Re: [XTalk] Infancy Narratives
- Bob Schacht wrote:
> Rather than respond item by item to your strenuous attempt to refute anyHaving just finished grading 150 final exams I can take a breather to wish
> common tradition to both Matthew and Luke, I here provide Raymond Brown's
> list of 11 points shared by the two infancy narratives (Birth of the
> Messiah, 1977, p. 34f.):
all a happy New Year & reply (briefly I hope) to Bob's citation of Ray
First let me point out that my prior post was framed only as an ad hoc
reaction to Mark Cameron's argument tracing the star of Bethlehem to a
hypothesized common pre-synoptic "tradition about Jesus' birth." It was not
intended to be an exhaustive comparative analysis of the infancy narratives
much less a critique of Brown's *Birth of the Messiah.* I have neither time
nor interest in pursuing either right now. I'm afraid, other projects are
more pressing. But since Bob has put Brown's list of 11 alleged "common
points" in Matt 2 & Luke 2 on the table, here's my comments one those items.
First, it should be kept in mind that Brown himself formulated these points
& that they are not the sort of verbatim or structural parallels in Matt &
Luke that could be cited as evidence of these two synoptists working from a
preformed common *birth story* (a more precise term than "infancy narrative"
since infancy covers several years of life). Second, several of the common
details are isolated words loaded with christological /messianic
significance (e.g., Davidic descent, Holy Spirit, Bethlehem) at least some
of which are found in pre-synoptic christological formulae that have nothing
to do with any birth story or infancy tradition about Jesus (e.g., Rom
1:3-4). Others are narrativized elaborations of the virgin motif of LXX Is
7:14 or traditional features of ancient Jewish/Xn hagiographic story-telling
(angel). Others were basic biographical data about HJ that was public
knowledge apart from any birth story (Mary, Joseph, Nazareth). Finally,
Herod was the well-known name of a long-lived infamous ruler which any first
c. writer who had any sense of history could invoke to give a story
historical verisimilitude. I readily admit that all these items were part of
pre-synoptic tradition. What I deny, however, is that these had coalesced to
form a common tradition about HJ's birth prior to the composition of
independent infancy narratives by Matt & Luke. One would have to be able to
produce evidence of the structure of a common narrative behind Matt 1-2 &
Luke 1-2 to convince me of that.
Now for Brown's points:
> 1. The parents to be are Mary and Joseph who are legally engaged orThis is a paraphrase of Matt; the Lukan verses stress Mary's virginity
> married, but have not yet come to live together or have sexual relations
> (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:27,34).
without mentioning cohabitation. In either case this point is historicized
christology rather than pre-natal biography. If it were the latter one would
be hard pressed to explain why GJohn makes no reference to it.
HJ's mother's name was widely known to be Mary. As a Palestinian Jew he was
also probably known by a patronym (in this case as "son of Joseph"). But it
became axiomatic for early Xns even before Paul that Jesus was to be
proclaimed "Son of God" (Gal 1:15). Therefore, the identification of Jesus
as "son of Joseph" became christologically problematic for some literal
minded Xns. For people generally think that a person can have only one true
father. If God was to be affirmed as Jesus' only *real* father then it had
to be explained how he came to be known as "son of Joseph" in a way that
precluded the possibility of Joseph's paternity. Since almost all marriages
in the ancient world were arranged when people reached puberty, the dating
of Jesus' conception to the period of his parent's betrothal, coupled with
insistence that they had not yet had intercourse, provided a natural logical
explanation that could have easily occurred to different theologically
motivated authors who were working on the same problem with the same minimal
biographical data (HJ's parents' names). Whether this was an instance of
simultaneous discovery of the same solution by totally independent
researchers (as often happens) or whether it had already begun to circulate
among "preachers of the word" that influenced Luke and Matt is impossible to
> 2. Joseph is of Davidic descent (Matt 1:16,20; Luke 1:27,32; 2:4 [cf.Davidic descent was practically axiomatic for any messianic candidate in
> Romans 1:3-4]
ancient Judaism. And Jews historically traced lineages through the paternal
line (with names of mothers often passing unknown). The fact is Matt & Luke
do not provide Joseph with the same lineage & even disagree on the name of
his own father (HJ's legal grandfather). Thus it is evident that they were
not working from common genealogical information. Joseph's Davidic descent
is again fundamentally a christological development since it enabled Xns
(after Mark) to assert that Jesus was in fact (legally) "of the line of
David" & hence a legitimate candidate for the messianic figure alluded to in
various passages of Hebrew scripture.
