A Dialogue on Questions Regarding the Messiah's Genealogy


by Jared L. Olar

In the December 2004 issue of Grace and Knowledge, an essay of mine was published entitled, " `Record This Man As Childless . . . .'-The Curse of Jeconiah and the Genealogy of Christ." In that essay, I examined the argument that Jesus' claim to be the promised Messiah is doubtful in light of the divine curse that was placed on King Jeconiah and his descendants in Jer. 22:24-30. According to the terms of that curse, Jeconiah and his male descendants would never again sit upon the throne of David or rule in Judah. But St. Matthew's genealogy of Christ includes Jeconiah among the ancestors of Jesus.


Since the time that my essay was published, I have received questions and criticisms of some of the statements and arguments that I made in that essay. It is only proper that I respond to some of those questions and criticisms. The format that I have chosen for the exploration of those issues is that of a stylised conversation or dialogue with a fictionalised questioner or critic whom I shall name Mr. Ennis Hough. The dialogue will begin with a criticism from Mr. Hough, followed by my response, and so on. The criticisms and arguments of "Ennis Hough" have been edited and arranged from emails that I have received, but usually have not been altered from the wording they had in those emails.


Will the Messiah "inherit" David's throne?

Ennis: In your essay on Jeconiah's curse, you said, "The prophets repeatedly foretold that the Messiah would be descended from David and would inherit David's throne." You are mistaken. There is no Messianic prophecy saying that the Messiah would inherit David's throne.


Jared: I must disagree. In Isa. 9:1-7 we find one of the most well-known of Messianic prophecies, quoted as a Messianic prophecy in the New Testament. Isaiah wrote, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever."


Before I continue, I should stipulate that "throne of David" is to be understood as a metaphor. It refers to the authority to rule the Davidic kingdom of Israel. We do not have to believe that Jesus would sit upon the literal piece of furniture on which David sat when he reigned as king some 1,000 years earlier.


So then, in Isaiah's Messianic prophecy, we find that "unto us"-that is, to Israel-a child is born, and a son is given, and the government shall be upon that child's shoulder. This is affirmed by the archangel Gabriel in the very last Messianic prophecy ever given, that is, the Annunciation, in Luke 1:31-33, where the angel said, "You shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end."


See how perfectly Isaiah's prophecy meshes with Gabriel's announcement that God will give Jesus the throne of His father David. These prophecies tell us that the Messiah will be the King of Israel, the Son of David, the heir to the throne of David. It therefore follows that the Messiah will inherit that throne.


That the Jewish Messianic hope was in the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, with the Messiah reigning upon David's throne, can be seen from Mark 11:10, where the crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem cried out, "Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that comes in the name of the Lord."


This is supported by the Messianic prophecy of Gen. 49:10, which says the royal sceptre shall not depart from Judah until he comes whose right it is, i.e., until the Messiah comes. The Messiah is to inherit Judah's sceptre, which formerly was held by David and his heirs, the Kings of Judah. Just as the Messiah will receive the sceptre of Judah, so the Messiah will receive the throne of Judah. This is why the New Testament says that Jesus is the King of the Jews, the King of Israel, and the Son of David-as Messiah, He is the heir of all the Messianic prerogatives, which includes the throne of David, representing the supreme royal power over Israel.


Ennis: Gen. 49:10 is telling the reader that Judah's throne will be lost, but it doesn't say that it will be "inherited" by the Messiah. The throne was to depart from the tribe of Judah. If Jesus had inherited it, then the throne would not depart from Judah, rather it would stay permanently with Judah. The verse here tells us that the throne will be lost and revert to its original owner, God, who will then give it to the one to whom it belongs, Jesus.


Jared: On the contrary, the prophecy is that the sceptre will not depart from Judah "until" He comes to whom it rightfully belongs (which is what "Shiloh" means). That doesn't necessarily mean that someday the sceptre would depart from Judah. That's not what "until" means in biblical terminology. In scripture, "until" has a different meaning than it has in common usage today. In the Bible, the word "until" signifies that something will continue without interruption up to a certain point, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it will cease when that point is reached. For example, Matt. 28:20 says Jesus will be with His Church "until" the end of the world-but that doesn't mean that after the end of the world He will no longer be with His People. Again, in I Cor. 15:25, it says that Jesus will reign "until" He has put all His enemies under His feet-but that doesn't mean His reign will end when He has conquered all His enemies, for Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin that His Kingdom shall have no end. "He to whom the sceptre rightfully belongs," Shiloh, is the Messiah, as Jews and Christians have always understood. Gen. 49:10 is a prophecy that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.


Ennis: But what about the prophecy in Ezek. 37:24-25, where we read that David will be Israel's future king or prince sitting on his own throne? Some say that this is referring to Jesus, but that fails the logic test. We see that the prince who is David (Ezek. 34:23-24) will be allotted a parcel of land in Ezek. 45:7-8.


