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Lessons and Carols 8

The Eighth Lesson:

The wise men are led by the star to Jesus.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-12)


“Coventry Carol”

The Christmas Story in Q?

Doug Chaplin is pondering a few commonalities, including “a clear verbal parallel at the core,” between Matthew and Luke’s versions of the story of Jesus’ birth. What if Matthew didn’t “invent” his story of Mary’s virginal conception in order to fit his messianic interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 but rather appealed to Isaiah 7:14 to explain a detail he already knew from his Jesus tradition?

Matthew is certainly keen on demonstrating Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy, and capable of moving backwards and forwards between prophecy and the Jesus story. We must therefore weigh each instance to see whether it is more likely that Matthew has come up with a detail which (absent any real knowledge) must have happened in this way because of what the prophet said, or whether he has decided this or that verse is a prophecy because it fits with the Jesus tradition as he has received it.

It is certainly plausible, for example, to think that either Matthew or his tradition come up with the birthplace in Bethlehem because of Micah’s prophecy (though I’m not fully persuaded). It seems to me a good deal less plausible that a virgin birth should be invented on the basis of a verse no-one else ever seems to have taken as Messianic. I would be more inclined to think that this is Matthew “scripturizing” (a term I owe to Mark Goodacre) the tradition he has received, and justifying the rather odd new Christian belief about Messiah for his somewhat beleaguered Judeo-Christian community.

If I’m right, that Matthew is innovative in offering this rather odd reading of Isaiah 7:14 because of a prior belief about Jesus, perhaps it may also be a further reason for thinking he is working with a pre-existing tradition about the birth of Jesus, and indeed, one he shares with Luke.

Do People Become Angels When They Die?

As I sat around the table with the grieving family you could almost tangibly feel the sense of grief and despair. Their teenage daughter (sister, cousin) had been brutally murdered by her boyfriend. Our church was the closest thing any of them had to a religious affiliation, so it was my job to conduct the funeral. They told me about their precious one’s life, the joy she brought to others, her extensive community involvement. I thanked them for helping me understand something of the life of this young lady I had never met.

Then Dad expressed, for what must have been the fourth or fifth time, his belief that his daughter was now an angel. “You’ve got to tell them that now she is an angel,” he told me.

Where does this idea come from that humans (at least good ones) become angels when they die? It seems to be a common belief in popular culture, maybe even the majority opinion. It is the premise of movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, TV shows like Highway to Heaven, and scores of “Family Circus” cartoons. We might state the proposition as: “All morally good humans become angels when they die.” Often there is a corollary, either stated or implied: “All angels were once humans.”

Does this idea have any basis at all in the history of biblical interpretation or is it merely a modern invention?

Metatron and Sandalphon

In fact, there are a couple of ancient stories about humans becoming angels without dying first. The most famous is the story of Enoch, as recounted in the fifth-century AD Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch (also called 3 Enoch).

Third Enoch is written under the pseudonym of Rabbi Ishmael, an early second-century scholar. In the opening chapters of the book, Ishmael has a vision of the angel Metatron, who introduces himself by describing the seventy names God had bestowed upon him and his many responsibilities in the heavenly hierarchy. When Ishmael asks why Metatron has been so honored, he responds,

“Because I am Enoch, the son of Jared. When the generation of the flood sinned and turned to evil deeds, and said to God, ‘Go away! We do not choose to learn your ways,’ the Holy One, blessed be he, took me from their midst to be a witness against them in the heavenly height to all who should come into the world, so that they should not say, ‘The Merciful One is cruel!’ … Therefore the Holy One, blessed be he, brought me up in their lifetime, before their very eyes, to the heavenly height, to be a witness against them to future generations. And the Holy One, blessed be he, appointed me in the height as a prince and a ruler among the ministering angels.” (3 Enoch 4:2-3, 5)

The other angels, however, object to this proposed elevation:

