§ 94. The report of Matthew

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 94.

The report of Matthew.

Matth. C. 27, 62 — 66.  C. 28.

A healthy person only needs to hear that the chief priests and scholars of Christ, on the day after the crucifixion, go to Pilate, tell him that they remember that the executed man said during his lifetime that he would rise after three days, that they ask him for a guard for the grave, so that his disciples do not steal his body and say afterwards that he has risen, that the guard is placed correctly, but flees in terror when the angel comes to roll the stone from the tomb, that the soldiers run to the priesthood, but are bribed by them to say that the disciples stole the body – one only needs to hear all this to see that Matthew has not invented anything particularly beautiful. Not to mention that Jesus only spoke of his resurrection to the disciples in a small circle, and that the Roman soldiers had to run to their Roman captains to report, the evangelist’s intention to counter the Jews’ rumour, which he expressly combats (28:15), that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, is too glaring. The chief priests had to say and fear from the beginning (C. 27, 64) what was only later Jewish desecration.

And it is not even certain, not even probable, that a Jewish legend of this kind was generally spread at the time of Matthew. Perhaps only here and there, perhaps only from individual Jews, Matthew had heard an interjection that made him so concerned that he now sat down and formed this episode.


But it is not only clumsily formed, but also interrupts the context of the whole report. The negotiations of the priests with Pilate (C. 27, 62-66) separate the report at the point where the women watch Jesus’ body being buried, and where it should immediately follow that they went to the tomb in the morning after the Sabbath. Hence, because Matthew does not particularly understand the rejoining of the separated, hence, especially, because he had previously said so clumsily, “on the morning day, which came after the preparation day” (27:62), hence it comes that he afterwards so awkwardly and abenthemously inserts the mention of the Sabbath, that he says (28:1) “late on the Sabbath bath,” and that he must therefore also set the time somewhat early: “when it dawned on the first day after the Sabbath”, the women went to the tomb.

The negotiations of the priests with the runaway soldiers not only separate the note that the women went to bring the good news to the disciples from the following (C. 28, 8-16), but they are also to blame for the fact that the women did not bring the message to the disciples at all. The disciples set out on the journey to Galilee without Matthew having actually invited them to do so through the women.

The watch is also against the inner plan of this passage. No unbeliever is allowed to witness the resurrection.

But also no believer! Matthew presents the matter in such a way that at the same moment when the women arrive at the tomb (28, 2: και ιδου. V. 5: αποκριθεις), the angel comes from heaven with an earthquake, rolls the stone from the grave and then sits on it (!). It is inappropriate that the angel rolls the stone away – how embarrassing is this pragmatism, of which Mark knows nothing yet; Mark covers this matter, which, when seriously considered, is very petty, with a benevolent veil, so that now the matter can rather come down to the fact that the stone, when it was time, made room of its own accord for the Risen One. It is inappropriate that the guards and the women should see the resurrection and see the supersensible, mysterious process as a sensual one.


But they do not see him. At the same moment when the angel speaks to the women and tells them: He is risen, he presupposes that the resurrection has already happened, i.e. Matthew writes Mark off again.

Matthew has worked out another episode: when the women hurry home to the disciples, Jesus himself meets them and gives them the order to tell the disciples to come to him in Galilee. Inappropriate superfluity! Especially since Jesus had already described Galilee as the point of unification after the resurrection, it was all the more inappropriate that He gave the women the same command again that they had just received from the angel. But Matthew did not remember at this moment that Jesus had already spoken to the disciples about this, the words of the angel: “as he told you”, Mark 16, 7, he changed into the other: “See, I told you”, because he did not know how to interpret the text of Mark immediately, and now Jesus Himself had to appear and give the women this commission.

How easily these contradictions are resolved! They remain, but as explained and resolved, and no art of lying will make them again the labyrinth in which the Minotaur of faith devours its victims.

From “the mountain” in Galilee, the disciples meet Jesus, who, with the formula of later dogmatics, baptises the nations in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Matthew does not explicitly mention the Ascension because he lets Jesus speak as one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been delegated and who, although occupying the throne of heaven, nevertheless dwells among His own all the days until the end of the world. He who speaks in this way is already enthroned in heaven and already dwells in spirit among his confessors.



§ 10. The origin of the Gospel account of Matthew’s infancy

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 10.

The origin of the Gospel account of Matthew’s infancy.

First, let us dispel the false notion that can easily arise from a superficial understanding of our above interpretation.

Schneckenburger **) had already attempted to assert that the account of the Magi’s homage “had emerged from a gradual traditional transformation of the facts as reported by Luke, which was stamped with the seal of truth.” However, he failed to carry out this assertion in many respects. “What injustice,” Matthew might exclaim, “to deny me the belief that is so easily and baselessly given to my neighbor! And what does it mean, we continue, to say that the seal of truth is lacking in Matthew’s account compared to Luke’s? Is not Matthew’s account more manly and forceful, and now it should give way to the soft pastoral scene of Luke * ) and be surpassed by it? This is, as we will demonstrate again shortly, a very uncritical method to allow Matthew’s account to arise ‘through embellishing tradition’ and then to push the parallel interpretation so far that the counter-image in Luke’s narrative is shown for every single detail in Matthew’s account. Strauss was therefore right to call this “interpretation” of Matthew’s account from Luke’s a “strained” one **), but he certainly did not refute this interpretation, nor did he replace it with a better one, when, following the tradition hypothesis, he allows both accounts to develop independently in tradition and prefers the “derivation” of Matthew’s account “from Old Testament passages and Jewish opinions” to that strained interpretation. Furthermore, Strauss says that this derivation of one account from the other is even unlikely if Schneckenburger’s assumption that Luke’s account bears the stamp of historical truth is correct. “But every reason” for such a derivation “is lacking since we have two equally unhistorical narratives before us.” We must confess that we cannot find any reason in this statement why one narrative could not have received the germ and impetus for its development from the other.

**) Whoever the origin of the first canonical Gospel, pp. 69-72.

*) Schneckenburger, in fact, only had the account of the shepherds’ adoration in mind when he allowed Matthew’s account to arise from a traditional source in the aforementioned passage of his book.

**) L. J. l, 314.


According to our interpretation, the entire evangelical prehistory of Matthew has arisen from that of his predecessor. But what does “arisen” mean? Do we mean to say, or have we said, or is this interpretation necessarily linked to the view that Matthew has meticulously examined each detail of Luke’s account and then anxiously searched for a corresponding but different one? On the contrary, we have not only said but also demonstrated the opposite. Matthew was guided by his predecessor to that high point where the prospect of the heathen masses, illuminated by the light of the new revelation, and the sufferings of the Messiah were opened up, and his only task was to transform Simeon’s prophecy into a real story, the center of which was the messianic child. During this work, he was not so alone and deserted that he had to take everything on his shoulders and step by step ask himself whether he was still on historical ground, but as he was inspired by the idea that had seized him in the work of his predecessor, so the experiences of the community, their spread in the heathen world, their suffering and martyrdom gave him enough material for his work; thus he was drawn into the general process of religious perception, which believed its content to be necessary and secure only if it found it again in the life of its Lord; thus the once-formed collision, which lay in the arrival of the Magi, drew him into its tearing development; finally, the consequences of this collision seemed to him natural enough if they were also predetermined in the divine plan, as the prophecies of the Old Testament proved to him. Compared to these inspiring, driving, and tearing forces, it is very little to point to us a couple of Old Testament passages and Jewish opinions as sufficient reason for the emergence of such a rich and profound account as that of Matthew.


The proof that this account could not have developed in tradition is the same as the one we presented above for the literary elaboration of Luke’s prehistory and has its nerve in the line of infinite regress, which does not let us rest until we have arrived at the formative self-consciousness as the author of the account. We do not need to repeat the proof. Our explanation of the account has sufficiently demonstrated that the development of the collision from the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem to the settling of Jesus’ parents in Nazareth is strictly interconnected, that no detail could have arisen independently, and that everything individual only has its meaning and its origin in the idea of the whole, so that the whole, with its parts, emerged simultaneously and as the work of the author.


Apologetics sometimes have a rather peculiar approach to their arguments. At one moment, they provide evidence for the “historical credibility” of a narrative based on the fact that the evangelist does not mention an Old Testament passage whose fulfillment is claimed. If the prophecy is then cited, and the appearance arises that the narrative was only derived from it, the apologist is not daunted. They promptly point out that the meaning of the Old Testament passage was originally too different from the sense that an evangelist gives it, to have been the source of the narrative that the critic attributes to it. The fact must have already existed, before the evangelist could have been prompted to associate it with any Old Testament passage through some resonance or analogy. The prehistory of Matthew gives the apologist the opportunity to use both arguments.

Firstly, we could accuse the apologetics of being unfair. For the incongruence between a narrative and the Old Testament citation accompanying it, the apologist can only rely on if they admit that the suspicion that the narrative may have been formed from the Old Testament passage has greater apparent justification if both are in precise agreement. If they think so, then they have certainly won against most cases from the outset, since the Old Testament perspective and the Christian one are essentially different and can therefore never fully coincide. Or rather, they have only won against the earlier form of criticism, but not against criticism as such, which will continue to advance beyond their previous assumptions, where they shared the same assumptions as their opponents.


If the principle no longer holds that the evangelical views were spun out of the Old Testament passages, then the whole argument of apologetics has become mere chatter. Strauss indeed responds to the question why Matthew does not explicitly refer to Balaam’s oracle if the story of the Magi’s star arose from it: “Because he himself did not spin this story out of the Old Testament passage.” *) However, Matthew did not receive the story of the Magi’s star in this specific form from tradition, but rather he created it within the context of the idea from which his whole infancy narrative arose. So why does he not refer to Balaam’s oracle? Well, because he did not think of it, because the evangelical view was not spun out of the Old Testament passages, and when it coincides with Old Testament forms, it did not always need to be immediately aware of this agreement. But where does this coincidence come from, on which the appearance of chance might now fall? It comes from the fact that human nature is one, and religious views can also take similar forms in different circles due to the unity of the category. The natural element can never be dispensed with in religious views, and the impulse to create a natural or heavenly image for their essential content is inherent in them. Hence, the similarity in this case. It is possible that Matthew received the comparison of the Messiah’s arrival with the rising of a star from the sacred language of the community, but then it was not necessary for this image to be borrowed from the Old Testament, nor does the proposition that Matthew made the image into something completely different in any way become endangered by it.