Jared: The thing we must remember about Ezekiel's visions, like any prophetic visions, is that they are not to be interpreted in a strictly literal sense. I, in agreement with many other Christians, would say that the figure of "David" in Ezekiel's visions is to be taken as the figure of the Messiah.  It is not necessarily to be taken as a prophecy that David will someday literally return to reign on earth over Israel. The Book of Revelation, in chapters 21 and 22, makes use of these same visions of Ezekiel in order to depict the future realities of the heavenly Jerusalem and the New Heavens and New Earth, when Jesus will reign over His People in peace and perfection for all eternity.


Ennis: Let's return to the declaration of Gabriel in Luke 1:32-33, where it says, "The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David." That is clear proof that Jesus was not born on the throne of David. When Jesus was born He was the son of His father David, but He didn't have His father's throne by birth. Rather, God will "give" this to Him at a later date.


Jared: But it is not my contention that Jesus was born on the throne of David-that is, enjoying all of His Messianic prerogatives from the moment of His birth. The Magi affirmed that Jesus is "born King of the Jews," but by that they did not mean that He was then enthroned and acknowledged as king by all Israel. Rather, they meant that He was rightful king by virtue of His birth.


In any case, we agree that Jesus will receive the throne of David. Whether He has already received it, or will receive it later, it is nevertheless something that is His by right. But that means that you were mistaken to say, "There is no Messianic prophecy saying that the Messiah would inherit David's throne."


It's true, of course, that a king can accede to a throne without "inheriting" it. That happens in the case of the founding of a new royal dynasty, or in an elective, nonhereditary monarchy such as once existed in Poland. However, the cumulative message of Old Testament Messianic prophecy is that the Messiah is the Son of David, heir to David's throne, of which God promised that there would always be a man to sit upon it or reign upon it. Logically that means the Messiah would inherit David's throne, not just have it given to Him by God.


Ennis: Perhaps you could clarify something for me. I do not understand how you are able to separate "being born on the throne" from "being the rightful king by virtue of His birth". To me these concepts are identical.


Jared: I'll be happy to explain. To be born on a throne means that your father or mother is a reigning monarch and you are the recognised heir. However, to be the rightful king by virtue of one's birth, one need not be born and raised all one’s life in a palace. One need only be the lawful heir according to the laws of succession, the next-in-line to the throne. Thus, if a king or queen dies without any children to inherit the throne, a kingdom's laws of succession would determine who would be next-in-line to succeed. It could be, say, the monarch's eighth cousin, a man whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, etc., never reigned on any throne. In that case, the rightful heir would be king by virtue of his birth and by virtue of his descent from the royal family, but he would not have been born on the throne. That is, he would not have been raised as a royal prince in a palace and trained all his life to take up the duties of kingship someday.


In the case of the family of St. Joseph, even though they had not been able to enjoy the royal status to which their genealogy made them entitled, they were still a royal family, for they were the Davidic royal line, which, on account of God's will, had lacked the opportunity to reign over Israel or Judah as their ancestors had reigned. Consequently, the lawful, recognised son of St. Joseph would be the rightful king by virtue of His birth, even though St. Joseph never reigned as King of Israel or King of Judah.


Ennis: I'm still not convinced that Messianic prophecy says the Messiah would inherit David's throne. Jesus didn't inherit the throne from Joseph or Mary. Rather, God will give it to Him later. If I inherit a car from a dead uncle, I receive it by right, not gift. If my uncle gives me his car, I receive it by gift, not by right. When Jesus receives this throne from God, it will not be the throne of David any more, for the throne of David is through David. Jesus will be receiving it from God, so it will be the throne of God over Israel.


Jared: It's true that there is an important distinction between a gift and a right. However, Gabriel's words, that God will give Jesus the throne of His father David, need not exclude Jesus inheriting the throne through Joseph and Mary, for inheritance is one of the ways that God uses in order to give things to us---just as farming is one of the means by which God gives us food.


Also, it would appear that God has already given Jesus the throne of His father David, because Jesus is already King of kings. The throne of David has always been the throne of God over Israel, for the Messianic promise was bestowed upon David and on his dynasty. It is from David's line that God promised to raise up the Messiah, the seed of Abraham, as the Blessed Virgin indicated in the Magnificat-"to Abraham, and to his seed, forever."


Did Jeconiah or his descendants prosper or rule?

Ennis: In your essay, you point to the account in II Kings 25:27-28, where it is said that Jeconiah was released from prison and given a throne in Babylon, as evidence that, in apparent contradiction of the words of Jer. 22:30, Jeconiah did prosper during his lifetime. You also say that Jeconiah's grandson Zerubbabel prospered and ruled in Judah, in that he became Governor of Judah under the Persian Emperor. You take these things as indications that the divine curse on Jeconiah and his descendants had been rescinded. However, none of Coniah's children ever sat on David's throne or ruled as king. Coniah himself also never ruled as king once he was imprisoned. He remained under the King of Babylon, and a sub-king is not really a king, but is more like a governor.