“When the Holy One, blessed be he, desired to bring me up to the height, he sent me Prince Anapi’el YHWH and he took me from their midst, before their very eyes, and he conveyed me in great glory on a fiery chariot, with fiery horses and glorious attendants, and he brought me up with the Shekinah to the heavenly heights. As soon as I reached the heavenly heights, the holy creatures, the ophanim, the seraphim, the cherubim, the wheels of the chariot and the ministers of consuming fire, smelled my odor 365,000 myriads of parasangs off; they said, ‘What is this smell of one born of a woman? Why does a white drop ascend on high and serve among those who cleave the flames?’ The Holy One, blessed be he, replied and said to them, ‘My ministers, my hosts, my cherubim, my ophanim, and my seraphim, do not be displeased at this, for all mankind has rejected me and my great kingdom and has gone off and worshiped idols. So I have taken up my Shekinah from their midst and brought it up to the height. And this one whom I have removed from them is the choicest of them all and worth them all in faith, righteousness, and fitting conduct. This one whom I have taken is my sole reward from my whole world under heaven.’” (3 Enoch 6:1-3)

God then bestows heavenly honors upon him, transforms him into a vast supernatural being, bestows upon him various symbols of authority (throne, robe, crown), and sets him in authority over the rest of the heavenly hierarchy. When God places the crown upon his head, the rest of the angels tremble before him.

A second human described as being elevated to the ranks of the angels is Elijah, who in some legends became the archangel Sandalphon (Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible [JPS, 1956] 589). Sandalphon is sometimes said to be the twin brother of Metatron. Both figure in medieval Jewish mystical texts and at least have cameo appearances in the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It is noteworthy that in Scripture itself neither of these figures actually died: Enoch “walked with God; then he was no more because God took him” (Gen 5:24); Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:1-12). Both therefore figure prominently in various speculative, apocalyptic texts.

These are the only humans ever depicted in Jewish or Christian speculation as being transformed into angels. But where, then, did people get the idea that lots and lots of people turned into angels at death?

New Testament Texts

There are a handful of New Testament texts that might imply some sort of human-to-angel transformation. The first is Mark 12:25 and parallels: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Obviously, Jesus is not teaching that the righteous become angels. First, he explicitly says they are merely “like” angels. Second, the righteous are also explicitly in possession of physical bodies, since he is describing what happens “when they rise from the dead.” Third, in the context of the Sadducees’ hypothetical puzzle of a widow who had been married to multiple husbands in life, the point of the comparison is explicitly with the fact that neither angels nor resurrected saints participate in the institution of marriage. Still, the fact remains that a comparison can be made between the final state of the righteous dead and the nature of angels. Perhaps this was enough to set the stage for later piety to propose the idea that death equates to angelic transformation.

More to the point is a minority interpretation of a couple of other passages. Matthew 18:10 says, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Acts 12:12-15 describes how Peter, fresh from his escape from prison (with angelic assistance) flees to safety:

As soon as he realized [that it wasn’t just a dream], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.”

These two passages are usually interpreted as early hints at something like a doctrine of “guardian angels.” At least in the Acts passage, such an angel is assumed to look (and sound) like the person to whom they are assigned. Since at least the nineteenth century, however, there has been an alternative interpretation that should be noted. In his 1887 essay, “The Angels of Christ’s Little Ones,” B. B. Warfield suggested that in these passages what are called “angels” are actually disembodied spirits:

There is yet another explanation which has sometimes been suggested, but which has been received with very little consideration by scholars. This is the very simple one that by “angel” in these passages is meant just “the disembodied soul.”


Assuredly, if we could dare take the word “angel” in these passages in the sense of disembodied spirit, the requirements of both passages would be satisfied. What more natural than that the Christian brethren assembled in Mary’s house, when assured by the maid that Peter stood at the door, speaking with Peter’s voice – though they knew him to be closely guarded in prison, or perhaps already in worse case than even this – should have sprung to the only other possible explanation of the phenomenon: “It is his spirit!”… There is every suggestion that they knew he was destined for death and feared the worst; and there is no reason why they may not have jumped to the conclusion that the worst had come and they were being only now and thus advertised of it.

