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The Sixth Lesson:
St Luke tells of the birth of Jesus.
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. (Luke 2:1, 3-7, NLT)
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
The Fifth Lesson:
The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.”
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
The angel answered,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
And Mary Said,
“Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.”
Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-35, 38, The Message)
“Ave María Guaraní”
After Zerubbabel, Matthew and Luke once again diverge before they both end with Joseph. How are we to understand the biblical accounts of Jesus’ most immediate natural and legal ancestors?
The “Marian” Interpretation of Luke 3
Perhaps the simplest explanation for the divergence between Matthew and Luke’s record of Jesus’ immediate ancestors is the theory that Matthew reports Joseph’s bloodline and Luke reports Mary’s. Raymond Brown rejects this possibility outright:
What influences this suggestion is the centrality of Joseph in Matthew’s infancy narrative, as compared with the spotlighting of Mary in Luke’s. Even at first glance, however, this solution cannot be taken seriously: a genealogy traced through the mother is not normal in Judaism, and Luke makes it clear that he is tracing Jesus’ descent through Joseph. Moreover, Luke’s genealogy traces Davidic descent and despite later Christian speculation, we really do not know that Mary was a Davidid. (The Birth of the Messiah, rev. ed. [Anchor, 1999] 89)
It is questionable whether the New Testament writers would be quite so agnostic about Mary’s Davidic lineage (see Acts 2:30; Rom 1:3, etc.), and Augustine—and many other early church fathers—reasoned from the New Testament that Mary must have been a descendant of David. The first clear statement of the view that Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary is found in Hilary of Poitiers (4th cent.):
Many are of the opinion that the genealogy which Matthew lists is to be ascribed to Joseph and the genealogy listed by Luke is to be ascribed to Mary, in that, since the man is called the head of the woman, her generation is also named for the man. But this does not fit the rule or the question treated above, namely where the character of the genealogies is demonstrated and most truthfully solved.
Thus, Hilary disputes the “Marian” interpretation of the Luke 3 genealogy. Regrettably, the documentation of his evidence against it is lost. In On the Orthodox Faith, John of Damascus sees Mary’s ancestry in the Lukan genealogy—though not in a straightforward manner, as we shall see below.
The Line of Joseph
The popularity of the “Marian” theory is actually a relatively recent development, owing largely to Annius de Viterbo (1502). Most of the early Fathers claimed that the Bible was silent about Mary’s lineage and that both Matthew and Luke traced the ancestry of Joseph. This is certainly the most straightforward reading of the biblical text. If not for the contradictory report in Matthew 1, I suspect most readers would naturally assume that Luke 3 gives the genealogy of Joseph.
One creative theory to make sense of these divergent accounts is that of Julius Africanus (Epistle to Aristides, c. 200-225), who claimed to have received his information from descendants of James “the Lord’s brother.” By this account, a woman named Estha married Matthan, a descendant of Solomon (Mt 1) and became the mother of Jacob. After Matthan’s death Estha took Matthat, a descendant of Nathan as her second husband (Lk 3) and by him became the mother of Heli. Thus, Jacob and Heli were half-brothers, having the same mother. Heli later married, but died without offspring. His widow then became the levirate wife of Jacob and gave birth to Joseph. Joseph was thus the son of Jacob biologically, but the son of Heli legally—thus combining in his person two lineages of David’s descendants.
This is plausible generally, but there is a problem. In Jewish reckoning, the levirate son would presumably be listed in a genealogy as if he were the natural son of the deceased father and would not likely appear in the genealogy of his natural father. It is unlikely that someone as well-versed in Jewish thought as the author of the First Gospel would make the error of including Joseph in his genealogy if in fact he were in fact the levirate (legal) son of Heli. In other words, for this theory to work, Matthew would have to reproduce the genealogy in Luke. But there is no reason why the direction of the levirate relationships could not be reversed, i.e., that Joseph was the natural son of Heli and the levirate son of Jacob. If this is in fact the correct theory, then somehow the information must have become garbled, either in Julius’ understanding or in the subsequent textual tradition.
By switching places between Heli and Jacob, Jesus is legally established within the royal bloodline from Solomon. Luke, a non-Jew writing for a non-Jewish audience, may not have been as concerned about such matters. The point of the genealogy for Luke seems to be that Jesus was a descendant of Adam and thus identified with all of humanity. Luke therefore simply traced Joseph’s natural bloodline from Nathan. (Friedrich Schleiermacher suggested that Luke may have had access to the genealogy of Clopas, by tradition Joseph’s younger brother and the father of at least two of the apostles. Clopas would have been listed as a son of Heli in any genealogy, and Luke may not have known or cared about the technicalities of the levirate custom.)
