Matthew 2: 13 – 18

The YouTube channel that does the “Everything wrong with… [movie title]” would have plenty of material in Cars 2, but after about 50 viewings (I have a son who loves it) I now ignore its flaws and enjoy the spectacle of watching it. I’ve come to appreciate the graphics, voice work, music etc., but I still think it has a very bad plot. The story of Cars 2 falls apart in the first minute, and continues to do all kinds of stupid most of the way through. Despite having holograms, computers and microwave weapons the plot hinges on the transfer of a digital picture which is kept in something which for some reason is constantly referred to as “a device” rather than a camera, that must be passed to another agent by hand. Err, by tire. Anyone else would email the picture, but that would leave Cars 2 with no plot at all. There are other problems but you get the point; someone thought having a spy movie set in the world of Cars was an idea so good that viewers would look past the plot holes.

But if I continue down this road of mostly talking about everything that’s wrong with Matthew then I fear I’ll sound like a broken record. So after a couple of paragraphs on it I promise I’ll take another tack.

This time God again comes to Joseph in a dream to warm him to take Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem so that Herod doesn’t kill them. He tells them to go to Egypt because… wait for it… when Jesus returns from Egypt that will fulfill yet another prophecy. Yes, that’s the reason to go to Egypt. God could have sent them anywhere else in the region, or being God he could have transported them anywhere else in the world, but instead he sends them to Egypt because of the prophecy. It’s kinder to label it win-win than self-serving, but since it’s all dealt with in a mere five sentences, two of which are the angel giving instructions and one which is the prophecy being explained, then the brevity makes God come across as a little bit of a manipulator.

Herod gets mad that his dumb ass plan to trick the Magi didn’t work and has all the boys two and under in Bethlehem killed, which fortuitously also fulfills another prophecy. Are you getting a bit of the ‘this happens solely because of the prophecy’ vibe? Mary and Joseph don’t even rate a quandary or a quote anymore; they do this because the angel tells them to, they go there because the angel tells them to. They are just characters for the omniscient narrator to bully around.

Lest you think my analysis is too harsh remember that these are events which millions of people believe really happened. These people will tell you that Magi really did follow a star with a wonky GPS, Herod really did risk his throne on a lame plan to deceive the Magi, and those infants really were massacred so that a prophecy could be fulfilled. It’s the activeness of the last one that I’ll finish with to fulfill my own promise of talking about something else.

Prophecy is a funny thing in that it is compelled to be fulfilled. And when the prophecy comes from God, then that urgency is beyond doubt. The three prophecies in Matthew 2 are inextricably linked; the birth of Jesus leads to the escape to Egypt which leads to the massacre of the innocents. Once God uttered those prophecies, those babies in Bethlehem were going to die. This puts a query over Mary, Joseph and even Herod as to whether they have ceased to be beings with free-will. Matthew shows a Mary and Joseph who are compliant with God’s will or easily commanded by his agents when in doubt, so we will never know what the story would be if Joseph was unconvinced by the angel’s words and decided to go through with his divorce. And while Herod will burn for eternity for the murders of – based on population densities of the time – approximately 20 children, was there ever going to be any other outcome? If Herod had wavered when about to kill the children the same way Joseph had wavered about marriage with Mary, would God have sent an angel to convince him to stay the course for the purpose of a prophecy fulfilled? Or did Herod never have any other option but the one that he took? Won’t someone prophesize for the children?

One has to wonder why a bloodless prophecy wasn’t given to begin with. Rather than massacring innocents God could have made a prophecy that had a despondent Herod fruitless in his pursuit of the Messiah:

Matthew 2: 18

A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Herod weeping for his crown

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more to be found.

While these questions may be fobbed off as the nitpicking ramblings of yet another atheist who wants to debate the worst of God, when the question of free-will is moved from the relatively minor and mostly voiceless characters of Mary, Joseph and Herod to Jesus the Messiah who was prophesied, then the debate for Christians is a little more serious. Jesus’s whole life is roped in by a fate decided before he took on human form, so is he anymore an agent of free-will than his parents or would-be killer? Prophecy. Not so funny when you’re being put to the sword or nailed to a cross, especially as it was never going to end up any other way.

6 thoughts on “Matthew 2: 13 – 18

  1. vonleonhardt2

    Well, in even approaching thus issue you need to address the parallel being drawn between moses and Jesus, and Pharoah and herod.

    That directs your questions , you can take the versus about Pharoah “I rose you up for my purpose, etc” (on mobile that’s enough to Google them), and you have a predestination situation that makes free will semi redundant. You can go old testament and say God just did it (sent lying spirits etc in Kings) or new testament and say God just pulled back grace and let herods evil out (calvin). A free will school like baptism isn’t much use here. The Anglican veiw is they children are holy infants like those in moses’ day that died because evil tried to keep the people inslaved while the prophet was weak.

    Given the verse and date some one is following the lectionary lol.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      vonleonhardt2, thanks for the comment.

      TTTT I only wrote about freewill in an effort to go beyond criticisms of the plot. It’s a rabbit hole which we’ve been down before on this site, and it goes nowhere.

      So far three commentators have talked about how to approach Matthew. Marco says he’s not qualified to comment, natonoel says the way to look at it is through the audience it was written for, and you bring up that it needs to be approached through its OT connections. While they are all valid ways to critique Matthew, that’s not what I’m doing.

