Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Verses: 1 2, 4, 6, 9, 14, 16, 23
A calculation of the times when Christ was born.
1. Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
[Now when Jesus was born.] We thus lay down a scheme of the times when Christ was born:
I. He was born in the year of the world 3928.
For from the creation of the world to the deluge are commonly reckoned 1656 years.
From the deluge to Abraham's promise are 427 years. This being supposed, that Abraham was born the 130th year of Terah: which must be supposed.
From the promise given, to the going out of Egypt, 430 years, Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17.
From the going out of Egypt to the laying the foundations of the Temple are 480 years, 1 Kings 6:1.
The Temple was building 7 years, 1 Kings 6:38.
Casting up, therefore, all these together, viz. 1656 + 427 + 430 + 480 + 7 = The sum of years amounts to 3000.
And it is clear, the building of the Temple was finished and completed in the year of the world 3000.
The Temple was finished in the eleventh year of Solomon, 1 Kings 6:38: and thence to the revolting of the ten tribes, in the first year of Rehoboam, were 30 years. Therefore, that revolt was in the year of the world 3030.
From the revolt of the ten tribes to the destruction of Jerusalem under Zedekiah were three hundred and ninety years: which appears sufficiently from the chronical computation of the parallel times of the kings of Judah and Israel: and which is implied by Ezekiel 4:4-6: "Thou shalt sleep upon thy left side, and shalt put the iniquities of the house of Israel upon it, &c. according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days. And when thou shalt have accomplished them, thou shalt sleep upon thy right side the second time, and shalt take upon thee the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days." Concerning the computation of these years, it is doubted, whether those forty years are to be numbered together within the three hundred and ninety years, or by themselves, as following after those three hundred and ninety years. We, not without cause, embrace the former opinion, and suppose those forty years to be included within the sum of three hundred and ninety; but mentioned by themselves particularly, for a particular reason. For by the space of forty years before the destruction of the city by the Chaldeans, did Jeremiah prophesy daily, namely, from the third year of Josias to the sacking of the city: whom the people not hearkening to, they are marked for that peculiar iniquity with this note.
Therefore, these three hundred and ninety years being added to the year of the world, 3030, when the ten tribes fell off from the house of David, the age of the world when Jerusalem perished, arose to the year 3420.
At that time there remained fifty years of the Babylonian captivity to be completed. For those remarkable seventy years took their beginning from the third year of Jehoiakim, Daniel 1:1, whose fourth year begins the Babylonian monarchy, Jeremiah 25:1. And, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, the Temple was destroyed, 2 Kings 25:8, when now the twentieth year of the captivity passed; and other fifty remained: which fifty being added to the year of the world 3420, a year fatal to the Temple, the years of the world amount, in the first year of Cyrus, unto 3470.
From the first of Cyrus to the death of Christ are seventy weeks of years, or four hundred and ninety years, Daniel 9:24. Add these to the three thousand four hundred and seventy, and you observe Christ crucified in the year of the world 3960. When, therefore, you have subtracted thirty-two years and a half, wherein Christ lived upon the earth, you will find him born in the year of the world 3928.
II. He was born in the one-and-thirtieth year of Augustus Caesar, the computation of his monarchy beginning from the victory at Actium. Of which matter thus Dion Cassius writes: "This(1) 1. Dion. Cass. lib. li. in the beginning. their sea-fight was on the second of September: and this I speak upon no other account (for I am not wont to do it), but because then Caesar first obtained the whole power: so that the computation of the years of his monarchy must be precisely reckoned from that very day." We confirm this our computation, by drawing down a chronological table from this year of Augustus to the fifteenth year of Tiberius, when Christ, having now completed the nine-and-twentieth year of his age, and entering just upon his thirtieth, was baptized. Now this table, adding the consuls of every year, we thus frame:
A.M. A.U.C. Augustus A.D. CONSULS. 3928 754 31 1 Caes. Aug. XIV. and L. Aemil. Paulus. 3929 755 32 2 Publius Vinicius and Pub. Alfenus Varus. 3930 756 33 3 L. Aelius Lamia, and M. Servilius. 3931 757 34 4 Sext. Aemilius Carus, and C. Sentius Saturninus. 3932 758 35 5 L. Valerius Messala, and Cn. Corn. Cinna Magn. 3933 759 36 6 M. Aemil. Lepidus, and L. Aruntius. 3934 760 37 7 A. Licin. Nerv. Silanus, and Q. Caecil. Metell. Cret. 3935 761 38 8 Furius Camillus, and Sext. Nonius quintilianus. 3936 762 39 9 Q. Sulpit. Camarin, and C. Poppaeus Sabinus. 3937 763 40 10 Pub. Corn. Dolabella, and C. Junius Silanus. 3938 764 41 11 M. Aemil. Lepid. and T. Statilius Taurus. 3939 765 42 12 Germanicus Caes. and C. Fonteius Capito. 3940 766 43 13 L. Munatius Plancus, and C. Silius Caecina. 3941 767 44 14 Sext. Pomp. Sexti F. and Sext. Apuleius Sexti F.