The Line of Mary
Mary’s Paternal Line. The early church Fathers insisted that Mary was herself a descendant of David, and thus that Jesus was a “son of David” not just legally through adoption by Joseph, but naturally through Mary (see Rom 1:3). From 150 at the latest, tradition establishes the names of Mary’s parents as Joachim and Anna. According to a tradition known to John of Damascus (On the Orthodox Faith, c. 750), Mary’s great grandfather was named Panther (in one source called Levi; Panther or Panthera was a byname of Greek origin), a brother of Matthat (Lk 3). Her grandfather was bar-Panther, a cousin of Heli. Following the modified theory of Julius Africanus, her father Joachim was thus a cousin of Joseph, the (biological) son of Heli. (The text used by John, Julius Africanus, Irenaeus, Ambrose, and Gregory of Nazianzus has Melchi, not Matthat; the two generations separating Heli from Melchi being omitted. The correct name, however, would be Matthat.) It is difficult to have much confidence in such a late tradition, but it does not contradict any biblical data or any earlier line of tradition.
At any rate, this tradition presents Mary as descending from David through Nathan on her father’s side. Thus, Luke’s genealogy does represent a large portion of Mary’s ancestry after all.
Tradition further has it that Joachim was a shepherd from Nazareth who by custom gave away much of his flock every year to the Temple and to the poor. One tradition known to the Coptic Church has Mary born after Joachim and Anna had been married six years. The prevalent tradition, however, asserts that Joachim and Anna were quite old and had all but given up on ever having children. Mary was conceived in answer to their prayers for a child. If Joachim and Anna were in their fifties when Mary was born, their own birth dates would fall ca. 78–68 BC.
There is a much less reliable tradition that makes Joseph of Arimathea a paternal uncle of Mary. This would make him a son of bar-Panther and a brother of Joachim. According to this tradition, Joseph was an early missionary to the British Isles, where his daughter Enygeus (or Anna) married into a British royal family. As appealing as this theory might be especially for those with British roots, it is highly unlikely. In fact, I feel confident in flatly rejecting the very possibility. There is no attestation for this genealogy before the Dark Ages. And if, as tradition states, Joachim was an old man when Mary was born, even a younger brother would have been extremely old by the earliest years of the Christian movement.
Mary’s Maternal Line. The Protevangelium of James (ca. 150), a document granted great authority in the Eastern churches, names Mary’s mother Anna. Other early traditions depict Mary as of priestly lineage through her mother. The lines of David and Aaron occasionally intermarried even in biblical times. Jehosheba, a daughter of King Jehoram of Judah, married Jehoiada the high priest (2 Kgs 11:2-4). Their daughter, Jehoadda, married King Joash of Judah (2 Kgs 14:2). King Uzziah of Judah was married to Jerushah, daughter of High Priest Zadok II (2 Kgs 15:33).
In later Coptic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary’s grandfather was a priest named Nathan (or perhaps Matthan, but this may be the result of confusion with the Matthat in Luke’s genealogy). Nathan had three daughters: Mary, who became the mother of Salome (Mk 15:40; Jn 19:25), Soba (or Sovin, or Sophia, or Zoia), who became the mother of Elizabeth, and Anna who became the mother of Mary.
This tradition, if true, would explain how Mary’s relative Elizabeth can be a descendant of Aaron (Lk 1:5). Furthermore, if Salome (Mk 15:40) is equated with “[Jesus’] mother’s sister” (Jn 19:25), and “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt 27:56), it provides an explanation for the curious fact that John, seemingly an obscure fisherman from Galilee, was “known to the high priest” (Jn 19:15): his mother came from a priestly family and his uncle was the priest Zechariah!
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
The Lukan and Matthean accounts of Jesus’ genealogy diverge after David. Matthew traces Jesus’ line through Solomon (and thus traces the royal Davidic line as it is found in the Bible and in Seder Olam). Luke traces a line through Nathan, also a son of David by Bathsheba.
The two lines come together once more in the generations following the deportation to Babylon, where both lines include Shealtiel (Greek, Salathiel) and his son, Zerubbabel (Mt 1:12; Lk 3:27). The generations around Shealtiel and Zerubbabel mark the first major dilemma in untangling the genealogy of Jesus. Three problems may be noted:
- In Matthew, Shealtiel’s father is Jechoniah (aka Jehoiachin). In Luke, Shealtiel’s father is Neri.
- In both Matthew and Luke, Shealtiel is the father of Zerubbabel. In 1 Chronicles 3:19, however, the father of Zerubbabel is Pedaiah.
- Following Zerubbabel, the genealogies of Jesus once again diverge, with Matthew tracing a lineage through Abiud and Luke tracing a lineage through Rhesa. Presumably, these are two sons of Zerubbabel. In 1 Chronicles 3, however, the sons of Zerubbabel are listed as Meshullam and Hananiah.
Let us take these issues one at a time.
The Father of Shealtiel
As with Joseph himself, the Matthean and Lukan genealogies both purport to identify the father of Shealtiel, but the two lists disagree! Is Jehoiachin the father of Shealtiel, or is Neri? Seder Olam follows the Old Testament in describing Jehoiachin as the father of Shealtiel with no apparent need for any elaboration on the matter. Luke complicates matters by adding Neri son of Melchi (and his immediate ancestors) to the mix.
