Abstract An ancient dilemma for Christianity is that a) the Jewish Messiah must according to prophecy be a member of the house of David, and the tribe of Judah, but b) house and tribal identity are inherited only through the male line, and Jesus lacked a human father, albeit that Joseph belonged to the house of David. Here we offer a resolution of this dilemma, a resolution that arises in the context of a non-Darwinian approach to genetic genealogy.
The Conflict Between the Davidic Descent of Messiah and the Virgin Birth of Jesus
One issue which creates great difficulties for those that maintain Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah (“Mashiach”) is that Messiah, by prophecy, and by tradition, must belong to the house of David.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Since Jesus was born of a virgin, since house and tribal identity are inherited only through the father’s line, how can it be that Jesus fulfills the prophecy that Messiah is from the house of David? It may seem that the only answers Christians and Messianic Jews have at their disposal are that 1) Jesus was the legal, but not the genetic descendant of David, through Joseph and/or that 2) Mary was a genetic descendant of the house of David.
There are two inconsistent genealogies given for Jesus, one in Mathew 1: 6, and another in Luke 3: 31. Judging by the text, both genealogies trace the descent from David through Joseph, but it may seem that there is a need for Christians and Messianics to claim that one or other of these genealogies is through Mary. Jews for Jesus:
Unlike Matthew, Luke follows strict Jewish procedure and custom in that he omits no names and mentions no women. However, if by Jewish custom one could not mention the name of a woman, but wished to trace her line, how would one do so? He would use the name of her husband. (Possible Old Testament precedents for this practice are Ezra 2:61 and Nehemiah 7:63.) That would raise a second question: If someone studied a genealogy, how would he know whether the genealogy were that of the husband or that of the wife, since in either case the husband’s name would be used? The answer is not difficult; the problem lies with the English language.
In English it is not good grammar to use a definite article (“the”) before a proper name (“the” Matthew, “the” Luke, “the” Miriam): however, it is quite permissible in Greek grammar. In the Greek text of Luke’s genealogy, every single name mentioned has the Greek definite article “the” with one exception: the name of Joseph (Luke 3:23). Someone reading the original would understand by the missing definite article from Joseph’s name that this was not really Joseph’s genealogy, but his wife Miriam’s.
To circumvent the objection that Mary’s genealogy is irrelevant because house and tribal are identity inherited only through the father’s line, Jews for Jesus argue that
Whereas Jewish nationality and tribal identity were normally determined by the father, with the Messiah it would be different. Since he was to have no human father, his nationality and his tribal identity would come entirely from his mother. True, this is contrary to the norm, but so is a virgin birth. With the Messiah, things would be different.
Maybe it is true that the genealogy in Luke is Mary’s, there is a dearth of biblical evidence to this effect. In the first place, Luke explicitly says that the genealogy is Joseph’s, and gives no indication that it is Mary’s. Luke 3: 23:
When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of…
And elsewhere he stresses that it is Joseph -not Mary- that is the descendant of David. Luke 1: 27:
… a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
Luke 2: 4-5:
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 family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
As Messianic Jew, Rabbi Baruch Korman at LoveIsrael.Org says, it is “really dangerous” to say that the genealogy given in Luke is Mary’s:
You know what’s really dangerous about that? Is that Mary doesn’t even appear in it. And its very dangerous to say “Oh, This is Mary’s lineage, when we have no biblical evidence. Do you see anything in the text that would support that? It is simply a supposition that has no scriptural foundation.
Moreover, we know from the example of John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth (who is identified in Luke 1: 5 as a descendant of Aaron) that, if it was true and relevant that Mary was a descant of David, wouldn’t Luke simply have said that she was? There is not a shred of biblical evidence to the effect that Luke’s genealogy is intended to be Mary’s rather than Joseph’s, and the example of Elizabeth suggests that the reason Luke did not say that Mary was a descendant of David is that this is either untrue or irrelevant. Jews For Jesus popular argument looks like a case of the old adage that, if you torture the data hard enough, it will confess to anything you want, and the truth is that Christians/Messianics arguing in this way are trying to make are trying to harmonize the idea of Davidic descent of Jesus and the virgin birth by revising other deeper beliefs in their belief-structure in a way that is logically awkward, has little to no biblical support, and makes little to no sense in the context of Judaism.
