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Messianic Prophecies

January 6: Luke 3:22

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Luke 3:22

The John/Jesus parallel of the Lukan Infancy narrative continues on into the Gospel proper—the account of Jesus’ baptism as narrated in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:2-11 par). The main difference in Luke’s account is that he records the beginning and end of John’s ministry at the same point (cf. the detail in Lk 3:18-20). This effectively clears the way for the introduction of Jesus’ ministry in verse 23. The Lukan narrative describes the baptism of Jesus as part of the process—the people being baptized—but the author also sets Jesus apart from the crowd through a simple syntactical variation. Verses 21-22 utilize a construction e)geneto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + infinitive—which is almost impossible to translate literally in English. The action is described with a succession of infinitives:

  • all the people being dunked [i.e. baptized]
  • the heavens opening up
  • the holy Spirit stepping down upon him {Jesus}
  • a voice out of heaven coming to be

John the Baptist is a transitional figure, between the Old Covenant and the New, associated specifically with the Prophets (1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4-6; 7:26-28)—the completion of the Age of the Law and the Prophets (16:16 par). As discussed at numerous points in the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus was seen as fulfilling the types and forms of the Old Covenant—and this process is completed with the baptism. In Matthew’s account, this expressed in terms of fulfilling the righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God (“so it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”, Matt 3:15). In Luke’s version of the baptism scene, Jesus is among the crowd coming to be baptized, but is still set apart:

“And it came to be, among all the people being dunked, and (with) Yeshua being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the heaven opening up and the holy Spirit stepping down upon him in bodily appearance as a dove, and a voice coming to be (from) out of heaven, (this voice said)…”

There is a definite Messianic significance to the baptism scene in Luke-Acts, indicated by several points:

  • The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (4:18 [Isa 61:1f], cf. verse 1, 14)
  • The declaration of Jesus as God’s Son, especially in light of Psalm 2:7 (cf. below)
  • The parallel declaration in the Transfiguration scene
  • The gospel statement in Acts 10:37-38

While these are common to the Synoptic tradition, several of the details are given greater emphasis in the Lukan account.

The Voice from Heaven

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions: “You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”. There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (cf. below). However, in Codex Bezae [D], along with several Old Latin MSS and writings of the Church Fathers, the voice in Lk 3:22 actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). The title “Beloved” (a)gaphto/$) in the Old Testament (LXX) tradition is associated especially with the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:2, 12; for a similar context, cf. Amos 8:10; Zech 12:10). For more on the text-critical issue in 3:22, cf. my note from a previous Christmas season.

The Transfiguration

The Messianic significance of the corresponding scene at the Transfiguration is due, in large part, to its position in the Synoptic narrative, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Anointed One (9:20) and Jesus’ first prediction of his coming death and resurrection (9:21-22). We also have the identification of Jesus with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah (cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). In many MSS, the heavenly voice in 9:35 matches that of the majority text of 3:22; however, the best reading shows a slight difference:

“You are my Son, the One Gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen One]; I have good thought/consideration in you”

The title e)klelegme/no$, parallel to a)gaphto/$ in 3:22, more properly aligns the declaration with the (Messianic) Servant song of Isa 42:1ff. A related title e)klekto/$ is used in 23:35, in close connection with xristo/$ (“Anointed One”); cf. also the variant reading in Jn 1:34, where it is used with the title “Son of God”.

Son of God

Drawing upon the earlier discussion of Jesus’ saying in Lk 2:49 (cf. the previous note), we may outline three ways of understanding Jesus as God’s Son in 3:22:

  • Identification with the people of Israel as God’s “Son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1, etc). Jesus’ participation with the people in baptism may be intended to bring out such an association—cp. Lk 1:77 with Matt 1:21 (2:13-15ff).
  • The Messiah (the Davidic Ruler) as God’s Son (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:12-16, etc)
  • Sonship in terms of exalted, heavenly position and status. In early Christian tradition, the use of Messianic Psalm passages such as Ps 2:7; 110:1 were applied to Jesus in the context of his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). Eventually, this was also understood in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

The parallel declaration in 9:35 suggests that the second option is the one primarily in view. According to Gospel tradition (cf. Acts 10:37-38), it was at the baptism that Jesus was (first) identified as the “Anointed One”, though the title was applied directly only with Peter’s confession (9:20).

The Geneaology in 3:23ff

The Lukan situation is complicated by the peculiar insertion of Jesus’ genealogy at 3:23, directly following the baptism account. Essentially, it serves to introduce Jesus at the time of the beginning of his (public) ministry, but it plays on the same idea of sonship addressed in 2:49. There, Joseph was referred to as Jesus’ parent (vv. 41, 48a) or father (v. 48b), establishing the contrast with the saying of v. 49, where Jesus identifies God as his Father. In a similar way, the genealogy of 3:23 is introduced:

“And Yeshua {Jesus} (him)self, beginning (his ministry), was as though (about) thirty years (old), being the son, as it was thought/considered, of Yoseph…”

The genealogy—his legal ancestry through Joseph—continues through verse 38, all the way back to the first human being (cf. the Genesis creation account):

“…the (son) of Enosh, the (son) of Seth, the (son) of Adam, the (son) of God”

The line is thus traced back to God himself, God the Father (Yahweh/El). This turns out to be a very clever way for the author to restate the idea that Jesus is the “Son of God”. It should be noted that the word “son” (ui(o/$) is only implied, and is not actually present throughout the genealogy of vv. 24-38. Nevertheless, the basic concept is certainly there—Jesus’ true genealogy goes back to God. A literal treatment of vv. 23-38 would simply indicate Jesus’ common human heritage—of the people Israel, stretching back through their ancestors to the Creation. But the author’s actual emphasis is on the point of contrast—Jesus was only the son of Joseph in a conventional (and legal) sense; his true sonship is divine. The framework of the Gospel narrative means that the author (trad. Luke) did not really bring out this aspect of Jesus’ sonship until after the resurrection and exaltation. Yet it is certainly foreshadowed earlier in the Infancy narrative (1:32-35; 2:41-50) and here at the baptism.

January 6th was the older date commemorating the birth of Jesus in the Eastern Church. It was referred to as Epiphany (e)pifa/neia), or, more properly, Theophany (qeofa/neia), the manifestation (“shining forth”) of God on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. When Dec 25 was adopted in the East, Jan 6 came to be devoted more exclusively to a celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. For more on this important theme in Eastern (Syrian) tradition, see my earlier Jan 6 note.

December 30: Matthew 2:23

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Matthew 2:23

Today’s note will explore the third episode of section 2:13-23 (vv. 19-23), the second of two Angelic dream-appearances to Joseph (vv. 13-15, cf. also 1:18-25). On the pattern of Israel’s entry into Egypt and the Exodus (cf. the earlier note on verse 15), this episode corresponds with the Exodus. This reflects the overall theme of the Moses/Jesus parallel and the Moses Infancy narrative. Indeed, the Angel’s words in verse 20 match closely those in Exod 4:19—the death of Herod corresponding to the death of the Pharaoh. Just as Moses returned to lead his people out of Egypt, so Jesus (with his parents) returns from out of Egypt to “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The parallel between the two Angelic appearances is nearly exact, giving great literary (and dramatic) symmetry to the section.

The purpose of the added detail in vv. 22-23 would seem to be to explain how it was that Jesus came to live in Nazareth, a well-established Gospel tradition. Contrary to the scenario in the Lukan Infancy narrative, there is no indication in the Matthean account itself that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth prior to the birth of Jesus. Whether or not this is the understanding of the Gospel writer (trad. Matthew), he is not giving us simple geographical information here; rather, the introduction of this detail, with the Scripture citation, serves another purpose as well—as a foreshadowing of the Messianic associations with which the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is narrated (3:11-12, 17, and, especially, 4:15-16). The next reference to Nazareth is in 4:13, just prior to the quotation from Isa 9:1-2, a (Messianic) passage also interpreted by Christians as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth (vv. 6-7 [Heb vv. 5-6]). It is most improbable that the Scripture (in v. 23) is cited merely as a prophecy that Jesus would live in Nazareth. In all likelihood, there is a play on words involved here, though it is difficult to determine this with precision, as there is considerable uncertainty regarding which Scripture is being quoted. Verse 23b reads:

“…how that [i.e. so that] the (thing) uttered through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] might be fulfilled, that ‘he will be called a Nazoraean’.”

This declaration does not correspond with anything in the Prophets, nor elsewhere in the Old Testament Scripture. In light of this, there are four main possibilities which need to be considered, and which scholars have addressed in various ways:

  • The author is quoting from a book (or section) which is not part of the Old Testament as it has come down to us
  • He is using a form or version of an existing Scripture which is otherwise unknown to us
  • He is adapting, combining, or otherwise interpreting an existing Scripture (or Scriptures) in light of the context and his purpose
  • It is not a direct quotation; rather, the author is referring indirectly to one or more Scripture passages which would support the interpretation of events which he gives

In my view, only the last two can seriously be considered as viable options. Which Scripture, or Scriptures, is the author quoting (directly) or alluding to (indirectly)? I would highlight four passages which are legitimate candidates (cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 211-13). I will discuss them each in turn.