Is there any reason to question Jehoiachin’s paternity? Jereremiah 22:30 reports that Jehoiachin (called Coniah in this passage) was condemned to die childless:
Thus says the LORD:
Record this man as childless,
a man who shall not succeed in his days;
for none of his offspring shall succeed
in sitting on the throne of David,
and ruling again in Judah.
The early death of Jehoiachin’s son Zedekiah may well have been understood to be the fulfillment of this curse. But if Jehoiachin was childless, this fact at least raises the possibility that, while Shealtiel was the legal heir of Jechoniah, he was not his biological descendant. How can this be?
In Hebrew thought it was a terrible fate for a man to perish without sons to carry on his name. Therefore, several strategies are described in the Old Testament for avoiding this situation:
- If a man died childless, the custom of levirate marriage provided for his widow to marry his brother. (Levir is the Latin word for “brother-in-law.”) The firstborn son of this union was legally reckoned to be the son of the dead man (Deut 25:5-6).
- If a man had daughters but no sons, the custom of Zelophehad adoption permitted him to legally adopt the husband of his oldest daughter (Num 36:1-13), provided they marry within the tribe of their father. The children of this marriage would be considered the grandchildren of their mother’s father.
- If a woman was unable to conceive, there was a custom in the patriarchal period whereby she would provide her husband with a female slave by whom to father children (Gen 16:1-2, 30:1-4). There is no evidence this custom prevailed into exilic or postexilic times.
In light of ancient marriage customs, there are a number of ways a son could be reckoned the legal heir of a man who was not his biological father. This include:
1. Levirate marriage. One possibility is that, once Jehoiachin was imprisoned in Babylon, his wife contracted a levirate marriage with Neri. The firstborn child of this union, Shealtiel, would legally be the heir of Jehoiachin. But one must then ask why there are six others also listed as sons of “Jechoniah the captive” in 1 Chronicles 3. By the levirate custom, the children after Shealtiel would be considered merely sons of Neri and would not appear in the 1 Chronicles genealogy at all.
2. Zelophehad adoption. By this theory, Neri was Shealtiel’s grandfather—the father of his mother. If Neri had no sons, the Zelophehad custom permitted him to adopt the sons of his eldest daughter. If this daughter were married to Jehoiachin, then Shealtiel could be called both the son of Jehoiachin and the son of Neri. By this theory, the line from Shealtiel back to Nathan (Lk 3) represents the ancestry of Shealtiel’s mother, while the line back to Solomon (Mt 1) represents that of his father.
3. Simple adoption. It is possible that Shealtiel was adopted by Neri after the death of Jehoiachin. Assuming he was a minor at the time, Neri may have taken him into his home and raised him as his son. Thus, though biologically the son of Jehoiachin, he became the legal heir of Neri, his distant relative. Alternatively, the adoption might have gone in the other direction. Although I cannot vouch for its accuracy, the Loeb family tree website, a compendium of ancient Jewish (and specifically Davidic) genealogy, offers the following explanation:
King Jeconiah…married Tamar, his cousin, her second marriage, the daughter of the late crown-prince, Johanan, his uncle [i.e., a previously unknown son of King Josiah—DJP], and begot Zedekiah, the crown-prince. The early death of the crown-prince was the fulfillment of “Coniah’s Curse”, placed on King [Je]Coniah’s off-spring by Jeremiah “The Prophet”.
The king adopted his step-sons, the sons of his wife, Tamar, by a previous marriage since they too were of the “royal seed”, that is, her first husband was a Davidic prince.
Some of the details of this report are questionable. Most blatantly, Zedekiah was the son of Josiah and thus the uncle of Jehoiachin, not his son! The remainder is logically coherent, although certainly not proven. For what it’s worth, this report means Neri’s mother later went on to marry Jehoiachin. The king subsequently adopted Neri and Tamar’s children after the death of his own son, Zedekiah (presumably after his release from prison in Babylonia in 561 BC).
I leave it to the reader to decide which, if any, of these alternatives makes the most sense of the data.
According to the book of Jeremiah, God pronounced a curse on Jehoiachin’s line. This is most clearly expressed in Jeremiah 22:28-30. There God declares that none of Jehoiachin’s offspring would ever sit on David’s throne. Jeremiah 36:30 makes a similar pronouncement concerning Jehoiachin’s father Jehoiakim. Some scholars take this pronouncement to describe a permanent condemnation of Jehoiachin’s line. Others believe that Jeremiah’s words were only intended for the near future—the lifetime of Jehoiachin himself.
The theory that the curse upon Jehoiachin was only temporary is buttressed by several facts recorded in the Bible and early Jewish tradition. First, Jehoiachin apparently repented while in exile. The last chapter of 2 Chronicles records how he was elevated from prison and given special honors at the Babylonian court. Although he was not permitted to return to Judah, he is recognized by the Jews as the first Exilarch or ruler of the exiled community in Babylon.
