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Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, by John Kampen   

21 August 2020

Henry Wansbrough on connections made from Matthew to the Scrolls

THE author of this study is an expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and thoroughly read in the early rabbinic literature. His thesis is that a whole new study of the origin of Matthew’s Gospel is necessary. since the advance in the study of the full complement of the Dead Sea Scrolls, of the contribution of social sciences to New Testament study, and of archaeology, particularly of Galilee, in the past few decades. He sees Matthew as writing towards the end of the first century from the viewpoint of a sect within Judaism, setting out to show the superiority of Jesus’s teaching to any other approach within Judaism.

Although Matthew is writing in an urban environment in Syria, he is far more interested in the various parties within Judaism than either Mark or Luke, mentioning Pharisees and Sadducees more often than they do. It might be added that Matthew (possibly regarding himself as a scribe) is more careful to confine the scribes to legal discussions. Matthew is well conversant with the teaching of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including a good deal of their formulae, especially in the Beatitudes and the teaching on reconciliation in Matthew 18.

Matthew is, however firmly separated from both Qumran attitudes and rabbinism. The marks of this sectarian approach, frequently emphasised, are difference, separatism, and antagonism, perhaps most clearly seen in Matthew 5.17-20. On the contrary, Jesus, not the Law, is the only true source of Wisdom, and his yoke is the yoke of Wisdom (contrast 4Q421).

It is for this reason that the bankruptcy of the Jewish teachers is emphasised by the condemnations of Matthew 23, and the account of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion lays such heavy emphasis on Pilate’s reluctance to pass judgment and on the demands and mockery by the chief priests and authorities of the Jews, in sharp contrast to the centurion.

The difficulty of situating Matthew in this moment of Jewish history and culture is that we have so little reliable evidence. Josephus has his own axes to grind. Why does he not mention the Pharisees at all in his account of the Maccabean and Herodian periods? How safe is it to accept anything of the earlier Qumran traditions or the later rabbinic tradition as evidence for the late first century? There is certainly polemic in Matthew, but this study is enriching chiefly for the understanding that it gives of the Evangelist’s debt to the Qumran way of thought and of his own positive emphases.


Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB is a monk of Ampleforth, emeritus Master of St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.


Matthew within Sectarian Judaism
John Kampen
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