Isaiah 4:3 (and Judges 16:17)

R. E. Brown (Birth, pp. 223-25) makes a strong case for a combination of two verses—Isaiah 4:3 and Judges 16:17. The Hebrew of Isa 4:3a reads (in translation):

“And it will be (that for) the (one) remaining in ‚iyyôn {Zion} and the (one) left over in Yerushalaim it will be said of him ‘(He is) holy [vodq* q¹dôš]”

In the Greek LXX it is rendered:

“And it will be (that) the (one) left under [i.e. back] in ‚iyyôn and the (one) left down [i.e. behind] in Yerushalaim (they) will be called holy [a%gioi klhqh/setai]”

Judges 16:17 record the words of Samson:

“I (have been one) consecrated [ryz!n` n¹zîr] of [i.e. by/to] God from the belly of my mother”

There are two variations in the Greek LXX (MSS A and B):

“I am a Nazîr [nazirai=o$] of God (from) out of my mother’s belly” (A)
“I am a holy (one) [a%gio$] of God (from) out of my mother’s belly” (B)

There is thus known at least one instance where the Hebrew word for a Nazirite (n¹zîr) is both transliterated as Naziraíos and translated as “Holy (One)”. A similar substitution may have been made in Isa 4:3, whereby “he will be called (a) holy (one)” is modified to read “he will be called a Nazir”. In Greek Nazirai=o$ (Naziraíos) is close enough to Nazwrai=o$ (Nazœraíos) to make the wordplay possible.

Isaiah 11:1

The Hebrew of this verse is rendered as follows:

“And a (fresh) twig [rf#j) µœ‰er] will come up from the stump of Yishay {Jesse},
a (green) branch [rx#n@ n¢ƒer] from his roots will (grow and) bear fruit”

The wordplay would be between the noun n¢ƒer and the proper name Naƒra¾ or N¹ƒr¹y¹, etc (i.e. “Nazareth”). Isaiah 11:1-9 was an influential Messianic passage at the time of Jesus, though it is not used directly in early Christian tradition as recorded in the New Testament (cf. Rom 15:12 [citing Isa 11:10]); note Rev 22:16, and somewhat later, Justin’s Dialogue 126:1. Tree imagery, and the use of words such as µœ‰er, n¢ƒer, and ƒemaµ—all of which refer to a new/fresh growth (i.e. branch, shoot, bud, etc)—were often applied in a royal context, to a new or coming ruler (cf. Collins, Scepter, pp. 25-6). The word ƒemaµ (jm^x#) had clearer Messianic associations, due mainly to the prophecies in Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-16—the Qumran community, for example, refers to the Messiah-figure of the Davidic ruler type as the “Branch of David”.

There was definite use of Isa 11:1-4ff in a Messianic sense, by the mid-1st century B.C., as evidenced by quotations or allusions to it in the Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25ff; 18:6-8, and the Qumran texts 4QpIsa[Commentary on Isaiah]a frag. 7; 4Q285 frag. 5; 1QSb 5:21; from the 1st century B.C., cf. also 1 Enoch 49:3-4; 62:2-3; and 2/4 Esdras 13:10. At Qumran, the word n¢ƒer was used, not only of a Messiah figure, but for the Community itself, the “holy ones” (1QH xiv.15; xv.19; xvi.6, 8, 10; cf. Isa 60:21). In a similar way, perhaps, Christians came to be known as Nôƒ®rîm (“Nazoreans”)—cf. Acts 24:5; b. Sanh 43a.

Isaiah 42:6 / 49:6

A different root nƒr is found in Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6, both passages being among the so-called “Servant Songs”, oracles which lend themselves well for interpretation as Messianic prophecies. The verb n¹ƒar has the meaning “keep, protect, preserve, watch”. Compare the two verses in translation:

“I YHWH have called you…and I will keep you, and I will give you to (be) a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (42:6)
“…for you to be (called) my Servant, to cause the staffs [i.e. tribes] of Jacob to stand (again), and to make the (one)s kept/preserved [n§ƒûrê] of Israel to (re)turn, and I will give you to (be) a light for the nations” (49:6)

From the standpoint of Israelites and Jews in the post-exilic period, this would be interpreted in many circles as a prophecy of the Messianic Age and the restoration of Israel. The ones who are kept/preserved are the “holy ones” (cf. above), the faithful remnant, as in Isa 4:3. The expression “light to/for the nations” occurs in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:32), where there is an allusion to one or both of these passages.

Jeremiah 31:6-7

The verb nƒr also is found in Jer 31:6, where the remnant motif is even clearer:

“For there (is indeed) a day (when the one)s keeping (watch) [nœƒ®rîm] will call (out) in the mount(ains) of Ephraim, ‘Stand (up)! and let us go up Zion to YHWH our God!'”

The remnant of Israel is introduced in vv. 7b and following. Note the interesting parallel with Matt 1:21:

“and (you shall) say, “YHWH save your people, the (ones) left behind [i.e. the remnant] in Israel!'” (Jer 31:7)
“and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people…” (Matt 1:21)


The problem with the last three options above is that the wordplay involves the underlying Hebrew text, and would have been lost on many, if not most, of the readers of the Greek Gospel. The first option is the only one which is at all feasible as a wordplay in Greek. On the other hand, Isa 11:1 would be much more appropriate as a Messianic prophecy applied to Jesus. Jerome, at least, was a Christian who had no difficulty making the connection between Hebrew n¢ƒer and “Nazorean” in the verse, and claims that it is the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23, “from his root will grow a Nazorean” (Letter 57.7, to Pammachius). Isaiah 11:1 also has the advantage of the overall context in the book, the parallels with 7:14; 9:1-7, which were interpreted as (Messianic) prophecies applied to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. If any, or all, of the passages suggested above are in the mind of the Gospel writer, it is possible to recognize two primary aspects which are likely at work:

  • Salvation for the remnant of God’s people, the holy ones, which the Messiah will bring
  • The Messiah (Christ) as the Holy One of God, chosen to bring about the salvation of his people

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993). Those marked “Collins, Scepter” are to John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1995).

December 27: Matthew 2:2, 4

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Matthew 2:2, 4

The next section in the Matthean Infancy narrative—2:1-12—records the visit of the Magoi (ma/goi, i.e. “Magi, Wise Men”) and the homage they pay to the newborn child in Bethlehem. There are two important names, or titles, in this narrative, which are the subject of two questions—each centered on the basic question “where?” (pou=), i.e. “where will we find…?”:

  • By the Magoi:
    “Where is the one brought forth (as) king of the Yehudeans [i.e. Jews]?” (v. 2)
  • By Herod:
    “Where (is) the Anointed (one) coming to be (born)?” (v. 4)

Each of these titles will be discussed in turn.

“King of the Jews” ([o(] basileu\$ tw=n )Ioudai/wn)

In the historical-cultural context of Greek and Roman control over Syria-Palestine, there was a strong nationalistic aspect and significance to the use of this title—as, for example, by the Hasmonean rulers (priest-kings) of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. (Josephus, Antiquities 14.36, etc). As a semi-independent ruler, under Roman oversight, Herod himself was known by this title (Antiquities 16.311, etc). By the time of Jesus, the Messianic sense of this title would have been recognized and emphasized; consider these two basic elements of its meaning:

  • David‘s kingdom centered in Judah (Jerusalem)
  • The Jewish character of the Messianic king/ruler figure-type—rule centered in Judah/Jerusalem, and spreading/extending to all of Israel and the surrounding nations

This conceptual framework is central to the narrative (in Luke-Acts) of the early Christian mission (cf. Luke 24:46-49ff; Acts 1:4, 8, 12ff; 2:1-12ff, and the overall structure of the book of Acts). There are two passages quoted (or alluded to) in this section (Matt 2:1-12) which were unquestionably given a Messianic interpretation by the time of Jesus and the Gospels:

  • Micah 5:2ff—cited within the action of the narrative; three main points are brought out in this passage:
    • a ruler is to come out of Bethlehem
    • he will rule over (all) Judah
    • he will shepherd the people of Israel (cf. 2 Sam 5:2)
  • Numbers 24:17—the image of the star and the rod/sceptre (of rule) that will come out of Jacob/Israel. For the use of the star image in Matt 2:1-12 (vv. 2, 7, 9-10), cf. my earlier Christmas season note and also below. It is interesting that Philo (Life of Moses I.276) refers to Balaam as a Magos (ma/go$).

The presence of the Magoi offering gifts and coming to Jerusalem to find the “King” may also reflect Psalm 72:10f and Isa 60:6, whereby the wealth of the nations comes to Jerusalem as homage to God (and his Anointed Ruler).

“The Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$)

This was already used as the name/title of Jesus in Matt 1:1, 18, very much reflecting the common early Christian usage. I have discussed the important title [o(] xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”)—its background, interpretation and application to Jesus—at considerable length in my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“. Cf. also the recent note on Luke 2:11.

The star/sceptre in Num 24:17 was especially prominent as a Messianic symbol (and prophecy) at the time of Jesus. This is best seen in the Qumran texts, esp. CD 7:18-20; 1QM 11:5-7; 1QSb 5:27, but also in other literature of the period, such as the Jewish (or Jewish/Christian) Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Levi 18, Judah 24). Mention should also be made of the early-2nd century A.D. Jewish revolutionary ben Kosiba, who was known as bar Kochba (“son of the Star”)—cf. Justin, First Apology 31.6; j. Ta±anit 4:8, etc—as well as the Aramaic versions (Targums) of the Old Testament (Onkelos, Neofiti I, pseudo-Jonathan, Jerusalem II). Cf. Brown, Birth, p. 195; Collins, Sceptre, pp. 202-3. Even though Num 24:17 is not cited as such in the New Testament, it is likely that early (Jewish) Christians would have recognized an allusion to it in Matt 2:1-12.

The other Scripture cited in the passage, Micah 5:2ff (+2 Sam 5:2), is quoted in response to Herod’s question. Herod the Great was of Idumean lineage, and so, to a large extent, would have been considered a foreigner by many Jews. He would have felt especially threatened by the Davidic ruler idea; and, indeed, there is a rough parallel to the Matt 2 episode in Josephus’ Antiquities 17.43 (cf. also Ant. 17.174-8; War 1.660; Brown, Birth, pp. 227-8), which, at the very least, illustrates his paranoid and violent character. There is a kind of irony expressed in Matt 2:8, where Herod, under a deceptive guise, declares his intention to give homage to this child, this new ruler.

