Chapter 3 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 5
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
FROM THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM TO THE BAPTISM IN
THE ANNUNCIATION OF JESUS THE MESSIAH, AND THE
BIRTH OF HIS FORERUNNER
(St. Matthew 1; St. Luke 1:26-80)
FROM the Temple to Nazareth! It seems indeed most fitting that
the Evangelic story should have taken its beginning within the Sanctuary, and
at the time of sacrifice. Despite its outward veneration for them, the Temple,
its services, and specially its sacrifices, were, by an inward logical necessity,
fast becoming a superfluity for Rabbinism. But the new development, passing
over the intruded elements, which were, after all, of rationalistic origin,
connected its beginning directly with the Old Testament dispensation - its
sacrifices, priesthood, and promises. In the Sanctuary, in connection with
sacrifice, and through the priesthood - such was significantly the beginning of
the era of fulfillment. And so the great religious reformation of Israel under
Samuel had also begun in the Tabernacle, which had so long been in the
background. But if, even in this Temple-beginning, and in the communication to,
and selection of an idiot 'priest,' there was marked divergence from the
Rabbinic ideal, that difference widens into the sharpest contrast, as we pass from
the Forerunner to the Messiah, from the Temple to Galilee, from the 'idiot'
priest to the humble, unlettered family of Nazareth. It is necessary here to
recall our general impression of Rabbinism: its conception of God,1
and of the highest good and ultimate object of all things, as concentrated in
learned study, pursued in Academies; and then to think of the unmitigated
contempt with which they were wont to speak of Galilee, and of the Galileans,
whose very patois was an offence; of the utter abhorrence with which
they regarded the unlettered country-people, in order to realise, how such an
household as that of Joseph and Mary would be regarded by the leaders of
Israel. A Messianic announcement, not the result of learned investigation, nor
connected with the Academies, but in the Sanctuary, to a 'rustic' priest; an
Elijah unable to untie the intellectual or ecclesiastical knots, of whose
mission, indeed, this formed no part at all; and a Messiah, the offspring of a
Virgin in Galilee betrothed to a humble workman - assuredly, such a picture of
the fulfillment of Israel's hope could never have been conceived by
contemporary Judaism. There was in such a Messiah absolutely nothing - past,
present, or possible; intellectually, religiously, or even nationally - to
attract, but all to repel. And so we can, at the very outset of this history,
understand the infinite contrast which it embodied - with all the difficulties
to its reception, even to those who became disciples, as at almost every step
of its progress they were, with ever fresh surprise, recalled from all that
they had formerly thought, to that which was so entirely new and strange.
as it may sound, it is certainly the teaching of Rabbinism, that God occupied
so many hours every day in the study of the Law. Comp. Targ. Ps.-Jonathan on
Deut. xxxii. 4, and Abhod. Z. 3 b. Nay, Rabbinism goes farther in its
daring, and speaks of the Almighty as arrayed in a white dress, or as occupying
himself by day with the study of the Bible, and by night with that of the six
tractates of the Mishnah. Comp. also the Targum on Cant. v. 10.
And yet, just as Zacharias may be described as the
representative of the good and the true in the Priesthood at that time, so the
family of Nazareth as a typical Israelitish household. We feel, that the
scantiness of particulars here supplied by the Gospels, was intended to prevent
the human interest from overshadowing the grand central Fact, to which alone
attention was to be directed. For, the design of the Gospels was manifestly not
to furnish a biography of Jesus the Messiah,2
but, in organic connection with the Old Testament, to tell the history of the
long-promised establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Yet what scanty
details we possess of the 'Holy Family' and its surroundings may here find a
object which the Evangelists had in view was certainly not that of biography,
even as the Old Testament contains no biography. The twofold object of their
narratives is indicated by St. Luke i. 4, and by St. John xx. 31.
The highlands which form the central portion of Palestine are
broken by the wide, rich plain of Jezreel, which severs Galilee from the rest of
the land. This was always the great battle-field of Israel. Appropriately, it
is shut in as between mountain-walls. That along the north of the plain is
formed by the mountains of Lower Galilee, cleft about the middle by a valley
that widens, till, after an hour's journey, we stand within an enclosure which
seems almost one of Nature's own sanctuaries. As in an amphitheatre, fifteen
hill-tops rise around. That to the west is the highest - about 500 feet. On its
lower slopes nestles a little town, its narrow streets ranged like terraces.
This is Nazareth, probably the ancient Sarid (or En-Sarid), which, in the time
of Joshua, marked the northern boundary of Zebulun.34
3. Josh. xix. 10, 11.
name Nazareth may best be regarded as the equivalent of tre(en: 'watch'
or 'watcheress.' The name does not occur in the Talmud, nor in those Midrashim
which have been preserved. But the elegy of Eleazar ha Kallir - written before
the close of the Talmud - in which Nazareth is mentioned as a Priestcentre, is
based upon an ancient Midrash, now lost (comp. Neubauer, Geogr. du
Talmud, p. 117, note 5). It is, however, possible, as Dr. Neubauer
suggests (u.s. p. 190, note 5), that the name hnx(n in Midr. on Eccl. ii. 8
should read hnr(n and refers to Nazareth.
Climbing this steep hill, fragrant with aromatic plants, and
bright with rich-coloured flowers, a view almost unsurpassed opens before us.
For, the Galilee of the time of Jesus was not only of the richest fertility,
cultivated to the utmost, and thickly covered with populous towns and villages,
but the centre of every known industry, and the busy road of the world's commerce.
