Flight into Egypt

Did Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to Egypt or to Nazareth ?

In Matthew 2:14, we are told that Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt :

    Did Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to Egypt or to Nazareth? 1
    When he arose, he took the young child and his moth­er by night, and depart­ed into Egypt.” 

Yet in Luke 2:39, they went to Nazareth after Jesus’ birth :

    Did Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to Egypt or to Nazareth? 2
    And when they had per­formed all things accord­ing to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”

It does not need a rock­et sci­en­tist to inform us that these vers­es are con­tra­dic­to­ry and hence irreconcilable.

In their alleged reply to this irrec­on­cil­able error, the mis­sion­ar­ies made the claim that :

    Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem to present the new born infant in the tem­ple. From there, they went back to their home in Nazareth. A short time lat­er, the holy fam­i­ly decid­ed to return to Joseph’s ances­tral home­town and Jesus’ birth­place, name­ly Beth­le­hem in Judea. This is where Matthew picks up. When the Magi found the child Jesus, he was already up to two years old. Being told in a dream about Herod’s desire to kill the child, Joseph left his home and took his fam­i­ly to Egypt until the death of Herod. Fear­ing that Herod’s son Archelaus would search them out if they returned to Beth­le­hem, the holy fam­i­ly once again returned to Nazareth and set­tled there. 

We do not accept this expla­na­tion, sim­ply because the two nar­ra­tives in Matthew and Luke are vast­ly dif­fer­ent in a num­ber of details. As Brown him­self notes :

…the two nar­ra­tives are not only dif­fer­ent — they are con­trary to each oth­er in a num­ber of details. Accord­ing to Luke 1:26 and 2:39 Mary lives in Nazareth , and so the cen­sus of Augus­tus is invoked to explain how the child was born in Beth­le­helm, away from home. In Matthew there is no hint of a com­ing to Beth­le­hem, for Joseph and Mary are in a house at Beth­le­hem were seem­ing­ly Jesus was born (2:11). The only jour­ney that Matthew has to explain is why the fam­i­ly went to Nazareth when they came from Egypt instead of return­ing to their native Beth­le­hem (2:22 – 39); this is irrec­on­cil­able with Matthew’s impli­ca­tion (2:16) that the child was almost two years old when the fam­i­ly fled from Beth­le­hem to Egypt and even old­er when the fam­i­ly came back from Egypt and moved to Nazareth…one must be ruled out, i.e., that both accounts are com­plete­ly his­tor­i­cal.Ray­mond E. Brown, The Birth Of The Mes­si­ah (Macmil­lan Pub­lish­ers Ltd., 1997), p. 36

In oth­er words, only one of these nar­ra­tives can be accept­ed as fac­tu­al, and not both at the same time. Do note that Jesus’ birth in Beth­le­hem (2:6), the fam­i­ly’s flight to Egypt (2:14), Herod’s slaugh­ter of the inno­cent chil­dren of Beth­le­hem (2:18), and the fam­i­ly’s deci­sion to relo­cate in Nazareth (2:23) occur only in Matthew. There­fore, the more impor­tant ques­tion is if the mis­sion­ary is both­ered to know the fact that Luke, Mark and John do not men­tion these sig­nif­i­cant events. How could they miss men­tion­ing these if they real­ly did hap­pen ? Since the gospels cir­cu­lat­ed inde­pen­dent­ly for quite some time, that means that many of the ear­li­est Chris­tians nev­er got the oppur­tu­ni­ty to know of these sto­ries. Those read­ing Luke, Mark and John, while they were inde­pen­dent­ly cir­cu­lat­ing, cer­tain­ly would not know of them.

Also, com­ment­ing upon the sto­ry in Matthew, Brown not­ed the following :

[t]here is no remem­brance in the accounts of the min­istry of Jesus of such an extra­or­di­nary event in this back­ground [the flight to Egypt and mas­sacre at Beth­le­hem — ed.], and a jour­ney to Egypt is quite irrec­on­cil­able with Luke’s account of an order­ly and unevent­ful return from Bethe­hem to Nazareth short­ly after the birth of the child. An attempt has been made to detect inde­pen­dent sup­port for an Egypt­ian sojourn in the Jew­ish sto­ries of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry which have Jesus going to Egypt…However, these sto­ries intro­duce Egypt as a place where Jesus or his moth­er sought refuge because of the scan­dalous (adul­ter­ous) char­ac­ter of his birth and as a place where he became adept in black mag­ic which he then used to decieve peo­ple. Most like­ly this is a Jew­ish polemic against the Gospel pic­ture of Jesus (includ­ing the Matthean infan­cy nar­ra­tive) and can scarce­ly be invoked as inde­pen­dent sup­port for the his­toric­i­ty of that pic­ture.ibid., pp. 225 – 226

