The Birth Narratives

(In later chapters of Matthew, the term seems to touch on a tradition not directly connected with eschatology. In the OT, the term “son of David” is usually applied to Solomon (with one exception; 2 Samuel 13:1 = Absalom). The fact that Solomon is touted in later Jewish folklore as an exorcist and healer would not have escaped Matthew: in that part of the gospel, he often connects the term in context of exorcisms; cf. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31.)

See the following for uses of “son of Abraham” to refer to Jewish blood: Luke 19:9; John 8; Acts 13:26; Mishnah, Baba Qamma 8.6. The phrase is also used to refer to one who is worthy of Abraham: cf. 4 Maccabees 6:17, 22; 18:23; Galatians 3:7; Talmud, Betzah 32b.

As the Savior of Israel, Jesus must be a true Israelite, and so Matthew traces His origin to Abraham. Because the Matthaean genealogy covers the period from Abraham to the Messiah it is natural to think of Jesus as the culmination of the history which began to Abraham. But there is probably more to Jesus’ being a “son of Abraham.” Abraham was a gentile by birth, and it is promised that “all the nations” will be blessed in him (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; etc.) In Jewish literature he was sometimes portrayed as “the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5; 44:19; 1 Maccabees 12:19-21) or as the first proselyte (e.g. Talmud, Hagigah 3a); and the promise to Abraham was employed to further the purposes of Jewish mission. St. Paul also represents him as the true father of all believers, Jew and gentile alike (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-29). Therefore the reference may also for Matthew serve to indicate that Jesus is also the Messiah for the gentiles.

The juxtaposition of the two terms “son of David” and “son of Abraham” is very intriguing since outside of Matthew, the promises made to the “seed” of Abraham and the “seed” of David are brought and conflated together (so in Luke 1:30-33, 55, 69-73; Acts 3:25; 13:23; also cf. Galatians 3:16; Jeremiah 33:21-22; Targum on Psalm 89:4). This perhaps also explains the juxtaposition: the “seed” of Abraham and the “seed” of David to whom the promises apply equals the Messiah.

Davies and Allison, in their commentary on Matthew, make three final points:

First, given Matthew’s emphasis on righteousness and upholding the Torah (5.17-20), the mention of Abraham is particularly apt, for the patriarch was revered as one who had been perfectly obedient to the commands of the Law. He indeed kept the whole Torah even before it was written. [Footnote 38: Ecclus 44.19-21; [URL=“”]Prayer of Manasseh 8; Jub. 6.19; 16.28; 21.2; 23.10; 2 Bar. 57.2; T. Abr. (A) 1; 4; m. Qidd. 4.14; b. B. Bat. 17a.] Secondly, there was a tradition that Abraham ‘discovered both astrology and Chaldean science’ (Ps. Eupolemus in Eusebius, Praep. ev. 9.17; cf. Artapanus in Eusebius, Praep. ev. 9.18; the Jewish mystical hymn in Eusebius, Praep. ev. 13.12; Josephus, Ant. 1.158, 167-8; LAB 18.5; b. B. Bat. 16b). [39: For rejection of this seemingly wide-spread tradition see Jub. 12.15-17; Philo, [URL=“”]Sib. Or. 3.218-30; b. Ned. 32a. On the whole matter consult Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism 2, p. 62, n. 264, and C.R. Holladay, Fragments from Hellenistic Jewish Authors, Vol. 1: Historians, Chico, 1983, pp. 180-1.] It is fitting then, that the ‘son of Abraham’ should be honoured by magi from the east (2.1-12). Finally, since the ‘son of Abraham’ in 1.1 is immediately followed in 1.2 by mention of Isaac, and since, as already suggested, ‘son of David’ may have had a double meaning for Matthew, referring to Jesus as both the Davidic Messiah and one like Solomon, it is just possible, one might urge, that ‘son of Abraham’ could also have a double meaning, designating Jesus not only as a descendant of Abraham but as one like Isaac, who carried wood on his back and was willing to give up his life in obedience to God (cf. Rom 8.32?). [40: If, as has sometimes been urged, there was a tradition about the virgin birth of Isaac (see on 1.23), this would certainly buttress such a conjecture.] Yet nowhere else in the First Gospel is Jesus clearly associated with Isaac (although see on 3.17).

Abraam fathered Isaak,
and Isaak fathered Iakōb,
and Iakōb fathered Ioudas and his brothers,
and Ioudas fathered Phares and Zara by Thamar,
and Phares fathered Hesrōm,
and Hesrōm fathered Aram,
and Aram fathered Aminadab,
and Aminadab fathered Naasōn,
and Naasōn fathered Salmōn,
and Salmōn fathered Boes by Rachab,
and Boes fathered Iōbēd by Routh,
and Iōbēd fathered Iessai,
and Iessai fathered Dauid the king,

This section of Matthew’s genealogy is the only one which agrees extensively with Luke’s (3:31-34). In fact, there is only one significant difference: between Hezron (Hesrōm) and Amminadab Matthew names Aram, while Luke names Arni and Admin. The names in this particular section seem to have been drawn from 1 Chronicles 1:28, 34; 2:1-15 (cf. Ruth 4:18-22) LXX. The formula “X fathered (egennēsen, traditionally ‘begat’ - this verb, gennaō, has the same root as the word geneseōs) Y” is itself used several times in 1 Chronicles 1-3, in Ruth 4, and elsewhere in biblical genealogies.