Northward the eye would sweep over a rich plain; rest here and there on white
towns, glittering in the sunlight; then quickly travel over the romantic hills
and glens which form the scenes of Solomon's Song, till, passing beyond Safed
(the Tsephath of the Rabbis - the 'city set on a hill'), the view is bounded by
that giant of the far-off mountain-chain, snow-tipped Hermon. Westward
stretched a like scene of beauty and wealth - a land not lonely, but wedded;
not desolate, but teeming with life; while, on the edge of the horizon, lay
purple Carmel; beyond it a fringe of silver sand, and then the dazzling sheen
of the Great Sea. In the farthest distance, white sails, like wings outspread
towards the ends of the world; nearer, busy ports; then, centres of industry;
and close by, travelled roads, all bright in the pure Eastern air and rich glow
of the sun. But if you turned eastwards, the eye would soon be arrested by the
wooded height of Tabor, yet not before attention had been riveted by the long,
narrow string of fantastic caravans, and curiosity roused by the motley
figures, of all nationalities and in all costumes, busy binding the East to the
West by that line of commerce that passed along the route winding around Tabor.
And when, weary with the gaze, you looked once more down on little Nazareth
nestling on the breast of the mountain, the eye would rest on a scene of
tranquil, homely beauty. Just outside the town, in the north-west, bubbled the
spring or well, the trysting-spot of townspeople, and welcome resting-place of
travellers. Beyond it stretched lines of houses, each with its flat roof
standing out distinctly against the clear sky; watered, terraced gardens,
gnarled wide-spreading figtrees, graceful feathery palms, scented oranges,
silvery olive-trees, thick hedges, rich pasture-land, then the bounding hills
to the south; and beyond, the seemingly unbounded expanse of the wide plain of
And yet, withdrawn from the world as, in its enclosure of
mountains, Nazareth might seem, we must not think of it as a lonely village
which only faint echoes reached of what roused the land beyond. With reverence
be it said: such a place might have suited the training of the contemplative
hermit, not the upbringing of Him Whose sympathies were to be with every clime
and race. Nor would such an abode have furnished what (with all due
acknowledgment of the supernatural) we mark as a constant, because a rationally
necessary, element in Scripture history: that of inward preparedness in which
the higher and the Divine afterwards find their ready points of contact.
Nor was it otherwise in Nazareth. The two great interests which
stirred the land, the two great factors in the religious future of Israel,
constantly met in the retirement of Nazareth. The great caravan-route which led
from Acco on the sea to Damascus divided at its commencement into three roads:
the most northern passing through Cæsarea Philippi; the Upper Galilean; and the
Lower Galilean. The latter, the ancient Via Maris led through Nazareth,
and thence either by Cana, or else along the northern shoulder of Mount Tabor,
to the Lake of Gennesaret - each of these roads soon uniting with the Upper
although the stream of commerce between Acco and the East was divided into
three channels, yet, as one of these passed through Nazareth, the quiet little
town was not a stagnant pool of rustic seclusion. Men of all nations, busy with
another life than that of Israel, would appear in the streets of Nazareth; and
through them thoughts, associations, and hopes connected with the great outside
world be stirred. But, on the other hand, Nazareth was also one of the great
centers of Jewish Temple-life. It has already been indicated that the
Priesthood was divided into twenty-four 'courses,' which, in turn, ministered
in the Temple. The Priests of the 'course' which was to be on duty always
gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to Jerusalem, while
those of their number who were unable to go spent the week in fasting and
prayer. Now Nazareth was one of these Priest-centres,6
and although it may well have been, that comparatively few in distant Galilee
conformed to the Priestly regulations - some must have assembled there in
preparation for the sacred functions, or appeared in its Synagogue. Even the
fact, so well known to all, of this living connection between Nazareth and the
Temple, must have wakened peculiar feelings. Thus, to take the wider view, a
double symbolic significance attached to Nazareth, since through it passed
alike those who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered
in the Temple.7
the detailed description of these roads, and the references in Herzog's
Real-Encykl. vol. xv. pp. 160, 161.
Neubauer, u. s. p. 190. See a detailed account in 'Sketches of Jewish
Social Life,' &c. p. 36.
7. It is strange, that these two circumstances have not been noticed. Keim
(Jesu von Nazari i. 2, pp. 322, 323) only cursorily refers to the great road
which passed through Nazareth.
We may take it, that the people of Nazareth were like those of
other little towns similarly circumstanced:8
with all the peculiarities of the impulsive, straight-spoken, hot-blooded,
brave, intensely national Galileans;9
with the deeper feelings and almost instinctive habits of thought and life,
which were the outcome of long centuries of Old Testament training; but also
with the petty interest and jealousies of such places, and with all the
ceremonialism and punctilious self-assertion of Orientals. The cast of Judaism
prevalent in Nazareth would, of course, be the same as in Galilee generally. We
know, that there were marked divergences from the observances in that stronghold
of Rabbinism,10 Judæa -
indicating greater simplicity and freedom from the constant intrusion of
traditional ordinances. The home-life would be all the purer, that the veil of
wedded life was not so coarsely lifted as in Judæa, nor its sacred secrecy interfered
with by an Argus-eyed legislation.11
The purity of betrothal in Galilee was less likely to be sullied,12
and weddings were more simple than in Judæa - without the dubious institution
or 'friends of the bridegroom'15
whose office must not unfrequently have degenerated into utter coarseness. The
bride was chosen, not as in Judæa, where money was too often the motive, but as
in Jerusalem, with chief regard to 'a fair degree;' and widows were (as in
Jerusalem) more tenderly cared for, as we gather even from the fact, that they
had a life-right of residence in their husband's house.
inference, that the expression of Nathanael (St. John i. 46) implies a lower
state of the people of Nazareth, is unfounded. Even Keim points out,
that it only marks disbelief that the Messiah would come from such a place.
