*** THE VIRGIN BIRTH
The two Infancy Narratives, though they do not contradict each other, overlap very little. One tells of the shepherds, one of the magi. One tells why they went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and the other why they decided to go back to Nazareth. One thing they are agreed on is that Mary was a virgin when her son was born.
Now, as we saw in the first two installments of this series (INFANCY PART1 AND INFANCY PART2), some of the events described in the Gospels can be checked against other sources. Luke tells us that there was a census in Herod's jurisdiction near the end of his reign, and we have independent evidence that this is so. Matthew tells us that Herod ordered a massacre of infants in Bethlehem, and we have independent evidence that this is so. But one cannot expect to find the same sort of evidence for or against the Virgin Birth. Those who reject the Resurrection must assume widespread collective hallucination or widespread conspiracy in lying by men with nothing to gain by the lie. Those who reject the Virgin Birth have much less far-fetched alternatives. For this reason, I think it unreasonable to ask anyone to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus who has not already been convinced on other grounds of his Resurrection and his Deity.
However, I still think that there are some relevant things to be said in a historical context.
VIRGIN BIRTH IN MATTHEW AND ISAIAH
Matthew says of the Virgin Birth:
+ All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: + "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name + shall be called EMMANUEL (which means, God with us)."
It is often said that Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14 from the standard Greek translation of his day, the Septuagint, and that the Septuagint has mistranslated the Hebrew. The Hebrew word is ALMAH, which means simply a young woman. The argument over this point goes back at least to Justin Martyr (DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO THE JEW, chapter 43, written soon after 135 AD). Jerome debated the matter with a rabbi, who said that if Isaiah had meant "virgin" he would have said BETHULAH, to which Jerome replied that if Isaiah had meant "young woman," he would have said, NAARAH. Now BETHULAH is the word that the Hebrew Bible normally uses when it wants to make virginity explicit, as for example, when a bridegroom complains that his bride turned out not to be a virgin (Deuteronomy 22). It is from a root meaning "to separate". NAARAH is the female equivalent of NAAR, meaning a youth, a young man, a lad. ISHAH is the female equivalent of ISH, meaning a man. ALMAH, the word that Isaiah uses, is from a root meaning "hidden, veiled," and occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures, as follows:
+ Ps 68:25 among them were the damsels playing with the timbrels
The Psalm is describing a religious procession. Here it is a fair assumption that the damsels are unmarried, and presumably virgins, but there is no emphasis on the point.
+ Ex 2:8 And the maid went, and called the child's mother.
The reference is to Miriam, sister of the infant Moses in the bulrush episode. Her age is not given, but the presumption is that she is a young girl, and that she is moreover a virgin, but that the writer is not making that point.
+ Pr 30:19 The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent on + a rock; the way of a ship in the sea; and the way of a man with a + maid.
Here the reference is clearly sexual, but whether the point is that the man is seducing a virgin or that he is having sex with a non-virgin is doubtful.
+ Ge 24:43 When the virgin cometh forth to draw water
Abraham's servant is asking God to help him choose a bride for Abraham's son. Again the reference does not specify virginity, but one assumes that it was on the servant's list of desirable qualities, especially since, when Rebecca appears, we are told most explicitly that she was in fact a virgin.
+ Ca 1:3 Thy name is as ointment poured forth, + therefore do the virgins love thee.
These words are spoken by the bride to the groom. Here and in the quotation that follows, both from Canticles (Song of Solomon), the word can be read either way. "Virgin" is at least a plausible rendering.
+ Ca 6:8 There are threescore queens and fourscore concubines, + and virgins without number.
This is a reference to a harem in the middle of a metaphor. See previous remark.
+ Is 7:14 Behold, a virgin shall conceive (Isaiah's prophecy)
We are left then with the text in Isaiah. About 175 years before the birth of Christ, Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint translation, or LXX) and used the word PARTHENOS (virgin) in translating Isaiah 7:14. The argument is often made by skeptics (meaning in this context persons skeptical about the Virgin Birth) that the LXX scholars were sloppy, and that PARTHENOS for ALMAH was simply a careless mistake, and that Matthew based his story of the Virgin Birth on the LXX mistake, and that was how the whole thing started. (Of course, if it should turn out that Isaiah did say "virgin" after all, that is not going to slow down a determined skeptic, since he will simply shift to saying that Matthew has based his belief on a reading of the Hebrew text of Isaiah.)
