Birth Narrative

  • Created by: becca_102
  • Created on: 23-05-19 17:51

The Virgin Birth and Immanuel (1:22-23)

- Occurs after the angel appears to Joseph, announcing to him how the Holy Spirit had concieved Mary's child.

- Compares Jesus's virgin birth to the prohecy given in Isaiah 7:14, where Isaiah announces to King Ahaz that God will give him a sign, namely a boy conceived from a virgin named Immanuel and that his enemies will be destroyed before this boy "knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right"

- For readers of Matthew's Gospel, this connects Jesus's birth to the work of God throughout Israel's history, affirming from 1:23 in Matthew that Jesus too is "God with us"

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The Coming of a Ruler from Bethlehem (2:5-6)

- Placed after King Herod calls his "chief priests and teachers of the law" together in Matthew 2:4 to ask where the Messiah would be born. 

-  In Micah 5:2,4, Micah refers to the assault upon Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Micah deals with themes of suffering surrounding Israel, stating that although there will be suffering, one who shares in the lineage of David will eventally come to restore Israel's greatness.

- Historical parallels to Matthew's community, especially after 70 CE where they would likely still be feeling the impact of the destruction of Jerusalem.

- By connecting Micah here to the birth of Jesus, Matthew may not only be appealing to messianic prophecy but also to the potential restoration of Israel as a whole at the time of the Gospel's composition.

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The Calling of the Son out of Egypt (2:15)

- Occurs after an angel appears once again to Joseph, warning him of Herord's murderous intentions and persuading him to flee to Egypt.

- This references Hosea 11:1-4, in which the prophet Hosea decries Israel for worshipping false Gods and idols, by referring to Exodus, where God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. 

- It is likely that Matthew understood this was not a prophecy about the future, but used this passage in Hosea as a way of connecting the experience and history of Israel as a whole to the figure of Jesus.

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Rachel's Weeping for her children (2:17-18)

- This is after Herod has been tricked by the Magi and as a consequence orders the killing of all boys under two years old in Bethlehem.

- Matthew in reponse refers to Jeremiah 31:15, in which the prophet Jeremiah states that the Babylonian destruction of Israel is not the end of its time and that eventually Israel will be restored.

- The suffering of those being oppressed by Herord is connected to the suffering of those in Israel affected by the Babylonian insurgence and Jesus is implicitly connected to the restoration promised in Jeremiah.

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

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He Would be Called a Nazarene (2:23)

- Comes after Joseph comes out of Egypt and moves with Jesus and Mary to Nazareth in Galilee.

- The problem is that there is seemingly no corresponding passage in the Old Testament to which it is connected, and the term 'Nazarene' has been translated and interpreted in different ways, possibly as 'Nazorean' or 'Nazirite'.

- Some scholars argue that the term simply means a resident of Nazareth but others have suggested it is a play on words, inspired by Isaiah 4:3 and its use of Nazirite to identify Jesus in conjunction with the Nazarenes, who were a Jewish sect in the first century.

- Other scholars have suggested a similar play on words but instead from Judges 13:5, which refers to the figure of Manoah recieving a child from God (samson), who would be destined to deliever 'Israel from the hands of the Philistines'.

- In Hebrew, Bible also, a Nazirite was a person who voluntarily took a vow from Numberrs 6:1-21 and so became 'consecrated' to God, but this vow involved giving up alcohol and Jesus was said to drink wine in Matthew 11:19.

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Theological Significance of Matthew's Birth Narrat

- Raymond Brown, notes that world literature at the time was filled with great people written to have distinct powers or capabilities from an early age, such as Buddha. 

- Matthew was likely to be influenced by there were legends about Moses having extraordinary knowledge as a boy and Josephus records how there were also legends about Samuel beginning to act as a prophet.

- Matthew's Gospel begins with the genealogy, which in turn ends at the beginning of Extract 1 at Matthew 1:18 "This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about". Matthew immediately establishes is that Jesus should be primarily recognised as the Messiah, a term that he uses frequently in his Gospel.

