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Matthew: an Introduction and Study Guide: Basileia of the Heavens is Near at Hand By Elaine M. Wainwright With Robert J. Myles and Carlos Olivares

August 11, 2017

Scholarship doesn’t stand still. If you thought that redaction and form criticism were transformative, you have more to challenge you.

This dense book seeks to update us on recent scholarship from the mid 1990s to the present, including feminist, Wisdom Studies, reader-response theory, post-colonial, Roman Empire studies and Queer Theory. If your shelves are out of date, this will guide you to, but is no substitute for, recent commentaries.

They start with what we already knew: that Matthew writes firmly from within the Jewish tradition and shows God at work, Emmanuel –  God with us – in the community with its emperors and in the cosmos as a whole, e.g. in cosmic phenomena like earthquakes and comets.

It ends with a worked example: an ecological reading of the beatitudes.

This is only an introductory survey and the academics quoted write papers in learned journals rather than commentaries so Readers are better off reading them on the internet.

Strangely, they talk of two ‘last suppers’: the first being when Jesus reclines and is anointed by an unnamed woman.

Table of contents

  1. Reading the Matthean Narrative
    Preachers of the Basileia
    Preaching, Teaching and Healing
    Commissioning to Preach, Teach and Heal
    Opposition Mounts as the Mission Unfolds
    Mission Continues en route to and within the City of Jerusalem
    Final Days

    2. Reading the Matthean Narrative with Recent Scholars
    Historical-Critical Approaches and Commentaries
    Emerging Literary Approaches and the Study of Matthew

    3. Reading the Matthean Narrative within Roman Imperialism
    Roman Imperialism and the Gospel of Matthew
    The Meaning of Empire
    Matthew as a Counter-Narrative?
    Expanding the Roman Imperial Context
    Social-Scientific Approaches
    Roman Characters in the Gospel of Matthew
    Critical Issues

    4. Reading the Matthean Narrative with/in Contemporary Contexts
    Feminist Readings
    Masculinity Readings/Reading Masculinity
    Queer Hermeneutics
    Postcolonial Hermeneutics
    Ecological Hermeneutics

    5. Reading the Matthean Beatitudes (Mt. 5.1-12) Ecologically
    Ecological Hermeneutic and Methodology
    Reading Mt. 5.1-12 Ecologically


The story of Jesus is immersed in the political intrigue of first-century Palestine on the edges of the Roman empire as much as it is grouped in the Jewish sacred story. The tensive note that echoes out from Matthew 2 with its theme of escape or withdrawal is this: why was the divine intervention only on behalf of Jesus, and not all the children of Bethlehem?

Beyond the initial verses, the mission discourse of Matthew 10 gathers together a range of teachings to guide those sharing with Jesus in a basileia ministry but there is no subsequent narrating of their going on mission or returning. This discourse would seem to be directed more to the community

Jesus the teacher teases the imagination of his audience to enable them to understand this new way of being that he is calling the basileia of the heavens. And the images pile up one upon another. As listeners, we too are confronted by the question Jesus poses to his disciples: ‘have you understood all this’ (13.51)? The Gospel asks us if we can so readily respond with the disciples: ‘Yes!’

The narrating of Pilate’s washing of his hands of the blood of Jesus (27.24-26) further emphasizes the Matthean Gospel’s laying of responsibility for the death of Jesus in the hands of the religious leaders, especially the Jerusalem cohort, a theme that may well be indicative of the tensive relationships within this early Jewish Christian community rather than an historical memory or reality. Indeed the leaders (`chief priests with scribes and elders’) are not content with the condemnation of Jesus; they join the Roman soldiers in mocking Jesus, evoking two key characteriza­tions of Jesus in the unfolding Gospel story: the Saving One and Son of God (27.41-44). With an ultimate ironic twist, an irony which characterizes Matthew’s passion/resurrection narrative as a whole, the ‘chief priests and the Pharisees’ request of Pilate that they might set up a guard at the tomb of Jesus because they want to foil any attempts by Jesus’ disciples to claim that he has been raised. It is a foil that is doubly ironic: Jesus’ disciples have fled, as the reader has been told, and hence are not going to be involved in a heist such as the leaders fear; and with no intervention on the part of these disciples, Jesus is proclaimed raised from the dead by an angel who speaks to the women at the empty tomb (28.2-6). Clearly the theme of opposition to Jesus attributed to the Jewish leaders as a developing thread in the Matthean narrative reaches an ironic highpoint in the passion narrative in a way that is indicative of a growing tension around leadership in the community. The height of that irony is the framing narrative of 28.11-15, where the leaders are plotting to control the narrative of Jesus’ resurrection.

