Friday, 18 November 2016

biblos and genesis

I'm still working away on the first chapter of Matthew...two brief updates:

"Produced" in Mt 1:2–16

I've recently changed my translation of egennesen (ἐγέννησεν) from "he was the father of" to "he produced" throughout the whole genealogy (verses 2–16). This better fits with the focus in Matthew 1 on how messianic heirs are produced. And specifically how Jesus was (not) produced. 

One of the things that is undercut/demoted in the Gospel of Matthew is the prerogative and authority of the earthly father so it makes sense why 'father' does not appear in Matthew chapter 1. In fact the first appearance of the Greek word for 'father' is in relation to the abominable Herod in Mt 2:22. 

Mt 1:1 Book of Genesis/Story of Origin

I've made more progress on the meaning of the first two words in Mt 1:1 namely biblos geneseos (βίβλος γενέσεως).

Both biblos and genesis are words with sacred or supernatural undertones and both words could also indicate a 'story', 'narrative', or 'history'.

Genesis was already the title for the sacred book of Genesis in Greek. And biblos was commonly used to signify a holy book/scripture/writing. (Similarly the word for 'writing' [γραφή] used in the Greek New Testament meant 'sacred writing'.)

But things get very interesting when we look at all the meanings of genesis... the Greek word genesis could refer to numerous kinds of 'being' relating to:
source-of-being (origin); 
manner-of-birth (special associated birth events); 
lot-of-existence (fortune/destiny); 
production (creating/procreating); 
race/family/kin; or 
a social 'generation'/age.
In other words the genesis of a person could be about a person's origin/origins (ancestors, the 'cause' of someone's being) or about someone's creating/producing (descendants, the result of someone's procreating). However, it could also be about special events related to birth or someone's whole consequential life, or someone's life purpose (destiny).

Most readings of Matthew have presumed that genesis in Mt 1:1 is not about someone's resulting life (existence) but simply about someone's history (ancestors) because of what follows it is a genealogy (verses 2-16).

But it may be a surprise to know that the Bauer-Danker lexicon/dictionary actually gives the meaning 'life' for Mt 1:1.

I too began to think that 'life of Jesus' was a radical new way of interpreting Mt 1:1 until I checked the Bauer-Danker lexicon! But why then does hardly anyone interpret genesis in Mt 1:1 as 'life' (of Jesus)?

Well the same lexicon (BDAG) also gives another meaning for genesis in Mt 1:1 (ancestral line/lineage) and this second meaning has unfortunately dominated English translations.

Note that the meaning 'life story (of Jesus)' is also due to it's combination with biblos. So the 'story' part mainly belongs to biblos. The 'life' part mainly belongs to genesis (I say mainly because there is some overlap in the functions of both words). 

We should compare the beginning of Tobit for it's use of biblos (βίβλος):
Βίβλος λόγων Τωβιτ τοῦ Τωβιηλ τοῦ Ανανιηλ...
This book tells the story of Tobit, son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel...
(Note how 'story' is implied by the word biblos, βίβλος).

And if we compare the first verse of Mark: 
Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ
Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
we can see that both Matthew and Mark concern origins: the origin of the Gospel (Mark), and the origin of Jesus (Matthew). In this regard Matthew actually has something in common with John (origin of the Logos).

Now the word genesis appears again in Matthew in verse 18 where it answers the question: What caused his life? That is, Jesus' divine origin (conception) is revealed to Joseph who is instructed to accept the child and marry Mary.

But genesis in Mt 1:1 seems less appropriate because it does not initially answer the question What caused his life? And it does not initially answer the question What did he create/produce (descendants, new life, inauguration of the kingdom? - perhaps some of these suggestions would have to take genesis as referring only to the larger gospel narrative?). 

Probably genesis should not be translated as ancestors/genealogy or descendants (although in the larger story Jesus' true kin are produced by virtue of the person of Jesus who comes to set in motion the kingdom - but this reading would have to ignore the genealogy...perhaps that is why such a reading has never been considered..?).

What immediately follows Mt 1:1 is an account of what caused Joseph's life (ancestors). What 'produced' Joseph is explicitly not what 'produced' Jesus.

