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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.


Summary

The story

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 vocabulary

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).


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    1 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα 1 Tou de Iēsou gennēthentos en Bēthleem tēs Ioudaias en hēmerais Hērōdou tou basileōs, idou magoi apo anatolōn paregenonto eis Hierosolyma 1 Then, the Jesus having been begotten in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold magi from Orient arrived in Jerusalem,1 After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea at the time of King Herod, it happened that oriental astrologers appeared in Jerusalem.
    2 λέγοντες· ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ. 2 legontes• pou estin ho techtheis basileus tōn Ioudaiōn? eidomen gar autou ton astera en tē anatolē kai ēlthomen proskynēsai autō. 2 saying, Where is the having been born king of the Jews? For we saw of him the star at its rising and we are come to prostrate to him.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."
    3 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης ἐταράχθη καὶ πᾶσα Ἱεροσόλυμα μετʼ αὐτοῦ, 3 akousas de ho basileus Hērōdēs etarachthē kai pasa Hierosolyma metʼ autou, 3 Then, having heard, the king Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.3 When he heard these words, King Herod was disturbed, as were all the citizens of Jerusalem.
    4 καὶ συναγαγὼν πάντας τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ ἐπυνθάνετο παρʼ αὐτῶν ποῦ ὁ χριστὸς γεννᾶται. 4 kai synagagōn pantas tous archiereis kai grammateis tou laou epynthaneto parʼ autōn pou ho christos gennatai. 4 And having gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people he was inquiring by them where the anointed one is begotten.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.
    5 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας· οὕτως γὰρ γέγραπται διὰ τοῦ προφήτου·5 hoi de eipan autō• en Bēthleem tēs Ioudaias• houtōs gar gegraptai dia tou prophētou•5 Then, them, they said to him: in Bethlehem of Judea, for in this way it has been written by the prophet:5 They answered him, "In Bethlehem in Judea, for it is said in the book of the prophet:
    6 καὶ σὺ Βηθλέεμ, γῆ Ἰούδα, οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα· ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐξελεύσεται ἡγούμενος, ὅστις ποιμανεῖ τὸν λαόν μου τὸν Ἰσραήλ.6 kai sy Bēthleem, gē Iouda, oudamōs elachistē ei en tois hēgemosin Iouda•ek sou gar exeleusetai hēgoumenos, hostis poimanei ton laon mou ton Israēl.6 And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means you are the least among the governors of Judah. For out of you will come out the (one) governing, who will shepherd the people of me, the Israel.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."
    7 Τότε Ἡρῴδης λάθρᾳ καλέσας τοὺς μάγους ἠκρίβωσεν παρʼ αὐτῶν τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος, 7 Tote Hērōdēs lathra kalesas tous magous ēkribōsen parʼ autōn ton chronon tou phainomenou asteros, 7 Then Herod secretly having called the Magi, inquired exactly by them the time of the star appearing.7 Following these words, Herod secretly summoned the astrologers to tell him the exact date on which the star appeared,
    8 καὶ πέμψας αὐτοὺς εἰς Βηθλέεμ εἶπεν· πορευθέντες ἐξετάσατε ἀκριβῶς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου· ἐπὰν δὲ εὕρητε, ἀπαγγείλατέ μοι, ὅπως κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν προσκυνήσω αὐτῷ. 8 kai pempsas autous eis Bēthleem eipen• poreuthentes exetasate akribōs peri tou paidiou• epan de heurēte, apangeilate moi, hopōs kagō elthōn proskynēsō autō. 8 And having sent them to Bethlehem, he said, Having gone, inquire carefully about the child. Then, when you shall have found, report back to me, so that I also, having come, I prostrate to him.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.
    9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες τοῦ βασιλέως ἐπορεύθησαν καὶ ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστήρ, ὃν εἶδον ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ, προῆγεν αὐτούς, ἕως ἐλθὼν ἐστάθη ἐπάνω οὗ ἦν τὸ παιδίον. 9 hoi de akousantes tou basileōs eporeuthēsan kai idou ho astēr, hon eidon en tē anatolē, proēgen autous, heōs elthōn estathē epanō hou ēn to paidion. 9 Then, them, having heard the king, they went and behold the star, which they saw at its rising, was going ahead of them, until, having come, it stood over where the child was.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.
    10 ἰδόντες δὲ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐχάρησαν χαρὰν μεγάλην σφόδρα. 10 idontes de ton astera echarēsan charan megalēn sphodra. 10 Then, having seen the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.10 Having thus seen the star, they felt an overwhelmingly great joy.
    11 καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν εἶδον τὸ παιδίον μετὰ Μαρίας τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ καὶ ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα, χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν. 11 kai elthontes eis tēn oikian eidon to paidion meta Marias tēs mētros autou, kai pesontes prosekynēsan autō kai anoixantes tous thēsaurous autōn prosēnenkan autō dōra, chryson kai libanon kai smyrnan. 11 And having come into the house, they saw the child with Mary the mother of him, et having fallen down the prostrate to him and, having opened the treasures of them, they offered to him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.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.
    12 καὶ χρηματισθέντες κατʼ ὄναρ μὴ ἀνακάμψαι πρὸς Ἡρῴδην, διʼ ἄλλης ὁδοῦ ἀνεχώρησαν εἰς τὴν χώραν αὐτῶν.12 kai chrēmatisthentes katʼ onar mē anakampsai pros Hērōdēn, diʼ allēs hodou anechōrēsan eis tēn chōran autōn.12 And having been instructed according to a dream not to return towards Herod, through another road they withdrew to the country of them.12 But following a warning during a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another way.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 1 After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea at the time of King Herod, it happened that oriental astrologers appeared in Jerusalem.

    Literally: Then, the Jesus (Iēsou) having been begotten (gennēthentos) in Bethlehem (Bēthleem) of Judea (Ioudaias) in the days (hēmerais) of Herod (Hērōdou) the king (basileōs), behold (idou) magi (magoi) from Orient (anatolōn) arrived (paregenonto) in Jerusalem (Hierosolyma),

Iēsou (Jesus)
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.

  • When Philip meets Nathanael to tell him that he has found the prophet foretold by Moses and the Scriptures, he tells him that he is "Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth" (Jn 1:45).
  • The man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum calls him Jesus the Nazarean (Mk 1:24 | Lk 4:34).
  • In the region of the Gerasenes, a man with an unclean spirit cries out to Jesus: "What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? "(Mk 5:7; Lk 8:28).
  • When we are surprised by the words and actions of Jesus, we are reminded of his identity: "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know" (Jn 6:42)?
  • Ten lepers calling out to Jesus with: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (Lk 17:13).
  • As he left Jericho, the blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, "Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me! "(Mk 10:47; Lk 18:38).
  • When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the Jerusalemites were informed that it was "the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee" (Mt 21:11).
  • When the blind man who was blind from birth is asked to identify the one who healed him, he answers: "The man they call Jesus made mud... (Jn 9:11)
  • When some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, they addressed Philip, saying: "Lord, we want to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21).
  • When Jesus asks those who came to arrest him in Gethsemane what they are looking for, they answer, "Jesus the Nazarene" (John 18:5.7).
  • At the Jewish trial of Jesus, Peter is thus questioned by one of the handmaids of the high priest: "You too were with the Nazarean Jesus" (Mk 14:67; Mt 26:71; Mt 26:69).
  • At the Roman trial of Jesus, Pilate questions the crowd about what to do with "Jesus who is called Christ" (Mt 27:17,22).
  • On the cross, one of the criminals said to Jesus: "Jesus, remember me when you come with your kingdom" (Lk 23:42).
  • On the cross, a sign is placed: "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" (Jn 19:19; Mt 37:37 instead: "This is Jesus, King of the Jews").
  • At the empty tomb, the young man in the white habit announces to them the resurrection of "Jesus the Nazarean, the crucified one" (Mk 16:6; Mt 28:5, which simply reads: Jesus, the crucified one).
  • In the account of the disciples of Emmaus who inform their visitor about "Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself to be a powerful prophet" (Lk 24:19)

Let's make a few points.

  1. The usual way of calling Jesus for people who have some knowledge of him is: Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene (or the Nazarean variant), a toponymic surname, just as people in the past received as surnames: English (from England), Wales (from Wales), Spain (from Spain), London (from London), Scott (from Scotland). His name was attached to Nazareth, the place where he lived and worked (It is probable that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. On this subject, see Meier).

  2. Jesus is also sometimes called: Jesus, son of Joseph. This is another very old way of naming people by saying, for example, Bill son of Joe. Many groupings reflect this usage in the family name, for example the "mac" (son) in the Gaelic language that gave MacPherson in Scotland, or the "vic" (son) in the Slavic language that gave names like Petrović, or the "ben" (son) in Hebrew that gave Ben Gurion.

  3. It is interesting to note the three instances where Jesus simply calls himself "Jesus", but nothing more: each time it is about people who are not familiar with him, i.e. the blind man from birth (Jn 9:11), the Greeks (Jn 12:21), and one of the criminals on the cross (Lk 23:42).

  4. On a few occasions Jesus is given an honorary title, but it is usually in response to a pressing request where his bond with God is emphasized: son of the Most High God (Mk 5:7), master (Lk 17:13), son of David (Mk 10:47).

  5. Finally, there is the case of Mt 27: 17.22 where Matthew puts in Pilate's mouth: Jesus who is called Christ. As Matthew insists on the messiahship of Jesus during his trial, it is understandable that he wants this charge to be the reason for his conviction by Pilate. At the same time, this title fits well with the way the Greco-Romans perceived Jesus at the beginning of the Christian era, as the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus testifies when he recounts the death of James, "brother of Jesus called Christ" (Jewish Antiquities, 20, 9: #200).

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:

  • 1 Jn 1: 7 (reference to his death) "but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (Iēsous) his Son cleanses us from all sin"
  • 1 Cor 12: 3 (perspective of an unbeliever) "Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus (Iēsous) be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus (Iēsous) is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit"
  • 2 Cor 4: 10 (reference to his death) "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus (Iēsous), so that the life of Jesus (Iēsous) may also be made visible in our bodies"
  • Phil 2: 10 (a very ancient hymn where the emphasis is on the name "Jesus") "so that at the name of Jesus (Iēsous) every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth"
  • Rev 17: 6 (the martyrs follow in his footsteps) "And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus (Iēsous). When I saw her, I was greatly amazed"

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

J.P. Meier on the name "Jesus"

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 (Bethlehem)
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):

  • Luke and Matthew contradict each other on the reasons that bring Jesus to Bethlehem: for Luke, Mary and Joseph who live in Nazareth would have gone briefly to Bethlehem, where Jesus will be born, because of Quirinius' census, a census that did take place, but several years later; for Matthew, Mary and Joseph are permanent residents of Bethlehem, where Jesus will be born, and when they go to Nazareth, Jesus will be two or three years old (after their return from Egypt).

  • The rest of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and all the Gospels of Mark and John, completely ignore such a birth in Bethlehem, and he is rather considered a native of Nazareth, so he is called Jesus of Nazareth (Mk 6:1.4; Mt 13:54.57; Lk 4:23-24).

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 (Judea)
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

  • Lk 2:4: "Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea (Ioudaia) to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.
  • Lk 3:1: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea (Ioudaia), Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother tetrarch of the land of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.

All of Palestine

    Lk 6:17: "And when he came down with them, he stood on a platter. There was a large crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea (Ioudaia) and Jerusalem and from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
  • Acts 2:9: "Parthians, Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea (Ioudaia) and Cappadocia, of the Bridge and Asia

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:

Mark 1: 4Matthew 3: 1
There was John the Baptizer in the wilderness, proclaiming... Now in those days arrives John the Baptist proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea...
The noun Ioudaia in the Gospels-Acts
hēmerais (days)
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.

