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Genealogy of Christ

It is granted on all sides that the Biblical genealogy of Christ implies a number of exegetical difficulties

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Genealogy of Christ.—It is granted on all sides that the Biblical genealogy of Christ implies a number of exegetical difficulties; but rationalists have no solid reason for refusing to admit any of the attempted solutions, nor can we agree with those recent writers who have given up all hope of harmonizing the genealogies of Christ found in the First and Third Gospels. The true state of the question will become plain by studying the Biblical genealogies of Christ first separately, then in juxtaposition, and finally in their relation to certain exceptions to their harmony.

(I) St. Matthew’s Genealogy of Christ

—The genealogy of Christ according to the First Evangelist descends from Abraham through three series of fourteen members each; the first fourteen belong to the patriarchal order, the second to the royal, and the third to that of private citizens. Matt., i, 17, shows that this arrangement was intended; for the writer expressly states: “So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.”

The list of the First Evangelist omits certain members in Christ’s genealogy: (1) The writer gives only three names for the time of the Egyptian exile (Esron, Aram, and Aminadab), though the period lasted 215 or 430 years; this agrees with Gen., xv, 16, where God promises to lead Israel back in the fourth generation. But according to Gen., xv, 13, the stranger shall afflict Israel for four hundred years. (2) The three names Booz, Obed, and Jesse cover a period of 366 years. Omitting a number of other less probable explanations, the difficulty is solved most easily by the admission of a lacuna between Obed and Jesse. (3) According to I Par., iii, 11-12, Ochozias, Joas, and Amasias intervene between Joram and Azarias (the Ozias of St. Matthew); these three names cannot have been unknown to the Evangelist, nor can it be supposed that they were omitted by transcribers, for this conjecture would destroy the Evangelist‘s computation of fourteen kings. (4) According to I Par., iii, 15, Joakim intervenes between Josias and Jechonias. We may waive the question whether St. Matthew speaks of only one Jechonias or of two persons bearing that name; nor need we state here all the doubts and difficulties connected with either answer. (5) St. Matthew places only nine links between Zorobabel and St. Joseph for a period covering some 530 years, so that each generation must have lasted more than 50 years. The genealogy as given in St. Luke enumerates eighteen generations for the same period, a number which harmonizes better with the ordinary course of events. As to the omission of members in genealogical lists see Genealogy.

(II) St. Luke’s Genealogy of Christ

—The genealogy in Luke, iii, 23-38, ascends from Joseph to Adam or rather to God; this is the first striking difference between the genealogies as presented in the First and Third Gospel. Another difference is found in their collocation: St. Matthew places his list at the beginning of his Gospel; St. Luke, at the beginning of the public life of Christ. The artificial character of St. Luke’s genealogy may be seen in the following table: First Series

1. Jesus

2. Joseph

3. Heli

4. Mathat

5. Levi

6. Melchi

7. Janne

8. Joseph

9. Mathathias

10. Amos

11. Nahum

12. Hesli

13. Nagge

14. Mahath

15. Mathathias

16. Semei

17. Joseph

18. Juda

19. Joanna

20. Reza

21. Zorobabel

The artificial structure of this list may be inferred from the following peculiarities: it contains eleven septenaries of names; three septenaries bring us from Jesus to the Captivity; three, from the captivity to the time of David; two, from David to Abraham; three again from the time of Abraham to the creation of man. St. Luke does not explicitly draw attention to the artificial construction of his list, but this silence does not prove that its recurring number of names was not intended, at least in the Evangelist‘s source. In St. Luke’s genealogy, too, the names Jesse, Obed, Booz, cover a period of 366 years; Aminadab, Aram, Esron fill a gap of 430 (or 215) years, so that here several names must have been omitted. In the fourth series; which gives the names of the antediluvian and postdiluvian patriarchs, Cainan has been inserted according to the Septuagint reading; the Hebrew text does not contain this name.

(III) Harmony between St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s Genealogy of Christ

—The fourth series of St. Luke’s list covers the period between Abraham and the creation of man; St. Matthew does not touch upon this time, so that there can be no question of any harmony. The third series of St. Luke agrees name for name with the first of St. Matthew; only the order of names is inverted. In this section the genealogies are rather identical than merely harmonious. In the first and second series, St. Luke gives David’s descendants through his son Nathan, while St. Matthew enumerates in his second and third series David’s descendants through Solomon. It is true that the First Gospel gives only twenty-eight names for this period, against the forty-two names of the Third Gospel; but it cannot be expected that two different lines of descendants should exhibit the same number of links for the period of a thousand years. Abstracting from the inspired character of the sources, one is disposed to regard the number given by the Third Evangelist as more in harmony with the length of time than the number of the First Gospel; but we have pointed out that St. Matthew consciously omitted a number of names in his genealogical list, in order to reduce them to the required multiple of seven.

(IV) Exceptions to the Preceding Explanation

—Three main difficulties are advanced against the foregoing harmony of the genealogies: First, how can they converge in St. Joseph, if they give different lineages from David downward? Secondly, how can we account for their convergence in Salathiel and Zorobabel? Thirdly, what do we know about the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin?

