[XTalk] Re: The Star of Bethlehem (The BN)
- --- In crosstalk2@y..., "Mahlon H. Smith" <mahlonh.smith@w...> wrote:
> Widely agreed? Among whom? Certainly not Q specialists. I know ofno Q
> scholar who postulates "an early tradition about Jesus' birth thatboth Luke
> and Matt knew in different forms and independently expanded upon."The
> common elements in the Matthean & Lukan birth narratives have thecharacter
> of random tidbits of information that are better accounted for ongrounds
> other than a common "tradition about Jesus' birth."Hello Malhon
I would agree that no scholar I am familiar with links the Birth
Narrative (BN) with "Q", but in many ways, this simply highlights the
arbitrary nature of how Q is generally (but necessarily) defined. In
any event, I agree that it is extremely unlikely that Matt and Luke
created their stories of Jesus' birth using the same sources, and
they certainly did not use one another. Yet, I am not fully
convinced by what you have said below, so, if I may:
> 1. Details such as the names of Mary & Joseph are simple basicbiographical
> info that anyone who knew of the Galilean Jew named Yeshu bar Yosefcould
> have gleaned from oral tradition that had nothing to do with hisbirth. The
> fact that Matt 2 & Luke 2 present conflicting traditions explainingJesus
> ties to Nazareth make it unlikely that they were working from acommon
> tradition about his origins.This is one of the powerful arguments against Matt and Luke using a
similar source, and as the name Mary is known to Mark, and Joseph to
John, then we can be reasonably safe in assuming that early
traditions did give us this bit of biographical information.
> 2. Mark's thesis of the messianic secret provided plenty oftheological
> motivation for Matt & Luke to compose birth narratives *de novo*since the
> Markan story of Jesus' private vision after his baptism is not verymotivated by the
> convincing evidence that Jesus was in fact "Son of God" or
> HS -- both important claims of Xn christological apologetics longbefore the
> composition of any gospel narrative (witness Paul).While you may be correct that Mark does not, in the eyes of Matt and
Luke, do a credible enough job of establishing Jesus as the Son of
God, there can be little doubt from reading Mark's narrative, that
the author did believe this to be true. And at the same time, we
must keep in mind that Mark's thesis did not rest solely upon the
messianic secret motif. He was most concerned with Jesus as the
Messiah/Christ, and as the Son of Man, so one need not place too much
emphasis on this particular shortcoming in Mark's Gospel. Mark does
not really speculate on the "when" of Jesus gaining his Messiahship.
His focus is that Jesus is the Messiah, period. Further, given Paul's
letters, as you have pointed out, Jesus' identity as the Son of God
was already well established by the time Mark put quill to papyrus,
so it should not come as a great surprise that he was less concerned
with establishing this fact to his readers in any case.
> As a hedge againstorigins
> christological skeptics not likely to be convinced by the Markan
> scenario, Matt & Luke demonstrably developed quite independentbackground
> plots to illustrate that Jesus was *literally* Son of God & filledwith the
> HS from his very conception. Neither would need to have access to acommon
> birth tradition to develop these trajectories. All each would needis a
> higher christology than Mark's adoptionism & the inventive mindsetof an
> apologist.Unfortunately, we do not really know what the "christological
sceptics" might have been thinking about in the mid to late 1st
Century C.E. On that basis it is difficult, if not impossible to
speculate as to the exact motivations for why Luke and Matt
independently recorded Jesus' birth story as they did. From Paul,
and from Mark, we know that Jesus is accepted the Christ, as the Son
of God, and the Son of Man. In all likelihood, the creedal formula
found in Philippians 2:5-11 was sufficiently well known by the early
Church to have established Jesus as Son of God, at least from the
time that he was "born in the likeness of men". Luke and Matthew
appear to be fleshing out the details found in this creed, and doing
so from a sources that could easily have existed from before Paul.
