|Vol. III, No. 1
Nissan 5605, April 1845
II. The next prophecy cited by Matthew, as fulfilled in Jesus, is concerning the place of his birth, and greatness. The place referred to is in Micah:* “And thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come a governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”† This is said to be the answer made to Herod by the chief priests and scribes, when he inquired of them concerning the place of. the Messiah’s birth; both he and all Jerusalem being troubled at the news published by the eastern wise men, of having seen his star in the east, by which they knew of the birth of the king of the Jews.‡ This is the account transmitted to us of this affair. But in this whole transaction there seem some things, not only very improbable, but even incredible;—such as that Herod should gather the chief priests and scribes to ask such a question, and that they should return him such an answer;—that an extraordinary star should appear in the east; or that its appearance should be known to be a notification of the birth of a child in Judea;—that the wise men should take a long journey to no purpose;—that the star should make its appearance to people who were no ways concerned in the birth of the king of the Jews, and not to the Jews tlemselves, who were the people chiefly interested;—that Jerusalem should be troubled at an event, which must have been a matter of great joy and comfort to them;§—that an assembly of chief priests and scribes should fix the place where their glorious king should be born, when it seems to have been an established principle among them, that they were not to know the place of the Messiah's birth,|| since there have followed many pretenders to that character, without being born at Bethlehem; and lastly, that the star which the wise men had seen in the east, should again appear to them when they parted from Herod, march before them, and make a stand “Over where the child was,”¶ for no manner of purpose; since we hear no more of these wise men, nor of any use that was made of their journey:—all which seems to be such a piece of extravagance, and such a continued series of impossibilities and incredibilities, as nothing can equal. For how could people, acquainted with the vast magnitude of the stars, (for wise they were,) think that one went before them, to show them their way from house to house?
And since the star must necessarily have travelled from the east, where it first appeared, to Jerusalem, where the wise men again found it, for it was the same star* which guided them to the place where the child was;—why did not the star guide them directly from the place they set out from, to Bethlehem? for the guidance of the star from Jerusalem appears needless, since Herod had directed them before. Besides, so extraordinary a phenomenon must have drawn the attention of the whole city; and numbers of other people would have followed it as well as the wise men, had it been seen; but of this the story takes no manner of notice. All the aforesaid considerations make it probable, that the whole was invented to make way for the application of this and two other passages as fulfilled; for as this gospel of Matthew’s was written for the use of the Jews, and they believing that the character of the Messiah could only be proved by prophecy, and finding none in the prophets applicable to him, according to their plain obvious meaning: facts were invented, to have an opportunity of introducing something as having been fulfilled. This is only a conjecture of my own; but whether it was really so in fact or not, it is certain that this citation could never be any description of Jesus; the whole passage as it is in Micah, is, throughout, very justly and judiciously applied to Zerubabel; and every circumstance in the description excludes Jesus from being thereby meant, or intended, since the person there spoken of, “was to be a Ruler in Israel;” and farther the prophet declares, “that this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread into our palaces; then shall we raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal men. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof; thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.” “And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord,” &c. See the whole chapter, and the impossibility of applying it to Jesus literally. For unless it be so according to its primary sense and meaning, it can neither be deemed to be fulfilled, nor produced to prove any thing.
III. One of the passages, or prophecies, which is cited by St. Matthew, and said by him to be fulfilled, in consequence of the needless discovery made to Herod by the wise men, is the following, and is the next which the said evangelist cites. It is from that discovery that he tells us, how that Joseph dreamed that an angel appeared to him, and ordered him to flee with the child and its mother into Egypt, which being done, he says, “that he was there till the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled what was spoken of the Lord. by the prophet saying, Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”† These words are taken from Hosea, where they very evidently appear not to be prophetical, but to have relation to a past action, viz., the call of the children of Israel out of Egypt. The prophet’s words are, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt;”‡ so that this passage could not be fulfilled in Jesus’s return, according to the literal meaning of it. Give me leave to observe, that Luke in all these things, contradicts Matthew; for according to him, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord, and to offer the appointed sacrifice;§ where, when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth,|| which, if true, Matthew must be out in his whole narration.
IV. The other passage or prophecy which I think to be cited by Matthew, and said by him to be fulfilled in consequence of the discovery which the wise men made to Herod, is the following, being the next cited by him, on occasion of the slaughter which he says Herod made of the babes in Bethlehem, and the coasts thereof, from two years and under. “Then (says he) was fulfilled, that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentations, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they are not.”‡ This passage is taken from Jeremiah,§ and it evidently and plainly relates to the sufferings of the ten tribes, and their glorious return, according to its obvious literal sense; as is evident from the whole chapter. Indeed to apply “and they shall come again from the land of the enemy,”|| to the slaughter of the babes, must appear to be a very great absurdity. This is so plain, that Father Calmet declares: “As to what St. Matthew says, that at the time when the innocents were massacred, the accomplishment was seen of this prophecy by Jeremiah; ‘a voice was heard from Rama,’ &c., it is our opinion, that the primary sense of this prophecy, refutes to the carrying away of the ten tribes into captivity; and that St. Matthew accommodated it to the circumstances in question.”¶ And in another place it is said: “St. Matthew hath made an application of this passage, of the mourning of Rachel, to the massacre of the infants of Bethlehem by Herod. But it is plain, that that was not the literal and historical sense of this passage of Jeremiah;”** so that this is not literally to fulfil the prophecy.
I am confirmed in my conjecture, that the story of the wise men was invented, to usher in the accommodation of the three last cited prophecies, and citing them as fulfilled by way of allusion, from Luke’s silence in all these matters, and his giving a very different relation of things. For he is entirely silent as to the story of the wise men, and the star which appeared to them, and was their guide; and in its place, substitutes the story of the shepherds who kept watch;†† to which you may turn for your edification. I have observed before, his differing also, concerning the journey to Egypt.
So, neither does he make mention of the massacre of the innocents by Herod; which to do him justice he could not have consistently done; because Jesus was born when Cyrenius was made governor of Syria, that is long after Herod’s death;* Judea (as Josephus observes) being already annexed to Syria, “For it was Cyrenius’s province to tax and assess those people, and make seizure of the moneys and moveables of Archelaus.”† It was on this occasion, that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be taxed, and so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished, that she should be delivered, and brought forth her first born son;”‡ so that it is a grand mistake to place the birth of Jesus under Herod. But had he been born in Herod’s life, it must appear very surprising and incredible, that none but Matthew should relate this most barbarous and inhuman act. Josephus is very circumstantial, and very particularly describes the cruelties which this barbarous king committed; and yet says not a word concerning this bloody deed; which he would most certainly have related had it been true; for he was never sparing of his character. It is mere trifling to pretend, as some do, that Josephus purposely concealed this butchery, to avoid giving countenance to the evangelist.§ For, supposing he had recorded it, it would only prove, that Herod was grown healous, from the information given him; but it could never be a proof, that the king, which the Jews expected as Messiah, was really born. Because the proof of this must have depended not on the information, and slaughter which ensued, but on the accomplishment of those things, which he according to the prophecies was to perform. But surely they cannot, and dare not tax St. Luke, with having any such design; yet ‘tis plain, from his placing the birth of Jesus when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, (that is, when Judea was made a province of his government, which happened after the death of Herod,) that Jesus, could not be born during his reign; and the argument in this particular of Josephus and Luke’s, together with the silence of this evangelist in all these affairs, and his never mentioning any thing to have happened under Herod, is equal to a demonstration against the facts as recorded by Matthew.