Matthew 2:1

 וַיְהִי בִּימֵי הוֹרְדוֹס הַמֶּלֶךְ כַּאֲשֶׁר נוֹלַד יֵשׁוּעַ בְּבֵית־לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה וַיָּבֹאוּ מְגוּשִׁים מֵאֶרֶץ מִזְרָח יְרוּשָׁלָיִם׃

“Now when Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying,”

The first century Jewish mystic Philo comments,

“And in the land of the barbarians. . . there are very numerous companies of virtuous and honorable men celebrated. Among the Persians there exists a group, the Magi, who investigating the works of nature for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the truth. . . initiate others in the divine virtues, by very clear explanations.”
Philo, Every Good Man is Free, 74


 Matthew 2:2

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אַיֵּה מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר יֻלַּד כִּי רָאִינוּ אֶת־כּוֹכָבוֹ בַּמִּזְרָח וַנָּבֹא לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לוֹ׃

“Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.”

The nature of the star seen over Bethlehem is the subject of debate. The possibilities include a supernova, a comet, a planetary conjunction or a supernatural event. Haley’s comet blazed across the sky in 12BC. German astronomer Johnnes Kepler discovered three conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn during the year 7BC. Chinese astronomers saw a nova in the year 5BC. In favor of the conjunction hypothesis, Alfred Edersheim mentions, then dismisses, a commentary of Abarbanel, which would support the conjunction hypothesis,

“In his Commentary on Daniel that Rabbi laid it down, that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces betokened not only the most important events, but referred especially to Israel (for which he gives five mystic reasons). He further argues that, as that conjunction had taken place three years before the birth of Moses, which heralded the first deliverance of Israel, so it would also precede the birth of the Messiah, and the final deliverance of Israel.”
Albert Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Chapter 8

The arguments for and against each position are complex and deserved to be studied in detail. It seems likely, though by no means conclusive, that the star was a supernatural event.


 Matthew 2:3

 וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ הוֹרְדוֹס הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת־דִּבְרֵיהֶם וַיֶּחֱרַד הוּא וְכָל־יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִמּוֹ׃

“When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Sights like the star above were believed by the ancients to portend the fall of rulers. When a comet appeared, the crazed emperor Nero later acted in a very similar fashion to Herod,

“It chanced that a comet had begun to appear on several successive nights, a thing which is commonly believed to portend the death of great rulers. Worried by this, and learning from the astrologer Balbillus that kings usually averted such omens by the death of some distinguished man, thus turning them from themselves upon the heads of the nobles, he resolved on the death of all the eminent men of the State…”
Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Book 6, Nero, pg. 188


 Matthew 2:4

וַיַּקְהֵל אֶת־כָּל־רָאשֵׁי הַכֹּהֲנִים וְסוֹפְרֵי הָעָם וַיִּשְׁאַל אֹתָם לֵאמֹר אֵיפֹה יִוָּלֵד הַמָּשִׁיחַ׃

“Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Messiah would be born.”


 Matthew 2:5

וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ בְּבֵית־לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה כִּי־כֵן כָּתוּב בְּיַד הַנָּבִיא׃

“They said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is written through the prophet,”


 Matthew 2:6

וְאַתָּה בֵּית־לֶחֶם אֶרֶץ יְהוּדָה אֵינְךָ צָעִיר בְּאַלֻּפֵי יְהוּדָה כִּי מִמְּךָ יֵצֵא מוֹשֵׁל אֲשֶׁר יִרְעֶה אֶת־עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

“You Bethlehem, land of Judah, are in no way least among the princes of Judah: for out of you shall come forth a governor, who shall shepherd my people, Israel. (Micah 5:2)”

וְאַתָּה בֵּֽית־לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה צָעִיר לִֽהְיֹות בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא לִהְיֹות מֹושֵׁל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וּמֹוצָאֹתָיו מִקֶּדֶם מִימֵי עֹולָם׃

“But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old (mi’Kedem), from the days of old.”
Micah 5:2

The phrase ‘from days of old’ refers to the Six Days of Creation. The Talmud says,

