Ancestors of Christ

Ancestors of Christ

The genealogy of Jesus is described in two passages of the New Testament: in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew . Matthew's genealogy commences with Abraham and then from King David and his son Solomon through the legal line of the kings via Jeconiah to Joseph. Luke gives a different genealogy, going back to Adam, through Nathan, a minor son of David, and again to Joseph.

Both gospels state that Jesus was begotten, not by Joseph, but by God, being born to Mary through a virgin birth. These lists are identical between Abraham and David, but differ radically from that point onward.

Modern Biblical scholarship tends to see these genealogies as inventions, conforming to Jewish literary convention.[1][2] Traditionally, Christian scholars have put forward various theories that seek to explain why the two lineages are so different: such as that Matthew's account follows the lineage of Joseph, while Luke's follows that lineage of Mary. Both claim a direct descent from David, and thus a legal inheritance of the throne.

Matthew’s genealogy

Matthew 1:1–17 begins the Gospel, “A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac…” and continues on until …and Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”

Matthew emphasizes, right from the beginning, Jesus’ title Christ—the Greek rendering of the Hebrew title Messiah—meaning anointed, in the sense of an anointed king. Jesus is presented first and foremost as the long-awaited Messiah, who was expected to be a descendant and heir of King David, so the genealogy serves the essential purpose of demonstrating this line of descent. Thus, Matthew begins by calling Jesus son of David, indicating his royal origin, and also son of Abraham, indicating that he was a Jew; both are stock phrases, in which son means descendant, calling to mind the promises God made to David and to Abraham.[3]

Matthew’s introductory title (βίβλος γενέσεως, book of generations) has been interpreted various ways, but most likely is simply a title for the genealogy that follows, echoing the Septuagint use of the same phrase for toledot.[3]

Genealogy of Jesus according to Matthew
  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Judah & Tamar
  5. Perez
  6. Hezron
  7. Ram
  1. Amminadab
  2. Nahshon
  3. Salmon & Rahab
  4. Boaz & Ruth
  5. Obed
  6. Jesse
  7. David & Bathsheba
  1. Solomon & Naamah
  2. Rehoboam
  3. Abijam
  4. Asa
  5. Jehosaphat
  6. Jehoram
  7. Uzziah
  1. Jotham
  2. Ahaz
  3. Hezekiah
  4. Manasseh
  5. Amon
  6. Josiah
  7. Jeconiah
  1. Shealtiel
  2. Zerubbabel
  3. Abiud
  4. Eliakim
  5. Azor
  6. Zadok
  7. Achim
  1. Eliud
  2. Eleazar
  3. Matthan
  4. Jacob
  5. Joseph & Mary *
  6. Jesus

Matthew’s genealogy is considerably more complex than Luke’s. It is overtly schematic, organized into three tesseradecads (sets of fourteen), each of a distinct character:

  • The first is rich in annotations, including four mothers and mentioning the brothers of Judah and the brother Zerah of Perez.
  • The second spans the Davidic royal line, but omits several generations, ending with “Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.”
  • The last, which appears to span only thirteen generations, connects Joseph to Zerubbabel through a series of otherwise unknown names, remarkably few for such a long period.

The total of 42 generations is achieved only by omitting several names, so the choice of three sets of fourteen seems deliberate. Fourteen is seven, symbolizing perfection and covenant, doubled, and is also the gematria of David. Numerous other explanations have been proposed as well.[3]

The rendering into Greek of Hebrew names in this genealogy is mostly in accord with the Septuagint, but there are a few peculiarities. The form Asaph seems to identify King Asa with the psalmist Asaph. Likewise, some see the form Amos for King Amon as suggesting the prophet Amos, though the Septuagint does have this form. Both may simply be assimilations to more familiar names. More interesting, though, are the unique forms Boes (Boaz, LXX Boos) and Rachab (Rahab, LXX Raab).[4]

Omission of generations
Old Testament[5] Matthew


Three consecutive kings of Judah are omitted from the genealogy: Ahaziah, Jehoash, and Amaziah. Not only were these three kings especially wicked, violently destroyed by the will of God, they were the cursed line of Ahab through his daughter Athaliah to the third and fourth generation.[6] Thus Matthew felt justified in omitting them, with an eye toward forming his second tesseradecad.[7]