Jared: I would disagree with your statement that a sub-king is not really a king. In the New Testament, Jesus promises His apostles that they will each sit on thrones, ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel. They will be kings under the authority of the King-Jesus, as we know, is called "King of kings and Lord of lords." The fact that Coniah never again ruled as a king in Judah does not mean that he was not recognised and honored as a king in Babylon.


As I noted in my essay, Zerubbabel, grandson of Coniah, did rule in Judah, though not as a king-thus, he did not "sit upon the throne of David." But Zerubbabel's descendant, Jesus, did and does reign as king. Therefore, since Jesus can be said to be sitting upon the throne of David-that is, He is the Messiah, exalted to the right hand of God, and reigns forevermore-it follows that a man of Coniah's seed is prospering, sits on the Davidic throne, and reigns in Judah and over all the earth.


Ennis: While a sub-king can still be counted as a king, it is done when they are given the right to be king over their own people by the king over them. In the case of Coniah, he was not given the right to rule his own people as his uncle had been given (II Chron. 36:10). Of course, even this was taken away (Jer. 52:8-11). Though Coniah was set free later and given a position of honor, it never says that he was allowed to rule as king, even though he did retain his title of king. This is just like how America allows past presidents to retain their title.


Jared: Whether or not Jeconiah's royal status in Babylon had any real authority, nevertheless it seems that his release from prison by Evil-Merodach and the great favors that were bestowed on him could be seen as contradicting the words of Jer. 22:30, which say Jeconiah would not prosper in his days. These facts support the ancient tradition that Jeconiah's curse was rescinded on account of his repentance.


The nature of St. Matthew's genealogy of Christ

Ennis: It's important to remember, when studying the genealogy in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, that the genealogy contains gaps and is a genealogical overview rather than a formal record.


Jared: I certainly agree. There is no denying that St. Matthew's genealogy is not a complete lineage. He skips over some of the Kings of Judah, apparently in order to keep the lineage within the symbolic framework of three groups of 14 generations. St. Matthew also probably did not include every generation from Zerubbabel down to St. Joseph, as a calculation of the years-per-generation in that segment of the lineage will reveal. For example, some have suggested that the "Abiud" in Matt. 1:13 is the same as Zerubbabel's descendant Obadiah (called "Abdia" in the Greek Septuagint) in I Chron. 3:21. St. Matthew's intention was not to record the complete genealogy of the line of David, but to present Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic promises to Abraham and David. Hence the use of multiples of the highly symbolic number seven.


Ennis: No, the use of multiples of seven in no way shows that these verses are to be used to show the fulfillment of the Messianic promises. The Old Testament doesn't contain proper genealogical records. The Matthew account in no way follows the pattern found in actual genealogical records. So it should not be regarded as a formal record, rather a quick overview or highlight.


Jared: It's clear that St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is not a "proper genealogical record," or a "formal record," as you say. However, it's more than just a quick overview or highlight. I and many other Christians believe it is no accident that St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus displays three sets of 14 (7 × 2) generations, just as St. Luke's genealogy of Jesus has a total of 77 generations. The symbolic importance of the number seven in Jewish culture is evident throughout the Bible, and it is generally understood that seven represents completion or perfection. Thus, St. Matthew's three groups of 14 generations, which amount to six groups of seven generations, would be a way to numerically indicate the fulfillment of the Jews' Messianic hope. It cannot be denied that St. Matthew intended us to notice the multiples of seven, not only because he draws attention to them three times, but also because he intentionally skipped over some of the Kings of Judah, apparently in order to make sure the genealogy had only 14 names from David to Jeconiah. Consequently, St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus was not written as a plain historical record tracing the Messianic lineage from Abraham to Jesus, but was presented in a way that would draw readers' attention to certain important aspects of the Messianic promises and how they came to be fulfilled.


Also, I don't believe it is correct to say that the Old Testament does not contain proper genealogical records. Many of those genealogies were evidently derived from public registers of the various Israelite tribes and clans.


Ennis: It is amazing to what lengths people will go in order to arrive at the number seven. Matthew repeated the number 14, not 7. Should all numbers be divided to reveal truths? This is just another case of making something say what it is not.


Jared: It's true that St. Matthew shows three sets of 14 generations, not six sets of 7 generations, but it's not outrageous to notice that 14 is a multiple of 7, just as it's not outrageous to notice that in St. Luke's genealogy of Jesus there are 77 generations, another multiple of 7.


Ennis: As we know, in the genealogical descent from Abraham down to Joseph, there really weren't three sets of 14 generations. He just presented three sets of 14, possibly out of a desire to be structured.


Jared: St. Matthew's omission of generations in the Messianic lineage was undoubtedly deliberate. His stated intention was to present the succession of generations in the Messianic lineage from Abraham through David down to Jesus, in order to demonstrate that the long-awaited Seed of Abraham and Son of David had come, that the time was fulfilled. Hence his arrangement of the generations into three neat groups of 14 names. Since it is the Holy Spirit who moved St. Matthew to arrange the Messianic pedigree in that way, we can be sure that God wants us to notice that arrangement and to seek the meaning of the three groups of 14 names.


Did the Jews include women in their genealogical records?