“Seven things were created before the world was created, and these are they: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, “The Lord made me [the Torah] as the beginning of his way.” Repentance, for it is written, “Before the mountains were brought forth,” and it is written, “You turn man to contrition, and say, Repent, ye children of men.” The Garden of Eden, as it is written, ‘And the Lord planted a garden in Eden from aforetime (mi’Kedem).” The Gehenna, for it is written, “For Tophet [Gehenna] is ordered of old.” The Throne of Glory and the Temple, for it is written, “You throne of glory, on high from the beginning, You place of our sanctuary.” The name of the Messiah, as it is written, “His [the Messiah’s] name shall endure for ever, and has existed before the sun!”
Pesachim 54a, Soncino Press Edition

Rashi, commenting on Micah 5 states,

“and his origin is from of old: “Before the sun his name is Yinnon” (Ps. 72:17).
Rashi on Micah 5, cited at Chabad.org

Lamentations says,

“For these things I weep; my eye, my eye runs down with water; Because the Comforter who should refresh my soul is far from me: My children are desolate, because the enemy has prevailed.”
Lamentations 1:16

Commenting on this passage, the Midrash identifies the name of the Messiah as Menachem, the Comforter, and speaks of his birth in Bethlehem,

“BECAUSE THE COMFORTER IS FAR FROM ME, EVEN HE THAT SHOULD REFRESH MY SOUL. What is the name of King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: His name is ‘the Lord’; as it is stated, ‘And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness (Jer 23:6).’ For R. Levi said: It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king, and the name of its king identical with that of its God. ‘It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king,’ as it is written, ‘And the name of the city from that day shall be the Lord is there’ (Ezek. XLVIII, 35). ‘And the name of its king identical with that of its God,’ as it is stated, ’’And this is the name whereby he shall menachemtzemachbe called, The Lord is our righteousness.’’

R. Joshua b. Levi said: His name is ‘ Shoot ‘; as it is stated, “Behold, a man whose name is Shoot, and who shall shoot up out of his place, and build the temple of the Lord (Zech 4:12)”. R. Judan said in the name of R. Aibu: His name is ‘Comforter’; as it is said,” THE COMFORTER IS FAR FROM ME.” R. Hanina said: They do not really differ, because the numerical value of the names is the same, so that ‘Comforter’ (Menachem) is identical with Shoot (Tzemach).

The following supports the saying of R. Aibu: “It happened that a man was plowing, when one of his oxen lowed. An Arab passed by and asked, “‘What are you?”’ He answered, “I am a Jew.’‘” He said to him, ‘”Unharness your ox and untie your plough’ [as a mark of mourning].’ Why? ‘ he asked. ‘Because the Temple of the Jews is destroyed.’” He inquired, ‘”From where do you know this?”’ He answered, ‘”I know it from the lowing of your ox.’” While he was conversing with him, the ox lowed again. The Arab said to him, ‘”Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the deliverer of the Jews is born.”’ ‘”What is his name?’” he asked, and he answered, ‘”His name is (Menachem) “Comforter”.’ ‘What is his father’s name? He answered, ‘Hezekiah.’’ Where do they live? ‘ He answered, ‘”In Birath Arba, in Bethlehem of Judah.”
Lamentations Rabbah 1:51, Soncino Press Edition

The Jerusalem Talmud, in Berachot 25b, echoes this tradition closely, but says,

מן בירת מלכה דבית לחם יהודה

“From Biryat Malka in Beit Lechem of Yehudah”
Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 25b


 Matthew 2:7

אָז קָרָא הוֹרְדוֹס לַמְּגוּשׁים בַּסֵּתֶר וַיַּחְקֹר לָדַעַת הָעֵת אֲשֶׁר נִרְאָה הַכּוֹכָב׃

“Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared.”


 Matthew 2:8

וַיִּשְׁלָחֵם בֵּית־לֶחֶם וַיֹּאמַר לְכוּ חִקְרוּ הֵיטֵב עַל־דְּבַר הַנָּעַר וְהָיָה כִּי־תִמְצְאוּן אֹתוֹ וְהִגַּדְתֶּם לִי וְאָבֹאָה לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת־לוֹ גַּם־אָנִי׃

“He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.”


Matthew 2:9

 וַיְהִי כְּשָׁמְעָם אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיֵּלֵכוּ וְהִנֵּה הַכּוֹכָב אֲשֶׁר־רָאוּ בַמִּזְרָח הָלַךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם עַד אֲשֶׁר־בָּא וַיַּעֲמֹד מִמַּעַל לַאֲשֶׁר־הָיָה שָׁם הַיָּלֶד׃

“They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was.”

