Matthew 2: 1-12
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.
Here is a story with an exotic color. Wise astrologers, called magi, who came from the East, i.e. from Arabia, arrived in Jerusalem because they saw a new star rising, sign of the birth of a king among the Jews. Their arrival puts King Herod and all Jerusalem in turmoil. After consulting the chief priests and scribes about what the Scripture says about the Messiah's birthplace, Herod secretly sends the Magi to Bethlehem to investigate and report the information, under the pretext of paying homage to him as well. As the magi set out on their journey, the star precedes them and stops over the child's residence. It is an extreme joy for the Magi. When they enter the house and see the child with his mother, they bow down before the child and open their presents in the form of a box with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then, warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another route.
The whole story bears the mark of Matthew's vocabulary. This does not mean, however, that he invented this story, but he repeated it in his own words. What is this vocabulary? "behold" (idou), "from Orient" (apo anatolōn), "to arrive" (paraginomai), "saying" (legontos), "to come" (erchomai), "to prostrate" (proskyneō), which must be interpreted as a gesture of faith when applied to Jesus, "to listen" (akouō), "to gather" (synagō), "anointed/messiah/christ" (christos), "to come out" (exerchomai), "then" (tote), "to appear, to shine" (phainō), "to go" (poreuō), "to inquire, to examine" (exetazō), "to find" (heuriskō), "to report" (apangellō), "so that" (hopōs), "until" (heōs), "to stand" (histēmi), "over" (epanō), "great" (megas), "extremely" (sphodra), "to fall" (piptō), "to open" (anoigō), "treasure" (thēsauros), "gift" (dōron) which must be interpreted as an offering to the temple, "gold" (chrysos) which, according to Isaiah, kings of Arabia would bring for the consruction of the temple, "road" (hodos), "to withdraw" (anachōreō).
Structure and composition
The structure of the narrative is based on a form of duality. First of all, there is the duality of reactions to the event of Jesus' birth: on the one hand, there are the Magi, representing the Gentiles, who welcome the event with joy and travel to pay homage; on the other hand, there is Herod and all Jerusalem, representing the Jews, for whom the event arouses consternation and sets in motion the desire to suppress him.
There is also the duality about the source of revelation about Jesus. On the one hand, there is the Jewish Scripture which announces the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. On the other hand, there is the nature represented by the star, which is also a form of revelation about the date and place of the Messiah's birth.
When we place the Magi's story in the context of the infancy narrative as a whole, we see that its role is to answer the question: Where did Jesus come from? How is he a son of Abraham?
How did Matthew compose this story? He had two traditions before his eyes: The first one contained the figure of Joseph and King Herod, inspired by the old testamentary figure of the patriarch Joseph and the young Moses and his quarrel with the Pharon; the second, based on the oracle of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, contained the figure of the Magi on the march because of the appearance of a new star, associated with the birth of an important person, and once in Judea this star will guide them to the home of the child-king to whom they will pay homage. Matthew has merged these two stories into a coherent story, adding references to Scripture, either directly (Micah 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2: birth in Bethlehem of a new shepherd) or indirectly (Is 60:6 and Ps 72:10-11: gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh).
Intention of the author
It should be remembered that Christians of Jewish origin were probably in the majority in Matthew's community, but there was also a significant group of pagan origin, and throughout the history of this community in the first century tensions can be seen. So the account of the Magi consolidates the place of Christians of pagan origin: the account of the Magi anticipated their coming to the faith. There are several paths to walk towards the Messiah, and one of these paths was based on the astrological science of the time, and therefore there was not only the path of Scripture. Moreover, the Jewish authorities who knew Scripture did not open themselves to the good news, they even became adversaries. For the Christians of Jewish origin in the community, they could see in it a reflection of the present situation, when they had just been excluded from the synagogue by their Jewish colleagues; thus the present situation had already been anticipated in the time of Jesus as a child.
Matthew's catechesis is in fact addressed to Christians of both Jewish and non-Jewish origin. On the one hand, it justifies his Messiahship by his birth in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David, from where the Messiah would come according to the prophet. And on the other hand, the presence of all these pagan Christians in the community actualizes what the prophets of old foresaw for the end of time when they visualized the arrival in Jerusalem of these pagan kings of Arabia to celebrate the salvation offered by the God of Israel by bringing their most precious gift for worship; the new worship is now the risen Christ. And in this Jesus is the son of Abraham in whom the nations of the earth will be blessed.
The Magi's account also anticipates Matthew's understanding of the Christian mission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...". (Mt 28:19).
Iēsous (Jesus) is the name attributed to the central personality of the Gospels. It comes from the Hebrew, in the form יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ou יְהוֹשׁוּעַ (yĕhôšûaʿ), the name that Joshua had in the Old Testament. It means: Yahveh saves. Obviously, the word is extremely frequent throughout the New Testament, with about 873 occurrences depending on the versions used, being present in all the books that make it up. It is the same among the evangelists: Mt = 152; Mk = 82; Lk = 88; Jn = 243; Acts = 69; 1Jn = 12; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0. The fourth gospel largely dominates these statistics: because of the number of dialogues it contains, it is understandable that it must constantly be named explicitly.
In the gospels, the name Iēsous appears almost always in the narrator's pen. But there are a few exceptions where it is put in someone else's mouth: Mt = 7; Mk = 5; Lk = 6; Jn = 7. Let's summarize these occurrences.
Let's make a few points.
Starting with the first Christian generations, the name "Jesus" will almost always be accompanied by the title of Christ (i.e. anointed or messiah) and Lord, so that the so-called Pauline epistles use the expressions: Christ Jesus or the Lord Jesus, or our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Mark begins like this: "Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God", and that of Matthew: "Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham"; and in the Prologue of John (1:17) we find the expression: "For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ". The name "Jesus" refers to the historical being, and in faith it refers to the one who has risen, or who has been made Christ and Lord.
There are a number of exceptions to what has just been said. But very often the use of the name "Jesus" without the qualifiers of Christ or Lord outside the Gospels comes from a context in which reference is made to his earthly life, in particular his suffering and death, and all the testimony he gave while he was among us, or again when reference is made to the non-believer. For example:
Here in v. 1 the name "Jesus", as in the six occurrences of the infancy narrative, appears only in the pen of the narrator. Moreover, of the six occurrences of the name, there are two occurrences where the name is accompanied by the title "Christ" (1:1 in the introduction to the gospel and 1:18, which is a kind of introduction to the infancy narrative), which was the title by which Jesus was known and named by the first Christian communities. In the other four instances where his name is mentioned without any title, the sentence always refers to his birth, i.e. to the baby who is born and given a name. Note that while the Gospels echo the fact that Jesus was often called "Jesus of Nazareth", there is no mention of "Jesus of Bethlehem".
|Noun Iēsous in the New Testament|
|gennēthentos (having been begotten)||
The verb gennēthentos is the aorist participle of gennaō, genitive masculine singular, and it means: to generate, to produce, to grow. It may seem frequent: Mt = 45; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 18; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 10; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But these statistics are a bit misleading. For example, Matthew uses this verb 45 times, but of those 45 occurrences, 40 are used to describe Jesus' genealogy, leaving five occurrences for the rest of his gospel. It is therefore in the Johannine tradition that this verb is used most often, a total of 28 times. But out of this total, seventeen occurrences have a spiritual meaning, linked to the new being created by the Spirit of God (for example, Jn 3:3: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born (gennaō) from above, no one can see the Kingdom of God.".
It is worth mentioning that there is another verb in Greek to translate "to give birth" and that we will see in verse 2: tiktō. While both verbs can be used for the birth of a being, gennaō has a much more generic sense of producing a reality, so that it can be understood as a spiritual reality that comes into existence, as we see abundantly in John, and the subject can be both man and woman, and even God (for example, Hebrews 1:5: "For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you (gennaō)'? And again: "I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me". On the other hand, tiktō (giving birth) refers to the physical act of procreation, and the subject is always a woman.
Here, the structure of the sentence with gennaō is an absolute genitive and should be translated as: Jesus having been begotten. Such a typical Greek structure at the beginning of a sentence serves to give the setting of the story that is about to be told: everything will be centered around this birth. In addition, our sentence also contains the Greek particle de (then, now) and the verb idou (behold). All this creates a link with what precedes to announce a new development. What precedes v. 1? The angel has just announced to Joseph that the child who has been begotten comes from the Holy Spirit, which leads Joseph to accept this child. Our story will develop what this birth means.
|Verb gennaō in the Gospels-Acts|
Bēthleem is the Greek translation of the Hebrew bêyt leḥem, the name of a town about seven kilometers south of Jerusalem (see map). The Hebrew name is made up of two words: bêyt (house) and leḥem (bread), meaning house of bread. In the New Testament, this city appears only in the infancy narrative of Matthew and Luke, with the exception of one verse in John: Mt = 5; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
The name is well known in the Old Testament. But let us first point out that there are two cities with this name, Bethlehem in Judea and Bethlehem in Zebulun (Jos 19:15; Jg 12:8), northwest of Nazareth. The translators of the Septuagint give us two ways of translating the Hebrew name into Greek: there is the translation also found in the New Testament, Bēthleem (15 occurrences), and there is that of Baithleem (25 occurrences); this choice seems to depend on the translator's preference.
Bethlehem in Judea is familiar to us in the Old Testament because of David, a young shepherd from that town, the youngest of the sons of Jesse, who is to receive the royal anointing from the hands of Samuel at the request of Yahweh (1 Samuel 16:1). The city will be destroyed with the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC, but the prophet Micah restores hope by announcing that one day from Bethlehem "there will come forth an offspring to be a prince of Israel" (5:1). Thus, in the midst of the first Christian generations, the city of Bethlehem was seen as the place where the Messiah was to be born. This is implied in Matthew 2:4-5 ("Herod began to inquire where the Messiah was to be born. He was told, 'In Bethlehem of Judea'") and John 7:42 ("Did not the Scripture say that Christ must come from the descendants of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David was").
For Luke and Matthew, Bethlehem would be the place where Jesus was born. However, a critical analysis of the childhood accounts does not allow us to conclude the historical value of such a statement for the following reasons (on this subject see Brown):
What does this mean? Childhood stories should be read not as a biography of Jesus, but as a theological account. What is affirmed in bringing Jesus to Bethlehem for this birth? Jesus is the Messiah whom Yahweh promised to his people, and of whom the prophet Micah speaks when he saw him come from the city of David, Bethlehem, and belong to David's descendants. Thus, to Luke and Matthew, Jesus is of David's descent, he is the Messiah, and therefore he is that promised Messiah who was to be born in Bethlehem.
Today the church of the nativity in Bethlehem was built by Emperor Constantine (4th c.) above a cave (probably referring only to Luke's account where the parents could not find a place to stay and the proximity of the shepherds), enhanced by Emperor Justinian (6th c.) to which the Crusaders added the decoration of mosaics and sculptures (12th c.).
|Noun Bēthleem in the Bible|
Ioudaias is the noun Ioudaia with the singular feminine genitive and means: Judea. It is not very frequent in the New Testament and appears only in the Gospel-Acts, except for four occurrences in Paul: Mt = 8; Mk = 4; Lk = 10; Jn = 7; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. At the time of Jesus, it designates the region that constitutes the southern part of Palestine, and distinguishes it from Samaria in the center and Galilee in the north (see map of Palestine). This is the definition found in all the evangelists and Paul, with the exception of Luke, where the term sometimes designates the entire territory of the Jews, i.e. Palestine (a usage probably widespread in the Roman world) and sometimes this region of southern Palestine.
Southern region of Palestine
All of Palestine
Here, in v. 1, Ioudaia refers very clearly to this southern part of Palestine, a mountainous region, and where Bethlehem is located. In the Old Testament, the mention of "Bethlehem of Judea" is a way of distinguishing it from the other city of Bethlehem in the north, in the territory of Zebulun. But in Matthew's time this other Bethlehem no longer gives any sign of life and it is probably not for this reason that he uses the expression "Bethlehem of Judea". As he tells the story of the birth of the "King of the Jews", it seems important to him to insist that Jesus was born in the Jewish territory par excellence, Judea. He seems to do the same thing with John the Baptist, as he takes up a text from Mark about the beginning of his ministry, but adds to it the mention that the desert where John the Baptist preached was in Judea:
|The noun Ioudaia in the Gospels-Acts|
Hēmerais is the noun hēmera in the plural dative which agrees with the preposition en (in, to). The expression en hēmerais Hērōdou literally means: in Herod's days, and is usually translated as: in Herod's time or era. The name hēmera is very common in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 42; Mk = 25; Lk = 80; Jn = 30; Acts = 88; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, especially in Luke who uses it extensively.
Like the noun "day" in English, the Greek word hēmera is used to translate various realities.
Here, in v. 1 Matthew uses an expression ("in the days of") frequently used in Greek to give the date of an event, in this case that of the birth of Jesus.
|Le noun hēmera in the Gospels-Acts|
Hērōdou is the genitif singular of the noun Hērōdēs (Herod). It is the complement of the name "days". This noun is found only in the Gospel-Acts throughout the Bible: Mt = 13; Mk = 8; Lk = 14; Jn = 0; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
Which Herod is it, since we are in front of a large family whose family tree is shown below?
(In this genealogy, we note characters who are mentioned in the New Testament:
Here, in v. 1, we are dealing with Herod the Great, born in Ascalon around 73 BC to an Idumean father and a Nabataean mother. He was a great collaborator of the Romans. Appointed governor of Galilee in 47 BC, he became in 37 BC king of Judea, and after 31 BC, king of an area that included Samaria, Galilee and some Hellenic cities. He was a great builder: he had the fortress Antionia built adjacent to the temple, had the temple of Jerusalem embellished, had the palaces and fortresses of Herodium built for him near Bethlehem, Jericho, Jerusalem (which later became the temporary residence of Roman procurators visiting Jerusalem and where Jesus was tried) and Masada.
Herod the Great was also known for his cruelty. He killed Hyrcan, grandfather of his wife Marianne I, under suspicion of conspiracy, drowned his brother Jonathan in a swimming pool in Jericho, then had his wife Mariamne I and her alleged lover, a man named Joseph, husband of his sister, also had his sons Alexander and Aristobulus strangled, and then had his son Antipater killed before he died.
Herod the Great is of particular interest to us because it allows us to determine Jesus' date of birth. Indeed, according to Matthew 2: 16 Herod had children under the age of two killed, based on what he had been told about the age of Jesus. However, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (Jewish Antiquities vi 4: #167 and ix 3: #213), Herod the Great would have died after an eclipse of the moon and before the Passover, which brings us to the year 750 of the foundation of Rome or the year 4 before the Christian era, more precisely in March/April of the year -4 (the eclipse took place during the night of March 12 to 13, one month before the Passover). It is thus in the year 6 BC that Jesus would have been born, which agrees with a remark of Lk 3:23 which, after introducing the ministry of Jesus with the mention of the year 15 of the government of Tiberius Caesar, i.e.. a period extending from October of 27 to October of 28 A.D., writes: "Jesus, at the beginning, was about thirty years old"; at his baptism, Jesus was about 33 or 34 years old, and his ministry would have lasted about two and a half years, until his death in April of 30 AD. It may seem strange that Jesus was born 6 years before the Christian era, but all this comes from an error of Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little) in 533 who, wanting to establish the year 0 of the new calendar by using the date of Herod's death, was mistaken by six years in his calculations.
|The nound hērōdēs in the Bible|
Basileōs is the name basileus in the genitive singular, and matches the name Herod to which it is in apposition. It returns regularly in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 23; Mk = 12; Lk = 11; Jn = 16; Acts = 20; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
Matthew is the one who most often refers to kings, and very often these references are specific to him (15 occurrences out of 23). Of course, the infancy narrative around King Herod has something to do with it. But the reference to kings is put in the mouth of Jesus with the governors to talk about those who dominate the world, and especially in the parables that are proper to him where a king wants to settle his accounts, and especially in the parable of the Last Judgment where Jesus, in the guise of a king, chooses those who will be the blessed of the Father and will share his kingdom. One can be surprised by this strong presence of the image of the king in a world where the Roman Empire imposed its authority, a military empire. Beyond the fact that the emperor stationed vassal kings here and there, as did Herod, the Jewish people longed for royalty, especially for David, who represented one of the figures of the messiah, and often it was in the guise of a king that God was portrayed as caring for his people. No wonder that Jesus was condemned by Pilate with the title "King of the Jews".
What does this king mean to Matthew? He is of course the enemy of the child king Jesus. But he also symbolizes all earthly powers that oppose God's plan, just as Pharaoh, King of Egypt, attacked the child Moses to oppose Yahweh's plan to free his people.
|Noun basileus in the Gospels-Acts|
Idou is the verb horaō (to see) in the aorist of the active imperative, 2nd person singular. It translates literally: behold. The expression "behold" is very frequent in Matthew and Luke: Mt = 62; Mk = 7; Lk = 57; Jn = 4; Acts = 23; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is used to introduce an event or a character. Matthew loves to use it and is the one who uses it the most. Among the 62 occurrences of his gospel, 43 are his own (not a reprise of Mark or Document Q). He thus allows himself to add it several times to the text he receives from Mark. For example:
It should also be pointed out that idou is part here in v. 1 of a sentence that begins with an absolute genitive, as we mentioned earlier in our analysis of the verb "to beget", and this sentence translates literally: "Jesus having been begotten, behold". Why underline it? This is a typical lexical structure of Matthew: it comes up 10 times in his gospel. We see it as confirmation that the same hand wrote the infancy narrative and the rest of the gospel.
|The expression idou in the Gospels|
Magoi is the noun magos in the plural masculine nominative form. It is usually translated by: mage. In Greek, there are two other related words: the noun mageia (magic, spell) and the verb mageuō (to practice magic).
