Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #3

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by Neil Godfrey

Here we look at

a. the visions and rejoicing surrounding the birth of Jesus

b. the shepherds, the magi

c. massacre of the innocents

d. flight to and return from Egypt

e. Jesus twelve years of age in the temple

Future posts will continue this series.

The table is primarily a translation and slight modification of pages 183-226 of Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de paper. All posts archived here.

Josephs’ Dream — Matthew 1, 2

(1:20; 2:12; 2:13; 2:19; 2:22 — five dreams)

= Genesis 37:19, the patriarch Joseph is “the man of dreams”
The new Joseph is silent and patient like his ancestral namesake.
The dream dispels all doubts = the dream of the father of Moses in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 2.9.3
“He will deliver his people from their sins” “under the term sins (άμαρτίαις) is comprehended the punishment of those sins, namely, the subjection of the people to a foreign yoke; so that here also the Jewish element is not wanting” [Strauss, Life, 1.3.25]
“overcome with joy” = the same emotion David expressed before the Ark of the Covenant, 2 Sam 6:2-11 + David’s words, “How will the Ark come to my place?”
Mary rests three months The Ark rested three months, the presence of Yahweh among his people.
Luke 1:42, Elizabeth: “You are blessed among women” = Judith 13:18 “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth”
“and blessed is the fruit of your womb” Genesis 15: one from Abraham’s own body will be his heir +

Deuteronomy 28:4, “The fruit of your womb will be blessed”

Magnificat = the song of Hannah, mother of Samuel (1 Sam 2:1-10)
Luke 1:46-55 = the song of the first Mary/Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, who sings it after the passage through the Sea and the first brilliant manifestation of the power of the Lord who saves his people and gives birth to them by his passage through the waters of the sea and death. (Exodus 15: 1-21)
“the generations will call me blessed” = Leah, Genesis 30:13, “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed” +

Zechariah 2:14-17, The joy of the daughter of Zion: “Shout with joy, rejoice, Daughter of Zion! Because behold, I come, and I will live in your midst, said the Eternal.” +

Isaiah 54:1-10, The fruitful of Jerusalem, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear”

Birth of Jesus
Luke 2:7 “And she brought forth her firstborn son” Firstborn = a title given to the Messiah son of David. “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” Psalm 89:27

= the people: Zechariah 12:10 “and they [the people] shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn”

sign: swaddled in swaddling clothes Luke 2:12 “And this will serve as a sign: you will find a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes [esparganômenon]” = Ezekiel 16:4, about Jerusalem “you weren’t swaddled in swaddling clothes” [hb HKouTHaLeTH, LXX esparganôthes]”
birth in Bethlehem of Judah (= the house of Judah) = Micah 5:2, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel” +

the place of royal anointing of David +

Genesis 35:16b-19, Rachel gave birth to Benjamin here +

Naomi is born at Bethlehem. She returns with her daughter-in-law Ruth, “May Yahweh make the woman who is going to come into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel. Become powerful in Ephrata and make a name for yourself in Bethlehem. Thanks to the posterity that Yahweh will grant you from this young woman…” (Ruth 4:11b-12) +

There was born the father of Jesse, then David +

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1); “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” (11:10)

the shepherds = the pastors of the people = Jeremiah 23 +

In the midrash, the expression “shepherds’ tent” in Ct 1:8 becomes the symbol of synagogues or study houses, and especially of the Temple, where the teachers and guides of the people teach their teaching on the Torah. Among these shepherds-doctors there are for example, Joshua, David or Solomon and the Messiah

“The motif of the shepherd, from the book of Samuel, now functions to color the birth announcement by showing that Jesus will in no way become a tyrannical monarch comparable to Herod the Great” The passage of 2 Samuel 5:1 “He will be the pastor of my people Israel. It is a promise made by YHWH to David “and that the tribes come to Hebron to remind the king of Judah to ask him to extend his sovereignty to the people of the North” (2 Sam 5, 2-3)

Herod looks like both Pharaoh and Balak (Num 22) +

Micah 4:8 the ancient kingship of the daughter of Zion is the Tower of the Flock [watchtower in Jerusalem]