> 3. The only other common details in the Matthean & Lukan birthnarratives
> (Bethlehem & the virgin motif) are easily accounted for asapologetical
> inferences from the Hebrew Bible *in Greek translation.* Matthimself is
> evidence that Micah 5:2 & Isa 7:14 were proof texts that could becited by
> any Hellenistic Xn who argued that Jesus was the Messiah predictedin
> biblical prophecy. While that was not Luke's main agenda, one canassume
> that as an educated Hellenist who claims to have followed closelythe
> preaching of those who were "ministers of the word" he would havebeen well
> aware of such texts & taken them for granted in composing his birthstory
> from scratch.Bob has already shown that Matt and Luke share several more details
in their BN's than Jesus' parents, Bethlehem, and the virgin
conception, so I will not elaborate on that point here. But your
belief that Luke may have known and used Isaiah 7:14 as a silent
proof text for explaining the virgin conception is quite astonishing
in my view. If Luke did have such an understanding of this text
(from the LXX), and did not get it from Matt (as seems likely), even
to the point that Luke could simply "take it for granted", then later
Jewish apologetics from the 4th Century on is clearly misleading.
Their argument has always been that Isaiah 7:14 can never be read as
meaning a virgin conceptions, especially one in the (for Isaiah) far
distant future. Yet, using your reasoning here, we would have two
separate 1st Century exegetes drawing the same conclusion, that it
did mean such a thing, and that their understanding was so common
that one of them could simply assume it. Later Jewish denials of
this fact would be nothing more than a polemical attack on an
interpretation of Isaiah that was at least reasonably common in the
Personally, I think it is extremely unlikely that Luke knew of Isaiah
7:14 as a specific Messianic prophecy. He certainly would not have
built his story "de novo" on such a flimsy reed without justifying
it. More likely is that he was aware of the virgin conception story
from an earlier source, and that this source was not the one used by
> 4. The oft-made claim that Luke traces Jesus' birth to Herod'sreign as does
> Matt is simply an unfounded inference, since Herod is nevermentioned in
> Luke 2. The only reference to Herod the Great in Luke's birthnarratives is
> in Lk 1:5 where it is presented as the general time frame when*Zechariah*
> lived. Herod is never again mentioned in Luke's stories of theangelic
> annunciation of Elizabeth's conception or JB's birth, much lessMary's
> conception or the birth of Jesus. Since Matt does not have thestory of JB's
> birth & Luke reports none of the actions of Herod that Mattdescribes, it is
> fallacious to argue that there is a common tradition of a Herodiantime
> frame behind the Matthean & Lukan infancy narratives. Luke 2:1-2provides a
> very explicit detailed time frame for Jesus' birth & that isdemonstrably
> post-Herodian. For all we can tell from Luke's narrative he mayeven have
> thought that Jesus' conception precipitated Herod's death, since heplays up
> the theme of the demise of kings in Mary's Magnificat (Lk 1:52 -"He has
> brought down the powerful from their thrones").Since Matthew (writing independently of Luke and Luke's sources)
clearly places Jesus' birth at the time of Herod the Great, and Luke
tells us in Luke 3:1, 23 that Jesus was about 30 years old when he
began his ministry (ca. 27-29CE) it is most reasonable to link the
Lucan reference to Herod in Luke 1 to the timeframe of Jesus' birth
given to us in Luke 2.
I think it is naïve to assume the dates given in Luke 1:1-2 over the
other clearer temporal markers given to us in Luke 1 and 3, and the
simpler solution is to ascribe either an error to Luke's reference to
the census of 6CE, or motivations outside of simply dating the birth
of Jesus. In my own view, I see the census as a device used by Luke
to place Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, a piece of data he had
independent of the census.
Looking at the text, as well as Luke's overall motives in writing his
gospel we can see that Luke wanted to establish the following:
1) Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph
2) Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit while still a virgin
3) Jesus was named, circumcised and consecrated to God in Jerusalem,
and according to the Law of Moses
4) He was recognized as the Messiah in Jerusalem by a righteous,
devout and Spirit filled man, Simeon, as well as by an especially
holy and wise woman (prphetess?), Anna, even as a new born infant
5) Only after all of this was completed did Jesus and his family
return to Nazareth
The historicity of any of the above events is beside the point here.