The Curse of Jeconiah
One reason for these inconsistent genealogies may be the “The Curse if Jeconiah”. King Jeconiah, or Jehoiachin, or Coniah, was a King of Judah who was cursed by God. Jeremiah 22:
Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.
Since Joesph’s connection to David was, according to Mathew, through Jechoniah it follows that if Jesus inherits his Davidic status through Joseph, he is not allegible to be Messiah, who must sit on this throne forever. A commonly proposed solution is to appeal to fact that Luke’s genealogy doesn’t go through Solomon and Jechoniah, but through another son of David -Nathan- and to attribute this genealogy to Mary, and argue that Jesus has no blood connection to Jechoniah. But one might just as easily attribute Mathew’s genealogy to Mary, and Luke’s genealogy to Joseph. Clement of Alexandria did this, writing (1):
And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord.
As did Victorinus of Pettau (2):
Matthew strives to declare to us the genealogy of Mary, from whom Christ took flesh.
Rabbi Baruch’s approach is to say that Luke’s genealogy is -as it appears- a genealogy of Joseph, not Mary, and that Luke provides an alternative to Mathew’s potentially illegitimate genealogy by going through Nathan rather than Solomon and thus guarding against the accusation that the descent from Jeconiah is disqualifying:
Now is it a problem that Joseph is the son of, what it says here, Eli? No. Because we’re going to find out something. This gospel, when it speaks about the genealogy, it makes a very important change. What is that? Well here again, one of the driving forces, not only in Mathews’s genealogy, but in Luke’s genealogy, is this problem with Jehoiachin, that evil king, the one that cannot have any of his heirs siting upon the throne of David. So what we’re going to see is this. We’re going to see that in Luke’s gospel there’s a change. When we come to David, the next generation in Mathew’s gospel, who is the person mentioned? King Solomon. Luke says “No – I am not taking the genealogy through Solomon. I’m going to take it through another son of David.” And that is who? Nathan. So everything we have… from the son of David, the generation after David, up until now, with the exception of Joseph is different. Now why is that important? Because when you look at all those verses… none of those things agree with anything in the old testament. That’s OK. Because we don’t have Nathan’s genealogy. Luke knows it. He got it from the temple, but there’s nowhere else it’s mentioned. Now why is that important to make such a statement? Because all of these attacks for differences between Mathew and Luke’s gospel in regard to the genealogy, when you say it’s a different lineage, there would not be any congruence. It’s going to be different.
Rabbi Baruch’s overall approach is that biblical genealogies are not necessarily literalistic. Some genealogies in both the old and the new testaments are there, he believes, to create informative pictures for us, rather than to precisely detail the members of lineages. We must, he believes, satisfy ourselves with the idea that, although Jesus was not a genetic descendant of David, he was -in the same way that an adoptee is the legal decadent of their adopted parents- a legal descendant. No doubt it is true of some genealogies in the bible that their purpose is illustrate truths, but is this really what the prophet meant when he said that “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”? Maybe, but I doubt it. And there is a further problem. 1 Chronicles (22: 8 – 10) tells us that
But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.
The genealogy in Mathew passes through Solomon and therefore relates to the covenant, but it also passes through Jeconiah. The genealogy in Luke, which passes through David’s son Nathan rather than Solomon, and therefore bypasses Jeconiah, doesn’t relate to the covenant.
The Genetic Solution
The dilemma faced by Christians and Messianics may look on the face of things to be unsolvable. It may look as if they have no choice but to fudge their way out of the dilemma, by allowing either that the descent of Jesus from David is legal, but not genetic, and/or in so far as it is genetic it is not through the father’s line… But there is yet at one further argument, one last stand if you will, that has not been considered, and which solves all dilemmas without fudging.