> 3. There is an angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of the childThis is an abstraction from two completely different narratives of
> (Matt 1:20-23; 1:30-35).
revelations to Joseph on the one hand (Matt) & Mary on the other (Luke)
using the time-honored convention of divine announcements in Jewish
story-telling. It overlooks the great differences in the Matthean & Lukan
narratives. Matt's "angelos" is non-personified voice that Joseph hears in a
dream. Luke's is the archangel Gabriel who is deputized to visit Mary much
like the angelic visitors to Abraham & Sarah who announced Isaac's birth.
There is no common narrative tradition behind these two stories.
> 4. The conception of the child by Mary is not through intercourse with herThis is not really a separate point but simply a reiteration of Brown's
> husband (Matt 1:20,23,25; Luke 1:34)
first point. Cf. my response to that.
> 5. The conception is through the Holy Spirit ( Matt 1:18,20; Luke 1:35).Again historicized christology. Rom 1:4 stands near the beginning of this
theological trajectory with the HS proclaimed as the agent in Jesus'
resurrection from the dead. Mark links that moment to his baptism. Matt &
Luke are the *first* authors to associate the HS with Jesus' conception.
Again it matters not whether this was the result of independent
brainstorming on their part or the result of each drawing on a later stage
of christological argumentation that prevented any period in Jesus' life as
being interpreted as devoid of the HS. The point is it is not common
tradition about Jesus' conception known to Paul, Mark or the author(s) of
GJohn (where the HS is given/sent only by the resurrected Jesus).
> 6. There is a directive from the angel that the child is to be named JesusWhat name would you expect? The fact is this person was named Yeshua. If
> (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31)
anyone asked who gave him that name & why, it would be natural for Jewish
Xns to claim that God did because of the inherent theophorous connotations
of the root name Yeho-shua (YHWH saves). And angels were the conventional
agents for conveying divine intentions.
> 7. An angel states that Jesus is to be Savior (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:11)This is simply a Hellenistic christological inference base on etymology of
Yeho-SHUA. The use of the fish (IXQYS) by early Xns as a visible creed shows
that the identification of Jesus as "Son of God" (QEOU YIOS) & "Savior"
(SOTHR) was a common christological formulation without any reference to a
birth story. In this case, Matt & Luke are simply providing a historicized
explanation of the common creed of Greek speaking Xns in the latter part of
the 1st c. CE.
> 8. The birth of the child takes place after the parents have come to liveWhich explains why HJ would have been known as "son of Joseph" but also
> together (Matt 1:24-25; Luke 2:5-6)
protects him from the stigma of being an obvious *mamzer* (bastard), which
would have led to ostracization by religious Jews & prevented him from being
accepted as Messiah.
> 9. The birth takes place at Bethlehem (Matt 2:1; Luke 2:4-6)An obvious Davidic motif (Micah 5:2). The important thing is that Matt &
Luke totally disagree about how Joseph & Mary came to be there when Jesus
was born. Matt assumes they had a house there (which a star could "stand
over") which they left only because they were warned to flee from Herod & to
which they did not return only because they feared Archelaus. Luke just as
explicitly assumes that Joseph & Mary were residents of Nazareth who made
the 100+ mile temporary trek to Bethlehem only because of Quirinius' census.