How might we respond to this argument?
First, we might notice that the prestige of the LXX translators has risen considerably since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Formerly, when the LXX did not agree with the MT (the standard Hebrew text used in synagogues today), it was assumed that the LXX was simply a bad translation. However, among the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found Hebrew manuscripts of various books of the Bible (Samuel is an outstanding example -- see the Anchor Bible commentary on Samuel for discussion) that agree much more closely with the LXX than they do with the MT. Accordingly, when the LXX and the MT disagree on their rendering of a particular verse, it is now a highly respectable suggestion that the LXX is a faithful rendering of a Hebrew reading which differs from the MT, and which may sometimes be closer to the original than the MT. It is, after all, easy to see why a Hebrew copyist, finding that his manuscript of Isaiah said that a virgin was going to conceive, would conclude that this must be a mistake, and change it to read "young woman." It is not clear why some pre-Christian Jewish copyist would be motivated to make the change in the opposite direction.
Second, we might notice that Matthew, unlike the other New Testament authors, tends not to agree with the LXX in the wording of his quotations from the Old Testament. One gets the impression (usually) that the other authors are quoting the LXX but that he is depending on some other translation, perhaps his own translation into Greek from a Hebrew or Aramaic version of his day. (If, as has been asserted since the second century, Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, that would explain why his quotations are not from the LXX.) In that event, we may take Matthew's quotation of Isaiah 7:14 and the LXX translation of the same as independent evidence that there existed a Hebrew (or Aramaic) manuscript tradition in which Isaiah 7:14 said "virgin."
Third, if we conclude that Isaiah did say "almah" after all, we might consider whether Jewish scholars in Alexandria in 175 BC are not better equipped to tell what Isaiah meant by "almah" in 700 BC than anyone living today, simply by being closer to the Hebrew usage of Isaiah's day than we are.
Fourth, we might note that Luke also asserts the Virgin Birth, but does not show any signs of having gotten the idea from reading Isaiah, nor any signs of having read Matthew's account.
MATTHEW'S TREATMENT OF PROPHECY
It is natural to assume that Matthew got the idea of the Virgin Birth by reading (or misreading) Isaiah, and that in general he wrote his account of the early life of Jesus by reading the Jewish Scriptures, finding passages which he supposed to be prophecies of the Messiah, and then concocting a story to fit them. Matthew to some extent invites this treatment, especially in the Infancy Gospel, by frequently quoting verses from the Jewish Scriptures which he claims have been fulfilled.
+ A virgin shall conceive.... (Isaiah 7:14)
+ From you, Bethlehem, shall come a ruler.... (Micah 5:2)
+ Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)
+ A voice was heard in Ramah.... (Jeremiah 31:15)
+ He shall be called a Nazarene. (???)
But there is no evidence that he bases his narrative on his prophecies. Consider, for example, his statement (Matthew 4:12-16):
+ Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into + Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by + the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what + was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land + of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, towards the sea, across + the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles -- the people who sat in + darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the + region and shadow of death light has dawned."
Here he quotes Isaiah 9:1-2. But does ANYONE suppose that he first read Isaiah and decided that this was a prophecy that the Messiah would preach beside the Sea of Galilee, and then invented the story that Jesus preached in Capernaum in order to fit the prophecy? Or again, does anyone suppose that Matthew found somewhere a statement, "He shall be called a Nazarene," and accordingly invented the notion that Jesus was brought up in Nazareth? Both Nazareth and Galilee are mentioned repeatedly in the other gospels and in Acts. (In Acts, they appear in sermons which even fairly skeptical commentators believe, on stylistic grounds, to be older than the writing of Acts.) We should have to suppose that all the other Evangelists took their cues from having read Matthew, which is not a popular theory.
In fact, it seems that Matthew first had an account of the events, and then noticed in the Hebrew Scriptures various passages which with more or less stretching could be supposed to refer to the events in question. I will grant a MILD influence of the prophecies on the narrative. For example, Matthew tells us that before Jesus was nailed to the cross, he was offered, and refused, a drink of wine mingled with gall (M 27:24 = P 15:23). Mark writes of myrrh rather than gall, which makes more sense. Matthew presumably says "gall" because he is thinking of Psalm 69:21 ("They gave me gall to eat, and when I thirsted they gave me vinegar to drink"). However, "gall" is generic for a bitter substance; and while Matthew is reminding the reader of the Psalm in a way that Mark is not, it is not clear that he is falsifying the facts.
