I was talking with someone recently.We were talking about Christmas. They commented that it was downhill now until Easter. They meant, I think, in term of the Churches’ calendar. I nodded and we carried on our conversation. But something nagged at me about this view. Then I remembered the story of the Massacre of the Infants by Herod which is recorded only by Matthew. The story is that the Magi call on Herod first asking where they can find the new king. Herod knows nothing of this but asks them to come back to him when they have found him :”that I may come and worship him also.” They are warned in a dream not to return to Herod who when he realises this orders the slaughter of all children under the age of two. We next read that Joseph also has a dream telling him to flee into Egypt to protect his family from Herod. This he duly does and we hear nothing more of them until Joseph is told in yet another a dream not to go back to Judea.Following this dream the family go back to Galilee and we hear no more of them until Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist which marks the official launch of his mission.
It’s an interesting story. Angels, visions, dreams, Magi, refugees and so on. Many things worry me about it but it is the dreams that most intrigue me. If I were still a “bible believing Christian” I might be happy to accept that God spoke to people in dreams. As a psychodynamic counsellor I understand dreams rather differently to Matthew. I see them as our unconscious nudging us to attend to something important. We give ourselves our dreams. (Always an uncomfortable thought!) Freud wrote “By exposing the hidden dream-thoughts, we have confirmed in general that the dream does continue the motivation and interests of waking life, for dream-thoughts are engaged only with what seems to be important and of great interest to us.” (The Interpretation of Dreams :1900)
If we could allow Joseph to free associate about his dreams, it would be fascinating to see what came out. I imagine most potential parents dream about their new baby. Dreams about its safe delivery and concerns about its future. Thoughts about its impact on the couple and the family.We might wonder about some ambivalence on Joseph’s part. This new baby has caused him more than the usual amount of trouble. A Virgin conception, visits from Royalty, the envy of the Governor, time in exile, mass murder as a consequence of this baby. And all before its first birthday. That’s quite a lot to take on. So perhaps Herod isn’t the only man who feels murderous towards this infant. Joseph’s dream tells us as much about his inner world as the story does about Herod’s. We might wonder if Joseph’s “flight dream” is also about his own wish to run away to a place where nothing is known about him. He can remain anonymous and live his life quietly.
All this is pure speculation on my part. I have no idea about Joseph’s dream-thoughts. We have no record of them. But the alternative is that God is a mass murderer. Or at least chooses to do nothing about the actions of Herod. We don’t have a record of how many babies were killed by Herod’s soldiers. We don’t know how many families were devastated by the murder of their children. But God appears unbothered by this. His interest is solely in the preservation of His own- making him no different from Herod. Perhaps my next blog will explore what we might understand of God’s unconscious.