The star marks both the time and place of the Messiah’s birth (vv. 2, 7, 9-10), specifically fulfilling the prophecy (or prophecies) mentioned above. For similar ideas and parallels in Greco-Roman myth and literature, see e.g., Aeneid 2.694; Suetonius Augustus 94; and note especially the prophecy mentioned by Josephus in War 6.310ff (cf. also Tacitus, Histories 5:13). Cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 170-1.

The two titles—”King of the Jews” and “Anointed (One)”—are combined again, at the end of Jesus’ life, during the episodes of his “trial” and death. In the Gospel of Matthew, the references are Matt 26:63; 27:11, 17, 22, 29, 37 (also 42), but there are parallels in all of the Synoptic Gospels, as well as the Gospel of John. These titles, taken together, identify Jesus in no uncertain terms as the Davidic-ruler figure type (cf. Parts 6-8 of “Yeshua the Messiah”), otherwise expressed in Gospel tradition by the separate title “Son of David” (cf. Matt 1:1, 20, also 12:23; 21:9, 15; 22:42, etc & par). This title will be examined in more detail in the upcoming notes of this series.

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993). Those marked “Collins, Scepter” are to John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1995).


December 26: Matthew 1:23

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Matthew 1:23

In the previous note (for Christmas Day) I discussed the structure of the first episode in the Matthean Infancy narrative, 1:18-25—in particular, the actual birth announcement in vv. 20-21 and the declaration (by the Angel) of the child’s name (Yeshua/Jesus). Today, I will be looking at the Scripture cited in vv. 22-23. This is the first such citation formula used by the author (one of at least 11 in the Gospel). Each of the three main sections in the Infancy narrative—1:18-25; 2:1-12, and 2:13-23—contains at least one Scripture quotation (cf. 2:15, 17-18, 23, as well as vv. 5-6) indicating that the events being narrated are a fulfillment of prophecy. The prophecy in this section is part of the oracle in Isaiah 7:1-17. The oracle, properly speaking, occurs in verses 3-9. What follows in vv. 10ff is the sign given by God confirming the truth of the message, much as we see in the Lukan annunciation episodes (Lk 1:19-22, 35-37). Here in Matthew, the Scripture citation functions as a different sort of sign—one which confirms the divinely-guided nature of the event as a fulfillment of God’s word (and promises) to his people in ancient times.

The declaration in Isa 7:14 is justly famous, being applied by early Christians to Jesus as a Messianic prophecy. The Greek of Matthew’s version appears to be an (intentional) adaptation of the original text, whether working from the Hebrew or a Greek translation (such as the LXX). Here is a rendering of Matthew’s version, with the Hebrew (in translation) given below:

“See!—the virgin will (come to) have (a child) in (the) womb,
and she will produce [i.e. bring forth] a son, and they will call his name Immanuel”

“See!—the young (maid)en [hm*l=u*h*] will be(come) pregnant [hr*h*] and she will bring forth [i.e. bear] a son,
and she will call his name ‘(The) Mighty (One) [°E~l, “God”] (is) with us’ [la@ WnM*u!].”

The main difficulty, and a longstanding point of controversy, is the translation of the Hebrew word am*l=u* (±¹lmâ). It is usually translated in Greek by nea=ni$, literally a “young/youthful woman”. However, this does not quite capture the sense of the Hebrew; the particular root <lu signifies something strong, vigorous, virile, etc, and, when applied to a young female, it often connotes a girl who has just (recently) come into sexual awareness and maturity. In the context of ancient Israelite society, such a young woman, at a marriageable age, would typically be a virgin, though am*l=u* does not mean this specifically; indeed a different word (hl*WtB=, b§¾ûl¹h) is used to emphasize virginity. It is significant, then, that the Septuagint (LXX) translates am*l=u* in Isa 7:14 with parqe/no$, rather than nea=ni$. The word parqe/no$ is of uncertain origin, but it came to mean specifically a virgin (male or female), as in 1 Cor 7:25ff; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 14:4. In only one other place, does the LXX translate am*l=u* this way—in Gen 24:43 (cf. vv. 14, 16). I have discussed the matter extensively in an earlier Christmas series of notes.

It is likely that the word parqe/no$ was used in Isa 7:14 (as in Gen 24:43) to emphasize the purity of the woman and the sacredness of the scene—the special situation attending the child and his birth. Neither in the original Hebrew, nor in the LXX version, is there any clear sense that this is a miraculous birth, let alone a virginal conception. The significance of this child was as a sign confirming the oracle in vv. 3-9. For the various theories regarding the identity of this child, and an overall interpretation of vv. 10ff, cf. the aforementioned Christmas series above. One conclusion is inescapable: the original historical and literary context does not refer to a (distant) future savior/ruler figure, but to something expected to occur in the general time frame of the prophet—the reign of Ahaz and/or his son Hezekiah. Based on the use of the name ±Immanû °E~l in Isa 8:8-10, and a comparison with the language in 2 Kings 18:7, it seems likely that Hezekiah is the immediate point of reference. This is not to say that a Messianic interpretation by Jews and early Christians should be considered invalid, but that it ought to be regarded as a secondary interpretation or application, pointing to events of a future time (such as the birth of Jesus). I would argue strongly that such a view is perfectly compatible with any reasonable and legitimate doctrine of inspiration, and can be amply documented by many Old Testament passages which the New Testament authors have adapted or taken out of their original context (cf. my earlier article on this aspect of Scriptural prophecy).

It is quite possible that the author of the Matthean Infancy narrative (trad. Matthew) is among the first Christians to make an explicit connection between Isa 7:14 and the birth of Jesus, though the passage may be reflected in Lk 1:28, 31 and the Messianic associations in the Lukan narrative as well. There can be no doubt that Matthew emphasizes the miraculous (virginal) nature of Jesus’ conception and birth, stating it even more directly than Luke (cf. below). It is mentioned four times in this opening section (vv. 18, 20, 23, 25). It is also certain that the Angel’s announcement to Joseph (vv. 20b, 21a) follows specifically, and is patterned after, the wording of Isa 7:14 (as cited by Matthew):

  • “the (child)…in her is out of [i.e. from] the holy Spirit
    the virgin will have (a child) in the womb”
  • “and she will produce a son”
    “and she will produce a son”
  • “and you will call his name…”
    “and they will call his name…”

It is hard to say to what extent a Messianic interpretation of Isa 7:14 was current among Jews in the 1st-century B.C./A.D.; it is not particularly attested as such in the surviving Qumran texts and other literature of the period. It would not have been difficult, however, for Jews and early Christians to recognize the possible Messianic significance of the prophecy (as of that in Isa 9:1-7 [Heb 8:23-9:6]). This would be enhanced by the idea that Jesus’ conception was truly miraculous, and the work of the Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35 and the italicized words above).

When we turn to the name ±Immanû °E~l (Greek  )Emmanouh/l), we find a sentence-name or title which includes the divine name-element °E~l (la@, “Mighty [One]”, i.e. “God”); for more background information and detail, cf. my earlier article on °E~l. The explanation the Gospel writer gives in verse 23 generally matches the actual translation of the name, as used in Isa 8:8, 10—”God [°E~l] (is) with us” or “God (be) with us”. In the original context of the prophecy, it is a fitting name for a ruler, indicating the divine protection and aid God brings to his reign and his kingdom (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). The Gospel writer, of course, recognizes something deeper than this, as he sets the name as a precise parallel with Y¢šûa±, a name explained as embodying the help and deliverance (salvation) God is bringing to his people (in the person of Jesus). Indeed, the meaning of the name Immanuel relates to two important aspects of (early) Christian belief:

  • Jesus as the Son of God—his deity manifesting the presence of God himself (“God with you”)
  • The power/work of the Holy Spirit—the abiding presence of God (and Christ) with believers is realized through the Spirit

This latter idea is more prominent in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, but note the closing words of Jesus in Matthew (28:20): “I am with you…”.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 6: The Davidic King (Overview and Background)

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With this article, we will begin exploring the Messianic figure-type of Anointed King, which is probably what most people think of when they hear the term “Messiah”—a future ruler from the line of David who will “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). However, as I have already discussed and demonstrated at length, Messianic thought and belief at the time of Jesus cannot be limited to this particular figure-type. When we see the term “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$, christós) in the Gospels, we ought not to assume that it necessarily means a Davidic King, though in subsequent Jewish tradition it did come to carry this meaning almost exclusively. Even by the time of the New Testament, however, the expectation of such an end-time Anointed Ruler was relatively widespread, and, by the end of the 1st-century A.D. was probably the dominant Messianic figure-type, with other traditions having merged into it. Because of the scope and complexity of the subject, it will be necessary to spread it out over three parts:

  • Part 1: Overview and Background
  • Part 2: Detailed Analysis, examining specific passages from Jewish writings and the New Testament
  • Part 3: “Son of David”—the use of the title in the Gospels and its application to Jesus in early Christian belief

Old Testament Background

It is necessary to begin with the Old Testament Scriptures which provide the foundation for the expectation of a coming Davidic Ruler at the end-time. As I pointed out in the Introduction, kings in the Ancient Near East were consecrated through the ritual/ceremonial act of anointing (with oil). This is recorded numerous times in the Old Testament, typically with the verb jv^m* (m¹šaµ, “rub, smear, apply [paint etc]”)—Judg 9:8, 15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, et al. The noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ, “anointed [one]”) is used of the reigning/ruling king in 1 Sam 2:10, 35; 16:6; Psalm 2:2; 20:7; 84:10 (also Psalm 28:8; Hab 3:13 ?), and specifically of kings such as Saul (1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Sam 1:14, 16, 21 [?], cf. also 1 Sam 12:3, 5), and especially David (and/or the Davidic line, 2 Sam 19:22; 22:51; 23:1; Psalm 18:51; 89:39, 52; 132:10, 17, including Solomon in 2 Chron 6:42). David and his son Solomon were the greatest of Israel’s kings, and under their rule the kingdom reached by far its greatest extent of territory, sovereignty (over vassal states), wealth and prestige. It is only natural that, following the decline and fall of the kingdom(s) of Israel/Judah in the 8th-6th centuries, Israelites and Jews in the Exile, and for generations thereafter, would look to David as the ideal king, especially when judged in terms of political and military power.

