/ Bible / Jesus, Moses and Daniel: Matthew’s Parabolic Demonstration of Jesus as Fulfillment of The Law and the Prophets

Jesus, Moses and Daniel: Matthew’s Parabolic Demonstration of Jesus as Fulfillment of The Law and the Prophets

Craig Smith on December 10, 2014 - 6:15 pm in Bible, Christmas, Craig Smith, Daniel, Matthew


Matthew’s use of the Old Testament has provided rich fodder for scholarly discussion over the past centuries.  In recent years, this discussion has often focused on those passages of Matthew which identify events, deeds or words from the life of Jesus which are explicitly said to “fulfill” OT prophecies, but Matthew’s interest in the OT goes considerably deeper than this.  This same interest which is so readily discernable on a surface level in Matthew also operates at deeper structural and thematic levels.  In a variety of ways, Matthew appears to advance the view that Jesus ought to be understood as the “fulfillment” of Messianic expectations rooted in the Jewish Scriptures.  The widely acknowledged and much-discussed comparison of Jesus to Moses early in Matthew is one rhetorical tool employed for this purpose, but what appears to have gone largely unnoticed is a similar comparison between Jesus and Daniel near the end of the Gospel.  Taken together these two comparisons serve both to provide an important literary context for Matthew’s intervening material and to demonstrate that Jesus himself is the Messiah because he is the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets.

The Law and the Prophets in Matthew

It is well established that Matthew has a pronounced interest in showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of Old Testament expectations.  Though this same interest is certainly discernable in the other Gospels as well, it is Matthew who works hardest to cast events from Jesus’ life in light of OT prophecies.[1] This interest is most clearly visible in the famous (or infamous) “fulfillment” passages of Matthew, but it is apparent in other ways as well.  One additional signal is Matthew’s use of the phrase “the Law and the Prophets.”  While by no means common, Matthew refers to the Law and the Prophets four times, twice as much as any other gospel:[2]  5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40.  Each of these references occurs at a significant juncture in the Gospel: 5:17 (“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill”) has long been understood as a key statement on the nature of the Kingdom; 7:12 (“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets”) identifies the primary ethical thrust of the entire OT; 11:13 (“For all the prophets[3] and the Law prophesied until John”) casts the ministry of John the Baptist as the final stage of OT revelation before the inauguration of the Kingdom;[4] 22:40 (“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”) expands on the teaching of 7:12, identifying the love of God as the theological foundation for the ethical outworking of the entire OT. Note that each of these references to the Law and the Prophets are found in words attributed directly to Jesus, suggesting that Matthew wished his audience to understand them as central to Jesus’ own understanding of the relationship of his teaching to that of the OT.  In effect, Jesus saw his own teaching as the culmination/fulfillment of the entirety of “the Law and the Prophets,” bringing into being that to which they pointed forward in anticipation. [5]

The phrase “the Law and the Prophets”[6] is almost certainly a merismus, a convenient way of indicating the whole of the OT.  As such, it functions in Matthew to identify Jesus (or his teaching) as the fulfillment not simply of particular prophecies but of the ideals and expectations which emerge from the entirety of the OT.  

Matthew’s comparison between Jesus’ teaching and “the Law and the Prophets” is not only presented via didactic statements but also via more subtle literary and structural features.  For instance, it is widely acknowledged that Matthew intended his readers to recognize similarities between Jesus and Moses.[7]  The evidence for this intention is decisive: the birth narratives of both involve infanticide by a political figure, the nation of Egypt and a narrow escape aided by God; the stories of Moses and Jesus parallel one another in terms of the involvement of pagan occultists (magi/magicians), 40 (years/days) in the desert, mountaintops (Sinai/Sermon on the Mount); where Moses delivered the Law, Jesus fulfilled the Law, et.al.[8]  This is by no means an exhaustive list of the parallels but it is sufficient to establish the point:  Matthew seems to have intended his audience to recognize and reflect upon the similarities between events in the lives of Moses and Jesus.  The question is, why?

