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Genealogies of Jesus Christ

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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1. There is no evidence that any special stress was laid upon the Davidic descent of Jesus, either by Himself or in the preaching of the Apostles. It was assumed that He was ‘Son of David,’ and the title was given to Him as the Messiah; nor does it appear that His claim was ever seriously contested on the ground that His Davidic descent was doubtful. St. Paul in Romans 1:3 speaks of Christ as ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh,’ and in 2 Timothy 2:8 he names this descent, along with the Resurrection, as one of the salient points of the gospel he preached: ‘Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel.’ Similarly in his speech at the Pisidian Antioch, as recorded in Acts 13:23, he says: ‘Of this man’s (i.e. David’s) seed hath God according to promise brought unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus.’ St. Peter in his speech on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:30) mentions God’s promise to David, ‘that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne,’ and points to its fulfilment in Christ; but in addressing Cornelius (Acts 10:38) he speaks of Christ as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’; and this would seem to imply that the birth at Bethlehem, which brought into prominence the claim to Davidic descent, did not form part of his ordinary missionary preaching. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:14) says: ‘It is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah.’ In the Second Gospel blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47 f., cf. parallels) uses the title ‘Son of David’ in addressing Christ, and the crowds at the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:10, cf. Matthew 21:9 ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’) speak of the ‘kingdom that cometh’ as the ‘kingdom of our father David’; but in a difficult passage (Matthew 12:35-37, cf. parallels) Jesus appears to raise difficulties as to the appropriateness of the current application of the title to the Messiah (see Holtzmann, Hdcom.2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ad loc.). In the Apocalypse the Davidic descent is apparently assumed (Revelation 22:16) as well as the birth from the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5); but the use of the phrase ‘the root of David ‘in both passages shows that the essential and spiritual priority to David was more prominent in the writer’s mind than the physical descent from him. The evidence to be derived from the Fourth Gospel is of a doubtful character; in John 7:27 we find traces of the phase of Jewish thought according to which the Messiah would appear suddenly and his origin would be secret: the answer of Jesus implies that the people did indeed know His human, but not His spiritual, origin. It is clear from John 7:41 f., 52 that He was regarded by both the crowd and the rulers at Jerusalem as being of Galilaean, and therefore presumably not Davidie, parentage; it is by no means certain, and to many it may seem in no way probable, that the writer, in the interest of a ‘tragic irony’ (see Westcott, Speaker’s Commentary on John 7:42), refrained from noting the fact of the birth at Bethlehem, and the Davidie lineage of Joseph or Mary. Jesus’ words in John 7:28 f. show clearly that He did not choose to support His claim by an appeal to fleshly parentage; while the words of Philip (John 1:45 ‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’), and of the crowd at Capernaum (John 6:42 ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?’), left, as they are, without comment by the Evangelist, suggest that he was unacquainted with the story of the birth at Bethlehem, and laid no stress on the Davidie descent.

In all the books thus far mentioned no intimation is given whether the descent of Jesus is traced through Mary or Joseph: this fact must be recognized, however it is explained. In the Catholic Epistles there is no reference, direct or indirect, to the tribe or family of the Lord. The First and Third Gospels, which (at all events in their present form) teach the doctrine of the birth from a virgin, also contain formal pedigrees of Joseph, with the evident intention of proving that Jesus was the heir of David. In this lies the most important problem which the genealogies of Jesus present for solution.

2. The general facts in regard to the divergences of the two pedigrees of Joseph are well known. St. Matthew (Matthew 1:2-17) begins with Abraham, and traces the line in fourteen generations to David; then through Solomon in fourteen generations to Jechoniah at the time of the carrying away to Babylon: then in fourteen (or thirteen according to our present text) generations through Shealtiel and Zerubbabel to Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, and Jesus. Thus he brings the Messiah into relation with all who, whether in a literal or a spiritual sense, could call Abraham their Father.

St. Luke (Luke 3:23-38) makes Joseph the son of Heli, and grandson of Matthat (by some identified without any proof with Matthan of Matthew 1:15), and traces his descent through Zerubbabel and Shealtiel to Nathan the son of David; then (with only slight or textually doubtful divergences from Mt.) back to Abraham; but, not stopping there, he carries the pedigree back to ‘Adam the son of God,’ thus bringing the Son of man into relation with all men whom God has created. A more detailed examination of the main characteristics of the two genealogies will show the fundamental differences of conception and treatment that exist between them, and prepare us for extracting whatever may be of value from the attempts that have been made to harmonize them.