(But perhaps, in the mind of many translators, Joseph's receiving Jesus into his Davidic line legitimates genesis as 'genealogy' in Mt 1:1?)

Craig Keener notes that genesis in verse 1 expects to narrate what Jesus produced (the descendants of Jesus) since this is how it is usually used in Genesis. Keener solves the 'problem' by saying that Matthew is saying that Jesus' ancestors depend on Jesus for their existence (Jesus produced Israel?). This is an interesting line of thinking which Keener does not fully explore.

What commentators like Keener are correct in alerting us to is that the usual categories of 'genesis' might need reconsidering (part of the problem is that the New Testament lexicons only give a small sample of the meanings of genesis - Liddell-Scott has the fuller list). 

I suggest that there is (at least) one unexplored option worth considering.

When genesis appears in verse 18 it means 'conception' but not of an ordinary kind. As the BDAG lexicon says here it is "the coming into being at a specific moment" but with special reference "to circumstances under which the birth took place" (namely divine origin/divine shaping of events). So when genesis means 'birth' (as in verse 18) it really means something more than simply 'birth' it means the things and events that Jesus is 'born into' or 'born from' namely divinely so (and anyway there is a more ordinary Greek word for 'birth' namely the similar sounding γέννησις).

So I suggest that the story of the 'life' of Jesus actually includes what foretold Jesus' life. Foretelling/predicting and destiny also belong the meanings of genesis. This aspect has never been explored to my knowledge in Matthew. This seems odd given that in Matthew divine providence and fulfillment is specifically made explicit.

To try to reduce the production/generation down to cause-of-life or consequential-state-of-life has not gotten interpreters and translators very far.

Perhaps the question answered in Matthew 1 is not what is the cause (or state) of Jesus' life but what is the foretelling and destiny of Jesus' life? Biblical Israel was divinely conceived (when Abraham was called out) and it is biblical Israel that provides the foundation of its expected Messiah, according to Matthew.

I'm still figuring this out and still unsure of a good translation. Until then 'story of origin' may have to suffice (but it's a providential origin).

Friday, 30 September 2016

Ending of exile in Mt 1:17

Last post I discussed the three fourteens (3 segments of 14 generations) given in Mt 1:17

Here is a quick follow up as to who else has already seen what I see in Mt 1:17, namely the implication that the exile did not really end until the time of the Messiah begins...

This interpretation was already offered by Craig Evans:
The Matthean genealogy may have been intended to suggest that the exile did not really come to an end until the appearance of Jesus, the Davidic Messiah. ["Aspects of Exile and Restoration in the Proclamation of Jesus" in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions edited by James M. Scott (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 326]
Evan's is hesitant but at least he makes the point in relation to verse 17 (other people have made the same point but not in relation to Mt 1:17), namely:
The word 'exile' (μετοικεσία) appears twice in Mat 1:11-12 + 17 as a pivotal point in the 'messianic genealogy'. Fourteen generations lead up to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations follow it leading up to the birth of the Messiah. 
But Matthew’s term ως το χριστο [from the Messiah] shows that with the advent of Jesus all of this is about to change - the time of waiting is over, the time of fulfilment has come. If this is indeed correct, then the final epoch is a progression from exile to restoration, first for the Royal line of David, and then for all who in submission to the Son of David, will come to share in the blessing and rest of His rule (cf. Matthew 11:27–30; 28:18–20).
I'm currently still reading Eloff's thesis, which is a refreshing read. Eloff acknowledges that Matthew is aware that there was already a time 'after exile':
Although it is clear from the phrase ἀπὸ τῆς μετοικεσίας Βαβυλῶνος [after the Babylonian exile] that Matthew is aware of a historic return from Babylon, the final epoch in I:17 has its focus not on that historic return, but rather on the coming of the Christ (ἕως τοῦ χριστοῦ) as the time of completion and fulfilment.
I'm not yet a fan of using the term 'epoch' (or three 'epochs') to designate each of the 'segments' in Mt 1:17. Namely because each segment covers several different 'periods'.

