Notes on the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapters 1 & 2

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Gospel according to Matthew is one of the four canonical Gospels of Pauline Christianity and one of the three synoptic Gospels.  The Gospel according to Matthew is the first of the four, the other three being: the Gospel according to Mark, the Gospel according to Luke and the Gospel according to John.  It is also the first of the three synoptic Gospels with the Gospel according to John being the odd one out.  The Gospel probably originated in a Jewish-Christian community in Roman Syria towards the end of the first century CE.  The anonymous author drew on three main sources, including the Gospel of Mark, the sayings collection known as the Q source, and material unique to his own community.  Please note that the Q source is hypothesised and there are scholars who doubt its existence.  Other Christian churches have different Gospels.

The Gospel is attributed to St. Matthew ben Alpheus (r.a.), a former tax collector from Capernaum and one of the Twelve.  This tradition developed from the 2nd century CE and was traced to Bishop Papias of Hieropolis.  There is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Matthew (r.a.) wrote it and in all likelihood, he did not since it was written about a hundred years after the time of Jesus (a.s.).

From a Christian point of view, the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew brings the Good News that Jesus (a.s.) is the Saviour.  It goes through a lot of effort to play with the genealogy to push the claim that Jesus (a.s.) is not only the Messiah, the Anointed One, but also that he is the Literal Son of God and the bringer of the final Revelation.

Matthew 1:1-17
1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham2 Abraham begot Isaac.  And Isaac begot Jacob.  And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren.  3 And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar.  And Phares begot Esron.  And Esron begot Aram.  4 And Aram begot Aminadab.  And Aminadab begot Naasson.  And Naasson begot Salmon.  5 And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab.  And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse.  6 And Jesse begot David the king.  And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias.  7 And Solomon begot Roboam.  And Roboam begot Abia.  And Abia begot Asa.  8 And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram.  And Joram begot Ozias.  9 And Ozias begot Joatham.  And Joatham begot Achaz.  And Achaz begot Ezechias.  10 And Ezechias begot Manasses.  And Manasses begot Amon.  And Amon begot Josias.  11 And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon.  12 And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel.  And Salathiel begot Zorobabel.  13 And Zorobabel begot Abiud.  And Abiud begot Eliacim.  And Eliacim begot Azor.  14 And Azor begot Sadoc.  And Sadoc begot Achim.  And Achim begot Eliud.  15And Eliud begot Eleazar.  And Eleazar begot Mathan.  And Mathan begot Jacob.  16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.  17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations.  And from David to the transmigration of Babylon are fourteen generations.  And from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.

If this genealogy is compared with that the Gospel according to Luke, 3:23 onwards, it is clear that at least one of the two groups of authors considered descent via adoption.  This was necessary to make Jesus (a.s.) the legal inheritor of Abraham’s (a.s.) Blessing and of the house of David (a.s.).  Both have traced his ancestry through Joseph, the supposed betrothed of Mary (a.s.).  Both Christian and Muslim believe Joseph and the Mary (a.s.) were closely related.  Muslims do not believe they were a couple or that Mary (a.s.) ever married.

Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the generation of Christ was in this wise.  When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost.  19 Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.  20 But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying, “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  21 And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”  22 Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,” which being interpreted is “God with us.”  24 And Joseph, rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife.  25 And he knew her not until she brought forth her first born son, and he called his name Jesus.

The first prophecy found in the Gospel according to Matthew, is the prophecy of Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:14
14 Therefore the Lord Himself shall Give you a sign.  Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

Emmanuel’ is the Greek transliteration.  ‘Immanual’ would be closer to the Hebrew. Therefore, the purpose of the first chapter is affirm the identity of Jesus (a.s.) as the Messiah, al-Masih.  ‘The virgin’ is a literal translation of the Hebrew and this was fulfilled with the virgin birth of Jesus (a.s.) and confirmed in the Qur’an:

