Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Raymond Brown's Assessment Of The Infancy Narratives (Part 2)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, although Raymond Brown often came down on the liberal side of the spectrum in his analysis of the infancy narratives, he sometimes reached more conservative conclusions. His agreements with conservative scholarship seem to be discussed much less often than his arguments that are more consistent with the prevailing liberalism of our day. Below are some examples of his more conservative conclusions.

"Recent major works by M.D. Johnson (Purpose) and R.R. Wilson ('Genealogy') show that renewed investigation into OT genealogies have implications for the birth records of Jesus as well. Perhaps the most important single factor is the recognition that genealogies serve different purposes and that an individual can be accorded two or more different genealogies according to the purpose for which they were drawn up. Only rather rarely and to a limited depth do ancient Semitic genealogies afford us a list of strictly biological ancestry - a factor that does not necessarily make them inaccurate since the intention of those who preserved them was not strictly biological. Too often the genealogies of Jesus have been read with the same expectations with which one reads the list of grandparents and great-grandparents constituting the frontispiece of the family Bible....One can never disprove such hypotheses [harmonizing the genealogies in Matthew and Luke]; but there is absolutely nothing in the Gospel text to justify them. And what is gained if such diverse genealogies are reconciled when the other parts of the two infancy narratives are apparently quite irreconcilable?...Mussies ('Parallels') fills in a lacuna in Wettstein by offering classical parallels to almost every aspect of the Matthean genealogy (placing, omission of some names, counting the generations). Indeed, on pp. 43-44 he points out that famous figures like King Agamemnon and King Theseus could be attributed different ancestors by different authors, even as happened with Jesus." (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], pp. 64-65, 588-590)

"If the marital situation between Joseph and Mary [portrayed in Matthew's gospel] were not a fact and could have been created according to the dictates of Christian imagination, it is difficult to see why a situation less open to scandal was not contrived. For instance, instead of picturing Mary as already pregnant, the narrator could have imagined her as betrothed to Joseph but without child. Then he could have had the angel of the Lord appear and begin his message with 'Joseph, son of David, hasten to take Mary your wife into your home.' Everything else in 1:20-25 could follow, and there would be no hint of scandal....Matthew's world view and that of his opponents is not one in which deities have sexual relations with men or women and beget children. He is in confrontation with Pharisees and in his account of the ministry he is most careful not to give them anything they can use against Jesus (e.g., his omitting the spittle miracle narrated in Mark 8:22-26). If the situation described in Matthew is not a factual one but is the product of Christian romantic imagination, one must deem it a great religious blunder; for it gave rise to the charge of illegitimacy against Jesus that was the mainstay of anti-Christian polemic for many centuries." (pp. 142-143 and n. 28 on p. 143)

"One may hypothesize that independently Matthew and Luke hit upon the pattern of an annunciation, the idea of a virginal conception, etc.; but it is more plausible that these are earlier ideas that each has taken over and developed in his own way. I find totally implausible that they would independently chance upon the same peculiar marital situation as a setting for the annunciation." (n. 41 on p. 247)

"One has to account for the accurate knowledge shown in [Luke] 1:8-10 about priestly terms of service, the incense offering, and the cult. Even the detail that Zechariah did not live in Jerusalem (1:23), but in the hill country of Judea, betrays a knowledge of the priesthood in the first century...with remarkable accuracy" (pp. 266, 270)

"It is always risky methodologically to assume that a writer does not see the contradictions in his own narrative." (p. 307)

"Luke's description of the structure and ideals of the Jerusalem community comes remarkably close to what we know of Qumran structure and ideals, and so Luke was describing a way of life that was entirely plausible in early first-century Judaism." (n. 46 on p. 354)

"It is probably true that many Jews of Jesus' time expected the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem, but we must be aware that our chief evidence for this is Christian, not Jewish....Without reference to Micah 5:1, Bethlehem appears as the birthplace of the Messiah in passages like TalJer Berakoth 5a, and Midrash Rabbah 51 on Lam 1:16. As for Micah 5:1 (RSV 5:2), L. Ginzberg, Legends, V, 130, traces the messianic interpretation of the passage back to relatively old rabbinic traditions....I mentioned in the previous Appendix (footnote 6) the expectation of a hidden Messiah who would appear suddenly, without people knowing where he came from. (This expectation is described in John 7:27, in contrast to 7:42 which involves the expectation of the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem.) If Jesus had not been born at Bethlehem, why could Christians not have been content to present him as the hidden Messiah, who made his appearance at the Jordan to be baptized?" (p. 513, n. 2 on p. 513, p. 514)

"Even if Luke had little historical information about how the census of Quirinius had been conducted, he lived in the Roman Empire and may have undergone census enrollment himself. It is dangerous to assume that he described a process of registration that would have been patently opposed to everything that he and his readers knew." (p. 549)

"Leaving aside formal biographies, one can make a better case that even Jews would have known (sometimes derisively) popular stories about the gods, but would they have wanted to imitate them in describing the Son of the Lord God of Israel? Most lines in the infancy narratives have patent OT parallels; it is very difficult to show that the evangelists drew upon the proposed and far more distant Greco-Roman parallels. The two evangelists could have written their infancy narratives without ever having heard or read biographies and tales composed by pagan writers; the orientation of the Gospel narratives could have come from Hebrew or LXX forms of the biblical stories of the Patriarchs, Moses, and David (enlarged by subsequent oral lore), plus some Jesus tradition and theological reflection....[quoting another source] 'None of the proposed parallels [to the virginal conception], either pagan or Jewish, seemingly accounts for the story we find in the NT.'" (pp. 579-580, 707)

"Two mutually hostile traditions about Jesus' birth, Christian and Jewish, came to agree on that point [that Joseph wasn't Jesus' biological father]. The Christian claim that Joseph was not the father (Matt, Luke) can scarcely have arisen by reaction to Jewish calumny - that would have been answered by saying Joseph was the father - so that, unless one wants to say that Jewish polemic about Jesus' illegitimacy was based entirely on misunderstanding, it helps to show that Christians were claiming an unusual conception." (n. 318 on p. 703)

"On 528-31 above I argued that although the limited NT evidence is not conclusively probative, to posit historical fact as an explanation of Matt's and Luke's agreement on the v.c. [virginal conception] is more conformable to the evidence than to posit fictional creation." (p. 705)

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