Second, there are also rabbinic sources that indicate God removed the curse on Jehoiachin, which they attribute to his repentance while in prison. For example, according to Leviticus Rabbah 19:6:
The Holy One, blessed be He, then said: “In Jerusalem you did not observe the precept relating to issues, but now you are fulfilling it,” as it is said, As for thee also, because of the blood of thy covenant I send forth thy prisoners out of the pit (Zech 9:11) [which means], You have remembered the blood at Sinai, and for this do “I send forth thy prisoners.” R. Shabbethai said: He [Jeconiah] did not move thence before the Holy One, blessed be He, pardoned him all his sins. Referring to this occasion Scripture has said: Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no blemish in thee (Song 4:7). A Heavenly Voice went forth and said to them: ‘Return, ye backsliding children, I will heal your backslidings'” (Jer 3:22).
Pesiqta Rabbati 47 records the following:
R. Joshua ben Levi, however, argued as follows: “Repentance sets aside the entire decree, and prayer half the decree. You find that it was so with Jeconiah, king of Judah. For the Holy One, blessed be He, swore in His anger, As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet on a hand, yet by My right—note, as R. Meir said, that it was by His right hand that God swore—I would pluck thee hence (Jer 22:24). And what was decreed against Jeconiah? That he die childless. As is said Write ye this man childless (Jer 22:30). But as soon as he avowed penitence, the Holy One, blessed be He, set aside the decree, as is shown by Scripture’s reference to the sons of Jeconiah”—the same is Assir—Shealtiel his son, etc. (1 Chron 3:17). And Scripture says further: In that day … will I take thee, O Zerubbabel…the son of Shealtiel…and will make thee as a signet (Hag 2:23). Behold, then how penitence can set aside the entire decree!
According to these sources, the curse was lifted because of Jehoiachin’s repentance. (See also b.Sanhedrin 37b-38a; Pesiqta de Rab Kahana; and Numbers Rabbah 20:20.)
In any event, the Bible is unanimous in casting Zerubbabel as the rightful heir and legal successor of Jehoiachin. Later rabbinic speculation insisted in no uncertain terms that the Messiah would be a descendant of Zerubbabel. The medieval Tanhuma Genesis states:
Scripture alludes here to the verse, “Who art thou, O great mountain before Zerubbabel? Thou shalt become a plain” (Zech 4:7). This verse refers to the Messiah, the descendant of David…. From whom will the Messiah descend? From Zerubbabel.
Any plausible claim on behalf of Jesus’ messiahship would have to involve descent from Zerubbabel (Hag 2:21-23), regardless of any irregularities surrounding the legacy of his grandfather Jechoiachin.
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. (more…)
The last king of Judah was Zedekiah, a son of Josiah, whom the Babylonians defeated in 587 BC. Ten years previously, Zedekiah’s predecessor and nephew Jehoiachin (Matthew’s “Jeconiah”) was carried into Babylonian exile. In Babylon, his descendants (mainly in the line of Hananiah son of Zerubbabel) were prominent leaders of the exiled community. At some point, they began to be called by title “exilarch,” a Greek rendition of the Aramaic title resh galuta’, “head of the exiled community.” The Exilarchs enjoyed a life of ease and much of the pomp and pageantry associated with royalty, but their actual authority was restricted to internal Jewish matters. In the land of Israel, the post-exilic fortunes of the house of David are a bit more murky.
The Lay Nobility
In Eretz Israel, those who reorganized the nation following the Exile made the ancient ruling families the basis of order. Originally, the heads of these prominent families were the rulers of the various tribes. These dominant families had probably already assumed leadership of the people during the exile, when they may have served as rulers and judges (Ezek 8:1; 20:1). Later, many Jews returned to their homeland, at which point these family patriarchs functioned as representatives of the people. It was they who negotiated with the Persian provincial governor (Ezr 5:9ff) and, in association with the “governor of the Jews,” directed the reconstruction of the Temple (Ezr 5:5, 9; 6:7-8, 14).
This lay nobility is often described in rabbinic literature as “the eminent men of the generation,” “the eminent men of Jerusalem,” or “the leading men of Jerusalem” (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus [Fortress, 1969] 225). We read of them in the New Testament, where Luke speaks of “the principle men of the people” (Lk 19:47). Jeremias argues that the many references to “the elders” of Israel, who with the chief priests and scribes constituted the Sanhedrin, in fact describe this lay nobility. For the most part, they would have held to Sadducean values and beliefs (Jeremias, 228-229). Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43; Mt 27:57; Lk 23:50-51; Jn 19:38-42), a rich landownder, was probably a representative member of this group.