“I see him, but not now. I see him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel, and shall strike through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Sheth.”
Numbers 24:17

Regarding the birth of Abraham, the Midrash says,

“When our father Abraham was born, a star rose in the east and swallowed four stars in the four corners of heaven. Nimrod’s wizards said to him: To Terah, at this hour, a son has been born, out of whom will issue a people destined to inherit this world and the world-to-come. With your permission, let his father be given a house full of silver and gold, on condition that his newly born son be slain.”
Beit haMidrash 2:118-196 cited in Sefer HaAggadah, Schocken Books

Like Abraham birth, the revelation of the Messiah is connected to the Star in the East,

‘A star steps forth from Jacob’ (Num 24:17). It is taught in the name of our Sages: the septennial cycle wherein the Son of David comes (will transpire as follows): (in) the first (year), there will not be food for all who need it; (in) the second (year), the ‘arrows of famine’ (cf. Ezek 5:16) will be unleashed; (in) the third (year), a severe famine; in the fourth (year), neither famine nor plenty; in the fifth (year), great plenty, and a star will emerge in the east. This is the star of the Messiah, and it will be visible in the east for fifteen days. Should it linger, it will be to Israel’s benefit. (In) the sixth (year), noises and sounds. (In) the seventh (year), battles. And at the end of the seventh (year), one will behold the Messiah.
Aggadat HaMashiach, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, Translated by John C. Reeves

Coin from Bar Kozeba

Coin minted by Bar Kozeba during the year 134/135. An image of a star over the Temple is visible. Image credit Classical Numismatic Coin Group.

 The concept of the star linking to the Messiah is an ancient thread in Jewish tradition. R’ Akiba gave Shimon bar Kozeba the name “Bar Kochva” (Son of the Star), proclaiming him the Messiah, linking him to the prophecy in Numbers 24:17. During this time, after the destruction of the Temple, Israel was battling the Roman Empire in a last stand for freedom.

The text named ‘The Prayer of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’ states,

“And during the sixth (year) a star shall appear from the east and on top of it a rod of fire like a spear.  The Gentile nations will claim ‘this star is ours,’ but it is not so; rather, it pertains to Israel, as Scripture forecasts: ‘a star shall step forth from Jacob, etc.’ (Num 24:17).  The time of its shining will be during the first watch of the night for two hours.  It will set (for) fifteen days in the east, and then revolve to the west and act (similarly?) for fifteen days.  If it should be more (its period of shining), this is good for Israel.”
Tefilat Shimon Bar Yochai, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, Translated by John C. Reeves

All of these traditions are linked together and show a consistent theme connecting the Star in the East with the coming of the King Messiah,

“And this will be the sign for you—when you see that at the beginning of one week there is rain, and in the second (week) the loosing of the ‘arrows of hunger,’ and in the third a severe famine, and in the fourth no hunger but (also) no satisfaction, and in the fifth there is great satiety.  A star shall appear from the east with a rod on top of it—this is the star of Israel, as Scripture says: ‘a star shall step forth from Jacob etc.’ (Num 24:17).  If it shines, it is for the benefit of Israel.  Then the Messiah of the lineage of David shall emerge.”
Nistarot Shimon Bar Yochai, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, Translated by John C. Reeves

The Zohar amazingly links this revelation of the Messiah to the land of Galilee,

“The glory of his majesty” refers to the Messiah when he shall reveal himself in the land of Galilee; for in this part of the Holy Land the desolation first began, and therefore he will manifest himself there first . . . and when the Messiah shall have manifested himself, a star shall come forth from the East variegated in hue and shining brilliantly, and seven other stars shall surround it, and make war on it from all sides, three times a day for seventy days, before the eyes of the whole world. The one star shall fight against the seven with rays of fire flashing on every side, and it shall smite them until they are extinguished, evening after evening.  . . . After the seventy days the one star shall vanish.”
Zohar, Volume II, Shemot 7b, Soncino Press Edition, pg. 21

Matthew also links Galilee to the Messiah, based on a prophecy from Isaiah,

“And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Kfar Nachum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zevulon and Naftali: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘The land of Zevulon, and the land of Naftali, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.”
Matthew 4:13-16


Matthew 2:10

וַיִּרְאוּ אֶת־הַכּוֹכָב וַיִּשְׂמְחוּ שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה עַד־מְאֹד׃