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴنبیَاء
وَٱلَّتِىٓ أَحۡصَنَتۡ فَرۡجَهَا فَنَفَخۡنَا فِيهَا مِن رُّوحِنَا وَجَعَلۡنَـٰهَا وَٱبۡنَهَآ ءَايَةً۬ لِّلۡعَـٰلَمِينَ (٩١)

And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We Breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We Made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. (Surah al-Anbiya’:91)

The text of Matthew 1: 25 is more literally rendered ‘he knew her not until she bore a son’ but the Hebrew word represented by ‘until’ does not imply that intercourse did take place afterwards.  Catholics believe this phrase does not impugn the perpetual virginity of Mary (a.s.).  The Qur’an confirms it.  The ‘first-born’ son here, does not imply that she had other sons.  It refers to Jesus’ (a.s.) status and responsibilities under the halacha.

Matthew 2:1-2
1 When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, 2 saying: “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to adore him.”

Here, it was quite likely that the wise men from the East arrived when Jesus (a.s.) was already two.  The Gospel narrative is incorrect.  Also, tradition has it that there were three wise men.  However, none of the books in the Bible give a number.  There were three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  It is believed the wise men were priests of Zoroastrianism, the religion of Zarathustra (a.s.).  The caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) treated them as Ahl al-Kitab in all ways except allowing marriage between the Muslims and them since the Qur’an is very specific that marriage was only between the Muslims with the Christians and Jews.

Matthew 2:3-6
3 And King Herod, hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born.  5 But they said to him: “In Bethlehem of Judah.  For so it is written by the prophet, 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of you shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.’”

The scribes and chief priests in this case were mostly from the Sadducee sect of Judaism.  And the prophecy written by the prophet is the prophecy of Micah (a.s.).  Micah of Moresheth (a.s.) is the sixth of the twelve minor prophets.  His Hebrew name was likely Mikayahu (a.s.), which means something like, ‘There is none like Yahwah.’  There are no records in the Qur’an or the ahadits or any Muslim source that I know of the prophet Micah of Moresheth (a.s.).  He is one of the many prophets mentioned in other scriptures who are not mentioned in the Qur’an.

Yahwah’ was written ‘YHWH’ since like Arabic and other Semitic languages, only the consonants are written and not the vowels.  Because of this and the fact that the Jews, out of respect, never pronounce it, the actual pronunciation has been lost for centuries.  This is as best as we can guess.  It means “He” and is the essence of the Divine Name, “Eloh.”  It corresponds to our understanding of the Divine Name, “Huwa” or “Hu.”  Below is the prophecy of Micah (a.s.):

Micah 5:1
1 And you Bethlehem Ephrata, are a little one among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity.

In this case, Herod was troubled because he was looking to protect his throne.  Jerusalem was troubled because it was known that Herod would go through any lengths to protect his throne.

Bethlehem is an ancient town in Judah.  In Hebrew, Beth Lehem means ‘House of Bread.’  In Arabic, Bayt Lahm means ‘House of Meat.’  In Babylonian times, it was thought to be a temple town to the god, Lakhmu.  Lakhmu was one of the Akkadian creator gods, later adopted by the Babylonians and the Canaanites.

Matthew 2:7-12
7 Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; 8 and sending them into Bethlehem, said, “Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore him.”  9 Who having heard the king, went their way.  And behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was.  10 And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  11 And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother; and falling down they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.

Herod the Great was a son of Antipater, an Idumean.  They are also known as Edomites and their land is mentioned in the Old Testament as Edom.  Iduma was what the Babylonians called them and Idumean was what the Romans and the Greeks knew them as.  The Idumeans were brought under subjection by John Hyrcanus towards the end of the second century BC, and forced to convert to Judaism despite the opposition of the Jewish rabbis.

Herod was not a Jew and not a practitioner of the Jewish faith.  He did build the Temple to placate the Jews and as a sign of his vanity but he also built many pagan temples and worshipped there.  He was an enemy of monotheism and an enemy of the prophets.  He was a tyrant and an idolater.  He suffered a terrible disease that has not been identified and died with wasting sores, mad with pain.  His suffering is documented in graphic detail by the historian, Josephus Flavius.