[A.M Latin anno mundi = in the year of the world.
A.U.C. Latin ab urbe condita = from the year of the founding of the city (of Rome).]
Augustus Caesar died the 19th day of August: on which day he had formerly entered upon the first consulship. He(2) 2. Dion. Cass. lib. lvi. lived seventy-five years, ten months, and twenty-six days. He bore the empire alone, from the victory at Actium, forty-four years, wanting only thirteen days.
"Tiberius(3) 3. Eutrop. lib. vii. held the empire in great slothfulness, with grievous cruelty, wicked covetousness, and filthy lust."
A.M. A.U.C. Tiberius A.D. CONSULS. 3942 768 1 15 Drusus Caes. and C. Norbanus Flaccus. 3943 769 2 16 C. Statil. Sisenna Taurus, and Scribonius Libo. 3944 770 3 17 C. Caecil. Rufus, and L. Pomponianus Flaccus. 3945 771 4 18 Tiber. Caes. Augu. III. and Germanicus Caes. II. 3946 772 5 19 M. Julius Silanus, and L. Norban Flac. vel Balbus. 3947 773 6 20 M. Valerius Messala, and M. Aurel. Cotta. 3948 774 7 21 Tiber. Caes. Aug. IV. and Drusus Caes. II. 3949 775 8 22 D. Haterius Agrippa, and C. Sulpitius Galba. 3950 776 9 23 C. Asinius Pollio, and C. Antistius Veter. 3951 777 10 24 Sext. Cornel. Cethegus, and Visellius Varro. 3952 778 11 25 M. Asinius Agrippa, and Cossus Cornel Lentulus. 3953 779 12 26 Cn. Lentulus Getulicus, and C. Calvisius Sabinus. 3954 780 13 27 M. Licinius Crassus, and P. L. Calphurnius Piso. 3955 781 14 28 Appius Jul. Silanus, and P. Silvius Nerva. 3956 782 15 29 C. Rubellius Geminus, and C. Fusius Geminus.
In the early spring of this year came John baptizing. In the month Tisri Christ is baptized, when he had now accomplished the nine-and-twentieth year of his age, and had now newly entered upon his thirtieth. The thirtieth of Christ is to be reckoned with the sixteenth of Tiberius.
Of Augustus, now entering upon his one-and-thirtieth year, wherein Christ was born, Dion Cassius hath moreover these words: "Having now completed thrice ten years, being compelled, indeed, to it, he continued his government, and entered upon a fourth ten of years: being now more easy and slothful by reason of age." In this very year was the taxation under Cyrenius, of which Luke speaks, chapter 2. So that if it be asked when the fifth monarchy of the Romans arose, after the dissolution of those four mentioned by Daniel, an easy answer may be fetched from St. Luke, who relates that in that very year wherein Christ was born, Augustus laid a tax upon the whole world.
III. Christ was born in the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Herod: which we gather from the observation of these things: 1. Herod(4) 4. Joseph. Antiq. lib. 17.8.1. reigned, from that time he was first declared king by the Romans, seven-and-thirty years. 2. Between the death of Herod and the death of Augustus there was this space of time:
1. The(5) 5. Jos. Antiq. lib. 17.13.2. ten years current of the reign of Archelaus.
2. Coponius(6) 6. Id. ibid. and 18.1.1. succeeds him, banished to Vienna in the presidentship of Judea.
3. Marcus Ambibuchus [Ambivius] succeeds Coponius.
4. Annius Rufus(7) 7. Id. ibid. 18.2.2. succeeds Ambibuchus [Ambivius], during whose presidentship Augustus dies.
Since, therefore, only fourteen years passed from the nativity of Christ to the death of Augustus, out of which sum when you shall have reckoned the ten years current of Archelaus, and the times of the three presidents, we must reckon that Christ was not born but in the last years of Herod. Thus we conjecture:
In his thirty-fifth Christ was born.
