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The Dreams of Matthew 1:18-2:23

Tradition, Form, and Theological Investigation


William J. Subash

The Dreams of Matthew 1:18-2:23: Tradition, Form, and Theological Investigation critically examines the five dream passages of Matthew 1:18-2:23 to demonstrate that Matthew employed dream narratives to defend allegations concerning Jesus’ birth and to provide etiological reasons both for why Jesus went to Egypt and how Jesus happened to live in Nazareth. A diachronic survey of dream records in the Ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Jewish, Greco-Roman, and Second Temple writings reveals that dream narratives fall into two major categories: message dreams and symbolic dreams. Every dream carries a distinct narrative function according to the objectives of the user. Typically, symbolic dreams appear in epic-like literature, and message dreams appear in narratives such as historical and religious writings.
The present analysis of the five dream accounts of Matthew 1:18-2:23 reveals that they fall into the message dream category. Each dream has at least one narrative function. In other words, Matthew does not merely record the dream experiences of the individuals but uses dreams to achieve his narrative objective.


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Chapter One: Introduction 1


Chapter One INTRODUCTION This chapter deals with the need for a study of the topic, the thesis, the limitations and scope, the contribution, and the method and content of the study. The introduction also clarifies the parameters and focus of this study. Need for the Study The Gospel of Matthew contains six dream passages, five of which appear in chapters 1–2.1 Matthew’s use of dreams in 1:1–2:23, immediately after a long genealogy, appears to have a narrative strategy that needs a treatment different from that of the regular narratives. Unlike the other dreams of the Bible where the dreamers benefit from them,2 neither Joseph nor the Magi, the recipients of the dreams, benefit from them. All five dream-messages are about Jesus, the central figure in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew seems to be juxtaposing the genealogy presented in 1:2–16 with the birth and infancy of Jesus in 1:18–2:23 to emphasize that Jesus is the “Son of God.”3 All those listed in the genealogy (1:2–16) have human fathers with the stereotypical formula ἐγέννησεν, but the infancy narrative (1:18–2:23), introduced by the superscription τοῦ δὲ Ίησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν (1:18), seems to emphasize Jesus’ genealogy with a different nuance. Through the dream 1 Matthew 1:20–25; 2:12, 13–15, 19–21, 22; 27:19. All six dreams are introduced with the formula κατ’ ὄναρ. Chapter 6 of this study discusses the literary function of the dreams in Matt 1:18–2:...

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