Ennis: You said above that the Old Testament does contain proper genealogical records. While it is true that some of the official genealogical records did find their way into the Bible, most of the records were stored separately, usually at the Temple. Most of the genealogical records were lost in the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.


Jared: Many genealogical records were kept at Jerusalem, true, although we know records were also kept elsewhere in the Holy Land, or even in other parts of the world where Jews lived in the Diaspora.


Ennis: One of the noteworthy features of the Matthew genealogy of Christ is that it contains records of some women. But that is not how genealogical records were historically maintained by the Jews.


Jared: It's not really correct that Jewish genealogical records always or usually omitted women. For example, in the first few chapters of I Chronicles, there are numerous examples of genealogical records that include women. It is true that Israelite genealogies were, as a rule, patrilineal (father-to-son), but that doesn't mean that wives were never mentioned along the way. In I Chron. 2:3-4, we find Judah's wife Bath-shua the Canaanitess and Judah's daughter-in-law Tamar, mother of Judah's sons Perez and Zerah. In I Chron. 2:16 we find Zeruiah and Abigail, sisters of King David. Then in verses 18 and 19 we find Azubah and Ephrath, wives of Caleb, son of Hezron. In verses 21 and 24 we find Hezron's wives, the daughter of Machir and Abijah. In verse 26 we find Atarah, wife of Jerahmeel, son of Hezron. In verse 29 we find Abihail, wife of Abishur, son of Shammai. In verse 35 we find Jarha's wife, the daughter of Sheshan. In verse 46 we find Ephah, concubine of Caleb.


In light of the genealogical records in the Old Testament, we can affirm that St. Matthew had ample precedent to name some of the wives or consorts of the men in the Messianic lineage.


Ennis: While it is true that there are accounts of women in genealogical lists found in the Bible, this was not how the formal records were kept. These records are not found in our Bibles, but were passed down separately. Notice in Ezra 2:59 that they looked up their genealogies based on their father's name. Also notice that the account in Luke of the genealogy through Mary won't even use Mary's name, and she was the one related to Jesus by blood, not Joseph. Why? Jewish law (established by tradition, not edict of God) forbade that the formal genealogical records contain women. Also note that the women in the genealogical list of Matthew were all Gentiles (except for Mary).


Jared: Again, you are correct that Jewish genealogical records were traced patrilineally, and often omitted the names of wives or mothers. However, that was not a strict rule. Sometimes a family's genealogical records made reference to notable women. For example, Flavius Josephus recorded his own genealogy in his autobiography, saying, "Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records. . . ." But Josephus didn't just mention his patrilineal ancestry; he also mentioned the wife of his ancestor Matthias Ephlias, a woman who was daughter of Jonathan the High Priest, younger brother of Judas Maccabaeus. This example demonstrates that the publicly recorded genealogies sometimes mentioned wives and mothers, not just fathers and sons.


As for St. Luke's genealogy of Jesus, although it is possible that it was the genealogy of Mary, that is only one possible interpretation, and we cannot be sure it is the correct one. Also, we can't be sure that all the women in St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus were Gentiles except for the Virgin Mary. Bathsheba, who had been the wife of Uriah the Hittite, may have been an Israelite. St. Matthew seems to have mentioned Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah's wife to emphasise how extraordinary or even scandalous it was for them to have become mothers in the Messianic lineage, apparently intending a comparison with Mary, whose maternity also was extraordinary and scandalous.


Ennis: I concede that the claim that the three women in the Matthew genealogy were all Gentile was likely incorrect. But turning to the matter of the genealogy of Josephus, I think it is unclear whether or not Josephus obtained the maternal information from the official records, or if he inserted them himself. Josephus was a governor (a rather corrupt one, as he turn-coated to the Romans) and not someone who would have had charge of the genealogical records. There is speculation (and only speculation) that he had the official Scripture from the Temple after it had been destroyed, so this would lend credence to the idea that he would have such great access to the records.


Jared: We should consider that Jewish priests had to be able to prove that they were genealogically entitled to serve as priests, so we would expect Josephus, a priest of the division of Jehoiarib, to have a good knowledge of his genealogy. After relating his genealogy in his Life, Josephus writes, "Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records, and so bid adieu to those who calumniate me, [as of a lower original.]" That indicates that at least some of those public records were still extant circa 100 A.D., when Josephus wrote his Life.


