“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 3:13-14, cont.)

John 3:13-14, continued

John 3:14

“And, even as Moshe lifted high [u&ywsen] the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the son of man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”

This “son of man” saying follows upon the one in verse 13 (discussed in the previous study). While it is possible that these sayings once circulated separately, they are clearly connected here, being integral—indeed, central—to the Johannine Discourse of Jesus in chap. 3 (3:1-21). In this case, the initial conjunction (kai/), connecting verse 14 with v. 13, would seem to have a coordinating (and explicative) force (i.e., “and so…”).

The bonding motif, uniting the two sayings, is the idea of ascent. In verse 13 (as in 1:51, cf. the earlier study) the verb used is a)nabai/nw (“step up”), while here in v. 14 it is u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”). Both verbs are important Johannine keywords, used throughout the Gospel, with special theological (and Christological) meaning. In verse 13, the “stepping up” of the son of man (Jesus) is anticipated, and this is expressed with greater clarity in v. 14.

We may isolate two component clauses to the saying, reflecting two distinct lines of tradition:

    • Phrase 1: An illustrative comparison from Scripture, viz., a particular Moses tradition (Numbers 21:4-9, vv. 8-9)
    • Phrase 2: A “son of man” saying rooted in the Gospel Tradition, comparable to the three Passion-prediction sayings by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 pars)

Before turning to the Moses-tradition, let us consider the resemblance of v. 14b to the Synoptic Passion-predictions—all of which utilize the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) as a self-reference by Jesus. The first prediction, in particular, bears a close formal resemblance:

    • “it is necessary [dei=] (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “it is necessary [dei=] (for) the son of man to be lifted up high” (v. 14b)

In the Synoptic saying, the chain of infinitives covers the full range of Jesus’ Passion—suffering, death, and resurrection. By contrast, here in John, a single infinitive (of the verb u(yo/w) suffices. The parallel suggests that the verb corresponds similarly to the range of Jesus’ Passion (entailing both his death and resurrection), though it is his impending death that would seem to be primarily in view (cf. below).

The illustration of the bronze snake, set up by Moses on a ‘pole’ (Num 21:8f), certainly is suggestive (visually) of Jesus being placed upon a stake. Thus, it would seem that the primary reference is to Jesus’ crucifixion; the other occurrences of the verb u(yo/w (8:28; 12:32, 34) would tend to confirm this (see esp. the comment in 12:33).

However, the Hebrew word for the pole or staff, upon which the snake was set, is sn@, which specifically refers to a signal-flag or banner—viz., something placed up high (and waved) so that everyone can see it (and rally to it). This brings out additional associations for the symbolism. In the original Moses tradition, the snake served as signal-flag, so that, whenever a person was bitten by a snake, he/she could look to the elevated bronze snake, and thus be healed (lit. “live”). In verse 8, the verb ha*r* (“see”) is used, but in v. 9 it is the verb fb^n`, which can imply a more intense or careful looking (i.e., gazing at, contemplating).

Given the theological importance of the sight/seeing motif in the Gospel of John, it is no surprise that this aspect of the tradition is particularly brought out by the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker). This becomes clear from the expository application that follows in verse 15:

“…(so) that every(one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life].”

In the Johannine theological idiom, seeing means trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)—see, in particular, this correlation in the chapter 9 narrative (esp. vv. 35-41). Thus, everyone “seeing” the raised snake corresponds to everyone “trusting in” Jesus.

What significance, if any, is there to the use of the expression “the son of man” here in v. 14, beyond its use as a self-reference by Jesus? If we limit our analysis to the parallel with the Synoptic Passion-prediction (Mk 8:31 par, see above), then there would seem to be a specific association between the expression and the suffering (and death) of Jesus. This, in turn, represents a natural extension of the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament Scriptures, in which the limitation and weakness of the human condition—including its mortality—tends to be emphasized. Jesus identifies himself with these aspects of the human condition.

However, if we turn to the prior occurrences of the expression in the Gospel of John (1:51; 3:13) there would seem to be a rather different orientation and point of emphasis. As we saw in our studies on each of these references [1:51 and 3:13], there are two key thematic motifs associated with the expression “the son of man”: (1) the heavenly origin of Jesus, and (2) the descent/ascent motif. The principal point in verse 13 is Jesus’ descent to earth from heaven; implicit in the saying is the expectation that, after his descent (stepping down) to earth, he will then ascend (stepping back up) to heaven.

It is in this regard that the verb u(yo/w (“lift up high”) can be understood as signifying something more than Jesus’ death on the cross. Indeed, while the Johannine understanding of Son’s exaltation may begin with his being ‘lifted up’ on the cross, it also includes his resurrection and ultimate return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ suffering and death begins a process of exaltation that reaches its climax with his return to heaven. We shall find this same Christological dynamic at work in the remaining “son of man” sayings as well.

Given the parallel between verse 14b and Mark 8:31 par (see above), it would be enough to explain Jesus’ use of the expression “the son of man” here on that basis. However, in light of the proximity to the saying in v. 13, we may fairly assume that the expression in verse 14 carries the same theological import as it does in v. 13 (and 1:51). In other words, Jesus’ identity as the “son of man” must be understood in terms of the distinctive Johannine theology. As we begin to expound this in the context of the descent/ascent motif, we can isolate two principal theological strands:

    • Descent: Jesus’ heavenly origin, and his incarnation on earth as a human being (“son of man”)
    • Ascent: A process of exaltation that begins with his death (i.e., suffering of the “son of man”), and culminates with his return to heaven.

*     *     *     *     *     *

The association with Moses in verse 14 raises an interesting (possible) point of interpretation for verse 13. Indeed, it is possible that the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) intends a specific comparison, between Jesus and Moses, in v. 13. Central to this theory is the idea of Moses’ ascension, as it is found in Jewish tradition. When Jesus declares that “no one has stepped up into heaven”, he may have the ascension of Moses specifically in mind. For traditions regarding an ascent by Moses, see Meeks, pp. 104ff, 110-111, 192-5, 235-6 (cf. Moloney, p. 56f).

Such a comparison is made more plausible by the thematic relationship, between Jesus and Moses, that runs through much of the Gospel. This begins in the Prologue (1:14-18, esp. vv. 17-18), where the comparative superiority of Jesus is established. These verses draw upon various Moses/Exodus traditions, particularly the theophany (YHWH’s revelation to Moses) in chapters 33-34—and especially the notice in 33:23 (cf. Deut 4:12ff). The wording in v. 18 of the Prologue resembles that of 3:13:

    • “no one has seen God at any time”
    • “no one has stepped up into heaven”

If the phrase in 1:18 alludes to Moses (Exod 33:23), then it is plausible that the similar phrase in 3:13 does so as well (particularly given the reference to Moses in v. 14).

References above marked “Meeks” are to Wayne A. Meeks, The Prophet-King: Moses Traditions and the Johannine Christology (Brill: 1967).
Those marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Moses and Elijah, Part 2

Moses and Elijah (Part 2)

The Transfiguration Episode (Lk 9:28-36 par)

As I argued at the conclusion of Part 1, the Transfiguration scene, within the context of the Synoptic narrative, is set at the conclusion of the Galilean period and marks the beginning of the Judean period (the second half of the narrative). The second half of the Gospel narrative, I would maintain, properly opens with the first Passion prediction by Jesus (Mk 8:31 par), but the Transfiguration is the first major episode. It holds roughly the same place as the Baptism scene does in the first half of the narrative. Clearly there is an intentional (literary) parallel intended between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes. In particular, the Voice from heaven makes a declaration that matches (or nearly matches) the heavenly declaration at the Baptism (Mk 1:11 par); indeed, in Matthew’s version, the two utterances are identical.

It is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, that it marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (cf. below).

The presence of Moses and Elijah

Central to the Transfiguration scene is the presence of Moses and Elijah, who appear alongside of Jesus (Mk 9:4-5 par). It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet.

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. For more on this, see the previous articles in this series, along with Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

    1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
    2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship.
Jesus and Moses: Luke 9:28-36

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene (9:28-36) contains a number of important details which emphasize the association of Jesus with Moses (and the Moses/Exodus traditions). These will be discussed here in turn.

“after…eight days” (v. 28)—Luke curiously dates the Transfiguration episode differently than in Mark-Matthew (“after six days”). One can only guess at the reasons for this, but it is possible that an allusion to the time-frame of the festival of Booths (Sukkot) is intended (Lev 23:35-36, and cf. below).

he stepped up into/onto the mountain” (v. 28)—The mountain location of the Transfiguration fills the type-pattern of mount Sinai as the setting of the Sinai Theophany—the mountain Moses ascended to meet YHWH. This association is part of the core tradition; however, Luke’s wording here (“he stepped up into/onto the mountain,” a)ne/bh ei)$ to\ o&ro$) precisely matches the LXX of Exod 19:3.

“the visible (form) of his face (became) different” (v. 29)—The change in Jesus’ appearance is central to the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:3); all three Gospels mention Jesus’ clothing becoming unusually bright/white, however Matthew and Luke specifically mention the shining of Jesus’ face. Luke emphasizes the transformation of Jesus’ face, stating that its visible appearance (ei@do$) became different (“other,” e%tero$). It is likely that this alludes to the tradition of the transformation of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29ff), even though the wording differs from the description(s) in Exodus.

“…who were being seen in splendor [do/ca]” (v. 31)—Luke adds the detail that Moses and Elijah appeared “in glory/splendor”. This can be taken as further emphasis on the tradition of the divine glory/splendor (do/ca) that was reflected on Moses’ face (Exod 34:30-35). Here it is extended to the figure of Elijah, so that all three figures—Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah—shine with heavenly/divine glory.

“…his way out [e&codo$]” (v. 31)—In the core tradition, Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah; however, only Luke provides information about the subject of their discussion. According to Luke’s version, the three spoke specifically about “his [i.e. Jesus’] way out, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”. The expression “way out” is a literal translation of the noun e&codo$ (éxodus), which almost certainly stands as an allusion to the Exodus. If so, then Jesus effectively fulfills the role of Moses in leading the way for a “new Exodus”. It must be emphasized, however, that here the “exodus” refers specifically to Jesus’ “way out” of his life on earth—that is, his impending death (and resurrection) in Jerusalem.

“they saw his splendor/glory [do/ca]” (v. 32)—Only Luke includes the detail that the awakening disciples “saw the splendor/glory” of Jesus. In all likelihood, this again reflects the Moses tradition in Exod 34:29-35, where the people see the glory on Moses’ face. The wording here resembles the declaration in the Johannine Prologue (1:14ff), which also alludes the same Exodus traditions and contains a comparison between Jesus and Moses.

“we should make tents” (v. 33)—The declaration by Peter is part of the core tradition, which may contain an echo of the festival of Booths (Sukkot), as recorded in the Law of Moses (and which is part of the Moses/Exodus traditions, Lev 23:33-43; Neh 8:14-17; cf. also Exod 23:14-19; 34:22-24; Num 29:12-38; Deut 16:16-17; 31:9-13). As noted above, the specific dating of the Transfiguration in Luke (v. 28) may be intended to bring out this association.