(1) The convergence of the two distinct genealogical lines in the person of St. Joseph, has been explained in two ways: (a) St. Matthew’s genealogy is that of St. Joseph; St. Luke’s, that of the Blessed Virgin. This contention implies that St. Luke’s genealogy only seemingly includes the name of Joseph. It is based on the received Greek text, on (os enomizeto uios Ioseph) tou Eli “being the son (as it was supposed, of Joseph, but really) of Heli“. This parenthesis really eliminates the name of Joseph from St. Luke’s genealogy, and makes Christ, by means of the Blessed Virgin, directly a son of Heli. This view is supported by a tradition which names the father of the Blessed Virgin “Joachim“, a variant form of Eliacim or its abbreviation Eli, a variant of Heli, which latter is the form found in the Third Evangelist‘s genealogy. But these two considerations, viz. the received text and the traditional name of the father of Mary, which favor the view that St. Luke gives the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin, are offset by two similar considerations, which make St. Luke’s list terminate with the name of Joseph. First, the Greek text preferred by the textual critics reads, on uios, os enomizeto, Ioseph ton Elei, “being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, son of Heli“, so that the above parenthesis is rendered less probable. Secondly, according to Patrizi, the view that St. Luke gives the genealogy of Mary began to be advocated only towards the end of the fifteenth century by Annius of Viterbo, and acquired adherents in the sixteenth. St. Hilary mentions the opinion as adopted by many, but he himself rejects it (Mai, “November Bibl. Patr.”, t. I, 477). It may be safely said that patristic tradition does not regard St. Luke’s list as representing the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin.

(b) Both St. Matthew and St. Luke give the genealogy of St. Joseph, the one through the lineage of Solomon, the other through that of Nathan. But how can the lines converge in St. Joseph? St. Augustine suggested that Joseph, the son of Jacob and the descendant of David through Solomon, might have been adopted Heli, thus becoming the adoptive descendant of David through Nathan. But Augustine was the first to abandon this theory after learning the explanation offered by Julius Africanus. According to the latter, Estha married Mathan, a descendant of David through Solomon, and became the mother of Jacob; after Mathan’s death she took for her second husband Mathat, a descendant of David through Nathan, and by him became the mother of Heli. Jacob and Heli were, therefore, uterine brothers. Heli married, but died without offspring; his widow, therefore, became the levirate wife of Jacob, and gave birth to Joseph, who was the carnal son of Jacob, but the legal son of Heli, thus combining in his person two lineages of David’s descendants. The explanation will appear clearer in the following diagram:

MATHAT 2nd husband of ESTHA widow of MATHAN

│ │.

HELI left a childless widow later levirate wife of JACOB

│ │

JOSEPH (levirate son) JOSEPH

(2) The second difficulty urged against the harmony between the two genealogies is based on the occurrence of the two names Zorobabel and Salathiel in both lists; here again the two distinct lineages of David’s descendants appear to converge. And again, two answers are possible: (a) It is more commonly admitted that the two names in St. Matthew’s list are identical with the two in St. Luke’s series; for they must have lived about the same time, and the names are so rare, that it would be strange to find them occurring at the same time, in the same order, in two different genealogical series. But two levirate marriages will explain the difficulty. Melchi, David’s descendant through Nathan, may have begotten Neri by a widow of the father of Jechonias; this made Neri and Jechonias uterine brothers. Jechonias may then have contracted a levirate marriage with the widow of the childless Neri, and begotten Salathiel, who was therefore the leviratical son of Neri. Salathiel’s son Zorobabel begat Abiud; but he also may have been obliged to contract a levirate marriage with the widow of a childless legal relative belonging to David’s descendants through Nathan, thus begetting Reza, who legally continued Nathan‘s lineage. (b) A more simple solution of the difficulty is obtained, if we do not admit that the Salathiel and Zorobabel occurring in St. Matthew’s genealogy are identical with those in St. Luke’s. The above proofs for their identity are not cogent. If Salathiel and Zorobabel distinguished themselves at all among the descendants of Solomon, it is not astonishing that about the same time two members of Nathan‘s descendants should be called after them. The reader will observe that we suggest only possible answers to the difficulty; as long as such possibilities can be pointed out, our opponents have no right to deny that the genealogies which are found in the First and Third Gospel can be harmonized.

(3) How can Jesus Christ be called “son of David”, if the Blessed Virgin is not a daughter of David? (a) If by virtue of Joseph‘s marriage with Mary, Jesus could be called the son of Joseph, he can for the same reason be called “son of David” (August, De cons. evang., II, i, 2). (b) Tradition tells us that Mary too was a descendant of David. According to Num., xxxvi, 6-12, an only daughter had to marry within her own family so as to secure the right of inheritance. After St. Justin (Adv. Tryph. C.) and St. Ignatius (Eph. XVIII), the Fathers generally agree in maintaining Mary’s Davidic descent, whether they knew this from an oral tradition or inferred it from Scripture, e.g. Rom., i, 3,; 8 St. John Damascene (De fid. orth., IV, 14 states that Mary’s great-grandfather, Panther, brother of Mathat; her grandfather, Barpanther, was Heli‘s cousin; and her father, Joachim, was a cousin of Joseph, Heli‘s levirate son. Here Mathat has been substituted for Melchi, since the text used by St. John Damascene, Julius Africanus, St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nazianus omitted the two generations separating Heli from Melchi. At any rate, tradition presents the Blessed Virgin as descending from David through Nathan.


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