Also, in Against Apion, Josephus writes, "For our forefathers did not only appoint the best of these priests, and those that attended upon the divine worship, for that design from the beginning, but made profession that the stock of the priests should continue unmixed and pure; for he who is partaker of the priesthood must propagate of a wife of the same nation, without having any regard to money, or any other dignities; but he is to make a scrutiny, and take his wife's genealogy from the ancient tables, and procure many witnesses to it; and this is our practice, not only in Judaea, but wheresoever any body of men of our nation do live; and even there, an exact catalogue of our priests' marriages is kept: I mean at Egypt and at Babylon, or in any other place of the rest of the habitable earth, whithersoever our priests are scattered; for they send to Jerusalem the ancient names of their parents in writing, as well as those of their remoter ancestors, and signify who are the witnesses also; but if any war falls out, such as have fallen out a great many of them already, when Antiochus Epiphanes made an invasion upon our country, as also when Pompey the Great and Quintilius Varus did so also, and principally in the wars that have happened in our own times, those priests that survive them compose new tables of genealogy out of the old records, and examine the circumstances of the women that remain; for still they do not admit of those that have been captives, as suspecting that they had conversation with some foreigners; but what is the strongest argument of our exact management in this matter is what I am now going to say, that we have the names of our high priests, from father to son, set down in our records, for the interval of two thousand years; and if any one of these have been transgressors of these rules, they are prohibited to present themselves at the altar . . . ."


This indicates that Jewish genealogical records could have been recorded in many different places, not just in the Holy Land, and thus could have survived the wars that have overrun the Holy Land from time to time. It also indicates that Jewish genealogical records included information on wives and mothers, especially in the case of the priests, whose marriages were especially important in determining which priest was entitled to serve at the altar. By extension, we can be sure non-priestly genealogies also would have included women, because it was important to show that an Israelite family had not intermarried with Gentiles and thus become mamzerim ("half-breeds" not entitled to membership in the Israelite nation), and also because Israelites were, as a rule, required to marry within their own tribe.


Ennis: You said the interpretation that the Luke genealogy of Christ is Mary's genealogy may not be the correct one. But the concept that the Luke genealogy is of Mary is a common theory. Luke speaks of the birth account from Mary's perspective, while Matthew from Joseph's account. The Messianic lineage in Luke does not touch on any controversies or scandals or problems, whereas Matthew's account does have the Jeconiah controversy, which Matthew addresses right away.


Jared: I agree that St. Matthew addresses the Jeconiah matter, but disagree with you in how he addresses it. I believe it is possible that St. Matthew understood that Jeconiah's curse had been rescinded, and that he even indicated that it had been rescinded by naming Jeconiah among the ancestors of Jesus Christ. But for now, let's leave aside the question of St. Luke's genealogy of Christ and return to it later.


Was the genealogy of Jesus traced through Joseph?

Ennis: In your essay, you say that Matthew demonstrated that Jesus was "Son of David" by tracing a genealogy from Jeconiah down to Joseph. But Jesus was not the biological child of Joseph. Therefore Jesus is not descended from David through Joseph.


Jared: The problem here is that St. Matthew declared that he was going to present "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." He then proceeds to show a patrilineal genealogy beginning with Abraham, going through David, and ending with "Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ." Therefore, according to St. Matthew, Jesus' standing as "son of David" is based on the fact that He was a member of the family of St. Joseph. For St. Matthew, the fact that Jesus was not biological son of St. Joseph was not an obstacle to Him being a "son of David" by virtue of St. Joseph's own genealogy.


Ennis: But the fact that Matthew states that Jesus was a descendant of David does not mean that He was a descendant through Joseph. Notice that Matthew himself is careful to say that Joseph was the husband of Mary, but he never comes out and says that he was the father of Jesus, just that Mary was the mother of Jesus (Matt. 1:16). That is an obvious omission in a list which goes from father to son: at the very end of the list, it doesn't go from father to son.


Jared: The difficulty here is that, as I said, St. Matthew entitled this genealogy, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham," and then proceeded to trace a lineage from Abraham through David and ending with Jesus Christ. But that lineage goes through "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." Thus, according to St. Matthew's own words, Jesus was a descendant of David through Joseph, even though he makes clear that Jesus was not St. Joseph's biological son. It's not "the book of the generation of Joseph," it's "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ."


Ennis: The Matthew list is a list of ancestors. Adoption would qualify someone for inclusion in such a non-rigorous list. So these people would be Jesus' relatives by adoption. Jesus was a descendant of David and Abraham, through Mary. Matthew never makes the claim that Jesus was a descendant of David through Joseph, just that Joseph was married to Mary, who had a son named Jesus.


Jared: I must disagree, Ennis. In light of what I have said, I would say that St. Matthew does make the claim that Jesus was a descendant of David through Joseph.


Are Jewish rabbinical traditions of any value to Christians?

Ennis: The Scriptures alone will decide questions of biblical history. Rabbinic literature, while useful in understanding Jewish thought through the ages, fails as a reliable source for what really happened historically in questions on which the biblical record is silent. Judaism both ancient and modern seeks to discredit the Messiahship of Jesus.


Jared: It's quite true that rabbinic tradition is not always reliable, but that doesn't mean that it isn't sometimes correct. In this case, far from discrediting the Messiahship of Jesus, rabbinic tradition can be useful in explaining an objection to Jesus' Messiahship.


Ennis: While it is true that one can use rabbinical literature to see things from a new perspective, one can not rely on it to determine the truth, for just as there is a plurality of voices in modern religion, there was a plurality of voices from rabbis, and they were not always in agreement. The Bible, however, is from but one Author.