“a cloud came to be and it cast shade upon them” (v. 34)—The overshadowing cloud is part of the core tradition, and almost certainly alludes to the Sinai Theophany (Exod 19:9ff; 24:15-18), though the theophanous Cloud, representing the manifest presence of YHWH, features throughout the Exodus narratives (Exod 16:10; 40:34, etc).

“…going into the cloud” (v. 34)—Only in Luke’s version do the disciples enter the cloud (with Jesus). This clearly echoes the scene at the Sinai theophany, where Moses enters the cloud of God’s glorious presence (Exod 24:18; cf. also 33:9). At the same time, this represents a shift in the significance of the two episodes, whereby access to the manifest presence of God is no long limited to the chosen representative (Moses/Jesus), but is opened up to (all) the faithful ones among God’s people.

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. chosen]” (v. 35)—The declaration by the heavenly Voice closely parallels that of the Baptism scene (in Matthew the two are identical). In the previous article on Isa 42:1ff, I discussed how the Baptism declaration likely alludes to this passage, and the same applies here in the Transfiguration scene. The Lukan form of the declaration, including the descriptive (substantive) participle o( e)klelegme/no$ (“the [one] having been gathered out”), more closely matches Isa 42:1 than that in Mark-Matthew.

In the aforementioned article, I also discuss how the “servant” of Isa 42:1ff can be interpreted as an inspired prophetic leader who follows in the pattern of Moses. That is to say, he functions as a “new Moses” who will lead the people of God in a “new Exodus” out of their time in Exile. It seems likely that the Transfiguration scene follows the line of interpretation that identifies Jesus as the “prophet like Moses” who is to come—that is, the Messianic prophet according to the figure-type of Moses (cf. above and Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed”).

“you must hear [i.e. listen to] him” (v. 35)—This directive, part of the heavenly declaration in the core tradition, almost certainly alludes to Deuteronomy 18:15, and the need for God’s people to hear/obey the words of the “prophet like Moses” who is to come. The implication, again, is that Jesus is to be identified with this Messianic prophet figure, even as his (more directly) in Acts 3:22; 7:37. The Lukan word order here is closer to the LXX of Deut 18:15 than is that of Mark-Matthew.

The transitional character of the Transfiguration scene is indicated by the way that Moses and Elijah vanish, leaving Jesus alone on the mountain. Their departure clears the way for the identification of Jesus with other Messianic figure types—most notably, the Davidic royal Messiah, as well as the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Even more significant, from the standpoint of early Christian theology, is the heavenly declaration that affirms Jesus’ status as God’s Son. There can be no doubt that this episode marks Jesus as being superior to the prophetic figures of Moses and Elijah; however, it is important to realize that this superiority is expressed in the context of the Old Testament tradition.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Moses and Elijah, Part 1

Moses and Elijah (Part 1)

The figures of Moses and Elijah are central to the Gospel narrative, and to the Messianic identity of Jesus, particularly in the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry which forms the first half of the Synoptic Narrative. Moses and Elijah were important prophetic figures in Israel’s history (and in Old Testament tradition), and, through the key Scriptures of Deut 18:15-19 and Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6, came to be regarded as figure-types for the Messianic Prophet who was expected to appear at the end-time (prior to the great Judgment). For more on this subject, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Jesus was identified with both the Moses and Elijah figure-types, as I discuss in the aforementioned article. This can be seen at various points throughout the early Gospel tradition, associated with the Galilean ministry of Jesus as recorded (especially) in the Synoptic narrative. However, there are two episodes from this Galilean period where the Old Testament associations particularly stand out:

    1. The Miraculous Feeding episode, and
    2. The Transfiguration scene

Part 1 of this article will deal with the Miraculous Feeding  episode, while Part 2 will examine the Transfiguration scene.

The Miraculous Feeding Episode (Mark 6:30-44 par)

This episode makes for a fascinating test case in New Testament criticism. Not only do we have the three Synoptic versions (Triple-Tradition), along with a parallel version in the Gospel of John, but there is the second Feeding miracle (of the 4,000), nearly identical in its basic outline (to that of the 5,000), preserved in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:1-10) par. It is not the place here to go into the many critical questions regarding the relationship between these versions; in any case, I have discussed the matter at considerable length elsewhere (cf. especially the articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). In this particular study, I will be focusing on influence of the Old Testament on the Miraculous Feeding scene as it has been recorded in the Gospels.

As it happens, there are no direct citations or quotations of Scripture in the Feeding episode (in any of the versions); instead, we find a number of subtle, but significant, allusions to Old Testament traditions that have helped to shape the narrative. Three strands of tradition may be isolated, each of which relates, in certain ways, to the figures of Moses and Elijah:

    • The phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34 par)
    • Allusions to the Elisha tradition of 2 Kings 4:42-44
    • The Moses/Exodus traditions of the Passover and Manna, esp. as developed by Jesus in the Johannine discourse that follows the miraculous feeding
“Sheep without a shepherd” (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Mk 6:34 par)

In the Synoptic (Markan) version of the feeding of the 5,000, we find the following narrative description:

“And coming out (of the boat), he [i.e. Jesus] saw (the) throng (of) many (people), and he was moved in (his) inner parts upon them, (in) that [i.e. because] they were as sheep not having [i.e. without] any herder, and he began to teach them many (thing)s.” (6:34)

Neither Matthew nor Luke contain the specific allusion to the people “as sheep without a shepherd”, though they include the detail of Jesus’ compassion for them, as well as the mention of his teaching and the healing miracles he performed. Conceivably, Mark has added the sheep/shepherd reference to the core Synoptic tradition, which would explain why Matthew and Luke do not have it in their version; nor is it part of the second Feeding (of the 4,000) narrative.

However it came to be included in the Markan version of the episode, its significance relates to the apparent allusion to Numbers 27:17, as descriptive of Joshua, the Spirit-endowed leader who follows Moses as guide (i.e., ‘shepherd’) for the people (vv. 12-23). Joshua stands in relation to Moses, much as Elisha does to Elijah (cf. below), with both receiving an ‘anointing’ of the same divine, prophetic Spirit that their predecessor possessed. Here is how the matter is described in Num 27:16-17:

“May YHWH, Mightiest (One) [i.e. God] of (the) spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who will go out before them and who will come (in) before them, who will bring them out and who will bring them (in), and (then) the assembly of YHWH will not be like a flock (of sheep) which does not (have) for them (one) giving pasture [i.e. a shepherd/herdsman].”

The allusion in Mk 6:34 indicates that Jesus is to be regarded, like Joshua (the two names being essentially identical), as the Spirit-empowered successor to Moses. It is Jesus who will lead and guide the people of God. Indeed, like Moses himself, Jesus serves as God’s chosen (= anointed) representative who miraculously provides food for the multitude as they sojourn in the desolate land.

The motif from Numbers 27:17 is repeated in 1 Kings 22:17, part of the Micaiah scene in chapter 22. The sheep/shepherd idiom is used there in a negative sense: because of the wickedness of the king (Ahab) and the many ‘false prophets’, the people of Israel truly are like sheep without a proper shepherd. While the prophetic significance of this Old Testament episode cannot be disregarded, it is only loosely related to the Elijah/Elisha traditions. Almost certainly, it is Num 27:17 that is being referenced in the Markan version of the Miraculous Feeding scene.

The Elisha tradition in 2 Kings 4:42-44

As nearly every New Testament commentator recognizes, the basic action of the Miraculous Feeding episode reflects, to some extent, the scene in 2 Kings 4:42-44. The way that the two narratives relate can be traced rather simply by comparing the relevant detail:

    • A man brings loaves of bread to Elisha (v. 42)
      / The disciples bring loaves to Jesus (Mk 6:37f, 41 par)
    • Elisha tells him to give the bread to the people to eat (v. 42)
      / Jesus tells the disciples to give the people food to eat (Mk 6:37a par)
    • The servant asks how he can give the bread to so many men (v. 43a)
      / The disciples ask how they are able to obtain food for so many people (Mk 6:37b par)
    • A repeated directive to bring/obtain loaves of bread (v. 43b; Mk 6:38 par)
    • All of the people eat and there is still some left over (vv. 43b-44a; Mk 6:42-43 par)
    • This is done/accomplished “according to the word of YHWH”, as expressed by the prophet Elisha (v. 44)
      / The miracle takes place according to the command of Jesus, accompanied by his word of blessing/consecration (Mk 6:39, 41)

These parallels make abundantly clear that Jesus is acting as an inspired Prophet, in the pattern of Elijah (and his disciple Elisha). Elijah was the great miracle-working prophet in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the mighty deeds and wonders taking place, by the power of God, through special prophetic Spirit that was upon him. Elisha, his disciple and appointed successor, would receive this same Spirit (2 Kings 2:9-10ff), even as Joshua inherits the Spirit-endowed mantle of leadership from Moses (cf. above, and note the more specific prophetic parallel in Num 11:16-17ff).

As I discuss in the previous article, by the 1st century B.C./A.D., the Spirit-inspired Herald of Isa 61:1ff had come to be associated with the (Messianic) figure-type of Elijah. This can be seen both in the Gospel Tradition (Lk 4:17-19ff and 7:18-22 par) and in the Qumran text 4Q521. The specific points of emphasis in the Nazareth episode of Lk 4:16-30 are again worth noting:

    • Jesus specifically identifies himself with the prophet/herald who is “anointed by the Spirit”, a prophetic detail that was fulfilled at the Baptism, and with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (3:22; 4:1, 14-15ff)
    • He again identifies himself as a prophet in the proverbial saying of 4:24 par
    • The Scripture examples he cites (vv. 25-27) are from the Elijah and Elisha narratives
    • Elisha was the only Old Testament prophet specifically said to have been anointed (cf. 1 Kings 19:16), in a manner that seems to have been primarily figurative, referring to the divine/prophetic Spirit that comes upon him
The Moses/Exodus Traditions

The allusion to Num 27:17 in Mk 6:34 (cf. above) suggests that Jesus is fulfilling the role of Moses, as the Spirit-empowered leader of the people, who guides them on their journey in the desolate land. The setting of the Miraculous Feeding episode fits this traditional paradigm, with: (a) the large crowd of people, (b) the desolate locale (Mk 6:35 par), and (c) the difficulty in finding food to eat. All of this naturally brings to mind Moses’ role as intermediary between God (YHWH) and the people, especially with regard to the miraculous feeding episodes recorded in the Exodus narratives. The prime narrative is in Exodus 16, where, according to Moses’ prophetic announcement, God brings down meat (quail) and bread (‘manna’) from the sky to feed the people.

There is only the faintest allusion to the manna-tradition in the Gospel narrative. However, it takes on more prominence in the Johannine version of the Miraculous Feeding (6:1-14). In at least two small details, John’s version emphasizes the association with Moses, rather than Elijah. The first is the reference to the time of the Passover festival (v. 4), a detail found only in John’s version, though the mention of green grass (Mk 6:39 par) suggests that the episode may have taken place in the Springtime.

