The seat of Moses

The following passage seems to contain a controversy, where Yeshua seems to order his followers to do what the Pharisees say, yet not to do it:

Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their tefillin broad and their tzitzit long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”
Mat. 23:1-8

First off, Moses’ seat was a seat in the synagoges where the rabbi who was teaching would sit. And it seems like they were often teaching works. The term works of the Law refers to the Oral Law (see a future post, not yet written).
Now according to this passage, we should follow whatever the rabbis say, yet we should not follow their works, i.e. follow the Oral Law. This makes sense, but then comes the next controversy: If he commands us to follow the rabbis, why does Yeshua speak so badly of them in the following verses?
The answer can be found in the Shem Tov’s manuscript. Matthew probably wrote his gospel in Hebrew, and this is the name of the owner of one of several manuscripts of the gospel of Matthew that was kept in Hebrew (This topic is to be covered in a future post).1&2 In this manuscript, there is a small difference in the text. And that difference is only 1 letter, but it completely changes the meaning of the verse:

Mat. 23:3, modern Hebrew (translated from Greek):
לכן כל אשר יאמרו לכם תשמרו לעשות אך כמעשיהם לא תעשו כי אמרים הם ואינם עשים
Mat. 23:3, Shem Tov’s Manuscript:
עתה כל אשר יאמר לכם שמרו ועשו ובתקנותיהם ומעשיהם אל תעשו שהם אומרים והם אינם עושים

This slight difference is the subject of the sentence: they. In Shem Tov’s manuscript, the same verb is conjugated with he.3 Effectively, Yeshua is saying this (according to Shem Tov’s manuscript):

Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever he (Moses) tells you, but not the works they do.”
Mat. 23:2-3

About the Hebrew gospel of Matthew

These are some sources used here, until I have enough time to cover the topic:

1 Benner, Jeff A., Ancient Hebrew Research Centre in Semitic Origins of the NT
2 Gordon, Nehemia, The Greek Jesus vs. the Hebrew Yeshua
3 Wiktionnary, they will say vs. he will say.


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