QUESTIONS ABOUT THE GENEALOGIES
When I wrote the preceding sections of this Essay, I intended to omit all discussion of the genealogies in the Gospel account, on the grounds that "no one is interested in genealogies." Apparently I was wrong. Some readers are interested in them because alleged inaccuracies in the genealogies have been used to argue against the reliability of Matthew and Luke. Other readers are interested for other reasons. So I have included a discussion.
Both Matthew and Luke give genealogies of Christ, tracing his ancestry in a father-son line back to Abraham (Matthew) or all the way to Adam (Luke). As we look at these genealogies, certain questions naturally arise.
(1) Did the sort of records exist that would make it possible to trace one's lineage back to King David without a heavy use of conjecture and imagination?
(2) Did not Jesus himself teach that the Messiah is NOT the Son of David?
(3) Why trace the the ancestry of Jesus through Joseph, if Mary was a virgin and Joseph was not the father of Jesus?
(4) Why are the genealogies different? They do not even agree on whether Joseph was the son of Jacob (Matthew) or the son of Eli (Luke).
(5) Why does Matthew emphasize the fact that his list shows fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Exile, and fourteen from the Exile to Christ? Why does the number matter -- matter enough so that he is willing to omit three kings of Israel from the list to make the number come out right? And why does the third list of fourteen contain only thirteen names? Can't Matthew count? He is, after all, supposed to be a former IRS agent.
(6) Why does Matthew introduce four women (other than the mother of Jesus) into his strictly male-line genealogy?
*** WAS A GENEALOGY POSSIBLE?
Today, when most Americans cannot name their great-great-grandparents, the idea that a first-century Jew could trace his ancestry back to King David seems implausible. But Semitic peoples have always been extremely conscious of such matters. Van Ness, a doctor who spent many years working with Beduins in Arabia, reports (in an article in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC in 1940 or thereabouts):
They are extremely race conscious -- or rather, tribe conscious. I once asked a young boy who his father was. "Would you know my genealogy?" he answered, and began to recite his lineage backward through twelve generations. At the thirteenth he hesitated, and his two companions, not of his family, immediately filled in for him.
Ancient Jewish writers tell us that genealogical records were kept in the Temple, and that the great rabbi Hillel could trace his descent from King David. In the book of Nehemiah [Ne 7:64] we read that after the return from Babylon and the rebuilding of the Temple, those men who had a family tradition that they were of priestly descent, but did not have the written records to prove it, were not allowed to exercise the priestly office. The whole chapter is evidence of the concern of the returned exiles with preserving their genealogical records. According to Eusebius, two grandsons of Jude, the "brother" of Jesus, were arrested around 90 AD as Davidids (descendants of David) and therefore possible political dangers, but were released when the authorities were satisfied that they were devoid of political ambition. On the other hand, Simeon, second Bishop of Jerusalem and first cousin of Jesus, was put to death, partly as a Davidid.
But is it conceivable that Joseph, living a thousand years after David, should still possess a reliable family tradition regarding his descent from David? That is by no means impossible. Especially in the new Testament period we hear again and again of lists of generations kept by Jewish families and officially supervised. These lists were of the highest importance in legal matters concerning marriage, property, occupation, and religion. We hear in particular of the patriarchal houses and their heads, of the common property of clans, and of the hereditary lands of the individual houses. we also hear a good many genealogical details regarding the house of David. [Taanith 4,5; J Taanith 4,2] Evidently a family tradition of Davidic descent was nothing extraordinary in those days. [Ethelbert Stauffer, JESUS AND HIS STORY, p14]
It therefore seems altogether probable that records were available sufficient for constructing a reliable genealogy.
*** DID JESUS DENY THAT THE MESSIAH IS FROM DAVID?
In Matthew 22:41-45 (compare Mark 12:35-37a and Luke 20:41-44), we read:
+ Now, when the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them + a question, saying, + "What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?" + They said to him, "The son of David." + He said to them, "How is it then that David, + inspired by the Spirit, calls him Master, saying: + 'The LORD said to my Master, + Sit at my right hand, + till I put thy enemies under thy feet'? + If David thus calls him Master, how is he his son?"