9. Our description of them is derived from notices by Josephus (such as War iii. 3, 2), and many passages in the Talmud.
10. These differences are marked in Pes. iv. 5; Keth. iv. 12; Ned. ii. 4; Chull. 62 a;
Baba K. 80 a; Keth. 12 a.
11. The reader who wishes to understand what we have only ventured to hint, is referred to the Mishnic tractate Niddah.
12. Keth. 12 a.
13. Keth. 12 a, and often.
'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' &c., pp. 152 &c.
15. St. John iii. 29
Such a home was that to which Joseph was about to bring the
maiden, to whom he had been betrothed. Whatever view may be taken of the
genealogies in the Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke - whether they
be regarded as those of Joseph and of Mary,16
or, which seems the more likely,17
as those of Joseph only, marking his natural and his legal descent18
from David, or vice versâ19
- there can be no question, that both Joseph and Mary were of the royal lineage
of David.20 Most
probably the two were nearly related,21
while Mary could also claim kinship with the Priesthood, being, no doubt on her
mother's side, a 'blood-relative' of Elisabeth, the Priest-wife of Zacharias.2223
Even this seems to imply, that Mary's family must shortly before have held
higher rank, for only with such did custom sanction any alliance on the part of
Priests.24 But at the
time of their betrothal, alike Joseph and Mary were extremely poor, as appears
- not indeed from his being a carpenter, since a trade was regarded as almost a
religious duty - but from the offering at the presentation of Jesus in the
Accordingly, their betrothal must have been of the simplest, and the dowry
settled the smallest possible.26
Whichever of the two modes of betrothal27
may have been adopted: in the presence of witnesses - either by solemn word of
mouth, in due prescribed formality, with the added pledge of a piece of money,
however small, or of money's worth for use; or else by writing (the so-called Shitre
Erusin) - there would be no sumptuous feast to follow; and the ceremony
would conclude with some such benediction as that afterwards in use: 'Blessed
art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the World, Who hath sanctified us by His
Commandments, and enjoined us about incest, and forbidden the betrothed, but
allowed us those wedded by Chuppah (the marriage-baldachino) and
betrothal. Blessed art Thou, Who sanctifiest Israel by Chuppah and betrothal' -
the whole being perhaps concluded by a benediction over the statutory cup of
wine, which was tasted in turn by the betrothed. From that moment Mary was the
betrothed wife of Joseph; their relationship as sacred, as if they had already
been wedded. Any breach of it would be treated as adultery; nor could the band
be dissolved except, as after marriage, by regular divorce. Yet months might
intervene between the betrothal and marriage.28
16. The best defence of this view is that by Wieseler, Beitr. zur Wurdig. d.
Evang. pp. 133 &c. It is also virtually adopted by Weiss (Leben
Jesu, vol. i. 1882).
17. This view is adopted almost unanimously by modern writers.
18. This view is defended with much skill by Mr. McClellan in his New Testament, vol. i. pp. 409-422.
19. So Grotius, Bishop Lord Arthur Hervey, and after him most modern English writers.
20. The Davidic descent of the Virgin-Mother - which is questioned by some even among
orthodox interpreters - seems implied in the Gospel (St. Luke i. 27, 32, 69;
ii. 4), and an almost necessary inference from such passages as Rom. i.
3; 2 Tim. ii. 8; Hebr. vii. 14. The Davidic descent of Jesus is not only
admitted, but elaborately proved - on purely rationalistic grounds - by Keim
(u. s. pp. 327-329).
21. This is the general view of antiquity.
22. St. Luke i. 36.
23. Reference to this union of Levi and Judah in the Messiah is made in the Test.
xii. Patriarch., Test. Simeonis vii. (apud Fabr. Cod. Pseudepigr. vol.
ii. p. 542). Curiously, the great Hillel was also said by some to have
descended, through his father and mother, from the tribes of Judah and Levi -
all, however, asserting his Davidic origin (comp. Jer. Taan. iv. 2; Ber. R. 98 and 33).
Maimonides, Yad haChaz Hil. Sanh. ii. The inference would, of course, be
the same, whether we suppose Mary's mother to have been the sister-in-law, or
the sister, of Elisabeth's father.
25. St. Luke ii. 24.
'Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ,' pp. 143-149. Also the
article on 'Marriage' in Cassell's Bible-Educator, vol. iv. pp. 267-270.
27. There was a third mode, by cohabitation; but this was highly disapproved of even by the Rabbis.
28. The assertion of Professor Wünsche (Neue Beitr. zur Erläuter. d. Evang. p.
7) that the practice of betrothal was confined exclusively, or almost so, to Judæa, is quite ungrounded. The passages to which he refers (Kethub. i. 5 - not 3 - and especially Keth. 12 a) are irrelevant. Keth. 12 a marks the simpler and purer customs of Galilee, but does not refer to betrothals.