Another omitted king is Jehoiakim, the father of Jeconiah, also known as Jehoiachin. In Greek the names are even more similar, both being sometimes called Joachim. When Matthew says, “Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile,” he appears to conflate the two, because Jehoiakim, not Jeconiah, had brothers, but the exile was in the time of Jeconiah. While some see this as a mistake, others argue that the omission was once again deliberate, ensuring that the kings after David spanned exactly fourteen generations.[7]

The final tesseradecad seems to contain only thirteen generations. If Josiah’s son was intended as Jehoiakim, then Jeconiah could be counted separately after the exile.[3] Another possibility is that Mary is counted as a generation, proceeding laterally by her marriage to Joseph. Though such a reckoning is otherwise unknown, it may have seemed necessary in light of the virgin birth.[8] Some have even proposed that Matthew’s original text had one Joseph as the father of Mary, who then married another man of the same name.[9]

If only thirteen generations span the time from Jeconiah, born about 616 BC, to Jesus, born about 2 BC, as Matthew says, the average generation would be nearly fifty years—rather unlikely, though not impossible. In the Old Testament there are even wider gaps between generations.[10] The lack here of papponymic naming patterns, which were common throughout this period, may indicate that Matthew has telescoped this segment by collapsing such repetitions.[11]

Luke’s genealogy

Luke places his genealogy at the beginning of the public life of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38). Luke's account ascends from Joseph to Adam or and to God.[12]

Genealogy of Jesus according to Luke
  1. God
  2. Adam
  3. Seth
  4. Enosh
  5. Kenan
  6. Mahalalel
  7. Jared
  8. Enoch
  9. Methuselah
  10. Lamech
  11. Noah
  12. Shem
  13. Arphaxad
  14. Cainan
  1. Shelah
  2. Eber
  3. Peleg
  4. Reu
  5. Serug
  6. Nahor
  7. Terah
  8. Abraham
  9. Isaac
  10. Jacob
  11. Judah
  12. Perez
  1. Hezron
  2. Ram
  3. Amminadab
  4. Nahshon
  5. Salmon
  6. Boaz
  7. Obed
  8. Jesse
  9. David
  10. Nathan
  11. Mattatha
  12. Menna
  13. Melea
  1. Eliakim
  2. Jonam
  3. Joseph
  4. Judah
  5. Simeon
  6. Levi
  7. Matthat
  8. Jorim
  9. Eliezer
  10. Joshua
  11. Er
  12. Elmadam
  13. Cosam
  1. Addi
  2. Melchi
  3. Neri
  4. Shealtiel
  5. Zerubbabel
  6. Rhesa
  7. Joanan
  8. Joda
  9. Josech
  10. Semein
  11. Mattathias
  12. Mahath
  13. Naggai
  1. Hesli
  2. Nahum
  3. Amos
  4. Mattathias
  5. Joseph
  6. Jannai
  7. Melchi
  8. Levi
  9. Matthat
  10. Heli
  11. Joseph
  12. Jesus

This genealogy descends from the Davidic line through Nathan, who is an otherwise little-known son of David, mentioned briefly in the Old Testament.[13] One of the names, Mattathias (of the 69th generation), appears to arrive at a time close to Mattathias, a leader in the Maccabees. However, Mattathias never had any son named Joseph, though he had a grandson who was also named Matthiatas, who was not included in the Maccabean dynasty and whose children were not documented. (Thus, it is plausible that the two were conflated, with the intermediary generation of Simon Maccabeus removed.)

In the ancestry of David, Luke agrees completely with the Old Testament. Cainan is included between Shelah and Arphaxad, following the Septuagint text (though omitted in the Masoretic text followed by most modern Bibles). In continuing the genealogy all the way to "Adam," the biblical progenitor of all mankind, the gospel is seen as emphasizing Jesus’s universal mission.

Augustine[14] notes that the count of generations in the Book of Luke is 76, a number symbolizing the forgiveness of all sins.[15] This count also agrees with the seventy generations from Enoch[16] set forth in the Book of Enoch, which Luke probably knew.[17] Though Luke never counts the generations as Matthew does, it appears that he too follows the hebdomadic principle of working in sevens. However, Irenaeus, one of the earliest witnesses, counts only 72 generations from Adam.[18]

Since the nature of Luke's genealogy has made it particularly susceptible to scribal corruption, determining the original text from the manuscript evidence has been especially problematic. The most controversial section, oddly, is in the ancestry of David, which is well established in the Old Testament. Although the reading “son of Aminadab, son of Aram,” in agreement with the Old Testament, is well attested, the Nestle-Aland critical edition, considered the best authority by most modern scholars, accepts the variant “son of Aminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni,”[19] counting the 76 generations from Adam rather than God.[20]