Even in the Old Testament itself, we see the promise of a future Davidic ruler, and its development can generally be outlined as follows:

  • In the time of David and Solomon, a specific royal (Judean) theology grew up around the kingship, expressed and preserved in specific Psalms which would have enormous influence on subsequent Jewish (and Christian) thought. Two Psalms in particular—Psalm 2 and 110—set around the enthronement/coronation/inauguration of the (new) king, draw upon ancient Near Eastern language and symbolism, depicting the reigning king as God’s appointed, chosen representative (figuratively, his “son” [Ps 2:7])
  • This same theology crystalized in the Scriptural narrative, associated with a particular oracle by Nathan the prophet, regarding the future of the Davidic dynasty (2 Samuel 7:8-16). The critical and interpretive difficulties regarding this section are considerable, and cannot be delved into here. The prayer of David following in 2 Sam 7:18-29 must be read in context, along with the parallel(s) in Psalm 89 (cf. also 2 Sam 22:44-51 / Ps 18:44-51).
  • The so-called Deuteronomic history (Judges–Kings) uses an ethical and narrative framework, comparing the good and wicked kings, according to the extent to which they followed the way of the Lord—defined, in part, in terms of the example of David (“as David his Father did”, 1 Kings 9:4; 11:4-6, 33-34, etc). David thus serves, in many ways, as the model/ideal ruler. Historical circumstances clearly showed that the promise regarding the Davidic dynasty was conditional—his descendants would maintain rule only so far as they remained faithful and obedient to God (cf. 1 Kings 11:9-13, 31-39). Thus the oracle of Nathan would be (re)interpreted to allow for a (temporary) end to Davidic kingship.
  • The Davidic promise is given new form in the oracles of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in the historical context of the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile. Jer 23:5ff declares that God will raise for David “a righteous sprout [qyD!x* jm^x#]” who will rule as king. The same expression and message is found in Jer 33:14-16ff. That these prophecies point to the future, in contrast to the historical circumstances in the prophet’s own time, is indicated by the surrounding context (cf. Jer 22:30; 33:19-26). In Ezekiel 34:23-24, there is a similar promise that God raise up for Israel “one shepherd, my servant David”; cf. also Ezek 37:24-25.
  • In the early post-Exilic period, Zerubbabel appears to have been seen as a fulfillment of the restoration of Davidic rule (Haggai 2:21-24; Zechariah 4:6-14, cf. also 3:8; 6:11-14). Ultimately, of course, the true fulfillment had to wait for a future coming King, as indicated in the (later) oracle Zech 9:9-10ff.

There are several other Scripture passages which would play a key role in the development of Messianic expectation:

  • Genesis 49:10—part of the blessing of Jacob over his sons, specifically for Judah (vv. 8-12), where it is stated:
    “The (ruling) staff will not turn aside from Judah, nor the engraved rod from between his feet, until the (time/point) which shîloh comes, and the obedience of the peoples will be(long) to him.”
    The exact meaning of hýyv! (šîlœ, shiloh) remains uncertain and problematic. Among many commentators today, the element yv is read as a relative particle attached to a suffixed preposition (i.e. “…until he comes to whom it [i.e. the staff] belongs”). The JPS Torah Commentary (N. Sarna on Genesis [1989], pp. 336-7), following earlier Rabbinic interpretation, reads it as the noun yv^ (šay, “gift, homage, tribute”) attached to the preposition, resulting in the attractive poetic line “…until tribute comes to him, and the homage/obedience of the peoples be(long) to him”. However, by the time of Jesus, shiloh had already come to be understood as a Messianic title, as seen in the (pesher) Commentary on Genesis from Qumran (4Q252 frag. 1, col. 5); and so it would often be interpreted subsequently in the Targums as well as in Jewish (and Christian) tradition.
  • Numbers 24:17-19—in the fourth oracle of Balaam (Num 24:15-24), we find the famous line: “…a star will march/tread (forth) from Jacob, and staff will stand (up) [i.e. rise] from Israel” (v. 17). The first verb (Er^D*) can also be understood in terms of (exercising) dominion; that the seer speaks of a conquering/ruling king is clear from the following verses (“and from Jacob he will [come and] tread [them down]”, v. 19a). Verse 17a ambiguously sets this prophecy in the future: “I see him/it, but not (yet) now; I observe him/it, but not (yet) near”. This passage was understood as a Messianic prophecy by the time of Jesus (cf. the references below), as well as in the Targums (Onkelos, Jonathan); famously it was applied to the quasi-Messianic revolutionary leader Ben-Kosiba (“Bar-Kokhba” = “Son of the Star”), cf. j. Ta’anit 68d.
  • Isaiah 11:1-9—the prophecy begins with the declaration “A branch will go out from the stem of Jesse, a fresh/green (sprout) will grow (out) from his roots”. This passage, along with Psalm 2, would be extremely influential in associating the coming Davidic ruler with the defeat/subjugation of the nations and the end-time Judgment. Here also we find the idea of Judgment (vv. 3-4) followed by a new Age of peace (vv. 6-9), common to much Messianic thought. In relation to Jesus, we may note the reference to the Holy Spirit resting upon him (cf. Isa 61:1 / Lk 4:18ff; and the description of his Baptism, Mk 1:10 par).
  • Amos 9:11-15—a promise for the (future) restoration of Israel/Judah, which begins with God declaring: “On that day I will make stand up (again) [i.e. raise] the hut of David th(at) has fallen…” Here the ‘hut’ (i.e. a covering, presumably woven with branches) represents the “house of David”, his kingdom/dynasty. By the time of Jesus, this passage had come to be understood in a Messianic sense, as indicated by the Qumran text 4QFlorilegium [4Q174]; cf. also in the Damascus Document [CD 7, manuscript A] and the citation in Acts 15:16-18.
  • Micah 5:2-5 [Hebrew 5:1-4]—famous from Matthew 2:1-12, this prophecy refers to a coming (Davidic) ruler, who will restore/reunite the kingdom of Israel (cf. also Mic 4:8), establishing a reign of peace and security.
  • Zech 3:8; 6:12-13—references to the “sprout” or “branch” [jm^x#] (cf. above).
  • Daniel 9:25-26—the famous and controversial reference to an “Anointed leader/ruler [dyg]n` j^yv!m*]”, set in the context of the prophecy of Seventy Weeks (cf. Jer 25:11-12; 29:10; Dan 9:2). The exact identity of this Anointed figure, in the original historical/literary context, remains much debated. The term dyg]n` generally refers to a prominent leader/ruler, etc.—often specifically of a military commander, but it can also be used of religious leaders (i.e. priests) and various kinds of dignitaries. This passage will be discussed, by way of a supplementary note, in a subsequent article.

The Messiah-King figure in Judaism

Here it is best to begin with a survey of references from the Qumran (and related) texts, most of which can be dated from sometime in the 1st century B.C.

j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ), “Anointed”

We find the specific expression “the Anointed (One) of Israel” in the Damascus Document (CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19 [= 4Q266 10 i 12]; 19:10-11; 20:1), as well as the Qumran 1QS 9:11 (passage apparently missing from 4Q259 1 iii 6); 1QSa 2:14-15, 20-21; and also 4Q382 16 2. In most of these passages it is the role as future leader of the Community that is emphasized, though the end-time Judgment on the wicked is also implied. Several of these references are to “the Anointed (One)s of Aaron and Israel“, indicating the expectation of an Anointed Priest-figure (to be discussed in an upcoming article). Though not specified, “Anointed (One) of Israel” presumably refers to a (Davidic) Ruler (cf. below); the simple “Anointed (One)” in 1QSa 2:11-12; 4Q381 15 7; 4Q458 2 ii 6 probably refers to the same figure. In 4Q252 5:3-4, the “Anointed (One) of Righteousness” is identified as the “branch [jm^x#] of David”.

ayc!n` (n¹´î°), “Prince/Leader”

The term ayc!n` literally means “(one who is) lifted up”, i.e. raised/lifted over the other people as ruler or leader, often translated “Prince”. In the Qumran texts, it appears to be used often in a Messianic sense, likely inspired by Ezek 34:24; 37:25. Presumably it refers to a (Davidic) ruler-figure also called “the Anointed of Israel” (above, cf. 4Q496 10 3-4). The texts generally mention him in the context of his role as leader/commander over the Community, expressed especially by the larger expression “Prince of (all) the congregation” (hduh [lk] aycn)—CD 7:19-20; 1QSb 5:20; 1QM 5:1; 4Q161 2-6 ii 19; 4Q266 3 iii 21; 4Q285 4 2, 6; 5 4; 6 2; 4Q376 1 iii 1. In CD 7:19-20, he is identified as the ruler’s staff [fbv] that will arise from Israel in Num 24:17 (cf. above), and with the “branch of David” in 4Q285 5 4. In the War Rule [1QM] he participates in the defeat and judgment of the nations (cf. also 4Q285 4 6).

dyw]d` jm^x# (ƒemaµ D¹wîd), “Branch of David”

This expression is derived from Jer 23:5; 33:15 (also Isa 11:1; Zech 3:8; 6:12, cf. above), and clearly refers to a coming Davidic ruler. His end-time appearance is interpreted as a fulfillment of several of the Old Testament Scriptures outlined above. The expression is found in the following Qumran texts: 4Q161 7-10 iii 22; 4Q174 1-3 i 11 (on 2 Sam 7:14); 4Q252 5:3-4 (on Gen 49:10); and 4Q285 5 3,4 (executing judgment on the wicked/nations).

