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Josef der Gerechte. Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu Mt 1–2.


Freiburg–Basel–Wien–Barcelona– Rom–New York: Herder 2008. X, 245 S. gr.8° = Herders Biblische Studien, 55. Geb. EUR 50,00. ISBN 978-3-451-29885-1.


Benedict Thomas Viviano

This book is a Habilitation work written under the guidance of M. Reiser, submitted to the University of Mainz. It is divided into elev­en chapters. The work concerns primarily the figure of Joseph in Matt 1–2. It defends the thesis that Joseph the Just belongs at the end of the series of Old Testament prophets, because he had seen more of Jesus the son of man than had Daniel in his visions (1). Here already the reader rebels. Is Joseph really the main figure of Matt 1–2? Matt 1–2 are primarily about Jesus, not about Joseph who only appears in the genealogy and in three of the five episodes, and who never speaks. Yet an author is free to study this character, to ask »what does the hagiograph Matthew narrate about Saint Joseph?« (18) In so doing however W. seems to make the secondary primary. He attempts a synchronic reading, with rhetorical, literary and psychological aspects (15), but in practice he raises many historical questions which he then tries to answer with narrative literary methods and a reference to the supernatural (200). Such a methodological legerdemain is hardly satisfactory to a reader who cares about history. The theology of the narrative consists in God’s election and guidance of a man as revealed in an exemplary manner to Joseph, first figure of the New Testament (16). W. likes to wrestle with earlier authors like Bultmann and R. E. Brown, Jürgen Becker and J. Blinzler. He draws positively on Kupp, Soares-Prabhu, Ma­yordomo, and for righteousness in Matthew he depends on R. Deines.
Of the eleven chapters the first is introductory, the second is on the structure of Matt 1–2 and how this gospel section finds its narrative unity through the figure of Joseph. Chapters 3–5 discuss the genealogy, with careful attention to textual criticism, especially the variants in the Sinai and Curetonian manuscripts. W. comes to the winning insight (95–98) that the ancients were under a terrible pressure to harmonize Matthew and Luke; this pressure explains a variant in Matt 1:16 which, he claims, derives from Luke 1:27. His discussion of the variants is thorough, but, since his conclusion supports the reading preferred by Nestle-Aland, 27 th edition, it gives the impression of pushing at an open door.
Throughout W. is much exercised by the senses in which Joseph can be said to be the father of Jesus and by Joseph’s relation to the virginal conception. Chapters 6–9 treat each of the narrative epi­sodes that mention Joseph and their reflection quotations, with a separate chapter for Isa 7:14. The last two chapters (10 and 11) are the best. Chapter ten treats of Joseph and the virgin birth: here again W. begins with some interesting textual variants which suggest that the Sinai Syriac and the Protoevangelium of James want to support the idea of a natural conception of Jesus, because they want to harmonize Matthew with Luke who does not clearly intend to teach a miraculous conception. Other concerns reflected in the variants are the desire to avoid giving the impression that the bib­lical God had sexual relations with women the way Zeus did; to avoid the adoptionist view that Jesus was a mere man before his baptism. The Gospel of Philip (17) excludes the Holy Ghost, a feminine person in Semitic languages, as a partner for Mary. The phrase »He had no relations with her until she bore a son« (Matt 1:25) could be an early insertion from Luke, to explain the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in Matt 13:55. At the same time Matthew wanted to avoid the Gnostic idea that Jesus had two fathers, an earthly and a heavenly. Matthew also wanted to show that Joseph lived chastely; he avoided relations with Mary during her preg­nancy with Jesus (192, with reference to Rev 14:4–5). In the discussion of the variants deigmatisai and paradeigmatisai (Matt 1:19), he prefers, with Aland, deigmatisai because he thinks that Matthew did not intend a technical, juridical connotation associated with paradeigmatisai. Thus for him Joseph respected the divine mystery (so Eusebius); he was not suspicious of Mary’s dishonor (so Justin). The differences in the spelling of Mary’s name in Matt 2:11 and 13:55 are finally observed (187). But W. blurs the difference there between a local tradition and local color, as though it did not matter historically. In any case his use of the Nag Hammadi texts fresh­ens the exegetical tradition on Matthew, a real contribution.
The last chapter, the characterizing of Joseph, begins with some remarks on Matthew’s style. It is static, ascetic, sober, comparable to an icon. (This view may not be totally accurate, but it can serve as a useful corrective to the current emphasis on Matthew as primarily a narrative, a view shared by W. himself in the introduction to his work.) Joseph is the model of the ideal disciple; he ends the generations of David’s line and begins the new righteousness. Joseph’s character is of essential significance for the reading of this gospel and indeed of the whole New Testament (199). The assumption on p. 200 that the four women in the genealogy are all pagans is not so widely shared as W. seems to think. Joseph is then characterized by his silence (in contrast with biblically criticized chattiness), his visions and auditions, his flight as a refugee, and above all by his righteousness. The book concludes with a discussion of how Joseph can be Jesus’ father without genital generation (against R. Pesch’s theological argument that what is not assumed is not redeemed): Joseph is the Pflegevater, the foster father who takes material and educational care of the child Jesus.
This work is well executed, sober and cautious, once its goals are conceded. Matt 1–2 is a rich but also messy and painful section for literal minded moderns. Too great a concentration on it (and on Luke 1–2) can lead to religious infantilism. This pain of moderns is probably not Matthew’s intention. He rather writes an adult text to say: 1. that to receive Jesus we must know the Old Testament (so in the genealogy and in the five formula citations); 2. with Jesus begins a new era of salvation history (1:17); 3. the virginal conception signals a logic of outbidding of the patriarchs’ and John the Baptist’s miraculous births because Jesus is Immanuel; 4. Joseph is a hinge or bridge between the Testaments (here W. is right); 5. the magi, like the queen of Sheba, seek the son of David as a wisdom messiah (50 f.76–78.101); 6. like Samson, Jesus is a savior; the slaughter of the children is a story of the abuse of power; 7. the geography of the narrative moving from Judea (Bethlehem) to Galilee (Nazareth) hints at a reunion of the two parts of the divided kingdom (north and south), a fulfillment of prophetic hopes for unity (e. g., Isa 11:12–13). The book under review does not undertake an all-encompassing view, but no one reading it will fail to learn something about the passages treated.