Sunday, Dec 04, 2005: “The Infancy Narratives: Session 2”


St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
The Infancy Narratives
Discussion Led By Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Sunday, December 4, 2005


Matthew 1:18 – 2:23


1:18 a “refer back” to 1:1 (“genesis”) and 1:16 “Jesus the Messiah”

“engaged”: awkward in Greek and in English to express the marriage customs of that place and time; described in later rabbinic documents as a two-step process:
(1) formal exchange of consent before witnesses (cf. Mal 2:14)
(2) subsequent taking of the bride to the groom’s family home (cf. Mt 2:1-13)

legal stipulations link “marriage” to step (1), although it was popularly connected to step (2)

the girl was usually about 12-13 at the time of step (1), and remained in her family-of-origin’s home for about a year before step (2); step (1) constituted a legally binding marriage, one in which the man had rights over the girl; Mt calls Mary Joseph’s “wife” during the narrative, but Lk uses only “engaged”

“from the Holy Spirit”: (“spirit” is feminine in Hebrew; neuter in Greek) creative rather than sexual role; no developed doctrine of the Trinity implied)

“son of God”: cf. Rom 1:1, Mt 3:16

19 “righteous man”: perhaps “justice and mercy” but more likely “obeying the Law,” specifically Dt 22:20-21 with a lenient interpretation of “purge the evil from your midst”
“quietly” = “leniently” (cf. Hillel)

20 “angel of the Lord”: a separate intermediary only in post-exilic thought; appears in the rest of Mt only at the empty tomb (28:2) à REB “the infancy narrative is the vehicle of post-resurrection theology”

“in a dream”: 5 times here; parallel to Joseph story (Gn 37, 39-50)

“you are to name him Jesus”: in patriarchal times, either a father or a mother could name a child; here, Joseph names him; in Lk, Mary names him; by naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his son (Mishna: “If a man says ‘this is my son,’ he is to be believed.”); not natural paternity, but legal paternity

“Jehoshua” = “God helps” but popularly (cf. Philo of Alexandria) “God saves”; Joshua

22-23 cf. Is 7:14, LXX change from MT

24 follows God’s command

25 “until”: implication in English, but not in Greek or Semitic usage


Chapter 1: “Quis et quando?”


Jesus as “son of David” (Mt uses it 10 times; Mk & Lk 4 times; John 0); used in Mt by others, not by Jesus

Joseph acknowledged Jesus by naming him; that makes him “son of David”
Holy Spirit’s action makes him “son of God”; resurrection faith

REB: in NT times, there was a movement toward pre-existence Christology (Phil 2:6, Col 1:15, Jn 1:1); “Conception christology and pre-existence christology are two different answers to adoptionism.”


Chapter 2:1-12


2:1 “Bethlehem”: no exact location in the city is given, but vs. 11 suggests the house where Mary (and Joseph?) lived 
“of Judea”: there also was a Bethlehem in Zebulun
“Herod” the Great died in 4 B.C..
“wise men”: “magi”; cf. Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, page 167 (REB)
— mention of the star seems to emphasize role as astrologers

2 “star”: often said to mark the birth of great figures of the time or to signal an important event

Virgil, Aeneid: a star guided Aeneas to the place where Rome was to be founded
Josephus tells of a star and of a comet over Jerusalem at the time of its fall
Cicero: when the light from the burning of the Temple of Diana was seen, magi from Persia interpreted it as announcing the birth of one who would be a great threat to Asia, viz. Alexander the Great

the births of Augustus, Mithradates and Alexander Severus were said to have been hailed by the appearance of new stars

Nero viewed the appearance of a comet as warning of the death of a great person
(he had several high-ranking officials killed to make sure that he wasn’t the one!)

suggestions: a supernova, a conjunction of planets, a comet
“at its rising”: possibly “when it first appeared”

star moving from the East to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem?
“pay him homage”: here and in vss. 8 and 14 plus 10 times in the rest of Mt
here: respect for royalty

3 a threat to Herod’s sovereignty

4 “chief priests and scribes”: reflects Passion narrative; all working against Jesus
here, magi ask about “King of the Jews,” but the assembled leaders talk about “Messiah”;

in Mt 26:63, the chief priest asks about “Messiah,” but in 27:37, the Romans crucify him as “King of the Jews”

5 a citation combining Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2

overall view of 2:1-12: “Ubi et Unde?”

Gentiles come to Jesus
parallel with Balaam oracle in Numbers 24:17; some Aramaic versions of that story make specific reference to a king; magi combined with Numbers reference: Gentiles and Jews

Rabbi Akiba hailed Simon bar Kochba as Messiah
images of the magi appear in the catacombs beginning in the second century (cf. REB,
pp. 197-200)


Chapter 2:13-23


13 “to destroy him”: same verb as in 27:20
“Egypt”: frequent refuge from Palestine (Solomon and Jeroboam, Jehoiakim and prophet Uriah, Antiochus Epipohanes and high priest Onias IV)
(legends: cf. REB, pp. 203-204)

16 “all the children”: actually reads “boys”; if population equaled 1000, probably about 20

(later legends listed number killed as 14,000, 64,000 or even 144,000); no mention anywhere else in antiquity, even in Josephus

23 “Nazorean”: parallel with Isaiah 11:1 “branch” in its Aramaic form

overall view of 2:13-23: The rescue of the child savior is parallel to the rescue of Moses and to the experience of Israel as a whole; Israel (Jacob) was saved by entering Egypt and later by leaving Egypt (Gen 45:5—”God sent me before you to preserve life.”)

provides an explanation of how Jesus from Bethlehem became Jesus of Nazareth

By the end of this narrative (Matthew 1 and 2), we have the child identified: he is the son of David, the son of Abraham, the new Moses, the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.