This has been understood by some readers to mean that Jesus was NOT descended from David, and that this fact had been used by his opponents to prove that he could not be the Messiah, and that he responded by using this argument to show that, contrary to popular belief, the Messiah was not supposed to be a descendant of David.
It seems to me that this misses the point of the argument. This quotation from the Psalms will prove that the Messiah is not descended from David ONLY if we suppose that a descendant cannot be greater than any of his ancestors. which no one actually believes. But suppose that Jesus was asking, not "Whom is the Messiah descended from?" but rather, "From whom does the Messiah get his authority and his greatness?" In that case, we see that the Messiah cannot inherit his royal status from David, since by David's own admission, the Messiah has more greatness than David had to bequeath. If Christ has more authority than David, then David cannot be the basis of his authority. But this does not mean that David cannot be one of his ancestors.
*** WHY THROUGH JOSEPH?
To many people today, it seems odd that the two gospel-writers who explicitly tell us that Jesus was born of a virgin are also the two who trace his descent from David through Joseph. But it must be remembered that to the ancient Jews, and to many other peoples, adoptive relationships counted in a way that they do not with us. For example, to this day the East Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches forbid marriages between godchild and godparent, on the ground that such a marriage would be incestuous. On the same ground, the East Orthodox will not permit two siblings in one family to marry two siblings in another. Now the Jews regarded it as a dreadful fate for a man's name to perish, by which they meant, for him to be dead and have no living descendants. (You will remember that God's most remembered and cherished blessing to Abraham was that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the grains of sand on the beach.) Thus, when a man died without children, it was considered the duty of the dead man's brother or other male next of kin, to sleep with the widow until she became pregnant, with the understanding that the child thus born would count as the child of the dead man, and so his name would not perish. [Dt 5:5-10, also Ru 4:1-9. This is known as the custom of the levirate, from the Latin word "levir", meaning brother-in-law.] In the other direction, when a woman was unable to present her husband with children, she might give her husband a slave-girl to sleep with, with the understanding that the children born to the slave-girl would count as children of the wife. (See Genesis 16 and 30) So, if someone were to say to Matthew, "It is really beside the point, you know, for you to tell us who Joseph's ancestors were, since Joseph was not the father of Jesus," he would undoubtedly have replied: What are you talking about? Of course he was the father! Leave aside for the moment the fact that he devoted his life to caring for Mary and the Child, that he was Jesus' guardian and protector, that he fed and sheltered him and kept him out of Herod's hands, and taught him the carpenter's trade. Arguably an uncle, or benevolent bystander, or social worker, might have done all that. But Joseph was more than a guardian. He was the Child's father in the eyes of the law. He was Mary's legal husband. When the child was born, he took it on his knees and said in the presence of witnesses, "You are my son -- this day have I begotten you." (It is to be noted that when Jewish writers speak of begetting a child, they often refer, not to the act of procreation, but to this ceremony of acknowledging paternity. When we read of a much earlier Joseph [Ge 50:23] that he lived to a ripe old age and that his great-grandchildren were begotten on his knees (the KJV has "brought up," but the verb is the same one that is translated "begotten" in hundreds of other places), this does not mean what you are thinking. It means that Joseph, as head of the family and the child's oldest living ancestor, took the child on his knees and declared that he accepted it as a member in good standing of the extended family.) It was Joseph (the New Testament one now) who circumcised Jesus, or alternately presented him to the expert for circumcision. He was the one who offered sacrifice for him as for a first-born son. Jesus was Joseph's legal heir, and as such was perfectly entitled to claim descent from David through him. Such would have been Matthew's reply, and his contemporaries would have found it a completely natural one.
*** WHO WAS JOSEPH'S FATHER?
The two genealogies found in Matthew and Luke are radically different. From Abraham to David, they are in basic agreement, which is to be expected, since the line of descent from Abraham to David is something that every educated Jew would be familiar with. It is found in the Hebrew Bible and has only to be copied out. But from David on, the two lists diverge, coming together for Zerubbabel and his father Shealtiel (or Salathiel) and then diverging again, so that they do not even agree on whether Joseph, the husband of Mary, was the son of Jacob or the son of Eli. Is it not clear that at least one of these lists must be sheer invention?
In answer to that question, I offer three theories.