Luke’s qualification “as was supposed” (ἐνομίζετο) avoids stating that Jesus was actually a son of Joseph, since his virgin birth is affirmed in the same gospel. There are, however, several interpretations of how this qualification relates to the rest of the genealogy:

  • Some [21] see the remainder as the true genealogy of Joseph, despite the different genealogy given in Matthew.
  • Others see the lineage as a legal ancestry, rather than an ancestry according to blood—Joseph is thus a legal son of Eli, perhaps a son-in-law or adopted son.
  • Still others suggest that Luke is repeating an untrustworthy record without affirming its accuracy.
  • Lastly, some, from as early as John of Damascus, view “as was supposed of Joseph” as a parenthetical note, with Luke actually calling Jesus a son of Eli—meaning, it is then suggested, that Heli (Ἠλί, Heli) is the maternal grandfather of Jesus, and Luke is actually tracing the ancestry of Jesus according to the flesh through Mary.[22] Therefore per Adam Clarke (1817), John Wesley, John Kitto and others the expression "Joseph, [ ] of Heli", without the word "son" being present in the Greek, indicates that "Joseph, of Heli" is to be read "Joseph, [son-in-law] of Heli".

Explanations for divergence

The two Biblical genealogies disagree not only on the name of Joseph’s father, but on the entire lineage back to David.

The reason for the divergence in genealogies, is that Matthew is said to record the actual legal genealogy of Jesus through Joseph according to Jewish custom. In Luke we apparently have the actual biological genealogy of Jesus through Mary which Luke naturally gives as he is writing for the Gentiles.[23]

This apparent contradiction has been used to criticize Christianity since ancient times,[24] and several early Christian authors responded to these criticisms. Augustine, for example, took great care on several occasions to refute every purported inconsistency in the gospel genealogies, not only because the Manichaeans in his day were using these inconsistencies as fodder for attacking Christianity,[25] but also because he himself had seen them in his youth as cause for doubting the veracity of the Gospels.[26] The explanation given by Augustine is that Joseph had a biological father and an adoptive father, and that one of the gospels traces the genealogy through the adoptive father in order to draw parallels between Joseph and Jesus (both having an adoptive father). Augustine also claims that adoption is a good metaphor to represent God's relationship with humankind, in the sense that God "adopted" human beings as his children (despite them being created, not born of him).[27]

In general, several theories have been advanced to explain the divergence of the two gospel genealogies, most notably:

  • That Joseph had two fathers—one natural and one legal—as a result of a levirate marriage involving brothers.
  • Legal inheritance.
  • That Luke’s genealogy is actually through Mary rather than her husband Joseph.
  • That Matthew’s genealogy is actually through Mary rather than her husband Joseph.
  • That one or both of the genealogies are invented.

Levirate Marriage

When names in the Biblical genealogies denote particular persons, their connection may be only a legal one. A woman whose husband died without issue was bound by law to be married to her husband's brother, and the first-born son of such a so-called levirate marriage was reckoned and registered as the son of the deceased brother (Deuteronomy 25:5 sqq.).[28] Such a son would have both a natural fathers and a legal one.

The earliest tradition that explains the divergence of Joseph's lineages records a scenario involving the law of levirate marriage. Sextus Julius Africanus, in his 3rd-century Epistle to Aristides, reports a tradition of the desposyni that Joseph was born from just such a levirate marriage involving brothers. According to Julius Africanus, Joseph’s natural father was Jacob son of Matthan, as given in Matthew, while his legal father was Eli son of Melchi (sic), as given in Luke. Joseph’s grandmother Estha first married Matthan and bore Jacob, then married Melchi and bore Eli. When Eli died without issue, his half-brother Jacob married the widow and begot Joseph.[29][30]

It has been questioned, however, whether levirate marriages actually occurred among uterine brothers[31] — they are expressly excluded in the Halakhah Beth Hillel but permitted by Shammai.[32] According to Anthony Maas, the question proposed to Christ by the Sadducees in (Matthew 22:24; Mark 12:19; Luke 20:28) regarding a woman with seven husbands suggests that this law was observed down to the time of Christ.[28]

