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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 Six: Dreams of Matthew 1–2 151


Chapter Six DREAMS OF MATTHEW 1–2 This chapter seeks to understand how Matthew uses dreams in Matt 1:18– 2:23 and what questions he addresses by using them. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that Matthew uses dreams as a literary device to educate his community about the following: (1) neither Joseph nor any other man was Jesus’ biological father; (2) the purpose for Jesus’ family going from Bethlehem to Egypt; and (3) why Jesus’ family settled in Nazareth. Matthew uses dreams to defend slanderous allegations that his readers had heard from the critics of Jesus and to present an etiological explanation for how Nazareth became Jesus’ hometown. Rhetorical criticism provides tools to understand the purpose of dreams in Matt 1:18–2:23.1 In addition to analyzing the dream passages, this chapter includes a brief overview of the tools of rhetorical critical analysis and a discussion on the phrase κατ’ ὄναρ. Form critical analysis informs that the five dreams of Matt 1:18–2:23 are message dreams.2 The form analyses, however, do not go beyond informing the category of the dreams. Rhetorical criticism provides tools to understand 1 Rhetorical criticism helps to look at texts from the point of view of the speaker’s or author’s intent, the unified results, and, how it would be perceived by an audience of near contemporaries. See George A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism, Studies in Religion, ed. Charles H. Long (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina...

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