THEORY ONE: MATTHEW'S LIST IS DYNASTIC
Luke gives his list in the form, "Joseph, son of Eli, son of ...." But Matthew gives his list in the form, "Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob,...." And, as we have already noted, "David begat Solomon" means to the Hebrew mind not so much that David was the biological father of Solomon as that Solomon was David's legal heir and successor. We accordingly read Matthew's list of names as a list of the kings of Israel, at first a list of those who actually reigned, and then, after the fall of Jerusalem, a list of the uncrowned kings, those who had a right to the throne. Under traditional rules of inheritance, if a king dies childless, the crown goes to his younger brother and then the brother's eldest son. Absent any surviving brothers or descendants of brothers, the crown goes to an uncle or cousin, and so forth. Thus, Matthew's list, while mostly from father to son, would occasionally go to a grandson (if the son had predeceased the grandson), or to a brother, or uncle, or cousin, or even occasionally a second cousin. If Luke, on the other hand, gives the direct biological line, then it is not surprising that the lists differ. Matthew traces the line through David's son King Solomon and continues down the list of kings to the Exile, while Luke traces the line through Nathan, another of David's sons. Note that on this theory there is no reason why the two lists should not occasionally converge for one or more generations (such as Shealtiel and his son Zerubbabel) and then diverge again. Note also that a royalist party-in-exile may very well skip over a generation or more of uncrowned kings. When the Royal Claimant dies at the age of ninety, he may see fit (or his Cabinet may see fit) to pass the banner of the Cause, not to his seventy-year-old son, or even to his fifty-year-old grandson, but to his thirty-year-old great-grandson, who is still vigorous enough to be a dynamic leader. This easily accounts for the fact that Matthew has only 14 and 14 generations in the same space where Luke has 21 and 21.
The chief objection to this theory is that it implies that it was a matter of public record that Jesus (or more precisely, Joseph) was, not merely one of many descendants of David, but the unique legal heir to the throne, the person who ought to be made king if the dynasty of David were restored. It seems unlikely that this fact, if it were a fact, could have escaped being a major factor in discussions about his status, with some trace of those discussions surviving in the New Testament.
THEORY TWO: MATTHEW'S LIST IS MARIAN
Some writers have suggested that the genealogy given by Matthew is not really that of Joseph, but rather of Mary. And this is actually fairly plausible. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Mary's father was named Joseph, and that Matthew's genealogy originally ended with the words: "and Jacob begat Joseph, the father of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ." Some early copyist reads this text and, knowing that Mary's husband was named Joseph, leaps to the conclusion that he must be the Joseph referred to, and so "corrects" the text to read, "Joseph the husband of Mary." This explains why the two genealogies are completely different from David down. It also explains another awkward fact -- that Matthew gives only thirteen generations from the Exile to Christ, while telling us that he is giving fourteen. If the Joseph in the genealogy is the father of Mary, then we have fourteen generations as advertised. Any theory that clears up two apparently unrelated difficulties in one step has much to commend it. One thing about Einstein's Theory of Relativity that appealed to physicists was that it explained both the failure of Morley and Michelson to measure the motion of the earth and the failure of classical Newtonian theory to predict correctly the orbit of Mercury.