Maternal ancestry in Matthew

A minority view holds that while Luke gives the genealogy of Joseph, Matthew gives the genealogy of Mary. A few ancient authorities seem to offer this interpretation.[33] Although the Greek text as it stands is plainly against it, it has been proposed that in the original text Matthew had one Joseph as Mary’s father and another as her husband. This neatly explains not only why Matthew’s genealogy differs from Luke’s, but also why Matthew counts fourteen generations rather than thirteen. Blair sees the various extant versions as the predictable result of copyists repeatedly attempting to correct an apparent mistake.[9] Others argue that here the Aramaic original of Matthew used the word gowra (which could mean father), which, in the absence of vowel markings, was read by the Greek translator as gura (husband).[34] In any case, an early understanding that Matthew traced Mary’s genealogy would explain why the contradiction between Matthew and Luke apparently escaped notice until the 3rd century.

Maternal ancestry in Luke

A more straightforward and the most common explanation is that Luke’s genealogy is of Mary, with Eli being her father, while Matthew’s describes the genealogy of Joseph.[35] This view was advanced as early as John of Damascus.

Luke’s text says that Jesus was “a son, as was supposed, of Joseph, of Eli” (in the Greek: ὡς ἐνομίζετο, υἱός Ἰωσήφ, τοῦ Ἠλί).[36] The qualification has traditionally been understood as acknowledgment of the virgin birth, but some instead see a parenthetical expression: “a son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Eli.”[37] In this interpretation, Jesus is called a son of Eli because Eli was his maternal grandfather, his nearest male ancestor.[35] A variation on this idea is to explain “Joseph son of Eli” as meaning a son-in-law,[38] perhaps even an adoptive heir to Eli through his only daughter Mary.[39] An example of the Old Testament use of such an expression is Jair, who is called “Jair son of Manasseh”[40] but was actually son of Manasseh’s granddaughter.[41] In any case, the argument goes, it is natural for the evangelist, acknowledging the unique case of the virgin birth, to give the maternal genealogy of Jesus, while expressing it a bit awkwardly in the traditional patrilinear style.

The reason Mary is not implicitly mentioned by name is because the ancient Hebrews never permitted the name of a woman to enter the genealogical tables, but inserted her husband as the son of him who was, in reality, but his father-in-law.[42]

Lightfoot[38] sees confirmation in an obscure passage of the Talmud,[43] which, as he reads it, refers to “Mary daughter of Eli”; however, both the identity of this Mary and the reading are doubtful.[44] Patristic tradition, on the contrary, consistently identifies Mary’s father as Joachim. It has been suggested that Eli is short for Eliakim,[35] which in the Old Testament is an alternate name of Jehoiakim,[45] for whom Joachim is named.

The theory neatly accounts for the genealogical divergence. It is consistent with the early tradition ascribing a Davidic ancestry to Mary. It is also consistent with Luke’s intimate acquaintance with Mary, in contrast to Matthew’s focus on Joseph’s perspective. On the other hand, there is no explicit indication whatsoever, either in the Gospel or in any early tradition, that the genealogy is Mary’s.

The claim that Luke gives Mary’s genealogy is mentioned in a single extant medieval text, in which pseudo-Hilary cites it as an opinion held by many, though not himself.[46] This claim was revived by Annius of Viterbo in 1498[47] and quickly grew in popularity. Modern scholars discount it: Raymond E. Brown called it a "pious deduction"; and Joachim Gnilka "the desperation of embarrassment".[48]

A Jewish tradition relating Mary to Luke’s genealogy is recorded in the Doctrina Jacobi (written in 634), in which a Tiberian rabbi mocks the Christian veneration of Mary by recounting her genealogy according to the tradition of the Jews of Tiberias.[49] A century later, John of Damascus and others report the same information, only inserting an extra generation, Barpanther (Aramaic for son of Panther, thus indicating a misunderstood Aramaic source).[50] A certain prince Andronicus later found the same polemic in a book belonging to a rabbi named Elijah:[51]

Why do Christians extol Mary so highly, calling her nobler than the Cherubim, incomparably greater than the Seraphim, raised above the heavens, purer than the very rays of the sun? For she was a woman, of the race of David, born to Anne her mother and Joachim her father, who was son of Panther. Panther and Melchi were brothers, sons of Levi, of the stock of Nathan, whose father was David of the tribe of Judah.[52]

Each of these texts then goes on to describe, just as in Julius Africanus (but omitting the name of Estha), how Melchi was related to Joseph through a levirate marriage.