Jared: I don't disagree, but it's also good to remember my original purpose in exploring Jewish rabbinical traditions pertaining to Jeconiah's curse. It is because Jewish apologists have lately taken to using Jeconiah's curse as an argument against Jesus' Messiahship. Therefore it is appropriate to examine Jewish tradition to see what light it can shed on the question. What we find is that the ancient rabbis did not see Jeconiah's curse as an obstacle. That fact, in turn, can shed light on Jeconiah's presence in St. Matthew's genealogy of Joseph.


Ennis: It is fine to use rabbinical literature to gain a new perspective that you may not have had otherwise. It is also good to use it to challenge Jewish heresy. But when it comes down to brass tacks, the rabbinical literature is of little use as proof. As the first century church had a cacophony of views, so too does the rabbinical tradition, maybe more so.


Jared: Oh, there's no question about the cacophony of views in rabbinical tradition. But the tradition that Jeconiah's curse was rescinded seems to be very ancient and to be very well attested in Jewish tradition. In addition, it does not contradict any Christian doctrine or anything found in Holy Scripture, but can actually explain how it is that St. Matthew's Messianic genealogy could show St. Joseph as a descendant of Jeconiah without seeming to notice any abiding curse on Jeconiah's lineage.


Does St. Luke record Mary's genealogy?

Ennis: Jesus was the son of Mary and a descendant of David through her. This fulfills the prophecy that the Messiah would be a son of David and come from the House of Judah. I agree with those who say that Matthew presents the invalid, cursed lineage, and then solves the problem of Jeconiah's curse by showing the Virgin Birth. The Luke genealogy of Mary, however, is complete: it does not skip any generations, and it does not list women. It is a proper Jewish genealogy, and it is the only true lineage of Jesus.


Jared: I once was of the same opinion as yourself, but I no longer believe that explanation (i.e, that St. Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli) is the correct one. However, I still agree with the ancient Christian tradition that Mary, like her husband, belonged to the House of David, and I believe it is possible that St. Luke presented the genealogy of Mary's family or clan. That interpretation was favored by Annius of Viterbo in the 1400s, but there is also a similar tradition in The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, written in the 1200s A.D., where we read the following:


"The glorious Virgin Mary took her origin from the tribe of Judah and the royal stock of David. Matthew and Luke do not set forth the lineage of Mary but that of Joseph-who had nothing to do with the conception of Christ-because the usage of the sacred writers is said to have been to weave the series of generations of males, not of females. It is perfectly true, nevertheless, that the Blessed Virgin descended from the lineage of David: this is obvious because, as Scripture often testifies, Christ was born of the seed of David. Since, therefore, Christ was born of the Virgin alone, it is plain that the Virgin herself was born of David, through the line of Nathan.


"Among David's sons there were two, Nathan and Solomon. Of the line of Nathan, son of David, as John of Damascus testifies, Levi begot Melchi and Panthar, Panthar begot Barpanthar, Barpanthar begot Joachim, and Joachim was the father of the Virgin Mary. Nathan [sic- should be `Matthan'] took a wife from the line of Solomon, and of her begot Jacob. When Nathan died, Melchi of the tribe of Nathan, son of Levi and brother of Panthar, married the deceased Nathan's wife, the mother of Jacob, and of her begot Heli. Thus Jacob and Heli were brothers born of the same mother, Jacob being of the tribe of Solomon and Heli of the tribe of Nathan. Heli of the tribe of Nathan died without issue, and Jacob his brother, who was of the tribe of Solomon, took Heli's wife and raised up seed to his brother, begetting Joseph. Joseph therefore was by birth the son of Jacob of the line of Solomon, and by law the son of Heli of the line of Nathan . . . ." (The Golden Legend, vol. II, translated by William Granger Ryan, pp.149-150).


Jacobus said he derived this genealogical information from St. John the Damascene, who lived in the 600s A.D., but we know that some of this information ultimately derived from sources that were much earlier than the time of the Damascene, who was famous for collecting and arranging the teachings of the early Church Fathers. For example, the tradition that the Damascene mentions, that Jacob and Heli were uterine brothers, first appears in a letter written in the 200s A.D. by Christian historian Julius Africanus, who says he got his information from the living kinsmen of St. Joseph.


Regarding St. John the Damascene's traditions of Mary's ancestry, the old Catholic Encyclopedia's article entitled, "Genealogy of Christ", has this to say:


"St. John Damascene (De fid. Orth., IV, 14) states that Mary's great-grandfather, Panther, was a 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 Nazianzus omitted the two generations separating Heli from Melchi."


The tradition that the Virgin Mary was daughter of a man of the House of David who was named Joachim first appears in the Protoevangelion, which was written in the 100s A.D. It is also noteworthy that the Jews and others have claimed that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Panthera-compare this genealogy that includes the names "Panthar" and "Barpanthar." Apparently the name "Panthera" or "Pandira" was a name that was used among the Jews around the time that Joseph and Mary lived. It is possible, though of course it is by no means provable, that this legendary genealogy of the Virgin Mary is authentic, and that St. Luke's genealogy does show the lineage of St. Mary's family. On the other hand, this legendary genealogy could have been constructed by a Christian writer who made use of the anti-Christian slander about the Roman soldier Panthera. We really can't say for sure, but it is nevertheless well worth noting that there is an old, old Christian tradition that the Virgin Mary belonged to the family of Nathan, son of David.


