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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 Three: Dreams in the Old Testament 59


Chapter Three DREAMS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT The Old Testament has numerous dream records; the majority of them occur in Genesis.1 This chapter presents brief discussions on the form and plausible narrative functions of each dream passage of the Old Testament. The purpose of this discussion is to demonstrate that dreams are used as literary devices, and to highlight the benefits of using them in diverse literary contexts. The discussion of this chapter is confined to those dream passages introduced by the word םלח.2 Though Abraham’s vision narrative introduced by הזחמ 1 Gen 20:1–18; 28:10–22; 31:10–14; 31:24; 37:5–8, 9–11; 40:5–19; 41:1–32; Judg 7:13– 15; 1 Kgs 3:5–15; Dan 2:1–49, 4:1–27; 7:1–28. The Old Testament prophets do not give credence to professional dreamers or dream interpreters (cf. Deut 13:1–6; 1 Sam 28:6; Eccl 5:7; Jer 23:28). Jeremiah denounces the false prophets, who misled the people of Judea by claiming to have received revelation in their dreams (Jer 23:25–32; cf. Deut 13:1–6). Though Jeremiah denounces the deceitfulness of the false prophets, he does not seem to reject dream as a medium of God’s revelation. In Jer 27:9, Jeremiah equates the dreamers with soothsayers, false prophets, diviners, and sorcerers who drew the Israelites away from the LORD. In his letter to the exiled Israelites in Babylon (Jer 29:8–9), Jeremiah...

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