In the passage in Matthew, nothing could seem more appropriate than the sense of “disembodied spirits.” What could so enhance the reverence with which “these little ones”—especially if literal children are meant—should be treated here than the assurance that it is specifically their souls which in heaven stand closest to the Father’s throne?

In his Commentary on Matthew (Zondervan, 1995), D. A. Carson agrees:

The most likely explanation is the one Warfield defends. The “angels” of the “little ones” are their spirits after death and they always see the heavenly Father’s face. Do not despise these little ones, Jesus says, for their destiny is the unshielded glory of the Father’s presence. The present tense (they “always see”) raises no difficulty because Jesus is dealing with a class, not individuals. The same interpretation admirably suits Acts 12:15: what the assembled group thinks is standing outside is Peter’s “spirit” (angel), which accounts for Rhoda’s recognition of his voice.

But can the word “angel” be pressed into this interpretation? Certainly Jesus teaches that God’s people in the Resurrection “will be like the angels in heaven” as to marriage (22:30) and immortality (Luke 20:36). Similar language is also used in 2 Baruch 51:5, 12 (cf. also 1 Enoch 51:4): the righteous will become angels in heaven, will be transformed into the splendor of angels, and will even surpass the excellency of angels. The evidence, though not overwhelming, is substantial enough to suppose that “their angels” simply refers to their continued existence in the heavenly Father’s presence.

The text Carson cites from 2 Baruch is especially enlightening as an early indication of this sort of speculation. In describing the “shapes” of the righteous and the unrighteous when the final judgment has been passed, the writer has God say,

Also, as for the glory of those who proved to be righteous on account of my law, those who possessed intelligence in their life, and those who planted the root of wisdom in their heart—their splendor will then be glorified by transformations, and the shape of their face will be changed into light of their beauty so that they may acquire and receive the undying world which is promised to them. Therefore, especially they who will then come will be sad, because they despised my Law and stopped their ears lest they hear wisdom and receive intelligence. When they, therefore, will see that those over whom they are exalted now will then be more exalted and glorified than they, then both these and those will be changed, these [i.e., the righteous] into the splendor of angels and those [i.e., the unrighteous] into startling visions and horrible shapes; and they will waste away even more. (2 Baruch 51:2-5)

If one follows this interpretation of Matthew and Acts, then only by the most generous definition can one say that the departed saints “become” angels. It would be far more accurate to say that they “have” angels, that is, spirits. They are nowhere depicted as performing angelic duties—ministering at the heavenly altar, carrying prayers to God, conveying messages to humans, etc. The righteous dead are, however, compared to angels in that they are non-corporeal beings (still awaiting the resurrection) made holy by proximity to the divine. And I should point out that there is nothing in this interpretation that overturns the explicit teaching of Scripture that angels and humans are two distinct orders of creation (see Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:12, etc.).

In fact, Paul goes so far as to state that in the resurrection the saints will actually be higher than angels in the heavenly hierarchy (1 Cor 6:3). Unless your name is Metatron, you don’t want to be transformed into an angel in heaven—it would be a demotion!

Why Do We Believe that Humans Transform into Angels?

This still doesn’t answer the question of why it is such a prevalent cultural assumption or where this assumption came from. The chances that many people who hold this view have been reading 3 Enoch—or even B. B. Warfield—are infinitesimal. I suppose we could chalk it up to wishful thinking and sentimentality on the part of some whose theological foundation is a bit shaky. As it is most often formulated, it seems to be a thoroughly modern belief. It is most assuredly not the official position of any Christian church of which I am aware.

It may, however, be as simple as this. Any Catholic or Orthodox church is full of depictions of angels and departed saints. It thus attempts to represent who is in heaven and what they are doing (i.e., offering their worship to God and to Christ: see Heb 12:18-24; Rev 4–5, etc.). Combine these sorts of representations of the “demographics” of heaven with deep piety, shallow theology, and natural human curiosity about the afterlife and one can imagine how some people might wander into this view by connecting dots that were never meant to be connected: the saints died and went to heaven > angels are in heaven > the saints turn into angels when they get to heaven.

“You’ve got to tell them that now she is an angel.”

