Re: Magi & Matthew 2
Marry Ann Davidson (29 Sep 94) raises a helpful question about the
relationship between the chief priests' mention of Bethlehem in Matt 2:5-6 and
the mention of Bethlehem in Micah 5:2 (Heb & LXX 5:1).
Traditionally, many interpreters have understood Micah 5:2 as a direct
prediction of a future Messiah's birth in the town of Bethlehem. My earlier
post noted that that does *not* seem to have been an ancient interpretation.
The only exception seems to be Matthew's reference to the chief priests. I
understand that traditionally many interpreters have understood this passage to
indicate that the chief priests did look for a birth of a Messiah in Bethlehem
and that they were simply giving Herod a straightforward answer to his query.
I have three problems with this common understanding. (1) I am not aware of
any ancient Jewish source that looks for a Messianic birth in Bethlehem.
Iindeed, a/the "messiah" is generally one who appears to set things right, not
one whose birth is emphasized at all.
(2) If the chief priests are giving Herod a straightforward answer to his
question, this is quite different from the way Matthew pictures them in the
rest of the gospel, especially in the balancing final Passion Narrative.
(3) Recent interpreters of Micah do not understand Mic 5:2 as a direct
prediction of a future Messiah's birth. Rather, Micah's point would seem to be
that Yahweh will continue to work through that royal dynasty of David that had
its origin in Bethlehem [the place of David's birth, not the place of other
royal births], in spite of the crisis of the present days. Perhaps a part of
Matthew's irony is to note that Jesus (filling up the OT picture of David) was
even born in the same town as David -- to the surprise of everyone.
I would recommend:
Leslie C. Allen, _The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah_ NICOT (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976).
William Sanford LaSor, "Prophecy, Inspiration, and Sensus Plenior," _Tyndale
Bulletin_ 29 (1978) 49-60.
David J. Bryant, "Micah 4:14-5:14: an Exegesis," _Restoration Quarterly_ 21
John T. Willis, "Micah IV 14 - V 5 -- A Unit," _Vetus Testamentum_ 18 (1968)
For Jewish views of "messiah," I would suggest starting with:
Jacob Neusner, _Messiah in Context: Israel's History and Destiny in formative
Judaism_ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984).
David B. Kennedy
Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, MI