Many Generations
Many Generations

Bede assumed that Julius Africanus was mistaken and corrected Melchi to Matthat.[53] Since papponymics were common in this period,[54] however, it would not be surprising if Matthat were also named Melchi after his grandfather.

Controversy has surrounded the name Panther, mentioned above, because of a charge that Jesus' father was a soldier named Pantera. Celsus mentions this in his writing, The True Word, where he is quoted by Origen in Book 1: 32. "But let us now return to where the Jew is introduced, speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that "when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera."[55][56] Epiphanius, in refutation of Celsus, writes that Joseph and Cleopas were sons of “Jacob, surnamed Panther.”[57] Two Talmudic-era texts referring to Jesus as the son of Pantera (Pandera) are Tosefta Hullin 2:22f: "Jacob ... came to heal him in the name of Jesus son of Pantera" and Qohelet Rabbah 1:8(3): "Jacob ... came to heal him in the name of Jesus son of Pandera" and some editions of the Jerusalem Talmud also specifically name Jesus as the son of Pandera:[58] Jerusalem Abodah Zarah 2:2/7: "someone ... whispered to him in the name of Jesus son of Pandera"; Jerusalem Shabboth 14:4/8: "someone ... whispered to him in the name of Jesus son of Pandera"; Jerusalem Abodah Zarah 2:2/12: "Jacob ... came to heal him. He said to him: we will speak to you in the name of Jesus son of Pandera"; Jerusalem Shabboth 14:4/13: "Jacob ... came in the name of Jesus Pandera to heal him". Because some editions of the Jerusalem Talmud do not contain the name Jesus in these passages the association is disputed.

A distinct tradition is found in the Cave of Treasures, probably composed in Syriac about the 6th century. The genealogy of Jesus from Adam down to Mary is given much as in Matthew, with the omissions filled in and, remarkably, the mother of each generation provided. Mary is made a cousin of Joseph, as her father Jonachir was a son of Matthan and twin brother of Jacob. Mary’s mother is identified as Anne (Ḥana), daughter of Paqud.[59]

Fascination with the life and family of Anne led to the spread of numerous medieval legends about her and inspired the artistic motif of the Holy Kinship. A number of medieval sources offer conflicting accounts of the parents of Anne:

  • Byzantine sources record a tradition showing precisely how Mary was related to Elizabeth.[60] Andronicus quotes this passage from the same book:[51]
    There were three sisters of Bethlehem, daughters of Matthan the priest, and Mary his wife, under the reign of Cleopatra and Sosipatrus, before the reign of Herod, the son of Antipater: the eldest was Mary, the second was Sobe, the youngest’s name was Anne. The eldest being married in Bethlehem, had for daughter Salome the midwife; Sobe the second likewise married in Bethlehem, and was the mother of Elizabeth; last of all the third married in Galilee, and brought forth Mary the mother of Christ.[61]

Legal inheritance

One of the traditional explanations is that Matthew traces not a genealogy in the modern biological sense, but a record of legal inheritance, equally valid in his view, showing the succession of Jesus in the royal line.

Matthew’s immediate goal is therefore not David, but Jeconiah, and in his final tesseradecad, he may freely jump to a maternal grandfather, skip generations, or perhaps even follow an adoptive lineage in order to get there.[62] Attempts have been made to reconstruct Matthew’s route, from the seminal work of Lord Hervey[63] to Masson’s recent work,[64] but all are necessarily highly speculative.

As a starting point, one of Joseph’s two fathers could be by simple adoption, as Augustine suggests, or more likely the special adoption by a father-in-law with no sons, or could be a maternal grandfather.[65] On the other hand, the resemblance between Matthan and Matthat suggests they are the same man (in which case Jacob and Eli are either identical or full brothers involved in a levirate marriage), and Matthew’s departure from Luke at that point can only be to follow legal line of inheritance, perhaps through a maternal grandfather. Such reasoning could further explain what has happened with Zerubbabel and Shealtiel.[63]

Fabrication or error

A common explanation for the inconsistency of the two genealogies is that at least one of them, or possibly both, are incorrect, perhaps even fabricated. Of the two, Matthew is argued to be the more suspect. Gundry regards the series of unknown names connecting Joseph’s grandfather to Zerubbabel as an outright fabrication, produced by collecting and then modifying various names from 1 Chronicles.[66]

