Sunday, February 27, 2011

JI: What was Mary & Joseph's Hometown?

Ehrman spends pages 29–35 of JI covering the Jesus' contradiction-riddled birth narratives (Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-2:40). One that I think is particularly obvious when the texts are carefully compared is the location of Mary and Joseph's hometown. Here's what Ehrman says about it:
"According to Matthew, what is Joseph and Mary's hometown? Your natural reaction is to say 'Nazareth.' But only Luke says this. Matthew sats nothing of the sort. He first mentions Joseph and Mary not in connection with Nazareth but in connection with Bethlehem. [2:1-2] The wise men, who are following a star (presumably it took some time), come to worship Jesus in his house in Bethlehem. [2:11] Joseph and Mary evidently live there. There is nothing about an inn and a manger in Matthew. Moreover, when Herod slaughters the children, he instructs his soldiers to kill every male two years and under. [2:16] This must indicate that Jesus had been born some time before the wise men show up. Otherwise the instruction does not make much sense: surely even Roman soldiers could recognize that a toddler walking around the playground was not an infant born some time last week. So Joseph and Mary are still living in Bethlehem months or even a year after the birth of Jesus. So how can Luke be right when he says that they are from Nazareth and returned there just a month or so after Jesus' birth? Moreover, according to Matthew, after the family flees to Egypt and then returns upon the death of Herod, they initially plan to return to Judea, where Bethlehem is located. [2:22] They cannot do so, however, because now Archelaus is the ruler, so they relocate to Nazareth. In Matthew's account they are not originally from Nazareth but from Bethlehem."
Ehrman summarizes everything well, but I want to expand just a bit on that last part. Here's Matthew 2:22-23:
"But when [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'"
I'm going to break down the language in this passage to make it entirely clear why it shows that, according to Matthew, Mary and Joseph did not originally live in Nazareth.
  1. "he was afraid to go there" – Joseph had planned to return to Bethlehem in Judea.
  2. "he turned aside" – Joseph did not originally intend to go into Galilee.
  3. "he came and dwelt in" – This perfectly describes moving to a new town. Had Matthew wanted to describe arriving home, he would have said "came back to" or "returned to."
  4. "a city called Nazareth" – Matthew introduces Nazareth as a completely novel location, as though nothing relevant has previously occurred there.
  5. "that it might be fulfilled" – The purpose is not to return home, but to fulfill a prophecy.
It's worth noting that there is no prophecy that "He shall be called a Nazarene" anywhere in the Old Testament. Apologists have tried to make sense of this in various ways, but the bottom line is that Matthew basically made it up. There's also a Bethlehem prophecy quoted in Matthew 2:6, a very rough paraphrase of Micah 5:2 (compare them here). Ehrman tells us why this is significant:
"[T]here is a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Micah that a savior would come from Bethlehem. What were these gospel writers to do with the fact that it was widely known that Jesus came from Nazareth? ... To get Jesus born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth, Matthew and Luke independently came up with solutions that no doubt struck each of them as plausible."
So, to review: Matthew heavily implies that Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem, he gives every indication that they were not from Nazareth, and he has a prophetic motive for constructing the narrative the way he did. If we provisionally assume Luke's narrative is correct that Nazareth was their hometown, then Matthew's account on this point is thoroughly deceptive at best and irreconcilably conflicting at worst.

6 comments:

  1. I would like to comment.

    Firstly on Ehrman's excerpt:

    1. Matthew did not mention the place where they were originally from. He picked up the story from the time when Joseph & Mary were already in Bethlehem.
    2. The wise men went to Joseph & Mary while they were in Bethlehem. They were undoubtedly living there AT THAT TIME.

    3. Ehrman explains that since Herod ordered the killing of infants 2 years and below, then the child must be at least some months or even a year after the birth of Jesus.

    Here I think he has made some errors in reaching this conclusion:

    Herod ordered the killing after waiting for some time for the wise men to return to him. We don't know how long he waited before he gave that order.

    Having said that, I would agree that Jesus' family did stay in Bethlehem/Jerusalem for some time.

    4. Ehrman goes on to say, "So how can Luke be right when he says that they are from Nazareth and returned there just a month or so after Jesus' birth?"

    Ehrman did not elaborate how he comes to the conclusion that they returned to Nazareth "just a month or so after Jesus' birth".

    I believe he came to the wrong conclusion from this verse:

    Luke 2.39:
    When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

    I believe here is where Mr. Ehrman erred by assuming that "returning to Galilee" followed immediately after "done everything required by the Law". He has assumed that bcos Luke puts it side by side, it must necessarily mean that it happened immediately after.

