Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

What About Moses' Seat?

By the time of the Messiah, those who sat on Moses' Seat had corrupted Moses' Seat, and had forsaken the true Laws of YEHOVAH God given through Moses. We are commanded to separate ourselves from all such corruption and evil, done in the name of YEHOVAH God. The translation of Matthew 23:2-3 found in Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew clearly points this out!

by John D. Keyser

In their argument against the stand taken by the Sadducees, some in the Worldwide Church of God offshoots have insisted that we should follow the Pharisees because they sit in "Moses' Seat."

Even though some of the Pharisees during the time of the Messiah were wicked men, self-seeking, proud, arrogant and evil tempered, and guilty of many sins, as the Messiah himself stated very plainly in Matthew 23, where he called them "snakes," "fools," "blind," and so forth, yet these Pharisee adherents claim Yeshua never hinted, intimated, declared, or stated, that they had NO AUTHORITY concerning the Scriptures or the word of YEHOVAH God!

Rather, continues their argument, the Messiah told the multitudes, along with his own disciples --

"The scribes and PHARISEES SIT IN MOSES' SEAT: ALL therefore WHATSOEVER THEY BID YOU OBSERVE, THAT OBSERVE AND DO; but do not ye after their works [their own wicked deeds]: for they say, and do not" (Matthew 23:2-3).

Notice, they say, "this is a plain statement a clear cut commandment. Yeshua did not mince words. He said we are to OBEY 'ALL' that the Pharisees commanded us to do -- not just part of, but 'WHATSOEVER' they told us to observe!"

Here Matthew seems to be saying that the words of the Pharisees should be followed -- but because they are hypocrites their actions should not be followed! "The implication," writes Nehemiah Gordon, "is that a true follower of Yeshua would need to do whatever the Pharisees taught, in order to faithfully obey Yeshua's instructions. In practice this would mean following all the rules and regulations which the Pharisees invented without any Scriptural basis" (The Hebrew Yeshua Vs. the Greek Jesus, Hilkiah Press 2006, p. 3).

In a footnote to the above Gordon notes:

"The metaphorical interpretation of 'Moses' Seat' as Mosaic authority seems likely. It is a basic Pharisee doctrine that the Rabbis have the authority of Moses. This is expressed in the well-known Mishnaic account about the dispute between Rabban Gamaliel II and Rabbi Joshua. These two rabbis disagreed about when Yom Kippur was to fall in a certain year, but Rabban Gamaliel sat on the Rabbinic court, and hence Rabbi Joshua was compelled to accept his ruling even though he knew it to be factually wrong. Rabbi Dosa explained to Rabbi Joshua that he must give in to Gamaliel's ruling because:

"If we go and challenge Rabban Gamaliel's court, we must also challenge each and every court that has presided since the days of Moses until now...each and every set of three [Rabbis] that preside as a court over Israel are equivalent to the court of Moses (Mishnah, Rosh Hashannah 2:9).

"So the Rabbis really believed they preside in place of Moses! (ibid., footnote 4, page 3).

Now is this true? Are we to follow the Pharisees blindly, regardless of what they said? And just what is "Moses' Seat"?

There are two main options regarding the phrase "Moses' Seat." Some say "that in every synagogue there was an actual chair called a 'Moses' Seat' in which the leaders of the congregation would sit and teach with authority. The other opinion was that 'Moses' seat' was a figure of speech indicating someone who teaches with the authority of Moses. Either way, the statement that the Pharisees sit in 'Moses' seat' meant that they have some kind of Mosaic authority" (The Hebrew Yeshua Vs. the Greek Jesus, pp. 2-3).

It can, in fact, be shown that "Moses' Seat" is a symbolic, physical seat within ancient synagogues where the scribes or Pharisees would sit during services. It was a seat of authority and judgment within Pharisaical Judaism, usually beautifully and ornately carved and located in a prominent position within the synagogue. Archaeologists have found stone chairs in ancient synagogues in Hamath, Chorazin, En-Gedi and Delos next to where the law was kept, which served the same function. When reading from scripture, the reader would apparently sit in this chair and expound to the congregation.