For an example of the sort of thing that Matthew is accused of doing, let us consider the story of the Three Kings. Many Christians, upon being questioned, will say that the Magi were Three Kings, Gentiles, one bringing gold from Tarshish (Spain), the second bringing frankincense from Saba and the third myrrh from Sheba (or is it the other way around? Saba and Sheba face each other across the straits at the south end of the Red Sea, one in Africa and the other in Asia, one producing frankincense and the other myrrh). Thus, one was a European, one an Asian, and one an African, representing the three races of mankind and the three then-known continents. Some readers have wondered why Matthew, who is so free with quotations of prophecies ("that it might be fulfilled which was written, saying...") elsewhere in his Infancy Narrative, quotes nothing in connection with the Wise Men. One theory is that, although he reports the visit of the Wise Men, he does not really approve of them because they were astrologers, and therefore will not represent them as fulfilments of prophecy. But what prophecies would we expect him to cite? Perhaps something like the following (Isaiah 60:3,6):
+ Behold, the nations shall come to thy light, + and kings to the brightness of thy rising. + The multitude of camels shall cover thee, + the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; + they all from Sheba shall come; + they shall bring gold and incense, + and they shall show forth the praises of the LORD.
or this (Psalm 72:7,10):
+ In his days shall the righteous flourish, + and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. + The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; + the kings of Sheba and Saba shall offer gifts.
But Matthew produces no such quotations, presumably because the account of the visit of the Magi, as he had received it, gave no indication that they were kings (or Gentiles), or that they were from any of the places named, and he was not about to alter his narrative to make it fit the prophecies.
JESUS AND THE REPROACH OF ILLEGITIMACY
If Jesus was conceived, as both Matthew and Luke indicate, after Joseph and Mary were betrothed but before they were married, then he would have been born less than nine months after their marriage, and the neighbors would be bound to talk. Is there any indication that they did?
In Mark 6:1-3, we read that when Jesus preached in his own village, Nazareth, people were offended, and said, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" It has been suggested that the reference to "the son of Mary" is an accusation of illegitimacy. In many cultures, especially before surnames are standard, a person is known by his given name and his patronymic (his father's name). Thus, an Icelander named Jon whose father is named Peter will be called Jon Petersson, and if he has a son Bjarni, then the son will be called Bjarni Jonsson. (Surnames are forbidden by law in Iceland, in order that ancient custom may be preserved.) Bjarni's sister Inga will be called Inga Jonstotter. A Russian, Ivan (John) Kronski, son of Pyotr (Peter) Kronski, will be Ivan Petrovitch Kronski, and his sister will be Olga Petrovna Kronskaya. Those who know him moderately well will address him as "Ivan Petrovitch," but only family and very close friends will call him simply "Ivan." Standard Semitic practice (both Jewish and Arab) is that a man is referred to as "X son of Y" where "Y" is the name of his father. His father's name will be used even if his father is dead. If "Y" is the name of his mother, the speaker is saying that the identity of the father is unknown. Thus, the speakers quoted by Mark who call Jesus "the son of Mary" are implying that Jesus is NOT the son of Joseph. (Moslems call Jesus "Issa ibn Miriam," that is, "Jesus, son of Mary," not because they think him illegitimate, but because the Koran (see chapter called "Mary") teaches that he was born of a virgin.) It is interesting to note that Mark, the only one of the Synoptists who makes no direct reference to the Virgin Birth, is also the only one of the three (see Mt 13:53-58, Lk 4:16-30) who in recounting the Nazareth visit makes an indirect reference to the kind of gossip which the circumstances of the birth as related by Matthew and Luke would certainly have given rise to. ON THE OTHER HAND, many readers doubt that the Mark account intends such a reference. Perhaps the people were simply saying: "But this is a home-boy. See, there sits his mother, and there his brothers, and there his sisters. He is one of the kids from the neighborhood, all right. Where does he get off claiming to be somebody important, and putting on all those airs. We knew him when..." In other words, they pointed to Mary, because she was there, and not to Joseph, who was dead by this time. They were not formally naming him as "Yeshua bar Maryam," but simply pointing to his family as evidence that he was indeed a hick from Nazareth, just like them.
