Christian reading

Issue N4

answers for a jew, valeriy sterkh

Answers for a Jew

Why do the Gospels contain two genealogies of Joseph? (part 2)

Eusebius of Cesarea wrote the following on the differences in the genealogies: «Because of inconsistencies in the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke, there are many Christians who erroneously think of them as contradictory. Many are trying to come up with their own explanations without knowing the truth. Here is what we have learned about them from Aristid's letter in which [Sextus Julius] Africanus, to whom we recently referred, writes about a way to reconcile the Gospel genealogies. Rejecting the opinions of the rest as erroneous and contrived, he tells a story of what he had heard in the following words:

"In Israel, the names of generations were reckoned either according to the flesh or according to the Law – according to the flesh, when there was a succession of lawful sons, and according to the Law, when a brother of a deceased man, who had died with no sons of his own, would give his child the name of his deceased brother [Deut 25:5-10]. There was no clear hope of resurrection at that time, and so the fulfilment of the future promise was connected to "fleshly" resurrection – so the name of the deceased man would never be blotted out from Israel. That is why some of the ancestors listed in the genealogy were lawful or "natural" descendants of their fathers while others were sons according to the Law, that is, they were born by one father but named after another. And it was customary to mention both – the actual fathers and those whose names were thus restored. So, the Gospels make no mistake in recording their names according to the natural birth and according to the Law. Descendants of Solomon and Nathan were thus intertwined due to the age-long process of "bringing from the dead" those who had no sons, remarrying of the mothers and "restoration of the seed", that one and the same person could be legitimately regarded as a son of his actual father as well as the son of his "sort of" father. Both narratives, therefore, are correct, and they both come to Joseph the right way, though it may seem like a meandering.

To clarify this seeming confusion, I will try to explain what caused it in the first place. If we reckon the generations from David through Solomon, the third one from the end will be Matthan, who begat Jacob, the father of Joseph. According to Luke, the third one from the end, after Nathan, the son of David, was Melki [Matthat (Lk 3:23) – note. V.S.], whose son was Heli, the father of Joseph. Since we are looking at the genealogy of Joseph we must explain why two people are recorded as his father: Jacob, the descendant of Solomon, and Heli, the descendant of Nathan. Why would Jacob and Heli be brothers? And why would their fathers, Matthan and Melki [Matthat], be Joseph's grandfathers, though they belonged to different lines. Matthan and Melki [Matthat] were both married to the same woman, one after the other, and begat uterine brothers, since the Law didn't forbid un unmarried woman to remarry, whether she was divorced or widowed. First, Matthan, who was from the line of Solomon, begat Jacob from Esta (this woman's name according to the Tradition). After Matthan's death, Melki [Matthat] from the line of Nathan married his widow (as I said, he was from the same tribe but from a different line) and begat his son Heli. So, we will discover that Jacob and Heli were uterine brothers, though belonging to different lines. Heli died without producing children, and Jacob married his wife and begat Joseph (the third generation), who was his son according to the flesh (and according to Scriptures: "Jacob begat Joseph"), and the son of Heli, for his brother Jacob "raised up his seed". So, we must not reject his genealogy. Matthew, the Gospel writer, says: "Jacob begat Joseph". Luke's genealogy is ascending: "He was the son, so it was thought (he added), of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Melki [Matthat]". One could not think of a clearer way to express his sonship according to the Law, so Luke, in speaking about such "births", consistently avoids using the word "beget". His list ends with Adam and God.

(to be continued)