But what is a mage? We will refer to Brown's analysis. In the Gospels, only Matthew and Luke in his Acts mention them: Mt = 4; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In Matthew, the word appears only in this scene of his infancy narrative. In the Acts, three figures are presented.
What portrait of the mage is drawn from it? We must be careful here with the translation of "magician" proposed by many translators. In the modern sense, a "magician" has a very specific profession related to prestidigitation. In antiquity, the activity is much broader. Let us take for example Bar-Jesus of which Luke speaks. The title "so-called prophet" suggests that he had the gift of divination, just as today some people use the Tarot deck to predict someone's future. The three figures proposed by Luke point to someone whose abilities mystified people and specialized in the occult sciences.
In the Old Testament, only the book of Daniel speaks of the Magi. The Septuagint translated by magos the Hebrew term ʾašāp (magician, necromancer, astrologer, medium, diviner). Let us consider a passage from the book of Daniel:
(LXX) And the king cried aloud to bring in the magi (magos), Chaldeans, and soothsayers; and he said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and make known to me the interpretation, shall be clothed with scarlet, and there shall be a golden chain upon his neck, and he shall be the third ruler in my kingdom (Dan 5: 7)
We are at the court of the king of Babylon, Baltasar, and the king is confronted with an extraordinary phenomenon, human fingers writing on the wall. Shaken, he asks "specialists" what is meant by what has been written. The author of the book of Daniel puts in the same group the Magi, the Chaldeans, the sorcerers and the wise men. Note that the term Chaldean refers to a people who had a solid reputation in astrology. They are entrusted here with the task of interpreting something mysterious, which is a matter of the occult sciences. Earlier in the book of Daniel, they had been asked to interpret the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar. In this regard, Daniel proved to be better than all these people. What can we conclude? If Daniel appears to be a "super wizard" who is able to decipher dreams and strange phenomena, this title can have a positive meaning; moreover in Dan 5:7 we speak of "wise man". In short, the mage is a specialist in the occult sciences, and if he is sometimes associated with a charlatan, he can also appear as a sage who possesses the key to understanding things out of the ordinary.
Let us return to Matthew and his magi. The evangelist associates them with astrologers, specialists in the interpretation of the movement of the stars. This corresponds to the great definition of people devoted to the occult sciences. As they are not Jews, they will become the representatives of the Gentiles or pagans. And just as Matthew values the dream as the place of God's revelation, he also values nature as the place of revelation, and therefore these astrologers who interpret it.
|Noun magos in the Bible|
Anatolōn is the noun anatolē in the plural feminine genitive form; the genitive is required by the preposition apo (starting from). The word means: the rising, the east, the Orient, and is very infrequent in the New Testament, and in fact appears only in Matthew and Luke (the occurrence in Mark belongs to an addition which is of another pen than that of the evangelist): Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
We have here the expression apo anatolōn where anatolōn is a plural, probably implying: (regions) of the Orient, and thus literally means: from the Eastern regions. The expression is quite Matthean, as it is found in 24:27: "For as the lightning comes forth from (the regions) of the east shines to (the regions) of the west, so shall be the manifestation of the Son of Man".
But the expression has above all a symbolic value in Matthew. For it fulfils in part what Jesus will later say and what the Document Q has passed on to us, which Matthew and Luke take up in their own way:
Let us recall the context of Mt 8:11, which is that of the request of the centurion, a non-Jew, who prays to Jesus to heal his son and who will astonish Jesus with his very great faith. It is therefore the proclamation that the non-Jews, and therefore of the Gentiles, will join the Christian community.
One can consult Brown who summarizes the speculations of the biblical scholars on the region or the country where the tradition placed the origin of the Magi who came to pay homage to Jesus.
|Noun anatolē in the New Testament|
|paregenonto (they arrived)||
Paregenonto is the verb paraginomai in the middle aorist tense of the indicative, 3rd person plural. It is a verb formed with the preposition para (next to) and ginomai (to become, to come into existence). It literally means: to come into existence next to a person and a thing, hence the usual translation: to arrive, to present oneself. In the New Testament it is not very frequent except in Luke: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 8; Jn = 2; Acts = 20; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
However, even if there are only three occurrences in Matthew, it is nevertheless a word that belongs to his vocabulary, because the three occurrences are his own. There is of course the presence of the verb in his infancy narrative. But the two other occurrences appear in passages that he borrows from Mark, but to which he adds the verb paraginomai. Let's take a closer look:
These two examples illustrate the two possible uses of the verb paraginomai: 1) the absolute use with only one subject and no direction of movement ("arrives John the Baptist"), and 2) the use where one indicates where one comes from or where one is going ("arrives Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan").
Here, in v. 1, paraginomai intends to present the entrance of the Magi on the scene and is accompanied by the place from which they come (from the east), and the place to which they are going: Jerusalem.
|Verb paraginomai in the New Testament|
Hierosolyma is the plural neuter accusative form of the noun Hierosolyma (Jerusalem). It should be immediately noted that in the New Testament, and in the Gospel-Acts in particular, there are two ways in Greek to designate Jerusalem: first there is Hierosolyma, the Hellenized form of the holy city as here: Mt = 10; Mk = 10; Lk = 4; Jn = 12; Acts = 21; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; and there is Ierousalēm, the Semitic form: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 27; Jn = 0; Acts = 37; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Matthew prefers Hierosolyma (both occurrences of Ierousalēm are a copy of Document Q), as do Mark and John, while Luke prefers Ierousalēm.
In the Hebrew Bible, it is mainly the word yĕrûšālayim that is used to designate the city of Jerusalem, while the word yĕrûšĕlem is only used in the book of Daniel and Ezra. In both cases, the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word as Ierousalēm, the Greek word Hierosolyma being used only in the writings of the Hellenistic period, such as the books of the Maccabees.
The city of Jerusalem would have been founded at the beginning of the 3rd millennium by the Canaanites (L. Monloubou - F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec: Desclée - Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 374). It is mentioned in the 19th century before the modern era as one of the cities that rebelled against a pharaoh of the 12th dynasty. It is also mentioned in the letters of El Armarna in the form of Urushalima, a name made up of two words: Uru (foundation) and Shalima (peace, which was also an amorphous deity of peace and prosperity). In the 10th century. David conquers this Canaanite city and makes it the capital of his kingdom. And it was there that Solomon had a temple built for Yahweh and the Ark of the Covenant was transferred to it, so that it became the Holy City. At the time of Herod the Great, Jerusalem looked like a Greek city with wide streets and luxurious monuments. The king enlarged the Temple Esplanade, built the fortress Antonia on the north side of the Temple, and erected his own palace in the west of the city. According to the calculations of the archaeologist Brochi (M. Brochi, The Population of Ancient Jerusalem, RB 82(1975)5-14), the population of Jerusalem at the death of Herod the Great was about 38,500, and it increased to 82,500 at the time of Agrippa I (41-44), so that one could infer a population of 67,000 at the time of Jesus' ministry, assuming a constant and continuous increase.
What does Jerusalem mean to Matthew? As a Jew, it is the city of David who made it the capital of the Jewish world, is the "city of the great king" (Mt 5:37) that is God, for through the Temple, God's dwelling place, he assures his presence. But it is also the city where the Pharisees and the opponents of Jesus are concentrated (Mt 15:1), the city where he will have to suffer and will be condemned (Mt 20:18), the city of a Temple which has lost sight of its mission and whose sellers/buyers he must drive out (Mt 21:10-13).
It is thus in the capital of the Jewish world that the Magi enter in search of the King of the Jews.
|Noun Ierousalēm in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 2 "Where is the king of the newly born Jews?", they asked. "For we saw his star appear in the east, and so we came to bow down to him."
Literally: saying (legontes), Where is the having been born (techtheis) king of the Jews (Ioudaiōn)? For we saw (eidomen) of him the star (astera) at its rising and we are come (ēlthomen) to prostrate (proskynēsai) to him.
Legontes is the verb legō in the present active participle tense, nominative plural masculine form, which is in agreement with the noun "mages". It means: to say. It is the verb most used in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 505; Mk = 290; Lk = 531; Jn = 480; Acts = 234; 1Jn = 5; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0, a total of 2,047 times. The only reason for pausing here is to point out that we have a present participle and a lexical structure that Matthew uses the most among evangelists: Mt = 118; Mk = 37; Lk = 91; Jn = 21; Acts = 60; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. In fact, while our modern languages introduce the content of a word with the symbol ":", or ",", or in the novels "-", the Greek uses the verb "saying" followed by the content of the word, or "saying that". Our Bibles often ignore the verb "saying" and replace it with "," or ":".
Let's give an example:
Having to always use "saying" to introduce the content of a speech or a citation makes the sentence heavier and creates a lot of redundancy. Let's give some examples:
Here, in v. 2, the expression "saying" is used to introduce a question of the Magi. It is surprising that Matthew did not use the verb "to ask" or "to question", since this is the meaning of their words which appears as a question: where is the child who has just been born? Perhaps the answer comes from the fact that the Magi's words are not addressed to anyone, and even if they appear as a question, they are in fact an affirmation of the purpose of their journey and the reason for their presence in Jerusalem.
|Verb legō to the present participle tense in the Gospel-Acts|
|techtheis (having been born)||
Techtheis is the verb tiktō to the passive aorist participle tense, in the nominative masculine singular form. Here the participle is used as a noun preceded by an article, hence our translation: having been born. It is rare throughout the New Testament, and in the Gospels it only appears in infancy narratives, except in John where it refers to a pregnant woman in general. Mt = 4; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In Matthew and Luke, the verb "to give birth" refers only to Jesus, except for one occurrence in Luke where it refers to John the Baptist.
Instead, we had the opportunity to mention the distinction between the verb gennaō (to beget) and the verb tiktō (to give birth), the former having a more generic meaning and being applicable to both men and women, while the latter applies only to women and in their action of bringing someone into the world.
The structure of Matthew's sentence is surprising. For one would have understood a sentence like this one: "Where is the newly born King of the Jews? "or "Where is the child king of the Jews? Beginning with "having been born", Matthew makes a link with the star that has just appeared or risen and which explains the journey of the Magi. Indeed, in the ancient mentality, a cosmic phenomenon was often associated with the birth or death of important people; the appearance of a special star could signify the birth of an important being.
|Verb tiktō in the New Testament|
Ioudaiōn is the adjective ioudaios to the plural masculine genitive form. Here, the adjective is used as a noun and plays the role of the noun complement of the word "king": king of the Jews. The word ioudaios is the Greek transcription of the Hebrew word: yĕhûdî (Jew), a word that is derived from the word yĕhûd (Judea). Thus, the word originally refers to the inhabitants of Judea. But in the New Testament era, "Jew" is no longer linked to the inhabitants of Judea, but refers to an ethnic group found throughout the Mediterranean basin, the Near East and North Africa. In addition to the ethnic group, the word also designates a religious tradition.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the word is infrequent, except in John and the Acts of the Apostles: Mt = 5; Mk = 6; Lk = 4; Jn = 70; Acts = 77; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. If we concentrate on the Synoptics, we note 15 occurrences of the word ioudaios, but of these 15 occurrences, 11 times the word appears in the expression "king of the Jews". And the 11 occurrences of the expression "king of the Jews" all appear in the account of the passion as the reason for condemning Jesus to crucifixion, except here in Mt 2:2, where it is in the mouth of the Magi. All this means that "King of the Jews" would never have been spoken of had it not been for Jesus trial before Pilate and his condemnation to death. Otherwise, the word "Jew" in the synoptics refers to religious customs (Mk 7:3: "ritual ablutions"), to an ethnic group hostile to Christians (Mt 28:15), or to a social and geographical group (Lk 7:3; 23:51).
For John, the word "Jew" takes on a special meaning, for it comes to designate any group hostile to Christians. In the Acts of the Apostles, Jews are portrayed not only from Judea, but also from all over the Mediterranean basin, some open to the Christian message, others hostile. Here, Matthew uses the word "Jew" in a surprising sentence: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews", instead of the usual formula: "Where is the king of the Jews who has just been born? By keeping the expression "king of the Jews" at the end of the sentence, Matthew highlights it: this is what the Magi are looking for, the king of the Jews. Why highlight this title, when Jesus is never presented in his gospel from this angle? And during the Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin, it is his title of Messiah that will be discussed. But this title of Messiah has meaning only for a Jew who has a Messianic expectation. The Magi are Gentiles, pagans for whom the idea of Messiah has no meaning. Moreover, according to the ancient mentality, the appearance of a cosmic phenomenon is linked to the birth of an important figure, and a king is an important figure. Finally, we note the irony: Jesus was condemned by Pilate under pressure from the Jewish authorities as King of the Jews, and it is this King of the Jews that the Magi are looking for.
|The adjective ioudaios in the Gospels-Acts|
Eidomen is the verb horaō (to see) in the active aoristic tense, 1st person plural form. The magi are the subject of the verb.
Like the verb "to see" in English, it is extremely frequent among evangelists, especially Matthew and Luke: Mt = 138; Mk = 67; Lk = 138; Jn = 86; Acts = 95; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2. But in our analysis, we will discard the cases where horaō is used to say "behold" (it plays the role of adverb), i.e. idou and ide, an expression often used by Matthew and Luke. This now gives us the following numbers for horaō: Mt = 72; Mk = 51; Lk = 81; Jn = 63; Acts = 72; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2.
Like the word "to see" in English, horaō can have many different meanings.
Here, in v. 2, horaō refers to seeing something physically. Let's not forget that, as astronomers and astrologers, magi are observers of stars and cosmic phenomena. The same meaning will come back in v. 9 ("and behold the star, which they had seen (horaō) when it rose, preceded them"), in v. 10 ("Seeing (horaō) the star they rejoiced..."). Observing the star will bring them to the house where the child Jesus is. Matthew will use the same verb to describe the fact of having found the child: "When they entered the house, they saw (horaō) the child with Mary his mother...". Everything happens on the level of physical observation. Let's not forget that Matthew staged pagans for whom there is no Scripture, and therefore the starting point of their reflection is the observation of nature, and it is this observation that allows them to "see" the king of the Jews.
|Verb horaō in Matthew (without "behold", i.e. idou, ide)|
Astera is the name astēr to the singular masculine accusative form. It means: star, and the greek root of the word gave us the words: astronomy, astrology, astroppysics, astronaut. It is a rare word in the Gospels, and had it not been for Matthew's account of the Magi, we would only have had this apocalyptic passage from Mark 13:25 ("the stars (astēr) will begin to fall from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken"), a passage that Matthew 24:29 copies.
This passage from Mark can be shocking to today's reader, because it is totally impossible for stars to fall to earth according to the laws of gravity; the stars being bigger than the earth, it is the earth that could fall on the stars, like our sun. It is worth briefly recalling the cosmogony of antiquity.
In the cosmology of the ancients, the universe is divided into two main parts
Gen 1: 1: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth."
The sky represents the world above and the earth represents the world below. The world below is that of the earth, a flat earth supported by immense columns or high mountains; above the earth, very high up, there is a solid, half-spherical vault, which rests at the edge of the horizon, the firmament, which separates the world below from the world above, an inaccessible world.
Let us now look at the world from above. On the celestial vault or firmament, there are first the stars whose course God has traced, first the sun (Ps 19:5-7), then the moon, and finally he has fixed the stars (Gen 1:16) at their present location.
Let's talk about the stars. In the ancient world, more particularly in Mesopotamia, the stars were worshipped as divine (L. Monloubou - F.M. Du But, op. cit., p. 238). But the Bible rejects their divinity and considers them as creatures of God (Gen 1:36). Nevertheless, we see in them animated beings who can intervene in favor of Israel (Jg 5:20: "From heaven the stars have fought, from their paths they have fought Sisera").
Let us return to Matthew's star in his account of the Magi. It was the appearance of a star at its rising that intrigued our magi-astrologists and set them in motion, and this star led them to Bethlehem, and came to rest above the dwelling of the child. There is a consensus among biblical scholars that this story is fictional. But Matthew is an intelligent being and a good theologian. Even if he creates a fictional story, his catechesis must have credible elements to be understood and received by his community. We will refer to R.E. Brown's notes on the subject, which suffice to summarize the main points.
Matthew's community probably accepted the popular belief that cosmic phenomena were linked to the arrival of important people: for example, a star would have guided Aeneas to the place where Rome was to be founded, or the births of Mithridates and Alexander Severus would have been accompanied by the appearance of a new star in the sky. So the reader of Matthew found it normal that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by a cosmic phenomenon.