The obvious parallels have suggested to some that Matthew intended to present Jesus as a “new Moses,” a suggestion which, though debated, enjoys considerable support in many circles.[9] It is not my intention to engage this particular debate directly but rather to suggest that the comparison of Jesus to Moses may have another rhetorical purpose within the Gospel of Matthew, namely, to do at least half the job of showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of “the Law and the Prophets.” How Matthew may have gone about accomplishing the second half of this rhetorical purpose (Jesus as fulfillment of “the Prophets”) will be examined below.  For now, the question to be addressed is whether or not Moses can be understood as a symbolic representation of “the Law” in Matthew.  If Moses is used in Matthew in this way, then demonstrations of solidarity between Jesus and Moses are, in effect, demonstrations of solidarity between Jesus and “the Law” which Moses represents.      

Moses as Representative of the Law

There is good evidence from the Gospel of Matthew that Moses is employed as a personal representation of the Law itself.  Of the seven references to Moses in Matthew, five occur in conjunction with a reference to Law-giving.[10] The statement in 23:2-3a that the scribes and Pharisees are to be obeyed because they “have seated themselves upon the chair of Moses” creates a particularly strong connection between the person of Moses and the authority of the Law so closely associated with him.  For Jesus to say that his disciples ought to “do and observe all that [the scribes and Pharisees] tell you” (pa,nta ou=n o[sa eva.n ei;pwsin u`mi/n poih,sate kai. threi/te) because they were seated upon the chair (kaqe,dra)| of Moses admits that they possessed some kind of authority related to Moses.  However, since Jesus immediately went on to warn his disciples not to follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees (23:3b), it would appear that their derived authority was not intrinsic to some position they occupied but rather to some activity they were engaged in that was similar to that of Moses.  The only likely candidate for such an activity in which the scribes and Pharisees were directly engaged is the task of passing on the teachings of the Law which God gave to Israel through Moses.[11]  To say that the scribes and the Pharisees had “seated themselves upon the seat of Moses” was thus to say that they had, at least ostensibly, taken up the Mosaic task of communicating God’s Law to His people and that, to the extent they were faithful executers of this task, they were to be obeyed.  In this way, Matthew uses Moses in such a way that Moses is practically a synonym for the Law (or at least the communication of the Law) itself.

If Moses is symbolic of the Law, then for Jesus to be shown to be similar to Moses would naturally place Jesus in continuity and coherence with the Law, a necessary demonstration if Jesus is to be understood to “fulfill” the Law by bringing into existence what it anticipated.  Therefore, showing coherence and continuity between Jesus and Moses sets the stage for showing that Jesus “fulfills” the Law which Moses represents:

Jesus [coheres with] Moses

Moses [represents] the Law

Therefore Jesus [coheres with] the Law.

In this way, Matthew’s comparison of Jesus to Moses serves to lay part of the foundation for showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of “the Law and the Prophets.”  However, if, as we have seen, Matthew wanted to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets, then the foundation laid so far only directly accomplishes half of this rhetorical purpose.  If this is indeed what Matthew set out to accomplish and what the comparison between Jesus and Moses serves to illustrate, then it would be reasonable to expect some similar comparison between Jesus and a representative of the Prophets as well. This would provide a satisfying symmetry to Matthew’s rhetorical efforts.

 Does Matthew compare Jesus to Elijah?

Perhaps the most common place to look for such a comparison is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, where both Moses and a great prophet (Elijah) appear, giving tacit affirmation of Jesus’ person and ministry.  It has long been popular to suggest that Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration where Moses (representing the Law?) and Elijah (representing the Prophets?) appear might have been intended to serve as a parabolic affirmation of Jesus’ claim to fulfill “the Law and the Prophets.”[12]  However, as France notes, the fact that Elijah is not represented among the prophetic writings of the OT substantially weakens this interpretation.[13]  Furthermore, if Matthew is seeking to show that Jesus fulfilled “the Law and the Prophets” then Elijah is an unlikely candidate from a structural perspective. Matthew draws many and varied comparisons between Jesus and Moses, but none whatsoever between Jesus and Elijah.  On the contrary, within Matthew, Elijah is compared to John the Baptist, not Jesus (11:14, 17:12).  As far as Jesus is concerned, Elijah simply appears at the Transfiguration, but there is no discernable comparison made between the two.  It seems more likely that, as Carson suggests, Elijah is to be understood as a model of the eschatological forerunner.[14]  His presence therefore signals that Jesus is the one whose arrival John the Baptist was announcing but it is unlikely that he is representative of “the Prophets” whom Jesus fulfilled. If there is an intended Matthean comparison of Jesus to one of the Prophets, then we must look elsewhere to find it.