Five months of Elisabeth's sacred retirement had passed, when a
strange messenger brought its first tidings to her kinswoman in far-off
Galilee. It was not in the solemn grandeur of the Temple, between the golden
altar of incense and the seven-branched candlesticks that the Angel Gabriel now
appeared, but in the privacy of a humble home at Nazareth. The greatest honor
bestowed on man was to come amidst circumstances of deepest human lowliness, as
if the more clearly to mark the exclusively Divine character of what was to
happen. And, although the awe of the Supernatural must unconsciously have
fallen upon her, it was not so much the sudden appearance of the mysterious
stranger in her retirement that startled the maiden, as the words of his
greeting, implying unthought blessing. The 'Peace to thee'29
was, indeed, the well-known salutation, while the words, 'The Lord is with
thee' might waken the remembrance of the Angelic call, to great deliverance in
the past.30 But this
designation of 'highly favored'31
came upon her with bewildering surprise, perhaps not so much from its contrast
to the humbleness of her estate, as from the self-conscious humility of her
heart. And it was intended so, for of all feelings this would now most become
her. Accordingly, it is this story of special 'favour' or grace, which the
Angel traces in rapid outline, from the conception of the Virgin-Mother to the
distinctive, Divinely-given Name, symbolic of the meaning of His coming; His
absolute greatness; His acknowledgment as the Son of God; and the fulfillment
in Him of the great Davidic hope, with its never-ceasing royalty,32
and its never-ending, boundless Kingdom.33
29. I have rendered the Greek caire by
the Hebrew Mwl# and for the correctness of it refer the reader to Grimm's remarks on 1 Macc. x. 18 (Exeget. Handb. zu d. Apokryph. 3tte Lief. p. 149).
30. Judg. vi. 12.
aptly remarks, 'Non ut mater gratiae, sed ut filia gratiae.' Even Jeremy
Taylor's remarks (Life of Christ, ed. Pickering, vol. i. p. 56) would here
require modification. Following the best critical authorities, I have omitted
the words, 'Blessed art thou among women.'
32. We here refer, as an interesting corroboration, to the Targum on Ps. xlv. 7 (6 in
our A. V.). But this interest is intensely increased when we read it, not as in
our editions of the Targum, but as found in a MS. copy of the year 1208 (given
by Levy in his Targum. Wörterb. vol. i. p. 390 a). Translating it from
that reading, the Targum thus renders Ps. xlv. 7, 'Thy throne, O God, in the
heaven' (Levy renders, 'Thy throne from God in heaven,' but in either case it
refers to the throne of the Messiah) 'is for ever and ever' (for 'world without
end,' Nyml( yml( 'a rule of righteousness is the rule of Thy kingdom, O Thou King
Pirqé de R. El. c. 11, the same boundless dominion is ascribed to Messiah the
King. In that curious passage dominion is ascribed to 'ten kings,' the first
being God, the ninth the Messiah, and the tenth again God, to Whom the kingdom
would be delivered in the end, according to Is. xliv. 6; Zechar. xiv. 9; Ezek.
xxxiv. 24, with the result described in Is. lii. 9.
In all this, however marvellous, there could be nothing strange
to those who cherished in their hearts Israel's great hope, not merely as an
article of abstract belief, but as matter of certain fact - least of all to the
maiden of the lineage of David, betrothed to him of the house and lineage of
David. So long as the hand of prophetic blessing rested on the house of David,
and before its finger had pointed to the individual who 'found favor' in the
highest sense, the consciousness of possibilities, which scarce dared shape
themselves into definite thoughts, must at times have stirred nameless feelings
- perhaps the more often in circumstances of outward depression and humility,
such as those of the 'Holy Family.' Nor was there anything strange even in the
naming of the yet unconceived Child. It sounds like a saying current among the
people of old, this of the Rabbis,34
concerning the six whose names were given before their birth: Isaac, Ishmael,
Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and 'the Name of the Messiah, Whom may the Holy One,
blessed be His Name, bring quickly in our days!'35
But as for the deeper meaning of the name Jesus,36
which, like an unopened bud, enclosed the flower of His Passion, that was
mercifully yet the unthought-of secret of that sword, which should pierce the
soul of the Virgin-Mother, and which only His future history would lay open to
her and to others.
34. Pirqé de R. El. 32, at the beginning.
35. Professor Wünsche's quotation is here not exact (u. s. p. 414).
36. St. Matt. i. 21.
Thus, on the supposition of the readiness of her believing
heart, and her entire self-unconsciousness, it would have been only the
glorious announcement of the impending event, which would absorb her thinking -
with nothing strange about it, or that needed further light, than the how
of her own connection with it.37
And the words, which she spake, were not of trembling doubt, that required to
lean on the staff of a 'sign,' but rather those of enquiry, for the further
guidance of a willing self-surrender. The Angel had pointed her opened eyes to
the shining path: that was not strange; only, that She should walk in
it, seemed so. And now the Angel still further unfolded it in words which,
however little she may have understood their full meaning, had again nothing
strange about them, save once more that she should be thus 'favoured;' words
which, even to her understanding, must have carried yet further thoughts of
Divine favour, and so deepened her humility. For, the idea of the
activity of the Holy Ghost in all great events was quite familiar to Israel at
the time,38 even
though the Individuation of the Holy Ghost may not have been fully apprehended.
Only, that they expected such influences to rest exclusively upon those who
were either mighty, or rich, or wise.39
And of this twofold manifestation of miraculous 'favour' - that she, and as a
Virgin, should be its subject - Gabriel, 'the might of God,' gave this unasked
sign, in what had happened to her kinswoman Elisabeth.
(Leben Jesu, 1882, vol. i. p. 213) rightly calls attention to the humility of
her self-surrender, when she willingly submitted to what her heart would feel
hardest to bear - that of incurring suspicion of her purity in the sight of
all, but especially in that of her betrothed. The whole account, as we gather from St. Luke ii. 19, 51,
must have been derived from the personal recollections of the Virgin-Mother.
