Everything old is new again. If you're interested to see how a more rigorous member of the New Testament guild deals, without personal attack but also without pulling argumentative punches, with unjustified theories, have fun reading Douglas J. Moo's two-part review of Robert Gundry's "midrash" commentary on Matthew. JETS has helpfully made both available on-line here and here. Moo criticizes Gundry for making assertions without arguing, for arguing circularly, for not taking seriously the possibility that Matthew was writing about events slightly differently because he was an eyewitness, and for using skewed statistical analysis. Except for the last of these, all of these apply to the current issues concerning "bioi" and the Gospels. Moo also rightly points out the importance of historical events to the early Christians and the dubiousness of the statement that they would not have cared if Matthew were fictionalizing. He also points out that Gundry has done nothing convincing to show that the early Christians would have known that Matthew was fictionalizing and where he was doing so. If they really "had" Q, as Gundry apparently insists that they did (an "expanded Q" including Luke's infancy narrative!), and if they noted the differences between Q and Mark, on the one hand, and Matthew on the other, that Gundry makes so much of, and if they agreed with Gundry (!) that these amounted to unresolvable contradictions or tensions in emphasis (all big ifs), why would they have assumed that Matthew was writing ahistorically or getting his historical facts wrong rather than, say, Mark?
Interestingly, Moo is under the impression that classifying the Gospels as "bioi" (an idea that was already in the wind in the early 1980s) would have a very different effect from Gundry's "midrashing" of Matthew. But as we have seen, Licona and others end up doing something quite similar with "bioi" that Gundry did with "midrash." Moreover, once you accept fictionalization on the part of an author, there is no reason not to bring in "midrash" as well when one feels like it, as Licona does in the case of the infancy narratives. I note, too, that Gundry evidently thought that Luke's infancy narrative was intended to be historical and that only Matthew was wildly fictionalizing. So the shepherds were intended to be historical, but the Wise Men were a "midrashic" gloss on the shepherds. The turtledoves were intended to be historical, and the slaughter of the innocents (you can't make this stuff up) a "midrash" on the doves. This disparate treatment of Luke and Matthew, as Moo points out, is an unstable compromise, since NT critics claim to find contradictions between Luke and Mark as well at various points and since Luke's infancy narrative is also unique to his Gospel. It would have been nice if the response were to go back and throw out the ridiculous idea that Matthew wrote his infancy narrative without literal intention, but as is so often the case, later scholars resolve the inconsistency by going farther in the wrong direction. Hence, Licona thinks that the non-overlapping material in both Luke and Matthew may be made-up, non-historical "midrash."