Jesus in Egypt

Feb.-May, 750. 4 B.C.

Immediately after their departure, Joseph, warned by Matt. ii. 13-15. God in a dream, takes Mary and Jesus and goes down into Egypt. Herod, so soon as he finds himself mocked Matt. ii. 16-18. by the wise men, gives orders that all the children in Bethlehem of two years and under be slain. Joseph with Mary and Jesus remains in Egypt till he hears through Matt. ii. 19-23. an angelic messenger of Herod's death. He designs to return to Judea, but is directed by God to go to Nazareth, Luke ii. 39-40. where the Lord remains during His childhood and youth.

The time of the sojourn in Egypt was not probably of long duration, although extended by some of the early writers to several years. In the Gospel of the Infancy it is stated at three years; in the History of Joseph at one year; in Tatian's Harmony at seven years ; by Epiphanius at two years. Athanasius makes Jesus four years old when He came from Egypt; Baronius eight years. In modern times those who put the Lord's birth one or more years before Herod's death, prolong correspondingly the sojourn in Egypt, some one, some two, some three years.1 But if his birth be placed late in 749, as we place it, His return from Egypt must have been in the early summer of 750. Lardner, (i. 358,) after Kepler, has attempted to show from the expression of the angel, (Matt. ii. 20,) " they are dead that sought the young child's life," that Antipater was included with Herod, and as he had been at enmity with his father for near a year, that the attempt upon His life, and the murder of the Innocents must have been so long before Herod's death. But this is doing violence to the expression.2

Joseph was to remain in Egypt till God should send him word, and this word was sent apparently so soon as ^Terod died. Considering how numerous were the Jews in Egypt, and the constant communication between the two countries, the news of Herod's death must soon have reached him in the ordinary way; but it was first made known, to him by the angel, and no long interval, therefore, could have elapsed. That he made no delay but hastened his return, is implied in the fact that he did not know that Archelaus was Herod's successor till he came to the land of Israel. We infer, then, that the return was in the summer of 750, after a sojourn of three or four months.1

Tradition marks out the route which Joseph took into Egypt to have been by way of Hebron, Gaza, and the desert; which, as the most direct wray, is very likely the true one. At Hebron is still pointed out upon a hill the spot where the family rested at night, and a similar one at Gaza. Probably near a fortnight was occupied in the journey. The place of their sojourn in Egypt was the village Metariyeh, not far from the city of Heliopolis on the way toward Cairo. An old sycamore is still shown as that under which they rested in their journey.3 It is probable that many Jews dwelt at this time in the neighborhood of Heliopolis, which may explain the choice of a village in its vicinity as their place of refuge. Another tradition, however, makes them to have left Metariyeh, and to have dwelt at Memphis.2 The temple built by Onias about 150 B.c. at Leontopolis still continued to be a much frequented place of worship to.the Egyptian Jews, of whom Lightfoot says, "there was an infinite number at this time."

1 According to Greswell, 7 months; to Lichtenstein, 4-5 weeks; to Wieseler and Ellicott, 2-3 weeks. Patritius, iii. 403, argues that the return was during the little interval when Archelaus ruled as king, or from the death of his father to his departure to Rome, whither he went to obtain the confirmation of Herod's will. This would make it to have been early in April, 750. It may, however, be doubted whether the expression of Matthew, ii. 22, that " Archelaus did reign," is not pressed too far.

2 Kitto, Life of Christ, 139. a' Thilo, Codex Apoc, 93

From the nearness of Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Herod doubtless learned very early after the departure of the Magi that they had deceived him, and that through them he could not discover the new-born child. But as he had already diligently inquired of them what time the star appeared, he thought to accomplish his purpose by ordering that all the male children from two years old and under, in Bethlehem and its environs, should be put to death. The truth of the narrative has been often'questioned, and on various grounds. The only important objection, however, is that springing from the silence of Josephus, who, it is said, must have mentioned an event so peculiar and cruel.1 The common answer to this, that among the many insane and fiendish acts of cruelty that marked the last days of Herod, this might be easily overlooked, is amply sufficient.3 The expression, " from two years old and under," is ambiguous. According to Campbell, " Only those beginning the second year are included." Greswell also limits it to the age of thirteen months. If it be thus confined, the number of the children murdered is much diminished. But under any circumstances it could not have been large. Sepp, supposing the whole number of inhabitants of Bethlehem and its coasts to be 5,000, would make the male children of this age about ninety; but this is a large estimate. Townsend, making the inhabitants to be 2,00G, makes 50 children to have been slain. Some would reduce the number to ten or fifteen.3 Voltaire, after an old Greek tradition, would make it 14,000. In peaceful times, such an act as this, even if executed as this probably was, in secrecy, would have excited general indignation when it became known; but now the Jewish people had so long " supped with horrors," and were so engrossed in the many perils that threatened their national existence, that this passed by comparatively unnoticed. Such a deed—from a man, of whom Josephus says, that " he was brutish and a stranger to all humanity," who had murdered his wife and his own children, and who wished in his dying rage to destroy all the chief men of his kingdom, that there might be a general mourning at his funeral—could have awakened no surprise. It was wholly in keeping with his reckless and savage character; but one, and by no means the greatest of his crimes. It is therefore possible that it may never have come to the knowledge of the Jewish historian, writing so many years after the event.

