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The Birth of Jesus: Two Gospel Narratives


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Luke’s infancy narrative is structured in terms of parallel presentations of the origins of Jesus and John the Baptizer. This comparison actually represents what could be called a “step parallelism” since Jesus is always depicted as superior to the Baptizer. Thus, John is hailed as “Prophet of the Most High,” while Jesus is announced to be “Son of the Most High.” The narrative’s paired scenes are the announcements and signs given about the births of John the Baptizer and Jesus, and matching scenes about their births and namings. Other scenes stand alone: Mary visiting her kinswoman Elizabeth and the encounter in the Temple with Simeon and Anna. Within these scenes three songs or canticles appear: The Magnificat (from my soul “magnifies”) sung by Mary, the Benedictus (“Blessed be”) sung by Zechariah, and the Nunc Dimitiis (“Now dismiss”) sung by Simeon in the Temple.

The infancy narrative proper is followed by a scene of Jesus in the Temple at age twelve, by the scene of Jesus’ baptism by John, and then by a genealogy. Luke’s genealogy is different from Matthew’s not only in terms of the individuals named (there are no women mentioned, for example), but it also runs in the reverse direction from Joseph all the way back to Adam.