This is the climax of discipleship in the unfolding narrative and it is repre­sented by the action of this unnamed woman. Such a climax is augmented by the second half of the frame in which three narratives coalesce. Many women stand at the place of crucifixion having ‘followed’ Jesus from Gal­ilee (a term indicative of discipleship-in 4.20, 22, 25; 8.1, 22; 9.9; 10.38; 16.24; 19.21, 27-28; 20.34) and they are characterized as doing diakonia (`service’) in relation to Jesus who has earlier characterized his own min­istry as doing such diakonia (20.28). Two of these women watch faithfully at the tomb (27.61) and their witness continues to the dawn of the Sab­bath when they go to observe or see the tomb and discover the stone has

I been rolled back (28.1-2). A heavenly messenger commissions these faith­ful women to go and proclaim to the disciples who have fled that Jesus has indeed been raised. But not only that, the risen one who is simply named finally meets them (28.9-10) and commissions them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they will be reconciled with Jesus.

by developing reader-oriented perspectives: feminist, masculinity, queer, postcolonial, indigenous and ecological, to name the major trends. And while many scholars have returned to the questions of the previ­ous decades—sources, settings, structure, use of the Old Testament and the Law

three major methodological fields in contemporary bibli­cal studies and the way these have functioned and continue to function in Matthean studies: historical-critical (in which the key concern is discern­ing the meaning intended by the original author of the text), new literary (whose focus is on the text and reader in the discerning of meaning), and social-scientific (which engages with contemporary social-scientific theories to determine historical meaning).

For Hood, biblical genealogies carry a narrative function, connecting the story of Israel, as presented in the genealogy, to Jesus and his mission. On the one hand, because Judah and Jeconiah are sacrificial kings (Gen. 49.8­10; 2 Kgs 25.27-30; Jer. 52.31-34), both characters can be seen as fore­runners of the Messiah. On the other hand, by mentioning four women, Matthew’s Gospel, instead of accentuating their gender, emphasizes their Gentile origin. Hence Hood argues that by including these women, Mat­thew’s story shows Gentile nations may become righteous and faithful by submitting their loyalty to Judah’s royal son, who is identified as Christos/ Messiah.

phrase ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, which is repeated twice in Matthew’s Gospel (10.6; 15.24), and argues that the phrase is a reference to the rem­nants of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel who were still residing in Galilee and the northern regions of Israel. Accordingly, Jesus’ mission in Matthew’s Gospel is toward this limited geographic and ethnic group………locates the Matthean community in Galilee and Syria and proposes a mixed membership of not only Jews and Gentiles, but also of urban non-elite and rural peasantry, such as pariahs, the unclean and the expendable classes.

Antioch, examining not only the Gospel of Matthew but also other documents such as the Books of Acts (Acts 15), Galatians (Gal. 2.1­14) and the Didache. Slee sees a difference between Matthew’s Gospel and the Didache regarding the issue of Gentile Torah-observance. While in the Matthean community, the Gentiles were converted to Judaism and thus became Torah-observant, the Didachist allowed Gentiles to enter the community without taking on full Torah-observance.

according to Gale, was likely located in Sepph­oris, where a strong, bilingual and wealthy Jewish community can be traced textually and historically. Gale similarly argues that the members of the Matthean community were educated people with a traditional literacy level; this could explain, for Gale, the intricate techniques that we can see woven into the Matthean text, as well as its references to scribes and to the Torah.

The emphasis on Jewish culture and tradition evident in the Matthean Gospel is further explored by Anne O’Leary (2006), who investigates the use of Mark by Matthew as a literary source; such use by Matthew, in her opinion, was in accordance with the literary conventions of Greco-Roman antiquity. O’Leary therefore not only proposes a viable social setting, but also analyses the literary connections between ancient writings and Mat­thew’s Gospel. By comparing different ancient texts, she asserts that it was common in the Greco-Roman world to re-write earlier texts by means of creative imitation. In the case of Matthew, she sees a strong dependence on Mark’s Gospel; this suggests that the Matthean author creatively judaized’ the Gospel of Mark, as seen, in particular, in Matthew’s use of the Hebrew Bible and in the way that the Matthean author structures the

During this same period, without dismissing the case for Matthew’s Jewish identity, several scholars propose an independent Jewish-Christian Matthean community. This entails a group of Jews and/or Gentiles who believed in Jesus but did not continue as participants of mainstream Juda­ism of the first century. This sectarian Jewish group, although separate, was constantly debating with the members of local Jewish synagogues about Torah issues while simultaneously establishing a distance between them­selves and the Jewish community.

