Matthew – Genealogy and Pregnancy

St. Jerome tells us that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written
in Aramaic, and that it was reworked into a Greek version later, which
is supported by some evidence. Jerome also tells us that Matthew was
the first gospel, but the actual order of composition is not clear.
Matthew is also associated with a winged human in ecclesiastical
symbolism, though this is not part of the inspired text.



The initial genealogy is abbreviated and separated into 3 sets of 14
generations beginning with Abraham, which provide a synopsis of Jewish
history. Three women are mentioned in this genealogy, which is unusual
for Jewish genealogies: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.



Matthew then begins the infancy narrative. Mary is a virgin who is
betrothed to Joseph, which was more like marriage than a modern-day
engagement. When Mary is found with child, Joseph resolves to divorce
her privately, but an angel tells Joseph to remain with Mary and the
child, who is to be called Emmanuel, which is translated for the
benefit of Greeks as ‘God with us.’


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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Herod

After the death of Antipater, Antigonus became high priest after mutilating the high priest Hyrcanus. Herod had been quickly rising to prominence, marrying into the house of Hasmon, sending his wife into exile, and Herod sought to have the Romans proclaim him leader of the Jews. Rome did declare him King of the Jews, a title never before declared for someone who was not of nobility. To ensure that the Hasmonean dynasty never returned to challenge his position, the remaining heirs to the Hasmonean dynasty suspiciously died.


Alexandra, the mother of one of these heirs, sent to Rome to request an inquiry, and Marc Antony requested that Herod defend himself. Herod went to Rome, but left instructions that if Antony killed him, his wife must die as well. His wife discovered this plan and this caused much intrigue and eventually his wife’s death when Herod returned alive.

Herod built a new temple in Jerusalem and also several temples to Roman gods. It is against this backdrop that the magi arrived in Jerusalem and ask Herod ”where is the king born of the Jews?” Herod, who was not born king, was outraged at this and sought to eliminate this threat. After he died, Herod was buried near the cave where Jesus was born.

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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Messianic Hope

The Romans came to rule Judea in 63 BC. Leading up to that, the high
priests of the Hasmonean Dynasty were the de facto kings in Israel,
though their official title was Ethnarch. This dynasty began from the
Maccabees, and lasted roughly eighty years. They did not want to be
seen as usurping the rightful place of the line of David, since they
were dependent on the pious Jews. The line of David was still known
through this period, but it had fallen into obscurity. In this sense,
the Hasmonean state is a biblical anomaly, lacking any leaders truly
chosen by God. These rulers tended to be despots of a sort similar to
Oriental and Hellenistic despots. These rulers were also expansionist,
reacting to the rising birth rates of the neighboring countries. These
circumstances give rise to a large upsurge in Messianic hope.



Salome Alexandra instituted a number of changes that pleased the
Pharisees, and was fondly remembered by them for this. Her sons,
Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus, fought for the high priesthood. At this
point, Pompey comes to Israel and seeks an alliance with Hyrcanus,
since Israel had sought such an alliance before. Hyrcanus was confirmed
as high priest, but the position of king was saved for Rome, with local
political authority resting in Hyrcanus’ minister, Antipater the
Idumean. Antipater made his son Phasael governor of Jerusalem and his
other son Herod, who would be called the Great, was made governor of
Galilee. Then, in 43 BC, Antipater was poisoned and the two sons
battled for control of Judea.Messianic hope in the days of the Maccabees; the rise of the Pharisees and Salome Alexandra; Roman History.

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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Hasmonean Dynasty, continued

Out of the Maccabean revolt, three rulers rise successively, Judah
Maccabee, Jonathan, and then Simon. Simon and two of his his sons were
murdered, and only John Hyrcanus was left to rule. Various other rulers
rise and fall, but Salome Alexandra is the only woman in antiquity to
rule Judea and be praised for it.



During this time, Israel was consolidating power and various cities
were breaking from Seleucid empire. John Hyrcanus rules as high priest
and ethnarch, annexing Samaria and the remnants of Edom (now the
Idumeans), forcing the people to become Jewish and be circumcised. The
leading families of the Idumeans would become important, including the
family of Herod.



During the later times leading up to Roman rule, the Jewish rulers
start calling themselves kings, and their courts populated by
Hellenized Jews. Several factions emerge, including the Pharisees and
Essenes who react against these rulers. The Pharisees have a number of
beliefs, such as belief in the resurrection and in oral tradition, that
mark them as very different from the beliefs of the ruling class, which
would include the Sadducees.



The Pharisees also had leaders who were not priests, but rather what
would become the modern-day rabbi. The tension between the Pharisees
and the Sadducees reached a head when the Pharisees demanded that the
king choose between being a king or being high priest. The king sided
with the Sadducees, which led to a civil war and suppression of the
Pharisees.

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From Babylon to Bethlehem – The Hasmonean Dynasty

The period between the Maccabean Revolt and Roman rule of Judea is not
represented by any writings in the Scriptures, but like all things that
touch the history of Israel and Christ, it is worth studying. The
Hasmoneans, named after the house of Hasmon, are not related to David,
but are a priestly family from the tribe of Levi.