  1. It most often refers to the 24-hour day, and therefore may designate a specific number of days. For example:
    • Mk 1:13: "And he was in the wilderness 40 days (hēmera), tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild beasts and the angels served him."

  2. However, it is often used not to refer to the 24-hour day, but to express a date, especially in the past: in this case, reference is made to a person or to events in time with the expression "in the days of...", or even more vaguely "in those days". We therefore refer to a period of time, or even a specific moment in time. For example:
    • Mt 23:30: "If we had lived in the days (hēmera) of our fathers, we would not have joined them in shedding the blood of the prophets.
    • Mt 22:46: "No one was able to answer him a word. And from that day (hēmera) on no one dared to question him any more".

  3. We can also refer to a hypothetical event in the future for which we do not know the date: very often it is the day of judgment, or the dreaded catastrophe of the end of time, or even the departure of Jesus or his coming in glory.
    • Mk 13:24: "But in those days (hēmera) the sun will be darkened and the moon will no longer give its light".

  4. The noun "day" is sometimes used in opposition to night. For example:
    • Lk 2:37: "she remained a widow; when she was 84 years old, she never left the Temple, serving God night and day (hēmera) in fasting and prayer".

  5. Finally, it is sometimes used to describe the fact that a person is elderly, and therefore has many days. For example:
    • Lk 1:7: "But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in days (hēmera)"

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 (Herod) 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?

Herod family tree

(In this genealogy, we note characters who are mentioned in the New Testament:

  • Herod the Great: Mt 2: 1-22; Lk 1: 5
  • Herod Antipas: Mt 14: 1-6; Mk 6: 14 - 8: 15; Lk 3: 1 - 23: 15
  • Archelaus: 2: 22
  • Philip: Lk 3: 1
  • Herod Philip: Mt 14: 3; Mk 6: 17
  • Herodias: Mt 14: 6-11; Mk 6: 17-28; Lk 3: 19
  • Salome: under the name of "daugther of Herodias" Mt 14: 6-11; Mk 6: 22-28
  • Agrippa I: Acts 12: 1-5.19-23
  • Agrippa II: Acts 25: 13 - 26: 32
  • Drusilla: Acts 24: 24
  • Bernice: Acts 25: 13.23; 26: 30
  • Felix: Acts 23: 24-26; 24: 3-27; 25: 14)

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 (king)
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 (behold)
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:
Mark 1: 11Matthew 3: 17
And a voice from heaven: "You are my beloved Son in you I am well pleased."And behold (idou) a voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

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 (magi)
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.

  1. First there is Simon "the magician" in Samaria who, according to Luke, "made a profession of magic (mageuō) and amazed the people of Samaria" (Acts 8:9); and Luke adds that the Samaritans "became attached to him, because he had long since amazed them with his magic (mageia)" (Acts 8:11). Later he asked for baptism and became a Christian.

  2. Then there is Bar-Jesus (son of Jesus), in Paphos on the island of Cyprus, about whom Luke writes: "a magician (magos), a so-called prophet ... a Jew ... who belonged to the entourage of the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man" (Acts 13:6-7). He was open to the teaching of Paul and Barnabas.

  3. Finally, there is Elymas in Cyprus, who opposes Paul and Barnabas and about whom Luke writes: "But Elymas, the magician (magos) - for that is how his name is translated - was opposed to them and sought to turn the proconsul away from the faith" (Acts 13:8).

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

Verb mageuō in the Bible

Noun mageia in the Bible

anatolōn (Orient)
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:

Mt 8: 11Lk 13: 29
Then I tell you that many will come from the regions of the east (apo anatolōn) and from the west and sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven.And they will come from regions of the east (apo anatolōn) and from the west and from the north and from the south, and will sit at table in the kingdom of God.

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:

Mk 1: 4Mt 3: 1
There was John the Baptizer in the wilderness, proclaiming...Then, in those days arrives (paraginomai) John the Baptist proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea...
Mk 1: 9Mt 3: 13
And it happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.Then comes (paraginomai) Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.

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 (Jerusalem) 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

Noun Hierosolyma 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 (saying) 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:

  • Mt 1: 22: "And all this came to pass, that it might be fulfilled what was said by (the) Lord through the prophet saying (legontos) Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son"
    (Translation from NRSV) "All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son"

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:

  • Mt 12: 48: "Having answered, he told him saying (legō), 'Who is my mother and who are my brothers?'"
  • Mk 8: 28: "They said to him saying (legō), 'John the Baptist; to others, Elijah; to others, one of the prophets'"

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 (Jews)
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 (we)
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.

  1. It first has the meaning of simply seeing or perceiving something or someone, and therefore expresses a simple eye contact. For example:
    • Mt 2: 9: "When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen (horaō) at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was."
    • Mt 21: 19: "And seeing (horaō) a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once."

  2. The act of looking can be extended to become an observation or assessment, which often leads to a decision, or it can mean the act of understanding something. What is seen is not a simple physical object, but presupposes a certain intelligence. For example:
    • Mt 2: 16: "When Herod saw (horaō) that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men."
    • Mt 9: 4: But Jesus, perceiving (horaō) their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?

  3. The third meaning presupposes more than a simple understanding of things, but an inner or spiritual view of things, and is often the result of personal experience or even faith. In short, what is seen is limited to certain people and is not accessible to a wide public. For example:
    • Mt 3: 16: "And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw (horaō) the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him"
    • Mt 17: 3: "Suddenly there was seen (horaō) to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. "

  4. Finally, there is the special case where it is a matter of "seeing to something", i.e. paying attention, being on guard, or finding a solution to a problem. For example:
    • Mt 8: 4: "Then Jesus said to him, 'See (horaō) that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'"
    • Mt 27: 4: "He said, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.' But they said, 'What is that to us? See (horaō) to it yourself.'"

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 (star)
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.

Mk 1: 10Mt 3: 16
And immediately, rising up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove into him.Immediately Jesus rose up out of the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.
Mk 4: 31b-32aMt 13: 32
Being smaller than all the seeds on earth, and when it is sown it rises and becomes larger than all the vegetable plants, and makes large branches, so that the birds of the sky can take shelter under its shade.Which is smaller than all seeds; but when it has grown it is larger than vegetable plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and take shelter in its branches.

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
proskynēsai (prosterner)
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?

  1. To prostrate before God

    When the object of prostration is God, proskyneō is very often synonymous with worship, as shown in the following passage from Document Q:

    Jesus answered him, "It is written, ' Prostrate (proskyneō) before the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" (Lk 4: 8 || Mt 4: 10)

    The idea of expressing devotion or reverence to God is often expressed by the verb "to worship" as seen in the way in which several biblical translations, including the NRSV, translate the story of the Samaritan woman. For example:

    Our ancestors worshiped (proskyneō) on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship (proskyneō) is in Jerusalem (Jn 4: 20)

    Or the idea of worship can be expressed by "to be on a pilgrimage" as the Jerusalem Bible did. For example:

    So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage (proskyneō) to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer (Acts 8: 27)

  2. To prostrate before another person

    When the object is another person, prostrating oneself expresses a respectful homage to the other: out of respect, one puts the other in a position of superiority by throwing oneself on the floor. This is what Cornelius does in front of Peter, but the latter will take it up again by saying: "I too am only a man".

    On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, prostrated (proskyneō) before him. (Acts 10: 25)

    Above all, it is before a sovereign that one prostrates oneself, and this is what the Roman soldiers will do in derision before Jesus, after having clothed him with a king's robe and a crown of thorns:

    They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down prostrating (proskyneō) before him. (Mk 15: 19)

    Prostration is also used to express an intense supplication: one humbles oneself, one recognizes the greatness of the one to whom one makes the request:

    So the slave, falling, prostrated (proskyneō) before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' (Mt 18: 26)

    The gesture of prostrating oneself expresses fundamentally the submission to someone else, the recognition of his authority and the commitment to obey him. This is what the devil clearly asks of Jesus:

    If you, then, will prostrate (proskyneō) before me, it will all be yours." (Lk 4: 7)

  3. To prostrate before Jesus

    The interpretation of this gesture is more complex. For the Gospels were written on the basis of faith in the resurrection of Jesus and that God made him Lord, sitting at his right hand, i.e. sharing his privileges. Depending on whether the emphasis is on the historical Jesus or the risen Lord, proskyneō will take on a different meaning.

    But it can rarely be a simple sign of greeting, because even in situations where it would be appropriate, the words used suggest more. Take the example of the demonic behavior of a man from the Decapolis, where Mark writes: "When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and prostrated (proskyneō) before him" (Mk 5:6). All this seems rather banal. But the following verse brings a specific light: "With a loud voice he cries out, 'What are you meddling with, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Even if this last expression does not have all the meaning that it would later take on in the Christian creed, it nevertheless expresses a privileged relationship with God, and therefore the gesture of prostrating oneself is intended to recognize a certain greatness in Jesus. Likewise, when Matthew writes: "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and prostrated (proskyneō) before him, she asked a favor of him" (Mt 20:20). At first glance, one may have the impression that this was simply a gesture of politeness and courtesy. But what follows points us in another direction: "He said to her, 'What do you want?' 'Command,' she said, 'that in your kingdom my two sons sit, one on your right hand and one on your left'" (Mt 20:21). Jesus is presented as a Lord who will reign in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not presented as an ordinary being. Also "to prostrate" expresses the recognition of a form of lordship.

    On a few occasions, "prostrating oneself" appears in situations of intense supplication. For example:

    But she came and prostrated (proskyneō) before him, saying, "Lord, help me." (Mt 15: 25)

    Most of the time, in Matthew, this supplication is addressed to Jesus as Lord.

    Again in Matthew, we see the verb "to prostrate" three times in his infancy narrative. For example:

    On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and falling they prostrated (proskyneō) before him. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2: 11)

    The gifts offered are royal gifts, and therefore "prostrating" means the recognition by the Magi that Jesus is their sovereign, their king. With good reason some Bibles have translated proskyneō as: paying homage. All this assumes a look of faith. In John there is only one instance of proskyneō that is addressed to Jesus, and it is in a context of faith:

    He said, "Lord, I believe." And he prostrated (proskyneō) before him (Jn 9: 38)

    Otherwise, proskyneō appears in scenes after Easter and concern the risen Jesus. For example:

    Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and prostrated (proskyneō) before him (Mt 28: 9)

    Therefore, unless it is in the context of an instant healing prayer, proskyneō should be interpreted as an expression of faith in Jesus as known after his resurrection.

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:

  • Lk 7: 22: "Then he replied to the envoys: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard (akouō): the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear (akouō), the dead are raised, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor"

But akouō also intends to describe the fact that one learns a piece of news, that one is made aware of something:

  • Mt 4: 12: "Having heard (akouō) that John had been delivered, he withdrew to Galilee"
  • Mk 3: 21: And when his people heard (akouō) about him, they went out to seize him, for they said, "He has lost his senses

Sometimes akouō intends to mean more than just hearing a word or a piece of news, because it has the nuance of understanding:

  • Mk 4: 9: "And he said: 'Hear (akouō), who has ears to hear (akouō)!'"
  • Lk 8: 8: "Another fell into the good soil, grew and produced fruit a hundredfold." And when he said this, he cried out: 'Hear (akouō), who has ears to hear (akouō)!'"

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:

  • Mt 5: 21: "You have heard (akouō) that it was said to the ancestors: Thou shalt not kill; and if any man kills, he shall answer for it in court"
  • Jn 12: 34: "The crowd then replied, 'We have heard (akouō) of the Law that Christ abides forever. How can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?'"

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:

  • Mt 18: 15: "If your brother sins, go to him and rebuke him, one by one. If he listens (akouō) to you, you will have won your brother"
  • Acts 7: 34: "Yes, I saw the affliction of my people in Egypt, I heard (akouō) their groaning and I came down to deliver them. Come, then, that I may send you into Egypt."