It also needs to be not­ed that con­cern­ing Ray­mond Brown, his work on the infan­cy is the sin­gle most author­i­ta­tive book on the sub­ject, and he him­self is a believ­ing Chris­t­ian schol­ar of immense repute. Now, if believ­ing Chris­tians can­not agree among them­selves if cer­tain pas­sages are con­tra­dic­to­ry or not, then the mis­sion­ary should first attempt to con­vince his own Chris­t­ian schol­ars before wor­ry­ing too much about the Mus­lims. The fact that Chris­tians schol­ars them­self hot­ly dis­agree on this mat­ter indi­cates the prob­lem­at­ic nature of the two accounts.

McDon­ald and Porter, two believ­ing Chris­t­ian schol­ars, also not­ed the dif­fer­ences in the narratives :

When we com­pare the birth sto­ries in Matthew and Luke, we see that Matthew focus­es on roy­al­ty (birth in a house, not a sta­ble : the spe­cial gifts of the Magi from the east), while Luke focus­es on the low­li­ness of the birth (the poor shep­herds com­ing to the manger scene to wit­ness the new birth : no room for Jesus in the inn). Accord­ing to Matthew, evi­dent­ly Joseph and Mary lived in Beth­le­hem after Jesus’ birth, and only after the threat to the life of the new­born child did they con­sid­er leav­ing Beth­le­hem, going first of all to Egypt and then to Nazareth. Luke tells noth­ing of the threat to Jesus’ life and indi­cates that Joseph and Mary orig­i­nal­ly came from Nazareth and returned there only after all that was nec­es­sary regard­ing purifi­ca­tion and ded­i­ca­tion of the child in the tem­ple had tak­en place. Why does Matthew have Jesus tak­en down to Egypt while Luke sim­ply says that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth with their child ? In Matt 2:22. Joseph was warned in a dream to go to Nazareth to avoid deal­ing with Herod Archelaus. Noth­ing of this kind of threat is found in Luke, Luke says noth­ing of the mas­sacre of chil­dren in Matt 2. Why are these birth and infan­cy nar­ra­tives so dif­fer­ent ? These ques­tions are not eas­i­ly answered, but it is prob­a­ble that the con­struc­tion of each of these accounts was based on a dif­fer­ent the­o­log­i­cal agen­da. Meier says that the point of these wide­ly dif­fer­ing sto­ries is that the church, not Mary or Jesus, wished to make the major the­o­log­i­cal point that what Jesus Christ was ful­ly revealed to be at the res­ur­rec­tion (Son of David, Son of God by the Pow­er of the Holy Spir­it) he real­ly was from his con­cep­tion onward.” Because of the con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ences in these nar­ra­tives and because they appear to serve ear­ly church apolo­get­ics. Many, if not most, crit­i­cal schol­ars do not see much his­tor­i­cal evi­dence for the life of Jesus in the birth sto­ries of Matthew and Luke. But if the cri­te­ri­on of mul­ti­ple attes­ta­tion is tak­en seri­ous­ly in light of the fact that the birth sto­ries of Matthew and Luke appear to rep­re­sent inde­pen­dent tra­di­tions, much more cred­i­bil­i­ty should be giv­en to var­i­ous dimen­sions of the account. There are basic facts, such as the agree­ment that Jesus was born in Beth­le­hem and that Jesus’ birth took place dur­ing the reign of Herod the Great (Matt 2:1 ; Luke 1:50), who died ca. 54 B.C. There are also more sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors-angel­ic vis­i­ta­tions, the spe­cial cir­cum­stances of con­cep­tion and vis­i­tors attest­ing to the spe­cial qual­i­ties of this child that should not be neglect­ed. These point to the sig­nif­i­cance of Jesus for both Matthew and Luke.Lee Mar­tin Mc Don­ald & Stan­ley E. Porter, Ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty and Its Sacred Lit­er­a­ture (Hen­drick­son Pub­lish­ers Inc., 2000), p. 122