Another old tradition about Mary's genealogy is recorded in The Book of the Bee, a medieval world-chronicle/theological treatise written ca. 1222 A.D. by Shelemon (Solomon), a Nestorian bishop in Syria. In chapter 33, entitled, "Of the Messianic Generations," it says:


"It is moreover right to know that Eliezer begat two sons, Mattan and Jotham. Mattan begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Joseph; Jotham begat Zadok, and Zadok begat Mary. From this it is clear that Joseph's father and Mary's father were cousins."


Then chapter 34, entitled, "Of the Annunciation of the Angel to Yônâkîr (Joachim) in Respect of Mary," commences with the words, "This Zadok, who was called Yônâkîr, and Dinah his wife . . ." "Zadok" ("Righteous") is St. Joachim, and "Dinah" is St. Anne (Hannah). However, this Nestorian legend differs from the earlier legend recorded in the writings of St. John the Damascene.


Yet another possibility is that the Heli of St. Luke's genealogy was the same as St. Joachim, father of the Blessed Virgin. "Heli" is a Greek spelling of the Jewish name Eli, and Eli could be a diminutive of Eliakim, which thus would be Grecianised as "Heliachim." It has been noted that the Jewish names Eliakim and Joiakim could be interchangeable. For example, the apostate high priest who is called Alcimus (Eliakim) in I Maccabees is called Jacimus (Joiakim) by Josephus. In that case, Heli would not be the legal father of St. Joseph as Africanus said, but rather would be the father of the Virgin Mary and therefore father-in-law of St. Joseph. The drawback to this hypothesis is that St. Luke did not say St. Joseph was Heli's son-in-law, but rather indicated that he was Heli's "son." It's true that the word "son" is ellipsed in St. Luke's genealogy, but it is implied. Therefore it would appear that St. Luke was saying that St. Joseph was either the biological son or the legal son of Heli.


All in all, we should probably take the traditions recounted by Africanus seriously. It's true that Africanus wrote about 200 years after the fact, but he did speak to living relatives of St. Joseph, and such family traditions are often pretty reliable, especially when they come from cultures where oral tradition is alive and strong.


All that being said, whatever the Virgin Mary's genealogy was-surely it was Davidic-it must also be affirmed that St. Matthew presented an authentic and acceptable genealogy of Jesus Christ. It would have defeated his purpose of establishing Jesus' Messianic credentials to present a genealogy that failed to show that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, son of David, seed of Abraham.


Last, but by no means least, it must be noted that, whether or not St. Luke records the genealogy of St. Mary's clan, nevertheless he traces the genealogy through St. Joseph, not through St. Mary. In that respect, St. Matthew and St. Luke are in agreement.

Ennis: Regarding the lineage of Mary, one thing about rabbinical literature that I do trust is their genealogical records. They have no reason to alter this information. It is objective information instead of subjective. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2:4 and Sanhedrin 23:3, and the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 44:2, Mary (Hebrew name Miriam) was recorded as the daughter of Heli.

Jared: I have seen those exact same Talmud cites on the internet, where they were used by Christians for the same purpose that you have mentioned them-in support of the hypothesis that St. Luke's genealogy of Jesus is the ancestry of Mary rather than of Joseph. But for some reason the quotations of those passages of the Talmud are never included, so we are unable to tell if the passages have been correctly cited or correctly interpreted.


Also, I have been unable to find any reference to Mary (Miriam) or Eli (Heli) in the Babylonian Talmud's tractate Sanhedrin. Furthermore, a Jewish source entitled, "Is the Christian Mary, daughter of Heli, written about in the Talmud?", says there is no reference to a "Miriam, daughter of Eli" at Chagigah 2:4, but such a woman appears in the Gemara to Chagigah 2:2, found at Chagigah 11a. However, that Miriam apparently is said to be a daughter of Eli the High Priest, foster father of Samuel the Prophet. That Miriam, daughter of Eli, is said to have died young and had no children, so there's no doubt she couldn't be the Virgin Mary.


Admittedly, the "Kosher Judaism" website is biased against Christianity, so one must use caution in evaluating what it has to say on this subject. Even so, what it says about Mary in the Talmud appears to be correct. Although it appears that the Talmud contains confused and slanderous legends about Jesus' mother Mary, there does not appear to be any reference in the Talmud to the Virgin Mary being the daughter of Eli.

Ennis: I concede the point. What I said about the records of a Mary in the Talmud was wrong. This is one of those classic cases of accepting someone else's research as true without checking it first. The person I got it from, Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, probably made the same mistake I did. It looks to me like an urban myth situation.