Sivertsen, while accepting that Matthew’s version may derive from temple records, sees Luke’s as artificially pieced together out of oral traditions. The pre-exilic series Levi, Simeon, Judah, Joseph consists of the names of tribal patriarchs, far more common after the exile than before, while the name Mattathias and its variants begin at least three suspiciously similar segments.[54] Kuhn likewise suggests that the two series Jesus–Mattathias (77–63) and Jesus–Mattatha (49–37) are duplicates.[67]

According To Eusebius

Eusebius of Caesarea, a 3rd-century Roman historian, described the variation this way: 1. Matthan, of Solomon's descent, marries Estha and gives birth to Jacob. [Matthew] 2. Matthan dies. Matthat, of Nathan's descent, marries Estha and gives birth to Heli. [Luke] 3. Jacob and Heli are uterine brothers (same mother but different fathers). 4. Heli marries a wife but dies childless. 5. Keeping Jewish Law in view, Jacob (Heli's brother) marries his brother's wife to raise up seed for him. 6. Joseph is born. 7. Joseph is naturally Jacob's son. [Matthew] 8. But is, according to Law, Heli's son. [Luke][68]

Extra-biblical accounts

John of Damascus and others saw the genealogy of Luke as the genealogy of Mary, not Joseph. The Bible says nothing explicitly about the ancestry of Mary, nor does it address the apparent inconsistency between the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. There are, however, other early sources offering further details.

New Testament Apocrypha

The apocryphal Protevangelium of James (probably of the 2nd century) tells of the miraculous birth of Mary to her parents, Joachim and Anne. It further relates that Joseph, before his marriage to Mary, was an elderly widower with children of his own. Joachim and Anne, who were eventually accepted into the canon of saints, are named in a number of other early sources[69] as Mary’s parents, but this apocryphal text, which was later condemned, was so widely influential that it is not clear whether the names rest on any other independent tradition.

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel

Main article: Zerubbabel

The genealogies in Luke and Matthew appear to briefly converge at Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, though they differ both above Shealtiel and below Zerubbabel. This is also the point where Matthew departs from the Old Testament record.

In the Old Testament, Zerubbabel was a hero who led the Jews back from Babylon about 520 BC, governed Judah, and rebuilt the temple. Several times he is called a son of Shealtiel.[72] He appears once in the genealogies in the Book of Chronicles,[73] where his descendants are traced for several generations, but the passage has a number of difficulties.[74] While the Septuagint text here gives his father as Shealtiel, the Masoretic text instead substitutes Shealtiel’s brother Pedaiah—both sons of King Jeconiah, according to the passage. Some, accepting the Masoretic reading, suppose that Pedaiah begot a son for Shealtiel through a levirate marriage, but most scholars now accept the Septuagint reading as original, in agreement with Matthew and all other accounts.[75]

The appearance of Zerubbabel and Shealtiel in Luke may be no more than a coincidence of names (Zerubbabel, at least, is a very common Babylonian name[76]). Shealtiel is given a completely different ancestry, and Zerubbabel a different son. Furthermore, interpolation between known dates would put the birth of Luke’s Shealtiel at the very time when the celebrated Zerubbabel led the Jews back from Babylon. Thus, it is likely that Luke’s Shealtiel and Zerubbabel were distinct from, and perhaps even named after, Matthew’s.[35]

If they are the same, as many insist, then the question arises of how Shealtiel, like Joseph, could have two fathers. Yet another complex levirate marriage has often been invoked.[35] Bauckham, however, argues for the authenticity of Luke alone. In this view, the genealogy in Chronicles is a late addition grafting Zerubbabel onto the lineage of his predecessors, and Matthew has simply followed the royal succession. In fact, Bauckham says, Zerubbabel’s legitimacy hinged on descending from David through Nathan rather than through the prophetically cursed ruling line.[17]

The name Rhesa, given in Luke as the son of Zerubbabel, is usually seen as the Aramaic word rēʾšāʾ, meaning head or prince. It might well befit a son of Zerubbabel, but some see the name as a misplaced title of Zerubbabel himself.[17] If so, the next generation in Luke, Joanan, might be Hananiah in Chronicles. Subsequent names in Luke, as well as Matthew’s next name Abiud, cannot be identified in Chronicles on more than a speculative basis.

Fulfillment of prophecy

By the time of Jesus, it was already commonly understood that several prophecies in the Old Testament promised a Messiah descended from King David.[77][78] Thus, in tracing the Davidic ancestry of Jesus, the Gospels aim to show that these messianic prophecies are fulfilled in him.

