The Most Interesting Chapter in the Bible

Matthew 1:1-17.

Yes, it’s a genealogy.

Yes, these are the parts of the biblical text that I tell students they can skip reading, since they’re what I call the “yada yada yada” of the bible.  The author’s way of saying:  time passes, stuff happens, let’s move on.

But if you remember Seinfeld as I do, George’s girlfriend ended up “yada yada-ing” the most important part of the story.

When it comes to this genealogy, I think it’s the most interesting part of the story.

In part this is because of the lengths to which the author goes to connect Jesus to the Hebrew tradition into which Christians believe he falls:  dating back to Abraham (not to Adam, son of God, like Luke’s genealogy), and structured to pivot around King David, and the deportation to Babylon.

Mostly, of course, it’s about the women.  There are five women named in this genealogy.  They are exceptional for two reasons:  1)  they are women, and women are never named in biblical patrilineal genealogies;  2)  they are not the matriarchs of the tradition, they are marginal and marginalized women.

Here’s how I described them in a piece last year over at

Perez and Zerah by Tamar.

Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab.

Obed by Ruth.

Solomon by the wife of Uriah.

Mary “of whom Jesus was born.”

These five are vulnerable women on the edge of society.  They are not the relatively empowered matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, or even Hannah.  They are women who engineer their own survival and the survival of their people despite the odds against them.  They do what it takes, even if it means sleeping with the father-in-law denying you your rights.  Or lying to protect spies who strike a bargain with you.  Or letting another woman raise your child because she has status and you do not.  Or doing what it takes to survive when the king demands to have you.  Or offering a fierce yes to God’s call.

None of the women are in situations that are ideal:  widowed, unmarried & pregnant, a public woman.  None of them are what we’d like to claim as mothers of the faith.  But they are.  God trusted them – women on the margins of social and sexual acceptability.  They made decisions and engineered their lives, all in less than ideal situations.

There’s also the unsolved riddle of how all the “father of –, father of –, father of” stuff gets us to Joseph, “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.”  Yet, according to later Christian tradition Joseph is NOT the biological father of this Jesus.  Ummmm?  So what IS the point of all the patrilineage, then?

I’d rather talk about the matrilineage anyway.


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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Kay Weller

    Imagine my surprise when I found the author of this was a professor at my alma mater IC. I live about 30 miles away and our daughter is co-pastor of a progressive Church of the Brethren/Mennonite congregation in Morgantown, WV. Finding folks in rural Macoupin County that I can have conversation about liberal progressive Christianity is tough. Fortunately, I have access to the internet, websites such as Patheos, frequent phone chats with our daughter and the nearest progressive pastor that I have found is at a Disciples Church in Virden. I plan to look for more of your postings.

    Merry Christmas, Caryn.

    • Caryn Riswold

      Hi Kay! Welcome … I’m so glad to have made this connection, especially with an IC alum. I hope that you sign up to get notification when there are new posts here … I understand completely the need for progressive Christians in areas like central Illinois to find each other. Hence, the blog – we need more of our voices “out there.”

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  • Eve Wood-Langford

    My interest in the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebeccam Leah and Rachel is that they were all raised in the Mesopotamia of Abraham. There ‘history’ circulated in the epic poem of Gilgamesh. This work, some of the world’s oldest literature, twlla the story of the creation of a fully adult male from damp clay, he lived naked with the animals, as did Adam, until his meeting with a naked woman who changed his life forever. Here also is the first man to enter the garden of the gods (plural) and mention is made of a serpent with a human head.
    When Jacob left Mesopotamia with his family and a huge number of Mesopotamians, they will have taken their history with them to be passed down from mother to child for generations ultimately to be included in the written Old Testament interpreted from the revolutionary standpoint of patriarchal monotheism after Moses.
    This religion, founded on obedience to a just Lord, turned the old polytheist philosophy on its head. Thus Eve was condemned for disobedience and her reputation ruined for millennia. But when the Eden myth is interpreted in the light of its origins, it guards a pre-biblical record of an uplifting event in the human story of inspirational value to all human beings in which Eve had an uplifting role to play. Are we all sinners from birth based on the myth of Adam and Eve – only to those who believe in a speaking serpent. (All is revealed in Eden: The Buried Treasure.)