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

The Midrash notes that Gentile astrologers will recognize the star,

“And there shall be a ruler amidst Jacob [Numb. 24.19] At first a star arose in the east, at the head of which there was a sword. Israel saw it, and said to one another, “What is that?” The other nations asked their astrologers, “What is the character of this star?” They [the astrologers] said to them, “This is the star of Israel. This is the king who shall yet arise for them.: As soon as Israel heard that, they approached the prophet Samuel and said to him, Give us a king to judge us, just like all the nations[I Sam. 8.5] – just as the nations said. in this context it says, a star shall arise from Jacob. [ Num. 24.17] And so also at the end [of days], a star shall arise in the east, and it is the star of the Messiah; as it says, and there shall be a ruler (yerd) amidst Jacob. Rabbi Yose said: In the language of the Arameans, the east is called yerd. And it spends fifteen days in the east. If it tarries even longer, it is only for the good of Israel; and then you may expect the footsteps of the Messiah.”
Midrash ha-Gadol, Numbers, Yemenite Midrash, translated by Yitzchak Tzvi Langerman, HarperCollins, pg. 175-176

The process of the stars coming out, and finally the dawn breaking upon the world, is a pattern of what the Final Geulah, Redemption will look like,

“At night, though it be night, one has the light of the moon, the stars, and the planets. Then when is it really dark? Just before dawn! After the moon sets and the stars set and the planets vanish, there is no darkness deeper than the hour before dawn. And in that hour the Holy One answers the world and all that are in it: out of the darkness He brings forth the dawn and gives light to the world. The hind of the dawn [the morning star]–its light rays out as it rises. At the beginning, light comes little by little; then it spreads wider and wider, grows and increases; and at last it bursts into shining glory.”
Sefer HaAggadah, Translated by Schocken Books, citing MTeh 22:4 and 22:13; Aggadat Esther 7:10 (ed. Buber, p. 68); B. Yoma 29a

Ancient Jews interpreted the Star of Numbers 24 as the Messiah,

“The star is the Interpreter of the Law who comes to Damascus as it is written, “A star has left Jacob, a staff has risen from Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 7:19-21, Translated by Abegg, Wise and Cook, pg. 58

The Ramban states,

“THERE SHALL STEP FORTH A STAR OUT OF JACOB. Because the Messiah will gather together the dispersed of Israel from all corners of the earth, Balaam compares him [metaphorically] to a star that passes through the firmament from the ends of heaven, just as it is said about [the Messiah]: and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven, one like unto a son of man etc.”
Ramban, Balak, Translated by Rabbi C. Chavel, Shilo Publishing House, Pg 283

The Zohar says,

“Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun” (Isa. xxx, 26), and then will this cause the seventh window to open to the whole world, whose star is the “Star of Jacob”, concerning which Balaam said: “There shall come a star out of Jacob” (Num. XXIV, 17). This star will shine for forty days and forty nights, and when the Messiah shall be revealed and all the nations of the world shall gather around him, then will the verse of Scripture be fulfilled which says: “And in that day the root of Jesse which stands for an ensign of the peoples, to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isa. XI, 10).’”
Zohar II:172b, Soncino Press Edition

Yeshua, in the Book of Revelation, reveals himself as the Star awaited by the world,

אנכי שרש דוד ותולדתו כוכב נגה השחר

“I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
Revelation 22:16


 Matthew 2:11

וַיָּבֹאוּ הַבַּיְתָה וַיִּמְצְאוּ אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד עִם־מִרְיָם אִמּוֹ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל־פְּנֵיהֶם וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ־לוֹ וַיִּפְתְּחוּ אֶת־אוֹצְרוֹתָם וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לוֹ מִנְחָה זָהָב וּלְבוֹנָה וָמֹר׃

“They came into the house and saw the young child with Miriam, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

The gifts of the Magi have special significance, as illustrated by the Zohar,

“Sin is red, as it says, “Though your sins be as scarlet”; man puts the sacrificial animal on the fire, which is also red; the priest sprinkles the red blood round the altar, but the smoke ascending to heaven is white. Thus the red is turned to white. The attribute of Justice is turned into the attribute of Mercy. . . R. Issac said: ‘Red (blood) and white (fat) are offered for sacrifice, and the odour ascends from both. The spices of incense are in part red and in part white – frankincense is white, pure myrrh is red – and the odour ascends from red to white.”
Zohar, Volume III, Shemoth 20b. Soncino Press Edition, pg. 6

Rashi cites Onkelos explaining the link between “myrrh” and Moriah, the site of Yitzchak’s sacrifice,