In his thirty-seventh, now newly begun, the wise men came: presently after this was the slaying of the infants; and, after a few months, the death of Herod.
IV. Christ was born about the twenty-seventh year of the presidentship of Hillel in the Sanhedrim.
The rise of the family of Hillel took its beginning at the decease of the Asmonean family (Herod, indeed, succeeded in the kingly government); a family sprung from Babylon, and, as was believed, of the stock of David. For(8) 8. Jer. Taanith, fol. 68. "a book of genealogy was found at Jerusalem" (which we mentioned before), "in which it was written, that Hillel was sprung from the stock of David, by his wife Abital." Now Hillel went up out of Babylon to Jerusalem, to inquire of the wise men concerning some things, when now, after the death of Shemaia and Abtalion, the two sons of Betira held the chief seats. And when he who had resorted thither to learn something, had taught them some things of the Passover rites, which they had forgot, they put him into the chair. You have the full story of it in the Jerusalem Talmud.(9) 9. Pesachin, fol. 33. 1. We mention it chapter 26:1.
Now Hillel went up to Jerusalem and took the chair a hundred years before the destruction of the city: "Hillel(10) 10. Bab. Shabbath, fol. 15a. and his son Simeon, and his son Gamaliel, and his son Simeon, bare the government for a hundred years before the laying waste of the Temple." Of those hundred years if you take away two-and-thirty and a half of the life of Christ, and forty years (as it is commonly deputed) coming between the death of Christ and the destruction of the city, there remain the twenty-seven years of Hillel before the birth of our Saviour.
Hillel held the government forty years: so that his death happened about the twelfth or thirteenth year of Christ. His son also held it after him, and his grandsons, in a long succession, even to R. Judah the Holy. The splendour and pomp of this family of Hillel had so obscured the rest of the families of David's stock, that perhaps they believed or expected the less, that the Messias should spring from any of them. Yea, one in the Babylonian Gemara was almost persuaded, that "Rabbi Judah the Holy, of the Hillelian family, was the Messias. Rabh(11) 11. Sanhedrin fol. 98b. said, If Messiah be among the living, our Holy Rabbi is such: if among the dead, Daniel was he."
V. Christ was born in the month of Tisri; somewhat answering to our September. This we conclude, omitting other things, by computing backwards from his death. For if he died in his two-and-thirtieth year and a half, at the feast of the Passover, in the month Nisan, you must necessarily lay the time of his birth in the month Tisri. But that he died at that age, not to make any delay by mentioning more things, appears hence, that he was baptized now beginning his thirtieth year, and that he lived after his baptism three years and a half; as the space of his public ministry is determined by the angel Gabriel, Daniel 9; "In the half of a week" (that is, three years and a half), "he shall make the sacrifice to cease," &c. But of this hereafter.
This month was ennobled in former times, 1. For the creation of the world. Weigh well Exodus 23:15; Joel 2:23. 2. For the nativity of the first fathers; which the Jews(12) 12. Jer. Rosh Hashanah, fol. 56. 4. assert not without reason. 3. For the repairing the tables of the law. For Moses, after the third fast of forty days, comes down from the mountain, a messenger of good things, the tenth day of this month, which was from hence appointed for the feast of Expiation to following ages. 4. For the dedication of the Temple, 1 Kings 8:2. And, 5. For three solemn feasts, namely, that of the Beginning of the Year, that of Expiation, and that of Tabernacles. From this month also was the beginning of the Jubilee.
VI. It is probable Christ was born at the feast of Tabernacles.
1. So it ariseth exactly to three-and-thirty years and a half, when he died at the feast of the Passover.
2. He fulfilled the typical equity of the Passover and Pentecost, when, at the Passover, he offered himself for a passover, at Pentecost he bestowed the Holy Ghost from heaven, as at that time the law had been given from heaven. At that time the first-fruits of the Spirit were given by him (Rom 8:23), when the first-fruits of corn had been wont to be given, Leviticus 23:17. It had been a wonder if he had honoured the third solemnity, namely, the feast of Tabernacles, with no antitype.