3. St. Matthew’s genealogy.—The heading is translated in the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘The book of the generation (βίβλος γενέσεως) of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’: in the margin the alternative rendering is given ‘the genealogy of Jesus Christ.’ If, as seems probable, the latter rendering is right, this heading will refer only to the pedigree which follows; the phrase βίβλος γενέσεως is most likely taken from Genesis 5:1 (αὕτη ἡ βἱβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων: cf. Genesis 6:9 αὖται δὲ αἱ γενἑσεις Νῶε, and Genesis 10:1), where it introduces a list of Adam’s descendants, and thus practically forms the title of a genealogieal table. Zahn (Einlcitung in d. NT2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , ii. pp. 270 f. and 290) argues without much cogency that the phrase could not be applied to a table of ancestors, and takes it as a title of the whole book; he is, however, no doubt right in rejecting the view that it refers to the narrative of the birth, or of the birth and infancy. Taken as the title of the pedigree, it indicates clearly the intention of the writer—to show that in Jesus, as the heir of David and of Abraham, were fulfilled the promises made to them: the pedigree itself is intended to illustrate this, rather than to prove it, and it is not easy to avoid the conclusion that it is quite artificial, as is indeed implied by the more or less arbitrary division into 3 sections containing twice seven names apiece.

Confining our attention for the moment to the direct male line, we note that in the first section the names are taken from 1 Chronicles 2:1-15, and that if Salmon was the younger contemporary of Joshua (as is implied by his marriage with Rahab), there are only four generations to cover the 300 or 400 years between that time and David’s reign. In the second section the names are from 1 Chronicles 3:1-16, but Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah are omitted before Jotham, and Jehoiakim before Jechoniah (= Jehoiachin). In the third section only Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are mentioned in the OT [the latter in 1 Chronicles 3:19 is called son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel, but in Haggai 1:1 and numerous other passages, he is called son of Shealtiel, or Shaltiel, but without any intimation that he was of Davidic descent; it is often assumed that Shealtiel adopted his nephew]. We have no hint as to the source from whence the remaining names were drawn. For about 460 years, from David to the Captivity, we have 14 names, and know there should be 18; for about 590 years, from the Captivity to Christ, we have, against all reasonable probability, only 13 (perhaps originally 14) names.

We now turn to the notes inserted at different points in the pedigree. A very small point may perhaps guide us to a true conclusion in regard to these. Holtzmann (op. cit. on Matthew 1:6) points out that the articles before Δαυεὶδ τὸν βασιλἐα in Matthew 1:6, and before Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας in Matthew 1:16, are incorrect: it seems probable that the compiler of the Gospel had a pedigree before him in which each step was given in the simple form ‘Abraham begat Isaac’ (Ἀβραὰμ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰσαάκ), and that he added notes to this at certain points; in Matthew 1:6; Matthew 1:16 he did not notice that the use of the article became incorrect when the notes were added. This original document may or may not have ended ‘Joseph begat Jesus’ (Ἰωσὴφ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν): it is perhaps the easiest solution of the difficulties of this verse to suppose that, if it did so end, the compiler omitted the last step, as in conflict with his belief in the Virgin-birth, and added a note to the previous step to explain the relation in which Jesus stood to Joseph. If in Westcott and Hort’s edition of the NT the notes be struck out, it will be seen that a perfectly symmetrical pedigree of Joseph is left.

Mr. F. C. Burkitt, in a very important note on Matthew 1:16-25 (Evangelion da-Mepharreshe, Cambridge, 1904, vol. ii. pp. 258–266), argues with great force that the genealogy is an integral part of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and that the compiler himself drew it up; but really his arguments apply only to the notes inserted in the genealogy. He discusses fully the reading in Matthew 1:16, and concludes that we cannot look on the reading of the Sinaitic Syriac (‘Jacob begat Joseph; Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, begat Jesus, who is called the Christ’) as containing traces of an original text. Zahn (op. cit. ii. p. 292 f.) thinks that the Curctonian Syriac (‘Jacob begat Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, who bore Jesus Christ’) represents the Greek from which the Syriac version was made more closely than does the Sinaitic. If, therefore, the compiler followed a pedigree ready to hand, he did so only as far as the step ‘Jacob begat Joseph’; and textual criticism will not help us to reconstruct the presumed original document beyond that point. In the usual text stress is laid on Joseph being the husband of Mary, probably to show that, as he recognized his wife’s son as in a legal sense his own, Jesus was legally the heir of David. In the reading that probably underlies the Ferrar group of MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] (‘Jacob begat Joseph, to whom being betrothed the Virgin Mary begat Jesus that is called Christ’), and also the Old Latin and Syriac versions, this point is missed, and there is little doubt that the Received Text is right.