ואונקלוס תרגמו על שם עבודת הקטורת שיש בו מור נרד ושאר בשמים

“Onkelos rendered it [“the land of service”] as alluding to the service of the incense, which contained myrrh [“mor” is phonetically similar to Moriah], spikenard, and other spices.”
Rashi on Genesis 22, cited at Chabad.org

The gifts that are brought to the Messiah are a foreshadow of the Messianic era, in which all of the non-Jews of the world will bring gifts to the King Messiah,

“R. Judah bar Simon taught: The nations of the earth will bring gifts to the King Messiah the son of David, and to Messiah the son of Ephraim. . . the nations will bring gifts to the King Messiah. And as soon as the nations of the earth come to the King Messiah, he will ask: “Are there children of Israel among you? Bring them as gifts to me….”
Midrash Tehilim 87.6, translated by William G. Braude, Yale University Press, pg. 77


 Matthew 2:12

וַיְצֻוּוּ בַחֲלוֹם לְבִלְתִּי שׁוּב אֶל־הוֹרְדוֹס וַיֵּלְכוּ בְּדֶרֶךְ אַחֵר אֶל־אַרְצָם׃

“Being warned in a dream that they shouldnt return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.”


 Matthew 2:13

הֵם הָלְכוּ מִשָׁם וְהִנֵּה מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה נִרְאָה אֶל־יוֹסֵף בַּחֲלוֹם לֵאמֹר קוּם קַח אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד וְאֶת־אִמּוֹ וּבְרַח־לְךָ מִצְרַיְמָה וֶהְיֵה־שָׁם עַד־אִם אָמַרְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ כִּי הוֹרְדוֹס מְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת־נֶפֶשׁ הַנַּעַר לְקַחְתָּהּ׃

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”


 Matthew 2:14

וַיָּקָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד וְאֶת־אִמּוֹ לָיְלָה וַיִּבְרַח מִצְרָיְמָה׃

“He arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt,”


 Matthew 2:15

 וַיְהִי־שָׁם עַד מוֹת הוֹרְדוֹס לְמַלּאת אֶת־דְּבַר יְהוָֹה בְּיַד הַנָּבִיא לֵאמֹר מִמִּצְרַיִם קָרָאתִי לִבְנִי׃

“and was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11)


Matthew 2:16

 וַיַּרְא הוֹרְדוֹס כִּי הֵתֵלּוּ בוֹ הַמְּגוּשִׁים וַיִּקְצֹף מְאֹד וַיִּשְׁלַח וַיַּהֲרֹג אֶת־כָּל־הַיְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּבֵית־לֶחֶם וּבְכָל־גְּבוּלֶיהָ לְמִבֶּן־שְׁנָתַיִם וּלְמָטָּה לְפִי הָעֵת אֲשֶׁר חָקַר מִפִּי הַמְּגוּשִׁים׃

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out, and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men.”

This account has come under attack by skeptics for a number of reasons. One initial objection is that there is no evidence that the children in Bethlehem were slaughtered, and surely such an atrocious act would have made front page news. This assumption fails in its application of an argumentum ex silentio, an argument of silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially after 2000 years. Bethlehem itself was a relatively small town and the number of children slaughtered has been estimated to be in the tens or twenties. Despite its unspeakable nature, it was relatively small on the scale of Herod’s more notorious assassinations. Such a heinous act is in perfect accord with the historic understanding of his brutal character. He killed his own wife, even his own children, and his barbarity was as famous as his architecture.  There is one relatively late text that seems to suggest that Herod’s act did not escape notice. The ancient Roman writer Macrobius  (395 CE- 423 CE) [1], who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, wrote the following words,

“Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Iudaeorum intra bimatum iussit interfici filium quoque eius occisum, ait: Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium.”

“When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.”
Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, Saturnalia, Book II, Chapter IV:11


 Matthew 2:17

 אָז הוּקַם הַנֶּאֱמָר בְּפִי יִרְמְיָהוּ הַנָּבִיא לֵאמֹר׃

“Then that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying,”

Another criticism is that Jeremiah 31:15-17 is not a Messianic prophecy and does not predict the death of the children in Bethlehem. As stated above, Jeremiah’s words were written at the beginning of the Galut Bavel (Babylonian Exile) and in the midst of the ashes of Solomon’s Temple. Exiles would pass by the grave of Rachel on the road to servitude, and Jeremiah poetically drew upon the history of Israel and its geography to inspire repentance and even hope. While all of this is true, the position that this passage is not Messianic and has no connection to what Matthew is writing misunderstands the profound nature of Matthew’s midrash. Not only has its significance eluded skeptics, but even Christian commentators as well.