When the scribe or Pharisee sat in Moses' Seat and spoke, it was received as the FINAL WORD -- similar to when a King or Pharaoh sat upon his throne for official decrees. A parallel today would be when the pope sits in "Peter's Chair" in the Vatican, as his seat of authority, and makes pronouncements "ex-cathedra" -- meaning that these pronouncements are infallible and to be taken by all church members as "gospel" -- no questions asked! Today, the pope elevates tradition to be equal with Scripture, even proclaiming the church's tradition to be essential to salvation. He is leading people astray just like the Pharisees and Sadducees and, as a result, is strongly condemned by Yeshua in Matthew 23!

Now it is a fact that every Greek translation of the New Testament has textual differences -- that NONE agree completely! Due to a misunderstanding, or mistranslation when the Greek gospels were being written, the words of the Messiah became confused in this instance. There is much proof that the gospels -- as well as other New Testament books -- were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, then later translated into Greek. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all Aramaic-speaking Israelites. Their mother tongue was Aramaic -- NOT Greek, although they may have had a rudimentary understanding of Greek to conduct business with the authorities and strangers.

Up until recently, the only existing manuscripts of the gospels were Greek manuscripts. Because of this many have assumed that the gospels were originally written in Greek, and if Hebrew gospels ever existed they were either destroyed or lost over time. However, recent discoveries of a Hebrew Matthew add new light to the gospels by challenging some assumptions Christianity has adopted over the centuries, and helps answer some of the gospels' most problematic texts -- such as Matthew 23:1-4.

It so happens that a complete Hebrew text of Matthew's gospel was preserved in the body of a 14th century Jewish polemical treatise entitled Evan Bohar. The author of the treatise was one Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut Ibn Shaprut, a Castilian Jewish physician living in Aragon, Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. This period of time was noted for the Disputatio -- or "Disputations" that were public debates forced upon the Jews of Spain by their Catholic oppressors. Explains Nehemiah Gordon:

"Shem-Tov Ibn Shaprut lived at the height of these Disputations and to help his fellow Jews he sat down and wrote a polemical treatise refuting Catholicism. Shem-Tov's polemical approach was to go through the New Testament section by section searching for weaknesses that could be used against the Catholics. Interestingly enough, one of his common tactics was to point to verses where the Catholics violate the direct instructions of Yeshua. At the end of Shem-Tov's polemical treatise, entitled Even Bochan ('Test Stone'), he included a Hebrew version of the book of Matthew as a sort of appendix...The Hebrew version of Matthew appended to the end of Shem-Tov's Even Bochan is now generally referred to as 'Shem-Tov's Hebrew Matthew'" (ibid., p. 38).

It turns out that Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew was known among the scholars for centuries, but it was always assumed that it was simply translated from the Greek or Latin into Hebrew. "Then in the 1980s George Howard of Mercer University in Georgia carried out a detailed linguistic study in which he showed that there were parts of Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew which could not be easily explained as translations from Greek" (The Hebrew Yeshua Vs. the Greek Jesus, p. 39).

Although it has undergone considerable revision to make it more in line with the Greek and Latin texts, the Hebrew foundation of the gospel of Matthew is unmistakable. This Matthew is a HEBREW Matthew -- NOT a translation of Greek or Latin into Hebrew. There are numerous grammatical clues within the text that point to an original Hebrew construction -- probably copied from a earlier Hebrew manuscript. Nehemiah Gordon explains one of these clues:

"One of the things Howard found in Shem-Tov's Hebrew Matthew was Hebrew word puns. A word pun is a play on words that builds on similar sounding Hebrew roots used multiple times with different meanings. They are a common feature of the Tanach [Old Testament] and form an integral part of Hebrew story-telling....Word puns such as these are extremely common and can be found on nearly every page of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was surprising however when Howard found Hebrew word puns in Shem-Tov's Hebrew Matthew because it was supposed to be a translation from the Greek" (ibid., pp. 39-40).