For the evangelist John, akouō often implies faith, so listening or hearing means believing:

  • Jn 8: 47: "Who is of God hears (akouō) the words of God; if you do not hear (akouō), you are not of God."
  • Jn 10: 16: "I also have other sheep that are not of this fold, and I must lead them out; they will listen (akouō) to my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd"

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:

  • Jn 3: 32: "(the one who comes from heaven) testifies to what he has seen and heard (akouō), and his testimony no one welcomes."
  • Jn 5: 30: "I can't do anything on my own. I judge according to what I hear (akouō): and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my will, but the will of the one who sent me"

Finally, there is the unique case where akouō refers to court proceedings where a judge hears witnesses:

  • Jn 7: 51: "Does our Law judge a man without first hearing (akouō) him and knowing what he is doing?"

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:

Mk 12: 1Mt 21: 33
And he began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard and surrounded it with a fence and made a wine press and built a tower; and he rented it to winegrowers and went abroad."Listen (akouō) to another parable. 'A man was a landowner who planted a vineyard and surrounded it with a fence and made a wine press and built a tower; and he rented it to winegrowers and went abroad.'"

Here, in the Magi's story, the verb "to hear" refers to the fact that the news of the Magi's arrival and the purpose of their visit reached King Herod. The point of contention is that there would be another king of the Jews. So Herod imagines that a competitor would be born to dethrone him. Of course, the reader of Matthew knows that the kingship of Jesus is not of the same level. But in the story, Herod feels that his authority is in danger.
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.

  • Paul warns against people who seek to disturb the Christian community in Galatia (Gal 1:7; 5:10).
  • Peter also warns against people who attack Christians and asks not to be disturbed by them (1 Peter 3:14).
  • The Apostles in Jerusalem send a letter to the Church of Antioch to confront those who have troubled Christians (Acts 15:24).
  • In Thessalonica the Jews come to disturb the crowd and incite them against Paul (Acts 17:13).

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).

Lk 19: 22 (Document Q)Mt 25: 26
He said to him, "Out of your mouth I judge you, evil servant. You knew that I am a severe man, taking what I have not laid down and reaping what I have not sown.But his master replied, "Evil servant and lazy man, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather from where I did not sow and gather (synagō) from where I did not spread.
Mk 14: 53Mt 26: 57
And they took Jesus to the High Priest, and all the chief priests, and the elders and scribes got together. (synerchomai).But they seized Jesus and took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and elders gathered. (synagō).

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:

  • 22: 34: "When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered (synagō) together"
  • 18: 20: "For where two or three are gathered (synagō) in my name, I am there among them"

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:

  • 3: 12: "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather (synagō) his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire"

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.

  • 12: 30: "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather (synagō) with me scatters"

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.

  • 25: 35: "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed (synagō) me"

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:

  • They are responsible for the sufferings of Jesus (Mt 16: 21)
  • They are outraged that Jesus is being acclaimed (Mt 21: 15)
  • They question Jesus' right to "cleanse" the temple (Mt 21: 23)
  • It is in the palace of the reigning high priest, Caiaphas, that people gather to plan the arrest of Jesus (Mt 26: 3)
  • It was with the high priests that Judas negotiated his "contract" to betray Jesus (Mt 26: 14)
  • It is they, with the complicity of the elders of the people, who lend Judas an armed band to accompany him in the arrest of Jesus (Mt 26: 47)
  • It is in the palace of the high priest in title, Caiaphas, that the religious trial of Jesus takes place, where the high priests and the whole Sanhedrin look for a a forged testimony against him (Mt 26: 57)
  • It is the high priest who accuses him of blasphemy (Mt 26: 65)
  • The chief priests and the elders of the people decide to put him to death and hand him over to Pilate (Mt 27: 1)
  • During the Roman trial, it was they and the elders who persuaded Pilate to execute Jesus and release Barabbas (Mt 27: 20)
  • While Jesus is on the cross, they mock him with the scribes (Mt 27: 41)

Here, in v. 4, the shadow of their negative role already looms.

Noun archiereus in the New Testament
grammateis (scribes) 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.

  1. It is sometimes a neutral image that he leaves us with by simply presenting him as a Bible scholar, who scrutinizes the points of the Law to establish a casuistry, or to determine where and when the Messiah will come or simply to comment on Scripture. For example:
    • Mt 7: 29: "for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (grammateus)"
    • Mt 17: 10: "And the disciples asked him, 'Why, then, do the scribes (grammateus) say that Elijah must come first?'"

  2. On occasion he gives a very positive image of the scribe, such as 13:52 which speaks of the scribe becoming a disciple of Jesus, no doubt an echo of his own situation, or 23:34 which alludes to the fact that the Christian community was composed of prophets, sages and scribes. And all these verses where the image of the scribe is positive are always verses unique to Matthew.
    • Mt 8: 19: "A scribe (grammateus) then approached and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go'"
    • Mt 13: 52: "And he said to them, 'Therefore every scribe (grammateus) who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old'"

  3. Unfortunately, in most cases, the scribe is the image of the one who should not be imitated, the one on whom one should not model one's life. In these cases, the scribes are associated with the Pharisees.
    • Mt 5: 20: "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes (grammateus) and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"
    • Mt 23: 2-3: "The scribes (grammateus) and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach"
    • Mt 23: 13: "But woe to you, scribes (grammateus) and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them"

It may be interesting to note how the scribes are presented alone or with other groups.

GroupsMkLkMtJnActs
Pair scribes-Pharisees351011
Scribes alone92500
Pharisees alone41912148
Scribes with the high priests87500
Scribes with the elders00002
Other types of scribe (Christian or Greek)00101

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 (people)
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.

  • Lk 2: 32: "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people (laos) Israel"
  • Jn 8: 2: "Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people (laos) came to him and he sat down and began to teach them"

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.

  • Lk 2: 31: "which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples (laos)" (See Isa 52: 10)
  • Acts 4: 25: "it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people (laos)s imagine vain things?" (see Ps 2: 1)

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.

  • Acts 15: 14: "Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people (laos) for his name"

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:

  • Mt 27: 25: "Then the people (laos) as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!"

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 (anointed)
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).

Mark 13: 6Matthew 24: 5
Many will come in my name saying, 'It is I,' and they will lead many astrayFor many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.
Mark 14: 65Matthew 26: 67-68
And some began to spit on him... and to say to him, "Be a prophet!"Then they spat in his face... saying, "Be for us a prophet, Christ!"
Mark 15: 9Matthew 27: 17
Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?"Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus, who is called Christ?"

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.

MtEventScripture
2: 5Response of the High Priests and Scribes on the birthplace of the Messiah: BethlehemMic 5: 1; 2 Sam 5: 2
4: 4Jesus' answer to the devil's request to turn stones into bread: man does not live only by breadDeut 8: 3
4: 6The devil asks Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, referring to the protection provided by God through his angelsPs 91: 11-12
4: 7Jesus' answer to the previous request: One must not tempt GodEx 17: 2-7; Num 14: 22; Deut 6: 16; Ps 78: 18; etc.
4: 10Jesus' answer to the devil who asks to pay homage to him: to God alone we must worship.Deut 6: 13
11: 10Jesus testifies to John the Baptist: he is the one who was sent to prepare the way of the LordMal 3: 1; Ex 23: 20
21: 13Jesus justifies his intervention to drive the sellers/buyers out of the temple: a house of prayer has been turned into a den of robbers.Isa 56: 7; Jer 7: 11
26: 24Jesus alludes to his deathMaybe Ps 41
26: 31Jesus is referring to the fact that he will be abandoned: the shepherd will be struck, and the sheep will be scattered.Zech 13: 7

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 (prophet) 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).

  • The Law includes the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
  • The Prophets include three corpora.
    1. The first one includes the books of Joshua, the Judges, the two books of Samuel and the Kings; even though in our eyes all of these seem to belong to the category of "historical books", they speak of prophets like Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Elijah, Elisha, and Jehu.
    2. The second contains the three major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
    3. Finally, the third is the collection of the twelve little prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggaiah, Zechariah, and Malachi.
  • The Writings encompass a collection of disparate writings such as the Psalms, Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, the books of Ruth, Job, the Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Chronicles.

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).

Mark 13: 14aMatthew 24: 15
But when you see the abomination of desolation established where it should not be - let him who reads understand! -When then you will see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, established in the holy place, let him read. -
Mark 14: 49b-50Matthew 26: 56
"But (it is) that the Scriptures may be fulfilled." And leaving him, they all fled.All this happened so that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples, leaving him, fled.

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:

  • Mt 1: 22: "All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (prophētēs)"
  • Mt 8, 17: "This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet (prophētēs) Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases"

Then Matthew sometimes makes general references to the prophets of the Old Testament. For example:

  • Mt 5: 12: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets (prophētēs) who were before you"
  • Mt 23: 31: "Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets (prophētēs)"

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:

  • Mt 5: 17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets (prophētēs); I have come not to abolish but to fulfill"
  • Mt 22, 40: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (prophētēs)"

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:

  • Mt 10: 41: "Whoever welcomes a prophet (prophētēs) in the name of a prophet (prophētēs) will receive a prophet (prophētēs)'s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;"
  • Mt 21: 46: "They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet (prophētēs)"

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

R. Brown: parallels on Matthew's citation, greek and hebrew text

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 (governors)
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:

  • Josh 14: 11: "(Chaleb talking) I am still strong this day, as when the Lord sent me: just so strong am I now to come out (heb. yāṣāʾ; LXX: exerchomai) and come in (heb.: bôʾ; LXX: eiserchomai) for war"
  • Num 27: 15-17: And Moses said to the Lord, Let the Lord God of spirits and of all flesh look out for a man over this congregation, who shall come out (heb. yāṣāʾ; LXX: exerchomai) before them, and who shall come in (heb.: bôʾ; LXX: eiserchomai) before them, and who shall lead them out, and who shall bring them in; so the congregation of the Lord shall not be as sheep without a shepherd." (see also: 2 Chr 1: 10; 1 Mac 9: 29)

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".

Mark 7: 24Matthew 15: 21
And standiing up from there (we are at Gennesaret), he went into the territory of Tyre.And coming out (exerchomai) from there, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
Mark 13: 1aMatthew 24: 1
And as he was leaving the Temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Teacher, see what stones and buildings!"And Jesus, coming out (exerchomai) of the Temple, departed, and his disciples approached him to show him the buildings of the Temple.
Mark 15: 21aMatthew 27: 32
(...they lead him out that they may crucify him) And they require a (man) who was passing by, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, who came from the fields, to take up his cross.Coming out (exerchomai), they found a man from Cyrene named Simon; they asked him to take the cross.

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:

  • To come out of the house (9: 31-32; 13: 1.3; 18: 28; 20: 1-6; 22: 10; 24: 26; 25: 1; 26: 30; 26: 71.75; 27: 32)
  • To come out of the synagogue (12: 14)
  • To come out of the temple (24: 1)
  • To come out of the city (8: 34; 10: 11.14; 11: 7-9; 15: 21; 21: 17)
  • To come out of a land (15: 22)
  • To come out of the boat (14: 14)
  • To come out of the court (5: 26)
  • To come out of the tombs (8: 28; 27: 53)
  • To come out of the mouuth (15: 18-19)
  • Demons come out from a person (8: 32; 12: 43-44; 17: 18)
  • Rumors come out to spread out (9: 26; 9: 31)

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 (governing)
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 (Israel)
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 (then)
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:

Mk 12: 16-17Mt 22: 20-21
So they brought (one). And Jesus said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" So they said to him, "From Caesar. So Jesus said to them, "Whatever is Caesar's, give it back to Caesar, and whatever is God's, give it back to God."And Jesus said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this? "They said, "From Caesar. Then (tote) he said to them, "Render therefore that which is Caesar's, Caesar's, and that which is God's, God's."
Lk 11, 24 (Document Q)Mt 12: 44
When the unclean spirit has gone out of man, it wanders through barren places, seeking rest, and when it does not find it, it says, "I will return to my house from whence I came."But when the unclean spirit has gone out of man, it wanders through barren places, seeking rest and does not find it. Then (tote) he says, "To my house I will return, from whence I came."