In John 8:41, in the course of a sharp exchange between Jesus and persons gathered in the Temple courtyard, they say to him: "We are not born of fornication. We have one Father, even God." Some have supposed that the speakers, clearly hostile, are referring to rumors about the birth of Jesus, and that their meaning is, "You may be a bastard but we are respectable." ON THE OTHER HAND, it appears that in the preceding verses Jesus has denied that they are true sons of Abraham, and we may suppose that they are simply replying to this charge, with no suggestion of a counter-charge. I find this at best a possible example of a reference to a scandalous birth for Jesus.
Another possible example of Jesus' being reproached with illegitimacy occurs in M 11:19 = L 7:34, where Jesus says:
+ John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, + and they say, "He has a demon. + The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say: + "Behold a glutton and a drunkard, + a friend of publicans and sinners."
According to Ethelbert Stauffer (op. cit., p 16), this was regarded as behavior typical of a bastard, and the charge would not have been made in those terms unless the intent were to call attention to his illegitimacy.
Stauffer goes on to say that a Jewish document (Yebamoth 4:13) written before the fall of the Temple in AD 70 refers to Jesus as "the bastard of a wedded wife." It is, however, another question whether this accusation was made because the circumstances of his birth were known to be irregular, or because Christians were claiming that he was the son of a virgin, and non-Christians were beginning to reply that he must have been a bastard.
THE ELUSIVE MR. PANTERA
While early Christians called Jesus the son of the Virgin Mary, many early non-Christians called him the son of Pant(h)era(s). Where does this name come from? There are several theories:
(1) An early reference to Mary (sorry, I have lost my notes on it) gives her supposed family tree, with "Pantera" as the name of (I think) her great-grandfather. It is possible that there was someone named Pantera among the ancestors of Mary or Joseph and that his name somehow got picked by disbelievers in the Virgin Birth as the name of Jesus' father.
(2) Early anti-Christian writers said that Jesus was the product of an affair between Mary and a German soldier named Pantera. Celsus, writing around 160, provides some suitably gossipy details. Now, "Pantera" is a German word meaning "panther," and was used as a proper name. We have, in fact, a fragment of a military memo from the first century that mentions a soldier named Pantera, part of a German regiment stationed in Israel. There is no reason to connect him with the Pantera of the story. He merely shows that the name is not an anomaly.
(3) The panther, like various other animals, was often used as a metaphor for unbridled sexual desire. Thus, to call Jesus "son of a panther" may originally have meant simply, "son of an immoral woman." Thus, his enemies, asserting that he was born of an illicit union, accused his mother of wantonness, and later the word "panther" was understood to be the name of her paramour. (4) The name PANTHERAS may have arisen through a garbling, accidental or deliberate, of the word PARTHENOS, the Greek word for a virgin. When Jesus was called, "son of a virgin," this could have been altered, either by ignorance or by way of derision, to "son of Pantheras." (5) The term may originally have been PENTHEROS or PENTHERA. These words occur a total of seven times in the New Testament (M 8:14 = P 1:30 = L 4:38; M 10:35 = L 12:53 twice; J 18:13), with the sense of "father-in-law" or "mother-in-law" respectively. However, in Greek in general (according to my dictionary), they are more flexible, and can denote various kinds of in-laws, including son- or daughter-in-law. An early genealogy of Jesus may have begun, "Jesus, the son of Mary, the daughter-in-law of (Joseph's father)" or "Jesus, the son of Joseph, the son-in-law of (Mary's father)." Either of these would be a plausible way of beginning the genealogy for someone who believed in the Virgin Birth, and either could be garbled into "Pantheras". (6) Finally, we have the theory that the name was originally ANTIPATER. King Herod the Great was keenly aware that, as an Edomite, he did not have a good dynastic claim to the throne of Israel, and that the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) had a better claim, and the Davidids a still better one. His wife Mariamne was perhaps the only person he ever truly loved, but she was of Hasmonean descent, and when they appeared together in public and she got more cheers than he did, he had her put to death as the possible focus of a move to restore the Hasmoneans to the throne. Herod's son and heir was Prince Antipater, whom Herod had put to death only a few days before his own death, on a charge of treason, the details of which charge are not known. Now, let us suppose that Antipater had somehow met, loved, secretly