38. So in almost innumerable Rabbinic passages.
39. Nedar. 38 a.
The sign was at the same time a direction. The first, but also
the ever-deepening desire in the heart of Mary, when the Angel left her, must
have been to be away from Nazareth, and for the relief of opening her heart to
a woman, in all things like-minded, who perhaps might speak blessed words to
her. And to such an one the Angel himself seemed to have directed her. It is
only what we would have expected, that 'with haste' she should have resorted to
her kinswoman, without loss of time, and before she would speak to her
betrothed of what even in wedded life is the first secret whispered.40
is answer to the objection, so pertinaciously urged, of inconsistency with the
narrative in St. Matt. i. 19 &c. It is clear, that Mary went 'with haste'
to her kinswoman, and that any communication to Joseph could only have taken
place after that, and after the Angelic prediction was in all its parts
confirmed by her visit to Elisabeth. Jeremy Taylor (u. s. p. 64) has
already arranged the narrative as in the text.
It could have been no ordinary welcome that would greet the
Virgin-Mother, on entering the house of her kinswoman. Elisabeth must have
learnt from her husband the destiny of their son, and hence the near Advent of
the Messiah. But she could not have known either when, or of whom
He would be born. When, by a sign not quite strange to Jewish expectancy,41
she recognised in her near kinswoman the Mother of her Lord, her salutation was
that of a mother to a mother - the mother of the 'preparer' to the mother of
Him for Whom he would prepare. To be more precise: the words which, filled with
the Holy Ghost, she spake, were the mother's utterance, to the mother, of the
homage which her unborn babe offered to his Lord; while the answering hymn of
Mary was the offering of that homage unto God. It was the antiphonal
morning-psalmody of the Messianic day as it broke, of which the words were
still all of the old dispensation,42
but their music of the new; the keynote being that of 'favour,' 'grace,' struck
by the Angel in his first salutation: 'favour' to the Virgin;43
'favour,' eternal 'favour' to all His humble and poor ones;44
and 'favour' to Israel, stretching in golden line from the calling of Abraham
to the glorious future that now opened.45
Not one of these fundamental ideas but lay strictly within the range of the Old
Testament; and yet all of them now lay beyond it, bathed in the golden light of
the new day. Miraculous it all is, and professes to be; not indeed in the
connection of these events, which succeed each other with psychological
truthfulness; nor yet in their language, which is of the times and the
circumstances; but in the underlying facts.46
And for these there can be no other evidence than the Life, the Death, and the
Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. If He was such, and if He really rose from
the dead, then, with all soberness and solemnity, such inception of His
appearance seems almost a logical necessity. But of this whole narrative it may
be said, that such inception of the Messianic appearance, such announcement of
it, and such manner of His Coming, could never have been invented by
contemporary Judaism; indeed, ran directly counter to all its preconceptions.47
41. According to Jewish tradition, the yet unborn infants in their mother's wombs
responded by an Amen to the hymn of praise at the Red Sea. This is supposed to
be indicated by the words rwqmm l)r#y (Ps. lxviii. 27; see also the Targum on that
verse). Comp. Keth. 7 b and Sotah 30 b (last line) and 31 a,
though the coarse legendary explanation of R. Tanchuma mars the poetic beauty
of the whole.
poetic grandeur and the Old Testament cast of the Virgin's hymn (comp. the Song
of Hannah, 1 Sam. ii. 1-10), need scarcely be pointed out. Perhaps it would
read fullest and best by trying to recall what must have been its Hebrew
43. 1st stanza vv. 46-49.
44. 2nd stanza, vv. 50-53.
45. 3rd stanza, vv. 54-55.
46. Weiss, while denying the historical accuracy of much in the Gospel-narrative of it, unhesitatingly accepts the fact of the supernatural birth of Jesus.
elaborately discusses the origin of what he calls the legend of Christ's
supernatural conception. He arrives at the conclusion that it was a Jewish-Christian
legend - as if a Jewish invention of such a 'legend' were not the most
unlikely of all possible hypotheses! But negative criticism is at least bound
to furnish some historical basis for the origination of such an unlikely
legend. Whence was the idea of it first derived? How did it find such ready
acceptance in the Church? Weiss has, at considerable length, and very fully,
shown the impossibility of its origin either in Jewish or heathen legend.
Three months had passed since the Virgin-Mother entered the
home of her kinswoman. And now she must return to Nazareth. Soon Elisabeth's
neighbours and kinsfolk would gather with sympathetic joy around a home which,
as they thought, had experienced unexpected mercy - little thinking, how
wide-reaching its consequences would be. But the Virgin-Mother must not be
exposed to the publicity of such meetings. However conscious of what had led to
her condition, it must have been as the first sharp pang of the sword which was
to pierce her soul, when she told it all to her betrothed. For, however deep
his trust in her whom he had chosen for wife, only a direct Divine communication
could have chased all questioning from his heart, and given him that assurance,
which was needful in the future history of the Messiah. Brief as, with
exquisite delicacy, the narrative is, we can read in the 'thoughts' of Joseph
the anxious contending of feelings, the scarcely established, and yet delayed,
resolve to 'put her away,' which could only be done by regular divorce; this
one determination only standing out clearly, that, if it must be, her letter of
divorce shall be handed to her privately, only in the presence of two
witnesses. The humble Tsaddiq of Nazareth would not willingly have
brought the blush to any face, least of all would he make of her 'a public
exhibition of shame.'48
It was a relief that he could legally divorce her either publicly or privately,
whether from change of feeling, or because he had found just cause for it, but
hesitated to make it known, either from regard for his own character, or
because he had not sufficient legal evidence49
of the charge. He would follow, all unconscious of it, the truer manly feeling
of R. Eliezar,50
R. Jochanan, and R. Zera,51
according to which a man would not like to put his wife to shame before a Court
of Justice, rather than the opposite sentence of R. Meir.