So the question was asked: was there really a cosmic phenomenon at the time of Jesus to which the reader of Matthew could refer when hearing the account of the Magi? In fact, there is a phenomenon that occurs every 805 years when the planets Saturn and Jupiter pass in front of each other, and at the same time or shortly after, Mars also passes in front of them. Now, it seems that such a phenomenon occurred in the year -7 and would have been mentioned on cuneiform tablets, with the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, and then that of Mars early the following year in the constellation of Pisces in the zodiac. This Pisces constellation was associated with the last days and the Hebrews, while Jupiter was associated with the rulers of the world and Saturn was identified with the star of the Amorites of the Syria-Palestine region. In short, Jesus being born around the year -6, the memory of this cosmic phenomenon around the year -7 and -6 could make plausible the mention of this star which sets in motion these magi-astrologists of the East in search of an important personage who had just been born.
|Noun astēr in the New Testament|
|en tē anatolē (at its rising)||
Anatolē it the noun anatolē to the dative singular form; the dative is requested by the preposition en (to, in, at). We analyzed this word earlier and saw that it means: the rising, the east, the Orient. But in v. 1, the word was in the plural and we suggested that it translated the idea of "regions of the east". Moreover, it was related to the Magi whose origin it specified. But here the word is in the singular and is related to the word "star" which precedes it. What does this mean? Here, the word designates less a region than the location of the star, i.e. the star at the moment it rises. In fact, the noun anatolē has the same root as the verb anatellō which means: to rise, to appear. The magi therefore refer to a star that has just appeared.
|ēlthomen (nous sommes venus)||
Ēlthomen is the verb erchomai to the active aorist tense, 1st person plural form. After legō (to say) and eimi (to be), erchomai (to go, to come) is the most frequent verb in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 113; Mk = 86; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Acts = 50.
In Matthew, it appears almost every ninth verse. This frequency is partly explained by the fact that it is a verb of everyday life and that he copied this verb which appears in his sources. But there is more, since of the 113 occurrences, 51 are specific to him. And, on several occasions, he modifies his source to add erchomai. Here are two examples where we have underlined the addition of this verb in Matthew.
The Magi say they came to Jerusalem because they saw the star at its rising. Note that they do not say: the star guided us here. It is the sight of the star that led them to set out on their journey. But why did they head for Jerusalem? The reader of Matthew could imagine that the star the Magi saw appeared in the constellation of Pisces, which was associated with the Hebrews, and Jerusalem was its capital.
|Verb erchomai in Matthew|
Prosekynēsai is the verb proskyneō to the infinitive active aorist tense. Apart from Matthew, John and Revelation, it is not very frequent in the New Testament, and especially in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 13; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 11; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But even the number of occurrences is deceptive in John, for of the 11 presences of the verb, 9 appear in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman where the place of worship is discussed (proskyneō).
What does this verb mean? Usually it is translated as: to prostrate oneself. In the ancient Eastern world, one would kneel down and touch the ground with his forehead to express his reverence before someone, for example a king or ruler; it is a way of acknowledging his authority and promising obedience. In the religious world, it will be a way of expressing one's reverence to the deity, of worshipping him, which the Latins will express with the word: to adore, worship or venerate. But sometimes, at a less extreme level, the verb can be used to express respect for someone or to greet him respectfully. What about the New Testament?
Let us return to Matthew and what the Magi did. The context is the one in which they express the reason why they left their country to go to Jerusalem. Matthew seems to play on two levels. On the one hand, since the object of the Magi's interest is a king, it is normal that they want to make the usual gesture towards a sovereign, that of getting down on their knees to touch the ground with their foreheads and thus express their reverence. But on the other hand, as we have seen, in Matthew the gesture of prostrating oneself before Jesus always expresses a certain faith in Jesus' lordship. And the listener of Matthew's gospel must have seen in the Magi the first Gentiles to believe in Jesus, an anticipation of all those who would later join the Christian community.
|Textes avec le verbe proskyneō dans le New Testament|
|v. 3 When he heard these words, King Herod was disturbed, as were all the citizens of Jerusalem.
Literally: Then, having heard (akousas), the king Herod was troubled (etarachthē) and all Jerusalem with him.
|akousas (having heard)||
Akousas is the verb akouō in the active aorist participle tense, nominative masculine singular form, and agrees with the word "king" that follows. It means: to listen, to hear, and it is very frequent in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 63; Mk = 44; Lk = 65; Jn = 59; Acts = 89; 1Jn = 14; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 1. In English, to hear or listen has several meanings. It has, of course, the meaning of hearing noises, but it can also mean to be informed ("to hear news"), to pay attention to ("I am hearing"), to understand ("I hear what you say"), to refer to the activity of a judge ("a hearing"), etc. One could also make a list of the various meanings of the verb "to listen". The same can be done in the Gospels with the verb akouō.
The most common meaning is to hear sounds:
But akouō also intends to describe the fact that one learns a piece of news, that one is made aware of something:
Sometimes akouō intends to mean more than just hearing a word or a piece of news, because it has the nuance of understanding:
Akouō sometimes also has a sense of learning or acquiring knowledge, especially when it refers to what has been received as a tradition from the past:
As in English, akouō can express the fact that a request has been accepted, that a prayer has been answered, that a requirement has been obeyed:
For the evangelist John, akouō often implies faith, so listening or hearing means believing:
Again in John, akouō intends to translate the knowledge that Jesus has of his Father, and therefore of the unique communion that exists between the two; the verb "to hear" translates the total transparency of the Father's word:
Finally, there is the unique case where akouō refers to court proceedings where a judge hears witnesses:
Let us return to Matthew. This word is part of his vocabulary, for of the 63 occcurences of the verb in his gospel, 32 are unique to him. As a Jew, one understands that the word is important, and therefore its listening. And he allows himself to add this verb (underlined) to the sources he receives, like Mark:
|Verb akouō in the Gospels-Acts|
|etarachthē (he was troubled)||
Etarachthē is the verb tarassō to the passive aorist tense, 3rd person singular form. The subject is Herod. It means to disturb, to stir, to upset, and it is very rare in the whole New Testament, and among the evangelists, only John uses it a number of times: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 6; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The verb "to trouble" basically means: to break the state of tranquility of a reality. This can apply to objects like water ("when the water is troubled", Jn 5:7), as well as people ("King Herod was troubled", Mt 2:3). When applied to a person or a group, the word is meant to describe the loss of inner peace or quietness, and often has a negative connotation.
There is the particular case of the Gospel according to John where it is Jesus who is troubled: Jesus is troubled when he sees people mourning the death of Lazarus (11:33), he is troubled when the hour of his death approaches (12:27), he is troubled when he sees Judas' betrayal (13:21). What meaning should be given to this distress? Each time Jesus faces a trial: the trial of the people who mourn Lazarus because they do not believe in the resurrection, the trial of the betrayal of one of his disciples, the trial of his own death. This is the evangelist's way of emphasizing that Jesus is aware of what awaits him, and at the same time faces it voluntarily and with confidence. It is probably in this sense that we should understand these two passages where Jesus invites his disciples to believe in him and therefore not to be troubled (14:1), and where he gives them his peace, which will allow their hearts not to be troubled (14:27); the support of the risen Jesus in faith allows them to overcome what is troubling them.
There are only two occurrences of tarassō in Matthew. In 14:26 Matthew simply repeats the verb as it is in Mark 6:50 about Jesus walking on the waters where the disciples are troubled. One can think that it is not a word that really belongs to the Matthean vocabulary and that its presence in this scene of the Magi comes from its source.
Here it is Herod who is troubled and "all Jerusalem with him". What does this mean? With Herod and all Jerusalem, it is the Jewish people that is represented. As mentioned earlier, "being troubled" has a negative connotation. Let us take the example of the account of Jesus' walk on the waters (Mt 14:22-33 || Mk 6:45-52): the setting suggests that we are after Jesus' resurrection, and the failure of the disciples to believe that Jesus overcame evil and death (as represented by the waters) means that they see in Jesus only a specter of the world of the dead and are then "troubled"; it is only by regaining faith with the help of Jesus who identifies himself by his word that they will find peace and proclaim at the end: "Truly, your are the son of God". Matthew is the one who will insist the most at Jesus' trial on the involvement of the Jewish people, especially the authorities, in Jesus' death. It is in this context that we must understand the fact that Herod and all Jerusalem are troubled: it is a reaction linked to the absence of faith. It is this lack of faith that led to his condemnation to death under a false understanding of his title of "King of the Jews". And it is this lack of faith that led Herod and all Jerusalem to misinterpret the meaning of the birth of the King of the Jews and to reject him immediately.
|Verb tarassō in the New Testament|
|v. 4 After having gathered the high priests and the Bible scholars in the population, he began to inquire where the messiah was to be born.
Literally: And having gathered together (synagagōn) all the chief priests (archiereis) and scribes (grammateis) of the people (laou) he was inquiring (epynthaneto) by them where the anointed (christos) one is begotten.
|synagagōn (having gathered together)||
Synagagōn is the verb synagō in the active participle aorist tense, nominative masculine singular form, and it agrees with the subject "he" of the verb "to inquire", which is Herod mentioned in the previous verse. It is a word composed of the preposition syn (with) and the verb agō (to lead, to conduct), and therefore means: to lead or to conduct with, from where to gather.
It is especially in Matthew that it is found throughout the New Testament: Mt = 24; Mk = 5; Lk = 6; Jn = 7; Acts = 11; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. He even allows himself to add it to his sources (the addition is underlined).
Matthew uses the verb synagō in four main contexts.
First, there is the context of human gatherings where people come together for a decision, an action, an activity or an event. For example:
The context may be that of the fruits of nature such as wheat, grain, chaff, or even fish from the sea, and then "gathering" translates the idea of harvesting, collecting, gathering. For example:
Rather than being that of the fruits of nature, the context may be the more general one of goods or everything that belongs to us that we seek to gather or collect.
Finally, there is the particular context in Matthew where, during the Last Judgment, the king refers to foreigners. Surprisingly, Matthew uses the verb synagō to describe the action of welcoming them, rather than a verb like lambanō (welcome, receive). It is likely that the verb is meant to describe the act of "gathering" them to his family, thus integrating them, a way of welcoming them; in a world centered on ethnicities, integrating the stranger was vital to him.
Here, in v. 4, this is, of course, the context of bringing people together to discuss. This is the most frequent context in Matthew, and in more than half of the cases this gathering is against Jesus. They are the Pharisees, the chief priests, the elders of the people, the scribes. In the passion narrative, this verb comes up six times. So it is in this same context that we should read synagō in v. 4: of course, Herod makes a gathering of high priests and scribes, a mini Sanhedrin, to get information from Bible scholars about the birthplace of the Messiah, but we know that the ultimate goal is to destroy him, just as in the passion narrative.
|Verb synagō in the New Testament|
|archiereis (chief priests)||
Archiereis is the noun archiereus in the plural masculine accusative form. The accusative is required because the word plays the role of direct object complement of the verb "to gather". It consists of the prefix arch, which is of the same root as the verb archō (to begin, to be first) and the noun hiereus (priest), thus first priest or high priest. In the New Testament, this name appears only in the Gospel-Acts, except in the Epistle to the Hebrews where the title is applied to Jesus: Mt = 22; Mk = 21; Lk = 14; Jn = 21; Acts = 21; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; He = 17.
What do we know about the high priest? Originally, the function of the High Priest was to offer the daily sacrifice, to perform the Rite of Atonement once a year on the Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur), when he entered the Holy of Holies, to oversee the Temple, its staff and worship, and to preside over the Sanhedrin.
This function seems to have appeared late after the exile and after the reconstruction of the temple (on what follows, see L. Monloubou - F.M. Du But, op. cit., pp. 297-298). It is related to the time when the monarchy had virtually disappeared and the high priest was gradually inheriting the various prerogatives that had been those of kings. Moreover, the investiture of the high priest was reminiscent of the rites of the king's coronation, in particular the anointing. It was thus that the high priest became the head of the nation and its representative before God. The first high priests appear to be descended from Joshua the son of Yehosadaq (Hag 2:4), and thus were of the lineage of the sons of Zadok. The last of this line were Onias II (246 BC to 220 BC), his son Simon the Just (220 BC to 195 BC; see Sir 50), and then Onias III who was supplanted by his brother Jason (173 BC to 171 BC).
In 167 BC start Antiochus Epiphanes' persecutions, and Onias IV, son of Onias III, fled to Egypt. After the short reign of the persecuting king, the temple was purified in 164 BC, and in 152 BC Jonathan Maccabeus, an Asmonean, brother of Judas Maccabeus and a descendant of Ioarib (and therefore not of the Zadok lineage), was appointed high priest by the Syrian king Alexander Balas, which led to the ousting of the Oniads. Perhaps it was at this time that Onias IV founded the temple of Leontopolis in Egypt (Josephus, Judaic Antiquities, XIII, #62-73), and the "Master of Justice" (Damascus Document 1:11) took refuge in Qumran. With the Asmonean dynasty came a succession of characters who were at the same time ethnarchs or kings and high priests: Simon Thassi (142 to 135 BC), John Hyrcan I (134 to 104 BC), Aristobulus I (104 to 103 BC), Alexander Jannaeus (103 to 76 BC), Salome Alexandra (she was only queen), and the "Master of Justice" (Damascus Document 1, 11): -76 to -67), Hyrcan II (-67 to -66), Aristobule II (-66 to -63), Hyrcan II (-63 to -40; but only high priest from -63 because of the conquest of the Roman Pompey, then ethnarch from -47); Antigone (-40 to -37).
In the year -37 Herod the Great came to power. Aristobulus III was briefly high priest in 36 BC, the last of the Asmonean dynasty. Henceforth Herod the Great reserved all the political power, and for the role of high priest, he will give his preference to the "sons of Boethos" recalled from Egypt: Simon (-22 to -5), Yoazar (-4). Herod dies in the year 4 BC and his son Archelaus succeeds him for Judea. In 4 AD, Eleazar is appointed high priest until Archelaus is exiled to Gaul in 6 AD. His territory was transferred to Quirinius, legate of Syria, and successive Roman prefects in Judea gave preference as high priest to the family of Annas (6 to 15), his son Eleazar (16 to 17), his son-in-law Caiaphas (18 to 37), and his other son Jonathan (37). King Agrippa (41 to 44) divided the role between Annas' son Matthias and Boetho's two sons, Eiloneus. Under Herod II of Chalkis and Agrippa II, nine high priests succeeded one another, including Ananias (47-51; Paul met him in the Sanhedrin, according to Acts 23:2), and Ananos (who had James, Jesus' brother, put to death in 62) until the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70. With the disappearance of the temple, the role of high priest no longer had any place.
Here, in v. 4, it will have been noted that the word is in the plural, whereas only one person could be high priest. What does this mean? Matthew reflects the habit of continuing to call all former high priests as "high priests", as well as those who were retired or had been deposed, and therefore no longer in office; the title could even include all the members of the large family to which they belonged. This is also what Luke does. For example, when Jesus begins his ministry around the fall of 27 AD, Caiaphas has been the high priest for almost ten years, while Annas had been high priest from 6 to 15 AD. Yet Luke writes: "Under the high priests of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God was addressed to John" (3:2). This extended family continued to have a prominent role in the Sanhedrin, taking care of the administration of the temple, its buildings, the treasury, its security, and the organization of the priests for the daily sacrifice. In short, religious power was in their hands.
In Matthew, as in the other Gospels, the high priests only appear at the end of the Gospel, when Jesus is in Jerusalem, and their role is only negative:
Here, in v. 4, the shadow of their negative role already looms.
|Noun archiereus in the New Testament|
Grammateis is the noun grammateus in the plural masculine accusative form, as was the noun archiereus (high priest). It is present especially in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 21; Mk = 20; Lk = 14; Jn = 1; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is usually translated by scribe, because the word has the same root as gramma (letter, character, writing, sign of the alphabet) and graphō (to write, draw letters, write down); it is someone who knows how to read and write, and therefore could exercise the function of clerk or secretary or chancellor and is also sometimes translated as "cultured man". One can understand the prestige of this function in a world where the majority of people could neither read nor write.
Let us note that the scribe has a long history that has an echo in the Old Testament. He was a royal civil servant, a master not only in the art of writing documents, but also in certain techniques, such as cadastres, and he played an important role in the administration of the kingdom. He is found at the side of David (2 Sam 8:17), Solomon (1 Kings 4:3), Joash (2 Kings 12:11), Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:18), Uzziah (2 Chr 26:11), and Nehemiah (Neh 13:13). He is in charge of the preservation of the archives, and they played a role in the compilation of the sacred texts that gave us the Pentateuch (see L. Monloubou - F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec: Desclée - Anne Sigier, 1984, pp. 686-687).
Personally, I like to translate the word "scribe" by "Bible scholar" (NIV translates grammateus as "teacher of the law" in 1Cor 1:20) because the Bible was the main object through which one learned to read, and the primary purpose for which one learned to read. In fact, when we look at their interventions in the Gospels, we notice that they intend to debate particular points of Scripture, such as this echo in Mark where they taught that Elijah must come before the Messiah (9:11), that the Messiah is the son of David (12:35), and that God is one (12:32).
At the outset, it is important to distinguish between the three social groups of scribes, Pharisees and chief priests. For example, some of the scribes were Pharisees, but not all Pharisees were necessarily scribes. The Pharisees were a religious-political group and their name means: the separated, or those who are apart; they appeared around the 2nd century BC and aimed at a strict application of the law, and thus their search for purity often led them to avoid contamination with the masses. However, this did not mean that they all knew how to read and write, hence the expression found in Mark 2:16: "the scribes of the Pharisees", which Luke explains as follows: "The Pharisees and their scribes"; thus, some of the scribes were in the party of the Pharisees. As their oral tradition occupied a great place, the need to know how to read was all the less important. As for the chief priests, it is conceivable that many could read and write, but their hereditary lineage and their totally different roles made them a distinct group. Finally, it should be noted that if scribes are often named with the high priests and elders, it is to reflect the composition of the Sanhedrin.
