Joseph and Herod in Interlocking Infancy Narratives

In David Turner’s Matthew commentary in the BECNT series, he notes that the “three dream units concerning Joseph (1:18-25; 2:13-15; 2:19-23) are interlocked with the two units concerning Herod’s treachery (2:1-12; 2:16-18)” (p. 88). 

The five infancy narratives (Matt 1:18–2:23) have been arranged to contrast and alternate between Joseph and Herod. It breaks down this way:

  1. In Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph is a righteous man who obeys what the angel tells him.
  2. In Matthew 2:1-12, Herod is an evil man who secretly plots the murder of Jesus. 
  3. In Matthew 2:13-15, Joseph obeys the angel who tells him to flee to Egypt with his family.
  4. In Matthew 2:16-18, Herod is a maniac who sanctions the slaughter of little male babies in Bethlehem.
  5. In Matthew 2:19-23, Joseph obeys the angel’s words by returning to the land of Israel. 

In each of Joseph’s narratives, he obeys what an angel tells him in a dream (cf. Matt 1:20; 2:13; 2:19). This supernatural direction is important because of how dreams function in the Old Testament. As Leithart observes, “By biblical standards, this is a mark of royalty: Priests consult oracles and prophets see visions, while kings dream dreams.” Contrary to what you might expect, then, the king in Matthew 2 (Herod) isn’t the one who receives the dreams. Joseph receives them. 

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