The second significant detail comes at the conclusion of the narrative (v. 14), where people respond to the miracle by declaring that “this is truly the Prophet, the (one) coming into the world!” This demonstrates the popular expectation of a Messianic Prophet, which, most commonly, was conceived according to one of two prophetic figure-types: Moses and Elijah, respectively (cf. again Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The title “the Prophet” is more likely to be a reference to the Moses figure-type (Deut 18:15-19), while the descriptive title “the (one who is) coming” (Grk o( e)rxo/meno$) better fits the Elijah type (cf. Mal 3:1ff, 4:5-6, and my earlier note on the subject). Given the Moses/Passover theme that runs through John 6, it seems probable that “the Prophet” is the “Prophet like Moses”.

In the great “Bread of Life” discourse that follows the Miraculous Feeding episode in the Gospel of John (6:22-59ff), the miraculous division of the bread-loaves is expounded in terms of the Moses/Exodus tradition of the manna—as “bread coming down from heaven”. This line of interpretation by Jesus is introduced in the discourse at verse 31:

“Our fathers ate the manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written: ‘Bread out of heaven He gave them to eat’.”

The Scripture citation corresponds most directly to Psalm 78:24, but certainly refers to the main historical tradition in Exodus 16:4, 15 (cf. also Wisdom 16:20). As Jesus continues with this line of exposition, he brings up the (comparative) parallel with the figure of Moses:

“Amen, amen, I say to you: (it was) not Moses (who) has given you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” (v. 32)

Two different points of contrast are at work in this statement:

    • It was not Moses who gave the bread, but God (YHWH) Himself
    • The manna was not the true “bread out of heaven”

Then Jesus goes a step further, identifying this “true bread” as a person who comes down from heaven:

“For the bread of God is the (one) stepping down out of heaven and giving life to the world.” (v. 33)

The remainder of the discourse (vv. 35ff) builds upon this idea, as Jesus, in response to the request by the people in v. 34 (reflecting their misunderstanding), declares:

“I am the Bread of Life…” (v. 35)

Jesus is himself the true “bread from heaven”, which God gives to His people (believers) in the world. The Moses/Manna theme is reiterated at several points throughout the discourse (cf. especially vv. 46, 49ff), but is very much central to the overall “Bread of Life” image. The allusions to Jesus’ death (vv. 33, 38, 50-51, and the eucharistic language in vv. 52-58) tie the imagery back to the Passover setting of the miracle (v. 4), since the death of Jesus took place at Passover, fulfilling the figure-type of the Passover sacrifice (cf. 1:29, 36; 2:18-23; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14, [29], 31-33, 36).

Conclusion: The Context of the Synoptic Narrative

To gain a full appreciation of the significance of the Miraculous Feeding episode as an expression of the Messianic identity of Jesus, we must consider carefully the place of this episode within the Synoptic narrative framework. In particular, the two Feeding miracles (in Mark and Matthew) are key to the shaping of this framework. I have outlined the Markan structure in earlier notes and articles, but it is worth presenting again here:

    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the declaration by Herod—6:14-16 [inclusion of an associated tradition, 6:17-29]
    • Feeding Miracle (5,000): the disciples/12 baskets—6:30-44 Miracle on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—6:44-52 (they did not understand about the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing Miracles6:53-56
    • Conflict/debate with religious authorities over tradition and ritual—7:1-23 including a Parable and explanation by Jesus (vv. 14-16, 17-23)
    • Healing Miracles: 2 episodes—7:24-30, 31-37
    • Feeding Miracle (4,000): the disciples/7 baskets—8:1-10 Teaching on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—8:11-21 (they did not understand, re. the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing miracle—8:22-26
    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the confession by Peter—8:27-30

In my view there is a definite (chiastic) symmetry to this section in Mark. Consider first—the framing episodes (6:14-16; 8:27-30) involving the question of Jesus’ identity, in which the general reaction by people to Jesus is noted (i.e. identifying him as “Elijah” or one of the Prophets). At the same time, Herod and Peter each make a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity:

    • Herod—he is John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16)
    • Peter—”You are the Anointed One” (8:29)

The second pair of (parallel) episodes are the two Feeding Miracles:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44)
      Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10)
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

The parallelism is reinforced by the inclusion, after the miracle, of an episode where Jesus and his disciples are together on the water (6:44-52; 8:11-21), and reference is made to the bread-loaves of the miraculous feeding (6:52; 8:19ff). The first episode involves a miracle (Jesus’ walking on the water), the second, teaching. A third parallel can be found in the healing miracles of 6:53-56 and 7:24-37:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      • Feeding of the Five Thousand
        —Healing miracles narrated (6:53-56)
        —Healing miracles: 2 episodes (7:24-37)
      • Feeding of the Four Thousand
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

Finally, at the center of the section, we find the debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (Scribes and Pharisees) regarding religious tradition and the interpretation of the Law (7:1-23). This theme carries through the remainder of the section, especially the instruction of Jesus to his disciples in 8:11-21, in which he warns them of “the leaven of the Pharisees [7:1ff] and Herod [6:14-16ff]” (v. 15). It is part of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry that is illustrated in this section. While the people may react to Jesus at one level—viewing him as a miracle working prophet like Elijah (cf. above), or otherwise—his true disciples ultimately will recognize him as “the Anointed One” (and Son of God).

Thus we can see that the two Feeding Miracle episodes play a pivotal role in the Markan narrative, and are important in demonstrating Jesus’ identity—the primary theme of 6:14-8:30.

Luke’s Gospel has a somewhat different structure, due to the fact that the author omits (or otherwise does not include) all of the Synoptic material in Mk 6:45-8:26 par. The single Miraculous Feeding (of the 5,000) thus is more clearly rooted in the concluding portion of the Galilean narrative:

    • The Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
    • The Reaction of Herod (9:7-9)
    • The Miraculous Feeding (9:10-17)
    • The Reaction (Confession) of Peter (9:18-20)

Peter’s confession essentially brings the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period) to a close. The Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-8 par) may be viewed as transitional, or as the beginning episode in the second half of the Gospel (the Judean period), preceding as it does Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (chap. 10). The journey section is framed by the three Passion predictions by Jesus, and so it is perhaps best to view the second half of the Synoptic narrative as starting with the first Passion prediction (Mk 8:31 par).

In any event, the Transfiguration scene is transitional in the sense that it completes the identification of Jesus as the prophetic Messiah, and prepares the way for his identification as the royal Messiah (from the line of David), which is the Messianic figure-type that comes to dominate the second half of the Gospel. In order to see how the associations with Moses and Elijah truly function within the Synoptic narrative, it is necessary for us to turn to this key episode of the Transfiguration, in Part 2.

 

SS Christmas Studies: Matthew 2:13-23

Matthew 2:13-23

This study looks at the third (and final) section of the Matthean Infancy narrative—2:13-23. It has a clear structure comprised of three episodes:

    • Angelic Appearance—Call to go into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
      —Joseph’s Response
      —Scripture (Hos 11:1)
    • Slaughter of the Children by Herod (vv. 16-18)
      —Scripture (Jer 31:15)
    • Angelic Appearance—Call to come out of Egypt (vv. 19-23)
      —Joseph’s Response—with added detail
      —Scripture (Isa 4:3 ?)

(On the use of the Angelic appearances and Scripture citations to structure the Infancy narrative as a whole, see the outline in the previous study.)

The section is framed by the two Angelic appearances to Joseph, each narrated in nearly identical wording, and parallel to the earlier appearance in 1:18-25. As in the first appearance scene, Joseph’s faithfulness is indicated by his obedience to the Angel’s message (v. 24). Here, however, this is enhanced by having the description of Joseph’s act match precisely the words of the Angel (2:14-15a, 21f).

Each of the episodes in this section contain a Scripture quotation illustrating how the events were the fulfillment of prophecy. Both of the Angelic appearances relate most directly to the first Scripture cited (Hos 11:1; v. 15)—that is, both episodes, taken together, fulfill the prophecy. The historical and narrative context is established in the central scene, involving the danger posed by Herod (v. 13b) which continues into the last scene in the person of Herod’s son (v. 22).

The narrative itself is clearly patterned after, and corresponds to, the story of Israel’s entry into Egypt (Joseph Narratives) and Exodus out of it (Moses Narratives). The events narrated fulfill Scripture, not only through the specific passages cited, but in their typology and correspondence with the Old Testament narratives. Note the essential structure:

    • Israel goes down into Egypt—Joseph Narratives, with the motif of communication/revelation through dreams
    • Slaughter of the children by the wicked King—Moses’ childhood (Infancy Narrative: Exod 1:15-2:10)
    • Israel comes up out of Egypt—the Exodus under Moses’ leadership

The central Scripture narrative is prominent—the birth of Moses parallel with the birth of Jesus. The correspondence is even more definite and closer if we take into consideration details from later Jewish tradition (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 2.205-223). Beyond this, it is also possible to glimpse in the Matthean episodes three additional scenes from Israel’s history, indicated by the specific Scriptures cited in each:

    • The Exodus—Hos 11:1
    • The Exile—Jer 31:15
    • The Messianic Age and redemption for the faithful Remnant—Isa 4:3 (?), etc

The first theme can be further divided into two main lines of tradition, parallels that are at work in relation to Matthew 2:13-23:

    1. The Birth and early Life of Moses
    2. The theme of the Exodus
1. The Birth and early Life of Moses

Three elements from the narratives in Exodus 1-4 (and related Jewish tradition) can be isolated, each of which relates to the three sections in Matt 2:13-23 and help to define the structure of the passage:

    • A wicked king who seeks to destroy a divine/chosen child who is prophecied to become ruler/savior, and the rescue/escape of the child (vv. 13-15, also vv. 1-9)
    • Newborn children killed by the wicked king (vv. 16-18)
    • Death of the wicked king, which allows the chosen child to return (vv. 19-21[23])

As should be clear from the points above, this narrative structure not only draws from the Exodus stories but reflects an archetypal narrative found in traditional tales (myth/folklore) around the world. This has caused many commentators naturally to question the historicity of the narrative in Matthew. In passing, it may be helpful here to summarize the basic positions which have been taken (in relation to the Exodus/Matthew parallels):

1) They reflect a special historical synchronicity between (entirely factual) events
2) Historical events (in general) have been shaped (by the author or earlier tradition) under the influence of the Exodus stories (in literary detail)
3) The Gospel writer records/adapts an original tradition (of uncertain/questionable historicity) which draws from the Exodus stories
4) The Gospel writer has essentially created an episode of historical fiction, in imitation of the Exodus stories (and related traditions)

Many traditional-conservative scholars would opt for #1, while at least some critical scholars suspect #4; the majority of moderate commentators (on all sides) probably would adopt some form of #2 or 3. On purely objective grounds, #2 would seem the most plausible, but I will leave it to thoughtful and informed readers (believers) in humility to judge the matter for themselves.

a. The Wicked King and Chosen Child (Matt 2:13-15, and vv. 1-9)

Exodus 1:8-22 records that the new Pharaoh feared the increasing Israelite population and eventually sought to cut down their numbers by killing the newborn males (attempts are made by two different means, vv. 15-19 and 20-22). On the face of it, this does not seem to be an especially close parallel to Matthew’s narrative; however, at the time of the New Testament, several details had been added to the Exodus story within Jewish tradition (attested earliest by Josephus):

    • Pharaoh is warned by his “(sacred) scribes” that a child was about to be born who would deliver Israel and bring low the kingdom of Egypt (see Josephus Antiquities II.205)—in subsequent Rabbinic tradition, astrologers advise Pharaoh to drown the Hebrew children (Midrash Rabbah on Exodus I.18, cf. also b.Sanh. 101a); also in some versions of the story, the warning/prophecy is foreseen by Pharaoh’s ‘magicians’ (see b.Sotah 12b), or in a dream which they interpret.
    • The prophecy of this child caused fear and dread for Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Jos. Ant. II.206, 215), a possible parallel to Matt. 2:3. See a second attempt to kill the child Moses, instigated by Pharaoh’s scribes in Ant. II.234ff (cf. also II.255).
    • There is also a legend of a light which appeared at Moses’ birth (Midrash Rabbah on Exodus I.20), and that the stars above gave homage to the ‘light’ of Moses’ birth (cf. Sefer ha-Yashar [67]).