What image of the scribe does Matthew give us? In fact, it is a complex image.
It may be interesting to note how the scribes are presented alone or with other groups.
We can note that it is in Mark that the scribes appear most often alone, or with the high priests. On the other hand, the Pharisees appear rarely alone or with the scribes. We are in the earliest period of Palestine, probably before the year 70 and the destruction of the temple, and thus before the period when the Pharisees took control of Judaism. However, if we turn to Matthew, we see that the Pharisees appear 22 times, either alone or with the scribes. Thus, Matthew sees the scribes many times under the Pharisees' gaze. By the time we get to John, around 90 or 95, the scribe has practically disappeared, and only the Pharisees remain.
Thus, for Matthew, the scribe is not simply a literate person, but generally represents Judaism. And here, in v. 4, he seems to play a double role: that of the Bible scholar, who is relied upon to know what Scripture says about the birth of the Messiah, and that associated with the high priest as a member of the Sanhedrin. Here, his role seems neutral, but knowing the role Matthew mainly makes the scribe play, he contributes to the conspiracy against Jesus.
|Noun grammateus in the New Testament|
Laou it the name laos in the singular masculine genitive form, the genitive being required because laos is here the complement of the name scribe: the scribes of the people. In all the New Testament it is Luke who uses this word the most, both in his Gospel and in Acts: Mt = 14; Mk = 2; Lk = 36; Jn = 3; Acts = 48; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In the Gospel-Acts, the word has three main meanings.
In the majority of cases, the word "people" refers to the Jewish people: sometimes the reference is explicit with the expression "people of Israel", sometimes it is implicit. This meaning comes from the OT which presents the story of a God who wants to be the father of a people that he gathers and saves. This is how the word laos translated the word ʿam in the Septuagint. The word laos is sometimes contrasted with the word "nation" (ethnos) which designates pagan nations.
Twice, i>laos designates pagan nations, and it is always in the plural. These two occurrences are found in Luke and they all refer to a passage from the OT. The Septuagint sometimes translated the Hebrew term gôy (nation, people) into the plural form of i>laos.
Finally, laos can designate the new people of God, the Christian community. Only Luke mentions it in the Acts of the Apostles, but this notion is very present in Paul and in Revelation.
Matthew is far from using laos as often as Luke does. On the other hand, out of the 14 occurrences of his gospels, 12 are his own, coming in particular from sources that are particular to him. And there are four occurrences where Matthew takes up an account of Mark who speaks of the "elders", but corrects it by adding "of the people"; Matthew insists that these elders are representatives of the people, and thus reflect the people. In the same logic, he offers us this terrible verse at the time of Jesus' condemnation to death:
Matthew the Jew is the one who is the most severe towards his people. Here, in v. 4, we have a strange expression: "the scribes of the people" that is found nowhere else in the Bible. Brown (see note on Mt 2:4) suggests that it is a dependence on a tradition based on the birth of Moses where one mentions "priestly scribes" who advised the Pharaoh. One could not add that, since his source did not speak of the elders, Matthew wanted to make sure that these scribes would be seen as representatives of the people and that their actions reflected all the people; their collaboration with Herod was the collaboration of all the people, for better or worse.
|Noun laos in the Gospels-Acts|
|epynthaneto (he was inquiring)||
Epynthaneto is the verb pynthanomai in the middle imperfect indicative tense, 3rd person singular form. The middle form is used for a reflexive verb, and the imperfect describes the idea that the action is still in progress and not finished. The verb means: to inquire, to inform, to investigate. It is uncommon throughout the Bible, as it is in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Only Luke uses it several times. This is the only occurrence of Matthew, and the verb was probably suggested to him by the pre-Matthean material he had in front of him where King Herod asks the chief priests and scribes about the birthplace of the Messiah.
|Verb pynthanomai; in the Bible|
Christos is the noun christos in the masculine singular nominative form. The nominative is required because christos is the subject of the verb "to be begotten". The word has the same root as the verb chriō (to be greased) and literally means anointed, and is therefore an adjective that has been transformed into a noun, the anointed, and which refers to the anointed par excellence, the messiah. For Christians, christos has become the proper noun of Jesus. So we can guess that this word is extremely frequent in the New Testament, just as it appears regularly in the Acts of the Apostles: Mt = 16; Mk = 7; Lk = 12; Jn = 19; Acts = 25; 1Jn = 8; 2Jn = 3; 3Jn = 0.
For a detailed analysis of christos, please refer to our glossary and to R. Brown. We only need to recall the main points. The act of "greasing" or anointing with oil appears in the OT with Solomon (10th century), the son of David, who was anointed with oil at his enthronement, a sign of his election and adoption by God who assured him victory over his enemies and an eternal dynasty. When, after the exile, kings are no longer of David's lineage, there will be hope, at least in Judah, for a return of this lineage, an earthly king, an anointed one, who will lead his people with justice. Let us also note, as we mentioned when introducing the high priests, that the anointing with oil was also part of their enthronement. In Hebrew the word was: māšîaḥ, and in Aramaic: měšîḥâ'. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew māšîaḥ into the Greek word: christos.
In the time of Jesus, to speak of the anointed was to speak of the expected Messiah from the lineage of David. And because of passages in the OT such as Ps 2:7 ("The Lord said to me, 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you' "), the anointed was considered adopted by God at his enthronement, and therefore a son of God.
During Jesus' ministry, there is no evidence that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. However, it is plausible that some of his followers regarded him as the promised king of the house of David, the anointed one called to reign over God's people. Jesus' response was ambivalent, for on the one hand, he rejected certain features of popular perception, and on the other hand, for him it was up to God to define the role that this messiah should play in the kingdom. Nevertheless, this ambivalence was enough to make his enemies decide to hand over this so-called future king to the Romans. And it was after his death, following his resurrection, that Jesus was called messiah with a surprising frequency, as is attested first by the pre-Pauline confessions, then by the Pauline writings, to the point that his name is often replaced by Christ.
What about Matthew? Among the Synoptics, he is the one who uses christos the most, and of the 16 occurrences in his Gospel, 12 are his own. And to grasp the importance he gives to this title, we must compare him to Mark when he reuses his stories, but modifies them to add: Christ (underlined).
Why such an insistence on this title? Let us recall that Matthew was a Jew, and part of his community was made up of Christians of Jewish origin. And the heart of preaching about Jesus to the Jewish community was to proclaim that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Think of Paul of Tarsus. And in Matthew's infancy narrative, this is one of the guiding themes: the Gospel begins with "The birth record of Jesus Christ" and the genealogy ends with "from whom (Mary) was begotten Jesus, called the Christ" (1:16).
In v. 4, one may be surprised to have a scene centered on the anointed one, the Christ or Messiah, while the Magi proclaimed that they were rather looking for the King of the Jews. It must be concluded that messiah or Christ and king of the Jews were equivalent: reference is made to the messiah descended from King David, and therefore someone of royal lineage.
|Noun christos in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 5 They answered him, "In Bethlehem in Judea, for it is said in the book of the prophet:
Literally: Then, them, they said to him: in Bethlehem of Judea, for in this way it has been written (gegraptai) by the prophet (prophētou):
|gegraptai (it has been written)||
Gegraptai is the verbe graphō in the perfect passive indicative tense, 3rd person singular form. It means: to write. It appears quite regularly in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 10; Mk = 9; Lk = 20; Jn = 22; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 13; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 3. In more than half of the cases, the verb is used to refer to Scripture. This is the case in Matthew where out of the 12 occurrences, 11 take the stereotypical form of the perfect passive: it was written, and refers to a specific passage of Scripture, the only exception being the reference to the banner on the cross above Jesus' head.
Here is the list of Scripture passages to which graphō refers us.
Of these 11 references, only the first one comes from Matthew's pen: everything about Jesus' temptations and John the Baptist's description comes from Document Q, and everything else is a reprise of Mark. This tells us that the early Christians reread the events surrounding Jesus' life in the light of the OT.
But in addition to these references to the OT underlined by the analysis of the verb graphō, we also find in Matthew a stereotypical formula with the verb "to be accomplished" (all this happened so that it might be accomplished). One can consult the list provided by R. Brown.
Five of these stereotypical formulas belong to the infancy narrative, including verses 5 and 6. Following his analysis Brown concludes that these formulas are Matthew's additions to the tradition he receives, expressing the link he grasps between the scene around Jesus and the OT.
Here Matthew inserts a reference to Micah 5:1 ("And you, Bethlehem Ephratah, too small to be numbered among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth to me the one who is to rule Israel") and 2 Samuel 5:2 ("You (David) shall feed Israel, my people, and you shall be the ruler of Israel"). Of course, Matthew is not unique in associating Bethlehem with the birth of the Messiah. Luke also tells us that the birth of Jesus took place in Bethlehem, and John seems to be telling us that everyone knew this ("Doesn't the Scripture say that he will be of David's lineage and that he will come from Bethlehem, the little city where David came from?", 7: 42). Matthew is the only one to give us the explicit reference.
|Verb graphō in the Gospels-Acts|
Prophētou is the noun prophētēs in the singular masculine genitive form. The genitive is required because of the preposition dia when it means: through, by means of, hence the translation: by the prophet. The reference to prophets is very frequent in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 37; Mk = 6; Lk = 29; Jn = 14; Acts = 30; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
What are we talking about when we speak of the prophet(s)? First of all, let us point out that the word designates the one who speaks in the name of God. It is the contraction of two words: pro (in front of, instead of) and phēmi (to declare, to say). The prophet is the one who is the spokesman for another, who proclaims in his name. In the Jewish world, the prophet is above all the spokesman of God: he transmits God's thought, his plans, his will. In Hebrew, he is called nābîʾ (plural: nĕbîʾîm), a word that would be derived from the Akkadian: "to call", "to proclaim".
Israel has a long tradition of prophets whose words have been written down and are part of the Hebrew Bible. Judaism has divided the Bible into three parts: the Law (heb. תוֹרָה: Torah), the Prophets (heb.נְבִיאִים: nĕbîʾîm) and the Writings (heb. כְּתוּבִים: ketouvim).
It is in Matthew that the word "prophet" appears most frequently. And among the 37 occurrences of his gospel, 25 are specific to him. This is not surprising, since a large part of his community were Jews familiar with Scripture. Thus he allows himself to clarify Mark's gospel, which was addressed to people, many of whom were not familiar with Scripture. Here are two examples of these clarifications (underlined).
Matthew's clarification of Mark's text presupposes a community familiar with Scripture.
Matthew's references to the prophets appear in four different contexts.
First, there is that of a citation from a prophetic passage of Scripture, the author sometimes being made explicit. For example:
Then Matthew sometimes makes general references to the prophets of the Old Testament. For example:
As noted above, the prophets also make up a whole section of the Hebrew Scripture along with the Law and Scriptures. Matthew sometimes refers to them. For example:
Finally, the word prophet refers to contemporary prophets, either Jesus, or John the Baptist, or prophets of the Christian community, or simply the prophetic function in general. For example:
Here, in v. 5, the context is that of a citation from a prophet of the Scripture. Matthew does not give us the name of the prophet he refers to. But we know that it is first of all Micah 5:1 ("And you, Bethlehem Ephratah, who are too small to be numbered among the clans of Judah, from you shall come out for me the one who is to rule Israel"), but also 2 Samuel 5:2 ("You shall shepherd Israel, my people, and you shall be the ruler of Israel"). It may come as a surprise that 2 Samuel is classified as a prophet, but the books of Joshua, the Judges, Samuel and the Kings are part of the prophets section of the Hebrew Bible. It is also noteworthy that Matthew, in using the word "prophet" in the singular, merely alludes to the main prophet, Micah, while the other prophets are included in the main prophet.
|Noun prophētēs in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 6 And thou, Bethlehem, land of Judas, you are absolutely not the smallest administrative center of Judah, because this leader will come from you who will lead my people Israel."
Literally: And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means (oudamōs) you are the least (elachistē) among the governors (hēgemosin) of Judah. For out of you will come out (exeleusetai) the (one) governing (hēgoumenos), who will shepherd (poimanei) the people of me, the Israel (Israēl).
|oudamōs (by no means)||
Oudamōs is an adverb that means: none, under no circumstances, in any way. This word does not appear anywhere else in the entire New Testament. In the Septuagint, it is found only in the books of the Maccabees. It is therefore a rare adverb, and biblical evidence of its use dates from the first century BC and after our era.
Here, Matthew offers us a quote from Micah 5:1, but the Greek text of the Septuagint that he is supposed to quote does not have the word oudamōs at all. Literally, the Septuagint writes: You are least among the thousands of Judah. However, Matthew's version with the addition of oudamōs changes the meaning of the sentence: instead of a positive form (you are the least), we now have a negative form (you are by no means the least). Some biblical scholars have wondered if Matthew had another version of the Greek text than the Septuagint. It is possible, but Matthew also took the initiative to modify the Greek text to better fit his theological intention. This is what he would have done earlier with the citation from Isaiah 7:14 (on the Emmanuel), as R. Brown proposes. What is the intention here? This change seems to go hand in hand with the word "chief" that follows (the Septuagint has "thousands," as we shall see later). Indeed, Matthew intends to emphasize Bethlehem, which will give the world this ruler, this king-messiah, and therefore cannot be seen as a small entity among all the crowned heads. This meaning is somewhat the opposite of what the Hebrew text says and what the Septuagint translated, and which could be paraphrased as follows: the city of Bethlehem is so insignificant that it is ignored among the clans of Judas, and yet it will be the birthplace of the famous King David. Adding oudamōs, Matthew wrote instead: Bethlehem is not insignificant at all.
|Adverb oudamōs in the Bible|
|elachistē (the least)||
Elachistē is the superlative adjective elachistos in the nominative feminine singular form, and refers to Bethlehem. Elachistos is the superlative of the adjective mikros (small), and therefore means: the smallest or least. In the Gospels - Acts it appears only in Matthew and Luke (Mt = 5; Mk = 0; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and elsewhere in the New Testament, only in Epistles 1 Corinthians and James. In Matthew, the superlative refers to the least of the precepts (5: 19), i.e. the unimportant precepts, and the least of the persons (2: 40), i.e. the unimportant persons; generally speaking in the New Testament, the word designates what is unimportant.
Here, in v.6 we are in a so-called citation from Micah 5:1. Now the Septuagint text of Micah 5:1 does not have the superlative elachistos, but rather: oligostos ("you are the least (oligostos) among thousands"), which comes from the adjective oligos meaning: few in number. Thus, the Greek text of Micah emphasizes the population of Bethlehem which is insufficient to be part of the organizational structure of Judah. By replacing oligostos with elachistos, Matthew makes a change of emphasis: it is no longer about the population of Bethlehem, but about its importance. Without this change, it would have been difficult for Matthew to emphasize Bethlehem, because the population of the town probably remained very small. But by using an adjective evoking the idea of importance, then he could say that Bethlehem was an important city, because it was the birthplace of the Messiah-King.
|Superlative adjective elachistos in the New Testament|
Hēgemosin is the noun hēgemōn in the plural masculine dative form. The dative is required because of the preposition in (in, into, among). It has various meanings: chief, governor, sovereign, guide, prefect, president, commander. It gave us the English word: hegemony. It is rarely found in the New Testament, except in Matthew and Luke: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 6; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Of the 10 occurrences of Matthew, 9 are specific to him. And in the occurrences that are proper to him and apart from our v. 6, hēgemōn always designates Pilate to whom he gives the title of governor.
How can we translate here hēgemōn when we are not talking about a person, but about a town? Because it should be translated literally: "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means the least of the rulers (or governors) of Judah". But how can Bethlehem be a ruler or governor? First of all, we are looking at a so-called citation from Micah 5:1, and the Septuagint text of Micah 5:1 does not have hēgemōn, but rather: chilias, which means thousands, and thus translated from the original Hebrew: ʾelep (thousands). How did chilias become hēgemōn in Matthew? According to some biblical scholars, the Hebrew consonants ʾlp (thousands) can be read as ʾallupē (chiefs, heads of clans) or as ʾalpē (thousands, clans). This presupposes that Matthew or the author of the text Matthew uses knew Hebrew. We opted for the translation: governor, for Matthew elsewhere always gives this meaning to hēgemōn. But some translators prefered to use here "county town" or "administrative center", to keep the idea of comparing different cities.
|Noun hēgemōn in the New Testament|
|exeleusetai (he will come forth)||
Exeleusetai is the verb exerchomai in the future indicative middle/passive tense, 3rd person singular form. It is formed from the preposition ek (from, coming from) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go), and therefore means: to come out, and is very frequent in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 43; Mk = 39; Lk = 44; Jn = 30; Acts = 30; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 1.
In the Semitic world, coming in and coming out are two fundamental activities, which can sum up the whole of life's activities. Thus, in OT we have the Hebrew expression bôʾ (to come in, to enter) and yāṣāʾ (to come out, to leave), which is synonymous with to act, to behave. For example:
In Matthew, the verb comes back regularly. Of the 43 occurrences of the word, 22 are his own. As the evangelist likes to be clear and precise, the word allows him to clearly delimit space and very often to express a separation. We need only look at how he modifies Mark's text by adding (underlined) "to come out".
