Friday, August 31, 2012

A Bunch of Names

Matthew kicks off his account of Jesus' life by tracing Jesus' genealogy, all the way from Abraham to Joseph (Jesus' "father"). Read it here: Matthew 1:1-17.

Here are my thoughts/observations/questions:

There are "extra people" in the genealogy.

Typically I would expect just the father, paternal grandfather, great-grandfather, etc to be in the genealogy. Matthew also includes some mothers and brothers of Jesus' direct male ancestors. Here they are, with the names of the "extra people" in bold:

"Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers..." I assume the brothers (or half-brothers- there was polygamy) are mentioned here because they are the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Judah also had at least 1 sister (see Genesis 30:21). Probably more than 1- what are the odds of having 12 sons and only 1 daughter?

Really? Just one girl? Image source.

"Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar..." Perez and Zerah were twins, so I guess that's why they're mentioned together. The story of how they were born is told in Genesis 38 and it's pretty bizarre... Tamar (who had been married to Judah's son, but he died) pretended to be a prostitute, so Judah paid her for sex, not realizing she was his daughter-in-law... then it got really awkward when Judah turned out to be the father of her babies.

"Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab..." Rahab was not an Israelite- she was a prostitute who lived in Jericho, you know, before Joshua had everyone walk around it and destroy it and kill everyone. Rahab helped out the Israelite spies (Joshua 2) so she and her family were not violently killed when the Israelites took over the city (Joshua 6:25).

Then they made it into a story for little kids. Yay, war and genocide! Image source.

"Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth..." The story of Ruth and Boaz is great! (Here's a link to the first chapter of Ruth.) Ruth was also totally not an Israelite- she was a Moabite, a widow, very poor, until she married Boaz. And by the way: Ruth totally did not "wait" for Boaz.

"David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife." Well, this is awkward. Why did Matthew write it like this? It's like he's blatantly pointing out "David totally stole another guy's wife." The story of David and Bathsheba is in 2 Samuel 11-12. In summary: David had sex with another guy's wife, then she got pregnant, then David sent that guy (Uriah) into battle so he'd get killed.

The whole thing was just really bad. Bathsheba's baby died, as punishment for David's sin (yes, I've already told God I have some problems with that), but Bathsheba ended up having another son, Solomon. Why did Solomon get to be king, instead of one of the sons of David's many other wives? I don't know.

"Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon..." Jeconiah was also known as Jehoiachin, and he was one of the last kings of Judah. (See 2 Kings 24.) Not sure why his brothers are mentioned too- maybe because they all got exiled together?

"Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." We'll talk more about Mary and Joseph next week.

So why did Matthew include these "extra people"- particularly the women? Most of them were a little sketchy- they were foreigners, or having sex with people they shouldn't be having sex with.

It seems like Matthew was drawing his readers' attention to the sketchy parts of Jesus' family. Perhaps the reason is to show history as it really happened, uncensored. Matthew didn't HAVE TO include those particular women's names. (Also, why only those few? It's not like they didn't know the names of some the other mothers.)

Why does Matthew do this? I'll leave that as a discussion question for my readers.

Here's another question: Why did God use a family line that had adultery, prostitution, and murder? Was he unable to build a line of people who were "pure", who only had sex with their husband/wife? You can make the argument that the odds of not having even 1 illegitimate kid, over several dozen generations, are incredibly low- but he's God! He could have set that up.

I think the answer is God does not prefer the "pure" people over the "impure." How can we claim that God accepts everyone, but that only those who are "sexually pure" are worthy of being part of God's plan? Yes, God could have brought Jesus through a line of people who didn't hold hands until their wedding day- but then the message would be "God doesn't need you- he found someone else, someone with a better reputation- you're not good enough to be part of God's plan." And while it's true that God has access to whatever resources he wants, I don't think he rejects people that way.

(Though this line of thinking kind of contrasts with the whole "virgin birth" concept... we'll see what I end up writing for that next week...)

Why is this Joseph's genealogy, not Mary's?

Now you might be thinking, wait a second, Christians believe in a virgin birth. So what's the point of listing Joseph's ancestors? They're NOT Jesus' ancestors.

Don't know why Joseph has a halo here. He's not the father. Image source.

Indeed. Luke 3 records Mary's genealogy- well, that's what they say... it's totally not obvious from reading it- it seems to be presented as Joseph's genealogy. But the bible scholars say actually Luke wrote Mary's genealogy, so, okay whatever. I believe them.

I hypothesize that Matthew recorded Joseph's genealogy because it included Judah's kings. From David to Jeconiah, they're all kings. Matthew is presenting Jesus as royalty.

Some people are skipped.

Matthew 1:8 claims "Jehoram the father of Uzziah" but that's just not true. Actually, Jehoram was the father of Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:24), the father of Joash (2 Kings 11:2), the father of Amaziah (2 Kings 14:1), the father of Azariah/Uzziah (it's his nickname, or something) (2 Kings 14:21).

So he totally skipped Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah.

Matthew 1:11 claims "Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers", but actually Josiah was the father of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34), the father of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah (again, it's a nickname, I guess) (2 Kings 24:6).

So he totally skipped Jehoiakim.

And I found no Old Testament references past Zerubbabel, so who knows whether any more generations near the end got skipped?

So why is Matthew skipping people? Is it a mistake? Maybe- I feel like if you're going to make a mistake copying the bible, a huge list of similar-sounding names is the place to do it.