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.

  • Mt 1: 21: "She will bear a son, and you are to call (kaleō) him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
  • Mt 21: 13: "He said to them, 'It is written, 'My house shall be called (kaleō) a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers.'"

But the verb "to call" also means: to invite, to summon, to convene.

  • Mt 4: 21: "As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called (kaleō) them."
  • Mt 22: 4: "Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited (kaleō) (lit. called): Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'"

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
lathra (secretly)
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 (time) 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.

  • Jn 7: 33: "Jesus then said, 'I will be with you a little time (chronos) longer, and then I am going to him who sent me'"
  • Acts 14: 28: "And they stayed there with the disciples for some time (chronos)."

It also means a point in time or a specific moment in time, i.e. a date.

  • Lk 8: 29: "for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times (chronos) it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)"
  • Acts 1: 7: "He replied, 'It is not for you to know the times (chronos) or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.'"

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
phainomenoua (appearing)
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.

Mk 13: 26Mt 24: 30
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.And then shall be seen (phainō) the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth smite themselves (the breast), and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Lk 11: 44 (Document Q)Mt 9: 32-33
And he expelled a demon, and the demon was mute. And it came to pass that the demon came out, and the mute man spoke, and the multitudes admired him.And as they went out, behold, a mute demon was brought to him. And when the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke, and the multitudes marveled, saying, "Never was anything seen (phainō) like this in Israel!"
Lk 17: 24 (Document Q)Mt 24: 27
For as the lightning flashes from one (point) of heaven shines (lampō) to the (other point) of heaven, so shall the Son of Man be.For as lightning comes forth from the east and is seen (phainō) until the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of Man.

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:

Mk 11: 2Mt 21: 2
And he (Jesus) said to them, "Go (hypagō) to the village in front of you and immediately, as you enter it, you will find a colt tied up on which not a man has yet sat. Untie it and bring it.Saying to them, "Go (poreuō) to the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it, and having untied it, bring them to me.
Lk 7: 24 (Document Q)Mt 11: 7
And when John's messengers had departed (aperchomai), he began to say to the crowds about John, "What have you gone out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?Then, as they went (poreuō) away, Jesus began to tell the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

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:

  • Mt 9:13: "Having gone, learn what it means".
  • Mt 10:7: "Having gone, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
  • Mt 11:7: "Then having gone, Jesus began to tell the crowds about John.
  • Matthew 17:27: "However, so as not to offend them, having gone, throw the hook into the sea and catch the first fish that comes up."
  • Matthew 22:15: "Then having gone the Pharisees took counsel together to catch him speaking."
  • Mt 25:16: "Having gone, the one who received the five talents works with and earns five more."
  • Mt 26:14: "Then having gone, one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the high priests."
  • Mt 27:66: "Having gone, they made sure of the sepulchre, sealing the stone and standing guard."
  • Mt 28:11: "Having gone, behold, some of the men of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened."
  • Mt 28:19: "Therefore, Having gone, made disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

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 (inquire)
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.

Mk 6: 10Mt 10: 11
And he (Jesus) said, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.Whatever town or village you enter, inquire (exetazō) about who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave from there.

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 (carefully) 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 (child)
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.

Age
-0.750123456789101112Adulte
 TeknonTeknion
 PaidionPais 
 Nēpios  
Brephos  

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.

Authorteknon teknionpaispaidionnēpiosbrephos
Matthew14081820
Mark9001200
Luke14091315
John011300
Acts506001
Ep. John970200

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.

Mk 8: 36Mt 10: 39
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of the Gospel will save it.Whoever has found (heuriskō) his life will lose it, and whoever has lost his life because of me will find (heuriskō) it.
Mk 8: 35Mt 16: 25
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of the Gospel will save it.Whoever wants to save his life will lose it but loses his life because of me will find (heuriskō) it.
Mk 15: 21Mt 27: 32
And they required a (man) who was passing by, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus who came from the fields, to take up his cross.On their way out, they found (heuriskō) a man from Cyrene, by the name of Simon, and asked him to take up his cross.

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:

  • Mt 13: 44: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found (heuriskō) and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.";
  • Mt 13: 45-46: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls on finding (heuriskō) one pearl of great value"

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.

Mk 6: 29Mt 14: 12
And when his disciples heard (this), they came and took away his (John the Baptist) corpse and laid it in a tomb. And his disciples came and took up the body and buried it, and they went and reported (apangellō) to Jesus.
Mk 16: 8Mt 28: 8
And when they came out, they fled from the tomb, for they were trembling and troubled, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.And, leaving the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to report (apangellō) to his disciples.
Mk 16: 6-7Mt 28: 10
But the angel spoke and said to the women, "Do not be afraid... And as he hastened away, tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. go and report (apangellō) to my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me"

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.
  • Lk 24: 20: "and how (hopōs) our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him."

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:

  • Mt 26: 59: "Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that (hopōs) they might put him to death"
  • Lk 16: 26: "Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that (hopōs) those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us"

Hopōs can also introduce a complementary subordinate clause with request verbs. For example:

  • Mt 8: 34: "Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him so that (hopōs) he would leave their neighborhood. "
  • Lk 7: 3: "When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him so that (hopōs) coming he would heal his slave."

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.

Mk 14: 55Mt 26: 59-60a
Now the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought a testimony against Jesus to (eis) put him to death, and they found none;But the chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin were looking for a false testimony against Jesus in order to (hopōs) put him to death, and they found none...

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:

  • "And the crowds that went before him cried, 'Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven'" (Mt 21:9).

The context can also be that of a leader marching in front of his troops. For example:

  • "They were on their way up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them, and they were astonished, and those that followed were afraid. And again he took the twelve with him, and began to tell them what would happen to him" (Mk 10:32).

There is the rare context where it is an object that precedes.

  • "At these words of the king, they (the Magi) set out on their journey; and behold, the star, which they had seen when it rose, went before them (proagō) until it came to rest over the place where the child was" (Mt 2:9).

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.

  • Now the night before Herod was to bring him before (proagō) [he] was asleep between two soldiers, and two chains bound him, and watchmen stood at the door, guarding the prison" (Acts 12:6).

This context includes the symbolic universe, i.e. going ahead and deviating from the norm.

  • "Whoever goes further (proagō) and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not possess God. He who abides in the doctrine, it is he who possesses both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn 1:9).

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:

  • "Jesus said to them: 'Truly I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes will go before (proagō) you in the Kingdom of God'" (Mt 21:31).

This precedence in time may concern intangible realities such as prophecies or prescriptions or past actions. For example:

  • "This is my warning to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies about you which go before you (proagō), so that, imbued with them, you may fight the good fight" (1 Timothy 1:18).

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 (until)
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.

Mk 9: 9Mt 17: 9
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus warned them not to tell anyone what they saw, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell no one the vision until (heōs) the Son of Man awakens from the dead.
Lk 12: 58 (Document Q)Mt 5: 25
For when you go with (your) adversary before the magistrate, on the way make an effort to finish him off, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge will deliver you to the executioner, and the executioner will throw you into prison.Agree (with) your adversary quickly, until (heōs) you are with him on the way, lest the adversary hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you are (not) thrown in jail.

Here, at v. 9, heōs probably bears Matthew's signature. How can we reconcile this fact with our assertion that the evangelist is taking up a pre-Matthean tradition here? Indeed, this tradition probably recounted that the star led the Magi to the place where the child was (see Brown's reconstruction). We do not have an independent version of this tradition, and Matthew probably rendered it with his own terms and syntax (see Brown on Matthew's editing work).

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:

  • Jn 19: 25: "And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing (histēmi) near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene"
  • Lk 7: 38: "She stood (histēmi) behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment"

Verb can have a transitive value in a context where people or objects are moved to place them in a specific place:

  • Mt 25: 33: "and he will make the sheep to stand (histēmi) at his right hand and the goats at the left"
  • Mk 9: 36: "Then he took a little child and make it to stand (histēmi) among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them"

There are situations where the verb is synonymous with standing:

  • Lk 6: 8: "Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand (histēmi) here." He got up and stood (histēmi) there"
  • Lk 18: 11: "The Pharisee, standing (histēmi) by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector"

When there has been a previous movement, histēmi sometimes expresses the idea that the movement stops:

  • Lk 7: 14: "Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood (histēmi) still. And he said, 'Young man, I say to you, rise!'"
  • Lk 8: 44: "She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stood (histēmi) (still)"

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:

  • Mt 12: 25: "He knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand (histēmi)."
  • Mk 7: 9: "Then he said to them, 'You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to make your tradition to stand (histēmi)!'"

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:

Mk 4: 1Mt 13: 2
And again he began to teach at the seaside and a very large crowd gathered around him, so that having gotten into a boat, he sat in the sea and all the crowd was along the sea, on the land.And large crowds gathered around him, so he got into a boat and sat down and the whole crowd stood (histēmi) on the shore.

Histēmi is indeed part of Matthew's vocabulary. So what does he mean here in v. 9? Our verse began with the verb "to go ahead". For in Judea the star began to move to indicate a direction. Now we are told that the star "stood" (histēmi) above the place where the child was standing. As we have seen above in analyzing the different contexts, after a verb of movement ("to go ahead" in our situation), histēmi can translate the idea of stopping. This is the translation of most of our Bibles. That way, we would have arrived at our destination.
Verb histēmi in the Gospels-Acts
epanō (over)
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.

  1. A physical context where an object is on top of another object. For example:
    • Mt 21: 7, "they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he (Jesus) sat on (epanō) them".

  2. A symbolic context to signify that an object is superior (above) to another object. For example:
    • Jn 3: 31, "The one who comes from above is above (epanō) all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all."

  3. A mathematical context where one number is greater (above) than another. For example:
    • Mk 14: 5, "For this ointment could have been sold for over (epanō) three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her."

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:

Mk 11: 7Mt 21: 7
And they bring the colt to Jesus and they put their coats on him and he sat on (epi) him.They brought the donkey and the colt and they put on (epi) them the coats and (Jesus) sat over (epanō) them.
Mk 15: 26Mt 27: 37
And there was the inscription of his motive (of condemnation), (thus) inscribed: "The King of the Jews".And they put above over (epanō) his head his motive (of condemnation), (thus) wrote: "This is Jesus the King of the Jews.

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:
  • Mt 26: 49: At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings (chairō) (lit. rejoice), Rabbi!" and kissed him.

What is there to rejoice about in the Gospel tradition? We must distinguish between two groups, those for Jesus and those against him:

For Jesus

  • For the disciples, from the inheritance of the Kingdom (Document Q, Lk)
  • For the crowd, wonderful things that are realized through Jesus (Lk)
  • To find what was lost (Lk)
  • From the birth of Jesus (Lk)
  • For Mary, to be filled with the grace and presence of God (Lk)
  • John the Baptist, of the manifestation of Jesus (Jn)
  • The sower (Jesus) rejoices with the reaper (disciples) in the harvest (John).
  • For Abraham, to see the coming of Jesus (Jn)
  • For Jesus, before the prospect of bringing Lazarus back to life and giving amnesty to the disciples to believe (Jn)
  • For the disciples, may Jesus return to his Father and come back under a new presence (Jn)
  • The disciples, at the sight of the risen Jesus (Jn)
  • The disciples, to have been judged worthy to suffer for Jesus (Acts)
  • The eunuch, after his baptism by Philip (Acts)
  • For Barnabas, to see God's grace at work in Antioch (Acts)
  • For the pagans, to see that the good news is also addressed to them (Acts)
  • For the church of Antioch, to no longer be bound to circumcision (Acts)
  • For the author of the Johannine epistles, may the members of the community live in truth and bear witness to him (2 Jn, 3 Jn).