Luke's objective was to establish each of the above "truths" in his
BN, and the means by which he brings it about both logically and
geographically is through the census.
> Thus, there is no textual evidence of a common birth traditionbehind Matt &
> Luke. Those who assume there was have to be prepared to explainevery
> divergence in the synoptic birth accounts as a deliberateidiosyncratic
> "correction" of earlier tradition by either author (or both).The "star" &
> "magi" remain exclusively Matthean motifs. Speculation about abasis for
> either detail in earlier tradition also has to be prepared toexplain why
> such a dramatic celestial portent would have been totally ignored(or
> deliberately suppressed) by all other 1st c. Xn writers in an agethat
> regarded such phenomena as divine proof of the historic importanceof a
> person or event.I agree fully that the evidence is insufficient to theorize that Matt
or Luke knew of the other's BN traditions in composing their works.
The divergences far out weigh the similarities. But to then
postulate that the evangelists wrote their entire works de novo,
especially as regards the detail of the virgin conception is, in my
judgement, incredible. Both men knew certain details from their
earlier sources, and based on the evidence (even as we set aside the
question of historicity of any of them), we can say with a reasonable
degree of probability the following existed in the earlier sources of
both Matthew and Luke's Birth Narratives:
1. The parents are Mary and Joseph [cf: Mark 6:3, John 1:45, 6:42]
who are legally engaged or married, but have not yet come to live
together or have sexual relations (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:27,34 )
2. Jesus is of Davidic descent (Matt 1:16,20; Luke 1:27,32; 2:4
[cf. Mark 10:47, Romans 1:3-4]
3. There is an angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of the
child (Matt 1:20-23; Luke 1:30-35)
4. The conception of the child by Mary is not through intercourse
with her husband (Matt 1:20,23,25; Luke 1:34)
5. The conception is through the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18,20; Luke 1:35)
6. There is a directive from the angel that the child is to be named
Jesus (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31)
7. An angel states that Jesus is to be Savior (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:11)
8. The birth of the child takes place after the parents have come to
live together (Matt 1:24-25; Luke 2:5-6)
9. The birth takes place at Bethlehem (Matt 2:1; Luke 2:4-6)
10. The birth is chronologically related to the reign (days) of Herod
the Great (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5, also Luke 3:1, 23)
11. The child is reared at Nazareth (Matt 2:23; Luke 2:39, also
Mark 1:24, 10:47, John 1:45)
As a note, I offer the references to Mark and John only when they
give us a clear indication of sources that are independent of (and
probably earlier than) Matthew or Luke. I am not saying that John
predates the Synoptics, though he may.
Calgary, AB, Canada
- At 10:10 PM 1/2/2002 +0000, bjtraff wrote:
>...Bob has already shown that Matt and Luke share several more detailsBrian,
>in their BN's than Jesus' parents, Bethlehem, and the virgin
>conception, so I will not elaborate on that point here. ...
>I agree fully that the evidence is insufficient to theorize that Matt
>or Luke knew of the other's BN traditions in composing their works.
>The divergences far out weigh the similarities. But to then
>postulate that the evangelists wrote their entire works de novo,
>especially as regards the detail of the virgin conception is, in my
>judgement, incredible. Both men knew certain details from their
>earlier sources, and based on the evidence (even as we set aside the
>question of historicity of any of them), we can say with a reasonable
>degree of probability the following existed in the earlier sources of
>both Matthew and Luke's Birth Narratives:
Thanks for your extensive comments to Mahlon and your additions to the
references in the list below.
Please excuse the late reply, but I have been mulling over the idea that
both birth narratives arose as a midrash on Romans 1:3-4 and Mark 6:3.
>3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according toMark 6:
>4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness
>by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
>Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and JosesMark 10:
>and Judas and Simon,
>and are not his sisters here with us?"
