The Anchor Bible, Vol. 26: Matthew Hardcover – 11 Jul 1985
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Albright and Mann immediately get off on the wrong foot. In their discussion on the canonicity of our four gospels, they apparently try to establish the superiority of the four gospels to justify their inclusion in the New Testament. This leads to a discussion about why noncanonical gospels are not really gospels. They conclude other apocryphal writings "were slanted to a form of belief about the person and work of Jesus which finds no expression in the pages of the New Testament" (xix).
This approach is very problematic. It puts the cart before the horse by making the canonical works an arbitrary standard to judge other claimants retroactively. It assumes a uniformity of belief of the New Testament authors that does not exist. Finally, the New Testament authors were hardly objective themselves; their portrayal of Jesus is just as slanted as any of the other gospels. As Albright and Mann point out, orthodoxy was not something that jumped up from nowhere. What we now call Christianity today was more akin to a cauldron of various Jesus movements often competing with each other. Most of these groups wrote about their ideas about Jesus. These writings influenced each other. It is from this cauldron "orthodoxy" emerged. Our four gospels were among the earliest. This means they had more time to spread and become popular. Attaching names of apostles or their immediate disciples added to their popularity. As their popularity increased, early Christians regarded them as supporting the orthodox position. Church councils ratified their popularity and strengthened the gospels' orthodoxy by making them the standard for Christianity. In today's parlance, we might say Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John became canonical because of better marketing, not necessarily because they were superior to other written gospels. This renders the authors' discussion of what is and is not truly a gospel to irrelevancy. Things could have gone another way, and if it had, the situation would be reversed.
Any discussion on the authorship and sources of Matthew always confronts us with the so-called synoptic problem. How is it Matthew and Luke appear so much like Mark that the latter has only about fifty verses unique to his gospel? Further, how is it that Matthew and Luke have so much material in common not found in Mark, although one likely did not have the other available? The dominant answer for years has been the two-source theory. Both Matthew and Luke had Mark available to them, which they used to establish the narrative framework of their own gospel. They also both used another document, called Q, which explains the other material they have in common. Material unique to Matthew came from other sources, written or oral, that was not either available or used by Luke. Matthew was not simply a cut and paste job; the author, who probably was not the apostle, shaped and structured the material to reflect his own theological views and the needs of his community.
Albright and Mann reject this hypothesis. They argue the gospel authors wrote the synoptic gospels essentially independently based on oral tradition. They depended on each other rarely, if at all. Matthew was the author of an Aramaic document from which the Greek gospel was based, if not our gospel itself. Albright and Mann argue so often against the two-source theory that this work is more of an apologetic against it, rather than an exposition of their own view. They caricature the theory and continually raise "problems" against it. However, they have not given us a unified and coherent theory to replace it, and what they do give raises more questions than it answers. Further, unencumbered by their caricature, the two-source theory can readily handle most of the "problems" raised against it. It therefore remains the dominant theory on the origin of the synoptics thirty years after the publication of this commentary.
Their discussion on Matthew's use of the Old Testament is more promising. According to Albright and Mann, the quotations are not simply proof texts pulled randomly to bolster the author's case. They are midrashic commentaries similar to ones found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and elsewhere. Moreover, they form an important part of the gospel's structure. The rest of the introductory material covers the way Matthew handled various topics. These discussions are handled better than the discussion on authorship. I found their argument that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are separate realms weak. However, their discussion on the word "hypocrite" is especially illuminating. Albright and Mann have divided the commentary itself into translation, notes, and comments. The comments are usually short. They have already covered much of the material in the introduction, so the reader rarely misses anything important to the discussion. In other cases, particularly regarding the historicity of a pericope, a better discussion of the issues involved would have been helpful.
My final judgment on this installment of The Anchor Bible is mixed. I can still commend it to the general reader, since the writers mostly did a wonderful job in making their positions understood. The commentary also has some bright points worth considering. However, it reads too much like an apologetic for me to commend it on scholarly grounds.