*) L.J. I. 313


The Apologist asks further, where does it come from in the other case, that such a heterogeneous narrative was formed from an Old Testament passage that originally had a completely different meaning? How is this derivation of the narrative possible at all given the total difference between the two sides? Strauss *) responds to this question by saying that the failed combination came about because the evangelist “was given some narrative without the key that belonged to it,” and now the misfortune befell him, “that he sometimes even attempted false keys.” However, this explanation is already flawed in its assumption that Matthew composed his prehistory from individual narratives that were given to him. The Bethlehem child massacre presupposes the report of the Magi’s arrival in Jerusalem, and thus also their worship, and therefore could neither be composed as an independent narrative nor be the subject of a legend. And what interest could the legend of the holy child’s stay with his parents in Egypt have generated on its own and for so long – who knows how long? – in the tradition of the community, until it came to Matthew and led him to show off his interpretive skills precisely from their weakest side? So be more cautious with your reasoning, good Apologist, you do not gain any notice for your knowledge of history if you show that the evangelist brought such a distant Old Testament passage to one aspect of his narrative that it is clear that it could not have made him so inventive that he formed that aspect according to it. Namely, you realize where we are going and where we will end up? Those individual aspects of the narrative, such as the Bethlehem child massacre and the flight to Egypt, were neither received from tradition nor spun out of the Old Testament passage. Rather, they arose from the development of the assumed collision, and the Old Testament prophecy presented itself to him as such through even the most external allusion or connection.

*) L. J. I, 313.


If one still insists on asking, in the most candid wonder, how on earth it could have been possible for Matthew to create such a different narrative from Luke’s, we have already demonstrated that and we will have plenty of opportunities to show what transformations the accounts of Mark underwent in Luke’s writing, and what new forms Matthew created from the creations of his predecessors.

We have a completely different concern, which we do not want to hide. Luke has replaced some beautiful structures in place of the reports he found in Mark, and Matthew is even richer in new and happy compositions. But both have not brought their new forms into a perfect connection with each other or with what they retained from Mark. How much more successful would they have been in developing the prehistory! Luke creates a complete whole from the beginning, which he does not succeed in doing again in his gospel, and Matthew, who takes the seeds of his prehistory from Luke’s, is not disturbed by it at all, and he creates a cohesive new composition, which was not possible for him in the rest of his work to the same extent. So should they still be considered the authors of these prehistories? They are and remain so. Everything has its time: when they wrote, it was precisely the time when Christian self-awareness went further than at the time of Mark into its assumptions and tried to grasp and present them in the only form accessible to it, in the form of the prehistory of its Lord. For this edition, the time was a creative one, Luke and Matthew were seized by the power of a new urge for creation, and they gave in the most perfect form what their time demanded.



§ 9. The flight to Egypt and settlement in Nazareth

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 9.

The flight to Egypt and settlement in Nazareth.

In his presentation of the prehistory, Luke incorporated the prophecy of the struggles which the Redeemer and, in him, the new principle would have to endure. Through the soul of Mary, who represents the community in a broader sense here, Simeon says a sword will pierce through her, for this one who was destined to be the light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, is set for a sign, which is opposed so that many hearts may be revealed.

Matthew also takes up this prophecy and, like the other one about the destiny of the Savior to be the light of the nations, works it into a prophetic fact with the same success that gives him a result he had not even calculated, in which the destinies of the community and its Lord are symbolically prefigured.


The collision develops from the wondrous event that the Gentiles offer their homage to the Messiah. In its essential sense, it must therefore be of general and comprehensive significance, even if the author uses Jewish names for the narrative. He could not do otherwise, as he is writing the story of the child born in Bethlehem, and could only depict dangers that were possible in the Jewish world of that time. His consciousness in which he created this story was involuntarily limited by this necessary limitation of the scene, and with good faith in the direction that his narrative takes from its starting point, he believes that he is describing real dangers that were imposed on the newborn by the Jewish world and its ruler of the time. On the other hand, his consciousness is involuntarily beyond these limitations again, as he portrays the struggles of the messianic child, which the community only experienced and experienced with such terrible seriousness when it was in conflict with the Gentile world and its rulers. In the child, the idea of the community, which passed through dangers and sufferings unscathed, is depicted, while the children of Bethlehem represent the individual sacrifices that fall when the idea itself triumphs over the attacks of the world. The Magi are the harbingers of Gentile-ism that submits to the new principle, while Herod represents in his person the secular power that could not reach the principle, the idea with its weapons, in its struggle with Christianity, although it could hit individual members of the community. Of course, the author did not separate both sides of his narrative, the Jewish scene and form and the general content, to which the community and its destiny in the struggle with the world empire also belonged, and did not make the messianic child as such and the community whose destiny it experienced into one being with reflective intentionality, and it was therefore inevitable that some inconveniences arose from the combination of such diverse elements. However, the fact that the collision and its development still combine into such a harmonious whole can be explained particularly by the fact that it begins with the homage of the Gentiles and that in Herod, whose person and house were regarded by the evangelist more as a foreign, external, and worldly power than as an element of the theocratic sphere of life, the hostile power of the world is juxtaposed as a counter-image.


Before we examine the account of the danger threatening the infant Jesus in detail, as far as it is necessary here, we hardly need to mention that in an apologetic sense there can no longer be any talk of a historical basis for it, if the assumption of the Magi’s arrival does not belong to real history. The fact that the characters in the story are under the immediate guidance of a necessity that either determines their decisions, as with the Magi and Joseph in their dreams, or leads Herod to both premature and inconsistent actions, as required by the development of the collision, but which are impossible in reality, also proves this ideal origin of the account.

When Herod learned from the scribes that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, he secretly summoned the Magi and asked them precisely about the time when the star had appeared. But why secretly? Why so precise? Why did he ask about a sign from which he could deduce the age of the child, since he instructed the Magi to bring him news if they found the child and he firmly believed that they would return to him? The age of the child could only be of interest to Herod when, deceived by the Magi, who, warned by a dream, did not return to him, he decided to kill all the children in Bethlehem and the surrounding area “who were two years old or younger.” He could only resort to this means when he could no longer learn from the Magi which child was so dangerous to him; and yet he had already asked about the more distant means, namely the sign, from which he could deduce up to what age he had to have the children killed (Matthew 2:16). If, at the arrival of the Magi, he had thought of such a remote means for carrying out his purpose, and thus of the possibility that they might deceive him and not return to him, he would have reached for the nearer means and assigned secret escorts to the foreigners who would have more safely and less conspicuously removed the dangerous child from their path. The answer of modern apologists, that tyrants are often struck with stupidity in their vague fear, as audacious as it may be, can only make an impression as long as one has only superficially and from afar considered Saint Matthew’s account. Just listen to the account, how clearly it emphasizes that Herod had already thought of the last desperate means with his question about the rising of the star. This Herod would have been struck with stupidity? Calvin knew the difficulty better, if he could find no other way to solve it than by assuming that God had made the tyrant helpless for a moment. *) You want to solve the difficulty if Calvin could not, even though he allowed God himself to participate? In fact, it cannot be solved apologetically, for he who knows how to get advice even for the remotest possibility cannot be said to be helpless. And if God really deprived the tyrant of his reason to such an extent that he did not think of giving the Magi escorts, would he not have had to go so far as to prevent him from coming up with the clever idea of asking about the rising of the star?

*) Non dubium est, quin Deus mentem ejus perculerit inusitato metu, ut consilio destitutus menteque alienatus ad tempus torperet. Nihil enim facilius erat, quam officii praetextu unum ex aulicis comitem subordare, qui tota inspecta mox rediret.


The matter is immediately resolved once we consider the only force that has been at work here, the pragmatism of the writer. Actually, Herod should not even have asked so cunningly about the time when the star appeared, because he believed he was sure to be informed by the Magi about the child on their return journey through Jerusalem. However, the writer knows beforehand that they will be warned in a dream and take another way back, and based on the insight he has, which he only reveals secretly to Herod, he lets him act and use the only opportunity when he speaks to the Magi to find out when the star appeared. But he had to have Herod ask about it because he already had in mind the bloodshed in Bethlehem and had to send the tyrant the information he needed to deduce at what age he should get rid of the children if he wanted to eliminate the one dreadful child among them.

It is striking that the Evangelist does not allow the Magi to return to Herod. There was no more danger to fear, because immediately after their departure, Joseph received a command in a dream to flee with the child and his mother to Egypt. The fate of the children of Bethlehem would have remained the same. Nevertheless, a correct instinct prevented the Evangelist from sending the Magi back to Herod with the news of where they had found the Savior. In general, Weisse correctly indicated the idea that guided the Evangelist secretly, when he said *) that “the same religious consciousness of the heathen world, which, guided by the spirit of truth, submits to Christianity, is abandoned by that spirit to the secular power that has risen from the heathen world, an involuntary impulse to persecute Christianity.” But the matter can be more precisely formulated as follows: in its enmity towards the community, the secular power does not know where to strike the principle and life of the community, and while the idea is impervious to its attacks, in blind fury, it can only reach individuals who suffer for the principle with its weapons.

*): ev. Gesch. I, 224.