The frequency of the verb exerchomai can be explained by the fact that Matthew stereotypically expresses certain movements. Thus, leaving or departing from a place is always expressed by the verb "to come out". For example:
But here, in v. 6, we have an expression found nowhere else in Matthew: "For out of you will come out the (one) governing (exeleusetai)". This is not surprising, for Matthew quotes the Septuagint text from Micah 5:1, and the Septuagint text gives us: "out of you will come out (exeleusetai) for me to be a ruler of Israel". Thus, Matthew has simply taken the Septuagint's verb as it is. The verb exerchomai thus intends to designate the origin of the future leader and messiah.
|Verb exerchomai in the Gospels-Acts|
Hēgoumenos is the verb hēgeomai in the present tense participle, nominative masculine singular form; the nominative is required because this participle is the subject of the verb "will come out". Hēgeomai appears only in Matthew and Luke in the Gospels Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is used in the so-called Pauline epistles, to the Hebrews, of James and the 2nd of Peter. It takes on two great meanings, first the action of governing or directing or going before or commanding, then in another semantic register, the action of considering or thinking a reality, judging or estimating it. As can be seen from the list of occurrences in the New Testament, the two great meanings are equally distributed.
Here, in v. 6, hēgeomai clearly has the meaning of governing. Again, let us recall that Matthew quotes here from the Septuagint version of Micah 5:1, but in the Septuagint we have the phrase: "out of you shall come out for me to be a ruler (archōn) of Israel". Why did Matthew not simply use the term archōn (ruler) from the Septuagint, but chose the verb "to govern" (archōn)? It is likely that he wanted to be consistent with the noun "governor" (hēgemōn) used just before. Moreover, we note that archōn has a very general meaning, since it can designate a head of house, a head of synagogue, a magistrate, a notable, the leader of demons, etc., whereas speaking of governor and to govern clearly places us at the political level of the king-messiah, which is what the Magi are looking for.
|Verb hēgeomai in the New Testament|
|poimanei (he will shepherd)||
Poimanei is the verb poimanō in the indicative future active tense, 3rd person singular form. The subject is the relative pronoun hostis (he who) that replaces "the governer" who will come out of Bethlehem. Poimanō means: to shepherd, to tend sheep. It refers to the activity of the shepherd who takes care of his flock, and therefore by extension means: to guide, to care for, to see to, to govern, to watch over. The verb is very rare in the New Testament, and more particularly in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 1; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In Matthew, this verb only appears here where he simply repeats this sentence from 2 Samuel 5:2a in the Septuagint version: "You shall shepherd (poimanō) my people Israel". Its only modification is to change the second person singular (you shall shepherd) to the third person singular (he shall shepherd).
The text in 2 Samuel refers to King David. Now Matthew applies it to Jesus, the King-Messiah. The action of shepherding expresses the action of a king to govern his people, and thus to guide, protect and give them what they need.
|Verb poimainō in the New Testament|
Israēl is an indeclinable name in the masculine singular. It is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew term yiśrāʾēl, a term composed of el el "goal, domain, leader", hence "god", and the verb from the root either ssr (to shine, enlighten, save, dominate) or srh (to fight, struggle). It appears regularly in Matthew and Luke, much less so in the other evangelists: Mt = 12; Mk = 2; Lk = 12; Jn = 4; Acts = 15; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
To understand the meaning of this word, it is worth taking a little detour through the history of this name. The name Israēl was first attributed to Jacob, using a popular etymology: "He (the stranger against whom Jacob fought all night) said, 'You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have been strong against God and man and have prevailed." Then, traditionally, the Jews descended from Jacob called themselves "the house of Israel", while those in the south were called: house of Judah. This was one of the achievements of King David (10th century BC) to rule first over the house of Judah: 2 Samuel 2:4: "The men of Judah came and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah"; then also over the house of Israel: 2 Samuel 12:8: "I (Yahweh, according to the words of Nathan) have given you your master's house, I have put your master's wives in your arms, I have given you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that is not enough, I will add anything for you." Unfortunately, the rest is more complex and painful, as a schism tears the two houses apart from 933 BC, and in 721 BC, Samaria, which belongs to the house of Israel, is taken by the Assyrians who deport a certain number of people and install foreigners, so that a prophet like Jeremiah (c. 620 BC), in his promises in the name of Yahweh, must constantly distinguish between the two groups:
14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness." 17 For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel (Jer 33: 14-17)
The house of Judah in the south will also suffer the fate of the house of Israel in the north and will be condemned to exile in Babylon in 587 BC. But after the return from exile of the House of Judah and the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (c. 520 BC), the lines between the House of Israel and the House of Judah begin to blur and the meaning of the expressions begin to change. An example is given by 1 Chronicles 28:4 (the book of Chronicles is dated around 340 BC) where David talks about Yahweh's decision to choose him:
Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my ancestral house to be king over Israel forever; for he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took delight in making me king over all Israel.
David comes from the south, from the tribe of Judah, but he became king of all Israel, which includes, according to the old terminology, both the house of Israel and the house of Judah. We see another development in the Psalms, where the house of Israel comes to refer to the laity as opposed to the clergy (priests and Levites): "House of Israel, bless the Lord, house of Aaron, bless the Lord, house of Levi, bless the Lord, those who fear the Lord, bless the Lord" (Ps 135:19-20). At the dawn of the Christian era, the expression "house of Judah" seems to have fallen into disuse, and only "house of Israel" remains (for example, the book of Judith, about 75 BC, knows only "house of Israel": 4:15; 6:17; 8:6; 13:14; 14:5.10; 16:14).
What about the New Testament? The only reference to the house of Judah is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8 ("Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah"). On the other hand, the expression "house of Israel" is present twice in Matthew in reference to the mission of Jesus and his disciples (10:6; 15:24), and twice in the Acts of the Apostles, first in Peter's discourse following Pentecost (2:36), "Let the whole house of Israel know this for certain: God made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified"), and then in Stephen's discourse, which tells the whole of holy history and makes reference to the prophet Amos (7:42), "Then God turned away from them and gave them up to the worship of the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: Have you then offered me victims and sacrifices in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel?")
Thus, Israel and Judah evolved differently. While Judah is the source of the term "Jew", i.e. of Judah, designating a specific race, Israel has come to designate a political-religious entity. While the expression God of Judah is never used, the expression God of Israel is omnipresent. And it is thus that it is found in the mouth of Jesus in Matthew to designate the object of the mission: the whole of a community which plunges its roots as far as Jacob, and occupies a precise territory.
Of the 12 occurrences of the word "Israel" in Matthew, 10 are specific to him, including 3 in the infancy narrative with the expressions "people of Israel" and "land of Israel" (2:20-21); otherwise it is the expressions "house of Israel" (10:6), "cities of Israel" (10:23), "house of Israel" (15:24), "God of Israel" (15:31), "son of Israel" (27:9).
Here, in v.6, the word "Israel" is part of the quotation from 2 Samuel 5:2a. Matthew has retained its religious-political meaning, for it is the territory of the Messiah-king. It may come as a surprise that Matthew takes this restrictive view of the messiah, when his gospel is addressed to people who include the Gentiles. But as a Jew, Matthew remains faithful to the idea that the promised Messiah was primarily for the people of Israel, that Jesus' mission was originally exclusively for the Jews ("I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", Mt 15:24), and if we adopt Isaiah's vision, it is to Israel that the nations of the earth are joined to go to his light (see for example Isaiah 2:2). This is what the Magi will represent.
|Noun Israēl; in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 7 Following these words, Herod secretly summoned the astrologers to tell him the exact date on which the star appeared,
Literally: Then (tote) Herod having called (kalesas) secretly (lathra) the Magi, inquired exactly (ēkribōsen) by them the time (chronon) of the star appearing (phainomenou).
Tote is such an ordinary adverb that there would be nothing to say, if it were not for Matthew's almost fetish word: Mt = 90; Mk = 6; Lk = 15; Jn = 10; Acts = 21; it comes up in about every 12 verses. It is an adverb of time and is usually translated as "then". It expresses a logical sequence of cause and effect. Since Matthew likes to structure things and present them in an orderly fashion, tote becomes the ideal tool for him. For example, "leave your offering there, before the altar, and first go and be reconciled with your brother; then come back, and then present your offering" (5:24); here, reconciliation must precede the offering.
Of the 90 occurrences of his gospel, 81 are specific to him. And so he likes to add this adverb (underlined) to his sources, be it Mark or Document Q. For example:
Here, in v. 7, tote follows the announcement to Herod by the chief priests and scribes that the birthplace of the Messiah is Bethlehem of Judea. Having obtained this information about the geographical location of the child-king, Herod can proceed to the second step: to know the estimated age of the child from the astronomical data of the magi, since it was assumed that the appearance of the star corresponded to the day of the child's birth. The adverb tote in the narrative thus expresses the consequence of obtaining a first piece of information.
|Adverb tote in the Gospels-Acts|
|kalesas (having called)||
Kalesas is the verb kaleō in the active aorist participle tense, nominative masculine singular form. The nominative is required because the participle agrees with the subject: Herod. It is a verb that recurs regularly in the Gospel-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 26; Mk = 4; Lk = 43; Jn = 2; Acts = 18; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But Matthew also uses it quite often, and of the 26 occurrences in his gospel, 20 are his own, including six occurrences in his infancy narrative.
The verb means: to call. But to call can have two main meanings. First, it means to name a person or a thing.
But the verb "to call" also means: to invite, to summon, to convene.
Here, in v. 7, "calling" has the meaning of summoning: Herod summoned the Magi to a meeting to obtain information.
|Verb kaleō in the Gospels-Acts|
The adverb lathra (secretly) is very rare in the whole Bible, and more specifically in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In Matthew, apart from our verse, it is used to describe the intention of Joseph who, faced with Mary's pregnancy out of wedlock, wants to follow the religious rules of Deut 22:20-21 (concerning a woman who was not a virgin at the time of her marriage and which required that the woman be stoned to death, or in a less severe legal system, that she be denounced publicly and that a divorce certificate be drawn up immediately), but he prefers to proceed more discreetly: he wants to spare Mary the shame of a public denunciation and proceed with a divorce on more benign grounds (on this point, see Brown). Let us not forget, Joseph does not know at this moment that the child Mary is carrying is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let us take a brief look at lathra in the rest of the New Testament. In John (11:28), it is Martha who discreetly informs her sister Mary of the arrival of Jesus because of the presence of Jews who came to console her, no doubt to protect her personal encounter with Jesus. In Luke (Acts 16:37), it is Paul who refuses to be secretly released in Philippi, wanting the strategists to publicly acknowledge their error. Thus, in the first case, secrecy has a positive value, in the second case a negative value.
In the Septuagint, the secret can be the path of perverse seduction, to designate a way of speaking in the intimacy of a person to convince him: it is a family member who leads someone to turn to false gods (Deut 13:7), it is Saul who wants to gently lead David to marry his daughter (1 Sam 18:22), it is Job who proclaims that he did not allow himself to be secretly seduced by the stars of heaven to consider them as deities. As at night, secrecy allows evil to be done: it is the man who denigrates his neighbor behind his back (Ps 101:5), it is King Ptolemy who reproaches his advisers for having plotted against the kingdom by wanting to exterminate the Jews (3 Mac 6:24). Finally, secrecy was part of the war strategy to approach the enemy surreptitiously, as David did when facing Saul (1 Sam 26:5), or to send messages to allies (1 Sam 9:60). We could also add the case of the poor who do not want people to know that they are eating, to keep their image of the poor. In short, apart from war situations, secret action always has a negative value and is related to evil.
What about verse 7? Let us note that so far there has been no meeting between the king and the Magi. The purpose of this first meeting is to obtain information on the exact date of birth of the child-king. Why must this convocation be secret? According to v. 3, all Jerusalem already knows about the birth of the child king. It is therefore not a question of concealing the existence of this young rival. But since this convocation of the king is centered on the age of the child, this detail must be included in the requirement of secrecy: the age of the child must not be known. And later, this detail will be used as a criterion in the massacre of the boys of Bethlehem and its surroundings. It must therefore be concluded that the term "secret" used by the author of the story is intended to convey the idea of malicious intent. For we know that a king can do what he wants, no matter whether his gesture is known or not. But it is necessary to situate ourselves at the level of the story, and the author knew well several scenes of the OT where the secrecy is very often the way followed to commit evil.
|Adverb lathra in the Bible|
|ēkribōsen (they inquired exactly)||
Ēkribōsen is the verb akriboō in the active aoristic indicative tense, 3rd person singular form. This is a very rare verb that is only found in the whole Bible in Matthew: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; it only appears here and in v. 16, where the verb refers us to our verse ("according to the time that he was told by the Magi"). Akriboō means: to know exactly, to investigate assiduously, to do with precision. It is therefore the idea of accuracy and investigation that dominates.
The verb akriboō would be a technical verb used in astronomy. Since magi are astrologers / astronomers, it is understandable that the author uses this term. What is the purpose of this? We are in front of an astronomical phenomenon, the appearance of a new star at its rising. We can assume that the magi, as astronomers, must have noted the date and time of this phenomenon. All this allows us to calculate the age of the child, assuming that this moment corresponds exactly to the birth of the child king, according to the mentality of antiquity. This is the information that Herod wants to obtain.
|Verb akribō in the Bible|
Chronon is the noun chronos in the masculine singular accusative form. The accusative is required because the word plays the role of direct object complement to the verb akriboō (to inquire exactly). It means: time; it gave us the English words chronology and chronometer. It is not very frequent in the Gospel-Acts, except in Luke: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 5; Jn = 3; Acts = 13.
Chronos has two main meanings. It can refer to a period of time, time perceived as a flowing fluid, a fluid that has a beginning and an end.
It also means a point in time or a specific moment in time, i.e. a date.
Chronos is rare in Matthew. Of the three occurrences of the word, two appear in the account of the magi in connection with the appearance of the star, the other occurrence is found in the parable of the talents to indicate that the master returns to settle his accounts after a long period of time. Here, in v. 7, as in v. 16, chronos designates a precise date, that of the appearance of a new star at its rising.
|Noun chronos in the Gospels-Acts|
Phainomenou is the verb phainō in the present participle tense, genitive masculine singular form. The genitive is required because the participle plays the role of the noun complement of the word: star. The verb is not very present in the Gospels - Acts, except in Matthew: Mt = 13; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It means: to bring to the light, to become visible or manifest, to appear, to be seen, to shine
It is a completely Mathean verb. With 13 occurrences, the evangelist is not only the one who uses it the most, but the 13 occurrences are all his own. This is how he sometimes adds (underlined) this verb to his sources.
Of the 13 occurrences in Matthew, four are found in the infancy narrative, three of which describe the fact that the angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph. But here, in v. 7, it is different: it is no longer the angel who appears, but the star. And the choice of the same verb used to describe the appearance of the angel is not neutral. For the Jew Joseph, God reveals Himself through the angel in a dream. For the Magi who are Gentiles, God also reveals Himself, but through the star, an element of created nature. Thus, the verb phainō refers to a revelation of God.
|Verb phainō in the New Testament|
|v. 8 and after sending them to Bethlehem, he said to them, "Go and inquire with accuracy on this child; and if you ever find him, come and tell me so that I too can bow down to him.
Literally: And having sent (pempsas) them to Bethlehem, he said, Having gone (poreuthentes), inquire (exetasate) carefully (akribōs) about the child (paidiou). Then, when you shall have found (heurēte), report back (apangeilate) to me, so that (hopōs) I also, having come, I prostrate (proskynēsō) to him.
|pempsas (having sent)||
Pempsas is the verb pempō in the active aorist participle tense, nominative masculine singular form. The nominative is required because the participle agrees with the subject Herod which is implied. It means: to send, and it is especially present in John where it is used to describe Jesus' relationship with his father, then in Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 10; Jn = 32; Acts = 11; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
As can be seen, pempō is not of much interest to Matthew: of the four occurrences, one appears here in v. 8 in the infancy narrative and seems to come from pre-Matthean material as we will see in the study of parallels; another in 11:2 seems to come from Document Q, since the verb is also found in the parallel passage of Lk 7:18-19; and the others appear in a context where a king sends guards and come from a particular source of Matthew. The evangelist, as publisher, did not introduce pempō to its sources as it does for some verbs it holds dear.
In our present account, Herod sends the Magi in search of the child. But, as we will see in the study of parallels, the tradition Matthew uses would rather speak of Herod sending the magi from his intelligence service in search of the child, because there is no encounter between the magi and Herod (see Brown's reconstruction of the pre-Matthean tradition). Moreover, there is something implausible in the present account that Herod delegates the search for the child to these oriental strangers, whereas he had an army of civil servants to do this job well, in particular a very efficient intelligence service. But Matthew, in his theology, finds it important to have a setting where God can thwart the plans of the potentates of this earth.
|Verb pempō in the Gospels-Acts|
|poreuthentes (having gone)||
Poreuthentes is the verb poreuō in the passive aoristic participle tense, plural masculine noun form. The nominative is required because the participle agrees with magi, the subject of the sentence. The verb poreuō means: to go, in the sense of to set out, to leave, or to be set out, to make way; it is the idea of moving from a certain point. Luke uses this verb abundantly, for whom the life of the Christian and the Church is a long journey: Mt = 29; Mk = 3; Lk = 52; Jn = 16; Acts = 37; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, while it is absent from Mark, since the three occurrences found there belong to the appendix, probably of Lucanian origin, and not to the gospel itself.