Against Jesus

  • The high priests rejoice at Judas' betrayal (Mk, Lk)
  • For Herod, in front of the possibility of seeing Jesus perform miracles (Lk)

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 (joy)
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":
  • Jn 3: 29: "He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices of joy (chara) at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy (chara) has been fulfilled."
  • 1 Thess 3: 9: "How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy (chara) that we rejoice before our God because of you?"

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 (great)
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:
  • A great famine becomes a severe famine
  • A great voice becomes a loud or high voice
  • A great trumpet becomes a sounding trumpet
  • A great fever becomes a high fever
  • A great joy becomes full of joy
  • A great squall becomes a strong squall
  • A great fish become big fish
  • A great persecution becomes violent persecution
  • A great earthquake becomes a violent earthquake

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).

Mk 12: 28bMt 22: 36
"What is the first commandment of all?""Teacher, which commandment (is the) great(est) (megas) in the Law?
Mk 15: 46bMt 27: 60
And put him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock, and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.And he put him in his (brand new) tomb which he had hewn out of the rock, and having rolled a great (megas) stone to the door of the tomb, he went away.

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 (exceedingly) 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)

Mk 9: 31b-32Mt 17: 23
"And they will kill him, and, killed, after three days he will rise from the dead." But they did not understand the word, and they feared to question him"And they will kill him, and on the third day he will awaken (from the dead)." And they were exceedingly (sphodra) grieved.
Mk 14: 19Mt 26: 22
They began to sadden themselves and said to him, one after the other, "(Would it be) me?"And, exceedingly (sphodra) saddened, they began to say, one by one, "Could it be me, Lord?"

The adverb allows Matthew to accentuate the feelings:

  • The fear of the disciples at the transfiguration (17, 6)
  • The consternation of the disciples at the announcement of the passion of Jesus (17, 23)
  • The astonishment of the disciples at the revelation of the obstacle of riches to enter the Kingdom (19, 25)
  • The affliction of the disciples to learn that one of them will betray him (26, 22)
  • The fear of the centurion and guards before the earthquake that follows the death of Jesus (27, 54)

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 (house)
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:
  • Jn 11: 20: "When Martha learned that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (oikos)"
  • Jn 11: 31: "The Jews who were with her in the house (oikia), consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there."

When we look at the use of oikia by evangelists, we note four possible meanings.

  1. There is first the reference to the physical house which largely dominates. For example:
    • Mt 2: 11 "On entering the house (oikia), they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage"

  2. But the term sometimes designates, not the physical house, but all the people who live there. For example:
    • Mt 12: 25 "He knew what they were thinking and said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house (oikia) divided against itself will stand'"

  3. There is the special case where the term symbolically refers to the residence of God:
    • Jn 14: 2 "In my Father's house (oikia) there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"

  4. Finally, there is the unique case where house designates the goods or possessions of a person:
    • Mk 12: 40 "(the scribes) devour widows' houses (oikia) and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation"

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?

  • You don't build a house on sand, but on rock (7: 24-27)
  • Peter's house, which was probably also his house during Jesus' ministry, also welcomes his mother-in-law, it is the place where two blind men join him to be healed, it is the place where the disciples ask him to explain the parables, where he questions Peter (8: 14; 9: 28; 13: 36; 17: 25).
  • Jesus eats in the house of the tax collector Matthew and many other tax collectors join him at the table (9: 10).
  • Jesus enters the house of a notable man with his disciples and the parents of a little girl whom he brings back to life (9: 23).
  • The house is the place of the disciples' mission (10:12-14).
  • The homeowner ensures that the thief does not commit an offence (24: 43)
  • Jesus is having a meal in the house of Simon the leper with his disciples, when a woman appears and pours an alabaster bottle of expensive perfume on his head (26:6).

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 (Mary)
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 (mother)
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.

MtMkLkJnActsTotal
Mother of Jesus92710129
Mother of someone else5450317
Mother in general121151029
Total26171711475

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.

  • Mk 9: 20: "And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell (piptō) on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth."
  • Lk 13: 4: "Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell (piptō) on them - do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?"

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.

  • Jn 11: 32: "When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she fell (piptō) at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died"
  • Lk 5: 12: "Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell (piptō) upon his face and begged him, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean"

Finally, there is the agrarian context where the seed is thrown into the ground.

  • Mk 4: 4: "And as he sowed, some seed fell (piptō) on the path, and the birds came and ate it up."
  • Jn 12: 24: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls (piptō) into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. "

In Matthew, we find these three contexts.

  • First (9 times), there is an accidental reality where something falls to the ground: for example, a blind man falls into a hole (15: 14), a house collapses (7: 25.27), a bird falls to the ground (10: 29).
  • Then (6 times), we find the symbolic gesture of prostrating or falling at someone's feet to pay homage (4: 9), or to express an intense supplication (18: 29).
  • Finally (4 times), Matthew repeats a scene from Mark which describes the voluntary action of the farmer who throws his seed in preparation for a harvest (13: 4-8)

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.

Mk 7: 28Mt 15: 27
She answered and said to him, "Lord, even the little dogs under the table eat the crumbs of the children."She says, "Yes, Lord, for even small dogs eat the crumbs that fall (piptō) from their masters' table."
Lk 4: 6 (document Q)Mt 4: 9
And the devil said to him, "I will give you all this power and their glory, for it has been given to me and I give it to whomever I want.And said to him: "All this I will give you, if, falling down (piptō) at my (feet), you bow down.

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:

  • Lk 11: 10: "For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (anoigō)."
  • Actes 16, 27: "When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open (anoigō), he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped."
  • Lk 27: 52: "The tombs also were opened (anoigō), and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised."

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:

  • Lk 3: 21: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened (anoigō<),"
  • Jn 9: 17: "So they said again to the blind man, 'What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened (anoigō).' He said, 'He is a prophet'"
  • Ac 14: 27: "When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened (anoigō) a door of faith for the Gentiles."

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.

Mk 10: 51Mt 20: 32b-33
And addressing him, Jesus said, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "Rabboni, that I may see!"And said, "What do you want me to do for you? "They said, "Lord, let our eyes be opened (anoigō )!"

Here, in v. 11, it is about opening treasures. However, the expression "opening treasures" recurs a few times in the Septuagint.

  • Deut 28:12: LXX "May the Lord open (anoigō) to you his priceless treasure (gr: thēsauros; heb. ʾôṣār: treasure, store): heaven, to give rain to your fields at the proper time; may he bless all the works of your hands, and you shall lend to many nations and borrow from them, and you shall reign over many nations and they shall not reign over you."
  • Jer 50:25: LXX 27:25 "The Lord has opened (anoigō) his treasure (gr: thēsauros; heb. ʾôṣār: treasure, store), and he has drawn out of it the instruments of his wrath; and the Lord God has smitten the land of the Chaldeans.
  • Am 8:5: LXX "When then will the month be past for us to sell? When will the Sabbath end so that we can open (anoigō) our treasures (gr: thēsauros; heb. bār : wheat), make small measurements, increase the weights and make the scales;".
  • Sir 43:10: "Therefore his treasures (thēsauros, i.e., the water tanks of the sky) shall be opened (anoigō), and the clouds shall fly like birds."

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 (treasures)
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:

  • Mt 6: 19: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures (thēsauros) on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;"
  • Isa 2: 7: Their land was full of silver and gold, and their treasures (thēsauros; heb. ʾôṣār) were without number. And their land was covered with horses, and their chariots could not be counted.

As a physical reality, treasure can also refer to the room, or store, or box where one deposits one's possessions. For example:

  • Isa 39: 4: "And the Prophet said, 'What did they see in your palace?' And the king said, 'They have seen everything in my palace; there is nothing that I have not shown them, either in my palace or in my treasures (thēsauros, heb.ʾôṣār).'"
  • Dan 1: 2: And the Lord delivered King Joakim to him with some of the vessels of the temple of God, and he took the vessels into the land of Sennaar, where the temple of his god was, and put them in the treasure house (thēsauros, heb.ʾôṣār) of his god"

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:

  • Mk 10: 21: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure (thēsauros) in heaven; then come, follow me"
  • Sir 1: 25: "The treasures (thēsauros) of wisdom contain maxims of prudence, but piety towards God is an abomination to the sinner."

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.

  • Mt 2: 11: "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered (prospherō) him gifts (lebonā) of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
  • Mt 5: 23: "So when you are offering (prospherō) your gifts (lebonā) at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you"
  • Mt 5: 24: "leave your gifts there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer (prospherō) your gifts (lebonā)"
  • Mt 8: 4: "Then Jesus said to him, 'See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer (prospherō) the gifts (lebonā) that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them'"
  • He 5: 1: "Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer (prospherō) gifts (lebonā) and sacrifices for sins."
  • He 8: 3: "For every high priest is appointed to offer (prospherō) gifts (lebonā) and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer (prospherō)."
  • He 8: 4: "Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer (prospherō) gifts (lebonā) according to the law"
  • He 9: 9: "This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts (lebonā) and sacrifices are offered (prospherō) that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper"

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 (gifts)
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 (gold)
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.

Mk 6: 8Mt 10: 9
And he commanded them to take nothing for (the) road except a staff only; no bread, no pouch, no bronze (coin) for the belt;(he commanded them, saying) "Do not take gold (chryson), silver, or bronze (coins) for your belts"

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 (frankincense)
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 (myrrh)
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

Verb smyrnizō 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 (dream)
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.

  1. 1, 20: Joseph receives the revelation of an angel that he should not fear to live with Mary, because the unborn child is the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. 2, 12: The Magi receive the revelation that they should not return to Herod.
  3. 2, 13: Joseph receives the revelation of an angel that he must flee to Egypt with his family because of Herod's fury.
  4. 2, 19: Joseph receives the revelation of an angel that he can return to Israel, because Herod is dead.
  5. 2, 22: Joseph receives the revelation to take the Galilee's road up to Nazareth.
  6. 27, 19: Pilate's wife receives the revelation that Jesus is an innocent man

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

Noun enypnion 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 (road)
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.

Mk 11: 13Mt 21: 19a
And seeing (a) fig tree from afar, which had leaves, he came (to see) if, by any chance, he would find anything in it, and when he came near it, he found nothing but leaves: for it was not the season for figs.And seeing a fig tree by the road (hodos), he came near it and found nothing but leaves on it.

The nound hodos usually has the common meaning of a road that allows to move from point A to point B. But in Matthew we also find the symbolic meaning where the road expresses the direction that a life can take. For example :
  • 7: 13: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road (hodos) is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it"
  • 7: 14: "For the gate is narrow and the road (hodos) is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it"
  • 21: 32: "For John came to you in the road (hodos) of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

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:
  • Jesus withdraws when he learns that John the Baptist, with whom he is associated, is arrested (4:12);
  • Jesus withdraws when he learns that the Pharisees have gathered to kill him (12: 15).
  • Jesus withdraws when he learns that John the Baptist has been put to death (14: 13).

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 (country)
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
  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    Introduction: setting v. 1a
    • Event : Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.