The shepherds are “in the fields” = such was the choosing of king David, when the prophet Samuel came looking among the sons of Jesse for the future king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:11)
“the good news” = Isaiah 52:7, “him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”
“A savior was born to you, who is the messiah, the lord” = Isaiah 9:5, “Because a child was born to us, a son was given to us, he received power on his shoulders”
The star = Numbers 24:17 The prophecy of Balaam: “I shall see him, but not now: . . . there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel”
Matthew 2:3 “Informed, King Herod was troubled [etarakthè], and all Jerusalem with him” = Daniel 5:9 LXX: uses the same verb to designate the panic which takes hold of the king when his advisers are unable to decipher the name, inscribed on the wall, of the one who must dispossess him of his kingdom

= Psalm 2:2 “The kings of the earth rise; princes conspire against God and against his Christ”

Matthew 2:1-12, The magi come from the East = the pagans, Numbers 23:7, “out of the mountains of the east”
And were guided to the child in Bethlehem Psalm 72 (LXX 71), 10-11, “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” +

Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 60:3, 6, 10 +

one recognizes the power to interpreter dreams and visions  – Daniel 1:20; 2:2 (the word “magous” is used only in the Greek Bible); 4:5; 5:7 +

Origen: the scribes who misinterpret…

gifts In Isaiah 60, the announcement of a Savior for Zion is followed by: “Stand up, Jerusalem, be enlightened, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen on you!” (Isaiah 60:1). And a few verses later: “The riches of the nations will come to you. All those from Saba will come, bringing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:5-6 LXX).
When they arrived, they placed the gold, myrrh and frankincense in before the child. The gold that evokes earthly wealth, the myrrh, which accompanies the tributes paid to a king at his death, the incense that honors the deity (High Priest)
three magi

(this entry is in the original table, although we know that the notion of there being a total of three magi is traditional but not found in the gospels)

three in number = Numbers 22:22 +

Origen (Homilies on Genesis 14:3) makes the parallel with the coming of 3 high figures to make covenant (and reconciliation) with Isaac in Genesis 26:26-29

Matthew 2:13 Massacre of the innocents

King Herod, having learned that a newborn baby from Bethlehem was going to take his kingdom from him, ordered the massacre of all the male newborns in the city.

= Exodus 1:15-16, the massacre of the Hebrew male infants by Pharaoh, “And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives . . . And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women . . . if it be a son, then ye shall kill him” +

fulfillment of a prophecy Jeremiah 31:15 on Rachel who mourns her children = Jewish people

Luke 2:22-38, Presentation at the Temple = purification of the Temple
the old man Simeon, “Now, lord master, you can let your servant depart” = Genesis 15:2, what Abraham, still without a son, said: “sovereign master, [behold, I am going without a child” [Ph. Lefebvre: “The words of Simeon take up in the joy of accomplishment what Abraham used to say overwhelmingly”]
Flight to Egypt
Matthew 2, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.” = Just as Israel had taken the way of the Exodus to being the “Old Covenant”
Return to the land of Israel: Matthew 2:20-21 to be able to return from Egypt

= Hosea 11:1-6, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.”

“Herod being dead, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said to him: “Arise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for they have died, those who resented the life of the child ”. And he, having risen, took the child and came to the land of Israel.” = the return of Moses, Exodus 4: 19-22, “The Lord said to Moses, in Midian: “Go, return to the land of Egypt, for they are dead, all those who wanted your life.” Moses took his wife and sons, put them on the donkey and returned to the land of Egypt”, and 22: “Israel is my son, even my firstborn”
Matthew 2:23

“he dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene [Nazoraios].”

Confusion with Nazarite (Judges 13:5): the consecrated NaZiR- (or NeTSeR the guardian, although it is not the same central consonant)

or invention of an imaginary city, to show that we are at the end of time?

