Matthean Infancy Narrative:

Structural Method:

a)Formal  Surface Structuration (or formal  level):  vocabulary,  particularly the key-words (like semitic inclusion,  link-word or mot-crochet, chiasmus, concentric symmetry),  grammatical constructions,  formulas strategically repeated in the course  of reading, sequences and sections, internal articulations.

Key-words:  Topology (Spatial  Framework  of  the   Story): i)Geographical  Space:  Everything begins in  Jerusalem  (without naming it, Lk 1:9): Nazareth in Galilee, where Jesus is announced and  conceived, a lowly peasant tow, object of popular scorn  (Jn 1:46; 7:41.52). The culmination of the Infancy Gospel is realized in the Temple of Jerusalem, where it began (see Lukan Gospel: Lk 24:53,”and   were  continually  in  the  Temple  blessing   God”) (cf.”going up to Jerusalem”, 2:4.42/”go down to Nazareth”, 2:51). ii)Sacred  Space: Sanctuary (NAOS), cf.1:9.19;  presentation and finding in the Temple–his first public manifestation; iii)Divine Space (Lk 1:32, Most High, designation found only 10 times in NT, 7  times  of  which in Lk-Acts; 1:52;  2:14).  iv)Domestic Space (Zechariah’s  residence (1:23.40) and Mary’s (1:56).  v)Corporeal Space : in the womb (en gastri, 1:31, cf.bekirbek, Zeph 3:15); en koilia (1:;  2:21).  vi)Interior, spiritual  Space (three  persons  are filled with the holy  Spirit,  John  [1:15]; Elizabeth [1:41); Zechariah [1:67]). Time: hour (Lk 1:10;  2:38); day  (20 times); month (4 times), year (4 times), genea  (age  or generation, 1:48.50), aion (century) or major duration (thrice in lyrical contexts, 1:33.35.70), time (khronos, once: 1:57). In  Lk time  is not an indefinite flow, but a fulfillment (hemera=day  + pimplemi=fulfill, “after the days were fulfilled”, cf.1:23;  2:6; 2:21f).  What  is important to Lk is the interior  duration,  in­spired,  accomplished,  and fulfilled by God  himself.  Prophetic aorists and futures characterize this time of God, who causes the eskhaton and the new creation to emerge. Tenses of Verbs: Aorists in  the  narrative; futures in the  prophetic  announcements  (Lk 1:13-17.32.35).  In Mt 1-2, Joseph is the subject of  the  active verbs,  whereas  in  Lk 1 Mary is active. Link-words:  The verb egeneto (“it came to pass, it happened”) recurs 14 times and comes at strategic points for the division of sequences: Lk  1:8; 1:24; 1:59; 2:6; 2:15; 2:46).

Sequences and Sections: The parallelism of the two annuncia­tions,  clearly  defined by changes in  actants,  locations,  and times, determines our division: 1)1-2 Announcements to  Zechariah and Mary (1:5-25 and 1:26-38); 2)Visitation, the key-stone of the two  preceding sequences (1:39-56); 3)Birth and  Circumcision  of JBAP and Jesus (1:57-80 and 2:1-20); 4)Circumcision and Presenta­tion of Jesus in the Temple (2:21-40); 5)The second manifestation at the Temple and Conclusion (2:41-52).

Internal Articulations: This plan takes its point of  depar­ture  in the parallelism of the annunciations (sequence 1),  then of  the nativities (seq.3), each of the two  parallel  narratives leading to a sequence whose object is the manifestation of  Chri­st.  The visitation (seq.2) effects an admirable convergence  of the two annunciations and a harmonious transition between the two sequences ending (1:5-25) and beginning (1:57-80) with Elizabeth. The  three final sequences (3b-5) set aside JBap, hidden  in  the desert  (1:80),  to  highlight the double  manifestation  of  the Christ Child (2:21-52).

b)Deep Semantic Structuration (semantic level):  Key-moments of  ch.1 are indicated by the recurrence of the  formula  “filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:15.41.67): JBap, Elizabeth, and  Zechar­iah. There is triple Pentecost, since Lk characterizes that event by  the same formula, “They were all filled with the HS” (Ac  2:4 and 4:31).