What about Matthew? Even if his use of the verb is not comparable to Luke's, the word is still part of his vocabulary. Of the 29 occurrences in his gospel, 24 are his own. And so he regularly adds (underlined) poreuō to his sources. Here are two examples:
And with poreuō, he uses a grammatical structure that is not unique to him, but which he uses abundantly and systematically: poreuō in the form of a participle accompanied by an action verb. Let's give a number of examples of his own:
Here, in v. 8, it is this sentence structure that we find again and which is Matthew's signature: "having gone, inquire carefully". Now, didn't we just say that the verb that starts this sentence: "And having sent (pempō)" is not really Matthean? We are probably in front of a stich from Matthew. The tradition he has in front of him simply spoke of a sending, assuming that it was people from Herod's intelligence service. Here the evangelist makes a substitution to insert the Magi who are mandated to obtain the information.
|Verb poreuō in the Gospels-Acts|
Exetasate is the verb exetazō in the active aorist imperative tense, 2nd person plural form. It means: to inquire, to seek, to investigate, to examine, to enquire. It is rare throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, it appears only in Matthew and John: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In the Septuagint, the greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, exetazō translates various Hebrew words: dāraš (seek, inquire) in Deut 19:18; bāḥan (examine, test) in Ps 11:4-5. So there is the idea of searching, questioning, investigating, and even testing in the sense of validating the identity of what one is looking for. It is also a similar sense found in the rest of the Septuagint.
Although there are only two occurrences in Matthew, the word seems to be part of his vocabulary, since he adds it (underlined) to the text he takes from Mark, a text perhaps reflecting a missionary practice in his community.
It is therefore no small task that Herod entrusts to the Magi. It is undoubtedly a way for Matthew to underline the importance that Herod attaches to finding this child king, who is in fact a rival.
|Verb exetazō in the Bible|
Akribōs is an adverb that means: exactly, precisely, meticulously, with care. In the previous verse, we saw the verb of the same family: akriboō, which we translated as: to be precise. It is very rare throughout the Bible, and more specifically in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
As can be seen with Deut 19:18 (LXX), the adverb emphasizes thoroughness and accuracy in the work of investigation: "And the judges shall inquire carefully (akribōs), and, behold, if an unjust witness has borne unjust testimony; and has stood up against his brother". Here, in v. 8, there is something ironic about the story: for investigating carefully usually expresses concern for the truth, but Herod simply wants to make sure he gets his hands on the rival child at all costs.. All the effort is in the service of evil.
|Adverb akribōs in the Bible|
Paidiou is the noun paidion in the genitive neutre singular form. The genitive is required by the preposition peri (regarding, about) above. In the Greek world, according to Herodotus (reported by Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon), paidion refers to the child up to seven years of age. It is more frequent than pais (child, boy), since there are 52 occurrences, especially in the Gospels: Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 13; Jn = 3; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; 1 Co = 1; He = 1. Let us recall that in the New Testament there are six words to designate the child: teknon (child) and its diminutive teknion (small child), pais (child) and its diminutive paidion (small child), nēpios (infant) and brephos (baby). On the subject, see our glossary.
The following table shows the different names used to designate the child according to age.
As can be seen, chronologically, childhood takes place from birth to the age of 13, at the time of the bar mitzwah (son of the Law), when the child, by becoming subject to the Law, passes into adulthood. This childhood is divided into two parts, paidion, which refers to the child under the age of 7, and pais, which refers to the child between the ages of 7 and 13. Nēpios is the baby at the very beginning of its paidion phase, as are brephos, but the latter may include the embryo in the mother's womb. As for the term teknon, the most frequent in the New Testament, it is the child without any connotation of age. And teknion, its diminutive, concerns an adult to whom one wants to express affection and attachment, as one is referred to as Babe or Charlie or Chuck.
As for the number of occurrences in the Gospel-Acts according to the different names, we can make the following observation.
What about Matthew? As the table above shows, paidion is the most common word he uses to refer to the child, and half of the occurrences of paidion appear in his infancy narrative, where it refers to Jesus until he was about two years old. The only other occurrences specific to him concern the conclusion of the two narratives of Jesus feeding the crowds (14, 21: "Now those who ate were about 5,000 men, not counting women and children (paidion); see also 15, 38); Matthew mentions people who have no social status, i.e. women and children, but how can we explain the presence of children in this scene if they were still inseparable from their mother? As for the other occurrences, they come either from Document Q (11, 16; "But to whom am I going to compare this generation? It looks like children (paidion) who, sitting in the squares, call out to others"), or from Mark's accounts (18:2-5; 19:13-14). In short, Matthew respects the idea that paidion refers to children under the age of seven.
|Noun paidion in the New Testament|
|heurēte (you shall have found)||
Heurēte is the verb heuriskō in the active aoristic subjunctive tense, 2nd person plural form. The subjunctive is required because the sentence is introduced by the conjunction epan, formed by the preposition epi (on, at the time of) and the conjunction an (if any), and is usually translated as: when. It means: to find (after searching), to meet or bump into (someone), to acquire, to discover. It returns regularly in the Gospel-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 27; Mk = 11; Lk = 45; Jk = 19; Acts = 35; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0.
Matthew is not the one who uses this verb the most, but it is part of his vocabulary. On the one hand, we note that out of the 27 occurrences of his gospels, 14 are his own, that is to say half; and on the other hand, he sometimes adds (underlined) this verb to his Marcan source.
In the first two examples, Matthew substituted the verb "to find" for Mark's verb "to save". Why did he do this? It is possible that Matthew wanted to "spiritualize" life. Indeed, Mark's gospel was directed to the persecuted Roman community, where losing one's life was to be understood literally, i.e. a physical death. This does not seem to be the case for the Matthean community, probably located around Antioch in the year 80 or 85. He presents life to us as a path that we discover: "For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find (heuriskō) it." (7: 14). Thus, whoever thinks he has found a path of life will see his error in not having the life he was looking for; but whoever accepts to strip himself of his former life by taking the narrow gate will find what he is looking for. As for the addition of heuriskō in Mt 27:32, it bears the mark of Matthew's taste for precision: Mark does not explain why Simon of Cyrene was chosen to carry the cross of Jesus, while Matthew seems to be telling us that they looked for someone capable of taking on this task, and finally found a man named Simon.
Returning to v. 8, I think we need to interpret heuriskō in the context of the very frequent meaning Matthew gives to this verb: to find life, as we have just seen; or to find the Kingdom of Heaven:
But in v. 8 the sentence has something ironic about it, for it is Herod who asks to find out that "pearl of great value" or that "treasure" or that "life". For the Magi, this will really be the case. But for Herod, it is a reality that he rejects and wants to destroy. For Matthew, it is exactly the drama of humanity that will be played out in the passion narrative.
|Verb heuriskō in the Gospels-Acts|
|apangeilate (report back)||
Apangeilate is the verb apangellō in the active aorist imperative tense, 2nd person plural form. It is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb angellō (to announce), and therefore means: to announce from, to report from, to announce, to declare. It is the idea of reporting news, announcing an event. The word "gospel" (euangelion) has the same root: eu (happy), and angelion (news), just like the word "angel" (angelos) which means: messenger (of a news). It is not very common throughout the New Testament, and in the Gospels-Acts it is found especially in Luke: Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 11; Jn = 1; Acts = 15; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, where it is usually a matter of announcing an event to someone. It is practically absent in John, where the single occurrence refers to the communication about the Father by Jesus, and in Mark there are in fact only three occurrences, the others belonging to Mark's appendix, which bears the touch of Luke.
Although there are only eight occurrences of apangellō in Matthew, it is nevertheless a verb that belongs to his vocabulary and to which he gives a certain importance. The clue is given by the fact that, in his work of editing Mark's gospel, he adds (underlined) apangellō to the narrative.
Of the eight occurrences of apangellō in Matthew, three (28, 8.10.11) are clearly used in reference to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus' resurrection. In my opinion, it is in this context that apangellō in v.8 must be interpreted; for the Magi, finding the King-Messiah will be good news, and for Matthew and his community, it is the encounter with the risen one. And again, there is something ironic that this request for the proclamation of the good news comes from Herod, the one who intends to destroy him. On the theological level, Matthew seems to be saying that God even uses adversaries to carry out his plan of salvation.
|Verb apangellō in the New Testament|
|hopōs (so that)||
Hopōs is either an interrogative adverb or a conjunction. As an interrogative adverb, it means: how. We have only one example in the Gospels.
As a conjunction, it plays two roles. It can introduce a final subordinate clause, and it then means: so that, for the purpose of, in order to. For example:
Hopōs can also introduce a complementary subordinate clause with request verbs. For example:
Here, in v. 8, hopōs is used to introduce a subordinate clause where the purpose of Herod's request to report the news that the Magi have found the King-Messiah is expressed.
Hopōs is not frequent among evangelists, except for Luke, and especially Matthew: Mt = 17; Mk = 1; Lk = 7; Jn = 1; Acts = 14; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Moreover, among the 17 occurrences of Matthew's gospel, 15 are his own (not a copy of Mark or Document Q). This is how he sometimes adds it (underlined) to his Marcan source.
So here we have the imprint of Matthew's pen.
|Adverb / conjunction hopōs in the Gospels-Acts|
|proskynēsō (I prostrate)||
Proskynēsō is the verb proskyneō in the active aorist subjunctive tense, 1st person singular form. The subjunctive is required because of the conjunction hopōs which introduces a subordinate clause expressing the finality of Herod's request. We have already analyzed proskyneō in v. 2 and have concluded that when applied to Jesus, it expresses above all a gesture of faith, and expresses the high theology of Matthew. Here, in v. 8, proskyneō could be explained by the fact that Jesus is considered a king, and therefore Herod would follow the protocol for kings, that of prostrating himself to the ground and offering gifts. But Matthew is writing for his believing community, and as we have just seen, the verb proskyneō used with regard to Jesus must always be interpreted in a faith context. So the evangelist continues the irony: Herod expresses his intention to pay homage to the Messiah, the son of God.
Before leaving v. 8, let us recall our general observation: apart from the word "send", which is not really Matthean and comes from the pre-Matthean tradition, the rest of the verse comes from Matthean vocabulary. What does this mean? The tradition used by Matthew probably referred to Herod sending officers in search of the child king (see Brown's reconstruction of the pre-Matthean tradition). Matthew modifies the story to insert a meeting between Herod and the magi where he delegates to them the search for the child king and the responsibility to inform him. The insertion of the Magi, representatives of the Gentiles, allows him to create a scene in contrast between the Jewish world and the world of the Gentiles.
|Verb proskyneō in the New Testament|
|v. 9 Following the king's words, they left. And now the star they saw in the east led them until they reached their destination, and then it stood above the place where the child was.
Literally: Then, them, having heard the king, they went and behold the star, which they saw at its rising, was going ahead (proēgen) of them, until (heōs), having come, it stood (estathē) over (epanō) where the child was.
|proēgen (it was going ahead)||
Proēgen is the verb proagō in the active imperfect indicative tense, 3rd person singular form. It is made up of the preposition pro (before, forward) and the verb agō (lead, take with one, fetch), and therefore means: lead ahead, precede. It appears only a few times in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 6; Mk = 5; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0) and even more rarely in the rest of the New Testament (1 Timothy and Hebrews).
The action of preceding or bringing is situated in two major contexts, the one related to space and the one related to time.
Context related to space
In this context, proagō is mostly translated as "to go before". The context can be one where people are ahead of others in a march, i.e., walking ahead. For example:
The context can also be that of a leader marching in front of his troops. For example:
There is the rare context where it is an object that precedes.
But there is also the context where it is not a matter of one group or one person going ahead of the others, but rather of bringing someone forward or bringing them before someone else, such as a judge; it is a kind of appearance. Examples can be found in the Acts of the Apostles.
This context includes the symbolic universe, i.e. going ahead and deviating from the norm.
Context related to time
In this context, proagō establishes an order in time, where people arrive before others at a place, i.e. they go faster. For example:
This precedence in time may concern intangible realities such as prophecies or prescriptions or past actions. For example:
Note that the verb proagō is not particularly Mathean. It appears only five times in his gospel, three of which are simply a copy of Mark; he never edited any of his sources to add proagō. It is possible that the verb was suggested to him by a pre-Matthean tradition (see Brown's reconstruction of this source on the Magi). In any case, what is the meaning of the verb here?
In our analysis above, we stated that proagō must be situated in a spatial context, and therefore the star is in front of the Magi, and as it moves, it indicates a direction. According to the traditional story, the star has been exercising this form of leadership since their arrival in Judea. Let us recall that the cosmic phenomenon that may have been at the source of the Magi's story is the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter around the year 7 BC, then that of Mars early the following year in the constellation of Pisces in the zodiac. This Pisces constellation was associated with the last days and the Hebrews. Thus, the magi were able to travel to Judea from this observation, without the need for any other indication. But, once in Judea, where exactly to go? It is here that the star reappears and comes to their rescue to specify exactly where in Judea, i.e. Bethlehem.
|Verb proagō in the New Testament|
Heōs is a particle that can be either a conjunction or an adverb. As a conjunction it introduces a temporal limit: "until", for example: "The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until (heōs) I put your enemies under your feet", Mk 12:36; as an adverb it often introduces a spatial limit: "until", for example: "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top until (heōs) bottom.", Mk 15:38. It returns regularly in the Gospel-Acts, especially in Mt = 49; Mk = 15; Lk = 28; Jn = 10; Acts = 22; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
The reason for stopping briefly at this particle is that Matthew likes to use it often. Of his 49 occurrences, 21 are his own, and he even sometimes adds it (underlined) to his sources.
|Conjunction heōs in the Gospels-Acts|
|estathē (it stood)||
Estathē is the verb histēmi in the active aorist indicative tense, 3rd person singular form. As an intransitive verb, it means to stand; as a transitive verb, it means to place. It comes up regularly in the Gospel-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 21; Mk = 10; Lk = 26; Jn = 20; Acts = 35; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
The meaning of the verb histēmi is marked by its context.
There is the context where, in a space setting, a person is or is placed in a place:
Verb can have a transitive value in a context where people or objects are moved to place them in a specific place:
There are situations where the verb is synonymous with standing:
When there has been a previous movement, histēmi sometimes expresses the idea that the movement stops:
Finally, there are cases where there is no reference to any special movement whatsoever, but it is a matter of holding or dulling oneself firmly, solidly, without flinching:
Matthew uses histēmi like the other evangelists. Nevertheless, of the 21 occurrences in his gospel, 10 are his own, and he sometimes adds it (underlined) to the Marcan source:
|Verb histēmi in the Gospels-Acts|
Epanō is an adverb which means: above, on, over. Evangelists use it only rarely, except Luke, and especially Matthew: Mt = 8; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 2; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
It is found in three different contexts.
What is remarkable about Matthew is that the eight occurrences of his Gospel are all unique, i.e. they are not a copy of Mark or of the Q document. He even allows himself to add it (underlined) to its marcan source:
Here, in v. 9 we are in a context where the star is physically above (epanō) the place where the child is. How can a star in the firmament be above a dwelling? It is useless to try to visualize such a scene more precisely. Matthew is simply trying to tell us that the star allowed the magi to identify the child's home. In ancient times, the image of a guiding star was well known. But the idea that it stops over a place is unusual.
|Verb epanō in the New Testament|
|v. 10 Having thus seen the star, they felt an overwhelmingly great joy.
Literally: Then, having seen the star, they rejoiced (echarēsan) with joy (charan) great (megalēn) exceedingly (sphodra).
|echarēsan (they rejoiced)||
Echarēsan is the verb chairō in the passive aorist invicative tense, 3rd person plural form. The verb means: to rejoice, and it is especially present in Luke, known to be the gospel of joy, and in the Johannine tradition: Mt = 6; Mk = 2; Lk = 12; Jn = 9; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 3; 3Jn = 1. The verb is also used to express the greeting in Greek, i.e. "rejoice" which is usually translated as "greeting". For example:
What is there to rejoice about in the Gospel tradition? We must distinguish between two groups, those for Jesus and those against him:
As we can see, for the disciple the motives for rejoicing vary greatly, but are concentrated around the person of Jesus, his coming, the fruitfulness of his mission, the wonders of what he has achieved, his continuous presence through his resurrection, and the possibility of having a share in the Kingdom. For the believing community, it is the prospect of forgiveness and of regaining what was lost, of the universal openness of the good news and of the lightening of religious rules. At the basis of all this joy, there is everywhere the gift of God, insofar as one opens oneself to it.