Again we note that Chris­tians schol­ars have admit­ted the fact that there are sig­nif­i­cant and con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ences in the birth nar­ra­tives in Matthew and Luke. McDon­ald and Porter argue that the points where Matthew and Luke agree are his­tor­i­cal, yet they do not deny that their sto­ries nonethe­less have many dif­fer­ences. If Matthew and Luke were using inde­pen­dent tra­di­tions, and if the reports and sto­ries were true and his­tor­i­cal, then how do we explain the pres­ence of sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in their sto­ry of the birth of Jesus ? As Ray­mond Brown men­tions, Matthew and Luke had their the­o­log­i­cal agen­da and views to sell, and so they coloured/​tainted the reports and tra­di­tions to prove” their the­ol­o­gy. Obvi­ous­ly both reports can­not be true, one of them is fic­tion, or both are fic­ti­tious con­tain­ing an ele­ment of his­tor­i­cal truth in them.

In light of these evi­dence, we thus con­clude that the birth nar­ra­tives in Matthew and Luke are undoubt­ed­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry to one anoth­er, and this is hence a irrec­on­cil­able error. And only God knows best. Did Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to Egypt or to Nazareth? 3

Adden­dum : Respond­ing To A Mis­sion­ary Obfuscation

Nat­u­ral­ly, the mis­sion­ar­ies, as per their tra­di­tion of welling hatred towards the noble Qur’an, attempt to erect this straw-man in order to avoid the embar­rass­ment of the irrec­on­cil­able error in the birth nar­ra­tives of Jesus. Our answer to the provoca­tive Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary ques­tion­ing follows.

    How do you explain that in the Quran the per­son of Mary’s hus­band Joseph as well as the towns of Nazareth, Beth­le­hem and the jour­ney to Egypt all disappeared ?

Accord­ing to the var­i­ous schol­ars of the Bible, the above are fic­tion invent­ed by the anony­mous author of the Gospel accord­ing to Matthew. There­fore there is no point blam­ing the Qur’an for right­ful­ly exclud­ing these fic­tion. There­fore, what the Qur’an is lack­ing” is fic­ti­tious sto­ries con­coct­ed by the authors of the Gospels.

So the ques­tion that should be asked now is that did the jour­ney ever take place or was it an inven­tion of the anony­mous gospel author to prove” and make his the­o­log­i­cal point ? It is impor­tant to note how the author of Matthew made use of the Jew­ish Bible and mold­ed some of its con­tents to prove” his the­ol­o­gy. A male child is born to Jew­ish par­ents, a tyrant ruler (Herod) learns of this and sets out to destroy him. The child is super­nat­u­ral­ly pro­tect­ed from harm and is tak­en to Egypt. He then leaves Egypt to pass through the waters (of bap­tism) and goes into wilder­ness to be test­ed for a long time. Lat­er he goes up on a moun­tain and deliv­ers God’s law to those who have been fol­low­ing him. We see that Matthew shaped the sto­ries per­tain­ing to Jesus(P) to show” that Jesus’(P) life was a ful­fill­ment of the sto­ries of Moses(P) (cf. Exo­dus 1 – 20). Matthew’s tar­get mar­ket were the Jew­ish read­ers. No one can ignore these par­el­lels. Herod is made into a Pharoah-like ruler, Jesus’ bap­tism is like Moses cross­ing the Red Sea, the forty days of temp­ta­tion are like the forty years the chil­dren of Israel wan­dered in the wilder­ness, and the ser­mon on the mount is like the law of Moses deliev­ered on Mount Sinai. Jesus(P) is there­fore por­trayed by Matthew as the new” Moses, come to set his peo­ple free from their bondage and give them new law and teach­ings. In order to present this pic­ture of Jesus(P), the author of Matthew had to colour the tra­di­tions he used. There­fore not every­thing with­in his gospel is historical.

    but has it ever both­ered him that the Quran is lack­ing so much information ?

No, it has nev­er both­ered us to know that the Qur’an lacks the fic­ti­tious infor­ma­tion of the gospels. We hope that this answer sat­is­fies the missionary.