The murdered children of Bethlehem are considered by our evangelist as martyrs or, to express our own understanding more precisely, as prototypes of martyrs, and he ensured that they did not perish without being mourned. He says that their suffering fulfills the prophecy of Jeremiah (31:15), which speaks of Rachel weeping bitterly for her children and refusing to be comforted. Certainly, we would completely misunderstand the evangelist’s perspective if we were to assume that the prophetic passage refers only to the anguish of mothers whose children were taken by Herod. These children are no longer just those who belong to this or that household in Bethlehem, but are martyrs of the suffering community, or rather the part of the community that was sacrificed. Now it is clear who Rachel is. She is the community that weeps over the suffering of her members. This is also the original meaning of those words in the scripture of Jeremiah: they refer to the deportation of the people into captivity. Rachel, the matriarch, stands at Rama, in the territory of her son Benjamin, where the procession of captives must pass by, mourning the misfortune of her kin. For the evangelist, the fact that Rachel was buried near Bethlehem leads him to the prophet’s statement, and Rachel’s grief is now the mourning of the community that has lost its children in the children of Bethlehem. It does not surprise us that the evangelist makes the community lament, even though the community did not yet exist at the time, since he also makes martyrs suffer when it was not yet possible.


The view of the evangelist becomes even more clear to us when we remember that we speak of a community in three senses. Firstly, as it appears in individual members, secondly as it is the substantive unity, figuratively speaking, the mother of these individuals, and finally, as it summarizes itself in its personal principle. All three meanings must have also been present in the early Christian view, as soon as it attempted to present itself in the form of history, to be made into independent figures, and from this, the diversity and richness of figures arose, even in the limited framework of this prehistory. At the point especially where the idea of suffering emerges, we can expect this threefold representation and representation of the community, and Luke has even carried it out in a surprising way in the fleeting moment where suffering is only mentioned. We say again, not with conscious intent, but instinctively following the power of that differentiation; just as we don’t always pay attention when we speak of the community, that we are speaking of it in this or that sense. When Simeon says, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,” he does not only mean that Jesus would suffer in his personal historical appearance, but he also thinks of the struggles and sufferings that the community will have to endure. Mary, through whose soul a sword will go, is not only the sorrowful mother of the Savior, who would witness his suffering and crucifixion, but she also represents the community in that sense, in which she is the substance of the individual members and seems to look down sympathetically on the struggles of her own in maternal empathy.

Matthew has only separated and shaped this more clearly because he set the individual historical events in motion. The worldly power wants to carry out its hostile plans, but it cannot find the personal principle, it can only reach the individual, inherently weak members of the community and, by the death of these, hurt the community, which maintains itself as a substantive unity above the struggle of appearance, for a moment.


The flight of Joseph with the child to Egypt seems significant to the Evangelist, and he sees in it the fulfillment of the prophetic word in Hosea 11:1, where Jehovah speaks of his son whom he called out of Egypt. Although this passage speaks of the past, of the liberation of the people from Egypt and only of the people as such, the Evangelist focuses his attention only on the fact that Jehovah speaks of his son, and therefore concludes that this son can only be Jesus.

After the death of Herod, Joseph receives instruction from an angel in a dream to return to the land of Israel. He obeys but fears when he hears that Archelaus reigns over Judea, and in another dream, he is instructed to go to Galilee, where he settles in Nazareth. The Evangelist says that this happened so that the word of the prophets, “he shall be called a Nazarene,” would be fulfilled. In Jesus growing up in Nazareth and leaving from there when he began his public ministry, he sees a sign of the lowliness of the Messiah in his historical appearance. He recalls that Isaiah (11:1) compares the Messiah, who comes from humble circumstances, to a weak branch that grows from the stump of a cut-down tree. He sees this as a literal reference to the Messiah’s emergence from a small town in a remote province away from the capital, and he speaks in the plural of the prophecy of the prophets because he finds the idea of the Messiah’s lowly appearance in other prophecies besides those of Isaiah.

The latter reflection of the Evangelist clearly proves that he also has in mind and wants to depict the struggle and contradiction between the higher destiny of the messianic child and the fate that drives him into obscurity during these wanderings. The material for this portrayal was initially given to him to the extent that it was established according to the report of Mark that Nazareth was considered to be the hometown of Jesus and that the Lord came from this remote and otherwise unknown city when he began his public ministry (Mark 6:1, 1:9). Additionally, there is the note of the third synoptist that the holy family returned with the child to Nazareth from the scene of those wonders which had glorified the birth and first days of the messianic child (Luke 2:39). Luke lets this return journey go as quickly as possible – immediately after the mother of the child had followed the legal requirements (Luke 2:22-24) – and does so without any concern: he still feels the power of the positive statements in the Gospel of Mark and now has to hurry to bring the child back to where he is at home according to his informant. However, Matthew is already accustomed to considering Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah, so it is possible for him, if he wants to report on the birth of the Lord, to simply assume this city as the location. With his reflective style, it is not surprising that he emphasizes the contrast between the cradle of kings and a corner of Galilee, but he will also seek to convey and understand it as a divine fate. It is now the jealousy and enmity of worldly power that drives the royal child away from the homeland of his ancestors, forever away from it, and finally forces him to grow up in the obscurity of Nazareth. Matthew had based his entire presentation on this struggle, so the wanderings of the persecuted child are the natural consequences of this unfortunate collision, but the consequences that are foreseen by God, prophesied by the prophets, and under the guidance of a higher necessity.


Why, however, does Joseph not receive the instruction to go to Galilee and settle in Nazareth immediately at the beginning, when Herod seeks the child’s life in Bethlehem? It was not yet possible at that time, because Herod also ruled over that province and could still track down the child. So, abroad, into foreign lands, until the danger is over! But to which country? To the nearest one, to Egypt, where the people whose fortunes parallel those of the Messiah have also lived in hiding until they could take possession of their inheritance, which God had destined for them.

The richness of the form of thought we are dealing with here often gives the appearance of excess when the idea, already expressed in one event, is expressed anew in an analogous event. After the death of the tyrant, the child does not yet find peace. Although Joseph hears from the angel that those who were seeking the child’s life are no more and leaves Egypt to settle in Judaea, the homeland of the messianic child, a new danger threatens, and the child must bid farewell to its cradle forever and seek a new home in a foreign land.

However, we must not regard such repetitions as mere superfluity. The sunny view is involuntarily driven to such duplications in order to increase the seriousness of the collision or to allow it to emerge fully in its fateful power. Usually – and this is what happened here – the repetition takes the form of compressing the collision and its development into a narrower space by the fact that the demonic spirit of persecution still works over the grave of the departed enemy.

These wanderings and sufferings of the messianic child only acquire their true meaning when we do not forget that the child’s fate itself represents the arrangements that gave the church the recognition of the Gentiles and protected it through suffering and persecution. It is the same here. Herod remains the representative of worldly power, from which the church is forced to found and expand its kingdom in quiet and seclusion.*) This general idea will be more specifically developed the second time the pressure of worldly power is renewed, and when the church is displaced from the seat and center of worldly glory, the opposite point to which it flees will be of greater significance. The child that represents the church is led from Judaea to Nazareth, and its fate of being relegated to the lowly corners of a little-regarded province is now the image of the church’s fate, which, despised by worldly glory, gathered its followers among the lowly and humble. **)

*) Compare Weisse, ev. Gesch. I, 226.

**) For the followers of Christ were already called Nazarenes very early, before the time when Matthew wrote (ναζωραιοι Acts 24:5).


Even more so! Nazareth, Galilee, the circle of the Gentiles, as it was called by the Jews, and Judah now stand opposed to each other. The hostile power that threatens the child and, in it, the community and drives it away into the distance, is no longer just the secular power, but now acts as the old Jewish essence, which fears its downfall and, in order to save itself, expels the new principle from its homeland and forces it to settle in the Gentile world.

One would think that the apologist would never again think to connect the Gospel accounts of Luke and Matthew in an external context, if it is shown to him how both arose. Their true connection is solely grounded in the fact that the seeds of the later account were already contained in the former and developed into the shape of the later view through their inner power, which certainly also had to be expressed through richer experiences.


If by chance the other connection were present, that both stories fit together with their individual dates, it would be only by chance and would be absolutely indifferent to us, since both circles of thought each form a particular world, and the later one, even if it takes its central idea from the earlier one, gives its movement a direction that takes no account of the rotation of the first circle. There is not even an accidental external connection possible: on the contrary, the most extraordinary differences must occur, which, however, will not disturb or even occupy us any more than the mechanical harmony, if it were possible, would be of importance to us.

Nevertheless, we will hardly be able to entertain the excessive hope that the apologist will refrain from harmonizing the two stories, because they are and remain real history to him. They must remain so to him because he would be despondent if he did not see in them not only individual, in themselves random events, but a thoughtful creation of the religious spirit. We will therefore do him the last favor and relieve him of the burden of his harmonistic work by showing him how the external contradictions of the two stories arose.

Luke has Joseph and Mary return to Nazareth immediately after they had fulfilled everything that the law required of a woman after childbirth, that is, forty days after the birth of the child. Immediately! He not only does not know of the detour through Egypt, which must have already taken a lot of time, and the longer stay of the child in this country until the death of Herod, but he excludes this delay. In this case, he would proceed so exclusively if one wanted to force a historical cycle into his report with harmonistic tenacity, which only his successor has developed. But why did Matthew not heed the barrier that Luke actually set for the later historian with his chronological note about the return of the holy family to Nazareth? Because he did not surround the birth of Jesus from all sides with a multitude of miraculous events like his predecessor, and therefore could not conclude the prehistory so early; because the one incident he cites, the arrival of the Magi, was the cause of a series of collisions whose far-reaching development had to give way to that barrier; and finally, because in this time of creative thought, a chronological note was not yet as rigid as it has become for the sober apologist. But let us speak more cautiously! Only sometimes or depending on his interest, the apologist remains stubbornly on a single note. This time he has precisely the interest of adding the surplus he finds in Matthew to Luke’s narrative. But if he suddenly exceeds or pushes beyond the barrier of that chronological note, why should it not be possible or allowed for Matthew, since his view was just driven by the first force of an interest, whose development required a larger scope?