-This would have connected Jesus to figures such as David and Abraham by means of his genealogy, but also to messianic expectations of Jewish people at the time. Matthew presents Jesus as the cumliation of God's plan for Israel.

- There is a vast amount of theological significance, especially when understood in relations to the possible Jewish community it was presented for.

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The Geneallogy and Jesus as the Son of David and A

- Matthew establishes a genealogy that traces the lineage of Jesus down from Abraham through to David and finally to Jesus himself. 

- The beginning can almost be translated as 'the book of the origin', which is also used in Genesis 5:1 when describing the descendants of Adam. However, origin can also be synonymously translated as beginning in Greek and this would have likely been understood by Matthew's readership, Matthew is possibly tracing back Jesus lineage, subtly arguing that Jesus has been part of God's plan for Israel from the beginning.

- Matthew's intention to demonstrate Jesus as being of descent from King David, who was founder of the royal line in the histroy of Israel. This would have likely greatly appealed to a Jewish auidince, and Matthew reinforces Jesus's claim to authority by tracing 14 generations between Jesus and the Davidic Kings, the same number between David and Abraham.

- Jesus clear claim to the throne of Israel and is a theme reflected not just throughout the birth narrative but also throughout the entire Gospel of Matthew.

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The Virgin Birth

- Matthew 1:18-25 emphasised that Jesus was concieved by the action of the Holy Spirit and that Mary and Joseph did not consummate their marriage while she was still pregnant.

- In Isaiah the word used for virgon, 'almah' does not necessarily signal virginity altogether, rather simply a young girl of childbearing age. This would be have likely been known by Matthew, he is partially redeveloping a specific part of Jewish history. 

- Some scholars have suggested that Matthew's account of the virgin birth may tie into his aims to justify Jesus's authority in the face of possible challenges to his purity or orginins by early critics of Christianity.

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Jesus as a New Moses

- There is a possible presentation of him as a New Moses-type figure or prophet. 

- The comparison starts with the figure of Herod demanding the death of all firstborns in Bethlehem, an act similar to the Pharaoh's command to kill all the Hebrew boys in Exodus 1:22-2:10.

-  A bigger comparison comes in the calling of Joseph out of Egypt, for when Moses' life was in danger, he fled Egypt to Israel before eventually returing. The fulfilment passage in Matthew 2:15 plays on this idea and possibly paints Jesus as the new Moses, returing once more from Egypt back to Israel.

- It however can be argued that calling Jesus a Moses-type figure is a step too far (especially considering Moses' and Jesus's journeys are in reverse), it is important to note how Matthew possibly play on Moses-type imagery to paint a Messiah/prophet like depiction of Jesus even before one gets to his ministry and teachings.

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The Annunciation to Joseph (1:18-25)

- Matthew focuses on Joseph's experiences, particulary in relation to his actions against Jewish law at a time. 

- The punishment for un-chastity before marriage in first-century Palestine was stoning, but Joseph, in the narrative, is protrayed as a kinder or just man, seeking not to publicly shame her but instead simply divore her quietly. His decision here in particular models how the Torah was often approached, which was without leniency but mercy.

- The arrival of the "angel of the Lord" in verse 20. The word angelos in Greek, originally meant messenger and this is likely the primary role of the angel here. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 7:14 quoted in the fulfilment passage that is soon to follows, the vision that Joseph had was more than a simple message.

-Joseph giving Jesus his name is important because it is a Jewish tradition that naming is a key part of the Law and confirms Jesus as the legal father.

- Joseph did not comsummate the marriage until Jesus was born, completes the fulfilment passage and confirms Joseph had no part in the child's conception.

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Arrival of the Magi (2:1-12)

- Contrasts Herod as a false leader in comparison to Jesus who is the true "king of the jews". The oppositions between Jesus and the authorities is set up from the start and the arrival of the Magi and their decision to not return to Herod reaffirms Jesus as the Messiah.