The family of JBap, exemplary according to the Law, received by anticipation the gift of the Spirit. The transformation of the narrative leads us from the Law, symbolized by this elder couple, to  the Spirit, from the Old Covenant to the New, Inner  Covenant of Pentecost. The child conceived through the power of the Spirit as the new presence of God in the new Ark (Mary) is the source of

the proto-Pentecost of his Precursor. The transition from the Law to  the Spirit, which characterizes the infancy of JBap, is  thus achieved by Christ.

and  c)narrative structuration of  manifestation  (narrative level):



There are parallel/isotopic expressions for “salvation”: the consolation  of  Israel (2:25), redemption of  Jerusalem  (2:38), even  the  purification of Jerusalem (2:22).  The  word  “people” (LAOS) recurs   eight  times  in  Lk   1-2   (1:; 2:10.31.32). Jesus is at once the subject and object (Saviour and Salvation).  Jesus is also identified at once with God as  SENDER (or ADDRESSER)   and  with  human  beings  as   RECEIVERS   9or ADDRESSEES):  God  with God (Lord, Holy, Great, Son  of  God);  a human  with  human beings (baby child, growing boy, one  of  the poor). Lukan program is non-conflictual: opponents are practical­ly non-existent. Also helpers find no important place.  According to GREIMAS, HELPERS and OPPONENTS are not actants, but modalities of the SUBJECT.


The  semiotic square is found in Apuleius  (mid-second  cen­tury,  Opera, Leipzig, 1832, 2, 165). On the basis of  linguistic technique, it became a procedure instead of a theory. It works on material and  objective  indices by explaining  the  genesis  of meaning  from significative base-elements (called sememes)  which produce it. What matters is not the elements themselves but their relations and correlations: their organization, as a  design  or caricature is the effect of well-ordered contrasts between blacks and  whites.  The marks of a designer or a caricaturist  puts  on paper  allows us to recognize a person, a landscape, a scene.  We explain today the complex by the combination of simple  elements, the higher by the lower, meaning by the organization of elementa­ry signs. It studies the texts not by intuition, but by a method­ical exploration of the elements whose combination and succession produce meaning.

It is based on the contrast between Law and Grace, according to the following schema:



Law recurs in Lk 2:; grace (kharis)  in  1:28 (kekharitwomene)  and 1:30 (“you have found grace“), which is  the commentary on this name given from above. The word “grace”  forms an inclusion in Lk 1-2, from the Annunciation to Mary to the last verse indicating Jesus’ growth in grace (2:52).

The negative poles we find Zechariah’s lack of faith (1:20); the proud powerful in Magnificat (1:51-53); adversaries of Christ in the prophecy of Simeon (2:34-35).

In  the  horizontal  axes of  contraries:  AB=Law/Grace,  as exterior  and interior norms, as rule and freedom,  as  framework and  impetus  (like haste of Mary at the  Visitation).  A’B’=not-Law/non-grace=enemies  mentioned in the Benedictus (1:71),  anti­thesis  of the people of God (contraries of Grace  (impiety)  and Law  (injustice).  In  the  diagonal  axes  of   contradictories: BB’=’Grace’ and ‘non-Grace’=revolution of God (=grace) in  favour of the ANAWIM, against those who triumph according to the law  of the   world  by  knowledge,  possession,  and  power   (1:51-53). AA’=’Law’ and ‘non-Law’=opposition between the people of God  and the Gentiles to whom the Messiah will bring light (1:79;  2:32a). This opposition will be overcome by Grace.

In  the vertical axes of correlations: AB’=correlation  bet­ween  Law  and not-Grace concerns the case of Zechariah,  who  is just  according  to the Law, but, failing at first  according  to Grace,  enters into Grace by passing through the test of  punish­ment.  BA’=correlation grace and not-Law sheds light on the  most unusual  paradoxes of Lk 1-2, where the impetus of Grace and  the motions of the Spirit overturn norms and customs (Jesus’  impulse towards his Father prompts him to leave his parents and  violates the rules of “custom” (2:42) and of the caravan (2:43). Jesus  is subtle  to the Law and transcends it; he does not abolish it  but fulfills  it  but fulfills it by updating  and transferring  its meaning.

