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Fausset's Bible Dictionary

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Genealogy of Jesus Christ
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Hebrew "the book of the GENERATIONS," ceepher toledowt (See ADOPTION; GENERATION). Fuller (Pisgah Sight of Palestine, 1650) says on Acts 17:26; "we may see Divinity, the queen, Waited on by three of her principal ladies of honor, namely:

(1) skill in GENEALOGIES, 'of one blood all nations,'

(2) CHRONOLOGY, in the exact computation of 'the times appointed,'

(3) GEOGRAPHY, measuring out to the nations 'the bounds of their habitation.'" History, in ancient times, being based on genealogies, the phrase became a title for a history; so Genesis 2:4, "these are the generations of the heavens and of the earth"; as the history of a man's family is "the book of his generations," so that of the world's productions is "the generations (not the creation, which had been previously described) of the heavens and the earth." "Generations" is the heading of every chief section of Genesis (probably they were original family memoirs preserved and used by Moses under inspiration in writing Genesis).

So Genesis 5:1, "the book of the generations of Adam," wherein his descendants are traced down to Noah; Genesis 6:9, "the generations of Noah," the history of Noah and his sons; Genesis 10:1, "the generations of the sons of Noah," Shem, Ham, and Japhet, the oldest and most precious existing ethnological record; Genesis 11:10-26 "the generations of Shem," Genesis 11:27 "the generations of Terah," Abram's father; Genesis 25:12 "the generations of Ishmael," Genesis 25:19 "the generations of Isaac"; Genesis 36:1, "the generations of Esau"; Genesis 37:2, "the generations of Jacob"; Genesis 35:22-26, "the sons of Jacob," etc., repeated Exodus 1:1-5; also Exodus 46:8, a genealogical census of Israel when Jacob came down to Egypt; repeated in Exodus 6:16, etc., probably transcribed from a document, for the first part concerning Reuben and Simeon is quoted though Levi is the only tribe in question.

The promise of Canaan, Israel's separation from the Gentiles, the prophecy of Messiah's descent from Judah, the hereditary priesthood in Aaron's family, and the limitation of ministerial offices to Levi, the promises to David's seed, and the division of Canaan by tribes and families, all combined to make Israel more careful of genealogies than: any other nation. Israel's census was taken early in the wilderness 40 years sojourn, the second month of the second year, "by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers" (Numbers 1:2; Numbers 1:20, etc., Numbers 2-3). Again, 38 years later, in the plains of Moab, the names of the families being added (Numbers 26). According to their genealogical divisions they encamped, marched, made offerings, and selected the spies; hereby Achan was detected, and Saul chosen as king; hereby Canaan was allotted.

At the same time we must remember many became incorporated in a tribe or family by marriage, service, or friendship, besides those belonging to it by birth. See BECHER; CALEB, and 1 Chronicles 3:21, for instances. The genealogies refer often to political and territorial divisions, and not strictly to natural descent, so that "sons" of a patriarch are not necessarily restricted to those so by birth. So Manasseh and Ephraim were numbered among Jacob's "sons," though only grandsons (Genesis 48:5). Bela (whose two sons Naaman and Ard are called "sons of Benjamin," Numbers 26:40-41) and Benjamin respecting Genesis 46; Numbers 26; Exodus 6:24 enumerates Assir's son and grandson as heads, with their father, of the Korhites. (See BENJAMIN; BELA.)

In the list (Genesis 46) grandsons (e.g. all Benjamin's ten sons) and great grandson's of Jacob (Hezron and Hamul, grandsons of Judah) are named, born afterward in Egypt and who came into that country in the loins of their fathers, and who there became founders of mishpachowt , i.e. independent families, and were therefore counted grandsons of Jacob as regards the national organization. By comprising Jacob himself with all the founders of tribes and families, the significant number 70 results; seven (expressing God's covenant relation to Israel, made up of three the divine number and four the worldwide extension number) multiplied by ten the seal of completeness; implying that these 70 comprised the whole nation of God (Exodus 1:5; Deuteronomy 10:22). Levi alone was free front foreign admixture. Iddo the seer wrote a book "concerning genealogies" (2 Chronicles 12:15).