Daniel 6 and the Passion Narrative of Matthew

While I have long been familiar with the parallels between Moses and Jesus highlighted in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative,[15] I have only recently become aware of a similar comparison between Jesus and the prophet Daniel which appears in Matthew’s Passion Narrative:[16]

Powerful leaders opposed to Daniel plotted his downfall (Dan 6:4)

Powerful leaders opposed to Jesus plotted his downfall (Mat 26:59-60)

Daniel had prior knowledge of the plot against him but chose not to flee (6:10)

Jesus had prior knowledge of the plot but chose not to flee (26:2)

Daniel’s accusers had great difficulty finding an accusation to bring against him (6:4)

Jesus’ accusers had great difficulty finding an accusation to bring against him (26:4)

Daniel prayed three times prior to the main conflict (6:10)

Jesus prayed three times prior to the main conflict (26:39, 42, 44)

Daniel’s accusers came to find him where he was praying (6:11)

Jesus’ accusers came to find him where he was praying (26:47)

Darius did not want to execute Daniel and attempted to release him (6:14)

Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus and attempted to release him (27:16-18)

Darius was ultimately bound by the law to do as Daniel’s accusers insisted (6:12)

Pilate was ultimately bound by the law to do as Jesus’ accusers insisted (27:21-24)

A stone was placed over the entrance to the lion’s den (6:17)

A stone was placed over the entrance to the tomb (27:60)

The lion’s den was sealed[17] by Darius to prevent escape (6:17)

The tomb was sealed by Pilate to prevent the body being stolen (27:66)

Darius spent a restless night because of his concern for Daniel (6:18)

Pilate’s wife suffered at night in a dream because of Jesus (27:19)

An angel shut the lions’ mouths (6:22)

An angel opened the tomb (28:2)

Daniel was found alive in the morning (6:20-22)

Jesus was found alive in the morning (28:5-10)

Darius issued a proclamation to “all the peoples, nations and men of every language” to “fear and tremble before the God of Daniel” (6:25-26)

Jesus instructed his disciples to go and “make disciples of all the nations”…“teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (28:18-20)


Some of these parallels are quite objective while others undoubtedly require a more charitable reading to be admitted as genuine.  For instance, it is acknowledged that the proposed parallel between Darius’ restless night and Pilate’s wife suffering because of a dream is not as immediately obvious or objectively demonstrable as several of the other parallels.[18]  This might signal that the parallel is being read into the text rather than out of it as per Matthew’s intention.  However, the relative weakness of some of the correspondences may just as easily indicate that Matthew did not feel at liberty to make substantial alterations to the historical events.[19]  He may well have been aware that some parallels were not as strong as others but was unwilling to change them to suit his literary purposes.  The same objection - and solution - could be offered to some of the weaker parallels between Jesus and Moses earlier in Matthew.[20]  On the whole, it seems quite likely that Matthew intended to compare Jesus to the prophet Daniel, at least in terms of Daniel’s lions’-den experience.

If Matthew is interested in parabolically demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled “the Prophets” similar to the way that he fulfilled “the Law,” then Daniel is a far better candidate than Elijah, if for no other reason than that Daniel is counted among the OT prophetic writings where Elijah is not.  In Jewish Bibles, of course, the book of Daniel is found in the Ketuvim or “Writings” section alongside ten other books which were considered non-prophetic by later Jewish rabbis.  Given this, it may appear problematic to advance Daniel as a representative of “the Prophets.” However, several lines of reasoning argue against this demotion of Daniel and indicate that the early Christian community, and perhaps even the Jewish community of the 1st Century (AD), viewed Daniel as one of “the Prophets.”  First, it is clear that Matthew, at least, considered Daniel to be one of “the Prophets” as he is explicitly identified as such in 24:15: "Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)…”[21]  This formula (proper noun + tou/ profh,tou) occurs eight times in Daniel.  Apart from this reference to Daniel, the formula is found identifying the prophets Jeremiah (2:17, 27:9), Isaiah (3:3, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17) and Jonah (12:39).  Clearly Matthew considered Daniel one of “the Prophets.”  Second, the LXX, widely accepted to have been completed between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC,[22] lists Daniel among the Prophets[23] rather than among its Wisdom books,[24] indicating that there was at least a significant movement within Judaism during this period which considered Daniel one of “the Prophets.”  Third, it appears that the Qumran community considered Daniel one of “the Prophets” as 4Q174 introduces a quotation of Dan 11:32, 12:10 by saying “it is written in the Book of Daniel the Prophet.”[25]  Fourth, Josephus, likely writing sometime within the latter half of the first century AD calls Daniel “the Prophet” (Antiquities 10.11.4) and says of Daniel that he “was so happy as to have strange revelations made to him, and those as to one of the greatest of the prophets” (10.11.7). Further, it does not appear that we have any record of rabbinic discussion of Daniel’s conscription to the Ketuvim until several centuries after the NT era,[26] leaving us with very little reason to think that the Jews of the 1st Century (AD) thought of Daniel as anything but one of “the Prophets.”

