The Father of Zerubbabel
Matthew and Luke agree that Zerubbabel was the son of Shealtiel, 1 Chronicles 3:19, however, identifies Pedaiah as his father. Once again, appeal may be made to the Jewish customs of levirate marriage and Zelophehad adoption. Here, the simpler solution seems to be the correct one.
It should be noted that not only the Gospel genealogies but every Bible reference except 1 Chronicles 3:19 gives Shealtiel as the father of Zerubbabel (cf. Hag 1:1; Ezr 3:2). In fact, even the LXX version of 1 Chronicles 3:19 gives Shealtiel, not Pedaiah, as the father of Zerubbabel and his brother Shimei. Seder Olam also has Shealtiel as the father of Zerubbabel.
In the face of such evidence, I’m prepared to concede that the text of 1 Chronicles 3:19 has become corrupted at this point. Even so, some may choose to defend the reference based on theories of levirate marriage or the Zelophehad custom. At any rate, no one attempting to challenge Jesus’ pedigree in the first century would take exception to the claim that Zerubbabel’s father was Shealtiel. Whatever the true explanation of Pedaiah’s intrusion into the conversation, it can be safely disregarded for our purposes.
The Children of Zerubbabel
How are we to identify Rhesa and Abiud, whom Luke and Matthew identify as sons of Zerubbabel through whom Jesus’ lineage runs? Neither of these names appears in 1 Chronicles 3 as sons of Zerubbabel. Here there are a number of plausible solutions, but none that seems immediately and intuitively right.
First, as a general observation, we should note once again the possibility of gaps in the Gospel genealogies. This is especially the case in Matthew, who covers the time from Zerubbabel to Joseph—over 500 years—with only ten named ancestors! So Abiud need not be Zerubbabel’s son or even his grandson. All that is required is that he be a descendant of Zerubbabel. Having said this, let us consider the options available and some possible explanations.
Once again turning to the Loeb family tree, we find a Jewish tradition tracing five Davidic lines from Zerubbabel. Two of these lines derive from Zerubbabel’s foreign wives; the remaining three from the children of Zerubbabel and his Jewish wife:
- The line of Shazrezzar. Zerubbabel’s first wife was a Babylonian princess named Amytis. She was the mother of his firstborn son, Shazrezzar.
- The line of Reza. Zerubbabel’s second wife was a Persian princess named Rhodah. She was the mother of his second son, Reza.
- The line of Meshullam. Zerubbabel’s third wife was a Jewish princess named Esthra. Zerubbabel’s eldest son from this marriage was Meshullam. It is from this line that many of the post-exilic Nesi’im (“Princes”) of Israel are derived.
- The line of Hananiah. Hananiah was the second son of Zerubbabel and Esthra. His descendants became the post-exilic Exilarchs (rulers of the exiled community) of Babylonia.
- The line of Shelomith. Zerubbabel’s lone daughter also came from his union with Esthra. Shelomith married Elnathan, governor of Judea, and became the ancestor the Davidic line of Hillel the Great. Elnathan was himself a descendant of David through Shephatiah, a son by Abital, David’s sixth wife.
The idea that Zerubbabel even had foreign wives is extrabiblical, although apparently with some basis in rabbinic tradition. Daniel Loeb assumes that the lines of Shenazzar and Reza represent the ancestors of Joseph and Mary, respectively. This may or may not be the case, although it is worth considering the implications of such an arrangement. Assuming that the Evangelists intended their genealogies to be truthful statements of Jesus’ lineage, we must conclude that the Matthean and Lukan genealogies pass through one or two of these five lines, but which one(s)?
We must probably dismiss the line of Hananiah from consideration. This line is the most thoroughly documented, and in fact many Jews alive today trace descendancy from it. If either Matthew or Luke’s genealogy passes through Hananiah, it must be several generations down the line. Otherwise, there is no plausible way to identify the people named by either Matthew or Luke with known heirs of this lineage.
We can probably also disqualify the line of Shelomith and Elnathan. This line is also fairly well documented, at least as it applies to Hillel the Great. As with the line of Hananiah, there is little chance of harmonizing the known genealogy of this line with the names found in the New Testament.
The similarity of the names Reza and Rhesa (in Luke) immediately suggests the possibility that the line from Zerubbabel and princess Rhodah is in fact the lineage Luke described. (It is also possible, of course, that the tradition M. Loeb reports is the result of reverse-engineering a Davidic genealogy where none exists!) Rhesa is a plausible Hellenized form of the Persian name Reza. Given the strong stance of Ezra and Nehemiah against mixed marriages, it would not be surprising if any descendants of Zerubbabel from a non-Jewish mother would be omitted from a postexilic source like Chronicles.
This leaves three possibilities for the Matthean genealogy: (1) the line of Shazrezzar (if the rabbinic tradition of Zerubbabel’s foreign wives has historical validity!), (2) the line of Meshullam, (3) assuming gaps between Zerubbabel and Abiud, perhaps both Matthew and Luke are reporting divergent lines from the same source—either Reza (following rabbinic tradition) or even Hananiah. (For example, perhaps Matthew’s Abiud was the elder son of Luke’s Esli, while Luke’s Nahum was the younger son. Then the nine generations from Abiud to Jacob [Mt] would parallel the nine generations from Nahum to Heli [Lk].)
What little is known about these two lines leaves us in a quandary as to which to choose. If Matthew (and presumably God) agreed with Ezra about the impropriety of foreign wives, we are probably forced to find Abiud, Eliakim, and the rest somewhere down the line of Meshullam, with a gap of several generations between them and Zerubbabel.
Biblical history, however, itself suggests that having a foreign mother does not disqualify one from kingship of Israel. David himself had female ancestors who were Canaanite (Tamar, Rahab) and Moabite (Ruth). According to Deuteronomy 23:3, Moabites were to be excluded from the community of Israel “even to the tenth generation.” Since David was a fourth-generation descendant of the Moabite Ruth, his claim even to Jewish identity is remarkably flimsy! Thus a hypothetical non-Jewish wife (or two!) of Zerubbabel may plausibly have been a part of Jesus’ family tree.
Next: Joseph’s Two Fathers