married, and was about to have a child by, a Jewish woman named Mary who was of the line of David. King Herod, if he learned of this, would be bound to jump to the conclusion that his son had formed an alliance with the supporters of David and intended to kill Herod and seize the throne, ruling jointly with his Davidid wife, and eventually passing the kingdom on to their son, heir of both Herod and David. Let us say that Antipater learned that his father had gotten wind of the marriage, and that he was about to be arrested for treason. He sent a message to Mary, saying: "My father knows about us. Nothing can save me, but you can save yourself and the child. My father does not know your identity. Find yourself a nice Jewish carpenter who will marry you and acknowledge the child as his own. Good-bye. Your loving (and soon to be late) husband, Antipater." It is easy to see how the name ANTIPATER could be garbled into PANTERA. They have in common such elements as ANT, PA, and TER. Confirmation comes from Pilate's question addressed to Jesus at his trial. "Are you the King of the Jews?" The only Jewish Royal Family that the Romans recognized was that of Herod. It stands to reason that Pilate was asking, "Is it true that you are the grandson of King Herod the Great, and as such a plausible claimant under Roman Law to be the King of the Jews?" Yes, I like this theory. It appeals to my sense of the romantic, not to say the melodramatic, and to my fondness for conspiracy theories of all kinds. I find it almost a pity to note that it doesn't have a leg to stand on. (What are the odds, I wonder, that within a year some non-Christian on the list will be pushing this theory with perfect seriousness?) I must not close without giving credit to Robert Graves for at least the germ of this theory. (He later repudiated it.) Graves is a clever but erratic theorist. He says of Luke 19:1-10 and Mark 11:12-14 that they both describe Christ as standing beneath a sycamore (=fig) tree and expecting something to eat, and are therefore obviously the same story. "There are, of course," he admits, "some differences in detail."
SUMMARY ON THE VIRGIN BIRTH
In considering theories of the parentage of Jesus, we must first distinguish Normal Birth from Scandalous Birth. By Normal Birth I mean the theory that Jesus was born to a respectable married couple, call them Mary and Joseph, and that there were no unusual or memorable circumstances about the birth. Later, after Jesus became regarded by his followers as more than just a man, they invented the story of the Virgin Birth by way of emphasizing that he had been special from birth. By Scandalous Birth I mean the theory that the circumstances of his birth were such that from the very beginning rumors about his illegitimacy would persist. As we have seen, there are some indications that his birth was scandalous rather than normal. If we conclude that it was scandalous, we face the further question whether he was born of a virgin, as his followers maintained, or was the product of fornication, as his enemies maintained. As far as I can see, it is unlikely that historical evidence outside the pages of the New Testament will be of much help in choosing between these last two theories. Accordingly, I think it unreasonable to expect someone to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus until he has already been persuaded that Jesus is God's revelation of Himself in human terms, and that Jesus died and rose from the dead.
Some persons I have met were reluctant to accept the Virgin Birth of Jesus, not because they found the historical evidence unsatisfactory, but because they believed that it was an unChristian idea. They believed that it had its basis in the notion that sex, even within marriage, is unclean and sinful, and that it was therefore impossible that a sinless man should be produced by sex, even between man and wife. I have discussed this idea elsewhere (in my notes on Genesis), and will here only mention two alternative reasons why a Christian might think it appropriate or necessary that Jesus should be born of a virgin mother. (1) It has often been suggested that Jesus started out as an ordinary man who, by being very virtuous, eventually qualified to have God dwelling in him in a special manner, and that this indwelling began when he was baptized by John at the age of about thirty. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth affirms, on the contrary, that he was special from the first moment of his existence as a human. (2) If God were to take human nature upon him, were to enter the universe that he has made, it would be appropriate that the the immediate cause of his entering the world of flesh and blood should be an action on God's part, not an action by a human. If Jesus had been conceived by an act of sexual intercourse between Mary and Joseph, then we would have to say that this action was the immediate cause of the Incarnation; and it is unfitting, perhaps impossible, that this should be.
