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The Visitors of the Infant Jesus

I am working through Ben C. Smith’s Synoptic Project page and Mahlon H. Smith’s Hyper-Synopsis. In Nativity plays, we see shepherds and “three wise men” visit together, which harmonizes Luke 2:8-20 and Matthew 2:1-12 (here, here). The infancy stories conclude in Luke 2:21-40 and Matthew 2:13-23 (here, here, here, here, here, here, here). We can start with a quick summary.

Luke’s story: the shepherds, the angelic announcement about a “savior” and “Christ [the] Lord” in the city of David, the angels glorifying God and either wishing peace among people who are favoured/well-pleasing or peace plus favour/good-will to people (cf. text-critical debate over the genitive eudokias or nominative eudokia), the self-reflection of Mary after the report of the shepherds, the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the purification rite at the temple, and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna (Lukan pair, themes about salvation or redemption, division within Israel, revelation to the nations).

Matthew’s story: the unnumbered magoi (political advisers adept in magical practices and consulting astrology, dreams, oracles) from the East (Persia? Arabia?), the star (cf. Numbers 24:17-19 was an oracle about David read messianically), the inquiry about the birthplace of the newborn king, the magi’s obeisance (proskuneō) to and gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh) for the king, the slaughter of the infants as recapitulating the tragedy of the exile (cf. Jeremiah 31:15), the escape to Egypt, and the return to Nazareth (was the prophecy a reference to the Hebrew nētser or “branch” in Isaiah 11:1?) in Galilee when Herod Archelaus was ethnarch of Judaea.

  • Interesting Agreements: dating before the death of Herod “the Great” in 4 BCE (cf. Luke 1:5), Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, “great joy” in the accusative case (charan megalēn), and “Nazareth” (spelled Nazaret in Matthew 2:23 and Nazareth in Luke 2:39, 1:26; 2:4, 51; Acts 10:38; Matthew 21:11) which is described as a “town” (polis).
  • Since Matthew has magi and Luke shepherds, perhaps the former visited much later as Jesus was circumcised eight days after the shepherds visited (Luke 2:21), Joseph’s temporary lodgings in Luke may have been replaced by a more permanent “house” (oikia) in Matthew, and Herod orders the death of those up to two years old. A difficulty with this chronology may be that the family is still living in Bethlehem in Matthew while Luke 2:39 seems to imply that they returned to Nazareth in Galilee after the purification rites at the temple 40 days after Jesus’s birth. Luke either skipped over or fast-forwarded their extended stay in Bethlehem, escape from Herod, and time in Egypt or did not know about these events.
  • The question of Matthew’s and Luke’s literary (in)dependence revolves around why they did not report the other’s stories. Would shepherds appeal to Matthew given the imagery of Jesus as a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; 25:32; 26:31) and concern for the poor (e.g. Matthew 5:42; 6:2-4; 19:21; 25:31-46)? Since Matthew brackets the Gospel with foreigners worshiping Jesus and the command to make disciples of all nations (28:16-20), would this example of moving beyond the borders of Israel appeal to Luke, though I get Mark Goodacre’s counterargument that a magos is a negative figure in Luke-Acts (cf. Acts 13:6-11; cf. 8:9-11; 19:19). Perhaps it is speculative to try to discern the motive of why Luke would exclude “M” material or Matthew “L” material if we accept that they had a literary relationship on other grounds?
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