The Matthean Infancy Narrative

[Christmas realities have hit, making me admit that full length blogs the last two days of Christmas week are just not feasible! So forgive me as I just post here some “notes” on Matt and later Luke, consisting of largely recycled material from my class lectures!]

Matthew’s is largely from Joseph’s perspective, Luke’s from Mary’s

  • This does not mean, however, that Joseph and Mary were necessarily the sources—rather that the evangelists focused on them and what they represented
  • For Matt, Joseph’s proposed status as a Davidid makes Jesus David’s true heir, although admittedly through “adoption” or legal recognition by Joseph, not literal descent

Matthew does not mention Nazareth until the end of his account, presenting the possibility that Joseph was from Bethlehem and Mary was from Nazareth

  • Was it an arranged marriage and Joseph went to Nazareth to retrieve his new bride?
  • The problem of the “census” is will be treated in the next blog on the Lucan infancy narrative
  • Joseph and Mary had a “house” in Bethlehem and intended to return to there from Egypt (Matt 2:11, 22)

Structure of Matthew’s Infancy Narrative

Formula quotations cite Jewish scriptures (usually from the LXX or Greek translation); they give authority to Matthew’s account and demonstrate that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy

  • Genealogy (1:1–17)
  • Conception and birth (1:18–25)
  • first formula quotation, 1:23 = Isaiah 7:14 LXX
  • Visit of the Wise Men (Epiphany; 2:1–12)
  • second formula quotation, 2:6 = Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2
  • Escape into Egypt (2:13–15)
  • third formula quotation, 2:15b = Hosea 11:1
  • Massacre of the Innocents (2:16–18)
  • fourth formula quotation, 2:18 = Jeremiah 31:15
  • “Return” to Nazareth (2:19–23)
  • fifth formula quotation, 2:23b = ?

Matthew’s Genealogy

“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (NRSV)
Israelite kings and priests were anointed (“messiahs” with a lowercase “m”)
Descending genealogy, list divided into three sets of 14 generations

“ . . . So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” (Matt 1:1–17)”

  • Abraham to David
  • David to exile
  • Exile to Christ
  • Unequal divisions: 750, 400, and 600 years
  • 14 is the Hebrew numerical equivalent of David’s name

Matthew was probably selective in choosing who to list—and that is okay!

Presence of four women: Tamar (Gen. 38), Rahab (Josh. 2), Ruth (Ruth 2–4), Bathsheba (2 Sam 11–12)

  • irregular unions and conceptions—precedents for Mary?
  • actors, not acted upon
  • “sinners” too have a part in Christ
  • Gentiles have a part in Christ
  • Women important for God’s plan

Matthean Themes and Images

Jesus the true king

  • Joseph’s legal heir, emphasis on Joseph’s role
  • Kingship was always traced in the male line; postulated Davidic lineage for Mary (although neither Matt or Luke’s genealogy suggests it) makes Jesus a literal descendant of David but does not make him a candidate for the throne
  • Son of David

Jesus as Immanuel

  • “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.’” (Matt 1:22–23 = Isaiah 7:14 LXX)

Jesus the new Moses

  • Massacre of the Innocents = Pharaoh’s massacre of Israelite boys

Joseph in Egypt and Joseph the Carpenter

  • role of revelatory dreams
  • escape to Egypt

Misconceptions Quicklist (Matthew)

Supposition: Matthew’s genealogy is that of Joseph, Luke’s of Mary

  • Matthews is probably legal descent and is more interested in illustrating theological and historical points

Supposition: There were three wise men, that they were perhaps kings, and they came to the manger

  • Number unknown, they were magi or Eastern (probably Persian priests/astronomers/wise men, they arrived anytime within the first two years, and they found the family in a house

Supposition: Herod killed thousands

  • Incident did not make Josephus’s record of Herodian atrocities, there would only a few dozen males under two in a town of Bethlehem’s size

Supposition: Because Joseph brought Mary from Nazereth in Luke, he was from Nazereth, not Bethlehem

  • No ancient examples of going to ancestral homelands to be taxed; one was taxed where he lived and owned property
  • After Egypt he intended to go back to Bethlehem (perhaps his home town) but found that Archelaus was worse than Herod
  • “made his home in a town called Nazareth” (NRSV; probably Mary’s home town)

8 comments for “The Matthean Infancy Narrative

  1. Eric, those notes alone are plentygood. Have you considered, perhaps, releasing your course content under the OpenCourseWare initiative, perhaps through BYU Independent Study?

    (A personal aside; those courses can be super-dry. Interesting lecture video, the way MIT did it, would enhance the Independent Study curriculum so much that I might not think each of the lessons was kind of a chore…)

    Would the “adoption” attitude taken by Joseph for Jesus the son of Mary take the form the Romans would have recognized as a legal adoption? Or is my cart before the horse here, where a man centuries later like Justinian would have based adoption law in the Corpus Iurus Civilis on an interpretation of the Nativity in Matthew?

    The other thing that strikes me from re-reading Matthew this week is the number of times that Joseph responded to a revelatory dream, akin in my experience to Lehi. Joseph was a visionary man. Heh.

  2. I guess you don’t buy the popular Mormon theory that the three magi were the brothers Lehi and Nephi, and their trusty sidekick Samuel the Lamanite?

  3. #3 Larrin, I think there is possibility that Matthew was making as many Mosaic connections as he could, to shore up the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was the one who would free captive Israel.

    The historical evidence for Jesus’ time in Egypt is spotty today, but the scholars I’ve read have suggested that Egypt, close as it is to Jerusalem, was often a place of resort or refuge for Israel. Eric probably knows piles more about this kind of thing than I do, but by 1 C.E. there were provable colonies of Jews, long part of the Diaspora, in Egypt. That makes it plausible that Jesus could have gone there with his parents. Happy to be wrong about that, though.

  4. Picking up on the Mosaic connection, some scholars have suggested that the use of 5 scriptural citations and 5 prophetic statements in the birth chapters are meant to allude to the torah. Likewise, the entire gospel of Matthew can be broken into 5 main sections.

    Matthew seems to be making a conscious comparison between Jesus and Moses. The Sermon on the Mount is arguably the new law on the new mountain in contrast to the law on mt sinai. In each incidence, Jesus intensifies the original law rather than liberalizing and diluting it. It is more a filling full of the intent God had for Israel.

Comments are closed.