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Re: [XTalk] Infancy Narratives

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  • Bob Schacht
    ... You are conflating two issues here. My assertion was that Matthew and Luke seem to be drawing from a common *source.* I did not claim that it was an
    Message 1 of 5 , Jan 3, 2002
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      At 06:51 PM 1/3/02 -0500, Mahlon H. Smith wrote:
      >Bob Schacht wrote, after listing Raymond Brown's common elements of the
      >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.

      You are conflating two issues here. My assertion was that Matthew and Luke
      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.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond, and may you have a very happy new
      year!

      Bob


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Mahlon H. Smith
      ... invented ... . ... I m not ready to concede a common source behind Matt & Luke s account of Jesus birth either, since this implies that these gospel
      Message 2 of 5 , Jan 4, 2002
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        > >Bob Schacht wrote, after listing Raymond Brown's common elements of the
        > >Infancy (sic.: Brown's term) narratives:
        > >
        > > > I think it is rather unlikely that Matthew and Luke independently
        invented
        > > > 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 Luke
        > 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.

        I'm not ready to concede a "common source" behind Matt & Luke's account of
        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.

        Shalom!

        Mahlon

        Mahlon H. Smith
        Department of Religion
        Rutgers University
        New Brunswick NJ 08901

        http://religion.rutgers.edu/profiles/mh_smith.html

        Synoptic Gospels Primer
        http://religion.rutgers.edu/nt/primer/

        Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
        http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/
      • Antonio Jerez
        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
        Message 3 of 5 , Jan 5, 2002
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          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
          ago.

          > *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.

          Although I don't believe in a common source behind the infancy narratives (except
          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.

          Best wishes

          Antonio Jerez
          Göteborg, Sweden
        • bjtraff
          ... As I have said in my previous post, I agree with Mahlon that when we look at the two birth narratives as given in Matt and Luke, we are not likely to be
          Message 4 of 5 , Jan 7, 2002
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            --- In crosstalk2@y..., "Mahlon H. Smith" <mahlonh.smith@w...> wrote:

            > 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).

            As I have said in my previous post, I agree with Mahlon that when we
            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
            them here.

            > 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).

            Agreed, and again I made a similar point myself.

            > Others are narrativized elaborations of the virgin motif of LXX Is
            > 7:14 or traditional features of ancient Jewish/Xn hagiographic
            > story-telling (angel).

            Here is one of my biggest concerns with Mahlon's thesis. It is
            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 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.

            Two points:

            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
            Matthew's source.

            > This is a paraphrase of Matt; the Lukan verses stress Mary's
            > 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.

            This is a small point, but as other scholars have proposed in the
            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
            it.

            > 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 determine.

            Given your admission that it is impossible to know if the virginal
            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
            Luke late.

            > Davidic descent was practically axiomatic for any messianic
            > candidate in ancient Judaism.

            This is simply not the case. The DSS have shown us that the Messiah
            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
            world view.

            > 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.

            Agreed.

            > 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.

            While the Davidic descent is obviously a christological development,
            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) of
            > > 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.

            I have already covered this point off in a previous post (replying to
            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.

            Brian Trafford
            Calgary, AB, Canada
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