No, sir. With all due respect, I hope for more than that for your daughter—and for us. Therefore I’ve got to tell them about Jesus, who died and rose again to save us, who now lives and reigns with God and with the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. I’ve got to tell them that we can entrust your daughter to his grace and merciful care.

Witherington: Jesus and Wisdom

Interesting interview with Ben Witherington III about Jesus as a Jewish “wise man.” This, by the way, is an important theme in BWIII’s excellent commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

The Genealogy of Jesus 6

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!

Matthew 13:44-50 (Dr. Seuss edition)

I am J.
J., they say.
Here’s a gift for you today.

Look! A treasure in the ground
It was lost but now it’s found.

“I would have that treasure, J.
I would give my goods away.”

Would you give them for a pearl?
(Maybe for a special girl?)

“Yes! I’ll give them, J.-they-say!
It’s a price I’m glad to pay,
Pay it for a special pearl
(though I have no special girl)
Pay it for the loot I found
that was buried in the ground.”

What about a net of fish?
Would you eat that kind of dish?

“I would not eat that kind of dish,
dear J., not every kind of fish.”

Then bring the net up to the shore
and get three baskets—maybe four.
In the baskets, put the fish
that go into your seafood dish.
All the good we’ll keep, you see
And throw the bad away from me.
For in the kingdom, so they say
the bad will all be cast away.
The angels work their separation
while righteous ones, in glad elation
live in joy of heart’s desires
while evil weep in furnace fires.

“I shall avoid the furnace fires,
J., and find my heart’s desires.
The kingdom bids my glad elation,
and so through angels’ separation
I gladly cast my goods away
to win the prize, and firmly say,
‘The precious pearl belongs to me.’
The hidden treasure, too, you see,
for I would rather loose my all
than wander, deaf to heaven’s call.”

The Genealogy of Jesus 5

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:

  1. The line of Shazrezzar. Zerubbabel’s first wife was a Babylonian princess named Amytis. She was the mother of his firstborn son, Shazrezzar.
  2. The line of Reza. Zerubbabel’s second wife was a Persian princess named Rhodah. She was the mother of his second son, Reza.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Gospel of Matthew: The Least You Need to Know

Last night I decided I needed to revamp my introductory lecture on the Gospel of Matthew. (Not like I had anything else to do, right?) Here’s what I came up with, fresh from having test-driven it in class today.

The Gospel of Matthew strikes a CHORD with many readers. Here is a summary of the least you need to know about this important New Testament book.


The Gospel of Matthew was not the first Gospel written—that honor almost assuredly goes to Mark. But in many ways Matthew was and is the “First Gospel.” It is first in the New Testament canon because it has been first in the mind of the church for most of Christian history. Matthew is preeminently a Gospel for the church, and it shows. In modern times, scholarship has largely abandoned Matthew in favor of Mark, but Matthew continues to exert a powerful influence over the life of the church because it seems so expertly designed to meet the church’s needs in training disciples.

Matthew contains many of the most famous Jesus texts, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which has been an inspiration even to nonbelievers. Most do not even realize Luke has a “Sermon on the Plain.” Christians learn Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father and may not even realize that there is an alternative wording in Luke. The same goes for Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes.


Matthew interweaves his community’s history with the history of Jesus himself. (John does the same thing, and gets more credit for it, but a similar impulse can be detected in Matthew.) It is possible to read between the lines of Matthew’s Gospel and discern what the Matthean community was experiencing in their historical setting. The hostilities Jesus experienced with the Pharisees echo the Matthean community’s frictions with post-70 rabbinic Judaism, for example.

Because of this interweaving, we sometimes see hints of theological and missiological development in Matthew. Jesus limits his mission to Israel in Matthew 10:5-6, for example, but by Matthew 28:19 is commanding the disciples to make disciples of all nations. Matthew inherits Mark’s depiction of the disciples as misunderstanders of Jesus and his mission, but also depicts them as men of faith who readily confess Jesus as the Son of God (compare Mt 14:32-33 with Mark 6:51-52, and Mt 16:15-23 with Mk 8:29-33).