3. The institution of the feast of Tabernacles agrees excellently with the time of Christ's birth. For when Moses went down from the mount on the tenth day of the month Tisri, declaring that God was appeased, that the people was pardoned, and that the building of the holy tabernacle was forthwith to be gone in hand with (hitherto hindered by and because of the golden calf), seeing that God now would dwell among them, and forsake them no more; the Israelites immediately pitch their tents, knowing they were not to depart from that place before the divine tabernacle was finished, and they set upon this work with all their strength. Whence the tenth day of that month, wherein Moses came down and brought this good news with him, was appointed for the feast of Expiation; and the fifteenth day, and seven days after, for the feast of Tabernacles, in memory of their dwelling in tents in the wilderness, when God dwelt in the midst of them: which things with how aptly typical an aspect they respect the incarnation, when God dwelt among men in human flesh, is plain enough.
4. Weigh Zechariah 14:16, 17: "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up, from year to year, to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem, to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no more rain."
[In Beth-lehem.] It will not be improper here to produce the Gemarists themselves, openly confessing that the Messias was born now a good while ago before their times. For so they write: "After(13) 13. Jer. Beracoth, fol. 5. 1. this the children of Israel shall be converted, and shall inquire after the Lord their God, and David their king, Hosea 3:5. Our Rabbins say, That is king Messias: if he be among the living, his name is David; or if dead, David is his name. R. Ranchum said, Thus I prove it: 'He showeth mercy to David his Messiah' (Psa 18:50). R. Joshua Ben Levi saith, His name is A branch (Zech 3:8). R. Judan Bar Aibu saith, His name is Menahem [that is, the comforter]. And that which happened to a certain Jew, as he was ploughing, agreeth with this business:A certain Arabian travelling, and hearing the ox bellow, said to the Jew at plough, 'O Jew, loose thy oxen, and loose thy ploughs: for behold! the Temple is laid waste.' The ox bellowed the second time; the Arabian said to him, O Jew, Jew, yoke thy oxen and fit thy ploughs, for behold! King Messiah is born. But, saith the Jew, 'What is his name?' 'Menahem,' saith he. 'And what is the name of his father?' 'Hezekiah,' saith the Arabian. To whom the Jew, 'But whence is he?' The other answered, 'From the palace of the king of Beth-lehem Judah.' Away he went, and sold his oxen and his ploughs, and became a seller of infants' swaddling-clothes, going about from town to town. When he came to that city [Beth-lehem], all the women bought of him, but the mother of Menahem bought nothing. He heard the voice of the women saying, 'O thou mother of Menahem, thou mother of Menahem, carry thy son the things that are here sold.' But she replied, 'May the enemies of Israel be strangled, because on the day that he was born the Temple was laid waste!' To whom he said, 'But we hoped, that as it was laid waste at his feet, so at his feet it would be built again.' She saith, 'I have no money.' To whom he replied, 'But why should this be prejudicial to him? Carry him what you buy here; and if you have no money to-day, after some days I will come back and receive it.' After some days he returns to that city, and saith to her, 'How does the little infant?' And she said, 'From the time you saw me last, spirits and tempests came, and snatched him away out of my hands.' R. Bon saith, What need have we to learn from an Arabian? Is it not plainly written, 'And Lebanon shall fall before the powerful one?' (Isa 10:34). And what follows after? 'A branch shall come out of the root of Jesse'" (Isa 11:1).
The Babylonian doctors yield us a confession not very unlike the former: "R. Chaninah(14) 14. Abodah Zarah, fol. 9b. saith, After four hundred years are past from the destruction of the Temple, if any one shall say to you, 'Take to thyself for one penny a field worth a thousand pence,' do not take it." And again; "After four thousand two hundred thirty-and-one years from the creation of the world, if any shall say to you, 'Take for a penny a field worth a thousand pence,' take it not." The Gloss is, "For that is the time of redemption; and you shall be brought back to the holy mountain, to the inheritance of your fathers: why, therefore, should you misspend your penny?"
