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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 Five: Literature Review of the Dreams of Matthew 1:18–2:23 129


Chapter Five LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DREAMS OF MATTHEW 1:18–2:23 This chapter presents a survey of the interpretations of Matt 1:18–2:23 to demonstrate that the interpreters have given little or no consideration to the five dreams that form the infancy narrative. The purpose of this chapter is to project a need for a fresh look at Matt 1:18–2:23 in light of the study of the dreams in the previous chapters of this study. Because this survey considers only the major turns of events in the interpretation of Matt 1:18–2:23, many significant names in Matthean scholarship may not appear in this survey, unless a scholar has introduced views significantly different from those that exist already. Scholars interpret Matt 1:18–2:23 as one of the following four categories: hero legend, midrash, typology, and encomium. As much as possible, this survey is presented thematically rather than chronologically. Hero Legend From Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 40–117) until the Enlightenment, the interpretation of Matt 1:18–2:23 was dominated by the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.1 From the Enlightenment until Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the interpretation of Matt 1:18–2:23 fell into two extremes, namely, rationalistic and supernaturalistic approaches.2 In his public lectures on The Life of Jesus, 1 Chapter 6 will present a discussion on the issues surrounding Matt 1:18–2:23 during the first three centuries. The amount of apologetic efforts for the contents...

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