If we locate the community that composed the Gospel of Mat­thew in either Antioch or Sepphoris, as has been argued by recent scholars and demonstrated above, we are aware that both these cities were consid­ered significant Roman cities in the Syro-Palestinian region of the first cen­tury.

The Roman Empire’s way of life was predominantly sustained by tax­ation. This enabled the ruling minority to acquire vast wealth that in turn supported the lifestyles of the wealthy and the funding of the imperial mili­tary and vast building projects: Taxation was heavy and disproportionately targeted the poor. Rome regarded the avoidance of tax payments as rebel­lion against Rome’s sovereignty. Taxes were used to collect a ‘surplus’ from peasant production to support the elite way of life.

Carter continued to develop these insights with his 2001 book Mat­thew and Empire. In this book he assesses a number of texts in respect of their function as counternarratives: Mt. 1.21, which names Jesus as Sav­iour; 11.28-30, which invites readers to take up ‘my yoke’ and not Rome’s; 17.24-27 in relation to paying taxes; and 27.11-26 at the heart of the Roman trial

Basic to Roman imperial theology was the assertion that Rome rules because the gods have willed it. The gods were thought to be in control of history. Therefore, to go against Rome was to go against the gods.

The emperor (basileus) is Jupiter’s agent on Earth.

The imagery of ‘light’ commonly denotes the emperor’s presence. The Greek term basileia, which is usually translated into English as ‘kingdom’, is often used to refer to empires like Rome.

Michael H. Crosby pioneered the research into this topic in 1988 by employing a combination of historical, literary and then emerging social-scientific tools to explore the socio-economic environment of the Gospel’s context. He observed how the household provides a unify­ing theme within Matthew and indicates a concern for social justice within urban-based communities. Within the Roman Empire, the household served as the basis and model unit for social and cultural life as well as the wider economic and political life within the Roman Empire. In terms of its mem­bers, it would encompass the immediate and extended family, slaves, ser­vants and other workers, as well as tenants and so on. On a material level, it included the property and the building itself, in addition to any means of production.

The most recent work which best demonstrates the social-scientific meth­odology in relation to the Gospel of Matthew as outlined above is Dennis C. Duling’s A Marginal Scribe: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew in a Social-Scientific Perspective (2012). It draws together and augments insights that Duling has developed over more than two decades of reading the Gospel of Matthew through a social-scientific lens. As its title suggests, it explores the Gospel and its characters through the prism of marginality, a category which Duling examines in significant depth and which he associates with the scribe responsible for the compilation of diverse texts and traditions into the Gospel in the context of empire. In such a context, he argues, the mar­ginal scribe seeks to honour Jesus as Son of David in a way that is particu­lar to the Gospel of Matthew.

Retainer class made up of those functionaries who served the ruling soldiers and priests. Below them were the merchants, peasants­. At the bottom were the expendables: prostitutes, bandits, disabled.

—`Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (28.19)—is tied to a strong tradition of European colonialism packaged in the discourse and impetus of worldwide Christian evangelism.

Furthermore, attempts to detoxify, rescue and/or redeem the text often mask underlying hermeneutical assumptions with regards to the authority of the text. The works of Carter, Duling, and others are based on a deeply confessional stance that is not always_ explicitly outlined. Given that the context behind the production of much of this scholarship was a time of neo-conservative Republican political hegemony within the USA, this stream of scholarship is often drawn into contemporary political debates because of the significant role the Bible plays in the public life of the USA.

Horsley is one scholar who explicitly links his broader work on counter-imperialism and the New Testament to contemporary American political life. Many citizens of the USA, he argues, understand their corporate iden­tity not only in relation to Jesus but also in relation to Rome. The found­ing fathers of the USA conceived of the Constitution as establishing a new Republic in imitation of ancient Rome. One only has to observe the archi­tecture of state buildings and civic space in the national capital, Wash­ington, DC, to see the intentional resemblance to ancient Rome. Horsley further emphasizes the emergence of the USA as the world’s only remain­ing superpower, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its dominance in economic and political affairs beyond its own borders, in addition to its heavy militarization and foreign interventions, leads Horsley and others to draw direct comparisons between the pax Romana (Roman peace) at the height of its empire and the contemporary situation of what Horsley labels the pax Americana.