The prophecy of Nathan[79]—understood as foretelling a son of God who would inherit the throne of his ancestor David and reign forever—is quoted in Hebrews[80] and strongly alluded to in Luke’s account of the Annunciation.[81] Likewise, the Psalms[82] record God’s promise to establish the seed of David on his throne forever, while Isaiah[83] and Jeremiah[84] speak of the coming reign of a righteous king of the house of David.

David’s ancestors are also understood as progenitors of the Messiah in several prophecies.[77] Isaiah’s description of the branch or root of Jesse[85] is cited twice by Paul as a promise of the Christ.[86]

More controversial are the prophecies on the Messiah’s relation, or lack thereof, to certain of David’s descendants:

  • God promised to establish the throne of King Solomon over Israel forever,[87] but the promise was contingent upon obeying God’s commandments.[88] Solomon’s failure to do so is explicitly cited as a reason for the subsequent division of his kingdom.[89]
  • Against King Jehoiakim, Jeremiah prophesied, “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David,”[90] and against his son King Jeconiah, “Write this man childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his seed will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.”[91] Some see this prophecy as permanently disqualifying Jeconiah from the ancestry of the Messiah (though not necessarily of Joseph).[92] More likely, the curse was limited to Jeconiah’s lifetime, and even then, rabbinical tradition has it that Jeconiah repented in exile and the curse was lifted.[93]
  • To Zerubbabel, God declares through Haggai, “I will make you like my signet ring,” in clear reversal of the prophecy against his grandfather Jeconiah, “though you were a signet ring on my right hand, yet I would pull you off.”[94] Zerubbabel ruled as governor, though not as king, and has been regarded by many as a suitable and likely progenitor of the Messiah.

The promise to Solomon, if applicable, argues against Luke, while Jeconiah’s curse, if applicable, argues against Matthew. Yet evidently neither evangelist found his respective genealogy incompatible with these prophecies.

Matthew also presents the virgin birth of Jesus as fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, which he quotes.[95]


Main article: Desposyni

Desposyni (Greek δεσπόσυνοι, desposynoi, “those of the master”) is a term used uniquely by Sextus Julius Africanus[29] to refer to the relatives of Jesus. The Gospels mention four brothers of Jesus—James, Joses, Simon, and Jude[96]—along with sisters, named by Epiphanius[97] as Mary and Salome. These and their descendants were prominent in the early Church down to the 2nd century.[98] Muslim authors extend family members to the 7th century.

Since ancient times, it has been debated precisely how these siblings were related to Jesus, or rather to Joseph and Mary, with her perpetual virginity at issue. There are three principal views on who these siblings were, named for their respective proponents:[98]

  • The Helvidian view—subsequent children of Joseph and Mary.
  • The Epiphanian view—children of Joseph by a previous marriage.
  • The Hieronymian view—first cousins of Jesus, and that Joseph was himself a virgin.[99]

There is no suggestion in ancient sources that Jesus himself had any physical children, but the theory that a bloodline of Jesus, through Mary Magdalene, survived down through the ages has been popularized in recent decades, most notably in the[100] book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Women mentioned

Contrary to the patriarchal mentality of the time, Matthew inserts four women into the long list of men. The women are included early in the genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “the wife of Uriah” (i.e., Bathsheba). Why Matthew chose to include these particular women, while passing over others such as the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah, has been much discussed.

There is assumed to be a common thread among these four women, to which Matthew wishes to draw attention. He sees God working through Tamar's seduction of her father-in-law, through the collusion of Rahab the harlot with Joshua's spies, through Ruth the Moabite's unexpected marriage with Boaz the Jew, and through David and Bathshebas adultery.[101]

Some point out their possible Gentile origins: Rahab is a Canaanite, Bathsheba, married to a Hittite; the Moabite Ruth, and Tamar whose ancestry is not mentioned. Presuming a Gentile connection, Matthew may be preparing the reader for the inclusion of the Gentiles in Christ’s mission. Others point out an apparent element of sinfulness: Rahab was a prostitute, Tamar posed as a prostitute to seduce Judah, Bathsheba was an adulteress, and Ruth is sometimes seen as seducing Boaz—thus Matthew emphasizes God’s grace in response to sin. Still others point out their unusual, even scandalous, unions—preparing the reader for what will be said about Mary. None of these explanations, however, adequately befits all four women.[102]

Nolland suggests simply that these were all the known women attached to David’s genealogy in the Book of Ruth.[3]

The conclusion of the genealogy proper is also unusual: having traced the ancestry of Joseph, Matthew identifies him not as the father of Jesus, but as the husband of Mary. The Greek text is explicit in making Jesus born to Mary, rather than to Joseph. This careful wording is to affirm the virgin birth, which Matthew proceeds to discuss, stating that Jesus was begotten not by Joseph but by God.