Daniel may be a particularly appropriate representative of “the Prophets” for other reasons as well.  First, the book of Daniel 7:13 is likely an important source for at least some instances of Jesus’ self-designation as the “Son of Man.”[27] Second, it is clear that Daniel was of particular interest to the Jews of the Intertestamental and 1st Century (AD) periods[28] so that Matthew’s original audiences would likely have been primed to recognize parallels between Jesus and Daniel more easily than, for example, between Jesus and Micah.  Third, the apocalyptic and eschatological themes in Daniel would naturally have been of great interest to Matthew who was concerned, at least in part, to show Jesus as the promised Messiah.  In all, Daniel would have been a very natural candidate for a representative of “the Prophets.”

The Correspondence of Matthew’s Infancy and Passion Narratives

The idea that Matthew has intentionally compared Jesus to Daniel finds support not only by examining Mat 26-28 and Dan 6 but also by examining Mat 2 where Jesus was compared to Moses.[29] In addition to the substantial list of parallels between Jesus and Daniel noted above, there are also interesting parallels between the section of Matthew where Jesus is compared to Moses and that section where he appears to be compared to Daniel.  In the same way that most of the parallels between Jesus and Moses are clustered together into a relatively small portion of the beginning of Matthew, the parallels between Jesus and Daniel are clustered together into a small portion at the end of Matthew.  More to the point, the most obvious parallels between Jesus and Moses are to be found in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative[30] while most of the obvious parallels between Jesus and Daniel are to be found in Matthew’s Passion Narrative.  The antithetical correspondence (birth/death) links these two narratives naturally, almost inviting readers to seek other parallels between the units.

It does not take much investigation to find several such parallels. Beyond the comparisons between Jesus and an OT figure, the two narratives correspond in other significant ways.  In the Infancy Narrative, there is a warning dream given to the Gentile Magi that they should not assist the political leader seeking Jesus’ life (2:12).  In the Passion Narrative, a warning dream is given to the political ruler’s Gentile wife, causing her to urge Pilate not to cooperate with those seeking Jesus’ life (27:19).[31]  The Infancy Narrative presents the Holy Family’s journey “out of Egypt” (2:15), while the Passion Narrative highlights Jesus’ connection to the Passover meal instituted during Israel’s journey “out of Egypt” (26:2, 17-19).  Both narratives highlight the involvement of the chief priests and scribes (2:4, 27:41) and in both cases the issue of Jesus’ kingship is in play.[32]  Both narratives involve unusual events in the heavens: a star in the Birth Narrative (2:2, 9-10) and three hours of darkness in the Passion Narrative (27:45).  Both narratives describe rich gifts:  the Magi’s gold, frankincense and myrrh (2:11) and Joseph of Arimathea’s linen cloth and new tomb.[33]

As the above examples demonstrate, there is good reason to think that Matthew has intentionally linked these two narratives within his book.  This is by no means a new observation and various structures which have been proposed for the book of Matthew have recognized this to varying degrees. Most such recognition is to be found in the proposals of those who see a macro-chiasm to the whole book of Matthew, [34] but, one need not accept a chiastic structure to all of Matthew to admit the parallels between his Infancy and Passion narratives.  These units may simply form an inclusio[35] rather than the beginning and ending of a full blown chiasm. Certainly the placement of these two clusters of parallels at the beginning and ending of the book is suspicious and suggests that they were intended to function in this way, bookending Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry or, more to the point, bracketing Matthew’s account of the life of Christ between narratives which show him to be the fulfillment of both “the Law and the Prophets.” 