Who were the members of the lay nobility? A passage from the Mishnah (m.Taan 4:5) provides a list of the privileged families who were entitled to supply wood for the altar. These families are:
- “on the 1st of Nisan, by the family of Arah of the tribe of Judah [cf. Ezr 2:5; Neh 7:10];
- on the 20th of Tammuz, by the family of David of the tribe of Judah [cf. Ezr 8:2];
- on the 5th of Ab, by the family of Parosh of the tribe of Judah [cf. Ezr 2:3; 8:3; 10:25; Neh 3:25; 7:8; 10:15];
- on the 7th of the self-same month, by the family of Jonadab the son of Rechab [cf. 2 Ki 10:15, 23; Jer 35:8; 1 Ch 2:55];
- on the 10th by the family of Senaa of the tribe of Benjamin [cf. Ezr 2:35; Neh 3:3; 7:38; 11:9];
- on the 15th by the family of Zattuel of the tribe of Judah [cf. Zattu: Ezr 2:9; 10:27; Neh 7:13; 10:15] together with the priests and Levites and all whose tribal descent was in doubt and [or “namely”] the family of the Pestle-smugglers [or Mortar-smugglers: b.Taan 28a] and the family of Fig-pressers;
- on the 20th of the same month [it was brought] by the family of Pahath Moab of the tribe of Judah [cf. Ezr 2:6; 8:4; 10:30; Neh 3:11; 7:11; 10:15];
- on the 20th of Elul, by the family of Adin of the tribe of Judah [cf. Ezr 2:15; 8:6; Neh 7:20; 10:17];
- on the 1st of Tebet…an additional offering, and a wood offering [by the family of Parosh].” (Jeremias, 226-227).
This list is most likely from the early post-exilic period, probably deriving directly from the casting of lots to provide wood recorded in Neh 10:35-37 and 13:31 (Jeremias, 227). Their ability to provide wood needed for the sacrificial cultus indicates that they were people of some means, and that their position could involve financial sacrifice.
The family of David is included among the patrician families of post-exilic Israel, as would be expected. The entire patrician class, however, comprised a very small group. Elishah ben Abuyah (born before AD 70) stated: “My father Abuyah was one of the notable men of Jerusalem. At my circumcision he invited all the notables of Jerusalem” (Jeremias, 225). This suggests that the “notables of Jerusalem” could all gather in one room and formed a close social circle. The Bible recognizes three distinct Davidic lines that issued from Zerubbabel. If he had a foreign wife whom he divorced in compliance with Ezra’s reforms (Ezr 10:16ff), there were likely other lines as well (and later Jewish tradition in fact claims he had two foreign wives). It is likely that the full prestige of Davidic ancestry—and the full burden of civic responsibilities—would fall only on the line of Meshullam, Zerubbabel’s eldest son (from a Jewish mother).
Social Function of the House of David
In practical terms, what did membership in the house of David mean in the time of Jesus? Senior members of the family would have been members of the Sanhedrin, as noted above. With the rest of the Sanhedrin, they had a ceremonial duty on the Day of Atonement in accompanying the man who led the “goat for Azazel” into the wilderness (m.Yom 1:5). They would also have been responsible for their family’s offering of wood for the altar on the 20th of Tammuz every year.
Overall, however, the importance of the lay nobility in general was not very great in the time of Jesus, as is demonstrated by the meagerness of the evidence (Jeremias, 222). The Talmud relates that the custom during the Second Temple period was that the kingship belonged to the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties, which wielded political power. On religious matters, however, the people were led by a “Prince” or “Patriarch” (nasi’). The nesi’im were either of Davidic descent or, if not, were appointed by an assembly of judges or by the Sanhedrin.
At this point, we need to consider another prominent line in the Davidic genealogy: that of Hillel the Great. By the end of the first century and especially after the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 AD, the Palestinian nesi’im were usually chosen from among Hillel’s descendants, apparently beginning as early as Gamaliel II (90-110). By rabbinic tradition, Hillel was a descendant of Elnathan, governor of Judea in the post-Exilic period, who was in turn a descendant of David through his son Shephatiah. He thus belonged to a non-royal Davidic line in his patrilineal descent. Elnathan, however, married Shelomith, the daughter of Zerubbabel and thus of the Solomonic line. This makes Hillel a descendant of David through two different ancestral lines, that of Solomon and that of Shephatiah, comparable to the way Jesus’ genealogy is traced through both Solomon (Mt) and Nathan (Lk).
Hillel was the spiritual leader in Israel circa 30 BC–AD 10. He rose to that position when Shemaiah and Abtalion, the non-Davidic leaders who preceded him, conceded his prowess at halachic interpretation(see t.Pes 4; b.Pes 66a; y.Pes 33a). He thus became nasi’ because of his scholarship, not his bloodline. Even so, Hillel’s pedigree did not escape notice, especially as his descendants continued to serve as religious authorities. Not only did the Jews of late antiquity accept the Davidic heritage of the Hillelite nesi’im, some held messianic expectations concerning them. According to Hayes,
A tradition attributing Davidic lineage to the patriarchs led to messianic speculation regarding them. Some rabbinic figures attacked this position, as did the church fathers in the Byzantine period. The office, which was held by descendants of Hillel, was abolished by the authorities in Palestine in 425 BCE (Christine E. Hayes, “Nasi’,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, ed. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder [Oxford, 1997], 494).