Other references in the Qumran texts

In light of the Messianic interpretation of the “staff” [fbv] from Gen 49:10 and Num 24:17 (in CD 7:19-20 [4Q266 3 iv 9]; 1QM 11:6-7 and 4Q175 12), we might also mention the occurrence of the word in the fragmentary texts 4Q161 2-6 ii 19 [restored] and 4Q521 2 iii 6.

Also, given the association of the Anointed (Davidic) ruler as God’s “Son” (/B#) in 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 2:7 and related tradition (cf. the interpretation of 2 Sam 7:14 in 4Q174), we should also mention 4Q246, referenced in previous notes and articles, which refers to the future rising of a (Messianic?) King who is given the titles “son of God” and “Son of the Most High” (col. 2, line 1, cf. Luke 1:32, 35). Note also the apparent reference to a particular figure as God’s “firstborn [rwkb] (son)” in the uncertain fragments 4Q369 1 ii 6; 4Q458 15 1.

Other Jewish Writings from the 1st centuries B.C./A.D.

Several of these passages will be discussed in more detail in the next article; I list the most relevant references here, in summary/outline form:

  • Sirach 47:11, which mentions the exaltation of David’s horn (by contrast, cf. 45:25; 49:4-5); note also the Hebrew prayer following Sir 51:12 (8th line)—”give thanks to him who makes a horn to sprout for the house of David…” [NRSV translation].
  • The 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon, especially the reference to David in Ps Sol 17:21, to the “Anointed” of God in Ps Sol 17:32[36]; 18:5, 7, and the influence of Psalm 2 and Isa 11:4ff throughout (cf. 17:21-25ff; 18:6-8).
  • The Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) 29:3; 30:1; 39:7; 40:1; 70:9; 72:2 [Syriac]; and note esp. the context of chs. 72-74, which describe the coming Messiah, judgment of the nations, and the establishment of the (Messianic) Kingdom of God on earth.
  • 2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra)—the core of the book (chapters 4-13, esp. 7, 11-12, 13:3-14:9) assumes an eschatological framework similar that of 2 Baruch (both books are typically dated from the end of the 1st century A.D.). The “Messiah” is specifically referred to in 7:28-29 (called God’s “Son”) and 12:32 (identified as the offspring of David).
  • The prophecy by Balaam (Num 24:17) is given a Messianic interpretation in the Testament of Levi 18:3ff and Testament of Judah 24:1-6. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs as we have them are Christian (2nd cent. A.D.?) expansions/adaptations of earlier Jewish material, such as we seen in the Aramaic Levi text [4QTLevi] from Qumran.

The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) make mention numerous times of the “Righteous/Elect One” and “Son of Man”—a heavenly figure who functions as judge and ruler over the nations, and is presumably the one called God’s “Anointed” in 1 Enoch 48:10; 52:4—however the promise of the restoration of Davidic rule plays little or no part in the book. Nor does the idea of a Davidic Messiah-figure have any importance in the writings of Josephus and Philo. The quasi-Messianic figures described in Antiquities 18.85-87, 20.97-8, 169-72 and Wars 7.437ff seem to represent end-time wonder-working Prophets according to the type of Elijah or Moses, rather than a Davidic king. However, Josephus claims that the war against Rome (66-70 A.D.) was fueled by a prophecy (perhaps the oracle of Balaam, Num 24:15-29 [cf. above]) that one coming from Judea would rule the world (Wars 6.312f, cf. also Tacitus Hist. 5.13.2; Suetonius Vespasian 4.5). Somewhat later, such an interpretation (of Num 24:17) certainly played a role in the Bar-Kokhba rebellion (132-135 A.D.), and Messianic expectation perhaps influenced the revolt of 115-117 A.D. in Egypt and Cyrenaica as well.

For a convenient collection of many of the Qumran references cited above, I have found most useful the article by Martin G. Abegg and Craig A. Evans, “Messianic Passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Qumran Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998), pages 191-203.

Note of the Day – January 26

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This is the third of three notes on the Lukan narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30)—yesterday’s note dealt with the significance of the Scripture quotation in vv. 18-19 (Isa 61:1-2), today’s note will explore the people’s reaction to Jesus in vv. 22ff.

Following the reading (as represented in the citation by Luke), Jesus hands the scroll to the attendant and sits down (v. 20), with the eyes of all in the synagogue gazing intently [lit. straining a)teni/zonte$] at him. Jesus’ message to them is (or, begins):

“(To)day this Writing has been fulfilled in your ears [i.e. your hearing]” (v. 21b)

The reaction of the people is noteworthy—

“And all witnessed to/about him and wondered upon the words of favor [i.e. favorable words] passing out of his mouth, and they said/related: ‘Is not this the son of Yoseph?'” (v. 22)

an apparently positive response which would seem to be contrary to the negative reaction in the parallel passage (Mark 6:3/Matt 14:57). There are several ways to understand the Lukan narrative here:

  • That the dative personal object au)tw=| is a dative of disadvantage, reflecting a more negative, hostile reaction: “And all witnessed against him and wondered about the words…” This brings the passage more in line with the Markan/Matthean parallel.
  • It is a reaction to Jesus’ own eloquence and understanding (cf. Lk 2:47, 52), rather than the significance of the message.
  • They react generally to the Scripture passage, without really appreciating the significance of Jesus’ interpretation in v. 21.
  • They recognize and approve the Messianic significance of the passage (and Jesus’ statement), but do not see it being fulfilled in him.
  • They understand the Messianic significance and see Jesus as fulfilling it, but in a superficial or inappropriate manner.

Arguments can be made for each of these interpretations; I tend to find the second most likely, but much depends on how one relates the people’s reaction to what follows in verses 23ff. Reading the passage in the modern manner, applying psychological realism to the scene, Jesus’ response in vv. 23-24 is somewhat hard to explain. If the crowd’s reaction was positive (and if they understood the Messianic significance of Jesus’ statement), why the harsh and provocative response? The parallel in Mark 6:2-3 suggests that, in the historical tradition inherited by the Gospel writer, the crowd focused entirely on Jesus—how a man from their hometown could possess such eloquence and understanding, that he could have done such miracles as had been reported, etc—with the tradition emphasizing their lack of faith/trust in him (Mk 6:6 par). Luke has given a somewhat different tenor to the narrative, by keeping the crowd’s initial reaction general: the phrase e)martu/roun au)tw=| (“witnessed to/about him”) need not be understood in either a positive or negative sense especially, and e)qau/mazon (“wondered”) simply indicates a reaction to something extraordinary or auspicious. The expression “favorable words” (lit. “words of favor [xa/ri$]”) is, I believe, an intentional echo of the “favor” [xa/ri$] mentioned in 2:40, 52.

In order to analyze these verses further, it is perhaps useful to look at the structure of the passage as a whole, which I outline as follows:

  • Narrative introduction (Jesus comes to Nazareth) with the Synagogue setting (v. 16)
  • Part 1 (vv. 17-22):
    • Scripture passage [Isa 61:1-2] (v. 18-19) and Saying of Jesus (v. 21)
    • The (positive/neutral) reaction by the people (v. 22)
  • Part 2 (vv. 23-29):
    • Two-fold Saying of Jesus (vv. 23-24) and two-fold illustration from Scripture [1 Kings 17:1-18:1; 2 Kings 5:1-14] (vv. 25-27)
    • The (negative, hostile) reaction by the people (v. 28-29)
  • Narrative conclusion (Jesus leaves Nazareth) (v. 30)

Here the parallel reaction by the people in v. 22, 28-29 is central to an understanding of the passage—it effectively illustrates the prophecy of Simeon (2:34-35) from the Infancy narrative:

“This (child) lies out [i.e. is laid/set] unto (the) falling (down) and standing up of many in Yisrael, and unto a sign counted against [i.e. opposed/contradicted]… so that (the) counting-through [i.e. thoughts pl.] out of many hearts might be uncovered.” [For the moment I have left out the parenthetical address to Mary in v. 35a]

There is an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ destiny and purpose for the child, indicated by a pair of clauses with the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto” [we would say “for”]), and a subordinating conjunction o%pw$ (“so as, so that”) expressing final purpose:

  • This (child) lies out
    • unto [ei)$] (the) falling (down) and standing up of many in Israel, and
    • unto [ei)$] a sign counted/reckoned against
  • so that [o%pw$] the counting-through/reckoning [pl.] might be uncovered out of many hearts

There are two aspects of the ‘inner’ purpose:

  1. The falling and rising of many in Israel—this can be understood as representing (a) two different groups of people, or (b) a sequence (first falling, then rising) of one group (or people in general). Usually it is interpreted in the former sense: Jesus will cause some to fall, others to rise. The implication is that these are people who will encounter Jesus’ person and message directly, and so are affected by it.
  2. A sign which is opposed [counted/reckoned against]—here the reaction is entirely negative or hostile: it is not so much the man Jesus himself that is opposed, but what he represents (the sign [shmei=on]). This negative reaction would be more general and (perhaps) widespread, even for those who had only heard of Jesus indirectly.

As for the ‘outer’ (final) purpose, it is that the thoughts [the “accounts/reckoning”] might be uncovered [i.e. the cover removed] from many hearts. The person and message of Jesus will reveal the innermost (true) thoughts of those who encounter him. This does, in fact, appear to be what occurs in the narrative under discussion—the hostility toward Jesus ultimately comes to the forefront in verses 23ff, to the point where the townspeople (some of them, at least) seek to throw him down the cliffside (v. 29).

One might compare the narrative with two other proximate passages in the Gospel: (1) the episode of the boy Jesus in Jerusalem (2:41-51), and (2) the call of the first disciples (5:1-11).