It is actually unnecessary to ask where to insert the homage of the Magi in Luke’s narrative. Luke knows nothing of these foreigners because he is unaware of the unfortunate consequences of their arrival; he does not need them, as in his version, the shepherds and Simeon give homage to the child, which the Magi give according to Matthew’s account. Finally, he excludes any thought of these foreigners, for if the Magi had arrived before the presentation of the child in the temple and a divine messenger had commanded Joseph to flee to Egypt, could the parents have brought the threatened child so freely and openly to Jerusalem? After the presentation in the temple, the parents bring the child – and again, to emphasize, without delay – to their home in Galilee, to Nazareth. Therefore, the Magi could not have given homage to the child in Bethlehem afterward. These are difficulties that the apologist will never be able to overcome, but they do not exist for Matthew, as the homages given to the messianic child by Luke are summarized by him into one homage by the Magi, thus placing them ideally, and making it impossible for him to raise any chronological concerns. Luke has made the recognitions given to the messianic child follow each other step by step, culminating in the praise of Simeon, so that there is no room for another, new homage in his narrative. Matthew, on the other hand, has given the homage of the Magi such far-reaching significance that his account does not need any other.


We have already shown how the differences between the two accounts of the origins of Jesus’ parents’ residence came about. According to Luke, Jesus’ parents were settled in Nazareth, and the census, a random occurrence, leads Joseph and the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born. The fact that the census was announced at that specific time, and that Mary had to stay in Bethlehem for the birth, is not considered by the evangelist to be coincidental; rather, he sees in this arrangement the influence of a higher necessity, which wanted the Messiah, as the Son of David, to be born in the cradle of his lineage. However, Matthew presents this necessity as an immediate divine will, by weaving the well-known prophecy of Micah into his account. He no longer needs the historical circumstance of the census, and so naturally, Jesus’ parents are from Bethlehem from the beginning. This also allows him to portray the return to Nazareth, which, according to Luke, was just a return home, not as something that is self-explanatory, but rather as a significant achievement that could only be brought about by a series of historical events and the necessity of fulfilling a divine oracle.


Will the apologist perhaps say again that the contradiction is only apparent and that this appearance arises because Matthew considers the matter only from a different point of view and in connection with the prophecies of the Old Testament? This would only be an illusion if Matthew portrays Joseph’s intention to settle in Judea, namely in Bethlehem, after his return from Egypt, as so serious that Joseph still entertains it even when he sees that the new ruler in Judea is no less to be feared than Herod, that Joseph is without advice in this embarrassment and does not even remotely consider staying in Galilee, in Nazareth, where Archelaus has no power, his homeland and a safe refuge, in short – that Joseph is only directed to Galilee and Nazareth through an angelic message? The contradiction is as harsh as it can be.

He who wants to save everything in danger may lose everything.

But will the apologist perhaps bring something or much to safety if he shows some resignation and, like Neander, pretends not to consider everything in the reports as sound and healthy? No! The apologist cannot give up anything from the letter, he only says *) “gaps” must be in the reports and these gaps must now pay for all contradictions! Everything, everything, even if separated by gaps, should remain! However, whoever calls reports that are true works of art in their own way “gappy” should at least indicate these gaps in themselves and in their internal construction.

*) L.J. Chr. p. 33

We have done our duty by showing how each of the two accounts is a complete whole in itself, in which each, even the smallest, element is connected with the other in internal connections, and all together with the spirit that animates them form a creation that requires no completion and rejects the most benevolent offer to supplement it as superfluous and at least intrusive. Finally, if Neander thinks that the contradiction of these narratives disappears when one considers them “as such, which were distinguished and collected independently of one another,” *) we have already made the attempt to consider them as such impossible in advance, as we have shown how the gospel prehistory of Matthew arose from that of Luke and how mother and daughter had to have very different features despite all similarities and equal beauty.

*) L. J. Ch. p. 33.


The result is: the prehistory of Matthew has its seeds in that of Luke and has been developed from these seeds into its distinctive form. There may still be objections, but we will answer them.



§ 7. The Angel’s Message to Joseph

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 7.

The Angel’s Message to Joseph.

In Luke’s account, the first attempt was made to develop the wonder of Jesus’ birth in its historical context. The view is still living in its first fresh ingenuousness and can therefore tolerate difficulties which later times will certainly discover but to their own detriment, since they cannot make this discovery without causing themselves the greatest unrest and loading themselves with endless futile work until criticism comes to return everything to the right track or to the first transparency.

Luke only lets the angel’s message reach Mary, who is told that she will become the mother of the Messiah in a wonderful way. Mary does not tell her husband Joseph anything abcout this extraordinary message, and Joseph takes no offense at her pregnancy, or rather, nothing is reported about his behavior as if it were self-evident to him that his wife’s pregnancy and childbirth appeared to him as well as to Mary and the reader as the natural consequence of the most extraordinary miracle. How clear everything is explained, known and transparent to the reader, this spectator, before whom the scene unfolds! Just as the author is aware of the assumptions of everything that follows, so it is also assumed that the immediate surroundings of the people appearing here, in this ideal world, were also explained the most difficult things without reasonable mediation. The people of this ideal world sometimes have the privilege of being somnambulistic and looking into the interior of their surroundings without rational mediation.

But Matthew has the scene before him, he can retain the first ingenuousness that originally belongs to the representation as a spectator, but he does not have to, he can already use the privilege of reflection like anyone who contemplates a finished work, and if he does, he will discover significant difficulties. Matthew has reflected, he notes that Mary did not tell her husband about the angel’s message, and that Joseph calmly accepts his wife’s subsequent pregnancy. How, he asks, is that possible? And by insisting on the one point that Mary did not reveal the wonderful message to her husband, he concludes that Joseph must have taken offense when he saw his wife, who had just been entrusted to him and was still a virgin, pregnant. He took offense, Matthew continues, and how else could he have been relieved of it, or how could his reassurance have been made more certain and definite than by the fact that a divine messenger also appeared to him and let him in on the secret?


For this reflection, Joseph now becomes the focal point of a new representation. The angelic message that was given to Mary takes a backseat and becomes finally unnecessary, as its essential content must be included in the message given to Joseph.

Joseph is troubled when he finds Mary pregnant under circumstances where she should not have been. As a just man, he did not want to publicly shame her and had already considered the option of quietly divorcing her. Then the angel of the Lord appears to him and reveals to him that the child in Mary is “conceived by the Holy Spirit”; she will bear a son, and he shall name him Jesus, for he will “save his people from their sins.” Joseph is now reassured, he obeys, takes his wife – because, Matthew concludes, he had not yet brought her home – and names the child Jesus.

The later origin of this account is made clear with a clarity that must satisfy even the most stubborn doubt, from a peculiar contradiction in its pragmatism. Joseph is called a just man. If we take this characterization seriously, as we must, then Joseph was a man who held to strict custom and was so injured by the discovery he made about his betrothed wife that he felt compelled to exercise his legal right *). Yet, the account says, Joseph did not want to go the legal route, but wanted to act gently and spare his wife the public shame that would have followed a trial. Indeed, Calvin answers, “Joseph’s human sense prevented him from acting according to the strictness of the law, and it should not be doubtful to us that he was prevented from doing so by the secret hint of the Holy Spirit.” However, the mild, humane sense of Joseph does not appear in the account as a limitation of his just zeal, but because he was just, Matthew wants to say, Joseph wanted to act gently. Or, if we are to bring in the secret influence of the Holy Spirit with Calvin – and we have the right to do so – then the obedience of the seemingly offended man to Him should be considered as his righteousness. If Calvin thus separated both, then newer interpreters are more correct when they combine both determinations – but only for that purpose; for if they go so far as to say that “just” here means only “kind, gentle” **), they simply repeat the contradiction of the account, but do not explain it. “Just” can never mean as much as “kind” or “gentle.” And yet, it is used here in this way according to the context? Indeed, but after a very long, very convoluted detour that Christian belief had only made after Luke’s work was written. As a husband of Mary, Joseph had to soon come to special esteem, and as far as he could be drawn into the history – i.e., in the childhood story of Jesus – he had to appear appropriately connected to the mother of the Messiah. He could take offense when he found his wife pregnant, as Matthew depicts the collision, he could even go so far as to finally decide to divorce his wife, but he could not let it go so far that she was exposed to public suspicion and the heavenly mystery was drawn into a worldly investigation. In short, he was just according to the requirements that Christian belief and his relationship to the mother of the Messiah – even if he did not yet know it – had to make of him. Therefore, the Joseph that Matthew presents is the Joseph of later belief.

*) Calvin: justitia, quae hic laudatur, in odio et detestatione sceleris fuit.

**) z. B. Frigide zum Matth. p. 41: Sixouos hic de leoi et benigno dicitur. Dishauſen, bibl. Comm. I, 54.


Nothing in the angel’s message suggests that Joseph had heard from Mary that she had also received an angelic message announcing that she would become the mother of the Messiah without the involvement of a man. At the very least, Joseph could have acted in disbelief towards the revelation that had been given to his wife, but in this case, the angel of the Lord would have had to rebuke him for his unbelief in order to set the divine plan in motion once again. However, the angel does not speak as if Joseph had been guilty of unbelief towards a divine revelation, but rather as if he were revealing a mystery that Joseph could not have known about until that moment. When Joseph considered dismissing his wife, he did not act like a man who did not believe his wife’s statements, but rather like one who noticed something about her that he pondered and consulted with himself about. After Strauss, we need not refute the Jesuitical explanations of the apologists, who want to explain why Mary did not tell her husband about Gabriel’s message. Instead, we prefer Calvin’s frankness when he says, “Mary must not have told Joseph anything about what had happened. He must not have been swayed by the flattery and entreaties of his fiancée, nor convinced by human reasons. He had to be irritated and already have wanted to dismiss his betrothed when – ex abrupto – God intervened. It had to come to this point for the entire process of conception to be truly verified.”