The social role of the Davidic dynasty was thus much different in the time of Jesus than it was 600 years previously. Rather than being kings and warriors, the most prominent heirs of David were halachic interpreters. This shift no doubt served to enhance the general expectation of a Davidic messiah, both by highlighting the religious significance of the dynasty and by simultaneously denying it the trappings—and the accompanying power—of royalty.
What might life have been like for members of the house of David who did not occupy the most senior positions in the family? Here there are numerous traditions, both Jewish and Christian, that point to the possibility that many Davidides lived quite modestly.
To continue with Hillel: the great halachic scholar was born to a wealthy family of merchants in Babylonia (b.Sotah 21a). He wanted to study the Torah, however, and his parents did not approve of this decision. Therefore he traveled to Jerusalem without their financial support and worked as a woodcutter. It is said that he lived in such great poverty that he was sometimes unable to pay the admission fee to study Torah, and because of him that fee was abolished.
According to Christian tradition, Mary’s father Joachim was a shepherd with a sizeable flock, but he consistently donated most of it for sacrifice in the temple or for the poor, resulting in a very modest lifestyle for him and his wife.
The common thread in both of these stories is the theme of voluntary poverty in the service of God. Hillel turned his back on a life of ease in order to study the Torah; Joachim gave away much of his wealth in the service of God.
It is beyond dispute that Joseph and Mary were poor. According to Luke 2:24, they did not offer the customary offering of a pigeon or turtledove and a lamb when presenting Jesus in the Temple (Lev 12:6-8). Rather, they took advantage of a provision in the Mosaic law that allowed those of modest means to offer a less costly sacrifice: “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Lk 2:24). This was actual poverty—more like Hillel who legitimately could not pay for his classes than like Joachim who gave freely out of his abundance. Everything the Bible tells us Joseph and Mary’s character indicate that if they had the means to provide a lamb, they would have done so.
But how did they arrive at this state of poverty? Was it by choice like Hillel? Hillel became poor because he separated himself from his father’s financial support in order to study Torah. Was there some motivation for Joseph to cut himself off from a ready source of wealth for some religious goal? It may well be that Joseph, “a righteous man,” customarily gave as much to charity as possible. In other words, he had wealth enough but chose to spend almost all of it on others. Perhaps this is what he did with the gifts of the Magi (Mt 2:12). But again, this theory does not jibe with his inability to offer a lamb for Jesus—which was also a religious obligation a righteous man would be duty-bound to honor if at all possible.
Other factors were almost certainly involved. One possibility has to do with Herod’s rise to power in 37 BC. At this time, Josephus reports, Herod put to death “all the members” of the Sanhedrin (Ant. 14:175). According to Antiquities 15:6, he also put to death “forty-five of the principal men of the party of [the Hasmonean priest-king] Antigonus.” In short, Herod would not tolerate any threats to his power and dealt with any potential rivals with swift brutality. Throughout his long reign not even his own wives and sons were safe from his jealousy. Matthews account of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents (Mt 2:16) is not at all out of character with what we know of Herod from extrabiblical sources.
Furthermore, we should note that Herod’s own precarious claim to the throne rested more in his alliance with Rome than with his own pedigree. Herod was an ethnic Idumean, and even though this people had previously converted en masse to Judaism, the fact remains that he was a descendant of Edomites (cf. Obad). This fact helps to explain his agitation at news of one “born king of the Jews” in Matthew 2:2.
It is thus entirely possible that any Davidic claimant might have become a victim of Herod’s thirst for power. Clearly, some Davidides (those who were members of the Sanhedrin when Herod came to power, as well as any partisans of Antigonus) were killed outright. It does not require much imagination to envision others fleeing houses and lands to protect themselves and their families.
Might Joseph’s own father have lost his life or livelihood in Herod’s rampage? In such a situation, Joseph (or his father) may well have been reduced to poverty and chosen to “lay low” in Nazareth, far from Jerusalem, supporting himself by working as a simple carpenter.
Bauckham in fact raises the intriguing possibility that there may in fact be documentary evidence about Joseph’s net worth (“The Relatives of Jesus,” Themelios 21/2 (1996) 18-21). He draws attention to the tradition, preserved by Hegesippus, that Zoker and James, the grandsons of Jude, “the Lord’s brother,” were poor farmers. When asked about their possessions by the emperor Domitian,
they said that between the two of them they had only nine thousand denarii, half belonging to each of them; and this they asserted they had not as money, but only in thirty-nine plethra of land, so valued, from which by their own labor they both paid the taxes and supported themselves.