The parallels discernable between Matthew’s Infancy and Passion narratives, the parallels between Jesus and Moses in the Infancy Narrative and the comparison between Jesus and Daniel in the Passion Narrative are not simply interesting structural features.  Within the context of what appears to be one of Matthew’s key literary purposes, the demonstration that Jesus is the fulfillment of both “the Law and the Prophets,” highlighting these correspondences appears to be part of an intentional rhetorical strategy.  Jesus is not simply a new Moses or a new prophet.  He is not simply a new teacher of the Law or a new voice of chastisement for Israel.  He is the literal embodiment and realization of all that the Law and the Prophets together anticipated.  This is demonstrated not simply by things Jesus chose to say and do but by events which were quite beyond his control from a human perspective, but which could only be accomplished by Divine intention.  Even in the events surrounding his birth and death, God’s hand was evident, drawing His people’s attention to His Messiah in ways both subtle and profound.  For Matthew, Jesus did not simply live a life which was consistent with the Law and the Prophets…He is the Law and the Prophets brought to verdant life.

[1] I am using the term “prophecies” here in a loose, popular sense, recognizing that there is considerable scholarly debate about how best to understand Matthew’s use of various OT texts which may or may not have been considered prophetic when first composed or even within first century Judaism.  Consideration of this debate is beyond the scope of this article and irrelevant to its central thesis.  The point is simply that Matthew has clearly worked hard to connect events surrounding the life of Jesus to OT passages.  There are 20 instances in Matthew where events surrounding Jesus are described either as “fulfilling” (plhro,w) an OT prophecy or as a realization of what was “written” (gra,fw): 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23; 4:14-16; 8:16-17; 11:10-11; 12:17-21; 13:13-15 (avnaplhro,w), 35; 21:4-5, 16, 42; 22:44; 26:24, 31, 54, 56; 27:9.  As Blomberg notes, “roughly half of these are unique to his Gospel”; Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 131), 1997.

[2] Luke makes use of this phrase (or some form of it) twice (16:16; 24:44). There are no similar references in Mark and only one in John (1:45).

[3] The placing of Prophets here before the Law is anomalous.  Carson suggests that the unexpected order makes the point that “the entire OT has a prophetic function”; D.A. Carson, “Matthew” ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein (EBC; Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 268.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Precisely what it means that Jesus “fulfills” the Law remains a matter of some debate, though as France points out there has been a developing consensus in recent years; R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 183-184.  While the point of the present argument is not dependent on a particular view of this issue, I side with the increasingly common view which France identifies (183), articulated above.  Many other recent interpretations of the meaning here, such as the view by Nolland that Jesus meant to “enable God’s people to live out the Law more effectively” (John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005], 219) are compatible with this understanding and may be seen as highlighting additional nuances rather than contradicting the emergent consensus.

[6] Slight variations on the phrase within Matthew do not appear to be significant. In 5:17 it is to.n no,mon h' tou.j profh,taj with the h' functioning in a neither/nor sense appropriate to the context.  In 7:12 it is o` no,moj kai. oi` profh/tai.  11:13 is the most varied, inverting the order of the nouns: oi` profh/tai kai. o` no,moj; see fn.3. In 22:40 it is o[loj o` no,moj kre,matai kai. oi` profh/tai. The variations (with the possible exception of 11:13) are all insignificant, at least with regards to the function of the phrase as a merismus.

[7] For a full discussion of such parallels and their significance to modern scholarship, cf. D.C. Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993).

[8] Ibid, 140-160.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mat 8:4 (“present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them”); 19:7 (“Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?”); 19:8 (“because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives”); 22:24 (“Moses said, 'IF A MAN DIES HAVING NO CHILDREN, HIS BROTHER AS NEXT OF KIN SHALL MARRY HIS WIFE, AND RAISE UP CHILDREN FOR HIS BROTHER’”); 23:2-3 (“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe…”).  The other two references simply name him as one of the two figures that appeared at the Transfiguration (17:3, 4).

[11] Powell surveys the ten different approaches to understanding exactly how this phrase relates to the scribes and Pharisees and ultimately arrives at a similar conclusion, saying that they were to be obeyed because they “pass on the words of the Torah itself”; M.A. Powell, “Do and Keep What Moses Says (Matthew 23:2-7),” JBL 114:3 (1995), 419-435. 

[12] Cf. Carson, “Matthew,” 385.

