The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The "Return" to Nazareth

Another problem conveniently overlooked by believers is the basic incompatibility in the narratives of Matthew and Luke regarding the "return"[a] of Joseph and his family to Nazareth. According to Matthew, Joseph and Mary went there direct from Egypt, as they dared not return to Judea because of Archelaus.

Matthew 2:19-23
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.

According to Luke Joseph went to Jerusalem from Bethlehem for Mary's purification ceremony and from there went back to Nazareth:

Luke 2:22,39
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord...When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

The two stories are completely incompatible. Nowhere in earlier passages had Luke even implied that Mary and Joseph went back to Nazareth first after the birth of Jesus. Thus according to Luke, Joseph, Mary and Jesus went to Jerusalem from Bethlehem and then back to Nazareth.

The itinerary based on Matthew was Bethlehem-Egypt-Nazareth, while that of Luke was Nazareth-Bethlehem-Jerusalem-Nazareth. The table below shows the two itineraries-they are fundamentally incompatible.

Matthew's ItineraryBethlehem-Egypt-Nazareth

Luke's ItineraryNazareth-Bethlehem-Jerusalem-Nazareth

Some theologians had, as usual, tried to twist the story in Matthew to such an extent where they claimed that Joseph went to Jerusalem from Egypt and then went on to Nazareth after the Temple offering. So the "unified" itinerary becomes: Nazareth-Bethlehem-Egypt-Jerusalem-Nazareth. There are two problems with such an attempt at harmonization.

First, Matthew had explicitly stated that Joseph did not return to Judea from Egypt (see Matthew 2:19-23 above)

Second there is a problem of time- in the sense of there being not enough of!

Luke says that Joseph and his family went back to Nazareth after the purification ceremony. Jewish Law requires that the purification be done forty days after the birth of the Baby:

Leviticus 12:1,2,4,6
The Lord said to Moses, "Say to the people of Israel, if a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days...Then she shall continue for thirty three days...purifying...And when the days of her purifying are completed...she shall bring to the priests...[an] offering.

So to reconcile the two nativities (and ignoring the basic incompatibility we have noted above) every event must be fitted into these forty days. Now Luke says that Jesus was circumcised and given his name on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and Matthew narrated about the story of the visit of the wise men only after Jesus was named. So, in effect the visit of the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into and the return from Egypt all took place within a period of only 32 days! [1] This is clearly impossible, for the journey to and from Egypt itself would have taken at least that long. Perhaps God had his remote controller on fast forward?

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a.I have put the word return in inverted commas because only in Luke was it made explicit that Joseph and Mary were originally from Nazareth. No such allusion is discernable in Matthew (as was discussed earlier)


1.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p60

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