Some of the details of this story are historically improbable, as Bauckham admits. Even so, the size and value given for the land the two brothers held in common is so specific that it is hard not to believe it rests on some kernel of accurate tradition. The size of the family’s smallholding in Nazareth may have been well known in the circle of Jesus’ followers. Bauckham raises the possibility that this parcel of land belonged to the family of Jesus for several generations. He writes,
The farm was not divided between the brothers, but owned jointly, no doubt because this family continued the old Jewish tradition of keeping a smallholding undivided as the joint property of the ‘father’s house,’ rather than dividing it between heirs. So, two [sic] generations back, this farm would have belonged to Joseph and his brother Clopas. Unfortunately, because there are two possible sizes of the plethron, it seems impossible to be sure of the size of the farm: it may be either about 24 acres or about 12 acres. In either case, this is not much land to support two families…
Especially two families among which there were at least seven children. Therefore it would not be surprising for Joseph—and Jesus—to supplement the family income by working as a carpenter. Bauckham continues,
As in the case of many village artisans, Joseph’s trade was not an alternative to working the land, but a way of surviving when the family smallholding could no longer fully support the family. It did not necessarily put Jesus’ family any higher on the social ladder than most of the peasant farmers of Nazareth.
Next: The Texts
Biblical genealogies have come up recently at JesusCreed and Exploring our Matrix. At both blogs, the focus is on Bible-and-science type questions. Namely, what (if anything) does the presence of Adam or Noah in the genealogies of Jesus imply about the historicity of those biblical characters? (Some would no doubt ask the same question about Abraham or David. That’s the point: is there some kind of line after which we’re in reasonably solid history and before which we’re in the realm of myth and legend?)
That is certainly a valid discussion, but what I’d like to do over the next several days is look a bit more closely at the later parts of Jesus’ genealogy (Mt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38). In the section between David and Jesus himself there are a number of interesting interpretive issues. For example, Matthew has Zerubbabel as a descendant of Jeconiah and the line of Solomon; Luke has his lineage through Neri and the line of Nathan. Similarly, at the end of the list Joseph’s own father is stated as either Jacob (in Mt) or Heli (in Lk).
I’d also like to dig around a little bit into the importance of genealogies in Judaism generally, especially that of key figures such as priests and members of the “house of David.” I’ll also have a little bit to say about what membership in the Davidic family may have meant in the Second Temple period.
The Importance of a Davidic Pedigree
Genealogy was serious business to the ancient Hebrews. In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah there were even certain priests who lost their office because they could not produce proof of their priestly lineage (Ezr 2:61-63; Neh 7:63-65). Long before this, the Promised Land was allotted according to tribes and inheritance demanded knowledge of one’s ancestry. It was generally forbidden for Israelites to marry outside their tribe.
For ordinary Jews, failure to comply with these standards was generally tolerated. There are instances of Jewish intermarriage even with Gentiles recorded in the Bible itself (Acts 16:1). Purity of the priestly lineage was serious business, however. During the reign of the Hasmonean priest-king John Hyrcanus, a certain Pharisee named Eleazar said Hyrcanus should give up the high priesthood because his mother had been captured in war (in accordance with Lev 21:14), thus insinuating that he was illegitimate (see Josephus, War 1:67-68; Ant. 13:288-299; b.Qidd 66a; b. Ber 29a). This obviously infuriated Hyrcanus, who thereafter switched his allegiance from the Pharisees to the Sadducees. It isn’t hard to imagine the same sort of challenge to a claim about Davidic ancestry.
In the Gospels, Jesus never explicitly claims to be a descendant of David, but the Evangelists do. Jesus was hailed as the “son of David” throughout the New Testament, and not just in the genealogies. For example, he was recognized as such in the Song of Zechariah (Lk 1:69), by the blind man of Jericho (Mt 9:27; Mk 10:47), and by the massive crowd who greeted his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:15; cf. Mt 12:23). Matthew can even place the Davidic claim on the lips of a foreigner (the Canaanite woman, Mt 15:22). Jesus’ Davidic lineage was an integral part of the early apostolic preaching not only in the Synoptic tradition but in Acts (Acts 2:25-30; 13:22-23), Pauline Christianity (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8), and the book of Revelation (Rev 5:5; 22:16).
Thus, whenever the New Testament writers mention Jesus’ pedigree, they trace it back to David. One can probably make a case that language like “son of David” can be figurative as well as literal, that the important thing (for Jesus’ earliest followers) is that he is the Messiah, and that “son of David” is merely an honorific that comes with the job regardless of what any ancient DNA test might confirm. It is worth nothing, however, that a claim to Davidic pedigree does not seem to have been absolutely necessary in making messianic claims.
Jews in this period were not unanimous in expecting a specifically Davidic Messiah:
- The Dead Sea Scrolls describe two messiahs, both a kingly “Messiah of Israel” and a priestly “Messiah of Aaron,” who seem to reign concurrently (CD 12:12–13:1; 14:18-19; 19:9-11; 1Q28a 2:1-21). The idea of both a kingly and a priestly ruler was not unique to Qumran; is also attested from second-century BC sources such as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. The Qumranians, however, seem to have been the first to apply the title “Messiah” to both these figures.
