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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 Seven: Conclusion 201


Chapter Seven CONCLUSION Matthew employs dreams in ch. 1:18–2:23 as a literary device in the following ways: (1) to answer questions surrounding the birth of Jesus (1:18– 25); (2) to present etiological reasons why Jesus goes to Egypt (2:1–12, 13– 18); and, (3) to give an etiological explanation how Jesus becomes a native of Nazareth (2:19–21, 22–23). Therefore, the dream passages of Matt 1:18– 2:23 do not merely narrate the dream experiences of the dreamers, but they carry narrative intentions of the narrator. The dream narrative 1:18–25 explains two important concerns: (1) why Joseph decided to marry Mary even after he knew about Mary’s pregnancy; and, (2) how Jesus is the Son of God and is not a biological son of Joseph. Chapter 2 contains four dream narratives. Each dream transitions the narrative to the scene that follows. The dream of the Magi (2:12) exits them from the narrative and prepares the readers for moving baby Jesus out of Bethlehem. Joseph’s first dream in Bethlehem takes him to Egypt (2:13–18), his second dream brings him back to Judea (2:19–21), and his third dream settles the family in Nazareth (2:22–23). Dreams of ch. 2 provide movement and transition to the narration: The first dream explains why Herod, who wanted kill the baby Jesus, could not locate him; The second dream explains why Jesus went to Egypt; The third dream explains Jesus’...

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