    1. Reaction of the Magi v. 1b - 2
      • They come from the East to Jerusalem
      • They ask where is the child king?
      • They give the reason for their trip
        • The reason of the trip: They saw a new star
        • The purpose of the trip: to bow down before the new king

    2. Reaction of Herod and all Jerusalem with him v. 3
      • He is troubled
      • He gathers the high priests and the scribes of the people
      • He asks where the Messiah is to be born.
        • Response of the High Priests of the Scribes: Bethlehem v. 5
        • Scripture Justification (Mic 5: 1; 2 Sam 5: 2) v. 6
      • He secretly calls the magi to find out the date of the star's appearance v. 7
      • He sends the Magi to Bethlehem to know the place of the child-king under the pretext of paying homage to him v. 8
        • They must conduct a thorough investigation
        • They must report the information back to him

    3. Response of the Magi v. 9a
      • According to Herod's request, they set out to walk

    4. Intervention of the Star of the Magi v. 9b
      • It precedes them
      • She stood above the child's house

    5. Reaction of the Magi v. 10-11
      • An extreme joy
      • After entering the house and seeing the child with his mother,
        • They prostrate themselves
        • They offer their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

    Conclusion : v. 12

    • The Magi receive a revelation through a dream of not returning to Herod
    • The Magi return by another road to their country.

    The whole story is based on one event: the birth of Jesus. In front of this event, two great reactions are presented, that of the Magi and that of King Herod with all Jerusalem.

    The reaction of the magi constitutes an independent unit and can exist without the whole around Herod. Thus, faced with the event of the birth of Jesus, the Magi:

    • Are going to Jerusalem
    • Give the reason for their visit without addressing anyone in particular
    • There in Jerusalem, they find the star they saw in the East.
      • It goes before them
      • It stops above the child's house
    • In Bethlehem they prostrate themselves and offer royal gifts to the child-king.

    According to this set, the Magi do not need Herod and the Scripture scholars to get to Bethlehem, it is the star that leads them there.

    The scene around Herod can be describedas an unity in itself. The starting point is the same event: the birth of Jesus. Faced with this event, Herod the Great (and all of Jerusalem, and therefore the Jews)

    • He is troubled
    • The place of birth is specified by Bible scholars and the date by the Magi.
    • He mandates the magi to tell him exactly where the child is in Bethlehem under the pretext of paying homage to him, but in fact to kill him, as the secret of the meeting suggests and as the reader guesses.

    The structure of the narrative is based on a form of duality. First, 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 that 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.

  2. Context analysis

    Let us proceed in two stages, first by considering a possible plan of the whole of the Gospel and by observing where our passage fits in this great plan, then by considering the immediate context of our narrative, ie what precedes and what follows.

    1. General context

      Establishing which plan Matthew had in mind when composing his Gospel is a matter of conjecture. First, did he have any? Generally, it follows the sequence of Mark which begins in Galilee where takes place almost the whole of the ministry of Jesus, and ends in Jerusalem in a final confrontation with the Jewish authorities, where he will undergo a Jewish and Roman trial and will die crucified.

      But Matthew gives us a certain number of clues which allow us to make divisions. First there are the first two chapters of the narrative of the childhood of Jesus which represent in advance what will be the life of Jesus, son of David, the Emmanuel, ie God with us, rejected by the Jews through the figure of Herod who wants to kill him, received by the pagans through the figure of the Magi of the East, reliving the destiny of the chosen people through the stay in Egypt. We can consider these two chapters as a prologue to the Gospel.

      In ch. 3, through the preaching of John the Baptist, we have an introduction to Jesus who is clothed in the Holy Spirit, ready for his mission.

      The section that extends from ch. 4 though ch. 27 can be clearly divided into two separate sections using the situation of John the Baptist. In 4: 12, Matthew writes: "Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum". The imprisonment of John the Baptist is an opportunity for Jesus to stand on his own two feet, to begin his preaching, to choose disciples. This first section seems to end in 13: 58 while Jesus preaches in his homeland and the evangelist concludes: "And there he did not do many miracles, because they did not believe." In 14: 1, the evangelist announces a new section with the formula: "At that time" and describing the death of John the Baptist, figure of the fate that awaits Jesus. And in fact, this second section is marked by the shadow of suffering (16: 21 "From that moment, Jesus Christ began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, to suffer a lot .. . ") And death is awaiting Jesus with the three announcements of passion. It is a section initially centered on the disciples and on the opening of the pagans through the figure of the Canaanite woman, before the final confrontation with the Jewish authorities.

      The first section (4: 1 - 13: 58) starts by emphasizing the mission of Jesus with his preparation through the ordeal of the desert (4: 1-11), his initial preaching (4: 12-17 ) and the choice of the first disciples (4: 18-22), which ends with a summary (4: 23-25). Then comes the presentation of his program on the mountain, and of his action which accompanies his word through the grouping of ten miracles (5: 1 - 9: 38): Jesus shows himself powerful in words and in actions. And he delegates this mission to the disciples who will have to do the same (10: 1 - 11: 1). All of this triggers a period when one have to take a stand in relation to Jesus' person and teaching, where one have to know how to recognize the signs (11: 2 - 13: 58).

      The second section (14: 1 - 27: 66) is marked by the shadow of the death of Jesus, which began with the death of John the Baptist himself. The first section has ended with a statement of failure, so Jesus is now focusing on his disciples, preparing them for his demise. The Eucharistic symbols appear with the two schenes of Jesus feeding the crowd (ch. 14 and 15), the arrival of the pagans is announced with the story of the Canaanite woman (ch. 15), and the prospect of her imminent death which marks this whole section, just as of his resurrection through the story of the transfiguration (ch. 17). This is an opportunity for Jesus to explain how the disciples should live together (ch. 18). Then there is the final confrontation in which traps are constantly laid before him and where Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (ch. 21 - 23). Finally, Jesus offers a final speech concerning the coming of the Son of man and what will be the criteria for judgment, ie compassion (ch. 24 - 25), before remaining almost completly silent during his Jewish and Roman trial (ch. 26 - 27).

      The conclusion of ch. 28 is centered on the experience of the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the disciples to the whole world in a mission.

      One of the characteristics of the Gospel according to Matthew is to present to us five well-defined discourses or catecheses: teaching on the mountain (from 5: 1, "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him" through 7: 28-29 "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things... "); the teaching on the mission (from 10: 1" Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples... These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions..." through 11: 1 "Now, when Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples ... "); teaching in parables (from 13: 1 "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea... and he told them many things in parables..." through 13: 51-52 "Did you understood all this? ... "); teaching on fraternal life (from 18: 1 "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" through 19: 1 "When Jesus had finished saying these things..."); eschatological teaching (from 24: 3 "When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will this be'..." through 26: 1 "When Jesus had finished saying all these things").

      All these considerations on a possible plan of the Gospel according to Matthew can be represented by the following table.

    2. Immediate context

      Our narrative belongs to Matthew's infancy narrative consisting of chapters 1 and 2. These two chapters form an independent whole, so that if they were removed, it would have no impact on the rest of the gospel. And conversely, these two chapters are not echoed in the rest of the gospel: no information given to us in them reappears elsewhere. This does not remove the possibility that the infancy narrative was part of the original plan of the entire gospel (see Brown). Moreover, the infancy narrative is a theological digest of the entire gospel.

      Let us try to map out Matthew's infancy narrative. One possible key is the question that Matthew tries to answer, which was aimed both at members of his community and at the attacks of his fellow Jews.

      SectionQuestions answered by Matthew
      a.Genealogy of Jesus 1: 1-17 : Who is he? Son of David, therefore son of God, son of Abraham.
      b.Conception of Jesus 1: 18-25 : How is he the son of David? By Joseph who adopts him
      How is he the son of God? by the Holy Spirit.
      c.The coming of the Magi to Bethlehem 2: 1-12 : Where is he from? From Bethlehem, as the son of David
      How is he a son of Abraham? By the Magi from the East
      d.The family's flight to Egypt and settlement in Nazareth 2: 13-23 : Where is he from? He is from Egypt, where he relived the experience of Moses and the exodus of his people, and he is from Galilee, the land of the Gentiles.

      Thus, the story of the Magi presents Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, since he was born in Bethlehem, David's homeland, and is of David's lineage through his adoption by Joseph, and thus meets the criteria of the Davidic messiah. But our account insists above all on his acceptance by the pagans, and thus makes him the true son of Abraham, who had come from the East to settle in Canaan, a pagan land, in whom "all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen 12:3) and to whom God had promised to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5).

  3. Parallels

    There is no real parallel with the other gospels. Only Luke also presents us with an infancy narrative, but the differences are so great that it is impossible to reconcile them.
    • According to Lk 1:26; 2:39: Mary dwells in Nazareth and it is the census of Augustus that explains a journey to Bethlehem where her child will be born; in Mt 2:11 there is no indication of a journey to Bethlehem, since Bethlehem seems to be their permanent place of residence. The only trip Matthew mentions is to Egypt.
    • Luke's statement (2:22.39) that the family returned peacefully to Nazareth soon after his birth is irreconcilable with Matthew's statement that the child was about two years old when the family left Bethlehem to flee to Egypt, and he was even older when he went to Nazareth.

    Nevertheless, there are common points. Here is a list of them noted by Brown.

    1. Jesus' parents are Joseph and Mary, who are legally committed or married, but not yet living together or having sexual relations (Mt 1:18; Lk 1:27.34).
    2. Joseph is of Davidic descent (Mt 1:16.20; Lk 1:27.32; 2:4).
    3. An angel announces the coming birth of the child (Mt 1:20-23; Lk 1:30-35).
    4. Mary's conception of the child is not through sexual intercourse with a husband (Mt 1:20,23.25; Lk 1:34).
    5. The conception is made by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18,20; Lk 1:35).
    6. The name of the child (Jesus) comes from a directive of the angel (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31).
    7. The angel affirms that Jesus will be the Savior (Mt 1:21; Lk 2:11).
    8. The birth of the child occurs after the parents have lived together (Mt 1:24-25; Lk 2:5-6).
    9. Birth takes place in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1; Lk 2:4-6)
    10. The birth is chronologically related to the reign of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1; Lk 1:5).
    11. The child is brought up in Nazareth (Mt 2:23; Lk 2:39).

    All this being said, it is to the Old Testament that we must turn to find a certain number of parallels with the account of the Magi.