[13] France, Matthew, 649.  There can be no doubt that Elijah was recognized as a prophet, but the fact that none of his prophecies are part of the Hebrew canon makes him an unlikely candidate to represent “the Prophets”, a term that clearly refers to the writings themselves.  If the “Law” refers to the canonical books of Moses, then “the Prophets” must refer to the relevant canonical writings as well and Elijah has no obvious place among those texts.

[14] Carson, “Matthew,” 385; cf. also France, Matthew, 649.

[15] Similar parallels can be found beyond the Infancy Narrative but appear in unusual frequency in that pericope.

[16] For this new awareness I am indebted to the observations of my friend, Alyssa Guse, who pointed them out to me as a result of our small group’s exploration of the book of Daniel. In preparation for our discussion of Daniel 6, she created a chart detailing several parallels she observed between the prophet Daniel and Jesus. After careful consideration of the parallels I have become convinced that the parallels cannot be attributed to simple coincidence (or wishful exegesis).  What follows is an adapted and expanded presentation of these apparent parallels. Most of these parallels are at the scene/setting or conceptual levels rather than the more objectively discernible verbal, syntactical or form levels; for a useful discussion of the levels at which correspondence may be indicated, cf. S. Bar-Efrat,“Some Observations on the Analysis of Structure in Biblical Narrative,” VT 30 (1980), 154-173; cf. also C.A. Smith, Criteria for Identifying Chiasm of Design in New Testament Literature:  Objective Means of Distinguishing Chiasm of Design from Accidental and False Chiasm (Diss. Bristol University, 2009), 150-183.  In general, conceptual level correspondences are less convincing than correspondences at the verbal or syntactical levels, but when even conceptual correspondences are both natural and numerous, they can be taken together as a relatively objective indicator of authorially intended correspondence.    

[17] Matthew used the same term (sfragi,zw) to describe this act as was used in the LXX’s account of Darius’ actions (v.18 in the LXX).

[18] The inclusion of this incident in Matthew is puzzling.  There is no parallel in any other Gospel, so it cannot be demonstrated that Matthew was simply following his source material at this point. It may be that the best answer to the question of why this incident appears only in Matthew is to be found in his intended parallel to Daniel 6 and, concurrently, to his own Infancy Narrative (see below).  If Matthew intended his Infancy Narrative to correspond to his Passion Narrative and to Dan 6, then this bit about Pilate’s wife may have been a convenient two-edged sword.  It parallels the Magi’s dream in the Infancy Narrative and Darius’ sleepless night in Dan 6.

[19] This should not, however, be taken as a license for making exegetical inferences on the basis of weak and unlikely correspondences.  Any proposal of correspondence must establish its legitimacy as objectively as possible.  All I am asserting here is that the lack of “perfect” parallels is not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle to the goal of demonstrating authorially intended correspondence between literary units.  An author may have intended correspondence but been constrained in his presentation by a commitment to historical accuracy.

[20] For instance, Moses was born in Egypt and travelled from there to Israel while Jesus was born in Israel and then travelled to Egypt before returning.  The correspondence between the two would be stronger if Matthew had placed Jesus’ birth in Egypt, but this would have required Matthew to “change history” as it were.

[21] Daniel is not mentioned explicitly by any other N.T. writer.  However, if as seems likely, much of the “Son of Man” language ascribed to Jesus is dependent on the vision of Dan 7, then allusions to Daniel are common throughout the Gospels and can also be found in Acts, Hebrews and Revelation.

[22] Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint, ed. by Michael A. Knibb (London: T&T Clark, 2004).

[23] The LXX divided the books of the OT into four categories (Law, History, Wisdom, Prophets) rather than the three Jewish Tanakh divisions of Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings).

[24] Apart from the apocryphal additions, all of the LXX’s Wisdom books fall into the Tanakh’s Ketuvim.

[25] Milgrom dates this text “early in the first century C.E.”; Jacob Milgrom, “Florilegium: A Midrash on 2 Samuel and Psalms 1-2 (4Q174 = 4QFlor)” in The Dead Sea Scrolls.  Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Texts with English Translations – Pesharim, Other Commentaries, and Related Documents, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Louisville: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 2002), 248.

[26] An enigmatic discussion in the 4th century Babylonian Talmud concerning Daniel, Haggai, Zecharaiah and Malachi says that “They were superior to him [Daniel] (in one way) and he was superior to them (in another).  They were superior to him, because they were prophets and he was not a prophet;” Megillah 3a.  Daniel is listed explicitly among the Hagiographa/Ketuvim in Baba Bathra 14b.