He explicitly stresses that they found no regular lodging there & returned
to Nazareth little more than a week after HJ's birth (Luke 2:7, 39). There
is certainly no "common" tradition of Jesus birth behind such contradictory
> 10. The birth is chronologically related to the reign (days) of Herod theDenied. Luke 1:5 dates Zechariah's priesthood to Herod's reign. Herod is
> Great (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5)
never mentioned in Luke in conjunction with Jesus' birth. See my previous
post for more on this.
> 11. The child is reared at Nazareth (Matt 2:23; Luke 2:39)But again Matt & Luke have no common narrative element that accounts for
this. The assumption that Jesus grew up in Nazareth is simply a normal
deduction from the fact that he was known as Jesus (bar Joseph) of Nazareth.
> I think it is rather unlikely that Matthew and Luke independently inventedIMHO *if* they were dependent on any earlier "tradition" it was in the
> all of these parallels.
character of christological assertions rather than historical narration.
Mahlon H. Smith
Department of Religion
New Brunswick NJ 08901
Synoptic Gospels Primer
Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
- At 06:51 PM 1/3/02 -0500, Mahlon H. Smith wrote:
>Bob Schacht wrote, after listing Raymond Brown's common elements of theYou are conflating two issues here. My assertion was that Matthew and Luke
>Infancy (sic.: Brown's term) narratives:
> > I think it is rather unlikely that Matthew and Luke independently invented
> > all of these parallels.
>IMHO *if* they were dependent on any earlier "tradition" it was in the
>character of christological assertions rather than historical narration.
seem to be drawing from a common *source.* I did not claim that it was an
*historical* narration, although it might include historically useful
information. It may be that the common source was primarily Christological
Thank you for taking the time to respond, and may you have a very happy new
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> >Bob Schacht wrote, after listing Raymond Brown's common elements of theinvented
> >Infancy (sic.: Brown's term) narratives:
> > > I think it is rather unlikely that Matthew and Luke independently
> > > all of these parallels.I countered:
> >IMHO *if* they were dependent on any earlier "tradition" it was in the.
> >character of christological assertions rather than historical narration.
To which Bob replied:
> You are conflating two issues here. My assertion was that Matthew and LukeI'm not ready to concede a "common source" behind Matt & Luke's account of
> seem to be drawing from a common *source.* I did not claim that it was an
> *historical* narration, although it might include historically useful
> information. It may be that the common source was primarily Christological
> in nature.
Jesus' birth either, since this implies that these gospel stories are
traceable to a single coherent preformed pattern of information whether
textual or oral. I don't regard that as an accurate analysis of two
narratives which weave a handful of common motifs into mutually
contradictory scenarios. There simply is no isolatable "common source"
behind the Matthean & Lukan birth narratives either akin to the Q material
or to the Johannine Signs Gospel. All one has here is a few of the same
christologically loaded ideas that are developed by twp authors in opposite
directions. That only shows that Matt & Luke were writing at the same stage
of early christological speculation & were free to creatively develop a few
of the same ideas into quite different scenarios without fear of being
charged with distorting the details of prior tradition about HJ's birth.
If anyone cares to credit a hodgepodge of loosely related key words such as
Mary, Joseph, betrothed, virgin, Jesus, son of God, Savior, Holy Spirit,
Davidic descent, Bethlehem, Nazareth & angel to a "common source," I simply
ask that person to try to reconstruct how these terms were linked in that
hypothesized source that permitted Matt & Luke to write what each in fact
did. I think the most one can come up with is that the Jesus who was known
as son of Joseph & Mary and grew up in Nazareth was "really" (a) Son of God
& (as his name implied) Savior because he was filled with the HS from the
moment of his conception & (b) satisfied predictions of a Davidic messiah
born in Bethlehem. Moreover, the Matthean & Lukan insistence on Mary's
virginity at the time of Jesus' conception (and the lack of this motif in
Mark & John) is a valuable clue for tracing the "source" of this information
to a rather late *Hellenized* Sitz that was influenced by the LXX version of
Isa 7:14. In short, this represents not so much a "common birth tradition"
or even a "common source" traceable to the cultural Sitz in which HJ was
probably born so much as a common thread of apologetic argumentation by two
rather late Greek-speaking Xn authors writing about the same (rather late)
period in the evolution of the Greek-speaking church's christology.