There are several similar or related details between our passage and Lk 2:41-51:

Lk 2:41-51

  • Jesus separates from his parents and relatives (v. 43)
  • He is in a sacred place of worship (the Temple) (v. 45-46)
  • He is participating in Jewish religious matters (v. 46)
    (as a pupil sitting among teachers of the Law)
  • The people are amazed [e)ci/sthmi] by his understanding and responses (v. 47)
  • His parents (father Joseph) are juxtaposed with his (true) Father (v. 48-49)
  • His parents did not understand what he was saying (v. 50)

Lk 4:16-30

  • Jesus returns to the place where he was brought up (v. 16)
  • He is in a place of worship (the Synagogue)
  • He is participating in Jewish religious matters (v. 17-21)
    (the Synagogue service and reading of Scripture)
  • The people are amazed [qauma/zw] by his “words of favor” (v. 22)
  • He is identified by the people with his human father Joseph (v. 22b)
  • The people (incl. his relatives?) did not truly understand what he was saying (vv. 23-28)

In the Lukan narrative of the calling of the first Disciples (5:1-11), we see a different sort of reaction to Jesus: at first there is doubt in response to his word (v. 5), but they act in trust; and, following the miracle (vv. 6-7), they are amazed [perie/xw] (v. 9), but some of them (e.g., Simon Peter) by it recognize who Jesus is and what he represents (at a fundamental level) (v. 8), and leave everything to follow him (v. 11).

I will be discussing Lk 5:1-11 in more detail in the next note.

Note of the Day – January 25

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The narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), with its central Scripture passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) was introduced in the previous note. Today, I will be examining the significance of the passage from Isaiah. This can be understood from two primary aspects:

First, in terms of the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), especially those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. In an earlier note, I discussed the allusions to a number of Isaian passages in Lk 2:25-38—that is, in the context of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, broadly speaking—by the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff specifically as a Messianic passage. That the passage was understood this way in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives only in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) reads as follows:

…[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his Anointed One [i.e. Messiah jyvm], 2[and all th]at is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. 3Strengthen yourselves, you who are seeking the Lord, in his service! {blank} 4Will you not in this encounter the Lord, all those who hope in their heart? 5For the Lord will consider the pious, and call the righteous by name, 6and his Spirit will hover upon the poor, and he will renew the faithful with his strength. 7For he will honor the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, 8freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted]. 9And for[e]ver shall I cling [to those who h]ope, and in his mercy […] 10and the fru[it of …] will not be delayed. 11And the Lord will perform marvellous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id], 12[for] he will heal the wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor 13and […] … […] he will lead the […] … and enrich the hungry. 14 […] and all … […] (translation, with slight modification, from Florentino García Martínez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1997-8, 2000 Brill/Eerdmans, Vol. 2, p. 1045)

This section contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah. This will be discussed further below.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. At various points in its history, the Qumran Community (as reflected in the texts) seems to have expected three different Anointed (Messiah) figures—(1) a (royal) Messiah of Israel (sometimes with the title “Branch of David” or “Prince of the Congregation”), (2) a (priestly) Messiah of Aaron (perhaps identified with the “Interpreter of the Law”), and (3) a Prophet. It just so happens, of course, that these represent the three traditional “offices” of Christ (King, Priest, Prophet).

The concept of a “Messianic” (eschatological) Prophet derives from two main Old Testament passages:

  • Deuteronomy 18:15-19—The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up.
  • Malachi 3:1-2—The Messenger, identified in Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] with Elijah, who will prepare the way of the Lord before His coming.

Both are attested as “Messianic” passages at Qumran and in the New Testament—for Deut 18:15-19 cf. 4Q175; 1QS 9:11; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37 (and see below); for Mal 3:1-2; 4:5-6 cf. 4Q521 frag. 2.iii; 4Q558(?); Mark 1:2; Matt 11:10ff; Luke 1:76. Elijah was the more popular figure, either as a type for the end-time Prophet or as Elijah redivivus (Elijah himself returning)—cf. Sirach 48:10-11; 4Q558; Mark 9:11-12 par.; Mishnah Sotah 9 (the Beraita), B. Metsia 1:8, 3:4, Eduyyot 8:7, and numerous passages in the Talmud (j. Sheqalim 3:3; b. Berakoth 35a, Shabbat 118a, Erubin 43b, Pesachim 13a, Chagigah 25a, Sotah 49b, B. Metsia 3a, Sanhedrin 48a, Menachot 45a, etc.). He was associated especially with the end-time judgment (cf. the Rabbinic invocation of his return in relation to resolving disputes), and with the resurrection (in addition to the talmudic references above, cf. j. Ketubot 12:3; Pes. de R. Kahana 76a; also 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 7, for a connection between the Messiah and the resurrection).

Beyond the traditions indicated in these texts, the Lukan passage under discussion itself provides evidence for interpreting Isa 61:1-2 as referring to Jesus as an Anointed Prophet according to the type of Elijah:

  • Jesus’ saying in Lk 4:24 (par.) effectively identifies him as a prophet
  • The two Scriptural illustrations in vv. 25-27 are all from the Elijah/Elisha narratives in 1 Kings 17:1-18:1; 2 Kings 5 (these are the only OT Prophets mentioned in the context of anointing, cf. 1 Kings 19:16).

Indeed, I would argue that Jesus, at the earliest levels of Gospel tradition, was primarily thought of in terms of an Anointed (Messianic) Prophet, moreso than as the Anointed (Davidic) King. It is hard to find an Old Testament passage more applicable to the ministry of Jesus (as recorded in the Synoptics) than Isa 61:1-2; and Jesus himself cites very similar language in response to the Baptist’s question (“Are you the Coming One?”), Luke 7:18-23/Matt 11:2-6. By the “One (Who Is) Coming” probably the eschatological Prophet is meant (Deut 18:15-19), and Jesus is explicitly identified with the “Prophet like Moses” in Acts 3:22-23; 7:37. The Gospel of John perhaps preserves something of this tradition of Jesus as “the Prophet” in Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17[?] (cf. also Luke 7:39 v.l.).

The association of Jesus with Elijah in Gospel tradition is more complicated. The use of Isa 61:1-2 would seem to suggest it, but the Synoptic Gospels, at least, identify John the Baptist with Elijah (Mark 1:2; 9:12-13 par. [saying of Jesus]; Matt 11:10-14 [saying of Jesus]; Luke 1:17). However, in Jn 1:20-21, the Baptist denies, in turn, that he is “the Anointed One [Messiah]”, “Elijah”, and “the Prophet”—apparently, these are to be understood as three different figures—and, since, Jesus would seem to fulfill the first and third, presumably he would the second (Elijah) as well. Certainly, the traditional association of Elijah with the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, applies prominently to Jesus.

In the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (traditionally they are depicted on either side of him). It is customary to interpret Moses and Elijah as representing the Law (Torah) and Prophets respectively; however, given the evidence above, I think that the original import of the scene may have been to confirm, symbolically, Jesus as the Anointed Prophet-to-Come (fulling the typology of both Moses and Elijah). In Jewish thought, both figures play an important eschatological role, and an early tradition along these lines would seem to underlie Revelation 11:1-13. It is noteworthy, that in the Synoptic tradition, following the Transfiguration, Jesus again identifies John the Baptist with Elijah redivivus (Mark 9:9-13 par. [but not in Luke]). Clearly, then, Elijah is distinguished from both the (Davidic?) Messiah and the coming Prophet. In later Jewish tradition, Elijah precedes and announces (even anoints?) the Messiah (appar. the Jew Trypho in Justin’s Dialogue 8, 49; Targum Ps-Jon. on Deut 30:4; and b. Erubin 43b). This idea may have already been current in Jesus’ time.

In the Gospel tradition as it has come down to us (most clearly in the Synoptics), Jesus as the Anointed One [Messiah] is presented in a two-fold aspect:

  1. As the Prophet (to Come)—limited essentially to the Galilean ministry, and with the role of “Elijah” reserved for John the Baptist.
  2. As the King (“Son of David”)—this is associated with the ministry in Jerusalem, beginning with the Triumphal Entry and continuing into the Passion and Resurrection narratives.

(The discussion on Luke 4:16-30 will conclude in the next day’s note, with an examination of the people’s reaction to Jesus.)

Note of the Day – January 24

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Over the next few days I will be looking at the Lukan narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30), focusing on two areas: (1) the Scripture quotation (Isa 61:1-2), and (2) the reaction of the townspeople to Jesus’ words.

This episode is part of the common Gospel Tradition shared by the Synoptics, though in the Gospel of Luke it has been expanded considerably, and placed at a different point in the ministry (compare Mark 6:16; Matt 13:54-58). The chronological position, along with other apparent differences, have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate incidents. This is rather unlikely; the accounts in Luke and Mark-Matthew are close enough in outline that we should regard them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Were it not for a pious interest in harmonizing the chronologies, I doubt that anyone would have thought that two different episodes were involved. The Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has recorded the Nazareth event here (directly following the Baptism and Temptation), to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It holds a similar position as the narrative summary in Matthew 4:13-16—both passages contain a ‘Messianic’ Scripture (Isa 9:1-2 in Matt 4:15-16), and look backward to the Infancy Narrative while looking forward to the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Here, indeed, there are several points of contact with the Luke Infancy narrative(s) (1:5-2:52):

  • The Nazareth setting “where he had been nourished/nurtured [i.e. brought up]” (v. 16)
  • The Isaian Scripture passage—cf. especially the allusions to deutero-/trito-Isaiah (Isa 40-55, 56-66) in 2:25-38 (discussed in an earlier Christmas season note).
  • Here Jesus is filled with the (power of the) Spirit (4:1, 14) just as the young Jesus grew and was filled with wisdom, with the favor of God being upon him (2:40)—these two motifs are reflected in the opening words of Isa 61:1 (“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”).
  • We may also see here a reflection of the wisdom and favor Jesus has with/before [lit. alongside] men (2:52)—cf. 4:15, 22.
  • The reaction of the people to Jesus (v. 22ff) may be understood as illustrative of Simeon’s prophecy in 2:34-35 (for more on this, cf. the next days’ notes).
  • A parallel may also be intended between (the boy) Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51) and (the adult) Jesus in the Synagogue.