(1 Chronicles 1:28 NETS) Now Abraam’s sons: Isaak and Ismael. …]
(34) And Abraam became the father of Isaak, and Isaak’s sons: Esau and Iakob. …]
(2:1) These are the names of Israel’s sons: Rouben, Symeon, Leui, Iouda, Issachar, Zaboulon, (2) Dan, Ioseph, Beniamin, Nephthali, Gad, Aser. (3) Ioudas’ sons: Er, Aunan, Selon, three. There were born to him by the daughter of Saua, the Canaanite, and Er, Ioudas’ firstborn, was wicked before the Lord, and he killed him. (4) And Thamar, his daughter-in-law, bore him Phares and Zara. Ioudas’ sons were five in all.
(6) Phares’ sons: Harson* and Hiemouel. …]
(9) And Heseron’s* sons, who were born to him: Irameel and Ram and Chaleb and Aram. (10) And Aram became the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab became the father of Naasson, ruler of the house of Ioudas. (11) And Naasson became the father of Salmon, and Salmon became the father of Boos. (12) And Boos became the father of Obed, and Obed became the father of Iessai. (13) And Iessai became the father of his firstborn Eliab; second was Aminadab; third was Samaa; (14) fourth was Nathalael; fifth was Raddai; (15) sixth was Asom; seventh Dauid.

(Ruth 4:18 NETS) And these are the generations of Phares: Phares became the father of Hesron, (19) then Hesron became the father of Arran, and Arran became the father of Aminadab; (20) Aminadab became the father of Naasson; Naasson became the father of Salman; (21) Salman became the father of Boos; Boos became the father of Obed; (22) Obed became the father of Iessai, and Iessai became the father of Dauid.

  • N.B.: Perez’/Phares’ son’s name having two spellings - Αρσων Harsōn and Εσερων Heserōn - is not a typo; it is literally there in the text.

patrick457: I have nothing against what you write and I admit that what I posted is non-sequitur.

Anytime I see birth narratives I usually think of modern day scholars who simply don’t believe them.

I’m not saying that is your position–I’m saying that is the position of some who would like to be thought of as modern day scholars.

I don’t mind scholarship that pertains to Christ’s birth or the historical realities of those times.

I just get sick of the constant advancement by some people that the birth narratives are just made up.

Many times this is done in a sprinkling mode inside of voluminous material which is in fact true and good to know.

I’m not saying that is what you do–I am saying that that is sometimes done.

It’s kind of like Raymond Brown giving you a lot of material that is true and does come from scholarship but then sprinkling bits of doubt throughout.

It’s of course done in a way to where you can’t really pick out WRONG categorical statements because they aren’t written that way–the writing is vague and full of qualifiers and questions and supposings–but if you read between the lines it is CLEAR that the birth narratives aren’t REALLY BELIEVED.

I’m SICK of that kind of abomination that masquerades itself as scholarship.

When I interject quite tersely it’s to get people’s attention to the bottom line and that bottom line is the casting of doubt on the historicity of the gospels.

And it is true that I do seem to say the same things over and over again.

And why is that?

It’s because I hear the same old seeds of doubt planted over and over again by some people who post here and swoon over “scholarship” that may indeed be scholarship in some respects but always has the hidden agenda of placing doubt.

I think that that needs to be called out.

I do not put you into that category–I DO some times think you have a more charitable view of some modern scholars than I do–it could be that I am overly paranoid and things aren’t as dire as I think they are.

All I know is that if you go back to the pronouncements of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the early 1900s uner Pope Pius X you don’t get the junk you get from some present day biblical scholars.

In those times the PBC would DIRECTLY come down in favor of the veracity of the gospels. I think the devil is glad that those days don’t exist anymore.

Point blank what I’m saying–and it might not correspond to anything that is said here–is that the gospel narratives ARE TRUE!

I’ll continue to say that over and over again–though you are quite right–I need to read what is being said before I reflexively respond once again to what I perceive is “modern biblical scholarship” that isn’t really scholarship.

You convey the complexity of truth that exists in the areas that you write about and that is better than one line sound bites–I write that way because I like to provoke people to say in a simple way what they really think about what I think may be the central issue of what they’re getting at.

When I did that here I was only reacting to the title of the thread. Please forgive me and thanks for all your contributions.

You’re welcome and thanks for your reply. I’m sorry for the earlier comment as well.