So, you might ask, why are these word puns so important? Also, if Shem-Tob's so-called Hebrew Matthew was a translation from the Greek -- WHERE did all the Hebrew word puns come from? Since the purpose of a word pun is to beautify the text, why in the world would a 14th-century rabbi writing a treatise to refute Catholicism bother to beautify a Hebrew translation of the book of Matthew? Why indeed!

An assessment of Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew is made by Dr. James D. Tabor (formerly of Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA -- and now Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte). He writes:

"Shem-Tov's text is basically BH (Vav Consecutive predominates) with a mixture of MH and later rabbinic vocabulary and idiom. In addition the text reflects considerable revision to make it conform more closely to the standard Greek and Latin Gospel texts. The underlying text, however, reflects its original Hebrew composition, and it is the most unusual text of Matthew extant in that it contains a plethora of readings not found in any other codices of Matthew. It appears to have been preserved by the Jews, independent from the Christian community.

"It sometimes agrees in odd ways with Codex Sinaiticus. It contains some striking readings in common with the Gospel of John, but in disagreement with the other Gospels. It is very likely that the author of John polemized against the portrait of John the Baptizer that he found in a text such as ST Hebrew Matthew. He might well have then known a Shem-Tov type Matthean text. ST also often agrees with the Lukan version of Q. ST also contains 22 agreements with the Gospel of Thomas.

"N.B. Sinaiticus, Q, and Thomas were all lost in antiquity but found in modern times -- making the parallels with ST all the more remarkable.

"The Pseudo-Clementine writings (Recognitions and Homilies) when quoting or referring to Matthew occasionally agree with ST Hebrew Matthew against the canonical Greek versions.

"E.g., puns that make sense in Hebrew: Matt 7:6: 'Do not throw your pearls before swine [chazir], lest they trample them under foot and turn [yichazru] to attack you.'

"Lack of Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matt 28:19-20 is unique but seems to be in codices that Eusebius found in Caesarea: he quotes (H.E. 3.5.2): 'They went on their way to all the nations teaching their message in the power of Christ for he had said to them, "Go make disciples of all the nations in my name."' ST reads: 'You go and teach them to carry out all the things that I have commanded you forever.'

"Howard argues that Shem-Tov did not create the Hebrew Matthew himself (e.g., translating from the Latin) but had an existing Hebrew text to work with -- as he sometimes comments on its scribal errors and strange readings. Matt 11:11 is a good case in point, as the Greek, Latin, and all other Matthean witnesses contain the qualifying phrase: 'nonetheless, the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.' Shem-Tov comments on the unique version he is following, and how its lack of such a phrase implies that John is greater than Jesus. If he were translating from the Latin, Greek, or any other version such a comment would be meaningless" (Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew, The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel, pp. 1-2).

Why should a Hebrew copy of the Book of Matthew be such an extraordinary and debatable discovery? After all, the ancient historians knew of such copies -- note the following examples --

Papias (circa 100 A.D.): "Matthew collected the oracles [ta logia] in the Hebrew language, and each [person] interpreted them as best he could" (Eusebius, H.E. 3.39.16).

Irenaeus (circa 202 A.D.): "Matthew also issued a written Gospel amongst the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church" (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1).

Origen (184/185-253/254 A.D.): "As having learnt by tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are unquestionable in the Church of God under heaven, that first was written according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language" (Eusebius, H.E. 6.25.4).

A good study of the Shem Tob Hebrew Matthew can be found in the book, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew by George Howard. Howard concludes, in his book, that,

"An investigation into this text leads to the conclusion that an old substratum to the Hebrew Matthew in Shem-Tob is a prior composition, NOT a translation. The old substratum, however, has been exposed to a series of revisions so that the present text of Shem-Tob represents the original only in an impure form (1987, p. 223).