      When I started this series of posts I wasn’t sure that there would be a central thesis. But even though I’ve only written a handful of posts it’s become apparent that I’m interested in the bogus claims that these are real events being reported. As such the approaches of natonoel and yourself really only impinge on my opinions when they cross with this particular criticism. What I will say about two of the proposed methods is this:

      Marco, claims made in the Gospels are no different to any other claims in that they stand or fall on the evidence. There’s nothing special about the Gospels that fences them off from criticisms by non-believers. Every TV newspaper, magazine article and documentary you’ve ever read or seen you’ve weighed the evidence presented and formed an opinion about its veracity. These books are no different.

      natonoel, the intended audience is one way to get a take on the Gospels. But literary criticism would be a very limited field if that were the only way to approach them. And the Gospels would be very limited reading if they couldn’t support more than one reading. A feminist reading or a post-colonial reading could be done and they would be equally valid. Again, the validity of the reading would be based on the evidence. If you want to have a dialogue about what I’ve written then you’ll have to comment on that rather than on what you think I should be writing. And you’ll have to get over your assumption that your chosen way to read the Gospels is the only way to read them.

      Reply
      1. vonleonhardt2

        Oh, you didn’t just come out and say it enough… as the person trained in manuscript studies, text criticism, etc. if you are aiming to demythologize you still need to go with Moses.

        The image ties in to Deuteronomy “God will send you a prophet like me,” Moses’ back story, the covenant “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt” to show which God is incarnate… et al.

        The Synoptics often tie Jesus to Moses with sermons on the mt.or plain (Sinai anyone?), speaking as one with authority, and many other things.

        Thus, your best bet then is to say Matthew made it up weaving together different strands of tradition.

        Lit. Criticism / Form Criticism and hermeneutics/ exegesis are to different things, a “feminist” reading would be anachronistic in A.D. 100. To back natonel a little, you have to clarify what you are doing to say his point is not valid. On the face of it, typically original audience is a primary issue.

        I would though, like to add, you are getting by this into a historical discussion and that muddies the water; history takes into account the date of composition and the author’s likely notion of what history is… once you get out of the modern era terms like “bogus” or factual give way to non-historical or probable.

        The problem with the Jesus Seminar, old Liberal demythologizing (no miricles, etc) is that the authors bias becomes a HUGE issue. Even Jesus’ opponents would have believed in miracles, etc.so nobody thought that kind of stuff wasn’t
        “true;” you have to try and allow yourself some post-modern subjectivity

        Reply
    2. winstoninabox Post author

      “Well, in even approaching thus issue you need to address the parallel being drawn between moses and Jesus, and Pharoah and herod.”

      If someone want to criticize “Cars 2” then I could recommend he or she watch “Cars” to get to know the characters. Also, on the “Cars 2” Blu-ray there are commentaries by various people who were intimately involved with its production and so I could recommend that the critic listens to those, too. As “Cars 2” is aping the James Bond films then I could also recommend that the would be critic watches those to get a sense of the genre in which “Cars 2” has one foot. Probably reading the Fleming novels would also give a good grounding in the films’ background. And as “Cars 2″‘s plot is a riff on “The Man Who Knew Too Little” that is essential viewing. Plus that film is a comedic version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, so that had had better be on the list as well. As the other foot is in the genre of racing films then Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans” is a good introduction to that…

      But if that person only wanted to critique the plot of the film then just watching the first few minutes of “Cars 2” and having an adults logic for stories is enough to know that there are serious troubles with the it. The same with Matthew.

      One could do as you suggest and examine links between Matthew and the OT and Moses and other prophecies. Or one could do as natonoel suggests and try to understand the audience for whom Matthew was writing. But neither of those approaches center on the poor plot and unrealistic characters which undermine claims that it is a record of real life events. I suppose that the Moses/Jesus parallel highlights that this might be a contemporary retelling of an older tale, but it’s also easy to argue that that is a happy coincidence which the writer highlights in the telling. It’s just not that pertinent to this angle of criticism.

      I’m not saying it’s a bad approach, but if one wants to critique the plotting and characters then it is better to stick to them without muddying the argument with other approaches.

      Again, thanks for the comments.

      Reply
      1. vonleonhardt2

        That’s just so sadly boring… As a plot it flows, and a king liquidating a small town is kind of a non issue in the ancient world… And believable about Harrod. And there are huge Jewish communities in Egypt. Magi are just magicians, but they had a messianic idea too. On the face of it, it’s all believable enough in a world of ceasers and such…

        If you wanna say it’s all poppycock than get out your monocle and run around in a three piece, but it makes for a boring blog.

        Reply
  2. winstoninabox Post author

    “As a plot it flows”

    Then I’m not sure if you’ve read all my posts on Matthew which are saying the opposite to this. Or you have read them and you disagree. Although since you haven’t commented on any of the inconsistencies I’ve brought up then I’m inclined to the former.

    “That’s just so sadly boring… but it makes for a boring blog.”

    I guess you can please some of the people some of the time. But as it’s my blog I’ll write about what interests me. Since it doesn’t interest you all I can say is thanks for your comments so far and I hope you’ll find some future posts more to your liking.

    Reply

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