Luke 2:42 Jesus at twelve years old = Moses at twelve years left his home (Philo, Life of Moses) +

Samuel, Solomon, Daniel were twelve years old when they began their prophetic careers (Strauss, Life, 1.5.41)

at the feast of Passover … the search for the lost/hidden child = the search for the afikoman or piece of matzos (the child who seeks, the symbol of the sacrificed Isaac)
Luke 2:46-48, found in the Temple among the doctors of the Law. = the young Daniel (Sussanah) LXX 13:50 “To Daniel the elders said, “Come, sit with us and inform us, since God has given you the prestige of old age.”

= Wisdom 8:10, “Because of her I shall have glory among the multitudes and honor in the presence of the elders, though I am young.”

Luke 2:51, “and his mother kept all these things in her heart” = Genesis 37:11, a phrase is taken from the story of Jacob and Joseph. Jacob-Israel, father of this wonderful child, “but his father kept the matter in mind.”
Luke 2:52, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” = 1 Samuel 2:26, “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.”


Charbonnel, Nanine. 2017. Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier. Paris: Berg International éditeurs.

Strauss, David Friedrich. 1892. The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. 2nd ed. London: Swan Sonnenschein.

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Neil Godfrey

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11 thoughts on “Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #3”

  1. By amazing coincidence, this post begins with a point made at the end of discussion on Nazareth: Josephus commenting on his names sake, Joseph (of the coat of many colors). And the uncertainty of both their insights, claims, to greatness; based in mere “dreams.”

    Both turned their back on their native Jews to some extent; Joseph came to work for the Pharoah, and Josephus for the Romans. But out of their partial betrayals, came an allegedly great son. Joseph himself, the patriarch. Then Josephus: Jewish governor of Galiee, then liason with Rome.

    So was the story of yet another, third “Joseph,” a dreaming father to a great son of God, related to the story of Josephus, and the earlier patriatch; being part of the origin of the Jesus of Joseph story?

    And how reliable were any of them?

    Josephus seems interested in the story of the original patriarch; and a greatness founded in nothing but mere dreams. Or fantasies? Or allusions and illusions.

    (And what’s the link to the Moses story specifically? Yet another renegade Jew come to work for a while for the enemy Pharaoah?).

    They all seem somewhat interrelated. And not entirely reliable; based as they were in dreams.

      1. Might be more plausible, if we suggest that chronologically successive persons named “Joseph ” are superstitiously, more or less copying some of their earlier namesakes’ behavior; persons with the same name, from old stories, in earlier histories?

        As suggested by the only semiparordical theory of “nominative determinism.”

        Or Structuralism, Raglan, telling us that many hero stories follow essentially the same story line?

        One common structural element here might be native sons making deals with foreign powers, sires?

        Very speculative here to be sure.

        1. Some parallels are explicable. We can discern clear reasons for the parallels and they are explicable by means of intertextuality and/or “midrashic” exercises. We stick with those that we can explain with a hypothesis that is simple and likewise found in other literature of the time. But to go beyond that, to leap to seeing significance in other parallels that call for grand conspiracy theories of some sort and that are otherwise unparalleled in ancient literature, is to take us into “palallelomania” and worse.

          Many parallels can be explained quite simply and usually without any need to find a direct influence or common authorship.

          Before getting on board with Josephan authorship of gospels we need to first familiarize ourselves with the works of Josephus — study his works as a whole, and in some depth to know about the author and his work; and then to do the same with the gospels. The more we learn about each set of literature the less attractive ideas of common authorship will become, and the more reasonable other simpler and more common explanations will be.

          1. Yes Neil to this!!

            “Before getting on board with Josephan authorship of gospels we need to first familiarize ourselves with the works of Josephus — study his works as a whole, and in some depth to know about the author and his work; and then to do the same with the gospels. The more we learn about each set of literature the less attractive ideas of common authorship will become, and the more reasonable other simpler and more common explanations will be.”

            A great collage of comments about the necessity and encouragement to follow careful methods of investigation… regardless of how emotional and political and otherwise the issues might be….

            These thoughts here apply to much broader domains and sources than Josephus….

            Thanks Neil,,, hope you are doing well and so just keeping connected.. to all here… Stay Safe and Sane during this time 🙂

            Great stuff to read and interact with during this time.