    I submit that this is not necessarily the case. In narration, as is with daily conversation, there is such a thing called "time-compression", where the author/speaker is allowed to skip certain facts that he deems is irrelevant to his present topic.

    To give an example, if I said, "I took a flight to London on 13th May", but later to someone else I said, "I bought this gift at Bangkok on 13th May". At first glance it may seem contradictory, but if you investigate further, the fact may be that I took a flight to London on that day, but the flight stopped at Bangkok in transit, where I bought that gift. I did not mention about Bangkok in my first sentence bcos it was not relevant in my immediate situation at that time.

    So, back to my point: Luke skipped the entire story about the flight to Egypt, bcos he deemed it irrelevant for his present purposes. He can't put in every single detail of Jesus' life, he has got to choose some and drop some.

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  2. Secondly, on the question about Joseph and Mary's hometown, Mr. Ehrman said

    "Moreover, according to Matthew, after the family flees to Egypt and then returns upon the death of Herod, they initially plan to return to Judea, where Bethlehem is located. [2:22] They cannot do so, however, because now Archelaus is the ruler, so they relocate to Nazareth. In Matthew's account they are not originally from Nazareth but from Bethlehem."

    What does he has to argue that Joseph & Mary were from Bethlehem? His argument is only one, that they at first intended to return to Judea.

    I submit that it is a wrong assumption. There are many possibilities why they wanted to return to Bethlehem, here's some:

    1. They had established a good relationship with some Bethlehem/Jerusalem people with whom they stayed with after the birth of Jesus, and before going to Egypt. They wanted to return there to say thank you for their hospitality. (or perhaps be welcomed to stay again?)

    2. They had bought some properties there in Bethlehem/Jerusalem (they got the money from the gifts by the wise men), and has made Bethlehem/Jerusalem their home after the birth of Jesus. So, it is natural to return to their new home.

    In either case, Matthew did not say that they were NOT originally from Nazareth.

    Referring to your argument:

    1. "he was afraid to go there" – Joseph had planned to return to Bethlehem in Judea.

    They wanted to return to Bethlehem, but does not necessary mean that they did not come from Nazareth prior to that.

    2. "he turned aside" – Joseph did not originally intend to go into Galilee.

    Same argument I raised above.


    3. "he came and dwelt in" – This perfectly describes moving to a new town. Had Matthew wanted to describe arriving home, he would have said "came back to" or "returned to."

    This phrase is equally applicable if they had previously dwelt there before, but for sometime has lived elsewhere, and is now returning there for a second time. Nothing to indicate otherwise.

    On why Matthew did not use phrases like "came back to" or "returned to", the reason is that he was mentioning Nazareth for the first time in his book.


    4. "a city called Nazareth" – Matthew introduces Nazareth as a completely novel location, as though nothing relevant has previously occurred there.

    Matthew was introducing the city TO HIS READERS.

    For Matthew, Jesus is the hero of the story.. he wants to give focus to his readers by disclosing only facts that are relevant to Jesus. He only wants to state the city where Jesus grew up. Where Joseph and Mary lived prior is irrelevant

    In summary, my argument is this: Matthew did not mention they were previously from Nazareth, but you can't say that bcos Matthew failed to mention that, it must necessarily mean that they were NOT from Nazareth. That is a wrong conclusion to come to.


    5. "that it might be fulfilled" – The purpose is not to return home, but to fulfill a prophecy.

    I would beg to differ.

    Their returning to Nazareth fulfils a prophecy, but it is not the the case where they purposely go there to fulfil a prophecy.

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  4. Luke 1:26-27 says,"Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary." Sounds to me like both Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth BEFORE Jesus was born,but since Joseph was "of the house of David" he may have moved to Galilee from Judea for whatever reason. Speculation I know, but it seems logical since they traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the census. They would have to go to Joseph's birthplace to fulfill the census requirements, not Mary's.Perhaps Joseph still had property in Bethlehem. When they came back from Egypt he may have wanted to return to his home, but they ended up returning to her home. Female linage wasn't recognized so the writers of the New Testament didn't see any purpose in mentioning that they returned to MARY'S hometown.

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  5. How about this scenario: Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem for the census. Jesus is born there. Joseph had relatives there. They decided they wanted to stay in Bethlehem. They travel to Jerusalem. Then back to Nazareth to get their things. Live a year in Bethlehem. Then Egypt then Nazareth again.

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