A bold statement that attacks the difficulty at its core and partially resolves it! Partially, however, because Calvin inserts Luke’s account of Gabriel’s message to Mary into a narrative that excludes it. In his angelic message, Matthew excludes all the essential aspects of the message that Luke allows Mary to receive. His angel explains the miraculous conception in the same way as Luke’s angel predicts it, and his angel writes the name that the God-begotten should receive, so why does Matthew still need to reflect on a message that has become superfluous through his own treatment of the subject? Let it be noted: in itself! We do not say that Matthew now wants to exclude Luke’s account consciously, but to the extent that it must actually be excluded, it has come about without his knowledge and will through the interest and structure of his report. He makes Joseph the centerpiece of his story, he must explain the whole thing to him through the angel, and if he is now certain that the reader will also be fully informed at this point, why does he still need to include Luke’s account in his own? Occupied only by his interest, he does not even think to critically compare his interpretation of the matter with Luke’s and to ask the question of why, if Mary had already received a heavenly message, did she not tell her husband anything? He did not even think that his readers would not be satisfied with his writing alone, but would also have Luke’s at hand and compare both critically. He has provided so much information according to his own understanding that the reader is fully informed of the matter.

Of course, two essentially different narratives have now emerged after Matthew has rearranged his predecessor’s account from a new perspective and around a different centerpiece. In Luke’s account, the mystery of the miraculous conception is explained in advance in the message to Mary, and one can only derive from the (almost) somnambulistic vision that sometimes seems to be characteristic of the appearing characters in such narratives that Joseph is not unaware of the miracle. In Matthew’s account, on the other hand, it appears – or rather it has actually become so – that Mary’s pregnancy enters the mystery of the unconscious, and when it becomes visible, it is explained to Joseph through the angelic message. Now, anyone who reads both accounts will indeed ask: if Mary already heard the angel’s message, why didn’t she share it with her husband – because according to Matthew, he knows nothing about it until he is drawn into the secret by a heavenly messenger? Or if Joseph only learns of the mystery, how and in what way did he communicate it to his wife?


However, Matthew is unaware of these difficulties and contradictions, which he has indeed caused. He wants to report the same thing that he found in Luke, but it happened to him that he did not report the same thing because he tied it to a different starting point.

In the ideal world of perception, contradictions of this kind arise instantaneously as soon as the same idea is taken up and pursued from a newly added interest, and we are far from taking offense at them or forcibly reconciling them, since we have their complete resolution in the insight into their origin.

Something similar, but at the same time, vastly different, is the recent apologetics’ intention when it refrains from harmonizing the reports and is content with the observation that reports could still be historically accurate, even if the grouping of events varies depending on the starting point. However, these differences cannot be easily reconciled when it comes to reality. Because in that case, the matter becomes serious, the individual points become firmly fixed, and the differences become deadly contradictions. It is firmly established, for example, that Mary received a heavenly message, that the righteous Joseph also had to receive such a message, and therefore, he had heard nothing about what had happened to his wife. All these circumstances conflict until they are lost for the real world and only revive in the world of perception, where, despite all their differences, they can peacefully coexist.


As a reflection of Matthew, which relates to the following time and the circumstance that the siblings of Jesus are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, we have already emphasized above the remark that Joseph did not “know” Mary until she gave birth to Jesus. However, as far as this reflection refers to Joseph’s behavior until the birth of Mary, it is already justified in Luke’s scripture, where Mary responds to the message of Gabriel (Luke 1:34): “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” If it was like that back then, then – according to the conclusion drawn from the given view of Matthew – it must have been the same until the birth of the Blessed One. To keep Mary away from intercourse with her husband until she gave birth to the Son of God, Luke (1:27) has already made her a virgin who was only engaged to Joseph when she received the angel’s message, but he was content with that and did not explicitly mention her admission to Joseph’s house, whether it happened at that time or later. Matthew makes up for this omission: he moves Joseph’s intention to dissolve the relationship with his fiancé to the time when he had not yet taken her home and only lets this happen later, after Joseph was informed by the angel about the mystery of the miraculous pregnancy.

However, according to the results of criticism, we must restore the marriage from which Jesus was born as what it was, that is, already truly established. We do not even know if Jesus was really the firstborn of this marriage.


If we are to part with apologetics in good conscience and conclude our account with it in this matter, we must once again examine Matthew’s reflection on that prophecy of Isaiah regarding the virgin who would give birth to Immanuel. Against the previous view of the critics, who were still hesitant to leave the prophet’s miracle belief undisturbed, we have already explained that Isaiah did indeed expect the liberation of the theocracy from its distress during the time of King Ahaz from the “son of the virgin”; but as soon as we express it in this way – that is, correctly – we will not have done enough for the faithful exegesis, which is also impossible to achieve, and their polemic remains directed against us. We do not say that Isaiah understood Jesus as the son of the virgin or, in general, that Messiah who was to appear centuries later. We cannot say it since Isaiah received that belief only in the emergency of the present and expected the son of the virgin as the savior from the then *) collision.

Therefore – says the apologist **) – the critic means “the new covenant did not understand its premise, the old covenant?” However, the apologist has no right to such insinuation as long as he thinks that when the evangelists say “it was fulfilled,” it only means “some spiritual precursor was abolished at its peak.” *) But if he explains the meaning of that formula correctly as meaning that the evangelists really meant that the prophecy was given in the same sense as it was fulfilled, then we must come up with an answer. We give it: the evangelical view saw only itself in the prophecies of the Old Testament and, because it was only fulfilled with itself, could not critically recognize the difference between itself and the Old.

*) To prevent misunderstandings that could arise from this word, we remind that the prophets always saw the collisions of their time in that meaning of universality, that they appeared to them as the last and highest, whose abolition would at the same time be the completion of the theocracy. For the prophet, that collision was not only a temporary one, but the collision and κατ εξοχην it is also explainable that he could see at the end of it the establishment of the completed kingdom of God and the rule of the king, whose kingdom is without end (Isaiah 9, 6). The specific and general were one for the prophets without reflection.

**) e.g. Lange, ibid. p, 63.

*) Lange, ibid. p. 64


To recognize the assumptions of a new principle in history, but also to grasp their essential difference from the result of development sharply, we have learned from modern philosophy. Therefore, we must listen attentively when Lange urges us to acknowledge the prophecies by pointing to the example of the same philosophy that saw the earlier philosophical systems as “indications of the completed.” This is the same philosophy that sharply criticized the historians who only saw their categories in the older systems and had no eye for the specificity and boundary that separates the earlier from the following!




What’s a lonely Jesus to do?

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by Neil Godfrey

Commissioning of the Twelve – Wikipedia

Writing a story about Jesus was not always easy. There was very little by way of sources to help out. Imagination was all too often called for. Take the time when Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to preach in the surrounding towns, for example. What were they going to preach, exactly? They did not yet know that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. So they couldn’t preach that message. Simply trying to say that the “kingdom of God” was “coming soon” must have seemed a bit flat in the absence of new material of immediate relevance to people’s lives to flesh out that message. But miracles. Now they could be said to heal the sick and cast out demons. But that’s not really preaching, is it.

But stop and ask what Jesus was doing while his disciples were out “on preaching tour”. The towns were hosting his disciples. So where did Jesus go now that he was on his own? Did he take a break and go fishing? That would soon lose its appeal to one who had the power to bring fish up by the hundreds at a mere thought.

More to the point, how did the author of the first gospel narrative about Jesus fill in this gap? He had sent Jesus’ companions away after having instructed them in matters of sandals and staves and different household responses and now he was left with Jesus standing on his own. Unless our author could think of different subplot adventures for the various disciples “preaching” some vague message in the towns he had to do something to occupy Jesus for the readers.

But no, since nothing came to mind, our author hit on another solution. The old distraction technique. Now was the ideal time to bring in that delicious little story of how John the Baptist lost his head. He had nowhere else to use it in a story of Jesus but now was the ideal moment. The story of a birthday banquet and a dancing daughter could be colourfully filled out to create a nice interlude for the readers to forget about those preaching disciples and the lost and lonely Jesus for a while.

After that near-chapter length story it was finally appropriate to bring back the disciples from their tour. At least in the readers’ minds time had gone by and they did not have to be faced with a return the very next verse or two after they were sent out.

The introduction and placement of the John the Baptist scenario at that point, between Jesus sending out the twelve and their return, functions as a literary salve. A nice curtain interlude from the main plot to allow time to pass off-stage.

Later, the author of the Gospel we identify with Matthew, added many more lurid details to Jesus’ instructions for the disciples. Beware, he gloomily warned, of wolves. You are going out to face life-threatening dangers. You will be hauled before magistrates and called upon to answer for your faith. (Faith? They did not yet even know Jesus was Christ!) So in addition to the disciples not having any particular message to preach, those in Matthew were to face dangers that not even Jesus had faced up to that point. No, Matthew was writing from a distance long after the events he narrates. He is writing from the perspective of his own time possibly, I think, quite some decades later. He was retroverting experiences of his own day back into the days of Jesus and his twelve disciples.

Such are some of the little glimpses of how the gospels must have been put together that arise from a thoughtful reading. Thanks in particular, though not exclusively, to the works of Bruno Bauer who made such comments around 170 years ago.


Updates – Late gospels and Josephus’s guilt-inspired prophecy

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by Neil Godfrey

I have finally added two more chapters to the Bruno Bauer Gospel criticism and history page — check the right-hand column under the Pages heading.

Two points of particular interest to me in those new chapters:

1. Bauer argues for the Gospels of Luke and Matthew being second-century works, post-dating Justin Martyr. He does so for much the same reasons I have posted here: although Justin knows some details that appear in both of those gospels, there are reasons to think he is using some other source that the authors of Luke and Matthew also used. What might that source have been? Justin knew it as the Memoirs of the Apostles. Bauer does think that much of the nativity narrative that we read in Matthew’s gospel was contained in those Memoirs. My own reading of Justin is that his Memoirs of the Apostles further included references to Damascus in his nativity scene while our author of the Gospel of Matthew omitted those. Bauer points out the inconsistencies in our gospel accounts, especially in Luke, and argues that the original gospel from which our canonical Luke is built up originally began at 3:1 — “In the fifteenth year of Tiberius….”. Quite so.