Added to Matthew 1:6; Matthew 1:11 are notes which mark important turning-points in the history of the family: with David it attained to royal standing, which it lost under Jechoniah at the Captivity. In Matthew 1:2 the addition of ‘and his brethren’ to the name Judah marks the beginning of the tribe, in that Judah is chosen from among his brethren as founder of the royal tribe. The addition of Zerah to Perez in Matthew 1:3 marks the division of the tribe, and it is interesting to notice that we find an allusion to the house of Perez in Ruth 4:12; perhaps, too, the compiler may have had in mind the strange story of Genesis 38:28 ff., around which some Rabbinic lore may have clustered. The addition of ‘and his brethren’ to the name Jechoniah is more puzzling. Zahn (op. cit. p. 273) thinks it is meant to mark the fact that till then the fortunes of the Davidic house centred in the reigning monarch, who was heir of all the promises, but that from that time onward a number of Davidic families existed, any one of which might be destined to receive the inheritance. Thus it would mark the change from the reigning family of the second section to a family of royal descent in the third section. But it is not clear from the OT that Jechoniah (= Jehoiachin) had any brothers, for the text of 1 Chronicles 3:16 seems suspicious. According to 2 Chronicles 36:10 his successor Zedekiah was his brother, according to 2 Kings 24:17 his father’s brother. Possibly there has been some confusion with Jehoiakim, who had three brothers (including a Zedekiah) according to 1 Chronicles 3:15; more probably the compiler has added the note, for the purpose indicated by Zahn, without regard for strict genealogical data.

The four notes not yet referred to are of special interest, naming four of the ancestresses of Solomon. The selection of these names was evidently made with a purpose; it seems as if the compiler wished to show that in the pedigree of the greatest of Jewish kings could be found instances of the breach of laws usually considered most binding. Tamar became a mother through incestuous intercourse with her father-in-law; Rahab was a harlot; Ruth was a Moabitess, and according to the Deuteronomic law (Deuteronomy 23:3, cf. Nehemiah 13:1) no Moabite was ever to enter into the congregation; Bathsheba was an adulteress. Some have thought that these references to acknowledged breaches of morality in the pedigree of David’s first great son form some kind of answer to the charges of immorality brought by the Jews against the Virgin: the argument would be that, if they did not reject Solomon in spite of acknowledged moral blots in his ancestry, they ought not to reject Jesus because of unfounded scandal. But this explanation is obviously unsatisfactory; there is no real force in such an argument, even supposing it to be worked out and not merely vaguely indicated; and all must feel that the compiler would have shrunk from drawing a parallel between the Mother of Jesus and notoriously sinful women; also the reference to Ruth remains unexplained, as she was guilty of no immorality. Burkitt (op. cit. vol. ii. p. 260) suggests a different explanation, that these four women are thrust upon our notice ‘as if to prepare us for still greater irregularity in the last stage.’ But again a comparison between the Virgin-birth and incestuous or adulterous intercourse can hardly have been possible for the compiler.

The simplest explanation is probably the right one: the God about whom Jesus taught had shown Himself ready, in the history of the royal family, to accept strangers and sinners. In the case of Ruth this is fully satisfactory; and the conduct of the other three women is represented in Scripture as justified or pardoned, Judah was obliged to say of Tamar, ‘She is more righteous than I’ (Genesis 38:26); the remembrance of Rahab’s former life was blotted out by her subsequent faith (James 2:25, Hebrews 11:31); there is no intimation in Scripture that Bathsheba was morally responsible for the sin into which she was forced by a powerful king, and certainly the birth of Solomon is not represented as in any way displeasing to God, but rather the contrary (see 2 Samuel 12:25, where Nathan named the child ‘Jedidiah [‘Beloved of Jah’] for the Lord’s sake’; cf. the prophecy of 2 Samuel 7:13 f.). Probably the thought uppermost in the mind of the compiler would be God’s acceptance of these women, and not their sin.

In regard to Rahab, there is no evidence for her marriage with Salmon, nor is anything known that would be likely to have suggested the idea: it would seem that the compiler was determined to introduce the name, and therefore, without evidence and against all chronological probability, made her the wife of the father of Boaz.

This examination compels us to conclude that the genealogy is essentially and intentionally artificial; the word ‘begat’ (ἐγέννησεν) is not intended necessarily to imply physical birth, but merely marks the descent; the compiler was more interested in the throne-succession than the actual lineage, and used his material to illustrate and enforce his main proposition that Jesus Christ was the son of David and of Abraham, and he joined to the bare pedigree a sort of running commentary of notes.