Mt  1:18-26: VERBAL TENSES: Future in  fulfilment  formulae (“he shall be called a Nazarene, 2:23); in the dreams (“you shall call  his  name Jesus“. The verb egeneto (“it came  to  pass,  it happened“)  is absent in Mt; the subject of active verbs  is  not Mary,  but Joseph; also the Magi and King Herod, the opponent  of Christ, are subjects.

SPACE: Babylon captivity (located event, Mt 1:11.17); Nazar­eth  (2:23); Jerusalem (2:1); Bethlehem (1:9-12);  Egypt  (2:15). TIME:  No chronology, only succession of Kings (measure  of time and history) ; Babylonian captivity (event, 1:17); days and death of  Herod  the  King (2:1.15). SOCIAL REFERENCE:  Clash  of  King (Herod)  against King (Jesus). MODAL CATEGORIES:  i)Having:  rich gifts  of  the Magi. ii)Willing: Herod opposes the will  of  God; Magi  will  go to pay homage to the  King-Messiah  (2:2);  Joseph wanted to divorce Mary, but obeys God’s Will. iii)Obligation:  It appears at the same time in Joseph, the just JOSEPH (=God adds-is DIKAIOS), whose decisions are regulated by justice (1:19) or  by the  orders of God himself. iv)Knowing: It acts as an  organizing principle  in Mt 1-2. It belongs to God, who leads the  “genesis” to  its completion, despite apparently chance events  and  human vicissitudes,  like  foreign or inexplicable women in  the  gene­alogy,  that is, exile and persecution of the Messiah . All  this was  predicted in Scripture; events reveal their hidden  signifi­cance.  The “oracles of God” remedy the incidental deviations  of events. God’s “knowledge” thwarts King Herod in gathering  infor­mation and keeps him from identifying the Messiah  and  locating him; the “star” also pertained to God, according to the mentality of  that  time;  “knowing” guides Joseph to  correct  his  “just” decision to dismiss Mary (cf.2:22). God’s “knowing” is royal and theocratic, but it comes to terms with earthly realities. v)Power:  Inspite  of Herod’s totalitarian “power“,  God’s  power (through dreams) reduces Herod to helplessness,  culminating  in his death (cf.2: God guides the events through human beings.  vi)Being: Messiah, qualified as Son of David  (1.17.20), “God-with-us (1:23, IMMANU-EL), “King of the Jews“.  vii)Doing: God  directs the action through dreams, in the direction  of  the prophecies. Herod uses priests, magi and soldiers in the arena of the  powers of this world. Herod’s action is exterior,  deceiving (2:8),  violent (2:16-18), whereas that of God is interior,  in­formative, inspiring. God does not “manipulate“.





There  are  two addressers, God and Herod,  who  manipulates human  beings, through his secretiveness and  crookedness  (2:8), with  anger and violence (2:16). God, the Lord of the Angels and dreams,  guides  though angels, dreams and  prophecies,  explicit (1:23; 2: and implicit/typological (star and gifts  of the wise men). At the anecdotal level, there are other subjects: David,  Joseph, wise men. The receivers (addressees)  are  Jesus, (connected  with  David and protected by Joseph),  people  (1:21; 2:6, cf.Mi 5:2 and 2 Sm 5:2), all Jerusalem (2:3), wise men  from the  East  (symbolizing the Gentile  peoples).  The  universalist opening is reinforced by the implicit reference to prophecies (Is 49:23;  cf.60:6;  Ps 72:10-15; and Mt 2:11).  During  his public life, Jesus says that he was sent only “to the lost sheep of  the house  of  Israel” (Mt 15:24; cf.10:6). Only at the  end  of  the Gospel  (28:19f),  salvation  is extended to  “all  nations”,  By prophetic  anticipation  the  episode of the  wise  men  suggests universalism–again  we find the prefigurative character  of  the infancy narratives. On the earthly level, there are places  func­tioning  as helpers: Bethlehem, Nazareth. On the heavenly  level, we have the star, five dreams, biblical prophecies, Holy Spirit.