2. The other point of special interest is Bauer’s discussion of a supposedly widespread belief in the Near East in a prophecy that a king would arise from there to rule the world. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote about this in connection with the Jewish War of 66-70 CE. In Bauer’s view, Suetonius learned of this piece of information from the historian Tacitus who derived it from Josephus. And where did Josephus get the idea from? His guilt: he was being criticized for his poor job of defending his people against the Romans and knew he was to blame; to cover his guilt and make a desperate attempt to survive he decided to go over to the Roman side and in his role as a priest knowledgable in the sacred texts to declare that Vespasian and Titus had been prophesied to rule the world. The passage he most likely was thinking of was Daniel 9:26 — the people of a coming prince would destroy the city and the sanctuary.


Parallels — How to tell if they are “Real”

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by Neil Godfrey

Parallelomania — the term has been too often misunderstood and misapplied to serious work that deserves attention. On the other hand, there are a lot of proposed parallels that are, let’s say, eccentric. How to tell the difference?

Michael Goulder

I’ll use Michael Goulder’s explanation of what makes a meaningful parallel and in subsequent posts address how to identify a misleading parallel. (Some of us will be thinking of Samuel Sandmel’s famous article, Parallelomania. I made a link to that article available here because very often I have found people, including some professional scholars, misunderstanding what he wrote. Or perhaps they never read it carefully to begin with. In this post, however, we give Goulder a turn to speak.)

In Type and History in Acts Goulder is discussing typology which is a particular type of parallel. The key question of interest is,

What is in question is whether it is possible to assert that a type [or parallel] is understood by a New Testament author when the details of the story do not make it quite so obvious, and the type-antitype connection is much less real, or to modem eyes not real at all. (p. 2)

Nonsense, replies the critic

For Goulder, the answer is relatively simple.

Much criticism could be dispelled if it were realized that almost all typology is cumulative. The typologist may assert, for example, that the sermon on the mount is the antitype of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Nonsense, replies the critic, there is no evidence of this: there are plenty of mountains in Galilee, and Jesus climbed one to instruct his disciples — that is all. (p. 2)

Here’s how Goulder justifies the view that the evangelist deliberately created a parallel between the Sermon on the Mount and the giving of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai. . .

It’s Cumulative all the way down

Okay, we read Jesus went up on a mountainside to give his sermon. Nothing to see here, the “parallel” critic says. And the critic is right. So far.

But then we must recall that a very few chapters earlier we read the story of a Herod massacring all the infant boys in Bethlehem and few of us could deny that that little episode did bring to mind the Exodus account of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s edict to massacre newborn Israelite boys. Obviously there are many differences between the two tales but we cannot deny that there are core similarities.

Differences Similarities
Jesus is not saved by being put in an ark fear inspires the tyrant
then floated on the river Jordan future saviour of Israel is delivered
and finally adopted by Herod’s daughter

If I can interrupt to add to Goulder’s discussion here: I suspect that if one had the two texts side by side one could itemize a list of differences that would be much longer than a list of similarities. Some critics reject proposed parallels on the basis that they can count more details of difference than they can of similarity. But what is surely important is the predominant theme or ideas in the stories and the idea of a miraculous saving of an infant saviour from a tyrant attempting to kill all and sundry in hopes of getting his babe must outweigh dozens or even scores of background, decorative, setting and scenery details. (Further, some critics dismiss parallels solely in the basis of a single obvious difference (many reject the Heracles-Jesus parallels solely on the basis that Jesus was not a “strong man” hero despite the many and often explicit similarities ancient authors made between Heracles and other Jesus-comparable figures like Socrates), but the “difference” game can logically come to a point where we say that nothing can be derivative of another unless it is the same in all points. But then, of course, we have the same thing again and not an analogue at all.) Back to Goulder…

Might we not simply say that the massacre stories are alike by coincidence? Yes, indeed. That is possible. An author may be aware of only a limited number of that type of legendary narrative and his imagination might not grant him access to many new ideas.

After all there may be a limited stock for the plots oflegendary stories, and we expect some coincidence. Peter’s discovery of the stater in the fish’s mouth is like the story of Polycrates’ ring, but this does not lead us to speak of types and antitypes. (p. 2)

But while reading Matthew we find that just before Herod’s murderous rampage gets underway Jesus is taken down to Egypt by his parents, Joseph and Mary. Are we allowed to let our minds wander and recall that preceding Pharaoh’s massacre of the infants in the book of Exodus Joseph took his family down to Egypt — in the final chapters of Genesis. Continue reading “Parallels — How to tell if they are “Real””


A Semitic Original for the Gospels of Mark and Matthew?

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by Neil Godfrey

Jean Carmignac

I don’t know if the Gospel of Mark did begin its life as a Hebrew text but in the light of the previous post it is necessary to share some of the reasons a few scholars (or at least Jean Carmignac : see also Wayback Machine) have thought it did.

Chapter three of The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels sets out the history of research into semitisms in the gospels and discusses in some detail nine types of them.

  1. Semitisms of Borrowing
  2. Semitisms of Imitation
  3. Semitisms of Thought
  4. Semitisms of Vocabulary
  5. Semitisms of Syntax
  6. Semitisms of Style
  7. Semitisms of Composition
  8. Semitisms of Transmission
  9. Semitisms of Translation

I’ll post here a few of the parts in #7, Semitisms of Composition. Carmignac suggests that there are numerous turns of phrase in our Greek gospels that would not exist in our Greek texts unless they had been translated from a Semitic or Hebrew language original.

Crying in the wilderness

After its title: Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, the Gospel of Mark begins in the following fashion:

As it is written in the Prophet Isaiah “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

20. The word “and” is not found in all the manuscripts, and one has good reason for thinking that it does not any longer figure in the primitive Greek text.

There was John baptizing in the desert (and)20 preaching (Mark 1:1-4).

How did this citation from Isaiah (which combines Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 in a form other than is found in the Septuagint, and Isaiah 40:3) come about? (p. 27)

Carmignac finds a simple answer to his question. Isaiah 40:3 begins with “voice crying in the wilderness”:

קול qôl voice
קורא qôré’ crying
במדבר bemidbâr in the wilderness
22. The initial syllable we corresponds to the conjunction “and ” present in certain Greek manuscripts but not in all.
23. The pesher consists in describing a present situation in the terms of a passage from the Old Testament.

. . . . and if Mark 1:4, is retranslated into Hebrew, we obtain the following: wayyehî Yôhânân matbtîl bemidbâr (we) qôré.22

The words bemidbâr (in the wilderness) and qôré’ (crying or preaching) are taken from Isaiah and applied to John the Baptist according to the process which is known as pesher, such as it was practiced at the time at Qumran (and elsewhere).23

The pesher only works in Hebrew, not with the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah. In the Greek text of Mark 1:4 a different word is used for John’s crying or preaching (κηρύσσων / kérussôn) whereas the Greek text of Isaiah 40:3 used “bôontos“. 

In order that the pesher be noticed in English, it would be necessary to use the verb proclaim twice: from Isaiah, the voice proclaiming in the desert and from Mark, in the desert proclaiming a baptism of conversion.) Thus the citation from Isaiah only agrees with the account of Mark in Hebrew, but not in Greek in which its meaning disappears. (p. 27)

Forgive us our debts

Continue reading “A Semitic Original for the Gospels of Mark and Matthew?”


Jesus Came (End of Story?)

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by Neil Godfrey

A little detail in the previous post has kept me awake at night (maybe as long as a minute), wondering. It is Matthew 28:18-19

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .

Why hadn’t I noticed before now the link Jeffrey Peterson makes with Daniel 7:14?

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

The connection brings me back to a question that keeps coming back to me: Is it possible that the apocalyptic prophecy we read Jesus pronouncing in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 was couched in metaphor that only the “spiritually blind” would mistake for literal meaning. The language was taken from the prophets. Isaiah 13 portrays the fall of Babylon in terms of the darkening of the sun, moon and stars. The cosmic images were metaphors. They were “fulfilled” when the city fell to enemy forces. David speaks of God coming down to earth in clouds to rescue him from certain death at the hands of his enemies. I don’t believe the psalmist expected anyone to read of God’s descent to earth literally any more than we are to imagine literal “cords of death” binding the psalmist or to believe that the psalmist was literally in “deep waters”. Psalm 18 . . .

The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

In the trial before the priests Jesus declares that the high priest will see the “second coming” or the coming of Jesus as the Danielic Son of Man. Matthew 26:63-64 . . .

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

I am pretty sure that the priest was dead before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

What were the authors of the gospels of Mark and Matthew thinking? It’s probably worth keeping in mind that not even the author of Daniel thought of his scenario of a heavenly Son of Man coming in clouds before the Ancient of Days was was a literal event. That was a metaphor for the rising up of the Maccabean kingdom on earth.

I think it’s as if they were thinking that the coming of the kingdom of God was ushered in with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew 28 seems to assure us of this interpretation when we read there that Jesus announces, in effect, that he is the Son of Man who has from that point on been given the power and authority to lead his appointed apostles in beginning to bring in more converts to his kingdom.

The Pauline epistles likewise speak of Christ victory over the cross representing the victory over the demon-ruled cosmos. The demons in Mark and Matthew knew their days were numbered the moment they saw Jesus appear in Galilee. Some Church Fathers also spoke of Christ “reigning from the cross”.

Paul’s letters — all of the NT letters — speak of a coming of Christ, never of a “second coming”. The first evangelists to weave together a story of the Son of Man out of the verses of the Jewish Scriptures and other literary and imperial allusions likewise spoke of his coming as the critical event. (I have coloured the passage in Psalm 18 that one might relate directly to classic baptism scene of Jesus in Mark and Matthew.) If his arrival in Galilee marked the “nearness” of the time then the empty tomb was the sign that that time had begun. Is there any room at all for a “second coming” in the original tale?

But this interpretation raises as many questions as it seems to resolve. As I said, it sometimes keeps me awake at night . . . for a moment, sometimes.


Review, parts 9 and 10a. Jesus as Lawgiver and Miracle Worker (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)

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by Neil Godfrey

In chapter 9 M. David Litwa sets the Jesus narrative, specifically as told in the Gospel of Matthew, in the context of literary tropes surrounding ancient lawgivers.