These details bring the Exodus story closer to Matthew’s narrative, and may have been familiar to the Gospel writer and/or its original audience. For more on the Moses story, see my article on the passage in the series “The Birth of the Messiah”.

The escape/rescue of the child (vv. 13-15)—This is narrated in Exodus 2:1-4ff, but note the version as recorded in Josephus (Ant. II.212-216, 219ff), whereby Moses’ father (Amram) is warned and encouraged by God in a dream, after which he takes steps to protect the child (in Ex 2:2-3, Moses’ mother initiates the hiding); all of this, again, brings the story closer to Matthew.

There is a second “escape” of Moses (as an adult) recorded in Exodus 2:15. Note in particular the phrase “he [Pharaoh] sought [ez¢¡tei] to take away [i.e. kill] Moses” (LXX), compared with the angel’s message to Joseph: “Herod is seeking [z¢teín] the child to destroy it” (v. 13). Again Josephus’ narrative is a bit closer overall to that of Matthew, cf. Ant. II.255-256.

b. Newborn children killed by the wicked king (vv. 16-18)

There is here only a general parallel between v. 16 and Exodus 2:22; the lack of corresponding detail could be seen as confirmation of the historicity of vv. 16-18. There is conceivably a faint correspondence between Pharaoh being ‘tricked’ as it were by the midwives (Ex 2:17ff) and Herod provoked to anger at being ‘tricked’ [lit. played with] by the Magi (v. 16). The narrative here is so brief (a single verse) that it is difficult to make a meaningful comparison.

c. Death of the wicked king (vv. 19-21[23])

This provides perhaps the closest parallel between the Exodus and Matthean narratives (precise or close verbal and syntactical parallels are indicated with italics):

Exodus 4:19-20 (LXX)

19But with [i.e. after] these many days the king of Egypt was finished [e)teleu/thsen], and (the) Lord said to Moses in Midan: “Walk! Go from (here) into Egypt! For all the (ones) seeking your soul have died“.

Matthew 2:19-21

19But (at) Herod’s being finished [teleuth/santo$ i.e. having died], see—a Messenger of the Lord shone forth [i.e. appeared] by a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20saying: “Rising, take along the child and his mother and travel into (the) land of Israel, for the (ones) seeking the soul of the child have died.”

20And taking up the woman and the child, Moses put them up upon a (beast) under-yoke [i.e. beast-of-burden] and turned about [i.e. returned] into Egypt… 21And rising, the (man) [i.e. Joseph] took along the child and his mother and came into (the) land of Israel.

Especially noteworthy is the virtually identical Greek phrase in Ex 4:19/Matt 2:20: “for the ones seeking the soul” … “have died” (see below).

2. The theme of the Exodus

This is applied very simply to the narrative of Matt 2:13-23, interwoven through the Moses/Pharaoh paradigm, as can be illustrated by the following chiastic outline:

    • The wicked king seeks to destroy the chosen child (divine announcement [in a dream]), and the rescue/escape of the child—v. 13
      • Entrance into Egypt—v. 14-15
        • Newborn children killed by the wicked king—v. 16-18
      • Return (Exodus) from Egypt—v. 21ff
    • Death of the wicked king (divine announcement [in a dream]), allowing the return of the child—v. 19-20

To emphasize the symmetry here, I have taken the liberty of reversing vv. 19-20 and 21ff above.

It should be noted, of course, that the Exodus theme appears specifically in the Scripture citation in verse 15; indeed, the original context of Hosea 11:1 is simply a reference to the Exodus, with Israel as God’s “son” (in a symbolic/covenantal sense). A common idiom for the Israelites (people of Israel) is “sons of Israel” —almost certainly we should understand a correspondence here between the child Jesus and the sons [children] of Israel (as much as between Jesus and Moses) in the Gospel narrative. For more on this Scripture as it is used here in the Infancy narrative, see my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.

The Slaughter of the Children (Exile theme)

The central scene in this episode (vv. 16-18), the second Herod scene of the narrative (the first being in vv. 1-12, cf. the previous study), deals with an historical tradition—the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem—that many critical commentators have questioned. Their skepticism is based on two points: (a) the lack of any other reference (in Josephus, etc) to the event, and (b) the obvious parallel with the Moses Infancy narrative (see above). There can be no denying the literary parallel, the type-scene of which can be found in literature and folklore worldwide. For more on this subject, and for an examination of the Moses narrative itself, see my earlier article in the series “The Birth of the Messiah”.

At the root of the scene, in the context of the Matthean narrative, is the conflict between the child Jesus as the “King of the Jews” and Herod (the reigning king). This is part of the wider theme of Jesus’ Messianic identity (i.e., as the royal Messiah from the line of David), which I have discussed at length in the earlier studies (cf. the previous study on vv. 1-12).

The Scripture citation for this episode (see above) is Jeremiah 31:15. In applying this Scripture to events surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Gospel writer (as in the case of Isa 7:14, etc) has taken the passage out of its original context. While Matthew treats it as a prophecy of future events, the original passage is an evocation of the prophet’s own time. It is part of a larger section (30:1-33:26) promising future restoration for the people of Israel, with messages specifically directed at the exiled Northern tribes (“Ephraim”) in 30:1-31:40. Even in these two chapters one also finds the message being applied to the Southern kingdom (Judah), by Jeremiah himself or a later (exilic) editor. In any event, the theme of a reunited Israel is prominent, culminating in the famous passage of Jer 31:31-34, where God promises to make a new covenant with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Rachel, as the mother of Benjamin and Joseph (Ephraim/Manasseh), represents the Northern tribes (closest to Judah); her weeping and mourning is a dramatic and evocative depiction of the (Assyrian) Exile, but it may be an echo (or foreshadowing) of the (Babylonian) exile of Judah (cf. the association of “Ramah” in Jer 40:1). According to Gen 35:16, Rachel died somewhere between Bethel and Ephrath and Jacob set up a pillar at that location, which is confirmed by the reference to “Rachel’s tomb” in 1 Sam 10:2-3. Gen 35:20 has a parenthetical statement (presumably an editor’s gloss) that “Ephrath” is (near) Bethlehem, representing either an scribal mistake or a competing tradition. The Gospel writer clearly identifies this Ramah with Bethlehem.

Rachel’s weeping is actually just the opening setting of this oracle of hope, for vv. 16-17 exhort the mother to cease weeping—her sons will return to their own land. There is no indication that the Gospel writer means to infer the wider context of the prophecy; he rather narrowly applies it to the “massacre” of the newborn males in Bethlehem.

However, it should be noted that he does narrate a return—that of the infant Jesus and his parents out of Egypt back into their own land (2:14-15, 19-21, see below). Consider also the quotation of Isaiah 9:1-2 [8:23-9:1] in Matt 4:14-16: the original prophecy offers the promise of deliverance to the people of the Northern kingdom, now being fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Isaiah 9:6-7 [5-6] are the concluding words of the section 6:1-9:7, and, traditionally, one of the most famous ‘Messianic prophecies’ applied to the birth of Jesus.
(For a text-critical examination of the use of Jer 31:15 in context, see my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.)

The Return from Egypt—the Messianic Age and Redemption

The final scene of the narrative (vv. 19-23)—the third (and final) Angelic appearance to Joseph—draws upon both of the earlier themes noted above (Exodus and Exile), combining them into a narration of Jesus’ return from Egypt.

The parallels with the Moses Infancy narrative have been noted above. Perhaps the clearest example of literary dependence on the Moses narratives is how closely the wording in Matt 2:20 resembles that of Exod 4:19 LXX:

“And after those many days, the king of Egypt completed (his life) [i.e. died], and the Lord said toward Moshe in Midian, ‘You must walk (and) go (away) from (here) into Egypt, for all the (one)s seeking your soul have died‘. And Moshe took up his wife and the children…” (Exod 4:19-20)
“And (with) Herod (hav)ing completed (his life) [i.e. died], see! a Messenger of the Lord appeared by a dream to Yosef in Egypt, saying, ‘Rising…you must travel into the land of Yisrael, for all the (one)s seeking the soul of the child have died. And, rising, he took along the child and his mother…” (Matt 2:19-21)

The italicized words above are nearly identical:

teqnh/kasin ga\r pa/nte$ oi( zhtou=nte/$ sou th\n yuxh/n
“for all the (one)s seeking your soul have died”
teqnh/kasin ga\r pa/nte$ oi( zhtou=nte$ th\n yuxh/n tou= paidi/ou
“for all the (one)s seeking the soul of the child have died”

Moreover, in both narratives we have the common location of Egypt—traveling into and out of the land, though in different directions. Verses 22-23 serve as an additional climactic notice to the return from Egypt:

22but having heard that “‘Chief-of-the-People’ {Archelaus} is king against [i.e. in place of] Herod his father”, he [i.e. Joseph] was afraid to go from (where he was and return) there; but being advised (in the matter) by a dream, he made space again [i.e. turned away/aside] into the parts of Galîl {Galilee}, 23and having come (there) he put down house [i.e. dwelt] in a city counted as [i.e. called/named] Nazaret, so that the (word) uttered by the foretellers might be fulfilled that “he will be called a ‘Nazarean'”.

The Scripture Citation

The quotation “he will be called a ‘Nazarean'” is problematic, in terms of the Scripture-citation pattern of the narrative, since it does not correspond precisely to any specific verse in the Prophets (or the rest of the Old Testament for that matter). This being the case, there are several possibilities:

    • The author (or his source) is citing from a book or passage otherwise unknown to us today. While this is conceivable, it is not especially likely, and should be considered only as a last resort.
    • He is citing a specific (canonical) passage, but in a form quite different from any surviving (Hebrew or Greek) version. Certainly there are a number of quotations in the New Testament (even in Matthew, see Micah 5:2/Matt 2:6) where the wording departs significantly from any known version.
    • It is a free citation, combining more than one passage. Again, this is fairly common in the New Testament, and could be suggested by use of the plural “foretellers [i.e. prophets]”. The references need not be limited to the Prophetic books as we understand them, for conventionally the Psalms and Historical books could come under the general label “Prophets”.
    • The citation is taken from a compendium of ‘Messianic’ prophetic passages (drawn up by early Christians), which the author accepted, but which does not correspond to any specific Scripture. Again, this ought to be considered only as a last resort.

