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.