That concludes my remarks on the Virgin Birth.
*** THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE.
Some readers see a problem reconciling the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the Movements of the Holy Family in the first few months after the birth of Jesus.
According to Luke, when Jesus was forty days old, Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem, to present him to the LORD, and to offer the usual sacrifices for the redemption of the firstborn and the purification of the new mother. Luke says that after they had done this, they returned to Nazareth. This suggests that Jesus was not in Bethlehem after he was forty days old. ON THE OTHER HAND, Matthew says that the Magi visited him in Bethlehem, and that immediately afterward the Holy Family left for Egypt, and stayed there until the death of Herod. How do we reconcile these statements?
(1) The Dake Study Bible, popular with some fundamentalists I know, says that the Magi visited the Holy Family in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Notice that the text of Matthew says that the Magi inquired in Jerusalem, and that Herod, having consulted the scribes, sent them to Bethlehem, and that they set out, following the star, and found the child. But it does not say that the star led them to Bethlehem. Hence Dake concludes that the Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem very soon after the fortieth day after the Birth, that they offered sacrifices and then went promptly to Nazareth, that the Magi then arrived in Jerusalem, and left headed for Bethlehem at Herod's advice, but that the star guided them to Nazareth instead. My first objection to this is that Dake does not explain why, if Herod was searching in Bethlehem, Jesus would not have been perfectly safe in Nazareth. (Perhaps Herod would have broadened his search and eventually found the child.) But what really bothers me is that Dake believes that the Bible contains no false statements, because it is the work of God, who cannot lie; but Dake believes that the Bible does contain statements intended to mislead sincere seekers for truth, because apparently God can do that. I say that any reader who trusts the author not to be setting traps for him will understand Matthew to be saying that the Magi found the child in Bethlehem, and that if an ordinary writer were to tell such a story and then say, "Ah, but I didn't actually say that," we would not be satisfied. We would take the view that either he had not noticed that he was giving the impression that the child was in Bethlehem, or that he had noticed this: and if hadn't he was a sloppy writer and if he had he was a deceitful writer. Inerrancy salvaged at Dake's prices is not worth it. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
(2) Perhaps the visit of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the death of Herod, and the return of the Holy Family from Egypt all took place within forty days after the Birth of Jesus. I am unhappy with this, since I think that the Magi visited in the fall of 7 BC, while the death of Herod was in the spring of 4 BC, two and a half years later. Those who follow other chronologies for the times of the death of Herod and the visit of the Magi may find this theory plausible.
(3) Perhaps the flight into Egypt required postponing the visit to the Temple to a time when Jesus was several years old. Surely there were many devout Jewish women living far distant from Jerusalem, and unable to visit the Temple promptly after the birth of a firstborn, and they were simply told to make the visit when and if they could. Thus we may suppose that Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt before the forty days were over, and did not dare to return to offer sacrifice during the life of Herod, but did so after he was dead. I see no difficulty in Luke's statement that "when the days of her purification were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem...." It seems to say no more than that at a later time, when Mary was ceremonially free to approach the Temple, they did so.
(4) Perhaps Mary and Joseph, having visited Jerusalem when the child Jesus was just over 40 days old, returned to Bethlehem, and shortly thereafter the Magi visited them at Bethlehem, after which they fled to Egypt and stayed there several years, and then returned to Nazareth. The difficulty with this is that Luke says that when they had finished their business in Jerusalem, they returned to Nazareth. This can be read as implying that they returned to Nazareth immediately, but does it really imply it, in the sense that no honest writer would write this if they did not return immediately? I think not, and offer two reasons: (a) Writers very often narrate the events they think significant, without making it explicit there were time lapses between the events. Matthew at the end of Chapter 2 tells us that the Holy Family, returning from Egypt after the death of Herod, settled in Nazareth. He then continues: "In those days came John the Baptist preaching...." He offers no hint that there was a time lapse here of at least twenty years. His "in those days" means nothing more than that John's preaching is the next thing he wants to talk about. (b) Luke offers the Infancy Narrative as a series of scenes (almost as if he were writing a Sunday School pageant), each ending with someone's going back home where he came from. Thus: SCENE 1: Zachariah has a vision in the Temple, and then goes home (1:23). SCENE 2: Gabriel gives a message to Mary, and then departs, presumably home to heaven (1:38). SCENE 3: Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth, after which Mary returns home (1:56). SCENE 4: Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist, who goes to what is to be his home, the desert (1:80). SCENE 5: Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The angels tell the shepherds (and then go home (2:15)). The shepherds visit the child, and then go home (2:20). SCENE 6: Mary and Joseph take the Child to the Temple, where Simeon and Anna prophesy about him. Then Mary and Joseph and the Child go home to Nazareth (2:39). SCENE 7: When Jesus is twelve years old, Mary and Joseph take him to Jerusalem, and lose him and find him, after which they all go home to Nazareth (2:51).