Hezekiah took a census of priests and Levites according to genealogies, and apparently from 1 Chronicles 4:41; 1 Chronicles 9:1, a census also of the nation by genealogies; he had a staff of scribes for such purposes (Proverbs 25:1). Genealogies were need in reckoning Reuben and Gad, "in the days of Jotham king of: Judah (perhaps in connection with his wars against Ammon, 2 Chronicles 27:5), and of Jeroboam king of Israel" (1 Chronicles 5:17). Zerubbabel, on the return from Babylon, made it a first care to settle the people according to genealogy. Nehemiah did the same as an essential to his great work, the restoration of the national polity (1 Chronicles 3:19; 1 Chronicles 3:21-24; 1 Chronicles 3:9; compare Nehemiah 7:5; Nehemiah 7:11; Nehemiah 12:1-26), which shows that the genealogical system was continued afterward.

Ezra 2 contains an abstract of the post-captivity census. In New Testament times, when Augustus ordered the registration for taxing, the Jews went severally to the town of their tribe, family, and father; and so Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, the town of their forefather David (Luke 2). Further traces of genealogies being preserved still appear in the mention of Zacharias as of "the course of Abra," Elizabeth as "of the daughters of Aaron," Anna, daughter of Phanuel, as "of the tribe of Aser." Josephus traces his own descent to the first of the 24 courses of priests, adding "as I have found it recorded in the public tables." He says (c. Apion, 1:7) the priests had to verify the descent of their intended wives from the archives at Jerusalem, and to make new genealogical tables after every war, in order to ascertain what women had been made captives, as such were excluded from marrying priests; the list of high priests for 2,000 years backward was preserved in the archives in his day.

The destruction of Jerusalem by Rome must have involved the loss of these registers, except such partial records of genealogy as remained in a few of the priestly families after the last dispersion. Benjamin of Tudela says that the princes still professed to trace their descent up to David. The present impossibility of verifying the genealogies of the Jews' tribes and families is a divine indication that Christ the antitypical High Priest and the Heir of David's throne having come supersedes the polity of typical priests and kings, which, in ancient times, required the careful preservation of pedigrees. Paul therefore condemns the study of "endless genealogies" (1 Timothy 1:4), though probably he aims also at Gnostic genealogies of spirits.

In interpreting a genealogy it is to be remembered that the list may represent the succession to an inheritance or headship of tribe or family, rather than natural descent. In an Assyrian inscription similarly "Jehu," successor of Omri's race, is called "son of Omri." Again pedigrees are abbreviated so as to specify the generations alone which show from what leading houses the person sprang. The register of Levi in Exodus 6:16-20 gives only two links between Levi and Moses, namely, Kohath and Amram; which has been made an argument for Israel's sojourn in Egypt only half the 430 years specified (Exodus 12:40). But the Kohathites (Numbers 3:27) in Moses' time were divided into four families, Amramites, Jehezarites, Hebronites, and Ussielites, 8,600 men and boys independent of women; the fourth would be Amramites.

Now Moses had only two sons; therefore if Amram his father were the Amram Kohath's father, Moses must have had 2,147 brothers and brothers' sons, which is impossible; therefore between the two Amrams a number of generations must have dropped out. So in Ezra's genealogy (Ezra 7:1-5, compare 1 Chronicles 6:4-15) five descents are omitted between Azariah Meraloth's son and Azariah Johanan's son; and several between Ezra himself and Seraiah, put to death 150 years before Ezra by Nebuchadnezzar. In Exodus 6 the sons of three of Kohath's sons are given, but not of Hebron (though in 2 Chronicles 23 four sons are assigned to him), probably because no family sprang from him as the head.

The object of genealogies was not chronology, but to mark ramifications of tribal and family relationship. Thus, the genealogy of Ruth 4:18-22 makes but four intervening links between Nahshon at the Exodus (Numbers 1:7) and David, namely, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse; whereas the genealogy of Levi has double that number in the same period, seven between Phinehas and Zadok, and more in Gershon's line (1 Chronicles 6). Therefore some names must have been omitted of David's genealogy. Genealogies are clear measures of time only when complete; and the marks of completeness are, when the mother as well as the father is named, or when historical facts define the relationship, or when a genealogy is confirmed by one or more besides, giving the same number of generations within the same bounds.

Early marriage will in the case of some, as princes, make 30 years too long for a generation. In the descending form of genealogy, when direct heirs failed collateral ones were inserted, and the heir would put his name next after his predecessor though not his father (Ruth 4:18; Ruth 4:1 Chronicles 3). The ascending form appears 1 Chronicles 6:33-43; Ezra 7:1-5. Females were reckoned when rights or possessions were transmitted through them. Corruptions of the text are frequent in genealogies. Christ's descent through David, from Abraham and Adam, is given in an unbroken line of genealogy.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Genealogy'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary.​dictionaries/​eng/​fbd/​g/genealogy.html. 1949.