Mary's kinship with Elizabeth

Luke states that Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was a "relative" (Greek syggenēs, συγγενής) of Mary, and that Elizabeth was descended from Aaron, of the tribe of Levi.[103] Whether she was an aunt, a cousin, or a more distant relation cannot be determined from the word. Some, such as Gregory Nazianzen, have inferred from this that Mary herself was also a Levite descended from Aaron, and thus kingly and priestly lineages were united in Jesus.[104] Others, such as Thomas Aquinas, have argued that the relationship was on the maternal side; that Mary's father was from Judah, Mary's mother from Levi.[105] Modern scholars like Raymond Brown (1973) and Géza Vermes (2005) suggest that the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is simply an invention of Luke.[106]

Virgin birth

Main article: Virgin birth of Jesus

These two Gospels declare that Jesus was begotten not by Joseph, but by the power of the Holy Spirit while Mary was still a virgin, in fulfillment of prophecy. Thus, in mainstream Christianity, Jesus is regarded as being literally the “only begotten son” of God, while Joseph is regarded as his adoptive father.

Matthew immediately follows the genealogy of Jesus with: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit".[107]

Likewise, Luke tells of the Annunciation: “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”[108]

The question then arises, why do both gospels seem to trace the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, when they deny that he is his biological father? Augustine considers it a sufficient answer that Joseph was the father of Jesus by adoption, his legal father, through whom he could rightfully claim descent from David.[109]

Tertullian, on the other hand, argues that Jesus must have descended from David by blood through his mother Mary.[110] He sees Biblical support in Paul’s statement that Jesus was “born of a descendant of David according to the flesh”.[111] Affirmations of Mary’s Davidic ancestry are found early and often,[112] and some see a strong implication in these sources that at least one evangelist actually records Jesus’ maternal ancestry.

The Ebionites, a sect who denied the virgin birth, used a gospel which, according to Epiphanius, was a recension of Matthew that omitted the genealogy and infancy narrative.[113]


Main article: Mary in Islam

The Qurʼan upholds the virgin birth of Jesus (ʻĪsā)[114] and thus considers his genealogy only through Mary (Maryam), without mentioning Joseph.

Mary is very highly regarded in the Qurʼan, the nineteenth sura being named for her. She is called a daughter of ʻImrān,[115] whose family is the subject of the third sura. The same Mary (Maryam) is also called a sister of Aaron (Hārūn) in one place,[116] and although this is often seen as an anachronistic conflation with the Old Testament Miriam (having the same name), who was sister to Aaron (Hārūn) and daughter to Amram (ʻImrān), the phrase is probably not to be understood literally.[117]

According to Muslim Scholar Sheikh Ibn Al-Feasy Al-Hanbali, Quran used "Sister of Aaron" and "Daughter of Amram" with several reasons. One of those is the "relative calling" or "laqb" that always used by Arabic Literature. Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal Abu `Abd Allah al-Shaybani, for instance, is prevalently called "Ibn Hanbal" instead of "Ibn Mohammad". Or, Muhammad bin Idris asy-Syafi`i is always called "Imam Al-Shafi‘i" instead of "Imam Idris" or "Imam Muhammad". This is the way how the Arabs call famous persona in their daily life. The same applies here; Sister of Aaron refers to "daughter from Aaron's siblings'", and daughter of Amram refers to "direct lineage to Amram" (Amram's descendents). Meaning that, Mary was from line of Amram, but not from Aaron's generation.

See also


External links

    • Information on the Michelangelo frescoes
    • Multiple translations
    • Bible Study Manual on Genealogy of Jesus
    • Genealogy of Jesus at
    • Dueling Genealogies Why there are two different genealogies for Jesus.
    • New Light on the Genealogies of Jesus
    Genealogy of Jesus
    Preceded by
    Pre-existence of Christ
    New Testament
    Succeeded by
    Birth of John the Baptist

    ca:Genealogia de Jesús sv:Jesus#Födelse och barndom