In 2006, Pier Franco Beatrice (Padua), one of our creative Patristic scholars, published a substantial article on 'The "Gospel according to the Hebrews" in the Apostolic Fathers', Novum Testamentum 48 (2006): 147-95.
Pier Franco was so kind to point me to this article. Here my preliminary responds which shows how much we still do not know, and how much we still have to research and check.
For years now, since Joseph Kürzinger's times - I contributed to his book with the edition and translation of Papias' fragments my very first scholarly publication, the bibliography raisonnee -, while I am not saying that his interpretation convinced me then or now, I have worked on Papias, the Kerygma Petrou, the Gospel of Peter (on the latter I had to do a translation and introduction for the New Schneemelcher, over 10 years ago which still has not appeared and, I fear, a contribution which will be somehow out of date when it will appear), Ignatius and Marcion. Some of Beatrice's suggestions in the above article are not far off from the way I see it:
- I can see the point of combining all the Petrine evidence and to see them derived from one document, although it is a hypothesis that hangs on a number of assumptions, probably the most difficult for me is why the Clement fragments are so coherent, but do not display a Gospel type of writing, while the Gospel of Peter does not display the Clement fragments' character of the Kerygma. But there might be a way to overcome this.
- I have neither a principle problem with the possibility that Ignatius quotes from the Gospel of the Hebrews. In both cases, there is a clear Petrine emphasis given in both backgrounds which also explains the relation between the Gospel of the Hebrews and whatever we call the Petrine text. And it is also quite clear that the text relates to the post-resurrection passage that we know off from Marcion's Gospel.
- As Beatrice rightly assume, the dating of both Ignatius and Papias is not clear (around Marcion's time, which is not fully clear either).
- I may even understand his interpretation of Papias, although we simply do not know precisely what he means, but what seems clear is that somehow the two names that he mentions became later related to what we know today as canonical gospels. But I agree, he himself could have meant the two other texts above. If so, we are left with a Hebrew Gospel and a Petrine Gospel
- I don't think that Papias knew of Luke or John; as to what Beatrice mentions in note 142, these opinions are derived from misreading the Armenian texts published by Siegert
- I am also sceptical about his interpretation of Polycarp to the Philippians. Of course, one can relate this text to the Gospel of Hebrews, but the reference to a 'man' who 'is first-born of Satan' is more clearly related to a single author (Marcion?) than to an anonymous Gospel called according to many, namely the Hebrews - obviously without a relation of this Gospel to one single author. And again, the relation that Beatrice makes between IgnPhilad. 8,2 to the Gospel of the Hebrews is less convincing ('nothing really prevents us' is less than an argument). If one admits that it is a supposition 'that the Gospel of the Hebrews' was at the centre of fierce debate in the Christian communities' - there are really little traces left of this 'fierce debate'. We do not have a single work against this Gospel (in contrast to a whole range of books against Marcion and his Gospel with Tertullian's full commentary on it), on the contrary, we have here and there, as Beatrice shows, references to it and, if we follow his argument, even appreciations of it as in Papias, Ignatius and others (altough I would be more cautious and not call the series of assumptions and arguments 'an absolutely clear way', p. 186, but this might be a matter of style). When one draws from these references that this Gospel 'was a very old and authoritative gospel around the years 110-140CE' - I doubt that 'very old' can mean much, as Papias/John does not make the link with the Apostles, nor does anybody else (contrary to the Gospel of Peter that is being linked with the Apostle). So how old was the Gospel of the Hebrews? Marcion claims that his Gospel is that of which Paul spoke. Does he mean that it was written by Paul - of course not, but that, as Marcion says according to Tertullian, that it enlightens what Paul meant to say. I am so sceptical about our past 200 years scholarship that has traced all sorts of things (see for example the Apostles' Creed) to the first century. If this were correct, why have only authors of around 110-140 (and I rather think towards to end of this window) started quoting not only this Gospel of the Hebrews, but Gospels at all.
- I agree with Beatrice's scepticism about Irenaeus (probably Theophilus?) assertion that Marcion circumcized a Gospel, why is Justin not telling us about this (or anybody else prior to Irenaeus)? I think we first needed the other Gospels and the acceptance of those to benchmark what Marcion had in hands.
- If I understood Beatrice correctly than we are in the same boat here with one difference that he believes that Marcion used an earlier Gospel (of course which is contradicted by a strong opinion of Marcion himself who does claim that he did not use Luke and is silent about the use of any other sources except Paul), while I am still thinking about potential sources of him. Having worked on this question for a few years now, I strongly believe that Marcion's Gospel was his own creation and that Luke (together with all the other later canonical gospels) are re-writings of it.
Having read his article, I will certainly look more closely about the potential relation between the Gospel of the Hebrews and Marcion's Gospel. From what I have read in the past, I had the impression that the Gospel of the Hebrews was also a reaction to that of Marcion, but that opinion might be revised in the light of what Beatrice says and what I need to check again. Marcion must have had sources beyond Paul, but were these in written form? The Gospel of the Hebrews? Or could the Gospel of the Hebrews be what Marcion criticized to have been the publication of his own Gospel by others (even prior to his own publication of it with the Antitheses) in which the link had been made with the Law and the Prophets, a description which could well fit the title of the Gospel of the Hebrews which is, of course, precisely the opposite of what Marcion suggested, namely a Pauline Gospel that shows that the Hebrews did not understand a word and that therefore, the Gentiles were the only hope for the new belief.