If we think that the Gospels are mainly historical facts, then we end up lying about Jesus. This is what your nice fundamentalist or conservative evangelical believer is doing: saying the thing that is not. Such as, Jesus was born of a virgin, fed 5000 men with a child’s lunch box, and walked on water. Such a figure may still attract people who don’t like facts, but in an age when the ability to live by facts is little short of salvation, people are not going to reject Trump and embrace a gospel of unlikely marvels. The notion that Jesus could do these things and empowers his followers to do the same is the kind of horse feed that gives religion a bad name.
On the other hand…….. if the Gospels give us no facts about Jesus, we are in a pretty pickle, seeing that the rest of the New Testament tells us not much more than that he was crucified and rose from the dead. Although some have argued that if those facts were enough for St. Paul, surely they suffice for us, we suspect that he at least knew that Jesus had lived and preached, and that he may even have seen him, whereas we are dependant on our tradition, especially on the Bible.
In this situation we might indeed choose to believe in no more than Paul tells us in his letters, accepting that Jesus’ death and resurrection are enough for salvation; or we need to find a way of interpreting the gospels as sources for the life, character, mission and fate of Jesus called Messiah. Any interpretation however needs to seem reasonable not only to believers but also to the non-believers amongst whom we live, since we have a responsibility to represent Jesus to them.
My preliminary judgement is that Matthew’s Gospel is a kind of magic realism, meaning a narrative which knowingly uses super-natural elements in order to communicate the reality of an event or series of events. I will examine this theory by translating the writing from Greek, and commenting especially on its “magical” stories.
MATTHEW CHAPTER 1
The book of the origin of Jesus Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham.
Abraham fathered Isaac; Isaac fathered Yacob; Yacob fathered Yudas and his brothers, and Yudas fathered Farez and Zaran (with Thamar). Farez fathered Hesrom; Hesrom fathered Aram; and Aram fathered Aminadab. Aminadab fathered Naasson; Naasson fathered Salmon, and Salmon fathered Boez (with Rachab). Boez fathered Yobed (with Ruth); Yobed fathered Yessai and Yessai fathered David the King.
David fathered Solomon ( with the wife of Ourios); Solomon fathered Roboam; Roboam fathered Abia, and Abia fathered Asaf. Asaf fathered Yosafat; Yosafat fathered Yoram and Yoram fathered Ozias. Ozias fathered Yoatham; Yoatham fathered Achaz; Achaz fathered Hezekias, and Hezekias fathered Manasseh. Manasseh fathered Amos; Amos fathered Yosias; and Yosias fathered Yechonias and his brothers at the time of the forced removal to Babylon.
After the forced removal to Babylon, Yechonias fathered Salathiel; Salathiel fathered Zorobabel; Zorobabel fathered Abioud, and Abioud fathered Eliakim. Eliakim fathered Azor; Azor fathered Zadok and Zadok fathered Achim. Achim fathered Elioud; Elioud fathered Eleazar; Eleazar fathered Matthan and Matthan fathered Yacob. Yacob fathered Yosef the husband of Maria, from whom Jesus called Messiah was born.
So all the fatherings from Abraham to David are fourteen; and between David and the forced removal to Babylon, fourteen fatherings; and from the forced removal to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen fatherings.
There are some dilemmas even in this relatively simple section of the Greek text.
1. Should we take “biblos” at the start as a literal book, referring to the whole Gospel or as perhaps “record” referring to this passage. It seems the latter makes more sense, but I have chosen to see it as the title to the Gospel which details all its events leading to the existence of Jesus the risen messiah and Lord.
2. It is definitely a title because the word Biblos has no definite article, a usage only permitted in titles.
3. Should the names be translated as they are given in Greek or in the forms known from English bibles? I have chosen to transliterate from Greek.
4. How to translate the Greek verb “ egennesen“ ( KJV “begat”) ? The verb is active representing the male role in conception. I have chosen “fathered” as giving this sense. Hebrew physiology thought that in conception the seed came from the male which was received and nourished by the female. I have softened Matthew’s construction for the woman’s part in birth, namely the Greek “Ek” meaning “out of” a woman. I have translated “with” her.
5. The Greek word for deportation (of the people to Babylon) contains “oikos” the word for a house. Moving house is a removal but this is a forced removal.
6. There are in fact not 14+14+14 fatherings but 13+14+12. I have no idea what this means. Matthew was surely very familiar with genealogies. In the last section of the fatherings, the final entry is a bombshell: not another fathering but a woman giving birth. At this point the reader is given no explanation. There it is: the Messiah comes from a woman but is not fathered by a man! In truth this is a sign that a new era has dawned in which male privilege is given the body-swerve. This leaves the awkward question of how the vast genealogy applies, as the messiah has not been fathered by a man. The next section of the gospel gives answers; here we are left with the information that Jesus is a product of the whole history of Israel, which includes foreigners like Rachab and Ruth, sinners like Yudah (who had sex with his daughter-in-law thinking she was a prostitute) and David (who stole Ouriah’s wife, and had him killed) all of whom are ancestors of Messiah Jesus who will be compassionate to sinners and open to all races.
Right at the end of this section Matthew introduces the reader to a hint of magic, the unfathered Messiah. He asks us to note that something strange and wonderful is happening, preparing us for the miracles of Jesus’ birth and life. “God is here,!” is his message.