The third option is, I think, fairly close to the mark. The Gospel writer (or an earlier source) has taken a particular verse (probably Isaiah 4:3) and, it would seem, adapted it by means of some subtle and clever wordplay. For detailed discussion of the matter, consult my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus” and another in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”.

Given the importance of the theme of Jesus’ Messianic identity, throughout the narrative (and continuing in 4:12-17), it seems likely that there is an intentional wordplay here, relating the place-name designation (“Nazorean/Nazareth”) with similar word-forms. Two, in particular, are worth noting:

    •  n¹zîr (ryz]n`)—The Hebrew means “[one] dedicated/set-apart”, and is often transliterated in English (as a technical term), “Nazirite” —that is, one dedicated or set apart [nzr] to God by a vow [related word ndr]. The legal prescription and details of the Nazirite vow are recorded in Numbers 6:1-21. The most famous Nazirites in the Old Testament are Samuel (1 Sam 1:11) and Samson (Judg 13:4-14), so dedicated from birth; according the Gospel of Luke (Lk 1:15), John the Baptist also seems to have been a Nazirite (from birth).
      The Greek adjective hágios (“holy”) generally corresponds to the Hebrew; and the phrase hágios kl¢th¢¡setai (“he will be called holy”, Isa 4:3, see above) could be given an interpretive translation back into Hebrew as “he will be called a holy (one) [n¹zîr]”. Moreover, n¹zîr could also be transliterated in Greek by Naziraíos, and thus the phrase in question as Naziraíos kl¢th¢¡setai (“he will be called a Nazirite” ), which is reasonably close in form to “he will be called a Nazorean“.

    • n¢ƒer (rx#n@)— “[new] shoot, sprout” (also rendered “root”, “branch”), a word partly synonymous with ƒemaµ (jm^x#, in Isa 4:3, see above). Now n¢ƒer came to be a designation for the Messiah, largely due to Isaiah 11:1ff, which begins: “and a (small) branch will come forth from the stump of Jesse, and a (new) shoot [n¢ƒer] will grow [lit. bear fruit] from his roots; and the spirit of YHWH will rest upon him…”.
      Isaiah 11:1ff was one of several key Messianic passages current in Jewish literature at the time the New Testament was written—see especially the Qumran texts 4QpIsaa, 4Q252, 4Q285, 1QSb 5; cf. also Psalms of Solomon 17-18, Testament of Levi 18, and 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 13. The shoot/branch of Isa 11:1 was closely identified with the expression “branch [ƒemaµ] of David” (see esp. Jer 23:5-6; Zech 3:8), a key Messianic designation. It is an intriguing parallel, but it is hard to say whether (or to what extent) the Gospel writer may have had this in mind.

Note—beginning next week, the Saturday Series will return to its weekly (Saturday) format.

January 4: John 1:17

John 1:17-18

Verses 17-18 represent the final portion of the Johannine Prologue, and our study of them will bring these notes on the Christ-hymn in the Prologue to a close. As with the other two ‘additions’ to the hymn, in vv. 6-9 and 12b-13, verses 17-18 follow one of the three main poetic units (or strophes), interpreting the lines and applying them in the unique context of the Johannine theology.

There are two statements, in verses 17 and 18 respectively; and, while they are connected, they are also distinct, and we will examine them each in turn.

Verse 17

“(For it is) that the Law was given through Moshe, but the favor and truth (of God) came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

For commentators who prefer to see vv. 17-18 as a continuation of the poetry of the Prologue-hymn, they can be read as a couplet with antithetic parallelism, i.e.—

“(It is) that the Law was given through Moshe,
but Favor and Truth came to be through Yeshua (the) Anointed”

There certainly is a strong antithetic parallelism at work in verse 17, involving three points of contrast:

    • Subject: Law | Favor and Truth
    • Means: through Moses | through Jesus
    • Action: “was given” | “came to be”

We will examine each of these points in turn.

1. “Law” vs. “Favor and Truth”

By “law” (no/mo$) is meant the written collection of regulations and requirements, etc, recorded in the books of Exodus-Deuteronomy, and customarily referred to as the “Instruction” (Torah)—given by God to His people Israel. The Greek word no/mo$ fundamentally signifies something that is “allotted” or “assigned” to a person, and, as such, has a relatively broad and comprehensive range of meaning. It can refer to any kind of accepted or authoritative custom, tradition, social or religious norm, etc. In the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Old Testament Torah, as an authoritative law-code—i.e., the “Law of Moses”.

The word no/mo$ is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, never occurring at all in the Letters. However it does occur 15 times in the Gospel, more than in any of the other Gospels (compare with 9 in Luke, 8 in Matthew, and none in Mark). The most substantial usage of the word occurs in the Sukkot (Tabernacles) discourses of chapters 7-8. The main section is 7:14-24, set midway during the feast, as Jesus is teaching in the Temple precincts. He is in conflict with the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, a dispute which appears to be a continuation from the discourse in chapter 5. The implication of the discourse is that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, and, if the Jewish leaders claim to accept the Torah, then they should accept Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s Torah. This point is reflected in Jesus’ famous rebuke to the religious leaders in 5:39.

The noun xa/ri$ means “favor” (i.e. the favor shown by God to His people), though it is typically (and less accurately) translated as “grace”. This contrast between the Law and “grace” is reminiscent of Paul’s line of argument in Galatians and Romans. His main concern is religious, and he argues vigorously that believers in Christ—Gentile believers, especially—are no longer required, as a religious obligation, to observe the regulations of the Torah. The basis of the Christian religious identity is trust in Jesus, and it is the guiding presence of the Spirit that takes the place of the Torah in the New Covenant. All that remains of the Old Covenant is the “love command”, as defined by the teaching and example of Jesus.

This summary of the Pauline theology is generally in accordance with the viewpoint of the Johannine congregations, as expressed through the theology of the Gospel and First Letter. However, there is a somewhat different point of emphasis at work. Paul’s argument repeatedly stressed that the New Covenant in Christ means the end of the Old Covenant (for more on this, cf. the detailed discussion in the articles of my series “Paul’s View of the Law”).

The Johannine portrait, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the person and work of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Covenant. Throughout the Gospel, in various ways, Jesus effectively fulfills many types and figures of the Old Testament religion—the Temple, the Festivals and their symbols, the Passover sacrifice, and so forth. This is discussed and documented in some detail in the articles on the Gospel of John in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

The pairing of “favor and truth” was used earlier in verse 14, in reference to the Divine do/ca of the Logos. The final strophe of the hymn makes the point that the incarnate Logos (Jesus) possesses the very honor/splendor (do/ca) of God, much as a son possesses the do/ca of his father. God the Father has filled the Son with His “favor and truth”. As I discussed previously, in the context of the Johannine theology, this “favor and truth” essentially means the Spirit of God. I.e., the Father fills the Son with His own Spirit, so that the Son (Jesus) is able to give it, in turn, to those who trust in him.

2. “through Moses” vs. “through Jesus”

The point of contrast here involves the means by which the Covenant was established for the people of God. The Old Covenant, governed by the Torah, was established “through Moses”, while the New Covenant (of the Spirit) was established “through Jesus”. The preposition in each instance is dia/ (“through”). The parallelism is thus precise: Moses vs. Jesus.

Moses is mentioned a number of times in the Gospel, usually in terms of his close association with the Torah (and the Scriptures which contain the Torah). In verse 45, reference is made to Moses having “written” down the Torah, and the Torah as part of the authoritative Writing (i.e. Scripture) is very much in view in this contrast between the Law and Favor (xa/ri$). Both in Jesus’ dispute with the religious leaders in 7:14-24 (see above), and in the earlier discourse of chapter 5 (esp. the climactic verses 39-46), Jesus portrays himself as the true fulfillment of the Torah. If the Jewish leaders actually believe what Moses wrote, then they will trust in who Jesus is.

The Jesus/Moses parallel is motif that runs throughout the Gospel, as the following points will illustrate:

For a similar contrast between Old and New Covenant (written Torah vs. Spirit), drawing upon Moses traditions, see Paul’s famous line of argument in 2 Corinthians 3.

3. “given” vs “came to be”

The final point of contrast involves the verb that is used. The Law was given (vb di/dwmi) through Moses, but the Favor and Truth of God came to be (vb gi/nomai) through Jesus. As we have seen, throughout the Prologue the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) refers to created beings (in contrast to God, who is). However, in the case of the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, it has the special meaning of incarnation—the Logos “came to be flesh” (v. 14), i.e., came to be born on earth as a human being.

This context makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is to be seen as the fulfillment of the Torah in his own person. This human life and existence of the Logos included the mortality of flesh and blood, even to the point of suffering and death (i.e., shedding of blood). On the importance of the idea that Jesus (as the incarnate Son of God) endured a real death and shed real blood, see both the historical detail in 19:34 and the discussion in 1 Jn 5:6-12. The ‘Eucharistic’ references in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:50-59) should be understood in this light as well. It was the sacrificial death of Jesus that allowed the Spirit to flow out to believers, symbolized by the figure of “water and blood” (19:30; 20:22; 1 Jn 5:6-8; cf. also 7:37-39).

Moses was an intermediary in the communication of the Torah to the people of God. However, the ancient Sinai tradition itself suggests that the original intention and ideal was for YHWH to speak directly to the people, without an intermediary. This is fulfilled for believers under the New Covenant, through the abiding presence of the Spirit, as Paul beautifully and powerfully expresses in 2 Corinthians 3. The Johannine Discourses develop the same idea in various ways, a theological development that reaches its climax in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17.

Birth of the Messiah: Exodus 2:1-10

Moses’ Birth in Exodus 2:1-10:
A Pattern for the Birth of the Messiah

This is the first in a series of articles to run between Christmas and Epiphany. Each article will explore Scripture passages and traditions related to the Birth of the Messiah. As such, it is not a study of the birth of Jesus, except insofar as his birth is connected with Messianic traditions, and, in particular, traditions regarding the Messiah’s birth. It should be admitted from the outset that this study is made difficult by two factors: (1) the paucity of references to the Messiah’s birth, especially of traditions which may be plausibly dated as early as the first centuries B.C./A.D., and (2) the fact that there were a number of different Messianic figure-types in Judaism at the time. I have discussed the second point at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. In addition to the more commonly recognized Davidic ruler figure-type, there were several Anointed Prophet types, Messianic Priest-figures, and Heavenly-deliverer types, all attested variously in the writings of the period. Different traditions may be associated with each of these figure-types.