So the first segment, that is, from 'the time of Abraham' and before 'the time of David' includes:
  • the time of the patriarchs; 
  • time in Egypt/slavery; 
  • time of exodus and wilderness; 
  • time of land conquests; 
  • time of the judges; 
So it would be less confusing if we avoid calling each segment an 'epoch', unless the term is first clearly defined. Is an epoch characterized by some kind of similarity across a 'single period'? Or is it simply a point of origin?

If an epoch is defined only as an 'origin of an era' then this probably fits with my view that Matthew is indeed seeing the 'origin of Abrahamic time' culminating (partially) in the time of David. The first segment would still deal with a beginning 'time period' (Abraham) that is different to, whilst connected to, an ending 'time period' (David).

Similarly we could say that segment two sees kingship ending in exile (as 'directional' or consequential progression of times). 

Finally the third segment sees 'after exile time' ultimately ending in Messiah time.

(Next thing I need to do is to track down a few narrative analyses of Matthew that hopefully include chapter 1 in their analyses...)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Three Fourteens in Matthew 1

Before moving on to Matthew chapter 2, I'm busily writing up a more academic version of my comments for chapter 1.

I've recently noticed something about the pattern of three 'fourteen' generations given in Mt 1:17. I translate it in various ways, one of which is:
So fourteen is the total number of generations from Abraham to David, and again from David to the Babylonian Exile fourteen generations, and then from the Babylonian Exile to the Messiah it is fourteen generations.
Previously I mentioned that I follow Herbert Basser's excellent commentary here, namely, the three fourteens are related to "the rabbinic traditions that speak of the cycle of the moon":
We can now discern that Matthew's genealogy rises to the height, or fullness, with David in the fourteenth generation, after which, starting with Solomon, the genealogy descends through fourteen more generations to the lowest point, or the darkness of moonless nights, that is the Exile. And fourteen generations after the darkness of Exile, like the moon in its nightly waxing, the genealogy again rises to the height, or fullness, which is Jesus. According to this scenario, both David and Jesus are at “full moon” positions in a complete fourteen/fifteen generation-repeating cycle. (pages 31-32)
I can now say even more. Firstly, the pattern of three fourteens is meant to highlight the fourteenth item as the culmination of each segment.

Namely, the segmentation each start as: "From Abraham ... From David ... From the Babylonian Exile".  The segment endings are: "Until David ... Until the Babylonian Exile ... Until the Messiah" (the end of the previous segment forms also the beginning of the following segment, which means Jechoniah gets counted twice).

The most interesting consequence of this 'imposed' structure is the implication that the exile had not yet come to an end until the appearance of the Messiah

I have only just noticed how clear this is.

The idea that the Messiah brings an end to exile seems to have been important in other (Christian) first-century Messianic interpretations. N. T. Wright (influenced by E. P. Sanders) argues that even many Jews (not just diaspora Jews) still thought that they were living in a time of exile in their own land (under foreign rule/Roman occupation of the land).

Whilst I have heard people arguing for (and against) the (widespread?) notion that the exile was not actually over (until the Messiah comes), I haven't yet found anyone who points out that this point is being made by Mt 1:17, namely, by pointing out the significance of three fourteens.

So far as I know the closest commentary here is that of Jeannine K. Brown:
According to Matthew's shaping of the genealogy, Jesus is God's agent who brings restoration from Israel's physical and spiritual exile. The time of God's final restoration has finally begun. [Matthew, Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2015]
I think Brown's conclusion (p14) of Matthew 1 is correct. It is basically her "primary theme" driving the passage (or "Big Idea" of Mt 1:1-17) but even Brown does not explicitly connect this conclusion with the "three sets of fourteen" as explained in Mt 1:17. Instead she seems to favour the more popular view that three fourteens are due to 'gematria', to symbolise the name 'David' in Hebrew, that is, D=4 [+] V=6 [+] D=4.

Now according to Mt 1:17 the generations are said to 'total' 'three (sets of) fourteen'. Since 14 is simply two 7s, and the number 7 usually signifies a certain degree of 'completion' (just as the number of 7 days completes a week), it is natural to see the author's use of 'total' and 'fourteen' in relation to his interest in 'fulfillment'. 

