rendering of the Syriac Aramaic phrase found in these same passages in the Aramaic Syriac Peshitta אפי תרעא “the face of the door”. This word פני is used in the Torah to describe the place where the curtain was (Ex. 26:9). This phrase no more indicates the lintel than the veil. One could see where variant readings referring to a “veil” and to the “lintel” might have originated from this ambiguity, but the Cochin Gospel’s source is not the Hebrew Gospel itself, but the Syriac Peshitta (which itself is a revision of the Old Syriac version which was derived from a Western Aramaic or Hebrew original. (the Old Syriac also has this reading).
In fact the Cochin Gospels are replete with unique Peshitta readings. For example, in Luke 2:1 where the Greek has πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην “all of the world” the Peshitta has כלה עמא דאוחדנה “all the people of his dominion” which the Cochin Hebrew literally translates כל העם במקומותם “all the people of his dominion.” Many more examples could be given.
But one might ask, how do we know the direction of translation? Perhaps, one might argue, the Peshitta is a literal Syriac Aramaic translation of the Hebrew in the Cochin Gospels.
The direction of translation is clear. To begin with the Aramaic of the Peshitta is a revision of the older and more primitive of the Aramaic Old Syriac version, and the Cochin Hebrew agreed with the Peshitta against the Old Syriac (as in Luke 2:1 above, where the Old Syriac does not agree with the Peshitta.
The even more obvious evidence is in the fact that the Cochin Hebrew, at times, transliterates the Syriac of the Peshitta into it’s Hebrew text. For example in Matthew 1:1 the Cochin text retains the Aramaic ד prefixed to the name of Yeshua, despite the fact that this would not be used in Hebrew (but does appear in the Peshitta here). Even more obvious is to be found in Matthew 1:20 and 24 where the phrase “of the LORD” appears as the Syriac דמריא copied right out of the Syriac of the Peshitta. Again in Matthew 7:21 where we read “Lord, Lord” the Cochin Hebrew transliterates מרי מרי “Mari, Mari,” right out of the Aramaic of the Peshitta. So there can be no doubt that the Cochin Hebrew Gospels are a translation of the Syriac Aramaic Peshitta, and not vice versa.
It should come as no surprise to us that these Hebrew Gospels, found in India, are merely Hebrew translations of the Peshitta, since the Peshitta has long been the standard text of the so called “St. Thomas Christians of Malabar”.
I should add that my comparisons have concluded that the entire text of the books of the Cochin Hebrew New Testament, are simply a translation of the Syriac Aramaic of the books of the Peshitta canon (as far as that canon goes).
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