>47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry outYou then wrote:
>and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
>1. The parents are Mary and Joseph [cf: Mark 6:3, John 1:45, 6:42]This is interesting, because although Mary appears as you note in Mark 6:3,
>who are legally engaged or married, but have not yet come to live
>together or have sexual relations (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:27,34 )
Joseph as father does not appear anywhere in Mark or in Paul's letters.
Thus, under the standard theory of the independence of Matthew and Luke,
and the lateness of John, we must explain why both Matthew and Luke
identified Jesus' father as Joseph. The rest of this item could be
explained as midrash on the sources cited above.
>2. Jesus is of Davidic descent (Matt 1:16,20; Luke 1:27,32; 2:4Since the genealogies are so different, this could be Midrash on Romans
>[cf. Mark 10:47, Romans 1:3-4]
1:3-4 & Mark 10:47
>3. There is an angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of theMidrash?
>child (Matt 1:20-23; Luke 1:30-35)
>4. The conception of the child by Mary is not through intercourseMidrash on Romans 1:3-4?
>with her husband (Matt 1:20,23,25; Luke 1:34)
>5. The conception is through the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18,20; Luke 1:35)Midrash on Romans 1:3-4?
>6. There is a directive from the angel that the child is to be namedMidrash on Romans 1:3-4 based on rationalizing the origin of his name
>Jesus (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31)
>7. An angel states that Jesus is to be Savior (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:11)Midrash based on the literal meaning of the name
>8. The birth of the child takes place after the parents have come toMidrash
>live together (Matt 1:24-25; Luke 2:5-6)
>9. The birth takes place at Bethlehem (Matt 2:1; Luke 2:4-6)This is the other piece (in addition to Joseph) that is hard to explain on
the basis of independent midrash
>10. The birth is chronologically related to the reign (days) of HerodThis could be based on the writer's own back-extrapolation of Jesus'
>the Great (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5, also Luke 3:1, 23)
>11. The child is reared at Nazareth (Matt 2:23; Luke 2:39, alsoMidrash on Mark
>Mark 1:24, 10:47, John 1:45)
>As a note, I offer the references to Mark and John only when theyThanks for adding these!
>give us a clear indication of sources that are independent of (and
>probably earlier than) Matthew or Luke.
This review indicates that the primary data not easily explainable by
midrash on Romans and Mark are the name of Jesus' father, and the place of
birth (Bethlehem). Mahlon wrote of
>simple basic biographical info that anyone who knew of the Galilean JewSo Mahlon concedes the possibility of an oral tradition about Jesus that
>named Yeshu bar Yosef
>could have gleaned from oral tradition that had nothing to do with his birth.
was known to Matthew and Luke. This oral tradition could easily account for
both of these data-- and for how much more? Perhaps much of what I
attributed to "midrash" above was already incorporated into this oral
tradition, and accounts for the other similarities enumerated by Brown.
Thanks for your added information.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- --- In crosstalk2@y..., Bob Schacht <r_schacht@y...> wrote:
> Please excuse the late reply, but I have been mulling over the ideaHi Bob
> that both birth narratives arose as a midrash on Romans 1:3-4 and
> Mark 6:3.
> Mark 10:47
I am unsure of the sense in which you are using the term "midrash" in
your post. Brown, citing A. Wright's _Literary Genre_ tells us that
midrash is "a work (literally literature that explains literature)
that attempts to make a text of Scripture understandable, useful, and
relevant for a later generation." (_Birth of the Messiah_, pg. 559).
Using this definition, as none of the Gospels, nor Paul's epistles
were, in the 1st Century, Scripture, the Infancy Narratives are not
technically midrash. But instead of explaining OT Scripture, the
evangelists *are* trying to explain Jesus Christ by similar methods.
Thus, they draw on the style of midrash, typically rabbinic homily
based on a specific cited OT text. On this basis I would agree that
Matthew in particular, with his multiple OT citations in his BN can
be said to be making use of this technique. I am less certain that
Luke is, though he is clearly building on earlier Christian
traditions, including those found in Paul. More on this below.