You may fetch the reason of this calculation, if you are at leisure, out of the tract Sanhedrim:(15) 15. Fol. 97. "The tradition of the school of Elias, The world is to last six thousand years," &c. And a little after; "Elias said to Rabh Judah, 'The world shall last not less than eighty-five jubilees; and in the last jubilee shall the Son of David come.' He saith to him, 'Whether in the beginning of it, or in the end?' He answered him, 'I know not.' 'Whether is this whole time to be finished first, or not?' He answered him, 'I know not.' But Rabh Asher asserts that he answered thus, 'Until then expect him not, but from thence expect him.'" Hear your own countrymen, O Jew, how many centuries of years are past by and gone from the eighty-fifth jubilee of the world, that is, the year 4250, and yet the Messias of your expectation is not yet come.
Daniel's weeks had so clearly defined the time of the true Messias's coming, that the minds of the whole nation were raised into the expectation of him. Hence it was doubted of the Baptist whether he were not the Messias, Luke 3:15. Hence it was that the Jews are gathered together from all countries unto Jerusalem [Acts 2], expecting, and coming to see, because at that time the term of revealing the Messias, that had been prefixed by Daniel, was come. Hence it was that there was so great a number of false Christs, Matthew 24:5, &c., taking the occasion of their impostures hence, that now the time of that great expectation was at hand, and fulfilled: and in one word, "They thought the kingdom of God should presently appear"; Luke 19:11.
But when those times of expectation were past, nor did such a Messias appear as they expected (for when they saw the true Messias, they would not see him), they first broke out into various and those wild conjectures of the time; and at length all those conjectures coming to nothing, all ended in this curse (the just cause of their eternal blindness), May their soul be confounded who compute the times!
[Wise men from the east.] Magi, that is, wizards, or such as practised ill arts: for in this sense alone this word occurs in holy writ.
From the east. This more generally denotes as much as, 'Out of the land of the heathen,' in the same sense as 'the queen of the south' is taken,
Matthew 12:42; that is, 'a heathen queen.' Consider this passage in the Talmud, "From Rekam to the east, and Rekam is as the east: from Ascalon to the south, and Ascalon is as the south: from Acon to the north, and Acon is as the north." These words R. Nissim(16) 16. In Gittin, cap. 1. art 1. quotes from R. Judah, and illustrates it with this Gloss, "From Rekam to the furthest bounds of the land eastward is heathen land; and Rekam itself is reckoned for the east of the world, and not for the land of Israel. So also from Ascalon onwards to the south is the heathen country, and Ascalon itself is reckoned for the south": that is, for heathen land.
Those countries where the sons of Abraham by his wife Keturah were dispersed, are more particularly called the 'eastern' countries, Genesis 25:6, Judges 6:3, and elsewhere often. And hence came these first-fruits of the Gentiles: whence it is not unlikely that Jethro also came, the first proselyte to the law. And that which is spoken by the Gemara concerning the Arabian, the first pointer-out of the Messias born, is perhaps some shadow of this story of the magicians' coming out of Arabia, and who first publicly declared him to be born.
2. Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
[For we have seen his star in the east.] We, being in the east, have seen his star:that heavenly light, which in that very night wherein the Saviour was born shone round about the shepherds of Beth-lehem, perhaps was seen by these magicians, being then a great distance off, resembling a star hanging over Judea; whence they might the more easily guess that the happy sign belonged to the Jews.
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
[And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together.] That is, he assembled the Sanhedrim. Herod is said by very many authors to have slain the Sanhedrim, but this is neither to be understood of the whole Sanhedrim, nor, if it were to be understood of the whole, would it denote the total subversion of the Sanhedrim. The Babylonian Gemarists do thus relate the story: "Herod(17) 17. Baba Bathra, fol. 3b. was a servant of the Asmonean family. He cast his eyes upon a young maid [of that family]. On a certain day he heard the Bath Kol [a voice from heaven] saying, Whatsoever servant shall now rebel shall prosper. He arose up against his masters, and slew them all." And a little after; "Herod said, Who is there that interprets these words, 'Thou shalt set a king over thee out of the midst of thy brethren?' (Deut 17:15). The Rabbins [interpreted the words]. He rose up and slew all the Rabbins, leaving only Bava Ben Buta, with whom he consulted."
Herod was to overcome two difficulties, that he might, with the peace and favour of the Jews, become their king. For, although he had been raised unto the kingdom by the Romans, nevertheless, that he might establish his throne, the people remaining quiet and accepting him, first it seemed necessary to him that the Asmonean family should be removed out of the way, which, formerly governing the people, they had some affection and love for, and which still remaining, he suspected he could scarce be secure. Secondly, that law of setting no king over them but of their brethren debarred him, since he himself was of the stock of Edom. Therefore he took away all those Rabbins, who, adhering stiffly to this law, opposed, what they could, his coming to the kingdom. "But all the Rabbins indeed he slew not (saith the Gloss upon the place alleged); for the sons of Betira were left alive, who held the chair when Hillel came out of Babylon."