The very first name in Matthew’s genealogy is that of Abraham. Why is he on the head of the list? For one, Abraham stands at the beginning of, or at a decisive point in, several schematic accounts of Jewish history. (1 Maccabees 2:51-60; 1 Enoch 89:10; 93:5; 4 Ezra 6:7-8; 2 Baruch 53:5; 57:1-3; Mishnah, Avot 5.2, 3; Exodus Rabbah on 12:2) Starting with Abraham also provides a neat transition from “son of Abraham,” and also makes David - significantly enough - the fourteenth name on the list. The fact that Abraham is also regarded in some traditions as a king (b. Sanhedrin 108b; Genesis Rabbah on 22:1; Justin’s Epitome 36.2 reports a tradition that Abraham was at one time king of Damascus; cf. Josephus, Antiquities 1.159-160) lends weight to the interpretation that Matthew’s genealogy is designed to show Jesus’ royal pedigree: if Matthew knew this tradition, it may have partly influenced his decision to begin with Abraham. (Cf. also David’s genealogical tree in Numbers Rabbah on 13:14, which has Abraham as its root.) Matthew may have been of the same mind as the author of 2 Baruch (57:1-3), in that Abraham marked a beginning no less than that marked by Adam:

And after these (waters) you did see bright waters: this is the fount of Abraham, also his generations and advent of his son, and of his son’s son, and of those like them. Because at that time the unwritten law was named amongst them,

And the works of the commandments were then fulfilled,
And belief in the coming judgment was then generated,
And hope of the world that was to be renewed was then built up,
And the promise of the life that should come hereafter was implanted.
These are the bright waters, which you have seen.

Now, the very first “begetting” on the list (Abraham of Isaac) is significant in that it was somewhat miraculous in nature (Genesis 17:15-21; 18:9-15; 21:1-7); in other words the first begetting in 1:2 has something in common with the last in 1:16.

Naming Judah as an ancestor of Jesus (cf. Hebrews 7:14; Luke 3:33) is also significant in a way. The prophecy in Jacob’s Blessing (Genesis 49) concerning Judah and his descendants came to be interpreted of the Messiah. (Cf. the targums on Genesis 49:8-12; 4Q252; Revelation 5:5; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 52; Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 4.10.2; b. Sanhedrin 98b; Genesis Rabbah on 49.10) Also, the Testament of Judah 1.6 explicitly has Judah prophesied to be a king.

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.”

(Genesis 49:8-12 ESV)

The scepter [shall not] depart from the tribe of Judah … [xlix, 10]. Whenever Israel rules, there shall [not] fail to be a descendant of David upon the throne (Jer. xxxiii, 17). For the ruler’s staff (xlix, 10) is the Covenant of kingship, [and the clans] of Israel are the divisions (reading dgylw ‘standards’ with the Samaritan Pentateuch contra the traditional rglyw ‘feet’), until the Messiah of Righteousness comes, the Branch of David. For to him and his seed is granted the Covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations which he is to keep … the Law with the men of the Community, for … it is the assembly of the men of …

  • Pesher on Genesis A (4Q252), col. 5 (aka 4QPatrBless)

[8. JEHUDA, thee shall all thy brethren praise, and from thy name shall all be called Jehudaee; thy hand shall avenge thee of thy adversaries; all the sons of thy father shall come before thee with salutation. I will liken thee, my son Jehuda, to a whelp the son of a lion: from the slaying of Joseph thou wast free, from the judgment of Tamar thou, my son, wast acquitted. He remaineth tranquil in the midst of war, as the lion and as the lioness; nor is there people or kingdom that can stand against thee. Kings shall not cease from the house of Jehuda, nor sapherim teaching the law from his children’s children, until the time that the King Meshiha shall come, whose is the kingdom, and to whom all the kingdoms of the earth shall be obedient. How beauteous is the King Meshiha, who is to arise from the house of Jehuda!

[Binding his loins, and going forth to war against them that hate him, he will slay kings with princes, and make the rivers red with the blood of their slain, and his hills white with the fat of their mighty ones; his garments will be dipped in blood, and he himself be like the juice of the winepress. More beautiful are the eyes of the king Meshiha to behold than pure wine; they will not look upon that which is unclean, or the shedding of the blood of the innocent. His teeth are employed according to the precept rather than in eating the things of violence and rapine; his mountains shall be red with vines, and his presses with his wine, and his hills be white with much corn and with flocks of sheep.]

  • Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Jehuda, thou art praise and not shame; thy brethren shall praise thee; thy hand shall prevail against thine adversaries, thine enemies shall be dispersed; they will be turned backward before thee, and the sons of thy father will come before thee with salutations. The dominion shall be (thine) in the beginning, and in the end the kingdom shall be increased from the house of Jehuda, because from the judgment of death, my son, hast thou withdrawn. He shall repose, and abide in strength as a lion, and as a lioness, there shall be no king that may cut him off. He who exerciseth dominion shall not pass away from the house of Jehuda, nor the saphra from his children’s children for ever, until the Meshiha come, whose is the kingdom, and unto whom shall be the obedience of the nations (or, whom the peoples shall obey). Israel shall pass round about in his cities; the people shall build his temple, they will be righteous round about him, and be doers of the law through his doctrine. Of goodly purple will be his raiment, and his vesture of crimson wool with colours. His mountains shall be red with his vineyards, and his hills be dropping with wine; his valleys shall be white with corn, and with flocks of sheep.

  • Targum Onkelos

Not letting this thread go to waste.

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