I see two difficulties in this explanation. The first is that it falsifies an Old Testament prophecy. Just before the exile, the prophet Jeremiah says of Jeconiah (Jer 22:24-30) that no son of his shall ever be king. From this it is argued that Jesus (and therefore Mary) cannot be biological direct descendants of Jeconiah. Note that this is a problem, not only for those who believe that Jeremiah's predictions must be fulfilled, but also for those who believe that Matthew believed that Jeremiah's predictions must be fulfilled. The second objection is that for Matthew to give us the family history of Mary and Luke that of Joseph would be completely out of character for both. Anyone reading the infancy narratives in the two gospels will be struck by how completely Matthew adopts Joseph's point of view and Luke Mary's. Luke tells us how an angel appeared to Mary, and how she responded. He says nothing of how Joseph learned of the matter, or how he responded. He tells us not only what Mary did but what she thought, while saying the barest minimum about what Joseph did, and nothing of what he thought. Matthew, on the other hand, tells us strictly what Joseph did. Joseph discovered that his fiancee was pregnant, and he decided to repudiate her. What she thought is not mentioned. Luke describes the birth by saying that "the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.." Matthew tells us that Joseph married her, but did not have sex with her "till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus." Note that Mary's action in giving birth is stuck into a subordinate clause between two main clauses telling us what Joseph did. Later, Joseph is told by an angel to flee into Egypt. He takes his family and goes. Later, he takes his family and returns. Throughout all this, Mary is not described as doing, saying, or thinking anything (except, as aforesaid, for "bringing forth" which is not something one decides to do, and which is mentioned only in passing). If anyone held the theory that Mary was blind, deaf, mute, paralyzed, and mentally retarded, he would find nothing in Matthew's account to contradict him. Some writers suppose that Matthew got his information from Joseph or from someone who had known Joseph, and Luke likewise with Mary. Other writers suppose that Matthew was a male chauvinist and Luke a feminist. Regardless of the explanation, the fact is certain. One would expect any Matthew's genealogy to trace the line of Joseph, and Luke's to trace that of Mary. Which brings us to our last possibility:
THEORY THREE: LUKE'S LIST IS MARIAN
Many writers think that Matthew traces the line of Joseph and Luke that of Mary. This agrees with the emphases of Matthew and Luke, as just observed. It also agrees with the references to Mary in early non-Christian Jewish sources as Miriam daughter of Eli. Luke writes [Lk 3:24-38]: "Jesus began [his work], being about thirty years old, being the son supposedly of Joseph, of Eli, of Matthat, of ..." There are those who read this as, "supposedly the son of Joseph, but actually the son of Eli, the son of...", where Eli is Mary's father, and therefore the male ancestor nearest to Jesus. But a straightforward reference to Joseph as son of Eli even if Eli were Mary's father would be perfectly natural if Mary had no brothers. Jewish law and custom attached great importance to not letting a man's name perish. If he died childless, his next of kin must provide offspring for him, as mentioned above. Moreover, it was required that land be kept in the family. The Law of Moses provided that a man could not sell his land. The most he could do was to sell the possession and use of it until the next Sabbath year. At his death, it was to be divided among his sons. The daughters did not share in this division -- they were supposed to marry husbands with land. But if a man had only daughters, then they inherited the land, and we are told that this happened in order that his name might not perish. [Numbers 27:1-11; 36; Joshua 17:3-4] This would indicate that the husband and children of an heiress are to carry on the name and the memory of her father. And when we see this rule put into practice, we see that the man who marries the heiress is in fact treated as the adopted son of his father-in-law. [Ezra 3:61; I Chr 2:34] We may infer that the normal procedure was that a man who had many brothers, and therefore would expect to inherit only a small fraction of his father's land and other wealth, would be willing to renounce his inheritance in his father's land and seek instead a bride who, having no brothers, would be inheriting land, and often more land than her prospecting husband could expect to get from his own father. Because of his many brothers, our man would not be needed to carry on the name of his own father, and could afford to carry on that of his father-in-law instead. Therefore, if Mary had no brothers, one would expect that Joseph would be treated as the adopted son of Mary's father for genealogical purposes. And this would account for Luke's calling Joseph the son of Eli rather than the son of Jacob.
Against this it may be urged that if Luke did not intend the reader to assume that Joseph was the biological son of Eli, he ought to have spelled it out for his readers. I give this objection some weight, but not much.