Organizing and Collecting

Matthew was a master of organizing and collecting Jesus materials in a form that was most suitable for the needs of a teaching church. He arranges most of Jesus’ teaching materials into five major blocks:

  • Matthew 5–7: the Sermon on the Mount (ethics)
  • Matthew 10: missionary instructions (evangelism)
  • Matthew 13: parables of the kingdom of God (exposition)
  • Matthew 18: relationships and reconciliation in the church (ecclesiology)
  • Matthew 24–25: signs of the end-times (eschatology)

This arrangement of materials results in an alternation of narrative and teaching materials. It also means that sayings of Jesus that may be widely dispersed in Mark or Luke have been brought together (for ease of reference?) in Matthew.

Reading and Reflecting on the Torah

Scholars seem to be agreed that Matthew was written by a reflective Jewish believer in Jesus. Some see in Matthew 13:52 an oblique self-reference to the author: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Did the author see himself as such a “scribe trained for the kingdom”? His formulaic use of Old Testament quotations (“to fulfill what had been spoken by Lord through the prophet,” “for so it has been written by the prophet,” etc.) suggest he was part of some kind of interpretive school or at least that he was reading the Jewish Bible in light of a more or less established tradition of Christocentric interpretation.

The author of Matthew certainly had great respect for Torah. Matthew’s Jesus insists that he has come not to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it, and insists that not even the smallest letter or pen stroke will pass from it (Mt 5:17-18). Rather than doing away with the Torah, Matthew seems insistent on preserving it. The Torah is binding—but only as reinterpreted in light of Jesus.

In this light, it is important to notice the prevalence of the theme of “righteousness” in Matthew. Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly because was a righteous man (Mt 1:19). Jesus persuaded John to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). Righteousness is obviously a key theme in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus calls his disciples to a degree of righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 5:20). Later in the Sermon on the Mount, he warns against “practicing your righteousness” (NRSV “piety,” but it’s the same Greek word as “righteousness”) before others in order to gain human praise.

Matthew’s interpretations of Torah did not sit well with others. There are indications that the disciples of Jesus face persecution even from other Jews (Mt 5:10-11; 10:17, 22-23). Like the Gospel of John, Matthew is dealing with a situation in which some Jews are arguing with others over Jesus and his message.


But Matthew’s community was not exclusively Jewish. Although it was clearly shaped within the matrix (or matrices) of Jewish “Christianity,” there is evidence in Matthew for the inclusion of Gentiles. The aforementioned missionary instructions to the disciples, at first to Israel only and later to all the world, may reflect stages of development in the history of the Matthean community. (“To the Jew first and also to the Greek” was also the pattern for Paul.) If the scholars are right who locate Matthew’s community in Antioch, then Acts 11:19-26, which describes how Hellenistic-Jewish missionaries first preached Christ to non-Jews in Antioch, may offer us a glimpse of this time of transition from an entirely Jewish to an ethnically mixed congregation.

A number of episodes in Matthew seem to hint at the repercussions of this openness to Gentiles. The story of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13) ends with Jesus amazed that an outsider would have such great faith and pronouncing that the time would come when all the nations would be included in the kingdom:

“Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” (Mt 8:10-11)

Then, however, comes the sad realization that Gentiles will in fact be more receptive than the descendants of Abraham:

“…while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 8:12)

There is a similar sad realization that the Jewish establishment will reject Jesus’ mission in the parable of the wicked tenants (Mt 21:33-44). In Mark’s version of the story (Mk 12:1-12) the religious authorities discern that Jesus is talking about them. Matthew’s Jesus flatly states that this is the case: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produced the fruits of the kingdom” (Mt 21:43).

The Genealogy of Jesus 4

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:

  1. In Matthew, Shealtiel’s father is Jechoniah (aka Jehoiachin). In Luke, Shealtiel’s father is Neri.
  2. In both Matthew and Luke, Shealtiel is the father of Zerubbabel. In 1 Chronicles 3:19, however, the father of Zerubbabel is Pedaiah.
  3. 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.

Jehoiachin’s Curse

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.

Next: Zerubbabel

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. (more…)