The Tearing of the Temple Veil in the Original Hebrew/Aramaic
James Scott Trimm
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;
(This same event is recorded in Mark 15:38 and Luke 24:35)
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 superliminare templi infinitae magnitudinis
fractum esse atque diuisum. (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 14th to 15th Century 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)
This variant reading could be traced back to the reading of the Aramaic of the Old Syriac and Peshitta versions of these Gospels, which uses the phrase אפי תרעא literally “the face of the door” where the Greek reads καταπέτασμα “veil” in these verses. This may be the original Aramaic reading, or it may be a literal Aramaic translation of an original Hebrew reading פני הדלת. This word פני is used in the Torah to describe the place where the curtain was (Ex. 26:9).
A translator could have interpreted this original Hebrew/Aramaic phrase to refer either to the superliminare (lintel) or to the καταπέτασμα (veil).
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! 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.) This collapse of the lintel seems to have damaged the hekel doors as well. The Talmud states:
[For] forty years before the Temple was destroyed…
the gates of the Hekel opened by themselves.
until Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai rebuked them
saying “Hekel, Hekel, why alarm you us? We know
that you are destined to be destroyed. For of you
has prophesied Zechariah Ben Iddo (Zech. 11:1):
“Open your doors, O Lebanon and the fire shall
eat your cedars.”
So the original Hebrew/Aramaic reading behind both our canonical gospels and the Gospel according to the Hebrews can be seen in the Aramaic of the Old Syriac (and later Peshitta).
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