Another objection is that Luke's genealogy, like Matthew's, traces the ancestry of Jesus back through Zerubbabel and Shealtiel (aka Salathiel), who are descendants of Jeconiah (aka Jehoiachin), of whom Jeremiah declared that he would have no royal descendants. If Jeremiah prophesied truly, then Mary cannot be a descendent of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, and so Luke's genealogy cannot be a genealogy of Mary. Now it is true that both lists include a Shealtiel with son Zerubbabel about halfway between David and Jesus. (Matthew lists 15 generations from David to Shealtiel and 12 from Shealtiel to Jesus. Luke lists 21 from David to Shealtiel and 21 from Shealtiel to Jesus.) What we see, comparing the two genealogies between David and Jesus, is that the lists immediately diverge, with Matthew going from David to Solomon and so down the line of kings of Judah, while Luke goes from David to Solomon's brother Nathan, and then down a line that has not been recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. The two lists, halfway to Jesus in number of generations, show Shealtiel and his son Zerubbabel, and then diverge again, meeting only at Joseph the husband of Mary. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that Zerubbabel was the man who led the Jews back to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. In 1 Chronicles 3:16ff, it seems (the wording is not as clear as I should like) that Jeconiah is the father of Shealtiel, Pedadiah, and five others, and that Pedadiah is the father of Zerubbabel. Everywhere else, in both Testaments, Zerubbabel is called the son, not the nephew, of Shealtiel. This discrepancy is easily explained by assuming a levirate marriage. A more awkward question is, "Who was Shealtiel's father? Was it King Jeconiah (as Matthew and the Hebrew Scriptures both tell us) or the otherwise unknown Neri (as Luke tells us)? The simplest reply to this is that there is no reason why Luke's Zerubbabel and his father Shealtiel have to be the same persons as Matthew's Zerubbabel and his father Shealtiel. We tend to think that they must be the same, because to us the names sound odd, and therefore unlikely to be borne by more than one person, with the improbability compounded if we are talking about two father-son combinations with the same pair of odd names. But presumably the names did not sound odd to the Jews of that time. And a Jew who held the same name as the then leader of the Jewish people might see fit to name his son after the leader's son. Even apart from deliberate imitation, some name combinations are not rare. Each of my parents has a sister who married a man called Bill and has two sons called Billy and Bobby. With no special effort, I can list six families among my acquaintances with sons named David and Michael. My point is not so much that coincidences happen as that fashions in names happen. Shealtiel and Zerubbabel may have been a fashionable combi7ation in Jewish circles at that time.
And that concludes my comments on the differences between the genealogies.
*** WHY THE FOURTEENS?
Matthew, having given us a list of "begats" from Abraham to Christ, summarizes by saying that there are fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen from the Exile to Christ. Why does he bother to mention this? I can think of several reasons, not mutually exclusive. First, people who memorize material with no inherent structure (such as the first fifty decimals of pi) usually find it helpful to remember it in blocks. When I was set as a youngster to memorize the list of US Presidents, I took them in blocks of eight. Anyone wanting to memorize his family tree might very well find the division into blocks of seven or double blocks of fourteen useful. Second, the explicit declaration that the list comes in blocks of fourteen makes it easier for a copyist to check his work and be sure that he has not left out a name. (In a similar spirit, copiers of the Hebrew scriptures write at the end of each book a list of statistics, including the number of letters in the book and the middle letter.) If this was the point of the fourteens, it seems to have worked fairly well. Copies of Matthew's list in various ancient manuscripts show no significant variation. On the other hand, Luke's list of 56 generations from Abraham to Christ has no fewer than 12 names that are missing (not all at once) from various copies [Brown, p76]. If Luke had broken his list of names into blocks of uniform length, and told us where each block ended, this would have been less likely to happen. Third, I think it likely that he was influenced by a line of thought found in the EXODUS RABBAH, which comments on Ex 12:2 ("This month shall be for you the beginning of months...") by saying (I paraphrase):
Every month the moon waxes for fifteen days and then wanes for fifteen. The month begins with the first light of the new moon, and when it is at its brightest, on the fifteenth, the Passover is eaten. Thus there are fifteen generations from Abraham to Solomon, during which the glory and greatness of the people steadily increased. After Solomon, the greatness lessened steadily for fifteen generations, until it reached Zedekiah, in whom the light of Israel was utterly extinguished.
Note that Zedekiah was king when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, levelled it, and deported its people to Babylon. Zedekiah's eyes were put out, after he had seen his sons put to death before him. Thus he is an appropriate symbol of total darkness. But once the moon is dark, the cycle begins again and the light starts to come back. Abraham was called out of Mesopotamia into the land of Canaan, and now, thirty generations later, his descendants are back in Mesopotamia, and are once again called, under Zerubbabel, to leave Mesopotamia and go to the land of Canaan. The parallel is made explicitly in the modern synagogue lectionary, where the story of the call of Abraham is read on the same Sabbath as the story of the return of Zerubbabel.
Now Matthew gives us fourteen steps up from Babylon to David the King, fourteen steps down back to Babylon, and fourteen steps up from Babylon to Christ the King. This gives us a nice symmetry even without the lunar month to suggest a repetitive pattern, but I suspect that Matthew was familiar with the notion and is simply taking the liberty of thinking of the month as roughly four weeks. He does not mention the lunar month, or say that it is 28 days long (actually it is close to twenty-nine and a half), but for him and his first readers the image would not be far away.