- The presence of the rising star showing the Magi the way to the birthplace of Jesus and it can be noted that a similar extraordinary phenomenon, an earthquake, happens at death. 

- This link between the birth and death of Jesus is further reinforced by the gifts the Magi bring gold, frankincense and myrrh, all which would have been appropriate at a funeral in first-centry Jewish tradition. Conveys the idea that Jesus' death is also important, foreshadowing the events of the passion. Gold and frankincense, would have been gifts traditionally fit for a king, and myrrh in the Old Testament is also a symbol of joy.

- The notion of kingship may be important when one compares Matthew to Luke, where instead of the Magi, who would be distinguished Gentile individuals, Luke writes of shepherds being summoned by an angel to witness Jesus's birth, a lower class of individual. Therefore, in comparison to Luke, who might be stressing Jesus's appeal to the common human being, Matthew may be stressing Jesus's kingship over all individuals.

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The Flight from Bethlehem and the Return to Nazare

- Reframing the history of Israel into the figure of Jesus. For Moses led the israelites out of Egypt, and so Matthew does not just focus on identifying Jesus with one particularly prohet or king, but the entirely of the history of Israel, such that Jesus is not just a successor, he is THE successor to the entire lineage of prophets preceding him.

- Jesus's birth is not the only miraculous aspect to him, but his survival as a child against the sustained campaign of Herod to destroy him. This pattern of survival fits the identity of Israel at the time, which is assuming Matthew was written post 70 CE after the destruction of the temple.

- Matthew is recapitulating Israel's history in Jesus, may appeal to the Jewish people of his time, showing that Jesus is the future, despite their possible doubts as to his legitimacy. 

- The Jewish historian Josephus, for example, does not mention it in his work 'Antiquities of the Jews', which does list other misdeeds of Heord such as his mudering of three of his own sons. Many scholars, such as E P Sanders, have, therefore, argued that this background to the early life of Jesus is a creative invention, developed out of Herod's reputation and perhaps matched accordingly to important themes and events in the history of Israel.

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Morna ******

- In her book "Beginnings: Keys That Open the Gospels" puts forward the idea that the birth narrative in Matthew can be seen as the 'prophetic key' to the rest of the Gospel, foreshadowing and informing the events that come later. This is in contrast to the 'dramatic key' of the beginning of Mark or the 'spiritual key' of the beginnings of Luke.

- Matthew slows down the beginning of his Gospel compared to Mark, taking real time to outline the significance of Jesus's coming in relation to the history of Israel and the Jewish people. Matthew might even be thought of, therefore, as a teacher or, as some speculated, a Jewish Rabbi.

- ****** argues that the beginnings (and endings) of the Gospels give important cues about the material in the middle. More so than Mark or Luke, Matthew is concerned with Jesus's place in Jewish history, and his relationship to God straightforwardly within Jewish tradition and theology as a whole.

- Matthew is longer, slower and more measured than the quick introduction of Mark, and it is apparent for ****** that the Gospel author places great importance in not stating what Jesus is, but also what his 'genesis' is and what it means for early Christian communities.

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Raymond Brown

- In Brown "The Birth of the Messiah" argues that there is little historicity to Matthew's first few chapters, especially when one uses form and redaction criticism to compare them to the perceivably different introductions of Luke's.

- He also argues that there are ways of differentiating between the pre-Matthean traditions that underlie Matthew's infancy narrative and the author's own inventions. 

- He identifies at times a narrative built upon a mixture of Jewish writings midrashic (early interpretations of the Torah) tradition and the infancy stories that surrounded Moses in Jewish writings and culture. For example, he startes that in Matthew 2:19-23 there is a parallel with Moses "Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead". It was an intervention of early Jewish-Christian communities building upon the stories about Moses passed round at the time.

- The birth narrative of Matthew may have been forged in stories about the birth and genesis of Moses, with the birth of Jesus being outlined in the same prophetic tradition and lineage. What Brown outlines is how Matthew may have been reacting to and creating from pre-existing Jewish traditions in writing his birth narrative.

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