If, however, Josephus was aware of this atrocity, it by no means follows that he would have mentioned it. With the reasons for his silence we are not particularly concerned. It may be, as some say,1 that he purposely avoided every thing that drew attention to the Messianic hopes of his people; or, as others,2 that " he could not mention it without giving the Christian cause a great advantage." But whatever his motives, his silence cannot invalidate the statement of Matthew, except with those who will not credit an Evangelist unless corroborated by some Jewish or heathen author.

There are some3 who think that the sedition of Judas and Matthias* occurred at this very time, and was connected with the visit of the Magi. The inquiries of these strangers for the King of the Jews, aroused into immediate activity the fiery zealots, and a report of the king's death finding credence, they attacked at noon day the golden eagle he had placed over the temple gate. About 40 of them being arrested were burned with fire. Exasperated at this bold sedition, and aware of the cause, the king gave orders for the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem. Of these two acts of this tragedy, Matthew relates only that with which he was concerned, that which took place at Bethlehem; and Josephus that which concerned the general history of affairs. The silence of the one is no disproof of the other.

i Liehtenstein, 97. 2 Lardner, i, 351, 3 So Lardner, i. 348.

4 Josephus, Antiq. 16. 6. 3 and 4.

The objection of Hase and Meyer, that this murder of the children was both superfluous and unwise, may be very true, but does not affect the historic truth of the event. The silence of heathen historians respecting it is wholly unimportant. Judea did not hold so high a place in their estimation that they should trouble themselves about its internal history, so little intelligible to a stranger. Herod's name is occasionally mentioned by them in connection with Roman matters, and there is in one a brief allusion to the trial and death of his sons, but nothing more. The wellknown jest of Augustus, preserved by Macrobius,1 might be cited if it could be shown that he had borrowed nothing from Christian sources. He says : " When Augustus had heard that among the children under two years old, intra bimatwn, which Herod had commanded to be slain in Syria, his own son had been killed, he said it is better to be Herod's swine than his son." The expression, "two years old," points too directly to Matthew to allow us to suppose that it had an independent origin, although the words of Augustus may be literally given. Most agree that it is of no historical value.2

It would be strange indeed that while oriental history is full of such deeds of cruelty, which are believed upon the authority of a single writer, the statement of the Evangelist should be disbelieved, though confirmed by all that we know of the character of the chief actor, and of the history of the times. A like rule applied to general history would leave not a few of its pages empty.

When directed to go into Egypt, Joseph was not told to what place he should return, (Matt. ii. 13,) nor afterward, when directed to return, was the place designated, (v. 20.) It is plain, however, that he did not design to return to Nazareth. He evidently regarded Bethlehem, the city of David, the proper place in which to rear the son of David. The province of Galilee was politically of little weight, and ecclesiastically it was despised; and Nazareth was one of its most inconsiderable villages, to say nothing of the bad name it seems to have borne. He naturally supposed that He who was of the tribe of Judah should dwell in the land of Judah, the most religious, most sacred part of Palestine; and, as the promised Messiah, should be brought as near as possible to the theocratic centre, where He might have frequent intercourse with the priests and rabbins, and be educated under the very shadow of the temple. Only through a special command of God, was he led to return with Jesus to Galilee; and that he made his abode in the obscure vale of Nazareth, can only be explained by the fact, of which Matthew is wholly silent, that this had been his earlier residence as related by Luke.

How diverse the opinions of harmonists have been, in regard to the order of events of the Lord's infancy, will appear by a comparison of their several arrangements. We give such as best present this diversity: Epiphanius. Birth. Circumcision on 8th day. Presentation on 40th. Departure to Nazareth and sojourn there two years. Return to Bethlehem. Coming of Magi. Flight to Egypt and sojourn there three years. Return to Galilee. LightFoot. Birth. Circumcision on 8th day. Presentation, 40th day. Return to Bethlehem and sojourn there till two years of age. Coming of Magi. Flight into Egypt and sojourn there three or four months. Return to Galilee. ChemNitius. Birth. Circumcision on 8th day. Coming of Magi just before the Presentation. Presentation on 40th day. Flight into Egypt and sojourn there four years. Return to Galilee. Sepp. Birth. Circumcision on 8th day. Coming of Magi, 13th day. Presentation, 40th day. Flight into Egypt and sojourn there two years. Return to Galilee. Friedlieb. Birth. Circumcision on 8th day. Coming of Magi on 13th. Flight into Egypt and sojourn there three or four months. Return to Judea. Presentation. Departure to Nazareth. Wieseler. Birth. Circumcision on 8th day. Presentation on 40th. Coming of Magi. Flight into Egypt and sojourn there two or three weeks. Return to Galilee.