Matthew probably attaches significance to the number fourteen because it is the number of the name David. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, five of which have special forms at the ends of words, thus totalling 27 characters, and it is customary to use the first nine for the numbers 1 through 9, the next nine for 10 through 90, and the last nine for 100 through 900. (An alternative arrangement, and perhaps the older, is to treat the final forms as indistinguishable from the standard forms, and so to have only 22 characters.) Thus (with no zero or place-holding device), we can write any whole number from 1 to 999 with at most three characters. (If the final forms are not used separately, we can go up to 499 with at most three characters. The number 897, written with final forms as 800+90+7, or Pe-final Tzaddi Zayin, will be written without final forms as 400+400+90+7, or Tau Tau Tzaddi Zayin.) The Greek alphabet as we all learned it in school has 24 characters, and to these are added three obsolete letters, making 27 in all, and enabling them to do the same thing. You will find this notation in Archimedes. Thus, every letter in Greek or Hebrew has a numerical value, and one can play all sorts of games with this. The Jews call the practice gematria (a word allegedly derived from "geometry", although I have met an Israeli who disputes this), and I will mention an example in passing. When Lot and some other persons were captured by enemies, Abraham took 318 warriors and rescued them. In Hebrew letters 318 is Heth Yod Shin. Now Heth Yod spells HAI, which means "alive", and Shin is the first letter of SHALOM, which means "peace, well-being, or salvation". Thus, Abraham and his party were a source of life and peace to Lot and company. Some time between 70 and 135 AD, a Christian writer called Barnabas (not the Apostle), wrote that in Greek letters, 318 is Tau Iota Eta, and that Tau is the shape of a cross, while Iota Eta is the first two letters of the name Jesus. Thus we see that the source of peace and life is the cross of Jesus. This is called, "my gematria can lick your gematria." The statement in the book of Revelation that 666 is the number of the beast is presumably a gematria riddle, but there is no agreement on the answer. Now the name David would be written (no vowels) as DVD, with D as the fourth letter of the alphabet and V (corresponding to our F) as the sixth. Hence David = 4+6+4 = 14. Matthew may have noticed this on his own, and constructed his genealogy accordingly, but it is at least equally likely that some scribe generations earlier had noticed that DVD = 14, and that David is the fourteenth name on a list that starts with Abraham, and had popularized this, both as a proof that David was special and as a memory aid in memorizing a family tree that every Jewish child was expected to know. It would then be natural to fit the list of kings following David (also part of the curriculum) into another block of 14. To do so, it is necessary to leave out a few names. Thus we read that Joram begot Uzziah, when in fact there were three intervening generations. One explanation of the omission is that the three omitted kings were cursed. Joram married Athalia, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, who had been cursed unto the third and fourth generation. At one point she seized the throne for herself and attempted to kill off the royal line of David, but after a brief reign, she was killed and the Davidic line restored [2Ki 11, 2Ch 22-24]. Arguably, her son, grandson, and great-grandson (all wicked kings) were omitted from the list because it was felt that the family curse excluded them [Brown, p82]. The omission may have begun as a simple error in Greek. The first omitted name is Ahaziah (Ochozias or Ozeias in Greek), and the first name after the omission is Uzziah (Ozias in Greek). Clearly, it would be easy for a copyist or an oral memorizer to confuse the names and skip from one to the other. Once the shorter version had obtained a foothold, some people would want to correct it, on the grounds of the known historical sequence of kings, but others, once the question had been raised, would defend the omission, on theological grounds (the family curse) and on aesthetic grounds (fourteen royal successors of David is a good number) and on practical grounds (three fewer names to memorize). And the so the shorter version spread, in Greek and later in Hebrew, and was the version from which Matthew derived his list. (Remember that "begat" denotes not so much biological sonship as lawful inheritance.)