Therefore he slew not all the elders of the Sanhedrim, but those only who, taking occasion from that law, opposed his access to the kingdom. Out of that slaughter the two sons of Betira escaped, who held the first places in the Sanhedrim after the death of Shemaiah and Abtalion. Shammai also escaped, who, according as Josephus relates, foretold this slaughter. Hillel escaped likewise, if he were then present; and Menahem, who certainly was there, and who thenceforth sat second in the chair. Bava Ben Buta escaped also, as the Gemara relates, who afterward persuaded Herod that he should repair the Temple to expiate this bloody impiety. And others escaped.
[The chief priests.] When the Sanhedrim consisted of priests, Levites, and Israelites (as Maimonides(18) 18. In Sanhedrin cap. 2. teacheth), under the word chief priests, are comprehended the two former; namely, whosoever of the clergy were members of the Sanhedrim; and under the scribes of the people are comprehended all those of the Sanhedrim who were not of the clergy.
Among the priests were divers differences:
I. Of the priests some were called, as if you would say the plebeian priests; namely, such who indeed were not of the common people, but wanted school education, and were not reckoned among the learned, nor among such as were devoted to religion. For seeing the whole seed of Aaron was sacerdotal, and priests were not so much made as born, no wonder if some ignorant and poor were found among them. Hence is that distinction, The(19) 19. Jer. Terumoth, fol. 44. 1 & 2. poor Israelites and the poor priests are gatherers. A Votary priest, and a Plebeian priest. And caution is given, That(20) 20. Bab. Sanhedrin fol. 90b. the oblation be not given to a Plebeian priest. And the reason of it is added, "Because whosoever giveth an oblation to a Plebeian priest doth all one as if he should give it to a lion; of which it may be doubted whether he will treat it under his feet and eat it or not. So it may be doubted of a Plebeian priest, whether he will eat it in cleanness or in uncleanness." However ignorant and illiterate these were, yet they had their courses at the altar according to their lot, being instructed at that time by certain rules for the performing their office, appointed them by lot. You would stand amazed to read those things(21) 21. Yoma, cap. 1. which are supposed concerning the ignorance and rudeness even of the high-priest himself.
II. There were others who were called Idiot, or private, priests; who although they both were learned, and performed the public office at the altar, yet were called private, because they were priests of a lower, and not of a worthier, order.
III. The worthier degree of priests was fourfold, besides the degree of the high-priest, and of the sagan his substitute. For, 1. There were the heads of the Ephemeries, or courses; in number twenty-four. 2. There were the heads of the families in every course. Of(22) 22. Taanith, fol. 68. 1. both, see the Jerusalem Talmud. 3. The presidents over the various offices in the Temple. Of them, see Shekalim.(23) 23. Cap. 5. 4. Any priests or Levites, indeed, (although not of these orders), that were chosen into the chief Sanhedrim. Chief priests, therefore, here and elsewhere, where the discourse is of the Sanhedrim, were they who, being of the priestly or Levitical stock, were chosen into that chief senate.
[The scribes of the people.] A scribe, denotes more generally any man learned, and is opposed to the word rude, or clownish. "Two,(24) 24. Bab. Berakoth, fol. 45b. who ate together, are bound to give thanks each by themselves, when both of them are scribes: But if one be a scribe, and the other ignorant [or a clown], let the scribe give thanks, and thence satisfaction is made for the duty of the ignorant, or unlearned person." So we read of The(25) 25. Bab. Sotah, fol. 33b. scribes of the Samaritans; that is, the learned among the Samaritans: for among them there were no traditionarians.