[27] It is quite beyond the scope of this inquiry to make a persuasive case for this assertion, especially given the long and convoluted history of the debate about the meaning of this phrase.  Davies and Allison provide a useful survey of the present state of the discussion; W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allision Jr, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, Vol. II (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 43-52. Suffice it to say at this point that the imagery associated with this title in the Gospel of Matthew is obviously linked to Daniel 7:13-14 at various points (cf. Mat 9:6, 8; 13:41; 16:27; 19:28; 24:30-31; 25:31-32; 26:64), making it clear that Daniel is important background to the use of the term in Matthew in at least some instances.

[28] The apocryphal additions to the canonical book of Daniel attest to this interest during the Intertestamental period and the frequent references to Daniel among the Qumran texts supports the assertion that this interest continued into the 1st Century (AD).  

[29] I am concentrating here primarily on that section of Matthew where the parallels to Moses are most obvious.  However, a case can be made that the parallels to Moses remain relatively prominent into ch. 5.

[30] Such parallels to Moses need not be entirely restricted to the Infancy Narrative for the correspondence between the Infancy and Passion narratives to be acknowledged. The Jesus-Moses/Jesus-Daniel correspondence is only one of the literary features which binds these two pericopae together.  Other parallels (see below) strengthen the case so that additional comparisons to Moses in later parts of Matthew (e.g. the Temptation Narrative or the Sermon on the Mount) do not substantially weaken the case for the intended correspondence between the Infancy and Passion narratives. 

[31] It must be admitted, however, that the first chapters of Matthew involve several important dreams, so drawing a parallel between the Pilate’s wife’s dream and only one of the dreams in those dreams may be difficult to justify.  However, these two particular dreams correspond by way of the fact that they both involve Gentiles.  The other dreams in the Infancy Narrative are given to Jews.

[32] The Magi asked Herod about the one who had been born “King of the Jews” (basileu.j tw/n VIoudai,wn; 2:2) which caused Herod to consult with the chief priests and scribes.  In the Passion Narrative, Pilate asked Jesus “are you the King of the Jews” (basileu.j tw/n VIoudai,wn, 27:11) and it was chief priests and scribes who mocked Jesus by saying “He is the King of Israel; let him now come down from the cross and we will believe in Him” (27:41).

[33] It has been suggested many times over the years, especially in popular preaching, that the Magi’s gift of myrrh was symbolic of Jesus’ coming death.   This has rightly been viewed with skepticism by the scholarly community because a) Matthew does not mention myrrh as being part of Jesus’ burial (though John 19:39 does) and b) in the OT myrrh had no connection to death or burial but instead a connotation of joy (Psa 45:8, Sol 5:1) or at least pleasure (Pro 7:17-18).  However, if Matthew intentionally linked his Infancy and Passion narratives, the idea that the Magi’s myrrh might have been seen as a subtle foreshadowing of Jesus’ coming death must at least be admitted as a possibility, though it is difficult to see how anyone could ever establish the certainty of that conjecture. 

[34] Bauer provides a relatively comprehensive survey of chiastic approaches to the structure of Matthew, many of which are compatible with seeing the Infancy and Passion narratives as corresponding literary units; David R. Bauer, The Structure of Matthew’s Gospel:  A Study in Literary Design (Sheffield:  Almond Press, 1989), 36-40. Lohr also identifies a Matthean inclusio at 1:23 (“God with us”) and 28:20 (“I am with you always”), an observation which coheres well with the proposed link between the Infancy and Passion narratives which occur inside these markers; Charles H. Lohr, “Oral Techniques in the Gospel of Matthew,” CBQ 23:4 (1961), 410.  Nolland has identified numerous smaller chiasms operating within Matthew (Nolland, Matthew, 1469) and while this does not directly support particular chiastic proposals for the whole of Matthew, it does demonstrate an authorial affinity for the figure which, in turn, makes other proposed uses of the figure (or similar figures) marginally more plausible; Smith, Criteria, 304-319.

[35] Matthew 1 seems to be left outside of this inclusio, but this is perfectly understandable since this is essentially the preamble to the life of Christ.  While the birth of Jesus is mentioned in 1:25, the chapter as a whole deals with those events which led up to this event and, as such, naturally belong outside of an inclusio that encompasses Matthew’s recounting of the life of Jesus.


Leave a Reply