7 Dec 2022

Baby Moses, Baby Jesus: Hanukkah/Advent Meditation

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christmas, Exegesis, Exodus, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Matthew

Hanukkah and Christmas

Finding of the Baby Moses, Wall painting Dura-Europos, Syria. Copy in tempora on plaster AD.

The month of December on the Gregorian Calendar contains two seasons that traditionally have been important for the children of Abraham. The two seasons often overlap but are always in close proximity. The first is called Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication. The second is called Advent or popularly known as Christmas (The word advent comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word, parousia. It means “coming” or “appearing”). Christians in the East observe Christmas on January 6 (again these different dates are rooted in calendars). Hanukkah runs from December 18 to December 26 here in 2022. Advent runs from November 27 to December 24 (technically Christmas runs December 25 to January 8 and is called Epiphany). Hanukkah is a season on the calendar celebrated by Jesus in John 10.

The close proximity of Hanukkah and Christmas provide a good opportunity to remind Gentile believers of the messages of the Christmas season … The Christian faith is deeply intertwined with Judaism (the Hebrew Scriptures) from beginning to end. I would go so far as to say that Paul would say one cannot be a Christian (he never used that term though) without Judaism. Paul, James, and the Jerusalem Council do insist that Gentiles believers in the King of Israel do not become ethnic Jews (that is what circumcision did, it made a Gentile a Jew). But they also insist they become citizens of Israel, thus heirs to a common heritage (cf. Acts 15.13-21; Romans 11.11-23; Ephesians 2.11-3.11; etc). That heritage shapes our faith and mission. The NT writers assume Gentiles have had their imagination baptized into the history of Israel (to use a metaphor).

Baby Boys, Moses and Jesus

Today I highlight our unrecognized Hebraic heritage that is written in plain view in the pages of the Gospels. Christianity is Jewish at its heart and soul. The depth of the Spirit inspired Jewish character of the Gospels is frequently missed because we do not know the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish world of Jesus. Today we will look at how Matthew thinks we are experts in the Exodus and have lots of Jewish tradition floating in our heads (the fact that we do not says more about us than the disciples for whom Matthew wrote).

The existence of the Gospel of Luke teaches us there was more than one way to tell the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Both Luke and Matthew are stunningly Jewish in their writing though they tell the story quite differently. I will focus on Matthew.

For Matthew, the history of Israel is encapsulated in Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. We might want to say that Matthew believes that Israel’s history is recapitulated in King Jesus. For example it is difficult to know the story of Moses in any detail and miss how Matthew uses it to shape the story of Jesus in chapter 2. Note these rather remarkable parallels, a Mosaic pattern, that Matthew fully expects us to know.

1) Matt 2.13-14, Herod desires to slay Jesus so Joseph take him and Mary away

Ex 2.15, Pharaoh desires to slay Moses, so Moses goes away

2) Matt 2.16, Herod commands all male boys of Bethlehem, 2 and under, murdered

Ex 1.22, Pharaoh commands all male Israelite boys to be killed in the river

3) Matt 2.19, Herod dies

Ex 2.23, Pharaoh dies

4) Matt 2.19-20, Angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, ‘go back for those seeking Jesus’s life are dead’

Ex 4.19, Lord speaks to Moses, ‘go back for those seeking your life are dead’

5) Matt 2.21, Joseph took Jesus and Mary back to Israel

Ex 4.20, Moses took his wife and children and returned to Egypt

As significant as these are, Matthew is not done. It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of Moses in the biblical and Jewish tradition. Lots of traditions grew up about Moses just like they do every notable person.

The “Nativity” of Moses

The writing known as The Antiquities of the Jews, written by the Jewish historian Josephus, retells the “nativity” of Moses. Josephus does not tell this as a tale, or legend, but seems to think it is history. The story, not something Josephus invented, reveals what Jews of the first century believed about the birth of Moses. Here are the basic tenets of the story told by Josephus.

