Bible blog 2023

1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,  8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.img_0177

It’s not the most gripping start to a story ever devised,  but it repays a bit of attention for all that. A genealogy in the time of Matthew was more than information, for the enumeration of a child’s ancestors was also a prophecy of its character and destiny.

GIven King David’s propensity for putting it about, it can’t have been too tricky for the average father in Jesus’ society to claim descent from him, and biblical history depicted all Jews as descendants of Abraham. The claim of Abrahamic and Davidic descent made on Jesus’ behalf is therefore not in itself unusual. Any person claiming to be the Messiah would need at leastbthese credentials. The modern reader can be sure that no contemporary reader, and especially no Jewish reader, would have been convinced of Jesus’ Messianic identity from these details alone. They would nevertheless be an essential basis for further proof, and Matthew is at pains throughout his gospel to show Jesus’ fulfilment of messianic prophecy.

The neat division of the genealogy into three groups of fourteen generations is only achieved  by missing out three historical kings and by counting Jechoniah twice. This suggests that the number fourteen was important to Matthew. The Jewish alphabet also had numerical values, and the letters of the name David,in Hebrew dwd, add up to fourteen. This would make the whole genealogy into the celebration of a Davidic Messiah. Matthew depicts Jesus as the true king of Israel. He is Jesus (Hebrew Joshua) held to mean “God rescues” and he is Messiah which means “anointed” by God as a chosen leader. Various expectations of the promised Messiah were current in the time of Jesus and of Matthew.img_0178

The link with Abraham attaches Jesus to the whole history of Jewish faith, and in effect advises the reader who  wants to understand Jesus to read the Jewish scriptures. The genealogy names five women: Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, whom David murdered; Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute to become pregant by Judah;  Rahab, a known prostitute; Ruth, a foreigner; and Mary, the mother of Jesus. These women are intruded into an otherwose patriarchal list, to show that women, sinners and foreigners are already part of the messianic story, as they will be in the story of Jesus and his disciples. The purely Jewish list is thereby expanded slyly to include all humanity. Luke does the same thing by taking the list back to Adam.

Again Jesus is clearly shown as a pardoxical issue of this genealogy as he is not the natural son of Joseph, but only his legally adopted son. He is not the issue of Jewish patriarchy but the unnatural child of a virgin. The reader may protest that Matthew wants to eat his cake and refuse it, for the whole genealogy falls to bits if Jesus is not truly the son of Joseph, the husband of Mary. The Jewish practice of adoption allows him to do this, but image of Jesus as simultaneously the inheritor and breaker of a tradition of faith remains throughout the gospel.

Obviously the genealogy is not historically accurate, and would not have been seen as such by its first readers, who would have read it as a piece of Christian/ Jewish theology, a pointer to the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. Indeed, the genealogy is theological, not historical. But whose theology? I like your comment about Matthew wanting his cake and refuse it too. So what did Matthew have in mind in putting together this genealogy? In his mind perhaps it was historically accurate? Which leads me to say that your final statement is true for us, but I think the early readers of Matthew – and perhaps Matthew himself – read it as history rather than theology. Have you in the past commented on Luke’s genealogy? Does Luke also shoot himself in the leg with his genealogy? After all, by tracing the genealogy back to son of Adam, son of God, does he not leave himself open to “heretical” interpretation of the sonship of Jesus Christ? I had never thought about these particular questions until I read this post. As always, your exegetical comments are eye-opening and mind-expanding. Thank you. I’m reading this a month after you posted it, and how great to visit again the matter of Jesus’ sonship. A few days ago in the Orthodox Church we celebrated the baptism of Christ (Epiphany/Theophany), which raises its own questions about Jesus’ sonship, especially as expounded by adoptionists and other “heretical” groups in the early Church.

  2. Thanks Kostas, as always.
    I think Matthew and his readership would not have made a sharp distinction berween history amd theology, as we do. Factual history is an invention of the enlightenment. Thucydides cheerfully invented speeches, encounters and events to show the significance of the story his was telling, as did Luke. Fanciful genealogies of Roman ruling families abound. They were held to be true, at least until the dynasty perished. We should ask whether Jesus’ death invalidates his genealogy, or whether perhaps the genealogies are deduced from his resurrection.

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