> You then wrote:Obviously Joseph does not play any significant role outside of the
> >1. The parents are Mary and Joseph [cf: Mark 6:3, John 1:45, 6:42]
> >who are legally engaged or married, but have not yet come to live
> >together or have sexual relations (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:27,34 )
> This is interesting, because although Mary appears as you note in
> Mark 6:3, Joseph as father does not appear anywhere in Mark or in
> Paul's letters.
BN's, but as we do find him in Matt, Luke and John (all writing
independent of one another on this point, even if we accept Johannine
awareness of Mark), so we can be reasonably confident in Jesus'
earthly father being Joseph. I agree with Brown and J.P. Meier that
the reason we do not encounter him, even in Matthew and Luke, after
the Infancy Narratives is that he is probably dead by this point.
> Thus, under the standard theory of the independence of Matthew andGiven independence of the Infancy Narratives, and of GJohn (at least
> Luke, and the lateness of John, we must explain why both Matthew
> and Luke identified Jesus' father as Joseph. The rest of this item
> could be explained as midrash on the sources cited above.
concerning the BN), we can say that we have a three fold multiple
attestation to the name of Jesus' father. This gives us a high level
of confidence in its historicity. For the reasons I have offered
above I would not call the other points midrash, though they do
emmulate the style, so if we broaden our definition somewhat, it
would be an accurate description of what the evangelists were doing
> >2. Jesus is of Davidic descent (Matt 1:16,20; Luke 1:27,32; 2:4I would agree that the key piece of information shared by Matt and
> >[cf. Mark 10:47, Romans 1:3-4]
> Since the genealogies are so different, this could be Midrash on
> Romans 1:3-4 & Mark 10:47
Luke is that Jesus was descended of David. Since Hebrews 7:14 also
tells us that he was from the tribe of Judah, this can be used as
additional (albeit weaker) evidence for Davidic descent, since any
Jew thinking of a Messiah coming from the tribe of Judah is likely to
be connecting this with belief in a Davidic Messiah as well.
Hebrews 8:8 reinforces our acceptance of this evidence, as the author
goes out of his way to cite the covenant with the tribe of Judah
(traditionaly viewed as the Davidic covenant).
> >3. There is an angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of theKeeping in mind my more limited definition of midrash, I would be
> >child (Matt 1:20-23; Luke 1:30-35)
inclined to agree with you here Bob. At the same time, in the case of
Luke, he may simply be using a formula citation of the angels found
in other OT annunciation announcements, however, and this would not
be midrash, even under a broader definition.
> >4. The conception of the child by Mary is not through intercourseAnd
> >with her husband (Matt 1:20,23,25; Luke 1:34)
> Midrash on Romans 1:3-4?
> >5. The conception is through the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18,20; LukeIt strikes me as doubtful that Paul was even hinting at a virginal
> Midrash on Romans 1:3-4?
conception or birth anywhere in his letters. I am not saying that
this is your claim either Bob, but do want to be clear on this
point. Nothing in Romans 1:3-4 requires or even expects such a
unique event. On the other hand, if we are looking for a hint of the
idea of Jesus being born by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might
look at Romans 8:3 and Philippians 2:7 where Paul tells us that Jesus
came in the "likeness" of human beings, and in the case of the latter
verse, suggests strongly that Jesus willed/participated in his own
birth ("made himself" and "taking the very nature of").
> >6. There is a directive from the angel that the child is to beI think the name Jesus/Joshua is common enough in 1st Century
> named Jesus (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31)
> Midrash on Romans 1:3-4 based on rationalizing the origin of his
Palestine that we need not place too much emphasis on it. We can
note that in popular usage at this time, it was thought to mean "God
saves", though there were no specific expectations that the Messiah
*had* to be named Jesus.
