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Matthew 2 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Matthew 2 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

"In the days of Herod the king"
When was Jesus born?

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

"For we have seen his star"
Is astrology condemned by the bible?
Does the author of the SAB know the difference between astrology and astronomy?
The Bible writers certainly did.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

(2:5-6) "In Bethlehem of Judaea"
Matthew claims that Jesus' birth in Bethlehem fulfils the prophecy in Micah 5:2. But this is unlikely for two reasons.
  1. "Bethlehem Ephratah" in Micah 5:2 refers not to a town, but to a clan: the clan of Bethlehem, who was the son of Caleb's second wife, Ephrathah (1 Chr.2:18, 2:50-52, 4:4).
  2. The prophecy (if that is what it is) does not refer to the Messiah, but rather to a military leader, as can be seen from Micah 5:6. This leader is supposed to defeat the Assyrians, which, of course, Jesus never did.

It should also be noted that Matthew altered the text of Micah 5:2 by saying: "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda" rather than "Bethlehem Ephratah" as is said in Micah 5:2. He did this, intentionally no doubt, to make the verse appear to refer to the town of Bethlehem rather than the family clan.
Isn't it the scribes who are making this claim instead of Matthew? And if any alteration in the quote is made (not that they are quoting, but for the sake of argument let's agree with the author of the SAB here), it's done by the Pharisees. Matthew is just quoting what they, see the previous verse, are saying! The chief priests and scribes of the people interpret the scripture as saying Bethlehem, the town. And they were right as Jesus was born in Bethlehem, so what is the point the author of the SAB is trying to make?
On the particulars of the prophecy in Micah, see Mic. 5:2.

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

"The star ... went before them."
If the star "went before them," leading them to Bethlehem, then it couldn't have been a star or any other astronomical object or event. But Matthew couldn't have known that. Everyone at the time thought that stars were just little points of light a short distance above the earth. It'd be no problem to have one hover above a particular place for a while.
The star was different enough that for people who studied the stars it was a sign. But it wasn't a sign for lay people. Nor Herod in Jerusalem nor the scribes had seen anything unnatural. A moving point of light, as the SAB author seems to interpret this verse, would sure have drawn more attention. So for the lay people there was nothing to see, while for people who studied and knew the heavens, the sign was extraordinary.
Although the Bible doesn't tell us, one of the more likely theories that have been promoted is an alignment of the two brighest planets, Venus and Jupiter. There was an conjunction on August 12, 3BC. And again, and even brighter on June 17, 2BC. So the wise man could have seen this on August 12 and left home to find Christ. They could have arrived in Jerusalem in June, 2BC. When they left Jerusalem, they could have seen the second and even brighter conjuction on June 17, 2BC.
Not impossible. And the period is right as well as Christ was born somewhere between April and October. The period, 4BC to 1BC fits as well, see Luke 2:2. On the other hand, the year 4BC is a much more accepted year in which Christ was born. Also, alignment of planets is hardly unusual, and the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter occurs often. Would the wise man call this “his star (verse 2)”? And the planets are not known for stopping as the author of the SAB points out. So although a planetary conjunction is not unlikely, it is also not likely that this phemenon would draw this much attention from these astronomers.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

(2:1-2, 11, 22-23) "And when they were come into the house"
Where did Joseph and Mary live before the birth of Jesus?
Sigh, some objections are an insult to one's intelligence if one responds to it. But let's try. After the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary remained in Bethlehem. They didn't stay in the shed waiting for the three wise men (that happened in “The Life of Brian”). That's all Matthew is saying: they were living in a house in Bethlehem after Jesus was born. After the census was over, the city emptied again, so finding a house to live wasn't that difficult. Luke adds that before coming to Bethlehem Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. So where is the contradiction??

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

The Dream of the Magi
(Unknown, 12th Century)

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

"Into Egypt"
Matthew tells us that Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus left for Egypt soon after Jesus' birth, yet Luke (2:39) says they went directly to Nazareth.
Did Jesus, Mary, and Joseph go to Egypt or Nazareth?
"Out of Egypt I have called my son."
(2:16) Herod kills all boys in and around Bethlehem that are two years old and under. Such a massacre would certainly have been noted by contemporary historians. Yet not even Josephus, who documented Herod's life in detail, mentioned this event.
(2:17-18) Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, claiming that it was a prophecy of King Herod's alleged slaughter of the children in and around Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. But this verse refers to the Babylonian captivity, as is clear by reading the next two verses (16 and 17), and, thus, has nothing to do with Herod's massacre.
Note that Matthew here describes an event that took place perhaps close to a year after the events Lukas describes. At this point in time Joseph and Mary had been to Jerusalem for the purification of Mary and gone back to Bethlehem to live there. And no, they didn't come back to the manger, but lived in a house (see verse 11). Lukas just skips the part of Jesus life after the purification of Mary, see Luke 2:39.

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

As scripture is inspired by God, it appears that this is acceptable usage of prophecy.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

Although Josephus does indeed not narrate this story, there is a passage with some interesting similarities. The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that the reason Josephus might not have heard of this was that:

The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod.

Macrobius (395–423), a heathen, not a christian, mentions in his Saternalia (Saturnal. l. 2. c. 4.) that:

when Augustus heard, that among the children under two years of age, whom Herod king of the Jews ordered to be slain in Syria, that his son was also killed, said, it was better to be Herod's hog than his son.

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,

As scripture is inspired by God, it appears that this is acceptable usage of prophecy.

18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.

21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

"He shall be called a Nazarene."
Matthew claims this was a fulfillment of prophecy, yet such a prophecy is not found anywhere in the Old Testament.
Matthew has a play with words here. The prophesy to which he refers is Is. 11:1 and Is. 60:21. Isaiah refers to Christ as “The Branch”. The Hebrew word for branch is Netzer which is very similar to Nazarene, an inhabitant of Natzareth.
For more info, see What is a Nazarene.