have thus paraphrased the verb paradeigmatizw
rendered in Heb. vi. 6 'put to an open shame.' Comp. also LXX. Num. xxv. 4;
Jer. xiii. 22; Ezek. xxviii. 17 (see Grimm, Clavis N.T. p. 333 b)
Archdeacon Farrar adopts the reading deigmatisai.
example, if he had not sufficient witnesses, or if their testimony could be
invalidated by any of those provisions in favour of the accused, of which
traditionalism had not a few. Thus, as indicated in the text, Joseph might have
privately divorced Mary leaving it open to doubt on what ground he had so
50. Keth. 74 b 75 a.
51. Keth. 97 b.
The assurance, which Joseph could scarcely dare to hope for,
was miraculously conveyed to him in a dream-vision. All would now be clear;
even the terms in which he was addressed ('thou son of David'), so utterly
unusual in ordinary circumstances, would prepare him for the Angel's message.
The naming of the unborn Messiah would accord with popular notions;52
the symbolism of such a name was deeply rooted in Jewish belief;53
while the explanation of Jehoshua or Jeshua (Jesus), as He
who would save His people (primarily, as he would understand it, Israel) from
their sins, described at least one generally expected aspect of His Mission,54
although Joseph may not have known that it was the basis of all the rest. And
perhaps it was not without deeper meaning and insight into His character, that
the Angel laid stress on this very element in His communication to Joseph, and
not to Mary.
52. See a former note.
we read in (Shocher Tobh) the Midrash on Prov. xix. 21 (closing part;
ed. Lemberg. p. 16 b) of eight names given to the Messiah, viz. Yinnon
(Ps. xxii. 17, 'His name shall sprout [bear sprouts] before the Sun;' comp.
also Pirqé de R. El. c. 2); Jehovah; Our Righteousness; Tsemach (the
Branch, Zech. iii. 8); Menachem (the Comforter, Is. li. 3); David
(Ps. xviii. 50); Shiloh (Gen. xlix. 10); Elijah (Mal. iv. 5). The
Messiah is also called Anani (He that cometh in the clouds, Dan. vii.
13; see Tanch. Par. Toledoth 14); Chaninah, with reference to Jer. xvi.
13; the Leprous, with reference to Is. liii. 4 (Sanh. 96 b). It
is a curious instance of the Jewish mode of explaining a meaning by gimatreya,
or numerical calculation, that they prove Tsemach (Branch) and Menachem
(Comforter) to be the same, because the numerical equivalents of the one word
are equal to those of the other: m = 40, n = 50, x = 8,
m = 40, = 138; c = 90, m = 40, x = 8, =138.
Wünsche (Erlauter. d. Evang. p. 10) proposes to strike out the words
'from their sins' as an un-Jewish interpolation. In answer, it would suffice to
point him to the passages on this very subject which he has collated in a
previous work: Die Leiden des Messias, pp. 63-108. To these I will only add a
comment in the Midrash on Cant. i. 14 (ed. Warshau, p. 11 a and b),
where the reference is undoubtedly to the Messiah (in the words of R.
Berakhyah, line 8 from bottom; and again in the words of R. Levi, 11 b,
line 5 from top, &c.). The expression rpkh is there explained as
meaning 'He Who makes expiation for the sins of Israel,' and it is distinctly
added that this expiation bears reference to the transgressions and evil deeds
of the children of Abraham, for which God provides this Man as the Atonement.
The fact that such an announcement came to Him in a dream,
would dispose Joseph all the more readily to receive it. 'A good dream' was one
of the three things55
popularly regarded as marks of God's favour; and so general was the belief in
their significance, as to have passed into this popular saying: 'If any one
sleeps seven days without dreaming (or rather, remembering his dream for
interpretation), call him wicked' (as being unremembered of God5657).
Thus Divinely set at rest, Joseph could no longer hesitate. The highest duty
towards the Virgin-Mother and the unborn Jesus demanded an immediate marriage,
which would afford not only outward, but moral protection to both.58
55. 'A good king, a fruitful year, and a good dream.'
56. Ber. 55 b.
Zera proves this by a reference to Prov. xix. 23, the reading Sabhea
(satisfied) being altered into Shebha - both written (k# - while
Nyly is understood as of spending the night. Ber. 55 a to 57 b
contains a long, and sometimes very coarse, discussion of dreams, giving their
various interpretations, rules for avoiding the consequences of evil dreams,
&c. The fundamental principle is, that 'a dream is according to its
interpretation' (Ber. 55 b). Such views about dreams would, no doubt,
have long been matter of popular belief, before being formally expressed in the
objection, that the account of Joseph and Mary's immediate marriage is
inconsistent with the designation of Mary in St. Luke ii. 5, is sufficiently
refuted by the consideration that, in any other case, Jewish custom would not
have allowed Mary to travel to Bethlehem in company with Joseph. The expression
used in St. Luke ii. 5, must be read in connection with St. Matt. i. 25.
