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Re: [XTalk] Infancy Narratives

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  • 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 1 of 5 , Jan 5, 2002
      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 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 2 of 5 , Jan 7, 2002
        --- 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

        > 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.


        > 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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