Regarding Moses' Seat in Matthew 23:1-3, Shem Tob's Hebrew Matthew gives us a completely different picture of Moses' Seat than given in the Greek originated King James Version. Following is an English translation of the Hebrew Matthew by Nehemia Gordon, a scholar who is a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and an expert in ancient Hebrew/Aramaic texts --

"The Pharisees and sages sit upon the seat of Moses. Therefore, all that he [Moses] says to you, diligently do, but according to their [the Pharisees] reforms [takanot] and their [the Pharisees] precedents [ma'asim] do not do, because they talk but do not do."

Takanot are "reforms that change Biblical law" and ma'asim are "acts or deeds that serve as precedent."

We find confirmation of this translation further on in the Hebrew Matthew, where it says:

"Woe to you BLIND CHAIRS [SEATS], who say that he who swears by the sanctuary is not obligated but he who vows by anything that is sanctified to the sanctuary building is obligated to pay. MAD MEN AND BLIND MEN! Which is greater, the sanctuary or the thing which is sanctified to the sanctuary?" (Hebrew Matthew 23:16-20).

Throughout this passage the Messiah is taking the Pharisees to task. Earlier (in Hebrew Matthew 23:1-3) he said that they sat in the seat of Moses and now he calls them (in the Hebrew) "you blind chairs" -- they sit in the seat or "chair" of Moses but they are "mad men and blind men"!

Yeshua, in his rebuke of the Pharisees and their traditions, compared their deeds and reforms with the deeds and reforms of the Samaritans in 2 Kings 17:34, adding even further weight to Shem Tob's version of Matthew 23:1-2. Notice!

"The Samaritans do "according to their statutes and their judgments" but "they do not do" according to the Torah" (translation by Nehemia Gordon).

What Yeshua is telling us in Matthew 23:1-3 is NOT to follow the scribes and Pharisees, but to DISTANCE OURSELVES FROM THEM! They follow their own ideas and opinions, contrary to Moses. We are to follow the explicit words of Moses and Scripture, without adding anything to them, or subtracting anything from them! By the time of the Messiah, those who sat on Moses' Seat had corrupted Moses' Seat, and had forsaken the true Laws of YEHOVAH God given through Moses. We are commanded to separate ourselves from all such corruption and evil, done in the name of YEHOVAH God.

Who, after reading the these verses from the Shem Tob, can defend tradition with it? What were the Scribes and Pharisees doing that was so strongly condemned? They read from the books of Moses (in his seat) when teaching in the synagogue, but then proceeded to levy their own burdensome unbiblical laws and doctrines (traditions) on the people -- corrupting them and leading them astray, such that YEHOVAH God's message was lost or incomprehensible! And this was accompanied by great and splendid shows of holiness and piety!

The Messiah was warning his followers NOT to adhere to the takanot or man-made laws of the Rabbis. This is clearly consistent with what the Messiah taught his disciples in Matthew 15:3 and 6 -- "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?...you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition" (NKJV). The Messiah accused the Pharisees of placing their own invented laws above the law of YEHOVAH God in the Torah! It is noteworthy that in the Hebrew of Matthew 15:3 and 6 the word translated as "tradition" is also takanot -- "reforms that CHANGE biblical law"!

So we find here -- in the Hebrew Matthew -- a CONSISTENT thread throughout the book, preaching against the takanot, the Pharisaic reforms that change YEHOVAH's law.

To conclude: Even those who deny the antiquity of Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew must admit the SUPERIORITY of this rendering. William Horbury -- who dates Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew to the Middle Ages in what appears to be the only serious attempt at challenging Howard's evidence -- admits that: "...very old Christian readings could survive in Hebrew Gospel quotations in Jewish anti-Christian [read, "anti-Catholic"] polemic" (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, p. 736). In other words, whatever the origin of Shem-Tob's Hebrew Matthew turns out to be, it clearly contains EARLY READINGS NOT FOUND IN THE SURVIVING GREEK TEXT.


Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!

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P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.

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