Codex Bezae in Luke 3 gives a pedigree in the Lukan form, but the names from Joseph to David are taken from Mt.; the names Jehoiakim and Eliakim are inserted between Jechoniah and Josiah as if they referred to two different persons, instead of being two names for the same man; and also Amaziah, Joash, and Ahaziah between Uzziah and Joram (see Resch, TU [Note: U Texte und Untersuehungen.] x. 5, pp. 182–201, and Graefe in SK [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] , 1898, 1).

4. St. Luke’s genealogy.—The descent of Joseph is traced through Nathan the son of David. It is possible that the family is referred to in Zechariah 12:12, where ‘the family of the house of Nathan’ is distinguished from ‘the family of the house of David,’ the latter phrase perhaps meaning the royal line. The rejection of the descent through Jechoniah may have been due to the influence of the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:30): ‘Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah’: but there is no apparent reason why the line of Nathan should be selected, unless St. Luke had evidence of the fact before him; and, in the case of a writer who so evidently based his work upon the results of careful research, it is only fair, and therefore scientific, to assume that he had such evidence. The agreement with St. Matthew’s genealogy in the names Zerubbabel and Shealtiel has not been satisfactorily explained; it is, of course, open to any one to assume, without the possibility of either proof or refutation, that Jechoniah was actually childless, and adopted Shealtiel, a descendant of Nathan; but even so the further divergence in the descent from Zerubbabel remains as difficult as ever, for the pedigrees disagree with each other, and with the names given in 1 Chronicles 3:19 ff. The number of derivatives of the name Nathan, and the repetition of the names Melchi, Joseph, and Jesus in the Lukan pedigree, can be taken equally well to prove its genuineness or the ingennity of its compiler. Apart from small variations of little interest, there is nothing to notice in the names from David to Adam, except the insertion in Luke 3:36 of a second Canaan in agreement with the LXX Septuagint of Genesis 10:24.

5. Historical value of the two genealogies.—From what has been said above, it appears that St. Matthew (or the compiler of the First Gospel in its present form) did not aim at historical accuracy; but from what we know of St. Luke’s methods it may be assumed that he would not have inserted matter in his Gospel unless he had had satisfactory evidence of its genuineness and historical accuracy, and we have seen that the character of the list of names he gives, from David to Joseph, agrees well with this view. Attempts to harmonize the two genealogies have not been successful, and it is only necessary to indicate the general lines they have followed, and to collect such pieces of evidence as may throw light on the possible transmission of the pedigree.

The question was first discussed by Julius Africanus, who flourished early in the 3rd cent. after Christ, in a letter addressed to an unknown correspondent Aristides, of which a considerable portion has been preserved by Euseb. HE i. 7 (cf. Routh, Reliq. Sacrœ, vol. ii. p. 228 ff.). In his text of St. Luke the names Matthat and Levi were evidently left out, so that he regarded Melchi as grandfather of Joseph. He supposed that Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, married a woman named, according to tradition, Estha, by whom he had a son Jacob. On Matthan’s death, Melchi, a descendant of Nathan, married his widow, who bore him a son Heli. Heli died without children, and Jacob, in accordance with the levirate law, raised up seed to his brother, and begat Joseph. Thus Joseph was physically son of Jacob, legally of Heli. The difficulties of this theory are sufficiently discussed by Dr. B. W. Bacon in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Genealogy of Jesus Christ.’ The various modifications of this theory that have been proposed (see, e.g., Farrar’s St. Luke in the Cambridge Bible for Schools, Excursus II.) in no way increase its probability, and practically no evidence can be adduced in support of it. Eusebius does indeed speak of a narrative (ἰστορία) which Africanus had received by tradition (HE i. 7; cf. vi. 31); Africanus, however, does not assert this in the fragments preserved, and himself admits that the conjecture is unsupported by evidence (εἰ καὶ μὴ ἐμμάρτυρός ἐστι), but claims that it is worthy of acceptance till a better or truer one is proposed.

Africanus does, however, mention people called ‘Desposyni’ on account of their kinship with the Saviour, and applies to them the epithet ‘the before-mentioned,’ so that in those parts of the letter that are now lost he may have specified more exactly how far his conjecture rested on evidence traditionally derived from them. After giving a very improbable story about the destruction of the public genealogical records of the Jews by Herod Antipas, he says that many people reconstructed their genealogies from memory or private sources, among whom were the Desposyni of Nazareth and Cochaba; probably, therefore, he derived from them the information that Joseph’s grandmother was called Estha. The main interest of this statement is that, in spite of its being somewhat discredited by its context, it suggests a source from which St. Luke might possibly have obtained the pedigree he gives; we may well suppose that he pursued his investigations in Palestine during St. Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea.

