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The Genealogy of Jesus 3

Genealogy was serious business for Jews returning from exile in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles are taken up with genealogies beginning with those found elsewhere in the Bible (mainly in Genesis) and branching out into all twelve of Jacob’s sons. Some families receive more thorough coverage than others, and the most attention is paid to the priestly families and the descendants of David. These genealogies are clearly derived from different sources. Some give the names in descending order (like Matthew, beginning with the most ancient) while others list ancestors in ascending order (like Luke, beginning with the most recent). Occasionally the Chronicler will include a brief bit of history about one of his subjects (e.g., Jabez, 1 Chr 4:9-10), but mostly there are only lists of names.

In addition to Matthew and Luke, at least two Jewish sources purport to trace a line of descent from King David to contemporary times. The medieval Seder Olam Zuta (based on the earlier Seder Olam Rabbah, 2nd cent. BC) traces the descendants of Jehoiachin, the first “exilarch” or leader of the exiled community from the time of the exile down to the first or second century AD. From there, a genealogy of the seventh-century exilarch Bustanai continues this lineage for several more centuries.

Similarly, tradition traces the genealogy of Hillel the Great (d. c. AD 10) from David’s son Shephatiah. This line includes Rabban Gamaliel, who advised tolerance of the early Christian movement according to Acts 5:34. The great medieval scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) claimed descent from this line.

We thus have four genealogies purporting to trace a lineage from the time of David to the first century: Seder Olam, the Hillel genealogy, Matthew 1:1-17; and Luke 3:23-31.

From Adam to Abraham, Luke’s genealogy parallels those found in Genesis 5 and 10 with the exception of inserting Cainan (Lk 3:36) between Arphaxad and Shelah (cf. Ge 10:24; 11:12-13). Cainan is found in the LXX in both Genesis passages although he is absent from the Masoretic Text. Clearly, Luke was basing his genealogy on the LXX.

The New Testament genealogies run parallel to each other from Abraham to David. (Except for a few omissions on Matthew’s part, his genealogy also runs parallel to the Seder Olam from David to Zerubbabel.) The only exception comes in the generation(s) between Hezron and Aminadab, where Matthew has one name, Ram, and the manuscripts of Luke 3:33 go in several directions:

  • Alexandrinus, Bezae, Old Latin, and the Syriac Peshitta have the same generational sequence as Matthew: Aram – Aminadab.
  • The original reading of Sinaiticus and the Sahidic Coptic version has Arni – Admin – Adam.
  • A few Greek uncials, along with the Bohairic Coptic and Ethiopic versions, have Joram – Aram – Aminadab.
  • Papyrus P4 (apparently—the text is not entirely legible) and the second corrector of Sinaiticus has Arni – Admin – Aminadab.

This is a thorny text-critical puzzle. The Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament eventually decided to follow P4, but only with some difficulty. In Metzger’s Textual Commentary, he includes the following explanation:

Faced with a bewildering variety of readings, the Committee adopted what seems to be the least unsatisfactory form of the text, a reading that was current in the Alexandrian church at an early period (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, corrected edition [UBS, 1975] 136).

Some scholars assume that Arni is to be identified with Ram (or Aram), but this is not at all certain. At any event, there is ample room in both genealogies at this point to accommodate some skipping of generations.

It is in fact likely that both accounts of Jesus’ genealogy skip generations here and there. This is not entirely unheard of in ancient genealogies in general and in Jewish genealogies in particular. A generation might be skipped for any number of reasons. Most obviously and mundanely, the genealogist simply may not have had the necessary data to include every generation. Another mundane explanation may be that a person’s father died young, perhaps even during the son’s formative years. In that case, a man might be reckoned “the son” of someone who was actually his grandfather. It must be noted, of course, that in Hebraic thought one’s “father” need not be one’s immediate male ancestor—any male ancestor up the line can qualify for that title. That is why Matthew can call Jesus both “son of David” and “son of Abraham.”

Some have suggested there are gaps in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew in order to reproduce the pattern of “fourteen generations” to which the author explicitly calls attention (Abraham to David, David to the Exile, the Exile to Christ). This phenomenon may be related to the numerical value of the name David, the sum of whose Hebrew letters (דוד) add up to fourteen. Although less often suggested, Luke’s list of seventy-seven names might have been intended to represent eleven sets of seven names each. According to Metzger, with a reading for Luke 3:33 that involves three names rather than two, Luke’s genealogy

falls into an artistically planned pattern, even more elaborate than Matthew’s (cf. Mt 1:17); thus, from Adam to Abraham, 3 x 7 generations; from Isaac to David, 2 x 7 generations; from Nathan to Salathiel (pre-exilic), 3 x 7 generations; from Zerubbabel (post-exilic) to Jesus, 3 x 7 generations, making a total of 11 x 7, or 77 generations from Adam to Jesus (Ibid.).

