Monday, June 21, 2010

The Messiah Born in Bethlehem

Micah 5.2 in Matthew 2.6

Matthew puts a messianic prophecy from Micah on the lips of Jerusalem's leaders to describe the origin of Jesus' birth.

Micah 5.1‒3
Matthew 2.5‒6

[1] And you, Bethlehem of
Ephrathah to be small among the
of Judah, from you
to me
will come the one to be ruling in Israel, and those of his going out from old from ancient days.

[2] Therefore he will give them until the time the one giving birth gives birth and a remnant of his brothers will return to the sons of Israel.

[3] And he will stand and shepherd in the strength of Yahweh in the exaltation of the name of the Yahweh his God, and they will remain from now and he will increase unto the ends of the earth.

[1] And you, Bethlehem house of Ephrathah, you are smallest to be among thousand
of Judah, from you
to me
will come the one to be a ruler in Israel, and those of his exodus beginning from ancient days.

[2] On account of this He will give them until the time the one giving birth will give birth, and the rest of their brothers will turn to the sons of Israel.

[3] And he
will stand and see and shepherd his sheep in the strength of the Lord, and they will be in the glory of the name of the Lord their God, now therefore he will increase unto the ends of the earth.
[5] And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written through the prophet,

[6] "And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, you are by no means
least among the
of Judah;

For from you a leading one will come

Who will

shepherd my people Israel"

Textual Issues:

The MT and the LXX agree substantially. The LXX even maintains the word order of the MT "from you to me" (ἐκ σοῦ μοι for מִמְּךָ֙ לִ֣י) and the Greek grammar mirrors Hebrew forms (liheyōt with tou einai). What is odd about this quotation is that while the MT and LXX agree the Matthew deviates significantly. These differences lead Gleason Archer and Gregory Chirichigno to categorize this passage as one that "give[s] the impression that unwarranted liberties were taken with the Old Testament text in the light of its context" (xxviii). There are four features of the quotation from Matthew that are different from the MT/LXX. The following treatment of the textual issues is based on the order of the MT/LXX as compared with Matthew.

First, Matthew's phrase "land of Judah" (gē Jouda) is not paralleled in either the MT or the LXX. Obviously, in the context of Matthew's gospel, the location is very important (cf. Jn 7.42). Still, the designation Ephrathah is probably a description of the location of Bethlehem and so this is not a surprising change. This is not the Bethlehem of the north (Josh 19.15) but Bethlehem of Judah, the city of David's origin (Judg 17.7; Ruth 1.2). While Matthew clearly deviates from the text of Micah not supported by any textual evidence, the change is fitting for the purpose of the quotation and does not create significant tension in the meaning of the text. It may, in fact, be a paraphrase intended to update the place name.

Second, Matthew emphatically negates the insignificance of Bethlehem with the adverb "by no means" oudamōs which contrasts sharply alongside the MT and LXX. In the MT and LXX the insignificance of Bethlehem is noted as an irony in light of the fact that a Davidic ruler will come from the city (cf. 1 Sam 16.1, 18; 17.12; Jn 7.42). Matthew leaves out the irony to observe the significance of Bethlehem ‒ a city that only seems insignificant. Matthew uses litotes to describe the significance of this small village for the birth of the Messiah subverting the expectation of Micah.

Third, Matthew has the plural noun "leaders" (hēgemosin) instead of "thousands" (MT e'alephî LXX chiliasin) represented in the MT and LXX. This is explainable by the fact that "thousand" can refer to a company of soldiers (Judg 6.15; 1 Sam 10.19, 21; cf. Exod 18.21, 25; 1 Sam 8.12). Several times in other places the LXX translates "thousand" with hēgemōn (Gen 36.15; Ex 15.1; 1 Chron 1.50; Ps 54.14). Here, again, Matthew is translating the text in a way that makes sense rather than keeping the exact form of the MT or LXX.

Fourth, according to Micah the prophet comes forth "to me" i.e. Yahweh. In Matthew there is no mention of the Messiah coming to Yahweh. In fact, later Jesus will be portrayed as Yahweh coming (Isa 40.3 in Mt 3.3). The dative pronoun is odd even in the MT. In light of this oddity, Robert Shedinger suggests that this is an instance where the NT can shed light on a text-critical problem in the OT (article on pages 114‒125). Shedinger points out that Tatian's Diatessaron reads "king" basileus instead of "leading one" hēgoumenos. Since the Diatessaron was
originally in Syriac (though today no known Syriac manuscripts are still in existence), this might suggest closer linguistic connections to the Hebrew text and confirm Joseph Fitzmeyer's suggestion that the "to" is odd enough to merit a second look. The second look would seem to suggest haplography. Haplography is an occurrence of scribal error where a scribes eyes skip over letters accidently by finding the same letters further along in the sentence or the word. An English example would be writing the word "endontic" instead of "endodontic." In Micah, then, the scribe's eye would have skipped from the kap of "from you" ממך to the kap of "king" מלך thus leaving out "king. Furthermore, the is read as a result of dittography. Dittography is the opposite scribal error of haplography where a word or syllable is accidentally doubled. The resultant emended reading, then, would be "from you a king will come" ממך מלך ליצא. Shedinger's suggestion is interesting, but is likely not the best textual handing of Matthew. Why appeal to a later document like the Diatessaron? A simpler and I think more likely explanation is that in Matthew's context of quotation it would be odd to read the scripture as though Yahweh were speaking. So the preposition is eliminated. This is, in my mind, a minor variation. In regard to the textual issue in Micah, I think Fitzmeyer's suggestion is quite likely but using the Diatessaron to support his argument is not the best heuristic tool.

