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 
(1978) 210-230.
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