This phenomenon might be compared to the Seder Olam Zuta, where there is a pattern of five sets of ten generations from Adam to Jehoiakim. By any of these approaches, it might have been deemed desirable to omit mention of less noteworthy ancestors in the service of some mnemonic or symbolic arrangement.

Finally, and especially in the biblical context, a generation might be passed over due to moral or spiritual failure. This is almost certainly a factor in Matthew, where four generations are omitted from the descendants of King David. The first three omissions come in a row as the descendants of Joram: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Joram’s wife was Athaliah, daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who ruled briefly—and is remembered none too fondly—as queen of Judah after Joram’s death. It is probable that Matthew omitted the next three names as a statement of God’s judgment “to the fourth and fifth generations” on the deeds of that wicked couple. The fourth omission is Jehoiakim, a king associated with the sins that eventually brought about the Babylonian exile. Once again, moral stigma may have been responsible for deleting his name from the list of the ancestors of the Messiah. Indeed, perhaps Jechoniah himself was only grudgingly included to bring in the detail of the exile.

Below the fold you can see the four genealogies in tabular form.

Seder Olam + Bustanai genealogy
Matthew 1:1-17
Luke 3:23-31
Hillel genealogy
David (+Bathsheba)
David (+Bathsheba)
David (+Bathsheba)
David (+Abital)
Solomon
Solomon
Nathan
Shephatiah
Rehoboam
Rehoboam
Mattatha
Daniel
Abijah
Abijah
Menna
Nathan I
Asaph
Asaph
Melea
Maacha
Jehoshaphat
Jehoshaphat
Eliakim
Jedijah
Jehoram
Joram
Jonam
Manasseh
Ahaziah
Joseph I
Joash
Judah
Ephraim
Amaziah
Simeon
Gilhon
Uzziah
Uzziah
Levi I
Joash I
Matthat I
Joshua
Jotham
Jotham
Jorim
Nathan II
Ahaz
Ahaz
Eliezer
Jehoram
Hezekiah
Hezekiah
Joshua
Manasseh
Manasseh
Er
Ezra
Elmadam
Tola
Amon
Amos
Cosam
Simon
Josiah
Josiah
Addi
Ammon
Jehoiakim
Melchi I
Moshe
Jehoiachin
Jeconiah
Neri
Melchi
Shealtiel
Shealtiel
Shealtiel
Aminadab
Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel
Hananiah
Abiud
Rhesa
Elnathan (+Shelomith)
Jesaiah
Joanan
Judah
Rephaiah
Eliakim
Joda
Uriah
Amai (Arnan)
Josech
David I
Obadiah
Azor
Semein
Shlomo
Shechaniah I
Mattathias I
Ahithophel
Shemaiah
Zadok
Maath
Abimelech
Naggai
Nathan III
Neariah
Achim
Esli
Gideon
Elioenai
Nahum
Abraham
Akkub
Eliud
Amos
Baasha
David I
Mattathias II
Ephraim
Shlomo I
Eleazar
Joseph II
Joash II
Shemaiah
Jannai
Jehoshaphat
David II
Matthan
Melchi II
Eliezer
Shechaniah II
Levi II
David II
Hizkiah
Jacob
Matthat II
Shlomo II
Shalom
Heli
Uzziah
Joseph (+Mary)
Joseph III
Hizkiah
Nathan
Jesus
Jesus
Hillel the Great
Hunya
Simeon I
Shlomo II
Gamaliel I
Jacob
Simeon II
Ahijah
Gamaliel II
Nahum
Simeon III
Mar-Ukba
Judah the Prince

After David, Matthew traces the genealogy through the royal line of Solomon while Luke traces through the non-royal (but still Davidic) line of Nathan. The two lines converge once more in Shealtiel and his son Zerubbabel. In fact, since Elnathan in the Hillel genealogy is said to have married Shelomith, a daughter of Zerubbabel, all four of these lines converge at that point!

Next: Shealtiel and Zerubbabel

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