In any case, another argument that Fruchtenbaum used in support of the interpretation that the Luke genealogy is Mary's rather than Joseph's is that in the Luke genealogy, all of the names listed are preceded by the definite article (in English 'the') except for Joseph's. This denotes that the lineage was not his. The book A Harmony of the Gospels by A.T. Robertson (pages 259-262) explains this Greek grammar.


Jared: Before I continue, for our readers' benefit, let me make clear that, as you have indicated, several of the arguments you have presented in this dialogue (including the erroneous citation of Jerusalem Talmud Chagigah 2:4, the suggestion that the four women in St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus were Gentiles, and the citing of A.T. Robertson), were also used in the out-of-date Jews For Jesus apologetics article by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum. Jews For Jesus has a more up-to-date article which provided much of the raw material for my own essay on the subject.


In any case, it is dubious to say that the absence of the definite article was meant to imply that the name "Joseph" stands in for "Mary." The Greek article tou is used in this genealogy to connect each link in the chain of the lineage, so it only stands to reason that tou would not be used for Joseph, with whom the regular chain of names commences. St. Luke writes that Jesus "as was supposed," or, "nominally," was "son of Joseph, [son] of Heli, [son] of Matthat," etc. The formal lineage commences with huios Ioseph, tou Heli, tou Matthat, which indicates that St. Luke was inserting the genealogy of Joseph at this point of his narrative. As I have said, it is quite possible that "Joseph, son of Heli" was meant to stand for "Joseph, son-in law of Heli," but the earliest extant traditions tell us otherwise. According to Africanus, the descendants of St. Joseph's family maintained that both Matt. 1 and Luke 3 provide genealogies of St. Joseph, who had two fathers due to a levirate marriage. Neither Africanus nor any other early Christian writer seems to have been aware that the absence of tou implied anything about whether or not Joseph was literally Heli's son.

Ennis: I didn't say that the omission of the definite article means substitution. I said that the progression involving the definite article showed direct lineage (a pattern) but that pattern was interrupted by this new figure Mary.

Jared: Thank you for clarifying that point. Still, I don't see anything significant in the use of the definite article in Luke 3. I agree that it is possible the genealogy in Luke 3 is the genealogy of Mary, but I don't believe the definite article is any kind of clue that supports the hypothesis that Luke 3 shows Mary's genealogy.

Ennis: You mentioned above that the early Christian historian Africanus recorded a tradition that, due to a series of "levirate" marriages in the family of Joseph, the Jacob of Matt. 1:15-16 and the Heli of Luke 3:23 were half-brothers and were both the fathers of Joseph. It's very confusing. How was that supposed to have come about?

Jared: In the first half of the 200s A.D, Sextus Julius Africanus wrote a letter to a fellow Christian named Aristides in which he answers Aristides' questions about why the Gospels show two different genealogies of Jesus. In his letter, Africanus uses "levirate marriage" to explain the two different genealogies. Briefly, according to the ancient Hebrew tradition of levirate marriage, if a married man died childless, his brother or nearest male relative was supposed to marry his widow. The children born of that marriage would legally, officially be recorded as the children of the man who had died childless.


Africanus claimed that he was told this explanation of Christ's two genealogies by none other than the living kinsmen of Jesus Christ who were alive during the time that Africanus lived. It should be noted that Africanus' letter does include some false or dubious statements, but the basic tradition of levirate marriage in the family of St. Joseph could be correct.


In the case of the two genealogies of Jesus, according to Africanus, Jacob and Heli were half-brothers, children of the same mother (a woman traditionally named Estha) but having different fathers. Africanus claims that Heli died childless, so his half brother Jacob married Heli's widow and had St. Joseph by her. Thus, according to Africanus, St. Joseph was the son of both Jacob and Heli.


Does Haggai support the tradition that Jeconiah's curse was rescinded?

Ennis: Regarding Haggai 2:20-23, yes, it does appear that God is referencing the curse of Coniah here. Notice again God's emphasis that He Himself is the one conquering. It signet ring is probably a symbol of kingship, but we would expect the signet ring to be worn by the king In this passage, God is the king. The ring bears the name of the king (God). With Coniah, God removed His name from Coniah (so Coniah wouldn't bear His name anymore). With Zerubbabel, God is saying that He does want him to bear His name. Again, a signet ring isn't the king, rather the signet ring says who the king is. God didn't want Coniah to be His representative.


Jared: You are correct that it is God who is the king in this prophecy. However, the use of the prophetic image of the signet ring in both Jeremiah and Haggai, first in reference to Coniah, then in reference to Coniah's grandson, suggests a possible interpretation along the lines of the traditional rabbinic interpretation-i.e., God rescinded Jeconiah's curse on account of Jeconiah's repentance in Babylon.


Ennis: Well, with all of the ground we have covered, I'm sure there is plenty to process here. Thank you for engaging in this conversation with me. I'm still not convinced that your interpretations of these biblical passages are right, but I think I understand your position better.


Jared: I'm happy to have helped you even a little. Thanks for offering me the chance to explore these issues in greater depth.


Issue 21


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
On 31 Jul 2006, 18:43.