Conflicting Genealogies of Jesus and the Thesis of a Matrilineal Bloodline Refuted

Conflicting Genealogies of Jesus and the Thesis of a Matrilineal Bloodline Refuted December 12, 2016

In one of my recent (indeed, the last) posts about the Nativity, it has been pointed out that some Christians defend a particular harmonisation of a biblical difference. I would like to set it out here in order to show that his epistemological approach is somewhat dodgy and that the issues remain. In fact, it annoyed me so much when it first happened on this blog some years back and that the proponent (JohnM) refused to do the required research and claimed I was the ignorant one in using Danth’s Law. Providing next to no defence and evidence, and claiming me to be the one who has been refuted and does not know what they are on about is red rag to a bull. (These posts run alongside my book on the subject: The Nativity: A Critical Examination).

So let me set out what the issues are. The two genealogies from Matthew and Luke are very different indeed. Luke’s genealogy is a long list of names which goes back to Adam, the first man, supposedly (we will ignore the huge elephant in the room of human genetics, history, anthropology, palaeontology and so on). Luke’s 77 generations used in the genealogy is a symbolic number representing, according to early theologian Augustine, the forgiveness of sin. Seven was a very important number for the time and so it looks like Luke might be counting in groups of seven. As mentioned, one of the crucial points of the genealogies was to link Jesus through to David so to prove that Jesus was of Davidic stock. This fulfils some vital prophecies which predict that the Messiah will come of the House of David[1], liberally scattered around the Old Testament.

As far as Matthew is concerned, there is a genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3 which overlaps Matthew’s and it seems like he has omitted three names (Joash, Amaziah, and Azoriah) which undermines one of the two lists. This is probably Matthew’s doing – it could well be an opportunity to lose a few names for numerical reasons, and these kings were particularly wicked, coming to infamous ends by God’s will. Also, two Jeconiahs seem to have been melded into one. The fact that the genealogies differ from the Old Testament list is telling, though.

There are only thirteen names in the last tesseradecad (a group of fourteen names). This is not thought to be a simple mistake of miscounting on the part of Matthew and as a result many second guesses have been put forward. For example, Mary could be counted as a generation alongside Joseph; Jeconiah could be doubled as mentioned; names at the beginning or end of the tesseradecads after David could be double-counted and so on.

I could spend a lot of time looking in to these, but what is important is why there are differences at all. Let’s look at JohnM’s claims.

John claims that Matthew’s genealogy is paternal whilst Luke’s is maternal (MG). Let’s look to see whether this can be right. Now, in order for this hypothesis to be most probable these things must be the case:

1)      The MG must either have high prior probability (ie there is previous evidence for such so that it is usual or not uncommon)

2)      And / or the evidence in this case for this MG is high (enough to even overcome a low prior probability)

3)      It must be more probable than every other competing hypothesis

This is the basis of Bayesian probability.

Let us look at the argument John provides. Firstly he gives this link.

This link provides absolutely no argument for an MG – it just talks through the people in the genealogy, so it is irrelevant. This is what John claims of it:

Well.. As I said, it’s pretty simple.. because there are 4 ways of listing genealogy..

You can track the males, by listing the males.

You can track the males, by listing the females.

You can track the females, by listing the males.

You can track the females, by listing the females.

Now seeing that both gospels mention men, only 2 of these are relevant.

Following Joseph, Luke has Heli. Matthew has Jacob. Right then and there, you should know that it’s different genealogies.

And when one actually lays out the puzzle, things add up beautifully.

Of course, that link does not lay out the puzzle at all. It says nothing, absolutely nothing, for positively evidencing how an MG could come about and be more probable than an alternate explanation.

Let us look into the 4 claims above. You can track males through listing males. The other three, I am not aware of any other biblical evidence or non-biblical evidence. The problem for John is that the genealogy does not track a woman through a male line, it tracks a man, through a woman, through a male line. Thus the complete arbitrariness renders it utterly irrelevant whether men or women are in the genealogies. To go 42 generations, then switch to a woman, then back to a man again is random.

And here is the point. There really is no other evidence of matrilineal genealogies in the bible, or anywhere else. This then means that the prior probabilities are exceptionally low. In fact, if there is no known matrilineal Jewish genealogy, then the prior probability is a minimal nonzero. This then requires the evidence for it to be exceptionally good.

So what other evidence does John provide. One other link, which seems to be a Jew for Jesus type chap arguing for a MG. However, the link does not really do the work John hopes. It spends most of the time arguing over whether an adopted son can legally inherit (ie Jesus not being of the seed of Joseph). This is not anything specifically to do with MGs. In fact, it is a similar link to the previous one, doing no work on MGs such as establishing that Luke’s genealogy is well established as such.

John, it seems, is getting confused, conflating ideas of MG with ideas of matrileneally derived ethnicity. This is a totally different thing. It is a one generational ethnic identification. As wiki states:

Matrilineality in Judaism is the view that people born of a Jewish mother are themselves Jewish. The conferring of Jewish status through matrilineality is not stated explicitly in the Torah, though Jewish oral tradition maintains this was always the rule, and adduces indirect textual evidence. In biblical times, many Israelites married foreign women, and their children appear to have been accepted as Israelite without question; the Talmud understands that the women in question converted to Judaism.