- Many ancient rabbis saw in the biblical figure of Joseph a foreshadowing of the Messiah. In some theories, a “Messiah son of Joseph” would first come as a suffering messiah, and only later “Messiah son of David” would come to reign as king. A marginal reading in the Codex Reuchlinianus Targum of Zechariah 12:10 states: “And I shall cause to rest upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of prophecy and true prayer. And afterward the Messiah son of Ephraim [i.e., Joseph] will go out to do battle with Gog, and Gog will slay him in front of the gate of Jerusalem. And they shall look to me and shall inquire of me why the nations pierced the Messiah son of Ephraim.” (See also b. Sukkah 52a; Rashi commentary in loc.; Ibn Ezra; Abrabanel; Moses Alshekh).
- There was some speculation about whether John the Baptist was making messianic claims about himself (Jn 1:19-24). Given that the only genealogical data we have on John traces his priestly lineage (Lk 1:5), on what basis might such a claim even be taken seriously?
- Many Jews—most notably the highly respected Rabbi Akiba—accepted the messiahship of Simon bar Kosiba in the early second century. It is possible, but not proven, that Simon was recognized as the kingly “Messiah of Israel” and his collaborator Eleazar of Modein as the priestly “Messiah of Aaron” as in the Qumranian scheme. There is no evidence, however, that Simon was or even claimed to be of Davidic lineage.
At any rate, God’s covenant with David and his royal dynasty might be seen as conditional. Note the conditional nature of the promise in Psalm 132:11-12: “If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees that I shall teach them, their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne.” It might well be argued that the kings of the Davidic dynasty failed to keep God’s covenant and decrees (see, for example, 1 Kgs 2:4; 1 Chr 28:5-7, 9; Jer 22:24-30; 36:30; Ezek 21:25-27). In such circumstances, might not God look elsewhere for a viable messianic candidate—either to a secondary Davidic line or outside that line entirely?
Jesus as “Son of David”
Messianic thinking in Second Temple Judaism gave the early followers of Jesus a number of workarounds if there were insufficient evidence of Jesus’ Davidic lineage. They might instead have contended he was the “Messiah of Joseph” or some such, but they didn’t. And apparently nobody in the first several centuries of Christian history ever bothered to dispute Jesus’ messiahship on the grounds of invalid lineage. With so many of his followers claiming Jesus was the son of David, one would think a formal legal refutation of the claim (by the Sanhedrin, or perhaps later by the rabbis of the Tannaitic era) would have been in order. We may assume that, at least when it became clear the early Jesus-movement wasn’t going away, someone would have challenged the Davidic claim just as Eleazar the Pharisee challenged John Hyrcanus. In fact, there is little in the New Testament or the earliest rabbinic writings to suggest that anyone ever demanded documentation of Jesus’ pedigree. The Jewish charges against Jesus were limited to blasphemy and possibly idolatry and/or sorcery (depending on the interpretation of certain passages in the Talmud). The issue of being genealogically disqualified seems never to have come up. (On one occasion Jesus’ opponents possibly make an oblique accusation of illegitimacy [Jn 8:41], but is this disputing a Davidic claim or mere calling Jesus a bastard?)
Of course, it’s possible detractors of the early Jesus-movement knew these workarounds existed and therefore didn’t bother, since even a successful challenge to Jesus’ Davidic ancestry would be only a minor victory. The more leeway one assumes existed with respect to messianic claims in the first century, the less convincing it is to argue that Jesus’ opponents should have challenged his Davidic credentials. Conversely, if such leeway existed, we are forced to ask why Jesus’ followers made Davidic claims on his behalf when they didn’t technically have to.
Next: The House of David
The the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kgs 17:8-9)
But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. (Lk 4:25-26)
There is no reason to doubt that, before Elijah showed up on her doorstep, the widow of Zarephath was a worshiper of Baal. She lived in a country were Baal-worship was literally the national religion. In fact, at her first meeting with the prophet she refers to “the LORD your God” (1 Kgs 17:12). She felt no particular attachment to the God of Israel. No doubt she prayed to Baal and offered him sacrifices-and all the more as her life began to come unraveled with the loss of her husband, the drought in her land, and finally the death of her son.
She worshiped a false god, but she was not evil. In fact, she demonstrated a degree of hospitality to the foreign preacher that can and should be praised as an example for us today. For his part, Elijah was not unwilling to receive help from a foreign, pagan woman-a fact that likely made a deep impression on her. Like Jesus with the Samaritan woman 900 years later, he asked her for sustenance and gladly received it. When her son died, Elijah prayed for his recovery, and when Yahweh raised him up, the woman was ready to reevaluate her spiritual loyalties.
You never know where God is going to meet you, or through whom.