Solon of Athens: See his life by Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius

Lycurgus of Sparta: See his life by Plutarch and Herodotus

Numa of Rome: See Plutarch

Zoroaster of Persia: See Internet Archive

Minos of Crete: See Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

Charondas of Sicily: See Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Zaleucus of southern Italy: See Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

Mneves (Menas) of Egypt: See Diodorus Siculus (scroll down to para 94)

Zalmoxis (Salmoxis) of Thrace: See Herodotus and Strabo (scroll down to paras 39-40)

And, of course, not forgetting . . .

Moses: See Philo, parts 1 and 2; Josephus; Hecataeus; Artapanus

It seems more likely that Jesus was thought to have a coherent “message’ only after his death and so we have several different creations of it. . . .

[E]ither Q, Thomas, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and, for that matter, John did not know clearly what Jesus’ teachings were; or they didn’t care; or that they did know but disagreed with him so that they revised what he taught into something else; or that they did know what were said to be his teachings, did not trust those reports, and revised accordingly. Something odd is going on here. . . . .

When Sanders, standing in here for nearly all Jesus research scholars, says, “I do not doubt that he was a great and challenging teacher,” I am baffled. Mark doubts it (4:10-12, 8:17-21), neither Paul nor John pay any significant attention to those teachings, Luke cares little about the matter (taking Acts as representative of Luke’s bottom-line assessment). Scholarship, theological and historical both, is in a state of near conceptual chaos regarding the message of Jesus the Teacher: countercultural wisdom sage, peasant Jewish Cynic, Pharisaic rabbi, antipatriarchal communalist, eschatological preacher? If he had a coherent message and neither we nor his known near contemporaries know for sure what it was, he ought not to be thought, first and foremost, to have been a great and challenging teacher.

(Davies, Jesus the Healer, 12 f)

A few scholars (I’m thinking of Stevan Davies) even question the extent to which Jesus should be thought of as a teacher, or at least they draw attention to the doubts they have that we can even know what he taught.

Rewriting a biblical miracle for a gentile audience

Chapter 10 on the narratives of Jesus as a miracle worker I found of more interest, perhaps because this aspect of Jesus is covered in all four gospels.

Here Litwa’s philosophical introduction on the nature of miracles is too embedded in apologetics for my taste. He prefers to think of “inexplicable” events and repeats the apologetic argument that plausibility is culturally determined, that everything follows a law of nature as determined by God but that some of these divinely created laws or events we simply don’t yet understand. He writes

In the ancient world, plausible miracles could parade as historical; implausible ones were often labeled “mythical” (mythodes).

(Litwa, 136)

The first example of a “plausible miracle” raises problematic questions when it comes to how we are meant to understand Jesus’ miracles, however. According to Litwa’s reading Josephus used the “miracle” of Alexander’s crossing of the Pamphyialn Sea as a precedent that gave credibility to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.

The story that the Pamphylian Sea receded before Alexander’s army, however, was apparently credited. According to historical report, Alexander’s entire army in all their heavy equipment passed through a sea channel that would have normally drowned them. This account was first told by Callisthenes of Olynthus, official historian of Alexander’s campaign and an apparent eyewitness of the event. Callisthenes assimilated Alexander to Poseidon by writing that the Pamphylian Sea “did not fail to recognize its lord, so that arching itself and bowing, it seemed to do obeisance [to Alexander].”5

Josephus mentioned the Pamphylian Sea miracle to make plausible his historiographical account of Moses parting the Red Sea.6 He knew that qualified and respected historians presented Alexander’s sea miracle as historiography.7 He even remarked that “all” historians agreed that the sea made a path for Alexander’s army.8 Thus Josephus felt justified in presenting his own (Jewish) sea miracle as an actual event in the past.

(Litwa, 136)

But there’s a but. Josephus changed the story as found in the Book of Exodus so it read more like a rare and coincidental natural event like the account of Alexander’s crossing. Here is Exodus 14:21-25 Continue reading “Review, parts 9 and 10a. Jesus as Lawgiver and Miracle Worker (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)”


Jesus’ Baptism in the Context of the Myth of Water, Flight and Wilderness

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by Neil Godfrey

An important consequence follows. If a myth is made up of all its variants, structural analysis should take all of them into account. — Claude Lévi-Strauss (435)
The structural analysis developed by Claude Lévi-Strauss invites one to compare the variants of a myth so as to define the rules that led to their transformation. . . . [A] myth is comprised of all of its variants — meaning that one version alone of a myth is not held to be unique and authentic . . . . However, Lévi-Strauss shows that the nature of any myth is to reinvent itself through each new speaker who appropriates it.  — Philippe Wajdenbaum (1)


Our canonical gospels all begin the career of Jesus with John the Baptist. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all follow the baptism of Jesus with a wilderness testing of Jesus. Why don’t we see more variation in starting points and details if each author had his own set of historical or biographical traditions to draw upon?

I am aware that the terms “gnostic” and “gnosticism” have become problematic among a number of scholars in more recent years but I use the terms here as they were used by Robinson in his 1970 essay. For the sake of convenience I also use Mark to refer to the author of the Gospel of Mark.

One more point: Certainly the baptism and wilderness episodes in the gospels derive largely from the Exodus account of Israel leaving through the Red Sea and spending 40 years in the wilderness. I do not deny that association. But it also appears that there are other accounts that may derive from reinterpretations of the Exodus event, or that the Exodus narrative was in some way remoulded several times to produce the different narratives discussed here: Apocalypse of Adam, Revelation, Gospel of Hebrews, synoptic gospels.

The reading that led me to produce this post was prompted by James M. Robinson On the Gattung of Mark (and John) (1970). Robinson suggests a common source lies behind the Gospel of Mark’s beginning with the baptism and wilderness experience of Jesus, our canonical Book of Revelation’s reference to the birth of a child and the fleeing of its mother to the wilderness, a section of the “gnostic” “Apocalypse (or Revelation) of Adam and a passage in the now mostly lost Gospel of Hebrews.

Robinson does not think that our Gospel of Mark was an attempt to historicize spiritual gnostic teachings but that Mark adapted genuinely historical traditions to conform to a pattern of gnostic thought. We may wonder if it is necessary to bring any assumption of historical traditions to the question but that’s for each of us to decide.

The section of the Apocalypse of Adam is a list of proclamations from thirteen kingdoms. This part of the apocalypse is generally understood to have originated separately from the rest of the text because of various inconsistencies in the way it fits into the surrounding narrative. As for dating it, I have seen arguments for it being dated to very late second or third century (a reference to Solomon matches a late trajectory of evolving myths related to Solomon’s power over demons) and other arguments for it being dated as early as the first century CE or even BCE (it lacks the sophisticated philosophical elements of later gnostic myths with their various emanations from a single remote deity and eclectic inclusions of other gospel references).

Here is the thirteen kingdoms passage taken from Barnstone’s The Other Bible:

“Now the first kingdom says of him. …
He was nourished in the heavens.
He received the glory of that one and the power.
He came to the bosom of his mother.
And thus he came to the water.

And the second kingdom says about him that he came from a great prophet.
And a bird came, took the child who was born and brought him onto a high mountain.
And he was nourished by the bird of Heaven.
An angel came forth there.
He said to him, ‘Arise! God has given glory to you.’
He received glory and strength.
And thus he came to the water.

“The third kingdom says of him that he came from a virgin womb.
He was cast out of his city, he and his mother; he was brought to a desert place.
He was nourished there.
He came and received glory and power.
And thus he came to the water.

“The fourth kingdom says of him that he came from a virgin. .. .
Solomon sought her, he and Phersalo and Sauel and his armies, which had been sent out.
Solomon himself sent his army of demons to seek out the virgin.
And they did not find the one whom they sought, but the virgin who was given to them.
It was she whom they fetched. Solomon took her.
The virgin became pregnant and gave birth to the child there.
She nourished him on a border of the desert.
When he had been nourished, he received glory and power from the seed from which he had been begotten.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the fifth kingdom says of him that he came from a drop from Heaven.
He was thrown into the sea.
The abyss received him, gave birth to him, and brought him to Heaven.
He received glory and power.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the sixth kingdom says that a [ . . . ] down to the Aeon which is below, in order, to gather flowers.
She became pregnant from the desire of the flowers.
She gave birth to him in that place.
The angels of the flower garden nourished him.
He received glory there and power.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the seventh kingdom says of him that he is a drop.
It came from Heaven to earth.
Dragons brought him down to caves.
He became a child.
A spirit came upon him and brought him on high to the place where the drop had come forth.
He received glory and power there.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the eighth kingdom says of him that a cloud came upon the earth and enveloped a rock.
He came from it.
The angels who were above the cloud nourished him.
He received glory and power there.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the ninth kingdom says of him that from the nine Muses one separated away.
She came to a high mountain and spent some time seated there, so that she desired herself alone in order to become androgynous.
She fulfilled her desire and became pregnant from her desire.
He was born.
The angels who were over the desire nourished him.
And he received glory there and power.
And thus he came to the water.

“The tenth kingdom says of him that his god loved a cloud of desire.
He begot him in his hand and cast upon the cloud above him some of the drop, and he was born.
He received glory and power there.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the eleventh kingdom says of him that the father desired his own daughter.
She herself became pregnant from her father.
She cast [ . . . ] tomb out in the desert.
The angel nourished him there.
And thus he came to the water.

“The twelfth kingdom says of him that he came from two illuminators.
He was nourished there.
He received glory and power.
And thus he came to the water.

“And the thirteenth kingdom says of him that every birth of their ruler is a word.
And this word received a mandate there.
He received glory and power.
And thus he came to the water, in order that the desire of those powers might be satisfied.

Continue reading “Jesus’ Baptism in the Context of the Myth of Water, Flight and Wilderness”


Questioning the apologetic argument for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem

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by Neil Godfrey

Let’s assume, as is commonly argued within mainstream biblical scholarship, that there was a very small town of Nazareth in Galilee at the supposed time of Jesus’ birth and let’s assume that the reason Jesus was called “Jesus of Nazareth” was because he grew up in Nazareth, and that the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are awkwardly contorted to have Jesus of Nazareth somehow also born in Bethlehem because all the Judeans of the day knew and expected that that’s where the Messiah was to be born. The concocted narratives of Jesus being born in Bethlehem are even pulled out as evidence for the very existence of Jesus since the evangelists were oh so embarrassed that he came from Nazareth in reality.

