Sunday, February 3, 2013

Who did Rachel Weep for?

Jeremiah 31:14(15) Matthew 2:18

"Thus said Hashem: ‘A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children for they are gone.’"

The Gospel of Matthew (2:16-18) tells us that after the Magi (popularly referred to as Wise Men) failed to return to inform Herod of the location of the infant Nazarene, Herod ordered the execution of all baby boys under the age of two in order to annihilate him. Matthew found a prophecy of this in the verse quoted above, Jeremiah 31:14(15).

The verse refers to Rachel, one of the four matriarchs of Israel. The children she weeps for are those who had been sent into exile, "they are gone." This can be clearly seen by reading the next two verses, "Thus said Hashem: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment the word of Hashem--and they will return from the enemies land. There is hope for your future the word of Hashem and your children will return to their borders." Vs. 15,16 (16,17).

By reading the entire passage in context the meaning is clear. Rather than referring to a gloomy massacre in the future this prophecy is one of hope and comfort. Rather that "dying" in exile the prophet promises they will be "resurrected" by being brought back to their homeland.

Of course, Matthew’s account of Herod killing the young children in an attempt to assassinate his infant rival is not document despite a whole laundry list of historically recorded atrocities by Herod. While this is not definitive proof that it did not happen we have plenty of reason to be skeptical of Matthew’s claim. In particular it shows the frequently circular nature of Christian claims of fulfilled prophecy, our only record of it being fulfilled is a single passage in Matthew claiming it to be fulfilled despite having good reason to expect it to be otherwise documented.

Nor does this passage easily lend itself to a typological interpretation. While it is often suggested that as a member of, and indeed the king of, Israel, the events of Israel’s history can serve as an analogy typologically to the life of the Nazarene. Here, however, the Nazarene escaped the event the analogy was predicated upon, while it was the children of Bethlehem and its environs which suffered. Furthermore, while the Jeremiah passage speaks of Exile, and subsequent return, Matthew speaks of death. The analogy between the two is superficial.

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