*If* one posits a "common birth tradition" or a "common source" behind Matt
& Luke's narratives then one has to be prepared to explain (a) how/why Matt
and/or Luke were able to take such liberty with it as to come up with
historically conflicting interpretations & (b) why both Mark & John show no
knowledge of key elements in that traditional "source" (Mary's virginity,
conception by the HS, Jesus' birth in Bethlehem). That was the point
concerning analysis of the probable history of a trajectory of information
(my specialization as a historian of ideas) that led me to get sucked into
this thread in the first place.
Mahlon H. Smith
Department of Religion
New Brunswick NJ 08901
Synoptic Gospels Primer
Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
- After being away from Sweden for almost four months in a row and passing through
countries like Spain, Jamaica, Marocco and Egypt it is a delight to be home again and
finding that X-talk is still going strong. I was also delighted to see that Mahlon is back on
the list after a long absence. I have a little quibble with a thing Mahlon wrote a couple of days
> *If* one posits a "common birth tradition" or a "common source" behind MattAlthough I don't believe in a common source behind the infancy narratives (except
> & Luke's narratives then one has to be prepared to explain (a) how/why Matt
> and/or Luke were able to take such liberty with it as to come up with
> historically conflicting interpretations & (b) why both Mark & John show no
> knowledge of key elements in that traditional "source" (Mary's virginity,
> conception by the HS, Jesus' birth in Bethlehem). That was the point
> concerning analysis of the probable history of a trajectory of information
> (my specialization as a historian of ideas) that led me to get sucked into
> this thread in the first place.
for Luke having read GMatthew and getting inspiration from that gospel) I don't see
at all why the fact that GJohn has no infancy narrative would speak against the hypothesis
that Matthew and Luke could have used a common "infancy" source. I am quite convinced
that the author of GJohn knew the synoptics and was not the least unaware of things like
Mary´s virginity, Jesus conception by the HS and his birth in Betlehem. But a closer look
at John´s gospel and his special Johannine theology makes me think that John had good
reasons for leaving out the infancy story from his narrative. First of all I don´t think John
was very keen on repeating what others had already done - he is much too imaginative for
that, as can be shown through the whole of the gospel where he subtly alludes to the synoptic
tradition and refashions it. Secondly, since John as already from the start made Jesus into the
pre-existent Logos who becomes flesh and decends to earth I do not think it would suit his
purposes to repeat the synoptic infancy narraives. Jesus is already before conception as spiritfilled
as anyone can get and it would be a kind of anticlimax to have him born in a manger.
I would heartily like to recommend a recent book by James F. McGrath that has functioned
as a real eyeopener to me and has made me see GJohn in a totally new light. The name
of the book is "John´s apologetic christology - legitimation and development in Johannine
christology" (Camebridge University press 2001). I don't think anyone has explained as
convincingly as McGrath the reasons why the author of GJohn chose to create Jesus the
way he did. He also puts John's peculiar christology into a firstcentury cultural context that
makes almost all the previously puzzling pieces fall into place. A strength of McGrath's book
is also that he has a keen eye for seeing the way John is interacting with the synoptic tradition
and his reasons for leaving out things or going beyond the synoptic tradition.