We begin with what could be considered the earliest Scriptural tradition related to the birth of the Messiah: the birth of Moses, as narrated in Exodus 2:1-10. The Messianic aspect of this narrative may not be immediately apparent; it can be established, at least for early Christians, on the basis of two pieces of evidence: (1) the association of Jesus with Moses in early tradition, and (2) the fact that the Matthean Infancy narrative was influenced by the Moses narratives in the early chapters of Exodus.

These two areas of study will structure this article; here is the outline I follow:

    • Jesus and Moses: The Messianic Prophet to Come
    • Similarities between the (Matthean) Infancy Narrative and Moses Narratives
    • Parallels with contemporary Jewish versions of the Exodus tradition
    • Exodus 2:1-10 and the Archetypal Narrative

Jesus and Moses: The Prophet to Come

As I have already dealt with this subject extensively in Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, I will here summarize the results of that study with the following discussion. Christians are not accustomed to thinking of Jesus as a Prophet, but in the Gospel tradition—at least in terms of his time of ministry (prior to the final journey to Jerusalem)—this is the ‘Messianic’ designation that best applies to him. In the Synoptic narrative, which divides neatly between Jesus’ ministry [in Galilee and the surrounding regions] (Mark 1-9 par) and the time in Jerusalem (Mark 11-16 par), there are virtually no references to Jesus as a Davidic ruler or ‘Messianic’ king (cf. Matt 9:27) during the period of ministry. Even references to “the Anointed One” [o( xristo/$] are quite rare, and almost non-existent prior to Peter’s confession (“you are the Anointed One…”, Mk 8:29 par). There are considerably more references to Jesus as “the Anointed One” in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:41; 3:28; 4:25, 29; 7:26-27, 31, 41-42; 10:24; 11:27), but, apart from the explicit identification in Jn 7:42, it is by no means clear that “Anointed One” in these passages always refers to a ‘Messiah’ of the Davidic-ruler type. There is actually better evidence for Jesus as a Messianic Prophet, though it takes a bit of detective work to see the extent of this:

It should be noted that the idea of Jesus as a Prophet is entirely based on early Gospel tradition, and is really only found in the Gospel narratives themselves. Apart from Acts 3:18-24 (cf. also 7:37), it does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament, and is virtually non-existent in early Christian doctrine and theology as well. All of this is strong evidence for the historical veracity of the Gospel references, on entirely objective grounds—the identification of Jesus as a Prophet is not something the early Church would have invented.

The specific identification of Jesus with Moses—that is, an Anointed Prophet according to the type of Moses—is derived from the tradition that a “Prophet like Moses” will appear (at the end-time), who will instruct the faithful just as Moses did. This tradition clearly comes from Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (cf. also Deut 34:10-12).

In the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomic tradition, Moses is viewed as a Prophet—indeed as the ideal and greatest Prophet (Deut 34:10-12). In Deuteronomy 18:15ff we find the famous prediction that another Prophet will (eventually) arise who is like Moses and who will take his place. In the same manner, Elisha took the place of Elijah, being anointed by his predecessor (1 Kings 19:16) and possessing his spirit and character (2 Kings 2:9, 15). Eventually, this prediction was given a future, eschatological interpretation—at the end-time, a Prophet-like-Moses would arise to instruct the faithful of Israel. This expectation probably underlies the notice in 1 Maccabees 14:41 (“…until a trustworthy Prophet should arise”), as well as the reference to “the unique Prophet” in Testament of Benjamin 9:2. In the Qumran texts, Moses was clearly regarded as a Prophet, as in the “Apocryphon of Moses/Pentateuch” writings—cf. especially 4Q375 column 1 (in line 7 the phrase “trustworthy prophet” appears); in 4Q377 column 2, line 5, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed (One)” [jyvm]. Deut 18:18-19 is cited in 4QTestimonia [4Q175] lines 5-8, in what is likely an eschatological/Messianic context. The expected Prophet of 1QS 9:11 (“…until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed [Ones] of Aaron and Israel”) presumably draws upon this Moses tradition as well.

The same may be said of passages in the New Testament which contain a reference to “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; Luke 7:16, 36 v.l. etc); in Jn 1:21-25, “the Prophet” seems to be understood as a separate figure from “Elijah”, possibly an indication that the Moses-tradition is involved. John the Baptist explicitly denies being “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21), but that Jesus was thought to be so by people on numerous occasions is indicated by several of the references above. In Acts 3:18-24 (sermon-speech of Peter), Jesus is identified specifically with the coming “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15ff (cf. also Acts 7:37). Within early Christian tradition, Jesus is identified or associated with Moses in a number of ways:

    • Parallels with the birth of Moses (and the Exodus) in the Matthean Infancy narrative (Matt 2:1-21, cf. below)
    • Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness (Matt 4:2 par) just as Moses was on Sinai for 40 days (Exod 24:18); in the arrangement of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus likewise returns to deliver/expound the Law/Torah (Matt 5:17ff)
    • The association with Moses in the Transfiguration scene (on this, cf. below)
    • In various ways, Jesus’ words and actions followed the type/pattern of Moses:
      • Cf. the detailed summary of Moses’ life in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:17-44) and its parallel to Jesus (7:45-53)—cp. “this Moses” (7:35, 37, 40) with the frequent use of “this Jesus” in Acts (1:11; 2:23, 32, 36; 4:11; 6:14 etc)
      • Moses and the ‘bronze serpent’ as a pattern of Jesus’ death (and exaltation), Jn 3:14
      • Moses and the manna (Jesus as the “bread from heaven”), Jn 6:32ff
      • Moses and the rock in the wilderness (Christ as the rock), 1 Cor 10:2-5

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we also find a juxtaposition contrasting Jesus and Moses—e.g., John 1:17; 5:45-46 (cf. Lk 16:29-31); 9:28-29; 2 Cor 3:13ff; Heb 3:2-5. Interestingly, these points of contrast are still based on a similarity between Jesus and Moses, the emphasis being on Jesus’ superiority or on how he fulfills/completes the “Old Covenant” represented by Moses.

Finally, in the Transfiguration episode in the Synoptic Gospels (also mentioned in 2 Peter 1:16-18)—Jesus is associated directly (and at the same time) with both Moses and Elijah. It is customary and popular for Christians to interpret Moses and Elijah here as representing “the Law and the Prophets”—that is, Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture. However, this does not seem to be correct. For one thing, Elijah is not an especially appropriate figure to represent the written books of the Prophets, since he apparently wrote nothing, and did not utter any ‘Messianic’ prophecies that might be fulfilled by Jesus. At the same time, Moses, in addition to his connection with the Law (Torah), was viewed as perhaps the greatest of Prophets (cf. above)—indeed, Moses and Elijah together represent: (a) the two great Prophet figures of Israel’s history, and (b) each served as the type of a end-time Prophet-to-Come. Secondarily, perhaps, one might note that Moses and Elijah each experienced a special manifestation of God (theophany) on Mt. Sinai/Horeb, and that there are clear echoes and allusions to the Sinai theophany in the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration (esp. in Luke’s version).

The Matthean Infancy Narrative and the Moses Narratives

There are clear similarities between the Matthean Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2) and the Moses narratives in the early chapters of Exodus (1-4), as can be seen even by a casual reading and comparison of the two. Whatever this may say about the historicity of the events recorded in the Gospel narrative, there can be little doubt that the Exodus traditions have shaped the literary narrative in Matthew. One must be careful not to confuse or confound the historical and literary aspects of any Scripture passage. And, from a literary standpoint, there is every reason to think that the Gospel writer has consciously shaped his narrative in light of the earlier story of Moses birth, etc. The similarities between Exodus and the Infancy narratives are:

    • Pharaoh and the people of Egypt come to fear Israel and the threat it poses; Moses is among the many children being born to the Israelites (Exod 1:9-12)
      Herod and the people of Jerusalem were frightened at the prophetic news of the Messiah’s birth (Matt 2:2)
    • The king’s plan to thwart their strength by putting the male infants to death when they are born (Exod 1:15-16ff, 22)
      Herod’s attempt to thwart the Messiah by putting the male infants to death (Matt 2:8, 13ff, 16-20)
    • Moses is born of a Levite woman (Exod 2:1)
      While not specified in Matthew, the Lukan narrative suggests Mary is also from the line of Levi (Lk 1:5, 36)
    • Reference to the conception and birth by the woman (Exod 2:2; Matt 1:20, 25)
    • Saving the child from being put to death by the wicked king (Exod 2:2b-3ff; Matt 2:13-15ff)
    • Moses’ flight and return, par. to that of Jesus and his parents (Exod 2:15, 23; 4:19-20; Matt 2:14-15, 19-20ff)

Perhaps the clearest example of literary dependence on the Moses narratives is how closely the wording in Matt 2:20 resembles that of Exod 4:19 LXX:

“And after those many days, the king of Egypt completed (his life) [i.e. died], and the Lord said toward Moshe in Midian, ‘You must walk (and) go (away) from (here) into Egypt, for all the (one)s seeking your soul have died‘. And Moshe took up his wife and the children…” (Exod 4:19-20)
“And (with) Herod (hav)ing completed (his life) [i.e. died], see! a Messenger of the Lord appeared by a dream to Yosef in Egypt, saying, ‘Rising…you must travel into the land of Yisrael, for all the (one)s seeking the soul of the child have died. And, rising, he took along the child and his mother…” (Matt 2:19-21)

The italicized words above are nearly identical:

teqnh/kasin ga\r pa/nte$ oi( zhtou=nte/$ sou th\n yuxh/n
“for all the (one)s seeking your soul have died”
teqnh/kasin ga\r pa/nte$ oi( zhtou=nte$ th\n yuxh/n tou= paidi/ou
“for all the (one)s seeking the soul of the child have died”

Moreover, in both narratives we have the common location of Egypt—traveling into and out of the land, though in different directions.

Contemporary Versions of the Exodus Tradition

The similarities between the Matthean Infancy narrative and the Moses story are even closer when one considers the developed Jewish versions of the story that would have been in circulation around the time that the Gospel of Matthew was written. Two versions, in particular may be noted—those found in the Antiquities of Josephus, and the Biblical Antiquites of Pseudo-Philo—both likely composed c. 70 A.D., roughly the same time as Matthew’s Gospel.