1) Pharaoh learns the Hebrews constitute an existential threat to himself and the Egyptian Empire

2) This knowledge comes via a “sacred scribe” with prophetic insight. The scribe had a vision that foretold the birth of an Israelite boy whose name would be remembered through all future generations.

3) When Pharaoh hears this news “fear and dread” come over the Egyptians. So fearful of this vision is Pharaoh that he decrees all male Israelite boys to be thrown into the Nile in an effort to circumvent the prophecy.

4) The boy’s father, Amram, prays to the Lord when he learns of the decree. God appears to Amram in a dream and promises safety for the child who will grow to be a savior of the people. Part of God’s speech to Amram is worth quoting as it appears on Josephus:

Know, therefore, that I shall provide for you all in common what is for your good, and particularly for thyself what shall make thee famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelite children to destruction, shall be thine child and shall be concealed from those who desire to destroy him. When he is brought up in a surprising way, he shall deliver the Hebrew nation …” (Antiquities of the Jews 2. IX, 3, Whiston’s translation).

5) Pharaoh’s plan to destroy the child is thwarted. Ironically, the Pharaoh himself saves baby Moses from certain death from the “sacred scribe” who recognized the child.

6) At this point Josephus presents Moses’s genealogy just as Matthew does.

(For a detailed study of Moses and Jesus parallels in the birth narrative of Matthew see Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 112-119).

Anyone who has read Matthew chapters 1 and 2 surely recognizes at least some remarkable parallels between the birth of Moses and the birth of Jesus. What are we to make of all of this?

Madonna and Child by
Patricia Brintle


First, is the fact Christian faith and the Gospel message regarding Jesus simply cannot be divorced from its Jewish soil. This is a truth “Christmas” simply insists upon. To do so does incredible violence to the message that the Holy Spirit gave. Our Jesus is a Jew, remains a Jew, and will forever be a Jew. If our Jesus is not a Jew in every respect then we have a Marcionite or Gnostic Jesus but we do not have Matthew’s Jesus. It is hard to get more Jewish than being circumcised on the eighth day of life as the Christmas story insists Jesus was. He is after, born King of the Jews (Mt 2.2).

Second, Matthew is making a claim. Every Jew knew the amazing story contained in Exodus. It was deeply embedded in the psychology of Jews in Jesus’s day. The Exodus is a story of divine power being exercised in astonishing and pure grace on behalf of powerless slaves. The Exodus was “unique.” It was unparalleled before and since. But Matthew’s claim is that now the God who acted then, is acting in Exodus fashion again. A new Moses is here to save God’s people.

The Exodus did not end with the crossing of the Red Sea. Exodus ends with Immanuel. The coming of God to dwell with his people! That is God living with the redeemed slaves (that beloved is what the Tabernacle is all about!). God does not merely save, God dwells with his people. From the beginning Matthew tells us that the Exodus acting God is doing it again. God is not merely saving (as glorious as that is) but God is dwelling with us! “Immanuel” has come, Matthew insists (Mt 1.22-23). God is dwelling with his people, not in a tent but in a person! The temple that was rescued and rededicated to God on Hanukkah comes to its fullest expression in the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, who is Immanuel. God with us.

Baby Moses and Baby Jesus are powerful messages of redeeming and dwelling God. Maybe for Christmas we need to remember that even in the New Heavens and New Earth all God’s People will sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb. Even on the renewed earth we will not be free from the “Old Testament.”

Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas

Further Reading on Christmas and Hanukkah

Jesus the Jew and Hanukkah

Book of First Maccabees: God’s Family of Deliverance

Emmanuel: Why Christmas is Essential to Christian Faith

A Doctrinal Christmas? Two Theological Gifts of Christmas

Rachel, Mary, and the Lament of the World

One Response to “Baby Moses, Baby Jesus: Hanukkah/Advent Meditation”

  1. JT Says:

    A well-written piece, Bobby, covering some interesting history. Reading this is just another reminder that God’s had a plan all along, his plan is moving along, and will come to complete fruition. And what a powerful little sentence you ended with: “Even on the renewed earth we will not be free from the “Old Testament.””

    Thanks for keeping your blog going Bobby.


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