Matthew does not have much interest in the verb chairō. Of the eight occurrences of his gospel, three are used as greetings, and most of the occurrences are a copy of his sources. What can we say about chairō here in v. 10? While everywhere else the source of joy is around the person of Jesus, here it is the presence of the star. One could always say that the source of the Magi's joy is ultimately the child-king, for the star is there to show them his dwelling place. But the fact remains that we have something unusual in this verse, and it probably comes from the tradition Matthew uses.
|Verb chairō in the New Testament|
Charan is the noun chara (joy) with the singular feminine accusative form. An accusative noun usually plays the role of a direct object complement of a transitive verb (e.g., in v. 8: "Herod sent the Magi," and the word "magi" was in the accusative form). So, it should be translated literally: they rejoiced the joy, which sounds quite strange. However, we have two other examples in the NT of the verb "to rejoice" accompanied by the noun "joy":
In the two examples we have just cited, the word chara (joy) is in the dative, and thus plays the role of an indirect object complement: it specifies the type of rejoicing. But then it would have been normal that we also have here in v. 10 the word "chara" in the dative. The most likely answer comes from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 39:2:
And for their sake Hezekiah rejoiced with great joy (echarē charan megalēn) and showed them the house of Necotha, and of silver, and gold, and myrrh, and incense, and ointment, and the arsenal and its stores, and all that was in its treasures (thēsauros). And there was nothing that Hezekiah did not show in his palace and in his estates.
What do we observe? In this passage we find the same three words gathered together as here in v. 10: rejoice, joy, great. The verb to rejoice is at the same tense, i.e. in the passive aorist indicative, the only difference being that in the text of Isaiah it is in the third person singular, since it is about Hezekiah, and that here in v. 10 it is in the third person plural, since it is about the Magi. The name "joy" is in the singular feminine accusative (charan), as well as its attribute "great" (megalēn), just as here in v. 10. The context of Isaiah's passage is that of the king of Babylon who, around 703 BC, sends to the king of Judea, who had been ill, an embassy with letters and gifts, and Hezekiah, in his joy, shows them the chamber of his treasures: gold, silver, perfume, spices, myrrh. The Hebrew text simply says, "Hezekiah rejoices (śāmaḥ) with them (the messengers). The translator of the Septuagint gave himself a margin of freedom in translating: "Hezekiah rejoiced with great joy," and having the word "joy" in the accusative. Now this passage from Isaiah is taken up again as is by 2 Kings 20:13, but this time the translator of the Septuagint (certainly another than that of Isaiah 39:2) translated the Hebrew as follows: "Hezekiah was rejoiced about it".
What can we conclude? The translator of the Septuagint of Isaiah 39:2 has given himself a great deal of freedom with "Hezekiah rejoiced with great joy (echarē charan megalēn)", and by making "joy" a direct object complement, as if to say: "Hezekiah got a great joy", and so has introduced an unusual form. Now, the author of the Magi's account probably knew this passage from Isaiah, which spoke of an embassy of an Eastern country bringing gifts, and mentioned a treasure chamber with gold, silver, perfumes, spices and myrrh. As we have said, Matthew takes up here a pre-Matthean tradition of the Magi's story, and has not seen fit to modify it here.
|Noun chara in the New Testament|
Megalēn is the adjective megas in the singular feminine accusative form, agreeing in gender and number with the preceding noun "joy". It is quite frequent in the Gospel-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 20; Mk = 15; Lk = 26; Jn = 5; Acts = 31; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It literally means: great. But depending on the name it qualifies, it can take different shades. For example:
Matthew regularly uses this adjective. Of the 20 occurrences, 12 are his own. And he allows himself to modify his Marcan source to add it (underlined). Let us give two examples (see also Mt 24: 24 || Mk 13: 22; Mt 24: 31 || Mk 13: 27).
Thus the adjective megas is really part of Matthew's vocabulary.
Having said that, can we say that the expression "great joy" is from Matthew's pen? Now, we have just stated above that the expression "they were rejoiced with great joy" is probably borrowed from Isaiah 39:2 by the author of the pre-Matthean account of the Magi, and that Matthew would have been content to take it as it is, even if the expression "to be overjoyed with joy" with "joy" in the accusative is unusual. It is possible that one of Matthew's reasons for retaining the expression as it is is because it expresses the feelings that follow the reception of the good news; this is what he will affirm at the end of the gospel by modifying Mark's text, where the women leave the empty tomb full of fear and say nothing to anyone, writing instead: "Leaving the tomb quickly with fear and great (megas) joy (chara), they ran to bring the news to his disciples" (Mt 28:8). Thus, for Matthew, what this tradition expresses about the magi's feeling before the star, which is most likely associated with the star of David and the messiah, expresses the believer's feelings before the good news. He did not create this expression, but he retains it vividly, giving us an echo of what the Gentiles in his community experience.
|Adjective megas in the Gospels-Acts|
Sphodra is an adverb meaning: extremely, strongly, excessively. In the New Testament it appears only in the Gospel-Acts, with the exception of an occurrence in the Apocalypse: Mt = 7; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. On the other hand, this adverb is frequent in the Septuagint.
As the statistics show, it is a predominantly Matthean adverb. All occurrences of his gospel are specific to him. As he often does, he allows himself to add (underlined) this adverb to his Marcan source. Here are two examples (see also Mt 19:25 || Mk 10:26)
The adverb allows Matthew to accentuate the feelings:
This is what he does here with the Magi's story, but this time, in a way that is unique in the whole gospel, it is positive feelings of joy. It gives an idea of what the good news of the Messiah means to him and his community.
|Adverb sphodra in the New Testament|
|v. 11 After entering the house, they see the child with Mary, his mother. So they bowed down to him, kneeling, then after opening their boxes, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Literally: And having come into the house (oikian), they saw the child with Mary (Marias) the mother (mētros) of him, et having fallen down (pesontes) the prostrate to him and, having opened (anoixantes) the treasures (thēsaurous) of them, they offered (prosēnenkan) to him gifts (dōra), gold (chryson), frankincense (libanon) and myrrh (smyrnan).
Oikian is the noun oikia (house) with the singular feminine accusative. The accusative is required by the preposition eis (to, until, in). Two words refer to the house in Greek, the masculine name oikos, and the feminine name oikia. All the evangelists use the two terms: oikos (Mt = 10; Mk = 13; Lk = 33; Jn = 5; Ac = 25; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) and oikia (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5; Ac = 11; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0). As we can see, Matthew and Mark prefer oikia to oikos, while Luke prefers oikos to oikia, while John uses them in an equivalent way. There does not seem to be any nuance between the two terms. A typical example comes from John where the house of Martha and Mary is called first oikos, then oikia:
When we look at the use of oikia by evangelists, we note four possible meanings.
In Matthew, oikia generally designates the physical house, the only exception being cases where they are residents of the house (10: 13-14; 12: 25; 13: 57). What does he say about the house?
These references suffice to show that when Matthew speaks of a house, he is not talking about a simple shanty, but about a building that can accommodate several people. So how do we understand the word "house" here in v. 11? For Matthew, it is very clear that Joseph and Mary are permanent residents of Bethlehem and that their house is the usual residence of the city. It is therefore a betrayal of what Matthew writes to transpose Luke's account here and to give birth to Jesus in a stable and a manger. The fact that the Magi are placed in front of a manger is rooted in the confusion of Luke's story with that of Matthew. Some biblical scholars have tried to reconcile the two stories without convincing anyone.
|Noun oikia in the Gospels-Acts|
Marias is the noun Maria in the singular feminine genitive form. The genitive is required because of the preposition meta (with). Note that the name "Mary" appears in Greek in the Gospel-Acts in two forms, the declinable form Maria (Mt = 3; Mk = 8; Lk = 3; Jn = 5; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and the indeclinable form Mariam (Mt = 8; Mk = 0; Lk = 14; Jn = 10; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0). The Septuagint uses only the Mariam form. The Greek word comes from the Hebrew: Miryām, the name of the sister of Moses and Aaron.
Each evangelist makes different choices about the form of the word. In his infancy narrative, Matthew always presents us with the form Maria to designate the mother of Jesus, but surprisingly in 13:55 he modifies Mark who has Maria to have the form Mariam. Just as surprising is his way of designating Mary of Magdala in the form Mariam, modifying the Maria of Mark, except in 27: 56 where he is content to copy Maria from Mark (some copyists as the codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, 5th c., saw the inconsistency and wrote "Mariam"). The other Mary always has the form Maria.
With Mark, one always has the form Maria.
Luke always uses the form Mariam in his infancy narrative to speak of the mother of Jesus, except in 1:41 ("the greeting of Mary"). Similarly, he always uses the Mariam form to refer to Martha's sister. On the other hand, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary always appear in the form Maria.
In John, Martha's sister is always called Mariam, as in Luke. On the other hand, Mary, Clopas' wife and Mary Magdalene have the form Maria, except at the end of his gospel where Mary Magdalene takes the form Mariam.
In his Acts, Luke presents the mother of Jesus as Mariam, and the mother of John Mark as Maria.
Throughout the New Testament, the 54 occurrences of the name "Mary" are divided in strictly equal parts between Maria and Mariam. What can we conclude? It is clear that the Mariam form belongs above all to a Jewish milieu, while the Maria form belongs to a Greco-Roman milieu. But since we do not have a complete and exact portrait of the history of the writing of the Gospels, it is impossible to fully explain the presence of Maria or Mariam.
In general, we can say that the mother of Jesus is rather absent from the Gospels, with the exception of John, who never gives us his name, because the fourth evangelist makes her play a symbolic role, that of the mother of believers. Luke surprises us: for in his infancy narrative Mary is a central figure, but she disappears completely afterwards.
What about Matthew? In his infancy narrative, Joseph is the central figure. Of Mary, it is simply said that it is from her that Jesus was born, that she was Joseph's fiancée and that she was pregnant before they lived together through the action of the Holy Spirit, and that she is at home with Joseph when the Magi appear. She appears above all as the instrument of God's plan, without being presented with any action whatsoever. Matthew mentions her again in 13:55, taking up a passage from Mark and adding the expression: "Does he not have Mary as his mother", making it clear that she is not a very well-known figure.
Thus, in the infancy narrative, especially in v. 11, Mary exists only through Joseph, as it usually the case in the Jewish culture.
|Noun Maria or Mariam in the Bible|
Mētros is the noun mētēr (mother) in the female genitive singular form. The genitive is required because the word is apposition to Mary, who is in the genitive. The word mētēr gave us in French the words: maternel et maternité. It is very present in the Gospel-Acts (Mt = 26; Mk = 17; Lk = 17; Jn = 11; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), but with a total of 75 occurrences, it is much less present than the name "father" (patēr) with its 316 occurrences, which is normal in the context of a patriarchal society. Note also that out of the 75 occurrences, 13 belong to the infancy narratives of Luke (7) and Matthew (6).
The various references to the mother in the Gospel-Acts fall into three categories: the mother of Jesus, the mother of another person, and the mother in a general sense. The following table represents them according to the evangelists.
What does this table reveal? First of all, Mark, who wrote his gospel around 67 AD, has only two occurrences with "mother of Jesus" and they are concentrated in one scene: Jesus' mother and brothers want to see him, but rather than welcoming them, Jesus gives a homily on true motherhood and brotherhood, which is based on the acceptance of the word of God; there is no emphasis on the mother of Jesus here.
It is a bit different in Matthew and Luke around 80 or 85 AD, who, in addition to taking up Mark's scene about Jesus' mother and brothers who want to see him, present us with an infancy narrative about Jesus' childhood. In Matthew, the mother of Jesus is mentioned several times, as the one through whom Jesus will be born by the action of the Holy Spirit, the one that Joseph must welcome into his home and protect with his child; but we do not see her doing anything specific, she is simply Joseph's fiancée. It is different in Luke, where she becomes a woman of faith who welcomes the word of God transmitted by the angel Gabriel and expresses her gratitude, the one who will be called to suffer because of her son and who meditates in her heart the events surrounding her son; we are in front of a great woman of faith. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles she will be assiduous in prayer with the disciples.
The climax is reached with John, writing about 90 or 95 AD, where the mother of Jesus plays a role in Jesus' public life, intervening at Cana as a woman of faith, and especially at the crucifixion of Jesus, where the evangelist states that she has moved from a biological relationship to a spiritual relationship of faith, where she becomes with the beloved disciple the first fruits of that community of faith that will become the Church. Thus, over time, the mother of Jesus took on more space and became a greater figure.
As for the category of "mothers in general", Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark, from whom they take up the majority of the passages: the true mother of Jesus is the one who listens to the word; one must be ready to leave one's mother to follow Jesus; the Law of Moses requires that one honor one's father and mother; when a man marries, he will leave his father and mother. Matthew and Luke also repeat Document Q: following Jesus may cause a girl to oppose her mother. So this is a mixed picture of the mother: of course we must honor her, but we must be able to leave her to marry or follow Jesus, and above all, the bonds of faith are more important than the biological bonds.
Let us return to our verse 11, which tells us about the Magi: "They saw the child with Mary, his mother". The mother is named in relation to the child who is at the center of the scene; like Matthew's entire infancy narrative, she plays no role other than to accompany Jesus and Joseph. But what is surprising in the scene of the Magi is the absence of the father. This is a clue that the pre-Matthean material on the Magi is independent of the other pre-Matthean material centered on Joseph, his engagement and his flight to Egypt.
|Noun mētēr in the New Testament|
|pesontes (having fallend down)||
Pesontes is the verb piptō in the active aorist participle tense, plural masculine noun form. The nominative is required because the magi, implied, are the subject. It is especially present in Matthew and Luke: Mt = 19; Mk = 8; Lk = 17; Jn = 3; Acts = 9; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In the Gospels, it appears in three major contexts that impact its meaning.
First, there is a negative context where "falling" refers to a reality that falls, collapses or is destroyed, whether voluntary or involuntary.
Then there is the context of great veneration where a person prostrates himself on the ground to express a pressing request or to pay homage.
Finally, there is the agrarian context where the seed is thrown into the ground.
In Matthew, we find these three contexts.
Piptō is a Mathean word, not only because of its frequency, and of the 19 occurrences of his gospel, 12 are his own, but also because he adds it (underlined) to his sources.
Here, in v. 11, Matthew presents us with the gesture of falling to the ground to prostrate oneself. The couple piptō (falling on his knees) and proskyneō (bowing down) is unique to Matthew in the Gospels where it appears three times (elsewhere in the New Testament, we find it in the Acts of the Apostles, and especially in Revelation). It expresses deep veneration, and in Matthew it is a gesture of faith; the Magi recognize in the child-messiah their Lord. In the Magi, the evangelist intends to represent the non-Jewish members of his community.
|Verb piptō in the New Testament|
|anoixantes (having opened)||
Anoixantes is the verb anoigō (to open) in the active aorist participle tense, nominative plural masculine form. Not very present in Mark, we find it a few times in Matthew and John, and especially in the Acts of the Apostles: Mt = 11; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 10; Acts = 16; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
What we open can be both a physical and symbolic reality.
On the physical level, it is a question of doors or tombs that open, of the mouth that starts to speak, or of a chest that is opened. Examples:
Symbolically, it refers to the eyes or ears that open, a way of translating the transformation of a person, the entry into the world of faith. In the same way, to speak of the sky opening is to affirm that communication between the world of God and the world of men has been re-established. Examples:
The verb anoigō is part of the Matthean vocabulary. Of the 11 occurrences of his gospel, 8 are his own. And in the passages that are his own, he mostly refers to the mouth or the eyes that open. For example, this is how he begins his discourse on the mountain: "And opening (anoigō) his mouth, he taught them, saying:" (5:2). Sometimes he even adds it (underlined) to his Marcan source.
Here, in v. 11, it is about opening treasures. However, the expression "opening treasures" recurs a few times in the Septuagint.
Matthew's listener had to be familiar with the expression, and above all be able to grasp its symbolic meaning.
|Verb anoigō in the Gospels-Acts|
Thēsaurous is the noun thēsauros (treasure) in the plural masculine accusative form. The accusative is required because the word plays the role of a direct object complement to "open". This noun gave us the English word: thesaurus. The noun is uncommon throughout the New Testament, including the Gospels: Mt = 9; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. As can be seen, Matthew uses this word the most.
When reading the Bible about the use of thēsauros, by which the Septuagint often translates Hebrew: ʾôṣār, the following remarks can be made.
Thēsauros sometimes designates physical or material realities, sometimes spiritual realities.
As a physical reality, treasure can refer to various material possessions that one amasses, often kept in a secure place. For example:
As a physical reality, treasure can also refer to the room, or store, or box where one deposits one's possessions. For example:
As a spiritual reality, treasure can refer to a person's values and intentions, called his "heart," to the source of his actions, to the teaching of Scripture, to the wisdom contained in it, to the light brought by Christ, to the presence of a faithful friend, to a favorable situation in God's world. In short, they are various intangibles. For example:
As we have pointed out, Matthew is the one who speaks the most about treasure, and of the 9 occurrences of his gospel, 5 are his own. There is the section where he opposes material treasure and spiritual treasure (6:19-21), and the section where man's decision-making center, the heart, is compared to a treasure, two sections inspired by Document Q. There is also the comparison of the kingdom of heaven to a treasure found in a field (13, 52). And above all there is the image of the Jewish scribe who became a Christian, no doubt a personal echo of the evangelist, where Scripture is compared to a treasure from which one knows how to draw the new and the old, i.e. what is renewed by faith in Christ, and what is called to die.
