The Christmas Story 5. Matthew’s Episode of the Wicked King

A vitally important thing about all the Gospels, including Matthew, is their very essential orality. Meaning that, at least in part, they arise out of a naturally fluid oral tradition. Christians were rather late in taking up the pen. It’s useful in dealing with these texts to remember that they developed out of preaching.[1] For example, Herod. A Herod appears at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, and there is a Herod at the end of the Gospel. It seems hard to believe that people who heard the Christian preachers understood that they were two different people. The Herodian family is complicated, mostly because of all the wives. Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus, Herod Agrippa, people would not have understood the distinctions, and I suspect that most people still don’t who hear or read the accounts.[2] Matthew and Luke have this theme of a Herod as antagonist either to Jesus himself or to Christians. Matthew has this at the birth of Jesus (Herod the Great), Luke has another Herod at the trial of Jesus, Herod is trying to kill Jesus, and in Acts, another Herod kills James the apostle, the brother of John, and yet another Herod shows up in Paul’s trial.
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The Christmas Story 4. Matthew on Sex and Wise Men

KJV Matthew 1:25. “And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son.” It’s difficult to know where Matthew might get such detail, but it may be a nod to some kind of purification. Possibly this is Matthew seeing Jesus as divine and therefore holy and so the discharge of semen in Mary meant that Joseph was defiled and should not come near the holy child–thus, no sex. Rabbinic rules varied, but in the end, sex during pregnancy was the decision of the wife (according to the male rule makers in the writings at least). But who knows?[1] Read more of this post

Christmas Story 3. The Birth of Jesus: Matthew.

Matthew begins his narrative of Jesus’ birth with the information that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. And before they came together as sexual partners, it’s discovered that she’s already pregnant. Matthew says the pregnancy is by the Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t mean that other people knew this—he makes you an insider here. He’s writing from long distance, many years after the events (and we don’t have any idea how he can know stuff like this—in fact, he probably does some interpolation of tradition—back writing the gospel narrative into the preamble of the birth as we will see that Luke does. Matthew and Luke also incorporate their contemporary knowledge here and there—imparting a presentism to the story—more on this later).

Coming back to Matthew’s narrative, he is going to explain and explore the struggle of Joseph over the news that Mary is pregnant. Matthew’s story is really a story of Joseph—it’s Joseph’s genealogy for example. Luke tells Mary’s story, without knowing the complementarity of Matthew.
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The Christmas Story. 2. The Genealogy of Jesus

In a lot of the posts in this series, I’ll quote from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV). It’s still a very good translation and a great study Bible. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is also excellent. One of the things no one thought about in producing the RSV was inclusive language. the NRSV rectifies that, but it may go too far in representing some passages as inclusive when they are intentionally not. A minor defect and all translations have some. Anyway, the RSV is online and free, it’s nearly always superior to the King James Version (KJV) [see also here] and I’ll point out a few places where that’s important for the story of Jesus’ birth as I go along. (Sometimes I will use the New English Translation (NET) also free online, and the English Standard Version (ESV) a few times.)

Matthew chapter 1 begins with the phrase (RSV) “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David, and the son of Abraham.” Matthew knows what he is going to write in his Gospel, and this introduction is perspicacious. Two things: people at the time (ca. 70AD+) will not likely read this, they will hear it, and it was written in Greek.[1] Matthew begins with the word “genesis” (in Greek) and that’s the same Greek word that came to be used for the first book of the Hebrew Bible—Matthew’s story is styled as a New Genesis. There is a new creation, a new “God’s people” if you will, and the colophon above has things in a new order. Jesus comes first, then Abraham. And of course, David. The kingdom is always in view for Matthew. And it’s clear that for Matthew, the Christmas story begins with Abraham. Right away you can feel the tension over Jew and Gentile, and what it means for a gentile to become a Christian.
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The Christmas Story. I

I did a series last year on the Birth of Jesus as found in Matthew and Luke in the New Testament. I’ve modified things a little and present it for your Christmas cheer this year. Happy Advent/Christmas.

The canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make up about 40% of the New Testament. That 40% amounts to about ninety chapters. Of those ninety or so chapters, four discuss the birth and childhood of Jesus. This is a tiny section of the New Testament, but it has had an enormous effect on human culture and of course, Mormonism is a subset of that culture. Whatever one thinks about the commercialization of Christmas, it cannot be denied that Christmas and the Christmas story stand at the center of much of religious consciousness.
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Early National Systems. Slavery and Its American Social Constructs: part 2.

By the time Joseph Smith moved from Vermont to New York, ca. 1816, there were 8.5 million people in the US. Of those 8.5 million, 1.5 million or so were part of a hereditary slavery system, the property of their white male owners (a few were held by Native Americans).
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Early National Systems. Slavery and Its American Social Constructs: part 1.

Industrialization of the North–Cotton

The Jeffersonian ideal of the independent tiller of the soil (“Agrarian Republicanism”), not cramped in diseased, polluted cities but exercising economic self-sufficiency and ruling with the patriarchal hand all under his purview. That patriarchal hand meant that the income that might be generated by wife and children, belonged to him, as did the associated laboring bodies. That ideal was most prominently subverted by the Lowell, Massachusetts textile industry. The Textile mills in Lowell were an important innovation in American enterprise on two fronts. The most interesting here was the matter of labor.
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