The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World

The Birth of Jesus pt 4: Moses and the Messiah

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The Virgin Madonna and New Moses Christ child

This week is the first week of Epiphany.  January 6th is the day the Christian world celebrates the magi visiting Jesus.  I remember hearing the stories as a child.  An evil king hears how he may soon be dethroned by a new born child.  So he slaughters all the infants to save his own skin.  But the child escapes and is ushered far away until the wicked king dies.  This is what I understood as a child.  However, I happen to think that the first readers of this story would have heard something different.  What most do not know is that the birth traditions of Moses, Israel’s first redeemer, are sitting right underneath this tale.  Allow me to expound first on the presence of Mosaic influence and typology in Matthew 2.

According to Allison, there are six literary devices commonly used within typology:  explicit statements, inexplicit borrowing, reminiscent circumstances, key words or paraphrase, structural imitation, and resonant syllabic and/or word patterns.[1]  Only a few of these devices will be highlighted here, though Allison has previously argued for all but the last (resonant syllabic and/or word patterns).[2]

                Explicit statements are usually unmistakable.  Matthew’s fulfillment quotation from the MT Hos 11:1, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son,” falls directly into this category.  The author’s intention by using this quotation is to draw the readers into the Exodus story (if he had not successfully done so already).  Matthew also seemingly used key words and phrases that correspond with the LXX.  Ex 2:15:  “He (Pharaoh) sought to kill Moses” (ἐζήτει ἀνελεῖν Μωυσῆν) corresponds with Matt 2:13, “to seek… to destroy him (Jesus)” (ζητεῖν… ἀπολέσαι αὐτό).  Ex 4:20, “Moses took his wife and his sons” (ἀναλαβὼν δὲ Μωυσῆς τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ παιδία), mirrors Matt 2:13, “He took the child and his mother” (παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ).[3]  The declaration from YHWH to Moses in Ex 4:19, “for all those who sought your life have died” (τεθνήκασιν γὰρ πάντες οἱ ζητοῦντές σου τὴν ψυχήν) and the angel’s announcement to Joseph in Matt 2:20, “for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead” (τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου), according to Hagner, forms a “nearly verbatim agreement.”[4]

                It is the reminiscent circumstances between Moses and the holy family that are the most remarkable.  As we will see, Astrology, Magi, a king who feared an opposing deliverer, and the movement of the deliverer’s family to avoid the king’s wrath played out in both Matthew’s second chapter and the Moses traditions.

Moses tradition compared to the Jesus birth tradition

This chart[5] gives a strong indication that Matthew had awareness of the Moses traditions of his day.  For those aware of the Moses traditions, which elaborated on the book of Exodus, the reminiscent circumstances found around the tale of Jesus’ flight to Egypt are explicit.   However, if these elements fail to lure the reader into the Exodus story, maybe the “Joseph in Egypt” (τῷ Ἰωσὴφ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ), who was preoccupied by dreams and kings, will draw the reader’s attention to Israel’s patriarch Joseph (who first brought Jacob into Egypt).  The evidence points to the validation that Matthew leaned heavily upon the Exodus traditions of his day and employed them in the infancy stories of Jesus.[6]

Matthew’s odd tale of Jesus, Herod, the magi, plot to kill Jesus, and the flight to Egypt all make sense in light of the extra-biblical Moses traditions.  The first readers, upon hearing this story, would have heard with absolute clarity: Jesus is the new Moses, coming to deliver His people.  This being the case, the genealogy, the naming of Jesus, the Emmanuel prophecy, and the flight to Egypt all function to explain how Jesus the Messiah has come for deliverance.


[1] Allison, Moses Typology, pg. 140

[2] Ibid, pg. 140-65

[3] Matthew’s reference of Jesus and Mary as παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ (the child and his mother) connects the reader with the birth annunciation scene (1:18-25) and the virginity of Mary.

[4] Hagner, Matthew 1-13, pg. 34

[5] The chart is derived from: Allison, Moses Typology, Pg. 145-146

[6] Hagner affirms Matthew’s use of Moses traditions, while saying it in no way makes the events of Matt 2 non-historical.  Hagner, Matthew 1-13, pg. 25

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Author: Gary Wallin

My name is Gary Wallin and I am studying Ancient History in pursuit of one day teaching Biblical Theology at the Seminary Level. I currently live in Kansas City, MO with my self and my roommates.

3 thoughts on “The Birth of Jesus pt 4: Moses and the Messiah

  1. Do you think the b.Talmudic traditions can stem back to the 1st century? Why?

  2. I sort of think using the Talmud is playing with fire. Sooner or later someone is going to get burned. I try to exercise restraint when reading or employing the Talmud. With that said, I have used it here (though sparingly) to show the diversity of beliefs concerning the birth of Moses. We have 1st century texts regarding the birth of Moses that have strayed from the narrow path set before us in the Hebrew bible. Josephus and Philo expound tremendously on Moses. But take for instance the Targum Pseudo Jonathan that I used. Both the Targum and Josephus give similar stories as to why Pharaoh slaughtered the Hebrew children, namely, to attempt to kill the promised deliverer. Though the Targum holds a medieval dating, it is safe to say that, at the very least, some of it goes all the way back to the first century. And though you may say I went out on a limb on #4 under the Moses traditions, I think the number of times it is repeated creates a precedent for believing it was an established tradition.

  3. Pingback: Plans | Quality of Life MinistriesQuality of Life Ministries

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