But as far as a matrilineal bloodline is concerned, there is no evidence and both the linked articles say absolutely nothing.

So despite asking several times, John failed to produce anything approaching positive evidence for Luke’s genealogy being MG. Now let me produce the counter arguments. Remember, for John’s thesis to work, he needs to establish the positive case for Luke being a MG and in so doing, also needs to refute all negative arguments. First, let me produce some quotes by established academics on the subject.

Raymond E. Brown called it a “pious deduction”; and Joachim Gnilka “the desperation of embarrassment”. Cited in Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Eerdmans, 2004), page 21-22. See also Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2003), page 273.

“Luke’s genealogy, was universally supposed to be that of Joseph.”– Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, NPNF2-01.

“Mattan, who was descended from Solomon, begat Jacob. And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who was descended from Nathan begat Eli by the same woman. Eli and Jacob were thus uterine brothers. Eli having died childless, Jacob raised up seed to him, begetting Joseph, his own son by nature, but by law the son of Eli. Thus Joseph was the son of both.” – Eusebius, History of the Church, 1.7.15.

Julianus Africanus, citing the records of the desposyni, showed early interpretations of the genealogy as referring to Levirite marriage:

Matthan and Melchi, having taken the same woman to wife in succession, begat children who were uterine brothers, as the law did not prevent a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another. By Estha, then—for such is her name according to tradition—Matthan first, the descendant of Solomon, begets Jacob; and on Matthan’s death, Melchi, who traces his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, having married her, as has been already said, had a son Eli. Thus, then, we shall find Jacob and Eli uterine brothers, though of different families. And of these, the one Jacob having taken the wife of his brother Eli, who died childless, begat by her the third, Joseph—his son by nature and by account. Whence also it is written, “And Jacob begat Joseph.” But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob his brother raised up seed to him.

As Raymond Brown, who I really rate as a Christian scholar (dealing honestly with evidence) in his awesome “Birth of the Messiah”, p.89, states:

“What influences this suggestion is the centrality of Joseph in Matthew’s infancy narrative, as compared with the spotlighting of Mary in Luke’s. Even at first glance, however, this solution cannot be taken seriously: a genealogy traced through the mother is not normal. in Judaism, and Luke makes it clear that he is tracing Jesus’ descent through Joseph. Moreover, Luke’s genealogy traces Davidic descent and despite later Christian speculation, we really do not know that Mary was a Davidid.”

So that is merely a couple of points. Some others follow:

1)      There is a massive disparity between the two account with regards to the number of ancestors. Luke’s genealogy has many more. The MG hypothesis does nothing to answer this. The thesis that they were symbolic, not interested in accuracy, and independent answers both issues better.

2)      Some apologists claim the lack of an article before Joseph in Luke 3:23 is somehow evidence for an MG. Richard A. Hoyle, in a syntactical analysis of the Greek, states, on the other hand:

In Luke’s genealogy, 3:23–38, only two names occur without the article, Jesus and Joseph (3:23). These are marked as salient, since they have no article even though both are Discourse-old (3:21, 1:27). Here Jesus and Joseph are salient at PARAGRAPH level, i.e. throughout the whole genealogy, strongly suggesting that this is Joseph’s lineage being listed. [my emphasis]

So far, this means that not only is there no evidence for MGs, and established cholars refute it, but the syntax defends a Josephan genealogy.

3)      Mary being the daughter of Heli / Eli (as is claimed by apologists of Luke’s genealogical mention of Eli) is a controversial apologist attempt to make sense of the genealogy but is not a good reading of the Talmud. As this essay states:

…scholars who have extensively studied the contextual evidence see no connection. Herford Travers, author of Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, comments:

“There is, in Jerusalem Hagigah 77d, a reference to a certain Miriam the daughter of ‘Eli, whom, on account of the name (cf. Luke iii.23), one might be tempted to connect with the story of Jesus; but there seems to be no suspicion on the part of the Talmud of any such connection, and what is told about her does not seem to me to point in that direction.” (Herford Travers, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, pg, 43. Note: Book available on-line: ).

Scholar Norvall Geldenhuys echoes this sentiment as he leans on the work of respected German scholars Strack and Billerbeck who also does not see any connection:

“The Miriam, daughter of Eli, who is referred to in the Talmud (Chagigah 77d), has in all probability nothing to do with Mary the mother of Jesus, as is made plain in Strack-Billerbeck ( in loc .)” (Geldenhuys, Gospel of Luke , 154 n. 5).

While the evidence is not totally conclusive at this point. What has been shown here is the HUGE question mark that is placed over the assertion that “according to received Jewish tradition, Mary was the daughter of Heli/Eli.” There are simply to many complications surrounding this Talmudian reference to make such a claim.

