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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 Four: Dreams in Greco-Roman and Second TemplePeriod Literature 87


Chapter Four DREAMS IN GRECO-ROMAN AND SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD LITERATURE This chapter presents a study on the dream accounts within Greco-Roman literature and the Second Temple writings. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that dreams are used as literary devices. The investigations of this chapter along with those of chapters 2 and 3 will facilitate the study of the dream passages in Matt 1–2 ultimately. Dreams in Greek Literature This section presents a brief discussion on the use of “dream” in the Iliad and Odyssey, and the Histories. The Greeks use five different words for “dream,” namely, ὅραμα, ἐνύπνιον, ὄνειρος, χρηματισμός, and φάντασμα. However, they use ὄνειρος, ἐνύπνιον, and their derivatives for most supernatural dreams.1 The following section presents a brief discussion on how Homer uses dreams in the Iliad and Odyssey. Dreams in the Iliad and Odyssey Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey together contain six dream scenes.2 William S. Messer’s book, The Dream in Homer and Greek Tragedy pioneers in the study of literary dreams in Greek poetry.3 Messer demonstrates how dreams 1 Chapter 6 contains a detailed word study on ὄναρ and a discussion on the plausible reason for Matthew’s use of it. 2 Iliad 2:1–73; 10:496–97; 23:62–107; Odyssey 4:487–841; 6:13–51; 19:509–81 (Homer, The Iliad, trans. A. T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965; Homer, The Odyssey, trans. A. T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946). For a detailed discussion on the structure and...

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