Now, when Luke ends his account of the birth of John (Scene 4) by telling us that John went to live in the wilderness, he clearly does not intend to suggest that this happened before the birth of Jesus (Scene 5) when John was six months old. He is merely wrapping up Scene 4 by telling us where John eventually went. Similarly with Mary's visit to Elizabeth in Scene 3. If we assume that Luke is reporting events here in strict chronological order, we must suppose that Mary went to visit Elizabeth, who was about six months pregnant, stayed there for three months, and then left just before the baby John was born. Now, I ask you, gentle reader, to consider the women you know (including, where appropriate, yourself), and ask whether it makes sense to suppose that a woman would go to visit a friend or relative having a first pregnancy, stay three months, and leave just before the baby was due to be born. Would she not stay around another week or so, to help with the housekeeping and babytending, to give moral support, and see that all went well? Not only helpfulness would urge this, but common human curiosity, and a disinclination to travel home wondering all the way whether the baby had been born yet and what it looked like. I think we may be confident that Mary did NOT leave just before the birth of John, and that Luke did not intend to say that she did. He tells us that she went home (which she did eventually), because that is his way of closing Scene 3, the episode of Mary's Visit, before getting on to the next Scene. Therefore, if he closes his account of the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple (Scene 6) by telling us that after this Mary and Joseph took the child and went home to Nazareth, I think this perfectly compatible with the view that they did not go home immediately. I think that Luke is simply ending the episode in his usual manner.
(5) Some readers will perhaps be uncomfortable with the previous scenario, thinking that it makes Luke sacrifice factual accuracy to literary convention. I don't think that it does, but let me offer another scenario that I think avoids this objection. Perhaps Mary and Joseph decided that they wanted to make Bethlehem their permanent home. After visiting the Temple when the child Jesus was forty days old, or shortly thereafter, they went back to Nazareth just long enough to take care of a few matters like selling their house, selling the carpenter shop (and collecting a few overdue bills from customers thereof), saying goodbye to family and friends, and so on. They then promptly returned to Bethlehem, where they were visited by the Wise Men when the Child was about six months old. This seems to me to fit all the statements made by both Evangelists, and to do so without attributing "trick" statements to them, which I think Dake does.
And that concludes (for the present) my remarks on the Infancy Narratives in Chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew and Luke.
*** ADDENDA TO THE BIBLIOGRAPHY
Raymond Brown has just released a second edition of his classic, THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH. Currently, it is available only in hardcover, at about double the price of the first-edition soft-cover. (Doubleday, 1993, ISBN 0-385-47202-1, $30.00)
His new book, THE DEATH OF THE MESSIAH, an examination of the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, is scheduled for publication in March 1994.
The book CHRONOS, KAIROS, CHRISTOS: Nativity and Chronological Studies presented to Jack Finegan, is a first-rate collection of essays by various scholars presenting various theories of the dating of the Birth, Baptism, and other events in the life of Jesus Christ. I got this book too late for it to influence the present series of comments by me, but it will influence the next revision thereof. (Jerry Vardaman and Edwin M Yamauchi, editors, LC 89-34759, xxiii, 240p. 1989, $27.50, ISBN 0-931464-50-1) There is a soft-cover edition which costs about half the hardcover price, but I have not the ISBN number in hand. (NOTE: CHRONOS is Greek for "time" as in "It takes more time to walk a mile in bad weather than in good." KAIROS is Greek for "time" as in "The time has come to strike a blow for freedom." CHRISTOS is Greek for "anointed," "Messiah," "Christ.")