It does not say that Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli. JohnM and apologists might try to claim that it doesn’t say it, but it was implied. This is simply disingenuous. You can make up whatever the hell you like and claim the Bible implies it if it doesn’t say it. A son-in-law relationship is clearly detailed elsewhere in the Bible AND in Luke:

1 Sam 18:18,22

And David said unto Saul, Who am I? and what is my life, or my father’s family inIsrael, that I should be son in law to the king?

And Saul commanded his servants, saying, Commune with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now therefore be the king’s son in law.

Another example of the son-in-law relationship:

 Neh 6:18

For there were many inJudahsworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.

Luke himself made reference to such a relationship.

 Luke 12:53

The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

4)      Mary’s patrilineal heritage is more traditionally seen as Joachim. As the Catholic encyclopedia relates, and in referencing two of the Apocryphal texts,

If we were to obey the warning of St. Peter Damian, we should consider it a blameable and needless curiosity to inquire about those things that the Evangelists did not deem it advisable to relate, and, in particular, about the parents of the Blessed Virgin (Serm. iii de Nativ. B.M.V.). Tradition nevertheless, grounded on very old testimonies, very early hailed Saints Joachim and Anne as the father and mother of the Mother of God.

5)      This is a really important piece of evidence. Luke HIMSELF shows that he referred to Luke as of David’s heritage:

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” – Luke 1.27-28.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David …” – Luke 2.4

There is not one mention IN THE GENEALOGY of Mary. This is so obvious it is often overlooked. If one wanted their readership to realise that the genealogy used is maternal, and not uncommonly so if JohnM is to be believed, then you would surely indicate it as such. Luke doesn’t. At all.

6)      I really should have put this as number one. There is no evidence for MGs in the Bible, or as far as I can see, outside of the Bible. In fact, it is worse than that, God commands bloodlines to be patrilineals. As Numbers 1:2-19 states:

2 “Take a [a]census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head 3 from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall [b]number them by their armies. 4 With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household. 5 These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6 of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7 of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8 of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9 of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10 of the sons of Joseph: of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud; of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11 of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12 of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13 of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14 of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15 of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan. 16 These are they who were called of the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of [c]divisions ofIsrael.”

17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

So JohnM needs to provide some evidence of MGs in order to give the thesis any kind of acceptable probability.

As this essay from Losing My Religion states:

There is not one genealogy in the Bible that is about a woman nor any instance where a king inherits rights to a throne via his mother. A woman could not pass on what she could never possess herself.

Furthermore, there is not one single verse in the entire Bible which establishes that Mary was even from the House of David. Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth who was a Levite (Luke 1:5,36). That is the only scriptural reference to what tribal identity Mary was connected to. When asked to produce a verse which shows that Mary was Davidic, Christians can produce nothing because there is nothing to produce.

Not a single word can support their wishful thinking that Mary was the offspring of David. All the concocted excuses of Christians regarding to the validity of Jesus as a king Messiah lead nowhere when probed beneath the surface.

To further disqualify Jesus as a valid king Messiah, the Luke 3 genealogy doesn’t include Solomon anywhere in the list so it cannot produce a king Messiah regardless of any other consideration. As shown earlier, the king Messiah had to descend from Solomon as well as David.

In order to get around all these problems, Christians attempt to invent a hybrid genealogy. They claim Jesus was adopted by Joseph and inherits the legal rights to the throne via Joseph in Matthew and had a blood connection to David via Mary in Luke. Christians try to toss all the names from the Luke and Matthew genealogies into a pot and then manufacture a valid Messiah from it.

Not only does Luke stress that Joseph has Davidic ancestry, nowhere does he suggest the same of Mary. On the contrary, Luke makes Mary a relative of Elizabeth, and she is a descendent of the priestly family of Aaron (Luke 1.5,6). Elizabeth is also married to Zechariah, himself a Levite of the Abijah division, so-named after a priest who returned from exile with Zerubbabel. The clear inference is that Mary has priestly, not royal, blood.

So, genealogy traced through the maternal line is not characteristic of Judaism. Luke makes it abundantly clear that he is tracing the descent of Jesus through Joseph and it is only the existence of a contradictory bloodline in Matthew that compels apologists to ignore the natural reading of Luke and proffer an untenable alternative.

I could go on, but I have a lot of other writing to do (4 book projects AND blogging), so this should be enough for John to get stuck in to. He must realise that the maternal thesis was a late development by Protestant thinkers to try and resolve a perceived problem. It was not how it was originally read, and for that we have primary evidence, some quoted above. This is important to note, because straight away, the probability of this thesis is less likely than the obvious understanding, to the point that that was how Christians understood it. He has a lot of work to do to set out his thesis as THE MOST probable account. I have not put out the alternative theories, but suffice to say that he must also show the MG thesis to be more probable than them (eg historical inaccuracy from independent accounts (high prior probability); Levirite marriage thesis (predates MG thesis and has higher priors too), symbolic as opposed to accurate (good evidence for this using exegesis) and so on).


[1] For example, Psalms 89:3-4 Psalms 132:11, Isaiah 16:5, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Isaiah 11:1–10

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