> >7. An angel states that Jesus is to be Savior (Matt 1:21; LukeI think Messianic expectations were such, at this point, that many
> Midrash based on the literal meaning of the name
Jews expected the him to be their "savior", though not in the sense
that Christians came to believe with Jesus (IOW, Jews looked for a
political/military leader modelled on David, not a God-man). We need
not postulate midrash here.
> >8. The birth of the child takes place after the parents have comeI am unclear how you see this as midrash.
> to live together (Matt 1:24-25; Luke 2:5-6)
> >9. The birth takes place at Bethlehem (Matt 2:1; Luke 2:4-6)I think Mahlon is correct that Matthew and Luke were almost certainly
> This is the other piece (in addition to Joseph) that is hard to
> explain on the basis of independent midrash
both thinking of Micah 5:2 here. The link of a Davidic Messiah and
Bethlehem was strong enough by this point that it was probably
assumed (much as we see in John 7:42).
> >10. The birth is chronologically related to the reign (days) ofPerhaps, though Matthew himself does not show any interest in
> Herod the Great (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5, also Luke 3:1, 23)
> This could be based on the writer's own back-extrapolation of
> Jesus' presumed age.
chronology anywhere else in his Gospel. Luke may have extrapolated
back "about 30 years" from his dating found in Luke 3:1 (and this is
even more probable if he wrote the Infancy Narrative last, after
finishing the rest of Luke/Acts). For Matthew I suspect that the
link with Herod the Great came from his earlier source, though one
cannot rule out the possibility that he "wanted" Herod to be the king
to make the Slaughter of the Innocents believable to his readers.
Herod's evil reputation also makes him a good candidate when trying
to link a wicked king to the memory of Pharoah, king at the time of
the birth of Moses.
> >11. The child is reared at Nazareth (Matt 2:23; Luke 2:39, alsoI do not see how this can be midrash, though in John's Gospel it is
> >Mark 1:24, 10:47, John 1:45)
> Midrash on Mark
possible that John was using Jesus' native Nazareth ironically, to
debunk the expectation that "nothing good" ever comes from
If I may offer one final piece of data about the birth of Jesus that
appears to be early, though mentioned only in Luke's Gospel and Paul.
In Galations 4:4 Paul tells us that Jesus was "born under the law",
meaning presumably Jewish law. Thus the Mosaic Laws would have been
observed, and we can expect that the early traditions Paul is
thinking about include:
(a) Jesus was circumcized, probably on the eigth day after his birth
(Gen. 17:11-12, Lev. 12:3)
(b) Mary (but not Joseph) would have undergone the ritual cleansing
and necessary sacrifices after the birth of her son (Lev. 12:2-4, 6-8)
(c) Jesus' birth was considered legitimate by Paul, and that he was
not "memzar", a bastard (Deut. 23:2)
Luke is the only evangelist to specifically mention that (a) and (b)
were observed, and given his belief in the virgin conception and
birth we can assume he accepted Jesus as legitimate as well. Matthew
does not mention that Jesus was circumcized, nor that Mary underwent
the necessary ritual cleansing and sacrifice. In my view, given
Matthew's probable Jewishness, as well as that of his principle
audience, he merely assumed his readers knew of it (after all, in
Matthew's world, EVERY male born to a Jewish mother was circumcized,
and his mother cleansed herself). For Luke, his audience would
supposedly be less familiar with these specific Mosaic Laws, so it is
in his interest to mention it, and connect Jesus to his Jewish roots
and traditions (much admired as it was among the educated in the
Roman world at this time).
I am currently exploring links between Luke and Paul, and this was
one that stood out for me. Only he and Paul note these specific
facts of Jesus' birth, and while Paul mentions it only in passing
(presumably because it was not controversial information in the
least, and could have even be seen as embarrassing to Paul given his
ongoing fights with the circumcision party so often encountered in
his epistles). Luke, on the other hand, takes this piece of
information offered first by Paul, and draws our attention to it with
a detailed pericope unique to his Gospel, clearly intent on showing
how it links Jesus to the Law.
Thank you again for your thoughts Bob. I too have found this
discussion to be very interesting.
Calgary, AB, Canada