Another generation appears to be skipped when Matthew says that Josiah begat Jeconiah, who begat Shealtiel. Now Josiah was followed on the throne by two of his sons (Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim), then a grandson (Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim and father (according to 1 Chronicles 3:17-19) of Shealtiel) and then a third son (Zedekiah). (NOTE that the "ch" in "Jehoiachin" is pronounced as in "Bach"; English "ch" as in "church" is not found in Greek or Hebrew, and should be used in Bible names only if they are thoroughly assimilated into English -- Rachel, for example). Jehoahaz was led captive to Egypt, Jehoiakim died during a siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and Jehoiachin and Zedekiah were, about ten years apart, led captive to Babylon, after which Jerusalem was destroyed. Jeconiah (or Coniah) is a variant name for the grandson Jehoiachin. Was it also a variant name for his father Jehoiakim? Did the compiler of the genealogy, whether Matthew, or Matthew's source, intend "Jeconiah" to mean, "Jehoiakim" and choose to omit the three kings who had died in exile? Was the compiler confused? Is the reader of this paper confused? Are his eyes beginning to glaze over? We can, if we like, conjecture an earlier version which read: "And Josiah begat Jehoiakim, before the battle of Carchemish [one of the world's decisive battles, fought in 605 BC, crushing Nineveh (Assyria) and greatly weakening her ally Egypt, and establishing Babylon as the dominant power in the Fertile Crescent]. And after the Battle of Carchemish, Jehoiakim begat Jehoiachin and Jehoiachin begat Shealtiel and...." This gives us a father-to-son lineage, with no generations skipped. It does skip two kings, but they are brothers of Jehoiakim who were possibly regarded as interlopers with no right to the throne. Also, it gives us the right number of generations in the third block. Now if a reviser wants to make the sack of Jerusalem and not the Battle of Carchemish the great watershed that divides the second and third blocks of names, then he cannot put "Jehoiakim begat Jehoiachin" after the exile, because it happened before. He cannot put it before the exile, because it gives him fifteen generations. So he omits one "begat" and defends the omission on the ground that kings who die in exile are not supposed to be on the list (as shown by the fact that Jehoahaz and Zedekiah are already missing from the list as he found it) and that in any case Jehoiachin has been cursed by Jeremiah [Je 22:30]. This alters the number of names in the following block by one, but I am supposing that the reviser is a pre-Christian Jewish genealogist who has not completed the third block of fourteen names, and merely gives us two complete blocks (Abraham to David, David to the Exile) and a string of fewer than fourteen names carrying down to his own day.
In the third block, we have no check on omissions of names, since Zerubbabel is the last man on the list who is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, we do have a problem -- the list appears to be a generation short of the required fourteen. One possible explanation is that Matthew is concerned, not with father-son links, but with legal inheritance links, and that he reasons that Jesus derives his claim to be heir of David from being born of Mary, who derives her claim from being married to Joseph, who derives his claim from being son to Jacob, etc. This puts Jesus and Joseph two generations apart, and gives us the fourteen we are after. Another explanation is the following: The Gospel of Matthew is the only New Testament book for which we have ancient testimony that it was originally published in Hebrew and only later translated into Greek, and it is the only one for which a Hebrew text survives that is not admittedly a translation from the Greek. The Hebrew Matthew survives only in two late medieval manuscripts. Where our Greek text of Matthew reads, "Zerubbabel begat Abiud, and Abiud begat Eliakim," the Hebrew reads, "Zerubbabel begat Abihud, and Abihud begat Abner, and Abner begat Eliakim." Now in Hebrew literature, the names Abihud and Abner are often spelled Abiud (aleph beth yod waw daleth) and Abiner (aleph beth yod nun resh), and in this form they are practically indistinguishable. The first three letters are the same, the fourth differ only by a curling round of the vertical stroke (something like the difference between i and j) and the fifth only by a serif. A scribe copying the Hebrew text of Matthew could very easily mistake one name for the other, and so omit one of them, and give us our present text. It is true that our present manuscripts of the Hebrew Matthew write "Abihud" with six letters and "Abner" with four, and so reduce the similarity. But it is already known that the spellings of these and other Hebrew proper names vary from manuscript to manuscript, and the makers of our present manuscripts may have chosen their spellings precisely to avoid confusion. A word of caution: although there are scholars who think that the Hebrew Matthew as we have it is the original from which our Greek was translated, and not vice versa, they are definitely in the minority. I do not know the arguments on both sides.
*** WHY DOES MATTHEW MENTION FOUR WOMEN?
Matthew traces the descent strictly through the male line, but four times, not counting Mary, he mentions a woman.