Thus the first kingship (David) arrives as the first degree of fulfillment of certain promises made to Abraham (a covenant of blessing, land, and progeny) and thus Matthew closes the first fourteen with "David the king." 

The second series of generations ends or 'culminates' by being carried off into 'the Babylonian captivity' (so much for kingship).

Then the third culmination of new kingship arrives in the form of the Messiah who comes in order to bring an end to exile (inaugurating God's own kingdom) and to bring about the fullness of the Abrahamic promises  (blessings to all nations).

How exactly this unfolds in Matthew is something I hope to keep working on...

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Sermon in Matthew’s Genealogy (Mt 1:18–25)

Matthew’s genealogy contains fathers with the addition of four mothers (five if we include Mary) which I began discussing last post. The commentaries do not have a satisfactory explanation. 
The problem is that commentators tend to be looking for what’s wrong or ‘irregular’ about these women (or what’s positive about them; or what’s in common with them). But whilst, yes, there are Gentile associations the women are not clearly all Gentiles – and yes, there is some sexual ‘misconduct’ but Bathsheba herself is powerless to stop David ‘taking’ her

So previously I suggested that the theme for all five cases was the tradition’s complete refusal to shame the women due to their belonging to (and clinging to) the Messianic line, since the promised anointed one himself (Messiah Jesus) takes on (and takes away) shame according to Matthew. 

But this is only half correct, or I should say, this is only half the story. 

As the four preceding mothers in the genealogy are really references to four short Bible stories, it is necessary to examine each story. Scholars have often wondered what links all four women, at the expense of seeing the links between all four ‘ancestral dramas’, and how they pre-empt aspects in the fifth story about Joseph and his wife Mary.

I’ll translate Mt 1:18–25 and then discuss the story links:
Mt 1:18-25

The genesis of the Messiah happened like this (that is, how he became adopted 'son of David'):
Mary his mother being promised to Joseph but prior to coming to live with him was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband being a righteous man and not wanting to shame her publicly planned to divorce her privately.
But when he had decided on this behold an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to him saying, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take home Mary as your wife because her child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”
This all happened for the scripture to be fulfilled, spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Behold the virgin will be pregnant and she will give birth to a son and they will call his name Emanuel which translates as "God is with us".’
When Joseph awoke from his sleep he did just as it was commanded to him by the angle of the Lord and he took home Mary as his wife, and he was not intimate with her before such time as she gave birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.

Some notes (mainly from Keener’s commentary):
- Joseph would be required to divorce Mary because Jewish law, Greek law, and Roman law “all demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery.” To not divorce her “would violate law and custom.”
-Joseph must take on even more shame: adultery also put the betrothed husband to shame but Joseph’s decision to accept Mary’s pregnancy now means people would assume he is the father who got her pregnant (no outsider’s are privy to Joseph’s dream). And if he tried to explain his compassion this would be seen as weakness: “Mediterranean society viewed with contempt the weakness of a man who let his love for his wife outweigh his appropriate honor in repudiating her.”
-Joseph by abstaining from sex with Mary forfeits any right to ever make a claim against Mary’s pending virginity, that is, he is accepting her as she is without requiring proof.
According to Basser this abstinence was commanded by the angle of the Lord, which seems a very fair assessment of the story since Joseph is said to have done just as the angel commanded him.

Now let’s review all five stories...
1st Story: Judah and Tamar
2nd Story: Joshua’s Spies and Rahab
3rd Story: Boaz and Ruth
4th Story: David and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba)
5th Story: Joseph and Mary

Some of the earlier stories were already linked (pre-Matthew): so for example, Rahab’s and Ruth’s stories are clearly conversion stories (stories 3 and 4) - both women express eagerness to convert to the God of Israel (Ruth swears an oath of allegiance to Naomi’s God; Rahab displays belief in the story of the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt by “the LORD God” who is “God on heaven and earth.”  

Tamar’s and Ruth’s stories (1 and 3) both require a man to continue (honor the name and inheritance of) a woman’s deceased husband’s line by marrying the widow. (Gen 38:8; Ruth 4:9–10). Note that the elders in Ruth 4:12 say “And may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Also in both stories it is not the parents who name the respective sons (the midwife name’s Tamar’s son; the women neighbours name Ruth’s son).