A more impor­tant ques­tion is if it has ever both­ered the mis­sion­ary that Herod’s slaugh­ter of the chil­dren of Beth­le­hem is not men­tioned in Luke ? How could some­thing so sig­nif­i­cant escaped the notice of Luke, who is sup­posed to be a reli­able” his­to­ri­an, and even Mark ? What about the vis­it of the Magi, why is that only men­tioned in Matthew and not in the oth­er gospels ? Why did the oth­er gospels fail to men­tion such an impor­tant sto­ry in their writ­ings if it did take place ? Matthew even states that the King and all Jerusalem was upset over the birth of the Mes­si­ah in Jerusalem ! If this is his­tor­i­cal, then why has it not left any traces in Jew­ish records and else­where in the New Testament ?

    This is all the more strik­ing in this case, since the vast major­i­ty of all vers­es in the Quran speak­ing about Jesus deal with his mirac­u­lous birth.

The vers­es of the Qur’an deal­ing with the birth of the Mes­si­ah, Jesus(P) are col­lect­ed here. The Qur’an men­tions the mirac­u­lous birth of Jesus(P), that he was born to a vir­gin, and men­tions that he was not the divine son of God or God, that he asked peo­ple to wor­ship God whom he wor­shipped and accept him as His mes­sen­ger. The Qur’an stays to the point, does not men­tion the fic­tions with­in the gospels, states who Jesus(P) was and rejects the lies attrib­uted to him by the Chris­tians, unlike the gospels whose anony­mous authors had to dis­tort tra­di­tions to prove” and sup­port” their theology.Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, Did Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to Egypt or to Nazareth ?,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 15, 2005, last accessed May 27, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​b​i​b​l​e​/​e​g​y​p​t​-​o​r​-​n​a​z​a​r​e​th/


  1. There are peo­ple who doubt about this, and some say it was the mis­take of the authors of the Gospels. But in my opin­ion I under­stand that the authors of the two Gospels were not mis­tak­en. Just not ful­ly described Con­sid­er care­ful­ly. Tak­ing the pas­sages of the two Gospels into con­sid­er­a­tion. I have an opin­ion that the sto­ry should be as follows.

    Accord­ing to the text of St. Luke — after all ful­fill­ment of the law at the tem­ple in Jerusalem. The Holy Fam­i­ly was deter­mined to return to Nazareth. But trav­el­ing on a long jour­ney is not easy(The dis­tance from Beth­le­hem to Nazareth is 65 kilo­me­ters), you have to get your belong­ings ready, espe­cial­ly when accom­pa­nied by a baby boy. To pro­vide Fuud sup­plies, water, cloth­ing, etc., St. Joseph had to buy things in Jerusalem and went to say good­bye to Eliz­a­beth. This would take quite a long time until the after­noon Which is not easy to trav­el. So, Joseph took the baby and the moth­er back to Beth­le­hem first to rest and set out the next day. At night it was just as the Magi arrived and wor­shiped the baby Jesus and made a trib­ute. The Magi was told by the angel in his dreams to return by anoth­er route. After­ward, St. Joseph was also warned by a dream angel to take the baby and moth­er to flee Egypt. Trav­el­ing to Egypt was no prob­lem. Because St. Joseph had already pre­pared the supplies(The dis­tance from Beth­le­hem to Egypt is approx­i­mate­ly 140 kilo­me­ters). They imme­di­ate­ly set out to Egypt, which is south of Israel. The Magi returned home to the east of Israel.

    On that day many impor­tant events took place in Jerusalem and Beth­le­hem. At Jerusalem, Christ showed Him­self to the Jews. With Sime­on and Anna as rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And on the same day, at Beth­le­hem, Christ pre­sent­ed Him­self to the Gen­tiles. With the three Magi representing

  2. I don’t wish to cause any prob­lem here, but it is pos­si­ble that is what could hap­pen. The first nar­ra­tive you men­tioned is true, and I’m sure there are many who would like to refute the scrip­tures. But you missed a part of that nar­ra­tive. As you said, Joseph was warned by Elo­him to take the child and his moth­er to Egypt to escape the death of the chil­dren in and around Beth­le­hem because of Herod’s anger for being tricked by the wise­men, and because he did­n’t want any oth­er ruler than him­self on the throne (Matthew 2:13 – 18). But the Bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive con­tin­ues with vers­es 19 – 23. The Herod which killed the chil­dren had died, and an angel spoke to Joseph again. But this time Joseph was told to move to Nazarth. Which he did, to keep a lit­tle, almost unknown prophe­cy about being call a Nazarene, because of the town Nazareth.

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