Was Matthew wrong, or was he pointing to something deeper than the surface understanding? The passage absolutely refers to the exile and beyond. Yet, the Babylonian exile is a part of a much larger exile process, which is exile from the Garden of Eden. The voice of Rachel’s cry shakes the very foundations of Creation. Ramban writes,

“I have seen that Yonasan ben Uzziel . . . says, “A voice is heard in the heights of the universe…,” and he translates the whole verse as talking about the Jewish nation.”
Ramban on Genesis, Mesorah Publishers, pg. 245


 Matthew 2:18

קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי וּבְכִי תַמְרוּרִים רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל־בָּנֶיהָ מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל־בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ׃

“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; she would not be comforted, because they are no more.”

Midrash Rabbah says,

“AND RACHEL DIED, AND WAS BURIED IN THE WAY TO EPHRATH (35:19). What was Jacob’s reason for burying Rachel in the way to Ephrath? Jacob foresaw that the exiles would pass on from thence, therefore he buried her there so that she might pray for mercy for them. Thus it is written, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah… Rachel weeping for her children…”
Genesis Rabbah 82:10, Soncino Press Edition

Jeremiah’s passage, though difficult and painful, contains a distant glimmer of hope,

“Thus says HaShem, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Thus says HaShem: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded,” says HaShem, “and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. ‘There is hope for your latter end,’ says HaShem ‘and your children shall come again to their own border.”
Jeremiah 31:15-17

It is well known within Judaism, that there is one person who can end the exile: The Mashiach. The Zohar illuminates the relationship of Rachel’s weeping and the coming of Mashiach,

“The Messiah…lifts up his eyes and beholds the Fathers (Patriarchs) visiting the ruins of God’s Sanctuary. He perceives mother Rachel, with tears upon her face; the Holy One, blessed be He, tries to comfort her, but she refuses to be comforted (Jer. 31:14). Then the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps, and the whole Garden of Eden quakes, and all the righteous and saints who are there break out in crying and lamentation with him…All through the seven days the Messiah shall be crowned on earth. Where shall this be? “By the way”, to wit, Rachel’s grave, which is on the cross-road. To mother Rachel he will give glad tidings and comfort her, and now she will let herself be comforted, and will rise and kiss him.”
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 8a-b


 Matthew 2:19

וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי מוֹת הוֹרְדוֹס וְהִנֵּה מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה נִרְאָה בַחֲלוֹם אֶל־יוֹסֵף בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם׃

“But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying,”


 Matthew 2:20

 וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו קוּם קַח אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד וְאֶת־אִמּוֹ וְלֵךְ שׁוּב אֶל־אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי מֵתוּ הַמְבַקְּשִׁים אֶת־נֶפֶשׁ הַיָּלֶד׃

“Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into Eretz-Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”


 Matthew 2:21

וַיָּקָם וַיִּקַח אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד וְאֶת־אִמּוֹ וַיָּבֹא אַרְצָה יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

“He arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into Eretz-Israel.”


 Matthew 2:22

 וּכְשָׁמְעוֹ כִּי אַרְכְלוֹס מָלַךְ בִּיהוּדָה תַּחַת הוֹרְדוֹס אָבִיו וַיִּירָא לָלֶכֶת שָׁמָּה וַיְצֻוֶּה בַחֲלוֹם וַיֵּלֵךְ לוֹ אֶל־אַרְצוֹת הַגָּלִיל׃

“But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee,”

“And now Herod altered his testament upon the alteration of his mind, for he appointed Antipas, to whom he had before left the kingdom, to be tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and granted the kingdom to Archelaus.”
Josephus, Antiquities 17.8.1


 Matthew 2:23

 וַיָּבֹא וַיֵשֶׁב בְּעִיר הַנִּקְרֵאת נְצָרֶת לְמַלּאת הַדָּבָר הַנֶּאֱמָר עַל־פִּי הַנְּבִיאִים כִּי נָצְרִי יִקָּרֵא לוֹ׃

“and came and lived in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets: He will be called a Nazarene.”