    Mt 2OT
    1 Then, the Jesus having been begotten in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold magi from Orient arrived in Jerusalem,Dan 5: 15: LXX "And now the wise men, magicians (magos), and soothsayers have come in before me, to read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation: but they could not tell it me."
    2 saying, Where is the having been born king of the Jews? For we saw of him the star at its rising and we are come to prostrate to him.Num 24: 7: "A man will come out of this (Israel) race, and he will be master of many nations, ... and his kingdom will grow".
    Num 24: 17 : "I see him, but not now; I will show him, but not now; I see him, though he is not near; I bless him, though he has not yet come near; a star shall arise out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and a man shall come out of Israel"
    3 Then, having heard, the king Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.Gen 41: 8: LXX "And it was morning, and his (Pharaoh) soul was troubled; and he sent and called all the interpreters of Egypt, and all her wise men; and Pharaoh related to them his dream, and there was no one to interpret it to Pharaoh."
    4 And having gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people he was inquiring by them where the anointed one is begotten.Ps 2: 2: "The kings of the earth rise up and the great ones conspire against each other, against the Lord and against His Messiah"
    5 Then, them, they said to him: in Bethlehem of Judea, for in this way it has been written by the prophet:
    6 And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means you are the least among the governors of Judah. For out of you will come out the (one) governing, who will shepherd the people of me, the Israel.Mic 5: 1: LXX "And you, Bethleem, house of Ephratha, you are few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Juda; yet out of you shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel; and his goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity"
    2 Sam 5: 2a LXX "You shall feed my people Israel"
    7 Then Herod secretly having called the Magi, inquired exactly by them the time of the star appearing.1 Sam 26: 5: LXX "And David arose secretly, and goes into the place where Saul was sleeping, and there was Abenner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul was sleeping in a chariot, and the people had encamped round about him. "
    8 And having sent them to Bethlehem, he said, Having gone, inquire carefully about the child. Then, when you shall have found, report back to me, so that I also, having come, I prostrate to him.Wis 11: 10: "For you tested them as a parent does in warning, but you examined the ungodly as a stern king does in condemnation. "
    9 Then, them, having heard the king, they went and behold the star, which they saw at its rising, was going ahead of them, until, having come, it stood over where the child was.Ex 13, 21: "The Lord Himself went ahead of them: a pillar of cloud by day, to open the way for them - a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they could walk day and night"
    10 Then, having seen the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.Isa 39: 2: LXX "And for their sake Hezekiah rejoiced with great joy 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. And there was nothing that Hezekiah did not show in his palace and in his estates."
    Isa 9: 1-2: " O people walking in darkness, behold a great light: ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you. The multitude of the people which thou hast brought down in thy joy, they shall even rejoice before thee as they that rejoice in harvest, and as they that divide the spoil"
    11 And having come into the house, they saw the child with Mary the mother of him, et having fallen down the prostrate to him and, having opened the treasures of them, they offered to him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.Isa 60: 5-6 LXX "Then shalt thou see, and fear, and be amazed in thine heart; for the wealth of the sea shall come round to thee, and of nations and peoples; and herds of camels shall come to thee, and the camels of Madiam and Gaepha shall cover thee: all from Saba shall come bearing gold, and shall bring frankincense, and they shall publish the salvation of the Lord."
    Ps 72: 10-11; LXX: 71: 10-11: "The kings of Tharsis, and the isles, shall bring presents: the kings of the Arabians and Saba shall offer gifts. And all kings shall worship him; all the Gentiles shall serve him."
    12 And having been instructed according to a dream not to return towards Herod, through another road they withdrew to the country of them.Ex 2: 15: LXX "And Pharaoh heard this matter, and sought to slay Moses; and Moses departed from the presence of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Madiam; and having come into the land of Madiam, he sat on the well"

    Let us comment on these parallels according to the verses.

    v. 1 "magi"
    In the Septuagint, only the book of Daniel presents the Greek word magos (magus), and he appears with the group of wise men and sorcerers at the court of the king of Babylon. They were people who practiced the occult sciences, but also had a lot of knowledge. The magi are associated with the wise men, because they not only had great practical knowledge, but also showed sagacity, i.e. a great ability to interpret events. This is how the king of Babylon attributes to them the ability to interpret dreams. In the eyes of the Jews, the people of the East, especially the Chaldeans of Babylon (see Dan 2:2) and the Arabs (see 1 Kings 5:10 where the wisdom of Solomon is compared to that of the East, i.e. Arabia) had a great reputation for wisdom.

    v. 2 "we saw his star at its rising"
    Ch. 22 to 24 of the Book of Numbers presents us with the account of Balaam's oracles. Let us recall this account. King Balak once summoned a famous seer named Balaam to put a curse on Israel. Balaam is a curious figure, a non-Israelite, an occult visionary who practiced witchcraft. Philo of Alexandria (born around 20 BC, died around 50 AD), in his commentary (Vita Moysis I, L #276), calls him a magus and recognizes in him a true spirit of prophecy. Now, this Balaam arrives from the East with two servants (Num 22:22), and he thwarts the hostile plans of King Balak by delivering oracles predicting the future greatness of Israel and the arrival of a royal leader. Now, in Jesus' time, Num 24:17 was applied to the Messiah, the anointed king; the star clearly refers to a king. Thus, Balaam predicts that a star symbolizing the Messiah will rise. Now, this star at its rising symbolizing the messiah is exactly what Matthew's magi saw. And for the evangelist, it is now the Gentiles, whom the magi represent, who receive this privileged light.

    v. 3 "King Herod was troubled"
    The link to Gen 41:8 is the Greek verb tarassō applied to Herod and the Pharaoh of Egypt. Although the circumstances are not the same, the material Matthew uses around the figure of Herod was strongly inspired by the figure of the Pharaoh hostile to Moses. And in this pre-Matthean material, as Brown suggests, it is possible that Herod learned of the birth of the Messiah-King from a dream, not from the Magi. From then on, the link between the disturbance caused by Herod's dream and that caused by the Pharaoh's dream becomes very clear.

    v. 4 "(Herod) having gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people"
    As we have already mentioned, the infancy narrative is an anticipation of the fate that awaits Jesus, his condemnation by the Jewish authorities. Ps 2:2 ("The kings of the earth rise up and the great ones conspire against each other, against the Lord and against His Messiah") served much to show that this was part of God's plan, as seen in Acts 4:26 in this prayer of the Christian community gathered after the arrest and release of Peter and John. Thus, if Herod in some way organized a mini Sanhedrin, it was not to pay homage to the Messiah, but to destroy him.

    v. 5-6 "for in this way it has been written by the prophet"
    Matthew first quotes the prophet Micah 5:1 ("And you, Bethleem, house of Ephratha, you are few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Juda; yet out of you shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel") whose text has been modified to replace "Ephratah", probably unknown by the early Christian communities, with "the land of Judah", to replace "you are few in number" with "by no means you are the least" because the Messiah was born there. Then he quotes 2 Samuel 5:2a ("You shall feed my people Israel"), which he modifies to put in the third person. Here we have the intervention of Matthew's pen, one of the five quotations that are scattered throughout the infancy narrative. These quotations aim more than to highlight the accidental agreement between the OT and the life of Jesus, as they correspond to his theological vision of the uniqueness of God's plan and his pastoral interest in a Christian community composed of Jews and Gentiles.

    v. 7 "Herod secretly having called the Magi"
    The connection with 1 Samuel 26:5 is the Greek word lathra (secretly). Why does Matthew present this meeting between Herod and the Magi as secret? In itself, there is nothing wrong with a meeting between a king and foreign dignitaries. The reason Matthew insisted on making the meeting secret is that he wanted his audience to understand that Herod was ill-intentioned. And 1 Samuel 26:5 gives us an example where lathra aims to surprise an opponent, in this case David who is at war with Saul.

    v. 8 "inquire carefully about the child"
    The connection with Wis 11: 10 is the Greek word exetazō (investigate). In itself, seeking information is quite honest and noble. But Matthew implies that Herod is trying to get rid of this child king who is a competitor, and therefore exetazō must be given a negative meaning. So Wis 11:10 gives us an example of negative meaning at exetazō("For you tested them as a parent does in warning, but you examined the ungodly as a stern king does in condemnation")

    v. 9 "the start was going ahead of them"
    Where did this idea of a star or a light preceding a group of people come from? The only known example is that found in the book of Exodus (Ex 13:21; 40:38), when the Jewish people left Egypt for the Promised Land and God accompanied them in the form of a column of cloud by day to hide the people from the Egyptian soldiers who chased them, and in the form of a column of fire by night to give them light, so that the people could walk day and night. The star plays the same role as this column of fire in guiding the Magi to the promised land of the Messiah-King.

    v. 10 "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy"
    There is here a rare expression "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" and the only other case is found in the Septuagint Is 39:2, where King Hezekiah rejoices to show his treasure to the embassy of the king of Babylon: gold, silver, perfume, spices, myrrh. The author of the Magi's account must have been familiar with this passage, especially since the word joy in the phrase "rejoice with great joy" is accusative and seems to have been copied as it is, which is totally unusual. But implicitly we can also see in the great joy of the Magi the great joy predicted by Isaiah (9:1-2) for those inhabitants of the land of darkness, who saw the light rise. Matthew insists that this great joy is "extreme".

    v. 11 "having opened the treasures of them, they offered to him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh"
    The totally surprising gifts offered by the Magi to the Messiah-King can only be understood in reference to Isaiah 60:5-6 ("...all from Saba shall come bearing gold, and shall bring frankincense...") and Psalm 72:10-11 ("...the kings of the Arabians and Saba shall offer gifts. And all kings shall worship him...") announcing that the Gentile nations coming from Midian (northwestern Arabia) and Sheba (southwestern Arabia) will come to the light that is Jerusalem with offerings: gold and frankincense, to worship Yahweh and proclaim God's salvation. We are in an eschatological context of the end times when Israel illuminates the whole world, and the nations of the earth go to that light bringing their most precious gifts.

    v. 12 "they withdrew to their country"
    The connection with Ex 2:15 is the verb anachōreō, a verb that is infrequent in the New Testament, but frequent in Matthew. For we have mentioned that the main plot of the infancy narrative is marked by the story about Moses and his interaction with the Pharaoh, and which gave us the interaction of the child Jesus with King Herod. However, the context of the Magi taking another road to retreat in their own country can be seen as an escape, to avoid betraying the place where the child Jesus is. This is exactly the meaning of Moses' gesture before Pharaoh. But we must also refer to the account of Balaam's oracle, which is probably the source of the story of the Magi, and which ends with Balaam, who was considered a magus, returning to his own country after having issued his oracle (Num 24:25).

    In our analysis of the vocabulary of Mt 2:1-12, we pointed out that many of the words belonged to Matthew's vocabulary. This does not prevent the fact that the evangelist may have had older traditions before him that he took up and modified with his own words. The main plot of the infancy narrative features Joseph, Jesus and King Herod, and this main plot is largely inspired by the story of the patriarch Joseph, as well as the life of the young Moses and the tensions with Pharaoh. Raymond Brown tried to reconstruct the outline of this pre-Matthean material and presented the method used (see section: Detecting Pre-Matthean Material). But the magi's narrative belongs to a different world and, in our analysis of the structure of the narrative, we pointed out that one could completely detach the magi's story from the character of Herod. Here is how Brown has reconstructed this other pre-mathean material, which we contrast with the present narrative. We have standardized the vocabulary for comparison, and we have highlighted Matthew's additions to the pre-mathean material.

    Matthew's Current StoryPre-matthean Material
    Now, after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the East came to Jerusalem asking, "Where is the newborn King of the Jews? For we have seen his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was startled, and so was all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem of Judea," they told him; "for thus it is written by the prophet: 'And you, O Bethlehem (in the) land of Judah, Are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; For from you will come forth a ruler Who will shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod summoned the magi secretly and ascertained from them the exact time when the star had appeared. And he sent them off to Bethlehem with the instruction: "Go, search diligently for the child. As soon as you find him, bring me word that I too may come and pay him homage." Obeying the king, they set out; and behold, the star which they had seen at its rising went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were greatly overjoyed. And entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they bowed down and paid him homage. Then they opened their treasure-boxes and brought out gifts for him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But, since they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went away to their own country by another route. Now, after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, behold, magi from the East came to Judea saying, "Where is the newborn King of the Jews? For we have seen his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage." And behold, the star which they had seen at its rising went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. (When they saw the star they were greatly overjoyed.) And entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they bowed down and paid him homage. Then they went away to their own country.

    What do we see?

    1. In order to make the Magi's story match that of Herod, Matthew is obliged to make a certain number of additions:
      • Time: it happens "in the days of King Herod".
      • The place: the Magi are no longer simply in Judea, but in Jerusalem, where Herod dwells.
      • King Herod hears what the Magi proclaim, and so he learns of the birth of the child and is troubled.
      • King Herod organizes a meeting with the Magi to get more information about the child's birth date, which prepares the massacre that will follow.
      • King Herod gives the Magi a mandate to travel to Bethlehem to investigate the child, a way to underline his intention to kill him.
      • The Magi obey the king and go to Bethlehem.
      • In the end, to prevent the magi from giving Herod the desired information, Matthew does two things: he inserts a divine revelation to warn the magi, and makes the magi return to their country by another road.

    2. As he does throughout his infancy narrative, in fact five times, Matthew adds citations from Scripture, a catechesis addressed to his community showing that everything corresponds to God's plan. Here it is a reference to Micah 5:1 and 1 Samuel 5:2 supporting the idea that Jesus is the Davidic messiah announced by the prophets.