The  square takes shape in relation to two poles  which  are always linked: generation and kingship.

GENERATION: The  vb BEGET (EGENNESEN)  recurs  forty-three times,  ninety-nine times in 3rd of the aorist active  in the  pattern, “A BEGOT B”, “B BEGOT C”, “C BEGOT D“.  But  after the  39th  occurrence  the chain breaks: Joseph  does  not  beget Jesus.  But it continues to be the key-word: it occurs four  more times (1:18.20; 2:1.4), but in the passive voice: Jesus is begot­ten.  The actant in this begetting remains shrouded  in  mystery, because  the  begetting takes place in a quite  different,  tran­scendent way (theophoric, divine passive). God is the  addresser, the first cause and totally different from secondary causes).  It does not appear after 2:4, but the idea of generation is  implied in  the relation of sonship and fatherhood (1:;  2:15; 2:22). Death,  inherent in a succession of  generations,  recurs four  times,  in  connection with Herod (2:;  it  is closely  connected  with his destructive plan. The  two  opposing genealogies–Messiah (1:1-16) and Herod (2:22)–are both dynastic and connected with the correlative idea of kingship.

KINGSHIP:  “King”  (BASILEUS) recurs five  times  (Mt  1:16; 2:  and “reign” (basileia) once in 2:22. The  word  “Mes­siah”   (MeSHIAH, KHRISTOS, Anointed),   with the   isotopy Spirit=Anointing, explicit in Lk, implied in Mt, recurs as inclu­sion  in  Mt 1:1 and in 1:16 and 17. It recurs  as  “God-with-Us” (1:23). The sememe “Kingship” underlies the entire narrative with its  significant  contrasts and plays a determining role:  He  is King, less because he is Son of David, since he is connected with David  only  by  adoption and topographic  coincidence,  than  by divine investiture (=anointing by the Holy Spirit) as Son of God.

The  next sequence (Mt 2) opens with an  opposition  between “King  Herod” (2:1) and “the King of the Jews who has  just  been begotten” (2:2). Once his destructive intention is made known  in the  narrative, Herod ceases to be described as king,  except  at his death; nor is the “messiah” mentioned again except in  refer­ence to his exile as a Nazarene (NAZIR=holy). Kingship and gener­ation  are the warp and woof of Mt 1-2. The Messiah is  from  God (1:16.18.20; cf.1:23; 28:20): a transfer was made from human  and political kingship to divine kingship and, at the same time, from human generation to divine sonship.




There  are non-kings in the first and third series of  four­teen  generations: before David (1:1-5) and after the  Babylonian captivity  (1:12-16).  Herod, king (2:1.3.9),  loses  this  title after  he is emphatically described in reference to  this  death. Non-generation pole is repreented symmetrically at the  beginning and  end  of  the genealogy which moves  from  the  ‘non-begotten begetter’, Abraham  (1:2),  to  two  ‘non-begetting  begottens’: Jospeh  and Jesus (inclusion; also tho this negative pole may  be linked the slain children of Bethlehem (2:16-18):  ‘non-begetting begottens’, prefiguring the suffering of Christ.

Kingship  is  perpetuated  only through  an  alternation  of generations  and  death. In order to protect  his  own  kingship, Herod slaughters the children. Men die, but the kingship  contin­ues (“The king is dead, long live the king!”). It is the function of  the  dynasty to ensure permanence. Kings would  claim  divine status (cf.Ac 12:21-23). But individual kingship ends with death. GENERATION and DYNASTIC ETERNITY are thus contrasted as  succes­sion  and  permanence, mortality and  immortality,  humanity  and divinity.  Christ  overcomes  the  contrariety  between dynastic permanence and renewal through birth: he does not beget a succes­sor, but his dynasty is eternal being the Son of God. The Messiah transcends the dynastic model in two ways: a)In political  terms: he  is  non-king  under  the sign  of  the  Babylonian  captivity (1:11.12.17),  powerless in contrast to Herod; source of  mockery for his enemeies (27:29 and 42). b)There is a two-stage break  in the  chain  of generations: i)Joseph does  not  beget;  ii)Jesus’ generation is due solely to God, and is not a part of any  dynas­ty.

