The Gospel of Matthew, in Hebrew translation, manuscript scroll on vellum [Central Europe, eighteenth century]
This is a Christian Gospel, composed originally in Greek, made to resemble a Jewish Hebrew scroll of the Old Testament. It is a remarkable and apparently unique relic of the religiously tolerant society of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. In the eighteenth century, Christian theologians began to consider the teachings of Jesus in the context of human philosophy as well as the pronouncements of a divine being. Perhaps in response to this, a number of contemporary Jewish scholars also began to turn their attention to the New Testament. A small number of other Hebrew translations of Matthew had been made either as part of anti-Christian polemics (as in the thirteenth-century Shem Tov Matthew, which survives interpolated in an anti-Christian text), or in order to support Jews involved in theological debates weighing up Christianity against Judaism (as in the sixteenth century 'Münster Matthew', published by Sebastian Münster in 1537 from a manuscript given to him by Jews he had converted to Christianity, and the 'Du Tillet Matthew', also obtained from Jews in 1553, and surviving in BnF. Heb.MSS 132), but only in the eighteenth century did this process occur in a non-confrontational manner. It produced Rabbi Rahabi Ezekiel's translation of Matthew: Ha-sepher shel we-'angilu shel ha-Nosarim shel Yeshu (The book of the Gospel belonging to the followers of Jesus). Such inclusivist ideas set down strong roots in Germany around Rabbi Jacob Emden (Ya'avetz, 1697-1776) and the scholar Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), and this manuscript, and its unique translation, must have been made there or in a similar school in Central Europe.
The present manuscript stands apart from other known examples, in that it is in scroll-format, a form usually reserved for only the most sacred Hebrew scriptures. It concludes with a micrographic tree, executed in the Jewish tradition, formed of the words of the text of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 1-5, on the unity of the faithful and of Christians of the new "commonwealth of Israel" (Ephesians 2:12).