(1) "Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar." Tamar was a woman of Canaan, wife to Judah's oldest son, who died childless. As required by the custom of the levirate, mentioned above, the second son married her, and also died childless. When Judah would not give her his third son, she disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into impregnating her. (See Genesis 38)
(2) "Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab." Rahab was a harlot of the city of Jericho. When Joshua sent two spies into the city (shortly before the walls came tumbling down) she hid them from the authorities and helped them safely escape, and so she and her family were spared when the city was taken. (See Joshua 2,6) The Hebrew Bible does not say whom, if anyone, she married. The usual rabbinical tradition has it that she married Joshua. Matthew has her married to Salmon, which seems chronologically plausible, since Salmon was the nephew of Aaron's wife. [Brown, p 60, says that Matthew's chronology is here off by 200 years, but I have no idea why.]
(3) "Boaz begat Obed of Ruth." In a time of famine, a Jewish woman of Bethlehem named Naomi, and her husband and two sons, went to Moab to escape the famine. There the two sons married Moabite women, but then all three men died. The famine was over, and Naomi decided to return home, and Ruth, one of her widowed daughters-in-law, decided to go with her. in Bethlehem, Ruth met Boaz, who showed a definite interest in her, but then a hesitation to commit himself. Acting on Naomi's advice, Ruth crept into his bed one night and said, "Fish or cut bait!" They did not have sex that night, but they were married the next day. (See Ruth)
(4) "David begat Solomon of her of Uriah." King David desired Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his military officers. He had sex with her and got her pregnant, and then told his general Joab to put Uriah in a front-line position and withdraw so as to have him killed. This was done, and David married Bathsheba, and the child was born, but soon died. David repented his sin, was punished, and eventually had another child with Bathsheba, Solomon, who became the next king. (See 2 Samuel 11,12)
What is Matthew's reason for mentioning these four women? One theory is that five was a special number for Matthew, because it was the number of books in the Torah. In the Infancy Narrative, Matthew has a total of five dreams, five fulfilled prophecies, and five female ancestors of the Messiah. But if all he needed was Mary and four other women, why these four? Why not Sarah and Rebecca and Leah, the wives of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob respectively, followed by someone else, say, if you like, by Tamar, the, er, consort of Judah? Another theory is that these women were significant because they were all Gentiles. We are told explicitly that Rahab was a Canaanite, and that Ruth was a Moabite, and it is a reasonable inference that Tamar was a Canaanite and Bathsheba a Hittite, and the Israelites had been forbidden to intermarry with any of these peoples. Matthew may have been making the point that Christ is sent by God to Gentiles as well as Jews, as is shown by the fact that he has Gentiles on his family tree. A third theory is that the women are there because their sexual conduct is subject to censure. This would apply to Bathsheba and Rahab certainly, to Tamar arguably (though some would argue that she was doing her sacred duty by procuring a son for her late husband by the nearest next-of-kin available, and should be praised rather than censured), and also arguably to Ruth (though Boaz did not in fact have sex with her before marriage, and she may have known him well enough to know how he would react). The question is not, of course, whether we would censure them, but whether Matthew and his target audience would censure them, and I think it probable that they would. What would be the point of calling attention to four shady ladies on the family tree? I suggest that it was a reply to those who accused Mary of being a shady lady herself. If the gospel accounts are correct, there were presumably those in Nazareth who knew that Mary had been pregnant before she and Joseph were married, and who drew the natural conclusion. They, and others who had heard that there was a scandal surrounding his birth, would have argued:
The Messiah cannot come of tainted stock. Jesus comes of tainted stock. Therefore, Jesus cannot be the Messiah,
An early Christian, confronted with this objection, might wish to argue that Mary was a virgin, and that therefore Jesus did not come of tainted stock. However, a good argument must be not only true but also convincing, and someone who does not already believe that Jesus is the anointed of God is not likely to believe that he was born of a virgin. A more promising line of defense is to deny the major premise. "You say that the Messiah cannot come of tainted stock. But you grant that the Messiah must be descended from David, and that means that he MUST be of tainted stock, with at least three women on his family tree about whom the less said the better -- four if the Messiah is descended from Solomon."
That completes our discussion of the genealogies.