After reading some sections of Richard A. Horsley‘s The Liberation of Christmas: the Infancy Narratives in Social Context, I think we have some problems that seem so obvious in hindsight that I have to pinch myself for not noticing them before. Our attention will be primarily on Matthew’s birth narrative rather than Luke’s in this post.

Part of Horsley’s discussion begins on page six and seven:

Recognition of Matthew’s distinctive use of “formula quotations” (“this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet… ”) led to the claim that Matthew 2 (which contains several such quotations) “is dominated by geographical names,” which are “what is really important to him.”21 The purpose of Matthew in Chapter 2 was apologetic: how did Jesus the messiah come from Nazareth in Galilee and not from Bethlehem, the village of David, as it said in Scripture, according to the questioning in John 7:41-42.22

21. K. Stendahl, “Quis et Unde? An Analysis of Mt 1-2,” in Judentum, Urchristentum, Kirche (Festschrift J. Jeremias; ed. W. Eltester; Berlin: Topelmann, 1964; reprinted in Interpretation of Matthew [ed. G. N. Stanton; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983], 56-66), 97. Stendahl’s article is important and influential and is followed with further refinement by Brown (BM, chaps. 1 and 5).

22. Stendahl, “Quis et Unde?” 98; Brown, BM, 179-80.

That’s the common understanding. Now Horsley begins to notice some problems with it:

However, the claim that the geographical names, even as emphasized by the formula quotations, dominate Matthew 2 seems highly questionable. What dominates the narrative is clearly the conflict between the newborn king of the Jews and the reigning king, Herod. The threatened Herod figures directly or indirectly at every point in the narrative except the actual visit of the Magi in verses 9—11 and the naming in verse 23.23 Moreover, the notion that Matthew is pursuing an apologetic purpose is derived not from Matthew but only from the dispute in John 7.

23. As Stendahl himself points out, the text mentions “Herod’s name 9 times, and at all points of progress in the account” (“Quis et Unde?” 99).

Yes, of course. The only reason we know there was supposed to be a problem with Jesus not really being born in Bethlehem are the narrative dialogue in one of the latest canonical gospels. We do not find supporting evidence in any earlier or independent records.

From the lack of textual evidence, we are increasingly aware that at the time of Jesus there were almost certainly no standard or widely acknowledged “Jewish expectations about the Messiah” such as birth in Bethlehem, about which Matthew or other followers of Jesus of Nazareth would supposedly have been embarrassed.24 Just because the followers of Jesus early on applied to their “messiah” phrases from psalms that stemmed originally from the established Davidic royal theology (esp. Pss. 2 and 110) does not mean that they were defensively oriented toward some hypothetical established view of the proper pedigree of the messiah. Indeed, the royal Herodian and aristocratic priestly families that dominated Jewish Palestinian society would hardly have been entertaining messianic expectations, which could only have been threatening to their own position. Precisely that is the principal point of Matthew 2! The popularly acclaimed “kings” among the Jewish people who were active around the time of Jesus’ birth surely did not have Davidic pedigrees.25 There is little in the Gospel of Matthew itself or in the Palestinian Jewish milieu out of which the traditions he used emerged to suggest an apologetic motive. The typical early Christian concern to interpret Jesus according to fulfillment of biblical promise and prophecy (and prototype) would appear to be the operative motive in Matthew’s use of the formula quotations to embellish the significance of the events narrated in chapter 2.

24. Cf. Brown, BM, 180; but Brown himself points out in Appendix 3 that expectation of the messiah’s birth at Bethlehem is not attested “until considerably later in Jewish writings.”

25. For a sketch of these popular Jewish kings and their movements, see R. A. Horsley and J. S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs (Minneapolis: Winston- Seabury, 1985), chap. 3.

Continue reading “Questioning the apologetic argument for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem”


Why Were Some Early Christians Giving Up Work?

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by Neil Godfrey

Michael Goulder

Well, I never suspected that about those idlers condemned in 2 Thessalonians.

6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. — 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (NRSV)

Many scholars don’t believe 2 Thessalonians was written by Paul (see #1 in insert box below) but we find the same problem addressed in 1 Thessalonians, too:

But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one. — 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

What is going on here? One suggestion I came across recently (okay, maybe I have been the last to know) is that some among the Thessalonian converts had gone the way some always seem to go when possessed of apocalyptic fervour, expecting the end of days and coming of the Lord any day now.

I stumbled across this possibility as the explanation for “idleness” among the Thessalonians in Michael Goulder’s 1992 article, “Silas in Thessalonica” in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15, 87–106.

Idleness sounds like the culprits are just lazing around drinking beer paid for by others but the complaint is really about giving up work. Goulder has a “charitable” perspective:

1. The link between 5.14 and 4.11-12 is made by J.E. Frame (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St Paul to the Thessalonians [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912], pp. 196-97) and approved by Holtz (Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher, p. 251). A connection with the parousia theme is suggested by the phrase following in 5.14, ‘comfort the όλιγοψΰχους’; cf. 4.18, 5.11, ‘comfort one another’.

2. There is adequate evidence from the papyri for the meaning ‘idler’; see J.E. Frame, ‘οί άτακτοι, I Thess. 5.14’, in Essays in Modern Theology and Related Subjects (Festschrift C.A. Briggs; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), pp. 189-206. Holtz says correctly that their motive in Thessalonians is far from being idleness; and he comments that even if 2 Thessalonians is not by Paul, this seems to be an especially Thessalonian problem, Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher, p. 241 n. 536.

The new converts have given their money away in a burst of excitement. This is a sign of the Holy Spirit (1.5; 4.8) and it is marvellous; but in their enthusiasm some of them have given up work. No doubt they did this so as to attend to the distribution of funds to the poor of their and other churches, and to healing services, spreading the word, and so forth. Paul had to tell them to cool down (ήσυχάζειν); to leave church affairs for a while and ply their own trades (πράσσειν τά ϊδια); and to work with their hands rather than expect God to provide all by prayer.
 . . . . . such a practice is common in millenarian movements. The passage just cited (4.11-12) is immediately followed by the section on the parousia (4.13-5.11); and in 5.14 Paul bids the church νουθετείν τούς άτακτους.1 Now ‘disorderliness’, here unspecified, is clearly delineated in 2 Thessalonians 3 as being the cessation of work; so whether 2 Thessalonians is Pauline or not, άτακτος seems to carry a NT connotation of ‘idler’.2 If so, then the parousia passage is straddled by references to the giving up of work, and the connection of ideas would be clearly evidenced in the text. (pp. 88f)

Common in millenarian movements

Goulder cites the example of the followers of Sabbatai Sevi so I tracked down Sabbatai Ṣevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626–1676 by Gershom Scholem and copy here one interesting passage:

The question how the community survived the economic crisis brought about by the excess of messianic enthusiasm is not yet satisfactorily answered. The wealthier classes were completely impoverished, and according to the Jesuit author of the French Relation, Sabbatai Sevi scornfully boasted of having “ reduced to beggary” all the rich Jews of Salonika.96 Throughout the winter and summer of 1666 some four hundred poor lived on public charity. (p. 634)

Another example, this time quoting Goulder:

Similarly, from the 1950s, L. Festinger et ai., When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1957): Dr Armstrong, a teacher in a local college in California, lost his job for evangelizing the students, and did not seek another, believing that most of N. America was about to be inundated. (p. 88)

Paul versus the Gospel of Matthew

Even more interesting is Goulder’s connecting the propensity of religious zeal to lead converts to give up work with the Gospel of Matthew. He draws attention to the following passages: Continue reading “Why Were Some Early Christians Giving Up Work?”


How the Author of Acts Rewrote Stories from Luke

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by Tim Widowfield

As we discussed several months ago, Michael Licona wrote a book about the differences in the gospels in which he tries to explain them away by comparing the evangelists to Plutarch. However, his attempt was stillborn, since his methodology contains a deadly flaw. He proposes that by examining how Plutarch changed stories as he recounted them in different Lives, we can gain some insight as to how the author of Luke, for example, edited Marcan stories.

In the latter case, of course, we can see only how Luke dealt with one of his sources. In the former, we discover how Plutarch rewrote himself. These are two different things. But before we toss Licona’s book aside, let’s consider how we might apply his methodology correctly. Is there any place in the New Testament in which an author created a second work and plainly rewrote one or more stories in a way that might resemble Plutarch’s process?

Resuscitation Redux

Peter: “Tabitha, arise!”

Yes. In the Acts of the Apostles, the author (whom most scholars believe is the same person as the author of Luke) recycled stories told about Jesus and applied them to Peter. You probably already noticed long ago that Jesus raised a young girl (Mark provides the Aramaic talitha) in Luke 8:40-56, while Peter raised a female disciple named Tabitha (Aramaic for antelope or gazelle) in Acts 9:36-42. And no doubt you thought to yourself, “That sounds familiar.”

The author (we’ll call him Luke for the sake of convenience) has left other clues that we’re reading the same story, albeit with different characters set in a different locale. By examining the Greek text, we can discover textual affinities between the two stories.

Acts 9:36  Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. (NASB)

Acts places several important events in Joppa, because historically this town acted as the port city for Jerusalem. Legend has it that the cedars of Lebanon floated via the sea to Joppa, and then were shipped overland to Jerusalem. Joppa is the physical and metaphorical gateway from Judea to the Greco-Roman world.

Luke tells us Peter learned all animals are now clean while visiting Simon the Tanner in Joppa. This fable seeks to explain the change from a faction based in Judaism, with its understanding of what is ritually unclean to God (pork, blood, foreskins, etc.), to something new — a splinter cult on the path to a separate religion that fell back on the so-called Noahide CovenantContinue reading “How the Author of Acts Rewrote Stories from Luke”