Viewing events, not as isolated, but as links welded in the
golden chain of the history of the Kingdom of God, 'all this' - not only the
birth of Jesus from a Virgin, nor even His symbolic Name with its import, but
also the unrestful questioning of Joseph, - 'happened'59
in fulfilment60 of what
had been prefigured.61
The promise of a Virginborn son as a sign of the firmness of God's covenant of
old with David and his house; the now unfolded meaning of the former symbolic
name Immanuel; even the unbelief of Ahaz, with its counterpart in the
questioning of Joseph - 'all this' could now be clearly read in the light of
the breaking day. Never had the house of David sunk morally lower than when, in
the words of Ahaz, it seemed to renounce the very foundation of its claim to
continuance; never had the fortunes of the house of David fallen lower, than
when a Herod sat on its throne, and its lineal representative was a humble
village carpenter, from whose heart doubts of the Virgin-Mother had to be
Divinely chased. And never, not even when God gave to the doubts of Moses this
as the sign of Israel's future deliverance, that in that mountain they should
worship62 - had
unbelief been answered by more strange evidence. But as, nevertheless, the
stability of the Davidic house was ensured by the future advent of Immanuel
- and with such certainty, that before even such a child could discern between
choice of good and evil, the land would be freed of its dangers; so now all
that was then prefigured was to become literally true, and Israel to be saved
from its real danger by the Advent of Jesus, Immanuel.63
And so it had all been intended. The golden cup of prophecy which Isaiah had
placed empty on the Holy Table, waiting for the time of the end, was now full
filled, up to its brim, with the new wine of the Kingdom.
(Alttestam. Citate in d. vier Evang. pp. 207-215) rightly lays stress on the
words, 'all this was done.' He even extends its reference to the
threefold arrangement of the genealogy by St. Matthew, as implying the
ascending splendour of the line of David, its midday glory, and its decline.
correct Hebrew equivalent of the expression 'that it might be fulfilled' ina plhrwqh is not, as Surenhusius
(Biblos Katallages, p. 151) and other writers have it, rm)n# hm Myyql, still loss
(Wünsche) bytkr )wh )rh, but, as Professor Delitzsch renders it, in his new
translation of St. Matthew, yyrbd r#) t) tw)lml. The difference is important, and Delitzsch's
translation completely established by the similar rendering of the LXX. of 1 Kings ii. 27 and 2 Chron. xxxvi. 22.
61. Is. vii. 14.
62. Ex. iii. 12.
critical discussion of Is. vii. 14 would here be out of place; though I have
attempted to express my views in the text. (The nearest approach to them is
that by Engelhardt in the Zeitschr. für Luth. Theol. fur 1872, Heft
iv.). The quotation of St. Matthew follows, with scarcely any variation, the
rendering of the LXX. That they should have translated the Hebrew
hml( by parqenoV, 'a
Virgin,' is surely sufficient evidence of the admissibility of such a
rendering. The idea that the promised Son was to be either that of Ahaz, or
else of the prophet, cannot stand the test of critical investigation (see Haupt,
u.s., and Böhl, Alttest. Citate im N.T. pp. 3-6). Our difficulties of
interpretation are, in great part, due to the abruptness of Isaiah's prophetic
language, and to our ignorance of surrounding circumstances. Steinmeyer
ingeniously argues against the mythical theory that, since Is. vii. 14 was not
interpreted by the ancient Synagogue in a Messianic sense, that passage could
not have led to the origination of 'the legend' about the 'Virgin's Son'
(Gesch. d. Geb. d. Herrn, p. 95). We add this further question, Whence
did it originate?
Meanwhile the long-looked-for event had taken place in the home
of Zacharias. No domestic solemnity so important or so joyous as that in which,
by circumcision, the child had, as it were, laid upon it the yoke of the Law,
with all of duty and privilege which this implied. Even the circumstance, that
it took place at early morning64
might indicate this. It was, so tradition has it, as if the father had acted
sacrificially as High-Priest,65
offering his child to God in gratitude and love;66
and it symbolised this deeper moral truth, that man must by his own act
complete what God had first instituted.67
To Zacharias and Elisabeth the rite would have even more than this
significance, as administered to the child of their old age, so miraculously
given, and who was connected with such a future. Besides, the legend which
associates circumcision with Elijah, as the restorer of this rite in the
apostate period of the Kings of Israel,68
was probably in circulation at the time.69
We can scarcely be mistaken in supposing, that then, as now, a benediction was
spoken before circumcision, and that the ceremony closed with the usual grace
over the cup of wine,70
when the child received his name in a prayer that probably did not much differ
from this at present in use: 'Our God, and the God of our fathers, raise up
this child to his father and mother, and let his name be called in Israel
Zacharias, the son of Zacharias.71
Let his father rejoice in the issue of his loins, and his mother in the fruit
of her womb, as it is written in Prov. xxiii. 25, and as it is said in Ezek.
xvi. 6, and again in Ps. cv. 8, and Gen. xxi. 4;' the passages being, of
course, quoted in full. The prayer closed with the hope that the child might
grow up, and successfully, 'attain to the Torah, the marriagebaldachino, and
64. Pes. 4 a.
65. Yalkut Sh. i. par. 81.
66. Tanch. P. Tetsavveh, at the beginning, ed. Warshau, p. 111 a.
67. Tanch. u. s.
68. Pirqé de R. Elies. c. 29.
the designation of 'chair' or 'throne of Elijah,' for the chair on which the godparent
holding the child sits, and certainly the invocation of Elijah, are of later
date. Indeed, the institution of godparents is itself of later origin.
Curiously enough, the Council of Terracina, in 1330 had to interdict Christians
acting as godparents at circumcision! Even the great Buxtorf acted as godparent
in 1619 to a Jewish child, and was condemned to a fine of 100 florins for his
offence. See Löw, Lebensalter, p. 86.