The Maccabean Revolt started when Mattathias, a Hasmonean, refused to
offer sacrifice to pagan gods, with the eventual result that the Temple
was purged and rededicated an event the Jews celebrate at Hanukkah for
eight days.



After the fighting had ended and Roman and Spartan rulers had expressed
their support for Simon Maccabeus as high priest, and King Demetrius
confirmed Simon as high priest and afforded him most of the traditional
effects of a king, though Simon was not granted that title.

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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Prelude to the Maccabean Revolt

At the time of the Greeks, the Davidic line passes into obscurity, and
the political power in Israel is held by the high priests. One such
high priest, Onias II, refuses to pay taxes to the Ptolemaic empire.
The Tobiad family steps in to cover the debt, and winds up becoming
responsible for the tax collection in Israel. The Seleucid Empire takes
over Israel, and gives the Jews certain concessions for their
assistance.



Onias III becomes high priest, and owing to a dispute with the governor
of the Temple, receives a favorable preliminary ruling from the
Seleucid Empire. Onias tries to confirm the ruling, but while he seeks
out this confirmation, a new emperor takes power, Antiochus IV
Epiphanes.



In Jerusalem, a new group of rulers also takes over, and a man named
Jason becomes high priest. Jason was not a particularly pious man, and
allows certain Hellenistic influences into Israel, most notably a
gymnasium. In this gymnasium, the men exercise naked, and in order to
appear more like the Greeks whom they exercise with, some Jews begin to
have cosmetic surgery to reverse their circumcisions.



Meanwhile, a man named Menelaus convinces the Seleucids to assassinate
Onias III and remove Jason to have himself named high priest. Menelaus
starts selling off temple vessels, and the people riot. Menelaus seeks
help from the Seleucids, who put down the riots bloodily. To keep the
peace, the Seleucids conscript some Jews to build a garrison near the
temple, and decide to begin construction on a Sabbath to prevent riots.
This backfires and there are even more riots. The pro-Greek populace
moved into the garrison and only left to enforce the edicts of the
empire. People fled Jerusalem, since it was not safe for either
orthodox or liberal.



Antiochus wages a preemptive war on Egypt and wins, but the cost of the
war causes him to despoil the Temple. As Antiochus attempts to
completely conquer Egypt, Rome intervenes and turns Antiochus back, who
now places the blame for this failure on the disunity in the empire
caused by the nonconforming Jews.


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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Greek Rule over Israel

After the Persian period, the Greeks conquered a vast empire, spreading
Hellenistic Greek culture throughout the area from Rome to India.
Alexander the Great conquered the area from Rome and Egypt to India,
including Israel. This land would be divided after Alexander’s death,
and the area including Israel was known as the Seleucid Empire, ruled
by Ptolemy. The Jews found themselves increasingly in opposition to
these new Greek rulers in Israel. This sets up the conditions which
will result in the Maccabean revolt.

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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Rebuilding the Temple

The return to the land of Israel was an event which really broadened
the world of the Israelites. When Jews began forming a Diaspora, it
clarified the concept that God was not just a local deity, but rather
the God of the universe. Babylon, in particular, appears as a true
cosmopolis until the time when Revelation was written.



As previously stated, the Persians, unlike the Babylonians, allowed a
moderate amount of home rule, which was eventually exploited to build a
second temple around 522BC, after prodding by Haggai and Zechariah.
This second temple was much smaller than the temple built by Solomon,
and those who had seen the first temple were struck by the difference
between the two.



Zechariah and Haggai prophesy that Zerubbabel will see the completion
of the temple, and for that, he is part of the earthly lineage of the
Christ. While the people set about funding the rebuilding of their own
homes, they do not do all they can to fund the rebuilding of the
temple. God, through Haggai, chastises the people for not funding the
process and afflicts the land with a drought as punishment. The
rebuilding of the temple takes seven years, and then 50 years after
that, Nehemiah, the governor arrives in the land. Ezra proclaims the
law to the people, and for the Jews, this triumphant echo of Moses
forms the end of the historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

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From Babylon to Bethlehem – Persian Rule

The Persians under Xerxes invade Greece, and have some success
until Greece expels them. It is during this period that the Book of
Esther takes place, a book that has great significance when considering
the tensions between the many cultures in the Middle East at the time.
After Xerxes, the Persia is ruled by Artaxerxes and Artaxerxes II
(among others).

From a more religious perspective, after the
return to Israel, Malachi rails against the dullness he sees in the
religion as people were practicing it. This should not be surprising,
since every generation needs to be evangelized, lest the people fall
into a civic religion. It is during this period that the Book of Esther takes place, a book that has great significance when considering the
tensions between the many cultures in the Middle East at the time. The
prophets and writers of this time period, including Jesus son of
Sirach, should remind us that we must refresh our faith today with the
same vigor that was demanded by the prophets.

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