Before discussing the Scripture passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) specifically, it is worth noting the way Luke joins the narrative here to that of the Baptism/Temptation (3:21-22; 4:1-13):

  • “And Yeshua turned back [i.e. returned] in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14a)
    • “and (the) talk/report went out down (through) all the surrounding area about him” (4:14b)
    • “and he taught in their (places-of-)bringing-together {synagogues}” (4:15a)
  • “and being (highly) esteemed [i.e. honored/glorified] by all” (4:15b)

The ‘outer’ phrases (v. 14a, 15b) could be said to reflect the wisdom/favor Jesus has with God and men, respectively (two aspects, cf. 2:52). The ‘inner’ phrases perhaps illustrate two aspects of Jesus’ public ministry: (a) his teaching among the people (v. 15a), and (b) the reaction of the people to him (v. 14b). In particular, the emphasis on the Spirit is most important, and is especially characteristic of Luke-Acts (cf. the earlier references in Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27; 3:16, 22; 4:1).

The Scripture Passage: Isaiah 61:1-2

Luke indicates that the Scripture Jesus recites in the Synagogue is from Isaiah 61:1-2. It is not clear whether this was an assigned reading (haphtarah) from the Prophets (connected with a particular section [parashah] of the Torah), or if Jesus selected it himself. A comparison between the Hebrew, Septuagint (LXX) and Luke is instructive:

Hebrew (MT)

1The Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because YHWH has anointed me—
He has sent me to bring (a good) message (to) the poor/lowly (ones),
to wrap up (the pieces) for the (ones) broken of heart,
to call (out) ‘freedom’ for the captives
and ‘open wide’ for the (ones) who are bound,
2to call (out) ‘a year of acceptance for YHWH’
and ‘a day of vengeance for our God’,
to bring comfort (for) all mourners.

Septuagint (LXX)

1(The) Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which He anointed me
to bring (a) good message to the poor (ones);
He has sent me to heal the (ones) crushed together in the heart,
to proclaim ‘release’ to the (ones) taken by spear-point [i.e. prisoners]
and ‘seeing again’ to the (ones who are) blind,
2to call ‘an acceptable year of the Lord’
and ‘a day of giving (back) in return’,
to call alongside [i.e. help/comfort] the (ones) mourning.

Luke 4:18-19

18(The) Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which he anointed me
to bring (a) good message to the poor (ones);
He has sent me
{some MSS include the line here corresponding to the LXX}
to proclaim ‘release’ to the (ones) taken by spear-point [i.e. prisoners]
and ‘seeing again’ to the (ones who are) blind,
to set forth in release [i.e. freedom] the (ones who) have been crushed,
19to proclaim ‘an acceptable year of the Lord’.

The LXX translates the Hebrew fairly accurately, the main difference being the rendering of the somewhat obscure phrase j^oqÁjq^P= <yr!Wsa&l^w+ at the end of v. 1 (the LXX understands it as “opening [wide]” the eyes of the blind, but cf. a similar interpretation in 4Q521 frag. 2.ii line 8). The citation in Lk 4:18-19 follows the LXX, with several differences:

  • The phrase i)a/sasqai tou\$ suntetrimme/nou$ th=| kardi/a| (“to heal the ones crushed together in the heart”) is omitted (though it is retained/restored in some MSS).
  • A line, apparently taken from Isa 58:6 (LXX), is added at the end of v. 1.
  • V. 2 repeats khru/cai (“to proclaim”) instead of LXX kale/sai (“to call”)—this may simply match the consistent use of ar)q=l! in both verses, or may be meant to emphasize the idea of (Christian) proclamation (of the Word/Gospel).
  • Only the first part of v. 2 is cited, noticeably omitting the reference to “a day of vengeance/payback”; only the positive side of the proclamation is included (“an acceptable year”).

These facts would seem to indicate that the Scripture, as it is recorded here in Luke, does not represent exactly what Jesus would have spoken (at the historical level), but rather is a literary presentation of it (at the level of the Gospel writer).

Much more important is the significance of the passage, which will be examined in the next day’s note.

Note of the Day – January 4

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In celebration of Epiphany, I will be devoting three successive notes to the Matthean Infancy Narrative (chapter 2)—the first (today) will outline the structure of the passage and look at the Old Testament citation from Micah 5:2 (Matt 2:6), while the second and third (Jan 5 & 6) will examine the background of the two narrative strands (or parts) that make up the passage.

The chapter can be divided several ways:

Into two halves—the second having a tri-partite structure:

  1. The visit of the Magi (vv. 1-12)
  2. The Flight to Egypt—a triad with a Scripture citation in each part:
  • The Dream of Joseph, warning of Herod, and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
    “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1)

    • Herod’s killing of the infants in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
      “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jeremiah 31:15)
  • The Dream of  Joseph speaking/warning of Herod, and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
    [“He shall be called a Nazarene” (citation uncertain)]

Into two halves, each with a bi-partite structure (containing a main and secondary Scripture passage):

  • The visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem, in the threatening shadow of Herod (vv. 1-12)
    “And you O Bethlehem…” (Micah 5:2)

    • The Dream of Joseph and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
      “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1)
  • Herod, ‘tricked’ by the Magi, slaughters the children in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
    “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jer 31:15)

    • The Dream of Joseph and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
      [“He shall be called a Nazarene”]

One might also add 1:18-25 to create three-part structure for the entire Infancy Narrative, each with a central Scripture passage and dream ‘visitation’:

  • Birth of Jesus (1:18-25) [dream/visitation to Joseph]—OT: Isaiah 7:14
  • Visit of the Magi (2:1-12) [dream/warning to the Magi, v. 12] —OT: Micah 5:2
  • Flight to Egypt (2:13-21[23]) [two-fold dream/visitation to Joseph, v. 13, 20]—OT: Jeremiah 31:15

Dividing chapter 2 into the two parts of vv. 1-12 and vv. 13-21[23], we can isolate two main interlocking narrative strands:

  1. The visit of Magoi (“Magi”) from the east (emphasized in vv. 1-12)
  2. The journey into (and out of) Egypt to escape the slaughter of children by Herod (in vv. 13-21)

It is possible to separate each of these out into clear and consistent independent narratives, which suggests that the Gospel writer (trad. Matthew) has likely joined together separate traditions (for a good discussion and illustration of this point, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah Anchor Bible Reference Library [1977, 1993], esp. pp. 104-119, 192-193, 228-229). This can be admitted as a valid theory, even if one accepts without question the historicity of the narrative as it has come down to us.

The Scripture passage in 2:1-12 (Micah 5:2):

First, one may note that, unlike other citations in the Infancy Narrative (1:22-23; 2:15, 17-28, 23), here the Scripture is quoted by a character (priests and scribes together) in the narrative, rather than as an aside by the author; however, critical scholars would still view this as a Matthean citation, little different from the others in the Gospel. Be that as it may, there are a couple of distinct differences between Micah 5:2 and the other passages (Isa 7:14; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15; and those underlying Matt 2:23) cited by the Gospel writer as prophecies related to Jesus:

  1. The original context of the passage is much closer to having an actual ‘Messianic’ connotation (on this, see the discussion below).
  2. It is the only passage which appears to have been independently applied to the Messiah in Judea prior to the writing of the Gospels. This can be inferred fairly from John 7:42. The historical context in John at this point is ambiguous enough to virtually guarantee that we are dealing with a Jewish (rather than early Christian) tradition. It could be derived simply from the historical details surrounding David’s life, but more than likely the reference in Micah 5:2 is assumed as well.

On both of these points, it is clear enough that, if one looks honestly at the original historical context of Isa 7:14 [see notes]; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15, etc., they have little to do with a future Messiah-figure. Only Isa 7:14 is likely to have been understood in this way, but there is little evidence of such use in Jewish literature contemporaneous or prior to the New Testament. As I indicated above, the case is somewhat different for Micah 5:2:

  • Unlike the oracles of Isaiah 7:10-17 and 9:1-7, which are presented in a relatively precise historical context (the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis and impending invasion by Assyria, c. 740-701 [esp. 735-732] B.C.), Micah 5:1-6 [MT 4:14-5:5] has a rather more general setting of coming judgment (military attack implied) followed by restoration. The themes (as well as language and style) of the these oracles in Micah are quite similar to those of Isaiah, but without some of the accompanying historical detail.
  • Assyrian invasion is mentioned in 5:5[4], and is presumably the source of judgment to hit Judah and the Northern kingdom (there is no clear indication Samaria has yet fallen, 722-721 B.C.); however, there is nothing like the precise (imminent) timing found in the predictions of Isa 7:15-17; 8:4. The implication of Micah 5:5-6 would seem to be that the Davidic ruler of 5:2 will lead (Judah’s) troops against the Assyrian invasion, which will lead to the gathering in of the remnant of Jacob (the Northern kingdom?); there is thus a closer parallel to the oracle in Isa 9:1-7, which is also much more plausibly ‘Messianic’ (in its original context) than Isa 7:10-17.
  • The reference in Micah 5:3 [2] that God will give Israel/Judah up to judgment “until the one giving birth has given birth” is far more general (and symbolic, cf. the reference in 4:10) than that of the virgin/woman of Isaiah 7:14 (or Isa 8:3); this fact, in and of itself, makes application of the passage to an archetypal or future ruler much more natural.
  • The reference to Bethlehem (in Judah), while possibly intended (originally) to refer to a specific coming ruler in Micah’s own time, also makes likely an archetypal reference to the Davidic line (cf. also references to the “house of David” and “throne of David”, Isa 7:13; 9:7, etc).
  • While one can consider the language in 5:2b as similar to the exalted honorific titles given to ancient Near Eastern rulers (see my note on Isaiah 9:6-7 in this regard), there is a dynamic, almost ‘mythological’ quality to the phrasing, which, when removed from the immediate context, would certainly suggest divine origin. Once the specific ritual sense of king as God’s “son” (cf. Psalm 2) has ceased to be relevant in Israelite history, the way is paved for the idea of a future/Messianic ruler as “son of God”.