More particularly, scribes, denote such, who, being learned, and of scholastic education, addicted themselves especially to handling the pen, and to writing. Such were the public notaries in the Sanhedrim, registrars in the synagogues, amanuenses who employed themselves in transcribing the law, phylacteries, short sentences to be fixed upon the door-posts, bills of contracts, or divorce, &c. And in this sense a scribe, and a Talmudic doctor, are sometimes opposed; although he was not Tanna, a Talmudic doctor, who was not Sophra, a scribe, in the sense above mentioned. In(26) 26. Abodah Zarah, fol. 9a, &c. the Babylonian Talmud it is disputed (a passage not unworthy our reading), what disagreement in calculation may be borne with between an expounder out of the chair, or the pulpits, and a writer of contracts, or bills of divorce, or a register, &c., in reckoning up the year of the Temple, of the Greek empire, &c. Concerning which matter, this, among other things, is concluded on, that a scribe computes more briefly, a doctor more largely. It will not repent one to read the place; nor that whole tract called The tract of the scribes; which dictates to the scribes of that sort of which we are now speaking, concerning writing out the law, the phylacteries, &c.
But, above all others, the fathers of the traditions are called scribes (who were, indeed, the elders of the Sanhedrim): which is clear enough in these and such-like expressions: The words of the scribes are more lovely than the words of the law; that is, traditions are better than the written law: This is of the words of the scribes: that is, 'this is from the traditionary decrees.'
These, therefore, whom Matthew calls the scribes of the people, were those elders of the Sanhedrim, who were not sprung from the sacerdotal or Levitical stock, but of other tribes: the elders of the Sanhedrim, sprung of the blood of the priests, were the scribes of the clergy, the rest were the scribes of the people.
We may therefore guess, and that no improbable conjecture, that, in this assembly, called together by Herod, these were present, among others:1. Hillel, the president. 2. Shammai, vice-president. 3. The sons of Betira, Judah, and Joshua. 4. Bava Ben Buta. 5. Jonathan the son of Uzziel, the Chaldee paraphrast. 6. Simeon, the son of Hillel.
6. And thou Beth-lehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
[Art not the least.] These words do not at all disagree with the words of the prophet whence they are taken, Micah 5:2, which I thus render, "But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrata, it is a small thing that thou art" [or, art reckoned] "among the thousands of Israel"; for thou art to be crowned with higher dignity; "for from thee shall go forth a ruler," &c. And in effect to this sense, unless I mistake, does the Chaldee paraphrast plainly render it, whom I suspect to be present at this very council, "Thou art within a little to become chief." See the same sense of the word in the Targum upon Psalm 73:2, Hosea 1:4, &c.
9. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
[The star, which they saw in the east, went before them.] It is probable the star had shone in the very birthnight: and thence-forward to this very time it had disappeared. The wise men had no need of the star to be their guide when they were going to Jerusalem, a city well known; but going forward thence to Beth-lehem, and that, as it seems, by night, it was their guide.
14. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.
[Departed into Egypt.] Egypt was now replenished with Jews above measure, and that, partly by reason of them that travelled thither under Jochanan, the son of Kareah, Jeremiah 43; partly with them that flocked thither, more latewardly, to the temple of Onias, of which Josephus(27) 27. Antiq. 13.3.1. writes, and both Talmuds:(28) 28. Menahoth, c. 13; Succah, c. 5; Jer. Yoma, fol. 43. 4. "When Simeon the Just said, 'I shall die this year,' they said to him, 'Whom, therefore, shall we put in thy place?' He answered, 'Behold! my son Onias is before you.' They made Onias therefore high-priest. But his brother Simeon envied him. Onias, therefore, fled, first into the Royal Mountain, and then into Egypt, and built there an altar, repeating that of the prophet, 'In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of Egypt.'"
"He(29) 29. Id. Sukkah, fol. 55. 1, 2. that hath not seen the cathedral church of Alexandria hath never seen the glory of Israel. It was after the manner of a court-walk, double cloistered. There were sometimes there so many as doubly exceeded the number of those that went out of Egypt. There were seventy golden chairs set with gems, according to the number of the seventy elders. A wooden pulpit also placed in the middle, in which the bishop of the synagogue stood. And when the law was read, after every benediction, a sign being given by a private person waving a handkerchief, they all answered 'Amen.' But they sat not confusedly and mixedly together; but every artificer with the professors of the same art: so that if a stranger came, he might mingle himself with the workmen of the same trade, &c. These did wicked Trajan destroy," &c.
The Babylonian Gemara(30) 30. Sukkah, fol. 51b. repeats almost the same things, alleging these last matters after this manner: "They sat not confusedly, but the artificers by themselves, the silversmiths by themselves, the braziers by themselves, the weavers by themselves, &c.; so that if a poor stranger came in, he might know his own fellow-workmen, and betake himself to them, and thence receive sustenance for himself and family."