- --- In crosstalk2@y..., "Mahlon H. Smith" <mahlonh.smith@w...> wrote:
> First, it should be kept in mind that Brown himself formulatedAs I have said in my previous post, I agree with Mahlon that when we
> these points & that they are not the sort of verbatim or structural
> parallels in Matt & Luke that could be cited as evidence of these
> two synoptists working from a preformed common *birth story* (a
> more precise term than "infancy narrative" since infancy covers
> several years of life).
look at the two birth narratives as given in Matt and Luke, we are
not likely to be seeing the end product of what has been produced
from a single common source. The differences in the two narratives
are so great that they not only preclude such a possibility as being
even plausible, but make the idea that Matt and or Luke knew of the
other's gospel extremely unlikely. That said, I still have some
difficulty with several of Mahlon's ideas, and would like to recap
> Second, several of the commonAgreed, and again I made a similar point myself.
> details are isolated words loaded with christological /messianic
> significance (e.g., Davidic descent, Holy Spirit, Bethlehem) at
> least some of which are found in pre-synoptic christological
> formulae that have nothing to do with any birth story or infancy
> tradition about Jesus (e.g., Rom 1:3-4).
> Others are narrativized elaborations of the virgin motif of LXX IsHere is one of my biggest concerns with Mahlon's thesis. It is
> 7:14 or traditional features of ancient Jewish/Xn hagiographic
> story-telling (angel).
widely accepted that the formula citation of Isaiah 7:14 was a
redactional innovation created by Matthew alone, working from the
LXX. Quite simply, the virginal conception cannot be drawn from any
Jewish hagiographic story, and without evidence that Matthew was
offering not his own understanding of Isaiah 7:14, but, rather, an
interpretation that was widely enough known that Luke could actually
assume it is astonishing in my view. The angelic annunciation is,
indeed, very common in OT traditions and need not be elaborated upon,
but the idea of a virgin actually conceiving and giving birth to the
Messiah is, so far as we can tell, a Matthean innovation. In fact,
in Raymond Brown's _The Birth of the Messiah_ (Doubleday, 1993),
Brown tells us specifically that such a reading of Isaiah 7:14 was
NOT to be taken from the Septuagint. Brown concludes:
"There was nothing in the OT (including the Hebrew and the Greek of
Isa 7:14) that would have suggested the obstacle of a virgin who was
not to have marital relations with her husband Here I would stress
that it (the idea of the virgin conception) was not the creation of
either Matthew or Luke, but seems to have come to them both from a
pre-Gospel tradition." (BBM, pg. 161).
" there is no reason to believe that the LXX of Isa 7:14 either
referred to a virginal conception or was so interpreted by Jews. It
is Christian exegesis, witnessed in Matt 1:22-23, that has
reinterpreted Isa 7:14 in light of an *existing* (emphasis mine)
Christian tradition of the virginal conception of Jesus."
(Ibid. pg. 534)
In other words, the concept of the virginal conception predates both
Matt and Luke, and this makes using this admittedly christological
statement highly problematic when trying to date these two gospels.
After all, if the virginal conception was known to Christians before
Matthew or Luke was written, both gospels could, on the basis of this
piece of evidence, at any time after the idea was first introduced to
the Church. Further, the idea that Luke read Isaiah 7:14 in the same
way as did Matthew is without support in any possible reading of
Luke's infancy narrative with which I am familiar.
> I readily admit that all these items were part ofTwo points:
> pre-synoptic tradition. What I deny, however, is that these had
> coalesced to form a common tradition about HJ's birth prior to the
> composition of independent infancy narratives by Matt & Luke. One
> would have to be able to produce evidence of the structure of a
> common narrative behind Matt 1-2 & Luke 1-2 to convince me of that.
First, if, as you admit, the virgin conception idea pre-exists the
Gospels, then using it as a means to postulate and justify a late
dating for either Matthew or Luke seems unwarranted. Second, Brown
does offer an outline of what Matthew's pre-Gospel source may have
looked like. As I do not know if you are familiar with it at this
point, I will not go into it in much depth, but his hypothesis
strikes me as very reasonable (See BBM, Table VII pg. 109). In
effect, the pre-Gospel sources looks very much like Matthew's
account, minus the formula citations of OT Scripture. As Brown
notes, if one removes these OT citations from the text, it not only
retains its coherence, but actually becomes more readable than
Matthew's final composition.