Not much is known about the ‘star’ the wise men followed.  What it does indicate was that the prophecies of the prophets of old were known not only to the Jews but also to the surrounding people, even priests from the Persian Empire.  The prophecy of the Messiah was known from the time of the Babylonian exile.  And when the Persians under Cyrus conquered the Babylonian and freed the Jews, Cyrus allowed them to return and even helped rebuilt the Temple of Solomon (a.s.).  He is more likely to be the Dzu al-Qarnayn (r.a.) Mentioned in the Qur’an, rather than Alexander the Great.  For one thing, he was a monotheist like all Zoroastrians of the time, unlike Alexander.

With regards the gifts of the magi, there has been much debate in their significance.  Gold was a symbol of royalty.  The magi had come to see the “King of the Jews.”  It was an acknowledgement of his kingship although they failed to recognise the nature of the ‘kingdom’ which was the highest form of prophethood after the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).

Frankincense is a rare commodity and somewhat rare.  It has been used by Jews and by the Sufis in worship.  It was a main component of the rituals of sanctification of the Temple.  Burnt frankincense gives off a pleasant smelling, white smoke.  To the Jews, the smoke rising from the altar represented the prayers of the people rising to God.  The gift symbolised the recognition that Jesus (a.s.) was holy and divine but not necessarily part of the godhead as Trinitarians believe.

Myrrh, the aromatic resin of a plant, is commonly used as the essential oil of perfume.  The major use of myrrh was for burials.  It was placed on the cloths used to wrap bodies for burial to help prevent the smell of decay following death.  The symbolism was that as a Pharisee and a man f God, Jesus (a.s.) was dead to the world.  He was never a man of dunya and the kingdom he called to, was never in dunya.  Unfortunately, the Jews had been waiting a thousand years for the wrong Messiah.  They had misunderstood his mission and rejected him.

Matthew 2:13-18
13 And after they had departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell you.  For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.  14 Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: 15 That it might be fulfilled which the Lord Spoke by the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt, have I Called my son.”  16 Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry: and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.  17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, 18 “A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”

The slaughter of the innocents was one of the most tragic things to happen in the time of Jesus (a.s.).  It was an attempt by Herod to kill the ‘King of the Jews.’  Like almost every person of the time, the failed to understand the mission of Jesus (a.s.).  However, there is no independent historical verification if it actually did take place.

Hosea 1:1
1 As the morning passes, so has the king of Israel passed away.  Because Israel was a child, and I Loved him: and I Called my son out of Egypt.

Hosea ben Beeri (a.s.) was the first of the first of the minor prophets.  His name means ‘Salvation.’  He is not mentioned in any Muslim sources.  This part of the book of Hosea (a.s.) is very much allegorical.  In the time of Hosea (a.s.), paganism was rife and many of the Jews had turned away from the worship of God and were worshipping the Phoenician gods.  Chief amongst these gods was Baal.  Baal is also known as Bel, Bhaal and Ba’al.  In the time of our Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), the Arabs knew him as Hubal.  The worship of Baal was marked by child sacrifice.  Children, including infants, were burnt as part of the ritual.  Israel was thus an unfaithful child to the Lord.  When the Jews were in Egypt, many of them had turned to idolatry.  In this case, calling out of Egypt refer to the call back to monotheism.  There is much debate as to how this is related to the passage in Matthew.

Jeremiah 31:15
15 Thus Says the Lord, “A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not.”