70. According to Josephus (Ag. Ap. ii. 26) circumcision was not followed by
a feast. But, if this be true, the practice was soon altered, and the feast
took place on the eve of circumcision (Jer. Keth. i. 5; B. Kama 80 a; B.
Bath. 60 b, &c.). Later Midrashim traced it up to the history of
Abraham and the feast at the weaning of Isaac, which they represented as one at
circumcision (Pirqé d. R. Eliez. 29).
reiterates the groundless objection of Rabbi Low (u. s. p.96), that a
family-name was only given in remembrance of the grandfather, deceased
father, or other member of the family! Strange, that such a statement should
ever have been hazarded; stranger still, that it should be repeated after
having been fully refuted by Delitzsch. It certainly is contrary to Josephus
(War iv. 3, 9), and to the circumstance that both the father and brother of
Josephus bore the name of Mattias. See also Zunz (Z. Gesch. u. Liter. p.
72. The reader will find B. H. Auerbach's Berith Abraham (with a Hebrew
introduction) an interesting tractate on the subject. For another and younger
version of these prayers, see Löw, u. s. p. 102.
Of all this Zacharias was, though a deeply interested, yet a
deaf and dumb73 witness.
This only had he noticed, that, in the benediction in which the child's name
was inserted, the mother had interrupted the prayer. Without explaining her
reason, she insisted that his name should not be that of his aged father, as in
the peculiar circumstances might have been expected, but John (Jochanan).
A reference to the father only deepened the general astonishment, when he also
gave the same name. But this was not the sole cause for marvel. For, forthwith
the tongue of the dumb was loosed, and he, who could not utter the name of the
child, now burst into praise of the name of the Lord. His last words had been
those of unbelief, his first were those of praise; his last words had been a
question of doubt, his first were a hymn of assurance. Strictly Hebrew in its
cast, and closely following Old Testament prophecy, it is remarkable - and yet
almost natural - that this hymn of the Priest closely follows, and, if the
expression be allowable, spiritualises a great part of the most ancient Jewish
prayer: the so-called Eighteen Benedictions; rather perhaps, that it transforms
the expectancy of that prayer into praise of its realisation. And if we bear in
mind, that a great portion of these prayers was said by the Priests before the
lot was cast for incensing, or by the people in the time of incensing, it almost
seems as if, during the long period of his enforced solitude, the aged Priest
had meditated on, and learned to understand, what so often he had repeated.
Opening with the common form of benediction, his hymn struck, one by one, the
deepest chords of that prayer, specially this the most significant of all (the
fifteenth Eulogy), 'Speedily make to shoot forth the Branch74
of David, Thy servant, and exalt Thou his horn by Thy salvation, for in Thy
salvation we trust all the day long. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah! Who causeth to
spring forth the Horn of Salvation' (literally, to branch forth). This analogy
between the hymn of Zacharias and the prayers of Israel will best appear from
the benedictions with which these eulogies closed. For, when thus examined,
their leading thoughts will be found to be as follows: God as the Shield of
Abraham; He that raises the dead, and causes salvation to shoot forth;
the Holy One; Who graciously giveth knowledge; Who taketh pleasure in repentance;
Who multiplieth forgiveness; Who redeemeth Israel; Who healeth
their (spiritual) diseases; Who blesseth the years; Who gathereth
the outcasts of His people; Who loveth righteousness and judgment;
Who is the abode and stay of the righteous; Who buildeth Jerusalem;
Who causeth the Horn of Salvation to shoot forth; Who heareth prayer;
Who bringeth back His Shekhinah to Zion; God the Gracious One, to
Whom praise is due; Who blesseth His people Israel with peace.75
St. Luke i. 62 we gather, that Zacharias was what the Rabbis understood by
#rd - one deaf as well as dumb. Accordingly they communicated with him by Myzmr 'signs' - as Delitzsch correctly renders it: wybi)af l)e w@zm:r:y@iwa.
almost all modern authorities are against me, I cannot persuade myself that the
expression (St. Luke i. 78) rendered 'dayspring' in our A. V. is here not the
equivalent of the Hebrew xm( 'Branch.' The LXX. at any rate rendered
xm( in Jer. xxiii. 5; Ezek. xvi. 7; xvii. 10; Zech. iii. 8; vi. 12, by anatolh.
italics mark the points of correspondence with the hymn of Zacharias. Comp. The
best edition of the Jewish Prayer Book (Frankfort, 5601), pp. 21-28. The Eighteen Eulogies are given in full
in the 'History of the Jewish Nation,' pp. 363-367.
It was all most fitting. The question of unbelief had struck
the Priest dumb, for most truly unbelief cannot speak; and the answer of faith
restored to him speech, for most truly does faith loosen the tongue. The first
evidence of his dumbness had been, that his tongue refused to speak the
benediction to the people; and the first evidence of his restored power was,
that he spoke the benediction of God in a rapturous burst of praise and
thanksgiving. The sign of the unbelieving Priest standing before the awe-struck
people, vainly essaying to make himself understood by signs, was most fitting;
most fitting also that, when 'they made signs' to him, the believing father
should burst in their hearing into a prophetic hymn.
But far and wide, as these marvellous tidings spread throughout
the hill-country of Judæa, fear fell on all - the fear also of a nameless hope.
The silence of a long-clouded day had been broken, and the light which had
suddenly riven its gloom, laid itself on their hearts in expectancy: 'What then
shall this Child be? For the Hand of the Lord also was with Him!'76
76. The insertion of gar seems
critically established, and gives the fuller meaning.
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