The  pattern  of transformations is as follows:  Being  king from  the very beginning (1:18.20), Jesus is acknowledged at  his birth  by the wise men (cf.”King of the Jews”, 2:2) and, in  some sense,  by  King Herod himself (2:8). But  despite  his  apparent power  Herod  is only a puppet and doomed to  failure  and  death (2:15.19-22).  Beyond  the  outward semblances  of  power  stands Jesus, the true King, born of God. The virginal generation is the sign  of his transcendence over the kings of earth.  It  prepares the way for the revelation of his being as Son of God.

In  horizontal axes of the  Contraries,  AB:GENERATION/KING­SHIP–the  contrariety is between the chain of successions,  each doomed to death, and the messianic kingship of Jesus the Christ.

On the lower horizontal B’A’:  non-KINGSHIP/non-GENERATION— between non-Kingship from Abraham to Jesse, the father of  David, and esp.from the Babylonian captivity to Jesus (fall of dynasty); and  non-generation (biologically extinct, but real  through  the virginal conception of the Messiah, GOD-WITH-US.

On  the  diagonal axes (positions of  the  contradictories): BB’–the  contradiction  between KINGSHIP and  Non-KINGSHIP is clearly  visible in the relationship between the three groups  of ancestral  kings and non-kings (1:1.12.17); Jesus is  a  non-king according to power and appearance. AA’–the contradiction between GENERATION and  Non-GENERATION which is suggested  at  the  very beginning of the genealogy by the abrupt introduction of  Abraham (begetting  but seemingly non-begotten) is brought into the  open at  the  other end of the chain in the two begottens who  do  not beget: Joseph and Jesus, with Joseph prefiguring Jesus insofar as he is placed beyond the condition of begetter.

Vertical  Correlations: AB’:  GENERATION without  KINGSHIP describes  the  condition of Jechoniah and his brothers,  at  the collapse  of the dynasty at the time of the  deportation  (1:11). They  were  followed  by the successive  generations  of  a  non-reigning  royal  line,  upto  and  including  Jesus  (non-kings). BA’:KINGSHIP  without GENERATION belongs to the Messiah,  who  is not  begotten and does not beget. His mission is to  save–he  is the  Ruler  and the Shepherd: he gathers them by  a  new  process which is neither dynastic nor domineering. In short, the termina­tion  of  generations in 1:16 simply puts a biological end  to  a kingship  that had already fallen politically. It is within  this fallen  state that the kingdom preached by Christ takes on a  new

and  dine meaning, as Jesus reveals himself to be Son of God  and Saviour. This is the meaning of the kingship in the Kingdom which plays such an essential role in Mt (cf.3:2), Gospel of Kingdom.

Towns and Countries can be linked with the four poles of the square:

A.GENERATION: Bethlehem, place of Jesus’ birth, Son of David (cf.Lk  2:1-5,  Mi 5:1, quoted in Mt 2:6). At  the  topographical level,  Davidic  definition  is transcended  rather  than  merely fulfilled. B-KINGSHIP: Jerusalem: City of David, dynastic  place, in  which  the first anointed one established  his  dynasty;  the three wise men look for “the king of the Jews who was just  born” (2:2). But they find only King Herod (2:1) who plots the death of the  Messiah-King  (2:16-19) comes into the picture as  the  Mes­siah’s  place of Exile, a foreign land, in  contrast  (contradic­tory) to the royal birthplace. This foreign place of Exile of the chosen people (cf.2:15) is the counterpart of Babylon (4 times in 1:11-12  and 17) as the place of Exile for the people  and  their fallen  kings.  B’:Non-KINGSHIP: Nazareth in Galilee  is  a  true contrary, another place of exile, not in a foreign country but in the  marginal,  paganized  outskirts (Galilee  of  the  Gentiles, 4:15).  This northern province is seen as an anti-dynastic  place (2:22-23): it was the schismatic place where Jeroboam established an alternate kingdom.