Stories 1, 2, and 4 are all linked through the ‘trickster’ theme (prevalent throughout Genesis to explain how the blessed line or ‘seed’ passes to the younger son rather than to the eldest son). Thus Tamar tricks Judah; Rahab tricks the King (of Jericho) to save her enemies (who in turn save her family); Bathsheba uses Nathan’s words to trick the elderly David into giving her son Solomon the throne (instead of his eldest son, Adonijah) when David is mentally and physically feeble (compare when Rebekah helped Jacob trick an elderly Isaac).
Stories 1 and 3 are single story units, whereas stories 2 and 4 are two-part stories (with other events narrated in between) and both begin during a war.

Now there is something that links all five stories, but before I noticed it I first noticed a chiastic (inverted) structure for the set of five (though it is perhaps more ‘inverted’ than ‘chiastic’):

Story 1: Judah and Tamar
Story 5: Joseph and Mary
Judah discovers (when it becomes public knowledge) that Tamar is pregnant (father unknown)
Joseph discovers (when it becomes public knowledge) that Mary is pregnant (father unknown)
Tamar at risk of public shaming and at risk for her life (for her ‘sin’ of illicit sex)
Mary at risk for public shaming and possibly for her life (for her ‘sin’ of adultery)
Judah at first acts self-righteously / hypocritically
Joseph at first acts rightly/righteously (according to the law)
by promising Tamar a third marriage (sending her back to her father’s house indefinitely as a widow)
by deciding to send her away (to remain living in her father’s house as a divorced woman)

by calling her to public trial to condemn her act (of prostitution) yet without really intending to listen to her story
by not calling her to public trial to condemn her act (of adultery) yet without really intending to listen to her story
Judah then is confronted with the truth (by Tamar) and confesses that “she [Tamar] is in the right, more than I, since I refused to give her to my son” (Gen 38:26)

Joseph is then confronted with the truth (by God in a dream) and his actions prove that he truly is “a righteous man” (Mt 1:19) …

Judah begins to act more rightly/righteously:

Joseph immediately obeys a direct command (from God in a dream)
Judah has no more sex with her (but presumably provides a home for her and his sons?)

Joseph takes Mary home as his wife but has no sex with her (before the birth);

Tamar gives birth to twins, becoming a mother of the Messianic line
Mary gives birth to a son, the Messiah

Several interesting contrasts and parallels emerge, allowing for the fact that some may be purely coincidental. But note especially the concluding verses:
 “and he was not again intimate with her. Now when she gave birth…” (Gen 38:36b–37a)
“and he was not intimate with her before she gave birth to a son…” (Mt 1:25)

Similarly there are parallels between stories 2 and 4:
Story 2: Joshua’s Spies and Rahab
Story 4: David and the wife of Uriah / Bathsheba
A woman is living in a house without a husband (Rahab supports herself by prostitution);
A woman is living in a house without a husband (Uriah’s wife is left home while her husband is at war);
she risks her life by attempting to hide the presence of enemy spies (from being public knowledge)
she tries to hide her pregnancy (from being public knowledge) / later she risks her life by siding against David’s eldest son
she tricks/outwits the king (by her own words)
she tricks/outwits the king (by using Nathan’s words)
she successfully negotiates a deal to save her family
she successfully negotiates a deal to get her son on the throne
becomes a mother of the Messianic line
becomes a mother of the Messianic line

Whilst these links are all interesting, the ‘moral’ of these stories (or the ‘point’) according to Matthew must be simpler…

Readers will find the best interpretative key/theme for all five stories within each of the ‘pivotal’ story-moments, and each pivotal moment hinges on the male characters’ consideration of right action:

Story 1: Judah’s treatment of Tamar suddenly changes when he realises he is the father of her child. He finds his compassion through contrition. He suddenly can see that his treatment of Tamar had been wrong which enables him to bestow her with righteousness: “it is she who is right, over me” (Gen 38:26).