    3. In addition to explicit citations from Scripture, Matthew also inserts implicit citations such as Is 60:6 and Ps 72:10-11 with the bringing of gifts by non-Jews, containing precious things such as gold, frankincense and myrrh that foreign kings brought for the temple in Jerusalem and paying homage to the Jewish God, which was announced for the end times; In his catechesis, Matthew intends to show that with Jesus the eschalogical times have come, and that Jesus is the son of Abraham, since in him the nations of the earth are blessed.

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    The basic assumption regarding a particular Gospel is that it was first written for a local church, to support the catechesis of those who joined the community. As Luke writes in the introduction to his Gospel, "so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (1: 4). According to the majority of biblical scholars, Mark addressed himself to the persecuted Church in Rome, Luke to a Church of Greek culture (in my opinion, probably the Church of Corinth in Greece; see Where the Gospel of Luke was written), John to a rather particular community which had probably taken up residence in Ephesus (present-day Turkey). What about Matthew? Clearly, his Gospel was addressed to Jewish Christians, and for a number of biblical scholars, this Church could be located in Antioch, an important center of Jewish Christians who had been the first "sponsors" of the Pauline mission.

    What do we know about this Church, except that it seems to be composed mainly of Christians of Jewish origin and that it was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire? Unfortunately, there are very few documents to give us an idea, especially for the period of the 80s or 85 when the Gospel according to Matthew seems to have been written.

    • Earlier, Paul's letters (which extend from 51 AD to about 67 AD, the presumed date of his death in Rome) echo a conservative Church which, having sent him on mission, now opposes Paul's preaching of freedom from the Law).

    • Luke tells us that it was there that Jesus' disciples were first called: Christians (Acts 11:26). This means that the disciples of Jesus who were Jews from Antioch were distinguished from other Jews, perhaps appearing as a sect of Judaism.

    • One can then imagine the tensions that could exist between Christian and non-Christian Jews, especially if they attended the same synagogue. One can get an idea of this with the story of Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18:2), Christian Jews who had to leave Rome after the edict of Emperor Claudius (in the year 49-50) because of violent conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews. Indeed Suetonius (49-140) wrote: "He (Emperor Claudius) drove out of the city the Jews who were constantly rising up at the instigation of a certain Chrestus" (XXV, 4). One can imagine that in the synagogue the Christians were trying to convince their Jewish brothers that Jesus was the Messiah; and all this degenerated. It is believed that by the year 90 at the latest, Jewish Christians were definitively excommunicated from the synagogues (see John 9:22).

    • One can also guess tensions within Matthew's community itself, a tension between:

      1. the most conservative who want a strict application of the Law ("if your justice does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees" 5: 20) and of Jewish practices (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) ("When you fast..." 6: 16), and

      2. those who want to free themselves from it completely, and thus find themselves without Law (to which Matthew must say: "Don't think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets... Whoever therefore violates one of the least of these precepts and teaches others to do the same, will be considered the least in the Kingdom of Heaven" 5:17-19), without reference, without identity, and who have lost the breath of their origins, especially considering that the promise of Jesus' return does not seem to be coming true ("As a result of the increasing absence of the Law, love will grow cold among the many" 24:12).

    • Ignatius of Antioch (35-108) was bishop there for a period that lasted from the year 66 until his death as a martyr in Rome, thus covering the period when Matthew would have written his gospel. Ignatius is the one who reused the priestly structure of the Jewish world (high priest, priest, Levite) in order to apply it to the Church (the roles of bishop and deacon appeared quite early, that of priest was perhaps preceded by that of prophet or itinerant doctor who could preside at the Eucharist), and thus create a hierarchy; in a way he Judaized the Christian life.

    • Now, one senses conflicts among the leaders of the community: "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi', for only one is your master, but you are all brothers. And call (no one) your "Father" on earth, for only one is your Father, the heavenly. Neither should you be called "Doctors", because your Doctor is one and the same, Christ. But the greatest among you will be your servant" (Mt 23:8-10). The unique passage to Matthew is certainly an echo of his community, as shown in the Didache (see XII-XIII and XV), which belongs to a similar milieu and should be warned against certain Christian prophets and give instructions about leaders.

    This is the setting in which Matthew's infancy narratives, and more specifically the Magi's narrative, were read. Recall that Matthew does not seem to have written the infancy narrative after the fact: at the outset this narrative seems to have been part of his plan for the whole gospel (on this subject and on how Matthew may have composed his infancy narrative, see Brown). So what is exactly this role? That of a synopsis or theological miniature of the whole gospel: the discovery of Jesus' identity as Messiah, son of David, and therefore son of God, son of Abraham, his salvific role, and the contrasting reception by Jews and non-Jews, his rejection by his own and the intention to kill him, but God's intervention for the benefit of his son.

    Of course, like all evangelists, Matthew did not witness the birth of Jesus. But there are a number of documents circulating, some more graphic than others about the young Jesus, probably used for catechesis. Matthew is going to collect a number of them, modify them and repeat them in his own way.

    As he wants to present the identity of Jesus, and especially to show that he is the son of Abraham and the son of David, therefore the promised Messiah, Matthew uses two genealogical lists written in Greek that existed in his time and were partially dependent on the Septuagint. The first covered the pre-monarchic period and was similar to the one found in Ruth 4:18-22 and Ch 2:5ff. He added the names of women, despite their unconventional history and irregular marital status, seeing in them the hand of God to carry out his plan. These women prefigure the role of Mary, Joseph's wife. The other list, covering the monarchic period and the early post-monarchic period, was a popular list from the royal house of David, containing the names of the kings who ruled in Judea and some descendants of Zerubbabel considered to be descendants of David.

    About the young Jesus, Matthew had before his eyes two stories circulating in Christian circles. The first story was inspired by the patriarch Joseph, a dream specialist and a famous figure in the jewish salvation history, and the legends surrounding the young Moses, who escaped the massacre decreed by Pharaoh and became the savior of his people. It is thus structured around the figure of Joseph, father of Jesus, a man faithful to the Law and totally obedient to the word of God revealed through the appearance of an angel in a dream, a man of the Davidic lineage who, by giving his name to Jesus, finds himself adopting him and integrating him into the Davidic lineage, and the figure of Herod, the new Pharaoh, who refuses the good news of the birth of the Messiah and seeks to kill the child. This forces the flight to Egypt where Jesus relives the story of his people and the exodus they experienced. Matthew's contribution, as a good scribe, is above all that of enlightening the story by inserting citation formulas to show that everything corresponds to God's plan.

    The second story Matthew has before his eyes is inspired by the story of Balaam, who comes from the East, considered a magus and a pagan, who predicted that a star would rise in Israel, a royal leader. This tale, composed by an anonymous Christian, tells the story of magi from the East (which can identified with Arabia), considered as wise men and astrologers, who believed as was usual at the time that the appearance of a new star was linked with the birth of an important person. They therefore want to pay homage to this royal personage. Why do they go to Judea? It must be assumed that the new star appeared in the constellation of Pisces in the zodiac, associated with the Hebrews. This star will lead them to Bethlehem, much like the column of fire provided light to the people of Israel by night as they walked towards the Promised Land. Once in front of the child, they will pay royal homage to him.

    For Matthew, this story is important because it represents the story of a part of his community, the people who came from paganism and who welcomed the good news of the risen Jesus. They didn't have Scripture to walk towards the Messiah, but simply the observation of nature. But Matthew also sees in it the fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah (60) and Ps 72 had foretold for the end times when pagan kings from the East would come to Jerusalem to recognize the good news of the God of Israel, bringing their precious goods, gold for the temple building, frankincense for worship. Thus he modifies the narrative to insert this allusion to Isaiah and Ps 72.

    Now he must find a way to integrate harmoniously into a single story the story about Joseph and Herod and the story about the Magi. Thus he modifies the arrival of the Magi in Judea to bring them to Jerusalem, and integrates King Herod by making sure that it is through the announcement of the Magi that he learns of the existence of the rival child. Then Matthew inserts a quote from Micah 5:1 and 1 Samuel 5:2 to show that the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem was already announced by the prophets and was part of God's plan. It is also a way of affirming that the Jews had Scripture to know God's promise and to welcome it. And by presenting Herod, who commands the Magi to go in search of the Messiah under the false pretext of also going to pay homage to him, he accentuates the guilt of the Jewish authorities who are explicitly active not only in refusing openness to the Messiah, but in eliminating him. And because of the interaction that took place between Herod and the Magi, Matthew has to modify the Magi's exit from the scene: they do not simply return to their homeland, but have to take another path to flee Herod.

    How was Matthew's catechesis received by his community, as described above? It should be remembered that Christians of Jewish origin were probably in the majority, but there was also a significant group of pagan origin, and throughout the history of this community in the first century there were tensions. So the account of the Magi consolidated 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).

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.

      • "Magi - astrologers". Why are there people who scan the sky for signs? The sky is mysterious, it fascinates us, and we have the impression that it influences us. It is the image of all this created nature that surrounds us. Is it possible to contemplate this nature without asking ourselves the question of God and our role in this world?

      • "His star". What is a star? The physicist will answer that the star is the cradle of the universe, and that we are all star dust. But everyone's personal experience is to see this little light in our nights. This is how we speak of our "lucky star", these holes of light and hope in our lives. What is this star that guides our lives? In the story of the Magi, the star guided these pagans to the Messiah. What is this star or stars in our lives?

      • "Messiah". What is a messiah? The Jews at the time of Jesus hoped to see a clone of King David, and a similar kingdom without all the Romans. Do we have expectations that resemble those of a Messiah? In what form do they appear? Does this have anything to do with what Jesus was and what he is today?

      • "Bethlehem". This is a small town. Without the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, Bethlehem would not exist in people's memories. It is like human history where unknown places have given people who have left their mark on the world. It is also the image of our lives where small things have influenced us definitively.

      • "Treasures". This word designates what is precious to us. The Magi offered what they had precious to the child king, a sign of their feelings and a gesture of homage. When do we do the equivalent? Who do we do it to? Where are the realities of our faith in all this?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:

      • The pandemic that we have been experiencing for several months now highlights several situations that we tend to forget, such as that of the homeless. How can they obey a curfew when their house is on the street? Many people escape this setting that we are trying to establish for a better life. But what star can guide us to continue to believe that it is possible to take action and make things better?

      • The opioid crisis is almost universal. It's a sad image of people who are no longer a shadow of their former self, living only for the next dose. The story of the Magi reminds us of one thing: it is the people we least expected, who came from afar, who were able to find the Messiah and welcome him. Why not keep this image when we look at all those shipwrecked in life? It keeps our hope alive.

      • The world witnessed this attack on democracy in Washington with the invasion of the Capitol. All of a sudden, our institutions seemed so fragile. It reminds us of the Magi's story: the messiah is a fragile baby, and a powerful king wants to get rid of this competitor; the forces are unequal. For Matthew, God cannot abandon his children. And we know the rest of the story.

      • The experience of confinement is almost universal in the world with the pandemic. Mental health problems are multiplying. People need and are deprived of social contact. The impact on some young people is likely to be severe. How can we then share in the joy of the Magi for having found what will illuminate their lives? But considering how they dared to take a long journey to discover a completely new reality, can we not try to find a new path in our lives? Isn't there a little star that can guide us? Have we searched long enough?

      • In Quebec province, two trials for sexual harassment have concluded with a verdict of not guilty. The evidence was overwhelming, but not enough to remove all reasonable doubt. This is the harsh reality facing victims. But shouldn't we recognize the progress that has been made? What would the Magi say? We saw a little star rising, and that was enough to set us in motion, and we were not disappointed.

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2021