Josephus’ Antiquities

The portion in the Antiquities corresponding to Exod 2:1-10 is book 2 sections 205-237. A considerable amount of legendary material has been added to the Scriptural narrative, most of which is likely traditional, rather than being simply the invention of Josephus. Here are the most noteworthy details, in relation to the Matthean Infancy narrative (cf. also Brown, pp. 114-6):

    • A prophecy of Moses’ birth, forewarning that a Deliverer of the people Israel would be born; in particular, it was the king’s sacred scribes that made this known to Pharaoh (2.205, 234-5)
    • In a subsequent development to the tradition, those who advise Pharaoh are specifically designated as Magi-astrologers—Babylonian Talmud, b. Sotah 12b, Sanhedrin 101a; Exodus Rabbah 1.18 (on Exod 1:22); cf. also Philo Life of Moses I.92.
    • Pharaoh’s alarm at this news (2.206, 215)
    • God appears to Amram, the child’s father, in a dream, warning him (2.212, 215-6)
    • Note also the reference to Moses’ growth (2.230-1) which resembles, in some of its basic thought and vocabulary, the notice in Luke 2:47, 52.
Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities

The expanded version of Old Testament/Israelite history in Pseudo-Philo likewise contains much additional information and legendary detail. The portion corresponding to Exod 2:1-10 is in chapter 9. The parallels with the Gospel Infancy narratives are:

    • Emphasis on Amram (the father)’s prophetic foresight and action (9:3ff)
    • God’s declaration of the special status of Moses as His servant (9:7-8), suggestive of a Messianic character
    • There is an Angelic appearance to Miriam similar to the Lukan annunciation to Mary (9:9-10; cp. Lk 1:26-38); it also involves the Spirit of God coming upon her; “Miriam” and “Mary”, of course, are essentially the same name (Grk Maria/m)
    • The Angel’s announcement includes a declaration of Moses as one who will save his people (9:10, cp. Matt 1:21); also, the statement that he will have a position of “leadership always” may remind one of Lk 1:32-33

The Archetypal Narrative

Beyond the specifics of the Scriptural narrative itself, the Moses traditions follow an archetypal story-pattern which would naturally apply to the Messianic figure-types. It may be referred to as the “abandoned hero” motif. There are many stories worldwide involving a chosen (and/or divine) hero who, upon his birth, was threatened by an authority figure who attempted to kill the child, or, under similar circumstances, the infant was left helpless amid the forces of nature (e.g., on a mountain top, in a river, etc). In most versions of these stories, the ‘abandoned’ child was rescued and reared/adopted by good or noble parents.

For western readers, perhaps the best known versions are the Greek hero-myths surrounding figures such as Hercules, Perseus, and Oedipus. A bit closer in detail to the Moses narrative is the Roman tale of Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of the city of Rome. After being thrown into the river Tiber by a wicked usurper to the kingship, the twin babes washed ashore, eventually to be discovered by the royal herdsman who raised them as his own. From far-off India, similar colorful tales surround the deity-hero Krishna. It was prophesied to the wicked ruler Kansa that he would be slain by a child born from his female relative (Devaki); as a result of attempts to kill both the mother and all her children, the infant Krishna ended up being raised by the herdsman Nanda and his wife.

Most Old Testament scholars (and many students) are aware of the birth legend of Sargon, famous king of Akkad and founder of the early Akkadian dynasty (c. 2300 B.C.) in Mesopotamia. It is presented as an autobiography, but the text as we have it likely does not come from Sargon himself. It is preserved in much later documents, four tablets from the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian imperial periods; the lack of evidence makes it very difficult to determine how old the underlying traditions might be. It is a Semitic tale, sharing certain key details with the Moses birth narrative in Exod 2:1-10. The portion dealing with Sargon’s origin and birth is in lines 1-11 (of tablet K.3401); I give the translation here, from Joan Goodnick Westenholz, Legends of the Kings of Akkade (Eisenbrauns: 1997), pp. 38-41:

“Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkade, am I.
My mother was an en-priestess(?), my father I never knew.
My father’s brother inhabits the highlands.
My city is Azupiranu, which lies on the banks of the Euphrates.
She conceived me, my en-priestess mother, in concealment she gave me birth,
She set me in a wicker basket, with bitumen she made by opening water-tight,
She cast me down into the river from which I could not ascend.
The river bore me, to Aqqi the water-drawer it brought me.
Aqqi the water-drawer, when lowering his bucket, did lift me up,
Aqqi the water-drawer did raise me as his adopted son,
……”

The close similarity with the details in Exod 2:2-3ff hardly requires comment.

It is not entirely clear why the infant Sargon is hidden away and then put into the river in a basket. Perhaps it has to do with his apparently illegitimate birth; while this detail is foreign to the Moses narrative, it has an interesting sort of parallel with the story of Jesus’ birth. The notice in Matthew 1:19 alludes to the irregular character of Jesus’ birth, and the tension/conflict it would have produced in Israelite society. There may have been rumors of illegitimacy surrounding his birth; while there is little or no mention of them in the New Testament itself, they seem to have been preserved, to some extent, in Jewish tradition (for example, b. Sabbath 104b, Sanhedrin 67a; t. Hullin 2.22-23; j. Aboda Zara 40d, Sabbath 14d; cf. Brown, p. 536), and Christians felt it necessary to address them on occasion (e.g., Origen Against Celsus 1.28, 32, 69; Tertullian De Spectaculis 30:6).

Another story worth mentioning is told of Cyrus, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. His grandfather king Astyages of the Medes was warned via dreams that his grandson Cyrus would eventually take over his throne. The wicked king thus sought to have the child put to death, ultimately to be abandoned on a mountain and left to die; however, the herdsman Mithradates rescued the infant , taking it home to raise as his own son. Cf. Sarna, p. 267.

Since Jesus, in the Matthean Infancy narrative, is always with his parents, there is no abandonment-motif; however, the motif of the wicked tyrant who wishes to kill the chosen/prophesied child is very much present—at least that much of the archetypal story-pattern applies to the birth of Jesus. To avoid misunderstanding, I feel it necessary to repeat here that the fulfillment of an archetypal pattern, in and of itself, says nothing about the historical reliability of the Gospel narrative; it merely indicates that the historical tradition has been shaped by the story pattern. The critical point is literary, not historical.

Conclusion

There are thus three primary factors which indicate that the Gospel Infancy narrative (esp. the Matthean narrative) is specifically meant to record the Birth of the Messiah, and that the Moses birth-narrative influenced how this story was told. Beyond any instance of historical verisimilitude, we can be sure of this literary influence because of these three factors:

    • The Messianic association between Jesus and Moses in the Gospel (and early Christian) tradition
    • The many clear parallels between the Matthean narrative and Exodus 2:1-10, as well as developed forms of the Moses story in contemporary Jewish tradition—these later versions bring the Moses birth story into closer alignment with Messianic tradition and the archetypal hero-myth pattern
    • The archetypal story-pattern of the threatened/abandoned hero is fitting for the Messiah, especially for the Davidic ruler and Heavenly deliverer figure-types; the Moses narrative happens to be the most immediate (and relevant) example from Old Testament and Jewish tradition

Interestingly, while there is a clear parallel between Jesus and Moses in the Matthean Infancy narrative, the emphasis is not on Jesus as an Anointed Prophet (cp. John the Baptist in the Lukan narrative), nor even on the Prophet-to-Come like Moses. Instead, the Scriptures cited (Isa 7:14 and Micah 5:2 / 2 Samuel 5:2) clearly identify Jesus as a royal Messiah—i.e. an Anointed end-time ruler from the line of David—just as he is in the Lukan Infancy narrative. The association with Moses primarily has to do with Jesus as a savior, one who will deliver his people from bondage, even as Moses did for the Israelites in Egypt.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977, 1993). Those marked “Sarna” are to The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus twm?, Commentary by Nahum Sarna (Jewish Publication Society: 1991).

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 3: The Prophet to Come (Moses & Elijah)

In the previous article, I looked at the concept of an eschatological/Messianic Prophet in Jewish thought, and of evidence in the New Testament identifying Jesus as a Prophet. In this article I will examine the main (Messianic) Prophet figure-types that apply to Jesus; there are two main traditions involving: (1) Moses and (2) Elijah.

The Moses Tradition (Deut 18:15-20)

In the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomic tradition, Moses is viewed as a Prophet—indeed as the ideal and greatest Prophet (Deut 34:10-12). In Deuteronomy 18:15ff we find the famous prediction that another Prophet will (eventually) arise who is like Moses and who will take his place. In the same manner, Elisha took the place of Elijah, being anointed by his predecessor (1 Kings 19:16) and possessing his spirit and character (2 Kings 2:9, 15). Eventually, this prediction was given a future, eschatological interpretation—at the end-time, a Prophet-like-Moses would arise to instruct the faithful of Israel. This expectation probably underlies the notice in 1 Maccabees 14:41 (“…until a trustworthy Prophet should arise”), as well as the reference to “the unique Prophet” in Testament of Benjamin 9:2. In the Qumran texts, Moses was clearly regarded as a Prophet, as in the “Apocryphon of Moses/Pentateuch” writings—cf. especially 4Q375 column 1 (in line 7 the phrase “trustworthy prophet” appears); in 4Q377 column 2, line 5, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed (One)” [jyvm]. Deut 18:18-19 is cited in 4QTestimonia [4Q175] lines 5-8, in what is likely an eschatological/Messianic context. The expected Prophet of 1QS 9:11 (“…until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed [Ones] of Aaron and Israel”) presumably draws upon this Moses tradition as well.

The same may be said of passages in the New Testament which contain a reference to “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40; Luke 7:16, 36 v.l. etc); in Jn 1:21-25, “the Prophet” seems to be understood as a separate figure from “Elijah”, possibly an indication that the Moses-tradition is involved. John the Baptist explicitly denies being “the Prophet” (Jn 1:21), but that Jesus was thought to be so by people on numerous occasions is indicated by several of the references above. In Acts 3:18-24 (sermon-speech of Peter), Jesus is identified specifically with the coming “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15ff (cf. also Acts 7:37). Within early Christian tradition, Jesus is identified or associated with Moses in a number of ways:

    • Parallels with the birth of Moses (and the Exodus) in the Matthean Infancy narrative (Matt 2:1-21)
    • Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness (Matt 4:2 par) just as Moses was on Sinai for 40 days (Exod 24:18); in the arrangement of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus likewise returns to deliver/expound the Law/Torah (Matt 5:17ff)
    • The association with Moses in the Transfiguration scene (on this, cf. below)
    • In various ways, Jesus words and actions followed the type/pattern of Moses:
      • Cf. the detailed summary of Moses’ life in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:17-44) and its parallel to Jesus (7:45-53)—cp. “this Moses” (7:35, 37, 40) with the frequent use of “this Jesus” in Acts (1:11; 2:23, 32, 36; 4:11; 6:14 etc)
      • Moses and the ‘bronze serpent’ as a pattern of Jesus’ death (and exaltation), Jn 3:14
      • Moses and the manna (Jesus as the “bread from heaven”), Jn 6:32ff
      • Moses and the rock in the wilderness (Christ as the rock), 1 Cor 10:2-5

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we also find a juxtaposition contrasting Jesus and Moses—e.g., John 1:17; 5:45-46 (cf. Lk 16:29-31); 9:28-29; 2 Cor 3:13ff; Heb 3:2-5. Interestingly, these points of contrast are still based on a similarity between Jesus and Moses, the emphasis being on Jesus’ superiority or on how he fulfills/completes the “Old Covenant” represented by Moses.