Jeremiah (a.s.) refers to the prophet Aramaya (a.s.) as Muslims know him.  He lived in the time just before the Babylonian captivity and was probably witness to the Fall of Jerusalem after an 18-month siege by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar II.  This passage could then be in relation to that event and not a prophecy itself with regards Jesus (a.s.).  Rachel (r.a.) was the wife of Jacob (a.s.) and the mother of Joseph (a.s.).  She was buried at the road of Ephrata leading to Bethlehem.  Rachel (a.s.) weeping for her children is referenced by the author of Matthew (r.a.) to refer to the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Matthew 2:19-23
19 But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel.  For they are dead that sought the life of the child,” 21 who arose, and took the child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.  22 But hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the room of Herod his father, he was afraid to go thither: and being warned in sleep retired into the quarters of Galilee.  23 And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was said by the prophets: “That he shall be called a Nazarene.”

Archelaus is the son of Herod.  He did not inherit the title of ‘King’ as Herod’s will passing the title down was not approved by the Roman senate.  Archelaus thus ruled as a sort of governor called a tetrarch, over Judea.

The so-called prophecy of the prophets cannot be found in any book of the Tanakh, the Old Testament.  The source, whatever it is has been lost.  Catholic commentators do try to link it with the prophecy of Isaiah (a.s.):

Isaiah 53:3
3 Nay, here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognise that face?  How should we take any account of him, a man so despised?

The Hebrew text literally says, ‘his face was as it were hidden’.  It is not clear whether the face of the servant is hidden from the onlookers, or theirs from him in disgust.  They say the prophecy that Jesus (a.s.) would be despised by men was fulfilled when his contemporaries spoke scornfully of him as ‘a prophet from Nazareth.’  Some of them claim the word should not be Nazarene, but Nazirite.

One of the major issues Muslims have is that there is no record of Joseph in any of our sources.  The Qur’an is quite clear that Mary (a.s.) was chaste.  Some scholars have argued that Joseph was an older cousin who was her guardian and a fitnah developed that they had a relationship and she had a son and the betrothal was added later.  I believe that the Biblical narrative needed a ‘Joseph’ to demonstrate that Jesus (a.s.) had the genealogy to fulfill the prophecy of the prophets.

The Islamic sources do not report a betrothal for Mary (a.s.), nor do they mention Joseph, nor a later marriage, nor any siblings for Jesus (a.s.).  There is an entire chapter of the Qur’an named after Mary (a.s.) that conveys the story of the virgin birth.  The mention of the betrothal would have been mentioned if it was true since it is an important point.  The Qur’an Says that Mary (a.s.) was a virgin; she had never been married before or during the time of the birth of Jesus (a.s.).  Mary (a.s.) was quite shocked when the angel informed her that she would bear a son:

She said, “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” (Surah Maryam:20)

In Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Imam as-Suyuthi (r.a.) distinguished the first reason Mary (a.s.) gave that, “no man has ever touched me,” from the second reason because the first reason signified being “touched” in lawful wedlock, whereas the second reason meant she had never committed fornication.  Thus, her virginity at the time of the birth is established.

Some have argued that it is still possible for the Biblical claim that Mary (a.s.) was only betrothed to Joseph but not yet sent to her marital home for consummation.  In ancient Jewish law, a betrothal was as binding as a marriage contract.  According to this claim, it was an unconsummated marriage because the bride-taking had not taken place.  This is unlikely because of Mary’s (a.s.) reaction.  If she was betrothed, she would not ask how she would have a son.

And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We Breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We Made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. (Surah al-Anbiya’:91)

And Mary the daughter of `Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We Breathed into her (body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (Servants). (Surah at-Tahrim:12)

The word in both ayat is “ahswanat.”  The root is “hiswn,” which mean “fortress.”  This gives an idea of the level of chastity she had.  That Allah (s.w.t.) Made her and her son a Sign is taken by the scholars of tafsir to mean that she was a virgin and never consummated a marriage of any sort and never had any other children.  The miracle of the virgin birth of Christ (a.s.) was to be an effective proof to the Children of Israel of that time.  The miracle would have been diminished if a significant element of doubt in the form of a betrothal could exist and she eventually had other children.


Popular posts from this blog

In Saudi Arabia, Mawlid is Bid'ah, the King's Birthday is Fine

Singapore Bans Ismail Menk from Entry

Some Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in Art