Matthew and the Rabbis: Symbol and Scripture in Gospel and Midrash
Schaser, Nicholas James
The Gospel of Matthew and the rabbinic compilation Genesis Rabbah draw on Scripture in order to portray individuals as symbols of biblical Israel that respond to present concerns about sin and forgiveness. Matthew’s Vineyard Parable (Mt 21:33-46) and Passion Narrative (Mt 26:36-27:56) describe Jesus recapitulating the events surrounding the Babylonian exile in his arrest and crucifixion. By narrating Jesus’ suffering and death in terms of Israel’s suffering, Matthew illustrates how Jesus “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21) by undergoing the exilic consequences of collective Israel’s sins. The rabbis bring together the story of Israel’s exile with Adam’s expulsion from Eden (Genesis 2-3), Jacob’s sojourn in Bethel (Gen 28:10-13), and Jacob’s sons’ captivity to Joseph (Gen 43:14), so that the earliest biblical characters provide templates for contemporary suffering under Christian Rome, which will lead to salvation from sin. Both Gospel and Midrash utilize narrative pattering to form their respective symbols: Matthew cites Scriptures that establish a pattern on which to base Jesus, and the rabbis find patterns between figures from Genesis and collective Israel that exist within the Tanakh. Both texts also employ metalepsis—a device that pushes readers to interpret a citation in light of its unstated biblical context. Thus, Matthew and Genesis Rabbah share exegetical techniques that furnish symbols for distinct groups and circumstances, and provide messages to define and sustain early Jewish and Christian identity.