As a result of her (Deutsch’s) study, she modestly claims that only in Mt. 11.19 and perhaps in 11.28-30 is Jesus explicitly identified with the Lady Wisdom figure of the Jewish Scriptures but that the metaphor colours other signifi­cant texts. While affirming the beauty of the metaphor she decries its use to legitimate an ‘all-male collective leadership’ (including that of Jesus) so that the female aspects of the metaphor disappear.

(Wainwright) reads the Jesus of Mat­thew’s Gospel through a selection of what she calls ‘soundings’: Matthew 1-2 (`Of Rachel’s Lineage—Endangered Child/Liberated Liberator’); Mt. 11.1-30 (`Wisdom is Justified: Doing her Deeds and Bearing her Yoke’); Mt. 15.21-28 and 16.13-20 (`As She Desired and He Confessed—Boundary Walker and Deconstructive Builder’); and Mt. 27.32-28.20 (`The Libera­tor Liberated, the Crucified One Raised’).

Julian Sheffield introduces a new topic into the feminist study of Matthew’s Gospel: the uses of and references to the ‘F/father’. She demonstrates by way of a careful study of terminology that the term is used as a key metaphor for God in a way that displaces earthly paternity.

(Women at the empty tomb) point not only to the ‘absence’ of Jesus but also the memory of the role of women.

In her major chapter on Matthew’s account of Jesus’ origins, Schaberg first examines what the four women who shatter the Matthean genealogy have in common in the context of the patriarchal world that undergirded the genealogy and their sexual activity. This opens the way for her to conisider the possibility of Mt. 1.16 as a reference to an illegitimate pregnancy, since this verse likewise shatters the pattern of the genealogy as do the ref­erences to the other four women. She turns then to her very careful and detailed study of Mt. 1.18-25—a study that is informed by an accompany­ing analysis of Deut. 22.23-27, Sir. 23.22-26 and Isa. 7.14. This leads her to conclude that Matthew links a tradition of Jesus’ illegitimacy with that of divine begetting and Joseph’s acceptance of the woman and her child. Read from a feminist perspective, God is one who sides with the ‘endangered woman and child’ but this woman and child are contained within a patriar­chal narrative.

Jackson claims that Matthew’s explicit introduction of the ‘Canaanite’ des­ignation portrays the woman as a proselyte in line with the women of the genealogy whom Jackson has understood as proselytes. The Canaanite woman’s gender, ethnic status and location all work together in this story to provide a paradigm not for Gentile mission, as is so often claimed, but for proselytism.

When discussing the Feminist Companion to Matthew earlier, we noted that it contains three articles on Mt. 15.21-28, the most dedicated to any par­ticular section of the Gospel in this collection and indicative of the impe­tus that lead us to choose Mt. 15.21-25 as a focal text. Gail O’Day’s article, `Surprised by Faith: Jesus and the Canaanite Woman’, was originally pub­lished in 1989 for what she calls both theological and pastoral outcomes. She recognizes the problems in the text that have confronted interpreters: namely, Jesus’ refusal to respond to the woman; and the woman’s refusal to go away. O’Day goes on to identify the story as the woman’s story more than a story of Jesus, and then turns to the Lament Psalms as throwing light on the woman’s pleas for her daughter. As the psalmists in the lament psalms are with God, so too she argues is the woman with Jesus, demonstrating a strong faith in God and a refusal to despair or to relent from their plea is granted.

Gender continues as a focus but Wain­right employs a socio-rhetorical approach, so the demon possession as constructed in the Matthean text can be considered not only rhetorically but also socio-culturally.

The Canaanite Women in Matthew’ sets the story of the Cannanite ‘mother’ into the context of the ‘grandmother’: Rahab… a sinner, as an exceedingly marginalized woman but one who belongs in Jesus’ genealogy. For him, therefore, as for Jackson above, the designation of the woman of Mt. 15.21-28 as ‘Canaanite’ is very impor­tant. As a result of an examination of her encounter with Jesus, Humphries-Brooks draws some conclusions that others have likewise made: Jesus learns from the woman; she appears to be a better theologian, she wins a theological argument with him—and he does not forget her daughter and her healing. The third Canaanite woman he identifies in Matthew’s Gospel is Herodias and he sees her as exemplary of the ills of patriarchy and phallocentricity. Her story ruptures the Matthean theological world and, like the other two Canaanite women, demands new readings.