Fifth, in Micah 5.2 there is no mention of the promised ruler shepherding. In the MT and LXX the promised ruler is one who "leads out" from ancient times. The allusion to shepherding shows similarities to the declaration that David is the shepherd-leader of Israel (2 Sam 5.2; 1 Chron 11.2). Micah is obviously intending to link this coming ruler with David, so a mention of shepherding is certainly in order but it does not appear in Micah 5.2. If the context of Micah is taken into account, however, it becomes clear that the quotation is condensing Micah 5.2‒4. In v 4[3], the promised ruler is described as "shepherding his sheep in the strength of the Lord" (again the MT and LXX have substantial agreement, though the LXX does add "and he will see" [καὶ ὄψεται]). So, Matthew is not inventing or even importing the shepherding theme from elsewhere, but widening his interpretive net. This makes sense when one considers that quotations were looser than contemporary standards and that versification did not exist.

Context in Micah:

Micah prophesied before the fall of Samaria in 722 bc (1.2‒7) as well as the reigns of Ahaz (735‒715) and Hezekiah (715‒687). Micah is also connected with the reign of Jotham (742‒735) in Micah 1.1. Micah's prophetic ministry coincided with Isaiah's ministry as well (Isa 7; 20; 36‒39; cf. 2 Kgs 15.32‒20.21; 2 Chron 27‒32). There is debate about the literary unity of the book which presupposes both the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles (1.8‒16; 2.12‒13; 4.10; 7.7‒20). By the time of Jeremiah, however, Micah is appealed to as a prophetic example vindicating Jeremiah's message of judgment (Jer 26.17‒19). This connection would seem to imply an earlier date around the time of Israel's exile by the Assyrians.

Regardless of the specific date or historical context, which is debatable, Micah is obviously structured by three cycles of judgment (Mic 1.2-2.11; 3.1ff.; 6.1-7.7) followed by salvation oracles (2.12-13; 4.1-5.1ff.; 7.8-20). Micah 5.2‒15 occurs as the latter half of a salvation oracle that describes the full establishment and restoration of Zion. In these verses, Micah promises a ruler in the line of David who will shepherd the people of God and establish peace. The peace this Davidic ruler ushers in will eliminate Assyria (Mic 5.5‒6), gather the remnant of Jacob into a strong nation (Mic 5.7‒9) and purify Israel (Mic 5.10‒15).

The most pertinent question is, of course, who is the promised ruler? There is no indication the text that this figure is anyone but a future ruler that is not named. All subsequent ancient Jewish interpreters consider this future ruler to be the messiah. The Qumran community, for example, cites Micah 4.13 in a blessing given to the messianic warrior king (1QSb 5.25) and connects this figure with other "messianic" passages from Isaiah 11 and Numbers 24.17. According to another Jewish group in the first century, then, in a description of the Messiah's overwhelming power, Micah 4.13‒5.9 fits nicely. Exactly what Micah meant is difficult to pinpoint. It is hard to imagine that Micah had in mind a particular king. Instead, he was drawing on the figure of a kingly idea‒ an ideal he hoped Yahweh would bring about at some point in the future.

Context in Matthew:

After the birth of Jesus, Magi come to visit the newborn king. Their celestial gazing led them to believe that a king had been born in Judea so they went to logical place where a king would be born‒the palace in Jerusalem (Mt 2.1‒2). Unfortunately, the tyrannical ruler Herod the Great had other plans (Mt 2.12 foreshadowed in 2.3). In his attempt to get rid of the newborn Herod thought he could employ the unsuspecting travelers from the East. So, he summoned the Israelite leaders and inquired about the location of the promised Messiah's birth. The response of these priests and scribes was "Bethlehem." Apparently it was widely accepted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem because that was where David was born (cf. Tg. Mic. 5.1‒3).

Despite some interesting textual differences this is a fairly simple and straightforward use of the OT. The passage in Micah predicts a messianic ruler in the line of David and the leaders in Jerusalem can easily produce this passage as a prediction of his birthplace. Still, there is more than initially meets the eye. Matthew has slipped into language echoing 2 Samuel 5.2 and Genesis 49.10 to emphasize that Jesus is the promised Messiah. These allusive similarities lead Homer Heater to conclude that Matthew is engaged in "cumulative exegesis"‒ bringing together these three texts to identify Jesus as the promised Messiah in the line of David. Others have since suggested that the category of "cumulative exegesis" does not account for the textual divergences in Matthew's citation. It is difficult to know exactly which texts Matthew had in mind, and he certainly would have believed Genesis 49.10 and 2 Samuel 5.2 referred to Jesus, but it is difficult to show that those potential allusions or echoes were in Matthew's mind. It is important to point out, however, that the prophetic interpretation of these scribes is confirmed by divine direction with a star. The star likely appears as a common Messianic symbol (Num 24.17; cf. T. Jud. 24.1–6; CD 7.20; 1QSb 5.27–28; 1QM 11.4–9; 4Q175 1.9–13; cf. Philos Vit. Mos. 1.52 §290). Suffice it to say, Matthew has put a clear messianic prophecy on the lips of the Jerusalem elite in such a way that points to the identity of Jesus as the promised Davidic ruler who would deliver Israel from the Herods of the world.

Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise for a future anointed king. Unfortunately, while the Jerusalem leaders clearly understood the place of the Messiah's birth, they did not understand the Messiah himself. It is a biting irony that the only people in Matthew's birth narrative to pay Jesus proper honor are Gentiles and those who ought to have recognized him best do not bother to search him out. By placing this prophecy on the lips of the Jerusalem elite Matthew shows them to be skilled exegetes who fail to have eyes to see and ears to hear.

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