So provision was made for the poverty of Joseph and Mary, while they sojourned in Egypt (at Alexandria, probably), partly by selling the presents of the wise men for food and provision by the way; and partly by a supply of victuals from their country-folks in Egypt when they had need.
There are some footsteps in the Talmudists of this journey of our Saviour into Egypt, but so corrupted with venomous malice and blasphemy (as all their writings are), that they seem only to have confessed the truth, that they might have matter the more liberally to reproach him; for so they speak: "When
Jannai(31) 31. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 107b. the king slew the Rabbins, R. Josua Ben Perachiah, and Jesus, went away unto Alexandria in Egypt. Simeon Ben Shetah sent thither, speaking thus, 'From me Jerusalem the holy city, to thee, O Alexandria in Egypt, my sister, health. My husband dwells with thee, while I, in the mean time, sit alone. Therefore he rose up, and went.'" And a little after; "He brought forth four hundred trumpets, and anathematized" [Jesus]. And a little before that; "Elisaeus turned away Gehazi with both his hands, and R. Josua Ben Perachiah thrust away Jesus with both his hands."
"Did(32) 32. Shabbath fol. 104b. not Ben Satda bring enchantments out of Egypt in the cutting which was in his flesh?" Under the name of Ben Satda they wound our Jesus with their reproaches, although the Glosser upon the place, form the authority of R. Tam, denies it: for thus he; R. Tam saith, This was not Jesus of Nazareth, because they say here, Ben Satda was in the days of Paphus, the son of Judah, who was in the days of R. Akiba: but Jesus was in the days of R. Josua, the son of Perachiah, &c.
16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
[From two years old, and under.] It was now two years ago, or thereabouts, since the star had shone, and Christ was born. The reason of the tarrying of Joseph and Mary in Beth-lehem was this; that they believed that the Messias, who, according to the prophet was born there, should have been brought up nowhere but there also; nor dared they to carry him elsewhere, before they had leave to do so by an angel from heaven.
The Jewish nation are very purblind, how and whence the Messias shall arise; and "Nemo novit, no man knows whence the Son of man is," John 7:27; that is, from what original. It was doubted whether(33) 33. Jer. Ber. fol. 5. 1. he should come from the living or from the dead. Only it was confessed by all without controversy, that he should first make some show of himself from Beth-lehem, which the priests and scribes of the people assert, verse 4. Hence you have Christ now in his second year at Beth-lehem, whither Joseph and Mary had again betaken themselves with him, when they had now presented him in the Temple, according to the law, being forty days old, Luke 2:22. And they had taken care for his education in this place, and not elsewhere, until he himself, going forth from hence, might show himself openly the Messias, if they had not been sent away somewhere else by permission from heaven.
23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
[He shall be called a Nazarene.] Those things which are brought from Isaiah 11:1 concerning Netzer, the Branch; and those things also produced concerning Samson the Nazarite, a most noble type of Christ, have their weight, by no means to be despised. We add, that Matthew may be understood concerning the outward, humble, and mean condition of our Saviour. And that by the word, Nazarene, he hints his separation and estrangement from other men, as a despicable person, and unworthy of the society of men.
I. Let it be observed, that the evangelist does not cite some one of the prophets, but all: "spoken by the prophets." But now all the prophets, in a manner, do preach the vile and abject condition of Christ; none, that his original should be out of Nazareth.
II. David, in his person, speaks thus; I was a stranger to my brethren, Psalm 69:8.
III. If you derive the word Nazarene, which not a few do, from Nazir, a Nazirean, that word denotes not only a separation, dedicated to God, such as that of the Nazarenes was; but it signifies also the separation of a man from others, as being unworthy of their society; Genesis 49:26, "They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren."
Therefore, let us digest the sense of the evangelist by this paraphrase: Joseph was to depart with Christ to Beth-lehem, the city of David, or to Jerusalem, the royal city, had not the fear of Archelaus hindered him. Therefore, by the signification of an angel, he is sent away into Galilee, a very contemptible country, and into the city Nazareth, a place of no account: whence, from this very place, and the name of it, you may observe that fulfilled to a tittle which is so often declared by the prophets, that the Messias should be Nazor, a stranger, or separate from men, as if he were a very vile person, and not worthy of their company.
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