In my own case, I found Brown's arguments convincing, while at the
same time, I do not think a similar construction of Luke's pre-Gospel
source is as easily derived. One thing is certain, he did not use
> This is a paraphrase of Matt; the Lukan verses stress Mary'sThis is a small point, but as other scholars have proposed in the
> virginity without mentioning cohabitation. In either case this
> point is historicized christology rather than pre-natal biography.
> If it were the latter one would be hard pressed to explain why
> GJohn makes no reference to it.
past, John's theology of a pre-existent Christ/Logos hardly requires
a virginal conception or birth. Quite simply, we have no reason to
expect John to mention this kind of information, even if he knew of
> Since almost all marriagesGiven your admission that it is impossible to know if the virginal
> in the ancient world were arranged when people reached puberty, the
> dating of Jesus' conception to the period of his parent's
> betrothal, coupled with insistence that they had not yet had
> intercourse, provided a natural logical explanation that could have
> easily occurred to different theologically motivated authors who
> were working on the same problem with the same minimal
> biographical data (HJ's parents' names). Whether this was an
> instance of simultaneous discovery of the same solution by totally
> independent researchers (as often happens) or whether it had
> already begun to circulate among "preachers of the word" that
> influenced Luke and Matt is impossible to determine.
conception was a coincidental creation of Luke and Matt working
independently, or that it existed in an earlier source(s), I see no
reason why we should use it as Mahlon has in dating either Matthew or
> Davidic descent was practically axiomatic for any messianicThis is simply not the case. The DSS have shown us that the Messiah
> candidate in ancient Judaism.
could also have been thought to been from the line of Aaron, through
the tribe of Levi. To rule out the possibility of a non-Davidic
Messiah in 1st Century Palestine is simply reading beliefs from this
period of time anachronistically and through a now dominant Christian
> And Jews historically traced lineages through the paternalAgreed.
> line (with names of mothers often passing unknown). The fact is
> Matt & Luke do not provide Joseph with the same lineage & even
> disagree on the name of his own father (HJ's legal grandfather).
> Thus it is evident that they were not working from common
> genealogical information.
> Joseph's Davidic descentWhile the Davidic descent is obviously a christological development,
> is again fundamentally a christological development since it
> enabled Xns (after Mark) to assert that Jesus was in fact
> (legally) "of the line of David" & hence a legitimate candidate for
> the messianic figure alluded to in various passages of Hebrew
it is clearly one that dates back to before Paul (Romans 1:3-4).
Thus, we cannot use it as a means to date the Gospels late.
> > 10. The birth is chronologically related to the reign (days) ofI have already covered this point off in a previous post (replying to
> > Herod the Great (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5)
> Denied. Luke 1:5 dates Zechariah's priesthood to Herod's reign.
> Herod is never mentioned in Luke in conjunction with Jesus' birth.
> See my previous post for more on this.
Mahlon's point). Suffice to say, Luke's giving us Jesus' age
(Luke 3) at "about 30 years of age" during the "fifteenth year of the
reign of Tiberius" (ca. 27-29CE) makes Jesus' birth during the reign
of Herod the Great most probable. Thus, Luke 1 and Luke 3 (against
Luke 2) should serve as evidence that Luke's source agreed with
Matthew's, and Jesus was most likely born during the reign of Herod,
and then most probably 5-4 BCE.
In conclusion, I am not necessarily saying that all of Brown's 11
parallels are historically accurate pieces of information. Brown
does not claim this either. But he does show how they exist in a pre-
Canonical Gospel source(s), and on this basis we should not use their
inclusion in Matthew and Luke as reasons for dating these gospels as
being necessarily late creations.
Calgary, AB, Canada