True storytellers never tell, they show. Michael Riffaterre uses the concept of “fictional truth” and “truthful novels” to reveal how competent storytellers create worlds for the reader to enter into by building upon images they or others have used in previous works. Recognizing this allows us to judge the level of artistry in any narrative work, whether fiction, history, or sacred text. It is left to the reader to draw conclusions based upon the descriptive images the storyteller evokes. These images have both immediate lexical and also wide narrative import that is at once self-referential and also “library”-referential; that is, the images the storyteller creates in one work connect with and/ or reflect images he or she has found works. For Riffaterre, a story never stands alone, but always fits into a wider context. This method of storytelling is used throughout the whole body of Jewish literature from the Bible onward, in which God is seen as the primary author of Israel’s story and history.
In the following study, I base my reading of the Gospel of Matthew upon this image-connecting and/or image-reflecting understanding. A careful reader of the Gospel is able to uncover the author’s motives and intentions while at the same time making connections between the images in the Gospel with other images, or “truths,” presented in the Talmudic “library.” Since Matthew and the rabbinic traditions sometimes draw from common early sources or derive from a shared understanding, I see no reason why these two traditions, in such cases, cannot be read together. Within each there is a common rhythm, as it were, that creates the harmonies or the constructs the counterpoints found between them.
Herbert W. Basser, The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14 (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009), xiv.