I have also heard that in Jewish genealogies, sometimes they skipped people, and everyone knew that, and it was fine. Everyone knew that "father" didn't always mean father- could be grandfather, great-grandfather, whatever.

Did Matthew skip those 4 kings because they were less important than the others? Was there a reason? Was it because their names all sounded too much the same? I don't know. Readers, please discuss.

The count at the end is wrong.

Oh dear. Matthew 1:17 says, "Thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ."

From Abraham to David- if you count every direct male ancestor along the line (so, excluding the "extra people"), you get 14 people. So far so good.

From David to the exile- again, if you count every direct male ancestor, from Solomon (we already counted David in the previous section) to Jeconiah, it's 14 people. But remember, 4 people have been skipped. Were they skipped so the numbers would work out nicely? Wow, that's just dishonest.

From the exile to the Christ- There are 13 people in the direct line from Shealtiel to Jesus. Is "the exile" also getting counted as a "generation"? Seriously?

So, why does Matthew point out the "14 here, 14 here, 14 here" thing? It's not true. Seriously. I'm a math nerd so this is really important to me. My first reaction after reading the "14 here, 14 here, 14 here" bit was "WOW THAT'S COOL! God worked it out so the numbers would fit so nice- clearly this was the work of God!" But guess what, he didn't.

What Matthew should have said is "If you skip some people and then count 'the exile' as one of the generations, then look how cool the numbers work out!" Oh, wonderful. Look, if we arbitrarily make rules and process data inconsistently, cool patterns emerge!

I'm not a fan of this, Matthew.

I'm fine with skipping some of the generations. If that's how genealogies were understood in that culture, that's great. But you can't skip them and then say "WOW LOOK HOW COOL THE NUMBERS WORK OUT!"

I don't have an answer- I am unable to understand this verse as anything but incredibly dishonest/deceptive, and I don't know why it's in the bible. Anyone have some ideas?

Why is it important to start with a genealogy?

To introduce Jesus to his readers, Matthew starts with a bunch of names. Why?

I have heard that the gospel of Matthew was intended for a Jewish audience. That's why Matthew traces Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham (Luke traces it all the way to Adam). Also, as I mentioned above, Judah's line of kings is included in this genealogy.

Perhaps Matthew is trying to make a point that Jesus is the King of the Jews. Perhaps it was important that his readers know where Jesus came from, before they can consider what he did and taught. He's not just some random guy.

Summary/ take-home message:

In writing this genealogy, Matthew establishes Jesus as both a Jew (descendant of Abraham) and a king (descendant of David). Also, Matthew includes some reminders of the sketchier parts of Jesus' family history, perhaps to show that everyone can be accepted by God, no matter what they've done, and that God uses the sketchy/sinful things to bring good- in this case, to bring Jesus into the world. Also, the inclusion of Ruth and Rahab, who were not Israelites, points toward racial/ethnic reconciliation, and the fact that God loves people of all nations.


Appendix: Old Testament accounts of the people in the genealogy.
(For the ones with only a "mention" and not a whole story, I only listed the first or most important mention- they may appear in several similar genealogies throughout the Old Testament. Also, note that many of the stories in 2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings are retold in 1-2 Chronicles.)

Abraham - Genesis 12-25
Isaac - Genesis 21-35
Jacob - Genesis 25-49
Judah and his brothers - Genesis 29-50
Perez, Zerah, Tamar - Genesis 38
Hezron - mentioned in Genesis 46:12
Ram - mentioned in Ruth 4:19
Amminadab - mentioned in Exodus 6:23
Nahshon - mentioned in Numbers 2:3
Salmon - mentioned in Ruth 4:20
Rahab - Joshua 2, 6
Boaz, Ruth, Obed - Ruth 1-4
Jesse - 1 Samuel 16-17
David - 1 Samuel 16- all the rest of 1 Samuel, all of 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-2
Solomon - 1 Kings 1-11
Uriah's wife (Bathsheba) - 2 Samuel 11-12, 1 Kings 1-2
Rehoboam - 1 Kings 12, 14
Abijah (aka Abijam) - 1 Kings 15
Asa - 1 Kings 15
Jehoshaphat - 1 Kings 22, 2 Kings 3
Jehoram - 2 Kings 8
Uzziah (aka Azariah) - 2 Kings 15
Jotham - 2 Kings 15
Ahaz - 2 Kings 16
Hezekiah - 2 Kings 18-20
Manasseh - 2 Kings 21
Amon - 2 Kings 21
Josiah - 2 Kings 22-23
Jeconiah (aka Jehoiachin) and his brothers - 2 Kings 24-25
Shealtiel - mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:17
Zerubbabel - Ezra 3-5, Haggai 1-2
Abiud - no information
Eliakim - no information
Azor - no information
Zadok - no information
Akim - no information
Eliud - no information
Eleazar - no information
Matthan - no information
Jacob - no information
Joseph, Mary, Jesus - lots about them in the New Testament


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: "Healings of Jesus" Infographic

Next post: When a dream convinces you to marry your cheating girlfriend (Matthew 1:18-25)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have an answer- I am unable to understand this verse as anything
    but incredibly dishonest/deceptive, and I don't know why it's in the
    bible. Anyone have some ideas?

    Yes: the Bible is an entirely human work, put together as religious propaganda - the OT largely by a theocratic group wanting to impose their ideology and rule on the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, the NT by Christians aiming to convince the world that Jesus was the Messiah. The fiddling about with his supposed ancestry, like the birth narratives, are part of this dishonest enterprise.