The Elijah Tradition (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6)

This Messianic tradition derives from Malachi 3:1, combined with the explanatory interpretation of Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] which many scholars consider to be a (later) editorial gloss (see my supplementary note on the original context of Mal 3:1). In any case, already by the time of the completion of Malachi (and, presumably, the collection of the Twelve Prophets [Hosea–Malachi] as a whole), the “Messenger” [Ea*l=m^] of Mal 3:1 was identified as Elijah, who will (re)appear just prior to the “Day of YHWH” to bring repentance to people before the Judgment. Over time, this belief was given greater eschatological emphasis—”Elijah” would appear at the end-time, prior to the last Judgment—expressed already in Sirach 48:10 (early-mid 2nd century B.C.). Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, evidence for this belief at Qumran is rather slight, though it is attested in the fragmentary 4Q558 (fragment 1), but is perhaps reflected more prominently in a text such as 4Q521 (cf. below). Evidence for this tradition is found specifically in Mark 9:11-13 (Matt 17:10-12), the citations and allusions to Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 in Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; Matt 11:10-14, and may be inferred from other references listed below. Also worth noting is Sibylline Oracles 2:187ff (Christian expansion/adaptation of earlier Jewish material).

An important question within the earliest (historical) strands of Gospel tradition was whether John the Baptist or Jesus was Elijah (and/or the Anointed Prophet) to Come. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, and, even more so as Christianity spread into the Greco-Roman (Gentile) world, this issue ceased to have any meaning, and disappeared almost entirely from Christian thought. At the same time, early tradition had more or less fixed the relationship between John and Jesus, reflected in the Gospels (c. 60-90 A.D.) as we have them. However, the situation is somewhat different when we examine the earliest Gospel tradition.

First, John the Baptist as Elijah

    • John’s appearance seems to echo the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8
    • During his lifetime (and after his death), he was believed to be a great Prophet (Mk 11:32 par; Matt 14:5; and cf. 11:11 par)
    • The messengers (priests and Levites) who come to him in Jn 1:19ff ask him directly if he is Elijah (v. 21); however—
    • John explicitly denies that he is Elijah (Jn 1:21, 25)
    • By contrast, Jesus explicitly affirms John as the Elijah-to-Come in Matthew 11:10, 14 (cf. Luke 7:27) [citing Mal 3:1], with a similar identification recorded in Mark 9:11-13 (Matt 17:10-12)
    • The identification, by way of Mal 3:1 and 4:5-6, is also found in Mark 1:2 and the Lukan Infancy narrative (Luke 1:17, 76ff); in Lk 1:17 it is specifically stated (by the Angel) that John would have “the spirit and power of Elijah” (cf. 2 Kings 2:9, 15)

According to the belief ultimately expressed in the Gospels, Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 was given a specific interpretation: John was the Messenger (“Elijah”) who would prepare the way (by his preaching and ministry of baptism) before the coming of the Lord (Jesus). However, elsewhere in the tradition, there is some evidence that Jesus himself might be identified as Elijah.

Jesus as Elijah

    • In Jn 1:21, 25, John the Baptist denies being Elijah—the implication, then, is that this is reserved for someone else (Jesus).
    • John identifies himself primarily as the voice/herald of Isa 40:3-5 (Jn 1:23)—this is also the core tradition recorded at the start of the Synoptic Gospel narrative (Mark 1:3; Matt 3:3; Lk 3:4-6)—though a possible identification with the Messenger of Mal 3:1 may be found in Jn 3:28.
    • John’s own testimony in Mark 1:7-8 (par Matt 3:11-12/Lk 3:15-17) seems to suggest that Jesus is the Messenger to Come of Mal 3:1, as does his question to Jesus in Matt 11:3/Lk 7:19.
    • As with John, people apparently thought that Jesus might be Elijah—Mark 6:15 (Lk 9:8); Mark 8:28 (Matt 16:14; Lk 9:19).
    • In the Lukan version of the scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself as a Prophet (Lk 4:24), in the illustrations which follow (vv. 25-26) he effectively compares himself with Elijah and Elisha. The “Anointed” Prophet of Isa 61:1ff, with whom Jesus identifies himself (vv. 18-21), could also be understood in connection with Elijah (on this, cf. below).
    • Jesus is associated with Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see below).
    • The episode(s) of the feeding of the multitude (Mark 6:30-44 / 8:1-9 pars) seem to echo a similar miracle(?) performed by Elisha (who possessed the spirit of Elijah) in 2 Kings 4:42-44.
    • The mocking response by observers while Jesus was on the cross (Mark 15:35-36 / Matt 27:47, 49) may reflect a belief that Jesus was (supposed to be) Elijah.

For more on this issue, see the accompanying supplementary note.

Moses and Elijah: The Transfiguration Scene (Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36)

In one especially important passage—the Transfiguration episode in the Synoptic Gospels (also mentioned in 2 Peter 1:16-18)—Jesus is associated directly (and at the same time) with both Moses and Elijah. It is customary and popular for Christians to interpret Moses and Elijah here as representing “the Law and the Prophets”—that is, Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture. However, this does not seem to be correct. For one thing, Elijah is not an especially appropriate figure to represent the written books of the Prophets, since he apparently wrote nothing, and did not utter any ‘Messianic’ prophecies that might be fulfilled by Jesus. At the same time, Moses, in addition to his connection with the Law (Torah), was viewed as perhaps the greatest of Prophets (cf. above)—indeed, Moses and Elijah together represent: (a) the two great Prophet figures of Israel’s history, and (b) each served as the type of a end-time Prophet-to-Come. Secondarily, perhaps, one might note that Moses and Elijah each experienced a special manifestation of God (theophany) on Mt. Sinai/Horeb, and that there are clear echoes and allusions to the Sinai theophany in the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration (esp. in Luke’s version).

Therefore, I would suggest that, if there is any definite symbolism in the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus here, it is to confirm Jesus’ role as Anointed Prophet of God. We might say that Jesus is the true fulfillment of the two strands of tradition (cf. above), and, in turn, far exceeds and transcends them both. Ultimately, Jesus is a different kind of Prophet: not simply a herald of God’s message, a teacher/preacher and miracle-worker in the manner of Moses and Elijah, but the Elect/Chosen One of God (as well as God’s Son), Luke 9:35 par. Indeed, it is Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene which sets it most clearly in the context of Jesus’ impending death and exaltation—cf. especially verse 31, and the parallel between v. 35 and 23:35.

The Anointed Prophet of Isaiah 61

If we really wish to understand Jesus as the Anointed Prophet, we must turn to Isaiah 61:1-3, the passage which, according to Luke’s account, was read by Jesus on his visit to the Synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30, vv. 17-20). The passage begins (rendering the Greek of Lk/LXX):

“(The) Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because of which he (has) anointed me to bring a good message…”

The presence of the Spirit precedes, and is the reason for, the person being anointed. In the case of Jesus, Luke narrates this very thing, stating that, upon his return to Galilee, Jesus was “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4:14). This phrase is probably meant to indicate Jesus’ own Prophetic status (cf. Lk 1:17; Acts 10:38)—specifically as an Anointed Prophet. Even though the noun jyv!m* [m¹šîaµ] / xristo/$ [christós], is not used in Isa 61:1 (rather it is the verb jv^m* / e&xrisen), this verse does seem to have been extremely influential toward the idea of a Messianic Prophet. The figure in Isa 61:1ff certainly does not appear to be a king or ruler of the Davidic mold, nor a priest, but rather a prophet like Isaiah himself. It describes a herald who announces a message of good tidings (in Hebrew, literally “fresh” tidings) to the poor and oppressed. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, there is evidence that Isa 61:1ff was already being understood in an eschatological sense, with the anointed figure of verse 1 identified as a Prophet-Messiah. This is seen most clearly in the Qumran text 4Q521, where in fragment 2 (column ii, line 1) we read: “…[the heav]ens and the earth will listen to [i.e. obey] his Anointed (One)”. What follows in lines 2-14 etc is a blending of Isa 61:1ff and Psalm 146; but the idea of heaven and earth obeying God’s Anointed is suggestive of a Prophet in the manner of Elijah who “shut up the heavens” so that it would not rain and brought down fire from heaven (1 Kings 17:1ff; Sirach 48:2-3; James 5:17); Jesus of course exhibited a similar authority over the elements (Mark 5:35-41; 8:45-52 pars). Moreover, in column iii of fragment there is an allusion to Mal 4:5-6 and the (end-time) role of Elijah in bringing people to repentance.

Thus, when Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed figure of Isa 61:1, it is almost certainly not to a Messianic King in the manner of David, but to a Prophet like Elijah. In Luke 4:24, Jesus specifically identifies himself as a Prophet, and the illustrations in vv. 25-26 further connect him with Elijah (and Elisha). Along the same lines, when we see references to “the Anointed” (o( xristo/$) in the early chapters of the Gospels (during the period of John and Jesus’ ministries), it is very probably an Anointed Prophet, and not a Davidic “Messiah”, that is in view. Similarly, when John (and others) speak of “the Coming One” [o( e)rxo/meno$] or “one who comes [e&rxetai]” (Mark 1:7; Matt 3:11; 11:3; Jn 1:15, 27 etc, cf. also Mark 11:9 par [citing Psalm 118:26]), this likely refers to a Prophetic Messiah. In this regard, it is important to note the Baptist’s question sent to Jesus (Matt 11:3 / Lk 7:20):

“Are you the Coming (One) [o( e)rxo/meno$], or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] another?”

Jesus, in his response (Matt 11:4-6 / Lk 7:21-23), again identifies himself with the Anointed (Prophet) of Isa 61:1-3, alluding to that passage, combined with elements of Isa 26:19; 29:20; 35:5. The blending of miracle-working with Isa 61:1ff, brings Jesus’ response more closely in line with 4Q521 frag. 2 col. ii (cited above); interestingly, both passages, right before the proclaiming of good news to the poor, specifically mention raising the dead (line 12, Matt 11:5b par), which, in Jewish tradition, came to be associated particularly with Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7) [cf. Collins, pp. 119-20]. For more on the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, cf. my supplementary note.

Based on Jesus’ own words and actions during the period of his ministry (in Galilee), he is to be identified primarily, if not exclusively, as an Anointed Prophet. There is little evidence, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, that he saw himself as a Davidic King-Messiah, nor did others who observed him seem to view him this way. The turning point, as recorded in Synoptic tradition, can be seen in two episodes:

    1. The Transfiguration, during which the Prophet-figures Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus, conversing with him, and, in so doing, confirm his role as the ultimate Anointed Prophet of God. The voice from the cloud, echoing the Divine voice at Jesus’ baptism, declares Jesus to be the Son of God (and, in the Lukan version, the Elect/Chosen One of God).
    2. Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Anointed (One)”, an identification here set implicitly in contrast to a Prophet such as Elijah; the special status of this Anointed figure is further indicated by the formulations in Luke (“the Anointed One of God”, similar to “the Chosen One of God”) and in Matthew (“the Anointed One, the Son of the living God”, i.e. “Son of God”)

Beginning with the (final) journey to Jerusalem a new understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) emerges in the Synoptic tradition, that of Anointed King and “Son of David”, which dominates the episodes in Jerusalem, through to Jesus’ death and resurrection. This particular Messianic role will be discussed in upcoming articles.

Citations marked “Collins” above are to J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]) 1995.

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