Story 2: The spies believe they are called to destroy Rahab’s city and everyone in it. But when they receive unexpected compassion from Rahab, and when they find themselves listening to someone who speaks like a true child of Israel, their perspective changes. They then act differently by taking into account what Rahab has shown (taught?) them: compassion. By kindly saving her they are acting toward Rahab and her family as though she and her family were righteous.

Story 3: When Boaz first meets a young foreign widow he acts with compassion. Ruth immediately “finds favour in his [Boaz’s] eyes” (Ruth 2:3–13). And when Ruth basically throws herself at him one night while he is sleeping…again he chooses to perceive her actions favourably as something due to her extreme loyalty (rather than judge her). In other words he acts rightly by acting with compassion which humbly bestows righteousness on her (‘the other’). Boaz immediately makes plans to act beneficially for Ruth (she still spends the night but they remain chaste and Boaz protects her from public shame by sending her home just before dawn). Boaz only marries her after going to the rightful ‘kinsman redeemer’ (who refuses to marry Ruth).

Story 4: The wife of Uriah is portrayed as the blameless victim (thus already righteous). David is confronted with his own wrongful actions (for forcibly taking Uriah’s wife and killing Uriah) and he confesses his sin, which is explicitly named as having acting without compassion (2 Sam 12:6, 13). But it is too late for him to rectify it, and his kingdom suffers the same kind of corruption sown by David. In the second part of the story when David is old and frail the passive wife he ‘stole’ now takes this opportunity to get the throne for her son.

Story 5: Joseph only truly acts rightly when he accepts the state of Mary as being ‘divinely so’, and by letting go of his preconceived notions of righteousness and by accepting and including Mary’s ‘shame’ within himself.

So all five stories are about men being challenged concerning what it means for them to act rightly; each story teaches them something about acting with compassion. Also seeing ‘the other’ (the female) as righteous required humility from the men. 

According to Matthew the ‘sermon in the genealogy’ teaches about the necessary ‘conversion’ (or transformation) underway concerning what it means for men to act with righteousness and/or perceive ‘the other’ as righteous. The sermon teaches both on an individual level (for the male characters and to the male readers) as well as on the level of the ‘people group’ that is, concerning the true people of God. As is common elsewhere ‘Israel’ (or the true ‘people of God’) is portrayed as ‘young woman’.

So Tamar (like Israel) is bestowed righteousness through eyes of compassion. Like God’s people, Rahab is treated as righteous and she receives compassion because she acts with compassion. Ruth is transformed into a new bride, pure and holy because of a compassionate ‘redeemer’. Bathsheba is regarded as blameless and her powerlessness to refuse David eventually brings a power reversal. Mary’s ‘shame’ becomes her honor.

Right action, like righteousness itself, comes as a divine gift, arising from compassion.

Notes on the Messiah’s Wholly Miraculous Conception

I see four main reasons for the assertion that the Messiah’s conception was wholly miraculous. 

Firstly, Matthew’s genealogy supposes that the final birth (Jesus) is like the first birth (Isaac), that is, both are fulfilled promises and miraculous.

Secondly, Mary’s miraculous conception was already hinted to the writer by Gen 38:36b–37 (see above) but even more so by Gen 3:15 (about ‘the seed of the woman’ who will overcome the serpent; this verse is already treated as Messianic in the LXX/Greek version). Matthew’s Jesus does refer to the early chapters of Genesis (Gen 1:27 and/or Gen 5:2) when debating on whether men should divorce women (Mt 19:2–11), so it seems to me to be a viable choice for Matthew to have also considered Gen 3:15 as text that might imply a miraculous conception. Matthew prefers to quote Isa 7:14 (rather than Gen3:15) because Isa 7:14 also provided an important name for Jesus, Emmanuel (“God With Us”) which is theologically laden with significance for the whole of Matthew.

A third reason is summarised by Herman C. Waetjen, “The Genealogy as the Key to the Gospel According to Matthew,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Jun., 1976): 205-230:


A fourth reason is that Matthew seems to have known the Gospel of Mark (which displays ignorance of who Jesus’ father was) and Matthew cannot leave such questions (rumors) unanswered. 

These seem, to me, to be the main reasons for Matthew’s assertion that the Messiah was holy conceived, and wholly adopted.