Hegesippus (quoted by Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 19, 20, and 32; see Routh, Reliq. Sacrœ, vol. i. p. 212 ff.) supports the statement of Africanus in reference to the Desposyni, though that term is not found in the fragments of his writings that are preserved: he states that when Domitian gave orders to kill those who were of David’s race, certain heretics gave information against two grandsons of Judas the Lord’s brother according to the flesh, as being of David’s race and akin to Christ; Domitian, on finding out that they were ordinary peasants, and that the kingdom they expected was not of this world, released them, and issued an edict stopping the persecution of the Church; they look leading positions in the Church, and lived till the time of Trajan. He also relates that a similar accusation was brought against Symeon son of Clopas, ‘the Lord’s uncle,’ who, in consequence, suffered martyrdom at the age of one hundred and twenty. It would appear, therefore, that nothing was known of any who claimed kinship with Jesus after the time of Trajan, so that the statement of Africanus probably rests, at the best, on mere tradition, and it is not wise to build much on it. The statement of Africanus about the destruction of genealogical records by Herod is most improbable, and tends to discredit his whole story; Josephus (e. ap. i. 7 and Vita, 1) speaks of the preservation of the genealogies of priestly families in public records in the Temple, but there is no certain evidence that those of other families were similarly preserved.

The expedient of supposing levirate marriages and adoptions is not only improbable, but fails to explain why the descent of Jesus is traced through Joseph. Burkitt (l.c.) is probably quite justified in saying that the compiler of the First Gospel was perfectly aware that the word ‘begat’ (ἐγέννησεν) was not literally true in the pedigree he gives, and that he would have felt no incongruity between the physical reality of the Virgin-birth and the legal descent from David through Joseph. But this reasoning can hardly he applied to the Third Gospel; the Virgin-birth is certainly not insisted on in it in the same way as in the First; the phrase ‘thy father and I’ in Luke 2:48 (cf. Luke 2:33; Luke 2:41) seems almost incompatible with the belief, and there is some reason for thinking, on textual grounds, that the original text has in places been altered; the words ‘as was supposed’ might easily have been inserted in Luke 3:23, although the variations of reading afford little or no evidence in favour of this supposition; above all, there is no reason to suppose that the writer had, or was likely to have, in mind the legal relation to Jesus in which Joseph, as husband of Mary, might be considered to stand. If, therefore, the suggestion first made by Annius of Viterbo in the 15th cent., and since adopted by many eminent theologians, that St. Luke gives the genealogy of Mary, could be accepted, it would have important results. It is a matter on which argument is hardly possible, the only point being whether any unprejudiced person could understand the words in Luke 3:23 to mean ‘being (as was supposed, son of Joseph, but really) grandson of Heli’—Heli being taken, without a shred of evidence, to have been the father of Mary. A passage has, indeed, been quoted from the Talmud (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Chag. 77b) to prove that Mary was called ‘daughter of Eli’; but this has been shown to be a mistake by G. A. Cooke, Expos., Oct. 1895, pp. 316 ff. In the Protevangelium Jacobi her parents are called Joachim and Anna. The early Fathers generally assumed that Mary was of the same family as Joseph, and that her descent was involved in his; see, for instance, Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica i. 7 ad fin. and Qu. ad Steph. iii. 2 (Migne, iv. col. 881 f.), where reasons are suggested why Mary’s genealogy was not given; this view is based on a mistaken interpretation of Numbers 36:8, as if all women were commanded to marry in their own families, whereas the regulation applied only to heiresses. Proof of the Davidic descent of Mary can be obtained from the NT only by assuming the truth of the doctrine of the Virgin-birth; it was no doubt on this ground that Justin Martyr (Apol. i. 32:14) inferred that Mary was of the tribe of Judah (cf. Protev. Jaeobi, 10, where she is said to be of the tribe of David). St. Matthew (Matthew 1:20) and St. Luke (Luke 1:27; Luke 2:4) assert the Davidic descent of Joseph, but not that of Mary; contrast Luke 1:5, where Elisabeth is said to be of the daughters of Aaron. Sanday-Headlam on Romans 1:3 point out that in Test. XII Patriareh, we find the theory of a double descent from Levi and from Judah (Sym. 7 and Gad 8), and they remark that this is no doubt an inference from the relationship of Mary to Elisabeth (Luke 1:36).

We must conclude, therefore, that we have two independent attempts to establish the Davidic descent of Joseph, and that they can be harmonized only by suppositions which are incapable of proof and hardly probable.

Literature.—This is sufficiently indicated in the body of the article.

P. M. Barnard.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Genealogies of Jesus Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​g/genealogies-of-jesus-christ.html. 1906-1918.
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