SEMIOTIC EXPLANATION: In the first sequence (GENEALOGY), the only  place  (Babylon of the captivity) is mentioned,  there  the dynastic kingship came to an end. The second sequence (origin  of Jesus),  is  strictly atopical. Mt does not  speak  of  Nazareth, localization  is clear in Lk (1:26-27). For Mt, kingship  of  the Messiah  is not topographical/political. Born of the Spirit,  who

alone  qualifies Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God  (1:18  and 20;  cf.2:15),  his kingship does not depend on  generation  from David through Joseph but on God alone.

The  third sequence begins with a  topographical  connection with  Bethlehem. For Mt, it is a superficial sign. Davidic  place (unlike  Lk 2:1-4), fulfillment of a messianic prophecy (Mi  5:2, cited    in    2:6).   Mt’s   emphasis   on    the    disjunction Christ/Jerusalem–this dynastic city is opposed to him (2:3),  it even threatens him. Through its anti-king it would kill him, were it  not for God’s protection. When it becomes possible for  Jesus to  return to Israel after the death of Herod, the threat  repre­sented by Archaelaus, the dynastic successor of Herod, keeps  him out  of  Judea (the king’s province). The Infancy  Gospel  begins with a significant atopy and ends with two places of exile–Egypt (counterpart of Babylon, place of dynastic downfall) and  Bethlehem,  transformed into a place of carnage and  desolation  (2:16-18).  In  Mt’s Gospel, Jerusalem is the city of death,  the  city that kills the prophets and the Messiah: it is neither the  place of  preaching  nor  the place where the  Risen  Christ  manifests himself. The classic topographical values are both revolutionized and transcended–Galilee of the Gentiles becomes the place of the Messiah’s  manifestation (4:15), of his  post-resurrectional  ap­pearances  (28:10 and 16), and of the missionary sending  of  the apostles  (28:16-20). The Messiah transcends the  accepted  gene­alogy and topography. The Gospel overturns the established values of the culture.


The  semiotic  square  can be modalized by  the  squares  of veridiction:  BEING/APPEARING: there are isotopic parallels  bet­ween  being  and generation and between appearing  and  kingship.

i)AA’–The  being of the kings of earth is destined to turn  into the non-being of death, as transpires with Herod. ii)BB’–Appear­ing of their Kingship dies out and disappears for the, passed  on with difficulty through the dynastic institution and destroyed by the  ceaseless erosion of time. iii)AB–Messiah is the  fulfilled being who does not disappear or pass away; he renders ineffectual the appearing of human kingship, at the time when the dynasty  of David  lies in the shadows and when the awe-being of Christ  (Son of God and God-with-us) is hidden and threatened by the apparent­ly  powerful  kingship of Herod.  iv)BB–This  kingship(appearing without being) ends for Herod in death, which brings to light the provisional,  misleading, condemned character of his  being.  His

kingship is a lie. v)AB’–The kingship of the Messiah exists  but does  not appear, it is secret. The function of the narrative  is to  manifest  this hidden kingship–to declare the  titles  which reveal his being,his signs, his victory over threats of death,  a victory infallibly guaranteed by God. There is a gradual elucida­tion of the symbol of new creation (GENNESIS, 1:1 and 16) and the role of the HSpirit, connected with the origin of creation.  This semiotic  study illustrates how Mt decodes the prophetic  program hidden  in insignificant or disturbing incidents.  The  transcen­dence of the Messiah hidden in the disconcerting virginal concep­tion. The begotten child is the SAVIOUR, GOD-with-us (1:23).  The promised  kingship has come via this obscure birth, the birth  of the  Son  of God, this hunted exile (2:15)–the  holy  one,  this obscure  Nazarene (2:23), whose name, lacking in  earthly  glory, reveals his true greatness. By modalizing the generation-kingship square by the square of veridiction we have a revelation from  Mt 1-2:  the truth of God, communicated in the vicissitudes of  this world  is the basis of an utterly different, non-political,  non-dynastic kingship,  vicissitudes and  permanence,  is  overcome, not  at the level of appearing but at the level of  the  revealed being who transcends appearing and brings about a new reconcilia­tion  of being and appearing. The key to all this is  the  wholly different  KING, who is unknown to the powers of this  world  and whom  the  Scripture defines as “GOD-WITH-US“,  the  image  which begins and closes Matthean Gospel.


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