Matthew’s citation of Micah 5:2 differs in several respects from both the Hebrew (MT) and Septuagint (LXX) versions:

Hebrew (MT) [5:1]

And you, House-of-Lµm {Bethlehem} of Ephrath,
Small to be (counted) with the ‘thousands’ [i.e. clans] of Yehudah {Judah},
From you shall come forth for/to me
(One) to be ruling/ruler in Yisra°el {Israel},
And his coming forth is from ‘before’ [<d#q#]
—from (the) days of ‘long-ago’ [<l*ou]


And you, Beth-lehem, house of Ephrathah
Are little to be in/among the thousands of Yehudah;
(Yet) out of [i.e. from] you will come out for/to me
The (one) to be unto (a) chief [a)rxwn] in Yisra’el,
And his ways out are from (the) beginning [a)rxh]
—out of [i.e. from] (the) days of (the) Age

Matthew 2:6

And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah,
Not even one (bit the) least are you in/among the leaders of Yehudah;
(For) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader
Who will shepherd my people Yisra’el

There are three major differences (and one minor) between Matthew’s citation and that of the LXX and Hebrew MT:

  • Instead of the reference to Ephrath(ah), Matthew specifies “land of Judah”; this may be an intentional alteration to avoid mention of an unfamiliar clan name (though the place name Ramah is retained in the citation of Jer 31:15 [Matt 2:18]).
  • Instead of calling Bethlehem small/little [LXX o)ligosto$], Matthew uses the expression “not even one (bit the) least” [ou)damw$ e)laxisth, i.e. ‘not at all’, ‘by no means’]—in other words, Bethlehem is actually great. Is this a variant reading (from a lost Hebrew or Greek version), or an intentional alteration (by the Gospel writer)?
  • Instead of the ‘thousands’ [or clans] of Judah, Matthew reads “leaders [h(gemwn]” of Judah. This is a relative minor difference, and may conceivably reflect a different reading of the consonantal Hebrew text; or it may be an attempt to emphasize rule (rather than the constitution) of Judah.
  • Matthew has omitted the final bicolon (“and his coming forth…”), inserting at the end of the prior line (replacing “of Israel”): “who will shepherd my people Israel”. This appears to be a quotation from 2 Samuel 5:2 (LXX): “you will shepherd my people Israel”, joined to Mic 5:2. Is this a way of identifying the ruler of Micah specifically with (a descendent of) David?

Note of the Day – December 23

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Early Christians, having found evidence for Jesus Christ in any number of Old Testament passages (see prior Advent notes and articles), began to look toward other writings—Jewish and pagan—for signs which foretold the coming of Christ. As Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire, more such material became increasingly known and made available. A large portion of this Jewish literature comes under the umbrella term “Pseudepigrapha”—a rather unfortunate label which has nonetheless been almost universally adopted (for more on the meaning and use of this term, see the explanatory article on Pseudepigraphy and Pseudonymity).  These writings draw heavily upon the Old Testament books (thereby the qualifier Old Testament Pseudepigrapha), but are typically kept distinct from other writings of the period which also rely upon the OT Scriptures, namely: (a) the Dead Sea Scrolls, (b) works of Jewish philosophers and historians (such as Philo and Josephus), (c) the New Testament books, (d) similar works which draw upon the NT (in imitation of OT Pseudepigrapha), and (e) works of Rabbinic Judaism (Mishnah, Talmud and Midrashim). The Pseudepigrapha are primarily the product of Hellenistic and Greco-Roman Judaism, most being written in Greek (with some originally in Hebrew or Aramaic). They cover a wide range of material, with dates spanning from the 3rd century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. (or later). The standard critical collection (in English) is the 2-volume set edited by J. H. Charlesworth (1983), originally published as part of the Anchor Bible Reference Library.

It is mainly due to the efforts of Christian scribes (whatever their intentions), that the Pseudepigrapha have come down to us today. This fact of transmission and preservation has created additional complications for analyzing these writings. With regard to their relationship to Christianity, one may outline four distinct situations—works which are:

  1. Entirely Jewish (or very nearly so)
  2. Primarily Jewish, but which contain significant passages considered to be Christian interpolations
  3. Primarily Christian, but which are most likely built upon earlier Jewish material
  4. Entirely Christian, composed in imitation of Jewish models

In terms of Pseudepigraphal works which provide (apparent) prophecies of Christ, including prophecies of his birth, the so-called Sibylline Oracles are perhaps the most noteworthy. The Sibyls were ancient prophetesses described in Greco-Roman literature; already in the Classical-period (5th-4th centuries B.C.) they were shrouded in legend, and it is difficult to say to what extent they represent real historical persons. However, their purported oracles were widely consulted and referenced, and a number of collections were drawn up over the centuries, most notably being the official collection kept in Rome (lost in a fire 83 B.C.). The set of fourteen ‘books’ of the surviving Sibylline Oracles is itself a mixture of pagan, Jewish and Christian material, dating variously between the 2nd century B.C. and sometime after 500 A.D. The following oracles (or books) are generally regarded as Christian productions or adaptations:

  • Book 6: A short hymn to Christ of 28 lines, cited by Lactantius (c. 300 A.D.) in the 4th book of his Divine Institutes.
  • Book 7: A set of oracles touching upon world history and prophesying the coming Judgment (lines 29-39, 64-75 explicitly speak of Christ); also cited by Lactantius.
  • Books 1 (and 2): A Christian expansion/adaptation of a Jewish oracle spanning Biblical history (see below)
  • Book 8: An extensive Christian expansion upon a (Jewish?) anti-Roman oracle. In addition to the famous acrostic (lines 217-50), there are two lengthy sections on the life of Christ (see below); this oracle is cited by Lactantius (Institutes bk 7, etc), and the acrostic poem in Augustine’s City of God (18:23).

The principle passages (abridged) which speak of the birth (or incarnation) of Christ are:


Then indeed the son of the great God will come,
incarnate, likened to mortal men on earth….
331Christ, the son of the most high, immortal God….
334Priests will bring gifts to him, bringing forward gold,
myrrh, and incense….


The one who has believed in him will have eternal life.
For he will come to creation not in glory, but as a man,
pitiable, without honor or form, so that he might give hope to the faithless,
and he will fashion the original man,….
269Mindful therefore of this resolution, he will come to creation
bearing a corresponding copy to the holy virgin,….


In the last times he changed the earth and, coming late
as a new light, he rose from the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Coming from heaven, he put on a mortal form…
469….A word flew to her womb.
In time it was made flesh and came to life in the womb,
and was fashioned in mortal form and became a boy
by virgin birth. For this is a great wonder to men,
but nothing is a great wonder for God the Father and God the Son.
The joyful earth fluttered to the child at its birth.
The heavenly throne laughed and the world rejoiced.
A wondrous, new-shining star was venerated by Magi.
The newborn child was revealed in a manger to those who obey God:
cowherds and goatherds and shepherds of sheep.
And Bethlehem was said to be the divinely named homeland of the Word.

Besides the Sibylline Oracles, one should also note the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: a Jewish collection of prophecies, patterned after Genesis 49, composed for the most part sometime during the late (?) 2nd century B.C. (there are fragments of similar ‘Testaments’ among the Qumran texts, most notably 4QTLevi ar). The work as a whole underwent a Christian redaction at some point, for there are a dozen or so passages which would seem to be Christian modifications or interpolations. Since the Jewish material already contained a number of ‘Messianic’ passages, it is somewhat difficult to determine definitively all of the Christian changes. In terms of prophecies of the birth of Jesus, the most significant passages are (in abridged form):

Testament of Levi 18:

2And then the Lord will raise up a new priest….
3And his star shall rise in heaven like a king;
kindling the light of knowledge as day is illumined by the sun.
And he shall be extolled by the whole inhabited world.
This one will shine forth like the sun in the earth;
he shall take away all darkness from under heaven,
and there shall be peace in all the earth.

Testament of Joseph 19:8-12:

And I saw that a virgin was born from Judah, wearing a linen stole; and from her was born a spotless lamb….
9And the angels and mankind and all the earth rejoiced over him…
11….will arise the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world, and will save all the nations, as well as Israel.
For his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom which will not pass away…

Other passages from the Pseudepigrapha which describe in some fashion the birth or coming of Christ:

Ascension of Isaiah 11; Testament of Isaac 3:18; Testament of Adam 3:3; Testament of Solomon 23:20; Ladder of Jacob 7; Treatise of Shem; 2 Enoch 71 (J); 4 Baruch 9:15ff; History of the Rechabites 12:9a ff; note also Apocalypse of Adam 7:9ff.
See also Pseudo-Philo (Biblical Antiquities) 9:9ff (on the birth of Moses), 42 (on the birth of Samson); Lives of the Prophets 2:8ff.

Translations above of the Sibylline Oracles are by J. J Collins, those of the Testaments are by H. C. Kee (both from the Charlesworth edition V.1, pp. 318ff and 776ff).

The acrostic poem from the Sibylline Oracles 8:217-50, cited by Augustine in the City of God (18:23), made its way into the Christian liturgy as the “Song of the Sibyl” (better known by its Latin title Iudicii signum). Accompanied by a pseudo-Augustinian homily, the Song became part of a lesson chanted in the night office (matins) for Christmas (eve), until it was eventually banned as part of the Council of Trent’s liturgical reforms. It continues to be performed today, especially in the popular Catalan version. A reference to the Sibyl remains in the Dies Irae: the “day of wrath”, which was prophesied by both “David and the Sybil” (teste David cum Sibylla), a reflection of that interest in pagan lore—side by side with Christianity—which, having first appeared in the early Church, resurfaced powerfully during the Renaissance.