eunuchs … Matthew’s characterization of Jesus. Jesus is a public speaker/teacher and yet he is characterized as a Wisdom teacher. While Wisdom is personified female in the Jewish scriptures, Conway argues that this is because young men are instructed to pursue the virtues that she represents: prudence, justice, courage and many more. Conway then demonstrates how the teachings of Jesus, refracted through the lens of wisdom, promote or proclaim ideal masculinity as demonstrated by Jesus and as required for disciples (we might note here that such an approach could be combined with the feminist reading of wisdom discussed above). The climax to her analysis is the final scene of the Gospel that, Conway claims, elevates Jesus beyond any Roman emperor on the ‘mas­culinity/divinity gradient’. From this climactic point of Jesus epitomizing Graeco-Roman masculinity, she turns to an analysis of Jesus and `marginal masculinities’.

an increasing number of scholars argue that ancient Greeks and Romans did not condemn homosexuality as such. Rather, they claim that certain sexual configurations within both same gender and opposite gender relationships were deemed ‘unnatural’: the real concern for ancient people was honour and shame, codes—introduced in the previous chapter—that regulated socio-sexual behaviour. For instance, they suggest that the sham­ing involved in male-male sexual intercourse, was the forfeiture of honour for (only) the penetrated partner (Lev. 18.22). Congruently, in their view, the ancient world did not construct gender identity as a strict binary model, but with both sexes on a single (androcentric) gender axis. The manliest man was situated at the top, with less masculine men below, followed by effem­inate men, and finally women. In this respect, it was possible for a man to descend into the feminine realm, and, in exceptional cases, for a woman to rank higher than some of her male counterparts.

From a queer perspective, Bohache argues that the beatitudes function as coded language that differs in meaning depending on the context of its readers/hearers. The author of Matthew couches poten­tially revolutionary language in softer, more acceptable language, which is less offensive to the upholders of normalcy. Accordingly, the reader is invited to engage in the process of decoding the more radical messages hidden between the text’s gaps.

that the centurion mistakes Jesus not as the Son of God but as a commander of demons in a particular hierarchi­cal chain that is part of the social ordering of first-century society which included the arrangement of sexual relationships. Jesus’ willingness to grant the centurion’s request implies for Jennings and Liew the affirmation of sexual ‘deviants’ in Matthew’s Gospel.

environmental justice, social justice and economic justice are intimately interrelated. This is not simply adding ecology to already existing reading paradigms but significantly shifting one’s way of thinking.

Jesus’ bodily placement—sitting—further emphasizes his symbolic as­sociation with Moses and also the rabbinic teachers in his religious tra­dition. The phrase that follows, ‘he opened his mouth’, is not common in Matthew’s Gospel (only 5.2; and 13.35, which cites Ps. 78.2). The strongest intertextuality is with the wisdom tradition where it is linked with the jus­tice or righteousness of the one who ‘opens the mouth’ for the ‘rights of the destitute’ (Prov. 31.8) or defends the ‘rights of the poor and needy’ (Prov. 31.9). The material, the social and the symbolic intersect in this opening verse to characterize Jesus the teacher/preacher. The introduction to Jesus’ teaching (5.1-2) concludes with the words ‘and he taught them’, thus further identifying him with Sophia/Wisdom and enabling male and female meta­phors to come together with reference to the materiality of Jesus’ human body to play inclusively in this intertextual characterization of Jesus who begins to preach/ is just one use of the term ‘peacemaker’ and that is in Proverbs 10.10, which yields little. Psalm 72, however, images the ideal king. As with the pax Romana, the dominion of this ideal king within the con­text of hierarchical structures needs to be approached with suspicion (Psalm 72/Ps. 71.8-11). That having been accomplished, the psalm praises those dispositions that make for an ideal oikoumenos or household of the world (Psalm 72/Ps. 71.8), dispositions that we can extend from the ideal king to the ideal members of the oikoumenos of God, the universe. As with the beat­itudes, dikaiosyne is prominent (Psalm 72/Ps. 71.1, 2, 3, 7). In vv. 3 and 7, eirene (`peace’) and dikaiosyne (`righteousness’ or ‘justice’) occur together. The psalmist draws Earth’s others into the vision of peace and justice (vv. 6 and 16), where they too would flourish in the right relationships of the ideal society: rain falls on the mown grass, showers water the earth, grain and fruit will be in abundance. Likewise, people too will flourish. These are the right relationships created by those who make ecological peace.

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