Here, in v. 11, Matthew takes us into a reality that is totally different from the rest of his gospel, for thēsauros first designates the box that contains the gifts that the Magi want to offer. The evangelist is certainly dependent here on pre-Matthean material.
|Noun thēsauros in the New Testament|
|eprosēnenkan (they offered)||
Prosēnenkan is the verb prospherō in the active aorist indicative tense, 3rd person plural form. It is uncommon throughout the New Testament, and in particular in the Gospel-Acts, except in Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Mt = 15; Mk = 3; Lk = 4; Jn = 2; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The verb is composed of the preposition pros (to, in order to) and the verb pherō (to carry), and therefore means: to carry to, i.e. to offer, to present. When it is an object, it is most often translated: to offer; when it is a person, it is most often translated: to bring.
Let's take a brief look at the two main translations of the verb prospherō in the Gospel-Acts.
The circumstances for translating this verb by "to bring" are diverse: the sick, the paralyzed, the demonic are broughtto Jesus to be healed (Mt 4:24; 8:16; 9:2.32, etc.), a debtor is brought to his creditor (Mt 18:24), children are brought for Jesus to touch (Mt 19:13; Mk 10:13; Lk 18:15), Jesus is brought to Pilate at his trial (Lk 23:14). But sometimes objects, such as coins, can also be brought (Mt 22:19; 25:20).
Offering translates the idea that a reality, especially an object, passes into the hands of another, because it is a gift. Thus, one offers a gift (Mt 2:11), an offering for the altar or a gift for the temple (Mt 5:23-24; 8:4; Mk 1:44; Lk 5:14; Acts 7:42; 21:26), vinegar to the crucified (Lk 23:36; Jn 19:29), or money (Acts 8:18).
What do we observe? Prospherō is much used in a worship context, and if we add the epistle to the Hebrews in our analysis, we realize that more than half of the 47 occurrences of prospherō in the New Testament are in a temple offering context, and thus a worship and religious context. Here, however, prospherō is part of the expression: "they offered (prosēnenkan) gifts to him (dōra)". Let us take a brief look at this expression in the New Testament.
Clearly, the term "offering gifts" usually appears in a religious and cultural context related to offerings in the temple. Is the scene of the magi the only case in the NT where the context would be different? Although this scene is copied from the usual tradition of political embassies, the Christian author of the story certainly wanted his audience to associate it with the religious gesture of worshipping God, and here with the Messiah-King.
|Verb prospherō in the New Testament|
Dōra is the noun dōron (gift) to the plural neutre accusative form. The accusative is required because the word "gift" is a direct object complement of the verb prospherō. It is a rather rare word throughout the New Testament, except in Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Mt = 9; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
With its nine occurrences, eight of which are its own, the word is truly part of the Matthean vocabulary. Analysis of dōron confirms what we said in our analysis of prospherō, i.e. we are exclusively in a religious context of offering to the Temple of Jerusalem. In Matthew, if we forget for the moment the account of the Magi, dōron appears in four different contexts : the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says that one must be reconciled with one's brother before bringing his dōron before the altar (5: 23-24), in the account of the healing of the leper where Jesus asks to offer the dōron intended to confirm the healing (8: 4), in a dispute with the Pharisees on their traditions which Matthew takes again from Mark and where one prefers to offer the dōron to the temple rather than to help his parents (15: 5), and finally a series of invectives against the scribes and Pharisees about the oath where Jesus denounces their casuistry where one is held to the oath if one swears by the dōron and not by the altar which is below (23: 18-19). In Luke (21:1-4), the word appears in an account he copies from Mark's gospel where a poor widow gives the little she has to the temple: to avoid referring to specific coins, he uses the more generic word of dōron.
All this confirms that "gift" must be understood in a religious context.
|Noun dōron in the New Testament|
Chryson is the noun chrysos (gold) to the masculine accusative singular form. The accusative is required because "gold" is in apposition to the name "gift", which is in the accusative. The name is very rare throughout the New Testament, and it is in Matthew that it is the most frequent: Mt = 5; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
Chryson is part of the Matthean vocabulary: the five occurrences are his own, and he adds it (underlined) even to a text by Mark.
The text of Mt 10:9 refers to the various coins in circulation according to their value, gold, silver and bronze. Otherwise, gold in Matthew refers to the gold that adorned the temple (23:16-17); the temple was the place where gold was most easily seen.
But what interests us here are the magi. Why bring gold? Of course, one could argue that ambassadors bring the most precious thing to a king. But Matthew's intention seems much more precise and probably refers us to Isaiah 60:9:
LXX "The islands have waited for me, and the ships of Tharsis are the first to bring your children from afar, and with them their silver and gold (chryson), to sanctify the name of the Holy Lord, and to glorify the Holy One of Israel"
Isaiah 60 says that the light of Yahweh will descend upon his people while the world is in darkness, and the pagan nations, kings, and non-Jews will walk towards that light, and the Arab tribes of Midian and Sheba will come with their wealth, camels, gold, and incense to pay homage to the name of the Lord. We are around the year 620 BC, after the return from exile, when the temple is to be rebuilt. This is the announcement that this temple will be rebuilt with the gold of the nations that will pay homage to the Lord.
The reader of Matthew, familiar with Scripture, could see in these magi those nations and kings who came from Arabia with their camels and gold, not to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but to offer it to the new temple of the Messiah-king.
|Noun chrysos in the New Testament|
Libanon is the noun libanos (frankincense) to the singular masculine accusative form. The accusative is required because "frankincense" is in apposition to the noun "gift", which is to the accusative. This is the only case of this word in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it appears only in Revelation (18:13). In the Septuagint, it appears in a number of books, especially Leviticus; note that the term "Libanos" sometimes refers to frankincense, sometimes to Lebanon. Note that the word "frankincense" is also expressed by the Greek word thymiama (see Lk 1:10-11).
What is frankincense? It is a resinous substance obtained by incising the bark of a white wood (Heb. lebonā), such as boswellia, from India, Somalia or South Arabia ("land of Sheba"). Frankincense was used in the making of perfumes and herbs, and was assimilated to the perfume of the offering. In the temple of Jerusalem, the sacrifice of frankincense is provided every day, morning and evening, on the altar of perfumes in the Holy (Ex 30:7-8). According to Lev 2:1-2, frankincense accompanies the oblation (on the subject, see Xavier-Léon Dufour, Dictionnaire de Nouveau Testament, p. 225, and Monloubou, F. M. Du Buit, Dictionnaire biblique universel, pp. 205-206).
Thus, frankincense brings us back to the temple, just like the previous terms from dōron (gift) and chrysos (gold), and to a cult environment. But Matthew clearly intends here to refer to the prophet Isaiah as with chrysos (gold), and more precisely to this passage from 60:6.
And herds of camels will come to you, and the camels of Midian and Gepha will cover your paths. All the men of Sheba will come laden with gold, and will offer you frankincense (libanos), and will publish the good news (euangelizomai) of the salvation (s!tērios) of the Lord.
Thus, the people who come from Arabia bring gold and frankincense for the temple, and it is they who proclaim (euangelizomai, i.e. they evangelize) the good news of salvation. For Matthew, it is a reflection of what happened in his community when non-Jews believed in the risen Jesus and now pay homage to him. This is what the Magi represent, it is the meaning of their gesture towards the child-messiah.
|Noun libanos in the New Testament|
Smyrnan is the noun smyrna (myrrh) to the singular feminine accusative form. The accusative is required, because "myrrh" is in apposition to the noun "gift", which is to the accusative. Here is another very rare word in the New Testament, in fact found only in Matthew and John: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Myrrh (from the Hebrew môr, whose root means: bitter) is a precious balm produced from a red resin imported from Arabia. It was used on various occasions. According to Ex 30:22-25, Yahweh is said to have asked Moses to mix myrrh with other aromatic oils to serve as an offering and to anoint the altar of perfume, the altar of burnt offering and all its accessories. According to the Song of Songs (4: 14), it was used as a wedding perfume. According to John 19:39, myrrh mixed with aloes was used for the burial of Jesus. Finally, Mark 15:23 adds this scene where myrrh is mixed with wine to give it to the suffering Jesus, a way of offering a fragrant and fine wine, according to the criteria of antiquity, but which Jesus refuses (on the subject see R. Brown, The Death of the Messiah).
Why did the Magi bring myrrh to the child-messiah? As with gold and frankincense, we are in the cult context of the temple, where myrrh is used as an offering and to anoint the altar of the holocaust. The child-messiah is the center of a new cult. By the time Matthew writes his gospel, it is more than ten years since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and of course there are no more offerings or holocausts. But all this, for the Christian, has been replaced by the risen Jesus, the new temple, and it is now to him that we pay homage. All this must have been very clear to Matthew's audience.
|Noun smyrna in the Bible|
|v. 12 But following a warning during a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another way.
Literally: And having been instructed (chrēmatisthentes) according to a dream (onar) not to return (anakampsai) towards Herod, through another road (hodou) they withdrew (anechōrēsan) to the country (chōran) of them.
|chrēmatisthentes (having been instructed)||
Chrēmatisthentes is the verb chrēmatizō to the passive aorist participle tense, plural masculine noun form; the participle agrees with the subject "magi" implied in the main proposal. It is a rare verb in the whole Bible and more particularly in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The verb has the same root as the noun chrēma (things, means, goods) and means first of all: to make transactions or deals, from which to give advice, to make consultations, and in a religious context: to make a revelation, or in a passive context, to receive a revelation. But occasionally, the verb means: to receive a title or a noun.
The two occurrences of Matthew's gospel belong to the infancy narrative and are situated in a similar context where someone receives a revelation in a dream informing him of the road to take: in the first case it is the Magi, in the second it is Joseph. There is something paradoxical in seeing "pagans" receive a divine revelation. For Matthew, God uses everyone to promote his plan, in this case to protect the child-messiah. But we must also remember that the Magi evoke the Gentiles of his community.
This verse 12 serves as a stitch between the story of the Magi, which Matthew is said to have received from a pre-Matthean tradition and which probably ended with the Magi returning by the usual route to their country after having paid homage to the child-king (see the reconstruction of this tradition), and the ongoing story of Herod in search of the child (see the reconstruction of this tradition). Also, since Matthew had introduced the meeting of the Magi with Herod, which was not part of the ancient tradition, and made them practically spies in the service of the king, he must now find a way to avoid a new meeting. The way found is that of a divine revelation, as we often see in the prophet Jeremiah with the verb chrēmatizō. Thus, God keeps the opponents of the messiah in check.
|Verb chrēmatizō in the Bible|
Onar is the noun onar to the accusative neutral singular. It means: dream, and gave us the word oneiric. It appears only in Matthew throughout the Bible: Mt = 6; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The dream in Greek is also expressed by two other words: first, oneiros which is used only in the book of wisdom and 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees, but above all enyption, a word made up of en (in, in) and hypnos (sleep) which was used to translate the Hebrew ḥălōm (dream) and which appears in the New Testament only in Acts (2, 17) in a quotation from the prophet Joel. Why three Greek words? If we place their use in time, it seems that the Septuagint translators of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC opted for enyption to translate the Hebrew word ḥălōm. But in the first century BC until the beginning of the 1st century AD, enyption was replaced by oneiros in the Hellenic Jewish milieu. And when Matthew wrote his gospel around the year 80 or 85, onar seems to be in use.
Generally speaking in the whole of the OT, the dream is valued, because it is one of the channels of communication used by God. Of course, there are sometimes false prophets who had dreams (see Deut, Isa, Jer, Mic, Zech), and some writings such as those of Sirach warn against dreams. But the great majority of texts present a positive view of dreaming. Thus many great people had dreams that they knew how to interpret as the word of God: the patriarch Joseph, King Solomon, Daniel, Mordecai, and Joel announces eschatological times when the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all and people will have dreams.
What interests us here is Patriarch Joseph (Gen 37-50) whose story influenced the pre-Matthean material Matthew uses in his infancy narrative. Joseph's dreams are presented as a word of God announcing the bright future that awaits him in Egypt and the humiliation of his brothers. But not only did Joseph hear the word of God in his dreams, but he had the ability to interpret the dreams of others. This context seems to explain the organization of the main pre-mathean material of the infancy narrative which features Joseph, father of Jesus, and which is punctuated by God's intervention three times through the word of an angel in a dream of Joseph.
Let us first note the presence in Matthew of six dreams which are each time the place of a revelation.
Three of these dreams (1: 20; 2: 13.19) involve an angel and probably come from a pre-Matthean narrative; they are the work of an anonymous Christian (see the structure of these three angelic apparitions in the dream). In the other three stories (2: 12.22; 27: 19), there is no angel, but we are simply told that the person had a dream, revealing something that led him to act. These last three stories are from Matthew's pen, for not only do they use his vocabulary, but the stories are at odds with the overall context (on the dream of Pilate's wife in particular, see Brown).
Now, our v. 12 presents a dream of the Magi and is part of the stich work under the pen of Matthew in order to find the main story around Herod, but keeping the motive of God's intervention through the dream; thus, despite its additions, the story keeps a certain unity. And we can sense that in Matthew's case, the dream is a place where the word of God can be expressed.
|Noun onar in the Bible Noun oneiros in the Bible|
|anakampsai (to return)||
Anakampsai is the verb anakamptō to the infinitive active aorist tense. It is formed from the preposition ana which describes a movement from bottom to top or backwards, and the verb kamptō (to bend, to fold), and thus to lean backwards, i.e. to return, to go back. It is a very rare verb in the Gospels - Acts (Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jk = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and uncommon in the Septuagint with 16 occurrences.
In Matthew, it is the only case of this verb. We have here the clue that it is not a Matthean word. One can imagine that the pre-Matthean tradition spoke of a return of the Magi to their country using this verb, and that Matthew simply took it up.
|Verb anakamptō in the Bible|
Hodou is the noun hodos (path, road) to the singular masculine genitive form. The genitive is required by the preposition dia (through, by). It is a word quite frequent in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 22; Mk = 16; Lk = 20; Jn = 4; Acts = 20; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, except in John. Since Jesus was an itinerant preacher, it is not surprising that the Gospels so often refer to the road.
Matthew is the one who most often uses the name hodos, and of his 22 occurrences, 10 are his own. He adds it (underlined) sometimes to his Marcan source.
Here, in v. 12, hodos refers to the physical road the Magi must take to return to their homeland. As Matthew has inserted the magi's narrative into the main plot of the infancy narrative, he must create an "exit" for the magi, and it is through an "other road" than the one that leads them to Herod, that they will return to their country.
|Noun hodos in the Gospels-Acts|
|anechōrēsan (they withdrew)||
Anechōrēsan is the verb anachōreō to the aorist indicative tense, 3rd person plural form. The verb anachōreō is composed of the preposition ana (describes a movement from bottom to top, or backwards or backwards) and the verb chōreō (to make room, to move), and therefore means: to withdraw. It is a typical Matthean verb: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Acts = 2. It is used four times in infancy narratives: the Magi withdrew by another route to avoid Herod (2: 12-13); also to avoid Herod, Joseph withdrew to Egypt (2: 14), then to Galilee (2: 22). When Jesus is the subject, the verb describes a strategic retreat on his part in the face of an imminent threat:
Otherwise, it is Jesus who asks the crowd to withdraw or leave the house of the ruler of the synagogue where his daughter is considered dead (9: 24), or it is Judas who withdraws from the temple after throwing away his thirty pieces of silver, a retreat that ends with his suicide (27: 5).
Matthew's choice of anachōreō here in v. 12 is not innocent. For he could have written that the Magi "departed" for their homeland. But the verb anachōreō could be translated as: to flee. For the retreat of the Magi is to avoid an evil: that Herod be informed of the whereabouts of the child, just as Joseph will withdraw to Egypt (2: 14) to flee the fury of Herod the Great, then will withdraw to Galilee to flee the terror of Herod Archelaus in Judea (2: 22), just as Jesus withdrew to flee from Herod Antipas after the arrest of John the Baptist (4:12) and then after his execution (14:13), because he was associated with this prophet, just as he withdrew to flee from the conspiracy of the Pharisees who wanted to kill him (12:15). We may also have here an echo of Exodus 2:15: "The Pharaoh, when he heard (that Moses had killed an Egyptian), wanted to kill Moses, but Moses withdrew (anachōreō) from the face of the Pharaoh and passed into the land of Midian, and when he came to the land of Midian, he sat down by a well; for the main plot of Matthew's infancy narrative was inspired by the childhood of Moses and the conspiracy against Moses by the Pharaoh thereafter (on the subject, see Brown).
|Verb anachōreō in the Bible|
Chōran is the noun chōra to the singular feminine accusative form. The accusative is required by the preposition eis (to, in), which indicates the direction of a movement. The word designates a space delimited between two points, i.e. region, country, countryside, land. It is present here and there in the Gospels - Acts, but especially in Luke: Mt = 3; Mk = 4; Lk = 9; Jn = 3; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
Chōra is not a word that belongs to the Matthean vocabulary. Of the three occurrences, one (4: 16) is a quotation from Isaiah 8: 23 - 9: 1, another (8: 28) is a copy of Mark 5: 1, and here in v. 12 we have the end of the pre-Mathean material of the Magi's story. We can assume that chōra simply served to describe the return of the Magi to their homeland in the tradition received by Matthew, and that the evangelist was content to repeat it. And it is likely that according to this tradition the story ended like this: "Then they (the Magi) returned (anakamptō) to their country (chōra)".
|Noun chōra in the New Testament|
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2021