In the village of Nazareth the Lord spent the larger part of his earthly life, and it therefore deserves our special notice. His residence here being brought by Matthew into direct connection with the Old Testament prophecy, the etymology of the name has been much discussed.1 By many it is derived from ISTetser, the Hebrew for sprout, or twig, either because of so many thickets upon the adjoining hills, or because the village itself was small and feeble, like a tender twig.2 So Jesus is called (Isaiah xi. 1) a Branch. Others derive it from ISTotser, that which guards or keeps; hence Nazareth, the protecting city.3 Others still derive it from Nezer, to separate.4 Jerome interpreted it as meaning a flower. Ibimus ad Nazareth, etjuxta interpre* tationem nominis ejus, florem videbimus Galilee; referring, as would appear from his language elsewhere, to Jesus as the Branch, or Flower from the roots of Jesse. It is noticeable that travellers speak of the great quantity of flowers now seen there.5 The present name in Arabic is En Nasirah.

Nazareth lies in a small valley a little north of the great plain of Esdraelon, from which it is reached by very rocky and precipitous paths. Its elevation above the plain is estimated to be from 300 to 350 feet. Bonar(398) speaks of the main road " as little better than a succession of rocky slopes or ledges, rugged with holes and stones. Yet this was the old road to Nazareth. There could be no other from this side, so that one travelling from, the south must have taken it." The valley runs northeast and southwest, and is about a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad. Around it rise many small hills of no great height, the highest being on the west or southwest. They are of limestone, and give to the scenery a grayish tint, and are covered thickly with shrubs and trees. " The white rocks all around Nazareth give it a peculiar aspect. It appears dry and tame, and this effect is increased by the trees being powdered over with dust during the summer season. The heat was very great, and the gleam from the rocks painful to the eye." * " The upper ridges of the hills were, as is usual in this worn-out land, gray and bare, but the lower slopes and dells and hollows were green, sprinkled not scantily with the olive, the fig, the prickly pear, and the karub; while in the gardens the usual oriental fruit trees showed themselves." 2

The village itself lies on the western side of the valley upon the side of the hill. The houses are in general of stone, and more substantially built than most of the towns of the region, and from their whiteness it has been called the white city;3 the streets or lanes are, however, narrow and filthy. Porter (ii. 359) speaks of it " as built on the side of the highest hill; on the north the side of the hill is steep, and where it joins the plain is seamed by three or four ravines, and on the lower declivities of the ridges between them stands the village of Nazareth. This therefore is c the hill whereon the city was built,' (Luke iv. 29.) The houses in some places seem to cling to the sides of the precipices, in others they nestle in glens, and in others again they stand boldly out overlooking the valley." The present number of inhabitants is variously estimated: by Robinson at 3,000, by Porter at 4,000, by Lynch, 5,000, by others much less.

1 Mission of Inquiry, 306. 2 Bonar. 3 See Schwartz, 178.

Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, nor by Josephus, from which we may conclude that it was a place of no importance. Although so intimately connected with the life of Jesus, and therefore so prominent in the Gospels, it is not mentioned by any Christian writer prior to Eusebius in the 4th century, nor does it seem to have been visited by pilgrims till the sixth.1 After this time it became one of the most famous among the holy places. In the 7th century two churches are mentioned, one on the site of Joseph's house, and the other on the site of the house where Gabriel appeared to Mary.2 During the Crusades it was made the seat of a bishopric. It was destroyed about A. D. 1200,, by the Saracens, and for 300 or 400 years seems to have been inhabited chiefly by Mohammedans, and very little visited by pilgrims.3 One of the churches was rebuilt in 1620 by the Franciscans, who added to it a cloister. Nazareth was for some time, and is now, the seat of a Greek titular bishop.

All travellers agree in praising the extent and beauty of the prospect from the top of the hill northwest of Nazareth. It is surmounted • by the tomb of a Mohammedan saint, and is about 400 or 500 feet above the valley.4 To the north is seen the wide plain of el Buttauf, running from east to west, having Cana of Galilee upon its northern, and Sepphoris upon its southern border, and beyond it rise in parallel ridges the hills, one behind another, to the heights of Safed. To the northeast Hermon is seen, and eastward the ranges of Bashan beyond the Sea of Galilee, whilst Tabor lies between it and the sea. To the southeast stretch Little Hermon and Gilboa in parallel lines. On the south lies the great plain of Esdraelon, bounded southward by the hills of Samaria and the long line of Carmel. Over the broken ridges that join Carmel to Samaria, is seen the Mediterranean far to the southwest, and the eye following the summits westward reaches the high promontory where Carmel ends upon the shore; from this point is seen the unbroken expanse of water many miles to the north. This view is said by Porter (ii. 263) to be the richest, and perhaps also the most extensive, which one gets in all Palestine, and to surpass that from Tabor.1

That Nazareth, from some cause, had at the time when the Lord resided in it an evil name, appears plainly from John i. 46.2 The objection of Nathanael was not merely that it was in Galilee, and that the Messiah could not come out of Galilee, (John vii. 41,) but he refers specially to Nazareth. Nor was it that it was a little village, for so was Bethlehem. The obvious import is, that Nazareth was in ill-repute throughout the province, and of this Nathanael, who was from Cana but a little way distant, was well aware. This is confirmed by the revengeful and cruel treatment of the Lord when he first preached to the inhabitants, (Luke iv. 28, 29.)