  2. Well, I definitely wouldn’t see Josephus as the main author of the gospels. Or even a secondary author. But?

    I might though, see him as one of dozens of sources that 1) early folk rumors about Jesus picked up. And 2) one that the early and later writers and editors of the gospels might have used, to fill in a detail or two about Jesus; like his a) problematic genealogy . And b) possibly even his crucifixion.

    A source they might have well reasonably questioned themselves, moreover.

    Thanks for your excellent blog.

    1. • Per Josephus as one of dozens of sources.

      It is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a putative real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Jewish War—”Jesus son of Ananias”. Also it is likely that Mark’s “John the Baptist” figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.

      So if the Markan author understood that Jesus son of Ananias was born 1 CE (or whatever and simply backdated to 1 CE) and died 70 CE during the “Siege of Jerusalem”. And the Markan author also understood that John the Baptist was executed by Herod Antipas c. 30 CE.

      Then the Markan author created a work of fiction by “retrojecting” the time and method of Jesus’ death to match Old Testament prophecy that foretold the temple’s destruction some X years after the shameful death of the “suffering servant” sent by Lord God.

      The timeline of this story just happens to fall on the 10 year administration of Pontius Pilate (26 to 36 CE).

      NB: Irony of ironies, even though the Markan author would of regarded Josephus’ Jesus son of Ananias and John the Baptist as historical people… they likely were not.

      • Miller, Merrill P. (2017). “The Social Logic of the Gospel of Mark: Cultural Persistence and Social Escape in a Postwar Time”. In Crawford, Barry S.; Miller, Merrill P. Redescribing the Gospel of Mark. SBL Press. pp. 207–400. ISBN 978-0-88414-203-4.

      In a monograph comparing the story of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem and the story of Jesus ben Hananiah in Jerusalem, Ted Weeden Sr. has occasion to draw on Kloppenborg’s discussion of the Roman ritual of evocatio to argue that Josephus has himself composed the series of portents and prodigies as a theology of evocatio, obviously not in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Roman ritual, but to show that God had decided to abandon the temple because of the tyranny, false prophecy, and bloodshed of the rebels. The final portent, the oracle of Jesus-Ananias (Weeden’s shortened form for Jesus ben Hananiah) against the city, the temple, and the people represents the devotio. […] Weeden has presented an impressive list of parallels between Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem and Jesus-Ananias in Jerusalem in a Greco-Roman environment in which the penchant for mimetic writing was a central feature of literary production. —(pp. 263–264)

      • Doudna, Gregory L. (2019). “Is Josephus’s John the Baptist Passage a Chronologically Dislocated Story of the Death of Hyrcanus II?”. In Pfoh, Emanuel; Niesiolowski-Spanò, Lukasz (ed.). Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson. Bloomsbury–T&T Clark. pp. 119–137. ISBN 978-0-567-68657-2.

      This article proposes that Josephus’s ‘John the Baptist’ passage in Antiquities is a chronologically displaced story of the death of Hyrcanus II, the aged former high priest, by Herod the Great in either c. 34 or 30 BCE.

      1. Thanks

        Another term for retrojection is “prophesy after the fact.”

        Any reality, history, in myths? If there is, it has been so twisted that it seems to amount to fiction in the end.

        Manipulating timelines in particular seems extremely common in Christian myths. Trying to “harmonize” wildly divergent material; related but different stories.

        The end result is often similar to time distortions and free associationism in indeed, “dreams.”

        By mentioning dreams, maybe some biblical authors were trying to warn us that they were writing near hallucinatory, delusional “history.”

        1. John Crossan liked the term “prophecy historicized”:

          My proposal is that Jesus’ first followers knew almost nothing whatsoever about the details of his crucifixion, death, or burial. What we have now in those detailed passion accounts is not history remembered but prophecy historicized. And it is necessary to be very clear on what I mean here by prophecy. I do not mean texts, events, or persons that predicted or foreshadowed the future, that projected themselves forward toward a distant fulfillment. I mean such units sought out backward, as it were, sought out after the events of Jesus’ life were already known and his followers declared that texts from the Hebrew Scriptures had been written with him in mind. Prophecy, in this sense, is known after rather than before the fact.

          Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p.145

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