Looking closely at the Isaiah’s text, we see that the prophecy doesn’t say that Messiah will be a literal descendant of King David – it says only that Messiah will be part of the “tree” whose “root” is King David’s father Jesse:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
This is a genealogical tree of course, but it is also a genetic tree. Normally these trees correspond to each other, so that for each branch on the one tree there is a corresponding branch on the other, but in the case someone who enters the world from outside in a direct manner, the genealogical tree may be disrupted. Let me explain with reference, firstly to blood samples taken from the Turin Shroud during the 1978 STURP investigation by micro-analyst Professor Giovanni Riggi , who used scalpels to take blood samples from the lower part of the apparent crown of thorns bloodstains on the Shroud’s dorsal image. Ian Wilson quoted from a June/July 1996 editorial for the British Society For The Shroud of Turin:
…The story then moves on four and a half years, to Garza-Valdes’s discovery of a partly living bioplastic coating on certain ancient Mayan artefacts that he found to have caused some serious radiocarbon dating errors. This caused him to wonder whether the Shroud might have become covered with a similar accretion that had led to similar errors, and on his journeying to Turin expressly to gain permission to examine the Shroud directly, he was initially turned away by Cardinal Saldarini, Ballestrero’s successor as the Shroud’s custodian. However Professor Gonella, who had been Cardinal Ballestrero’s foremost scientific advisor, directed Valdes to Giovanni Riggi, who duly brought his samples out from the bank vault. On examining these under a portable microscope Valdes immediately saw that there was indeed a bioplastic coating quite sufficient to have seriously affected the accuracy of the Shroud carbondating reading. He then offered Riggi the services of the University of Texas’s Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas, for further studies, in particular of Riggi’s samples from the Shroud’s crown of thorns bloodflows. And with little further ado Riggi was westwardbound across the Atlantic, the samples in his luggage.
Once arrived at the University of Texas’s San Antonio campus, Riggi’s ‘blood’ samples swiftly came under the scrutiny of two individuals new to Shroud circles, the University’s microbiology professor Stephen J.Mattingly, widely respected for his research on group B streptococci and neonatal disease, and his assistant professor, Dr.Victor V.Tryon, director of the University’s Center for Advanced DNA Technologies. Inevitably one of the first questions to be addressed was whether that which appeared to be blood on the samples was indeed actual blood, and whether it derived from a human being? Studying a sticky tape bearing a 1.5mm ‘blood’ fragment Dr.Tryon unhesitatingly confirmed it as human blood, carrying both the X and Y chromosomes that indicate male sex. A second fragment furnished an identical result…
Later the samples were cloned and deposited in the University of Texas’s blood bank, and as Ian Wilson puts it, “three American scientists are holding a genetic code that they believe once controlled every cell in Jesus’s physical body, details of which they can open up at any time…” (3) Whatever the origin of his Y-chromosome, there can be no question that Jesus possessed human Y-DNA. All human Y-DNA can be classified according to its place on a genetic haplogroup tree, tracing back to Y-Adam, from which it follows that Jesus’ Y-DNA must have a location on a tree such as that below:
There is no theoretical problem with the idea of injecting an egg with Y-DNA, thereby producing a clone of sorts, which means we can simply assert that Jesus’ Y-DNA was Davidic, but transmitted directly to Mary, rather than through Joseph, solving the first dilemma: as required by the Isaiah prophecy, Jesus is a “branch” on the patrilineal genetic tree that extends back to the “root” of Jesse and so he is entitled on this basis to be Messiah. By contrast with the prophecy in Isaiah, which refers only to a tree which has Jesse at its root, not to descendants, the curse of Jeconiah recorded in Chronicles refers specifically to the descendants of Jeconiah:
Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for one of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.
The first connection (between Jesse and Messiah) can from Isaiah’s text be genetic without being genealogical, while the second connection (between Jeocniah and his descendants) is clearly genealogical as well as a genetic. If Jesus’ Davidic Y-DNA was transmitted directly rather than indirectly to Mary (the virgin birth), this means that Jesus does not appear on the genealogical tree tracing Jeconiah and his descendants, and is therefore a member of the house of David and Solomon, but not subject to the curse of Jeconiah. By the same logic, Jesus does not appear on the genealogical tree tracing David and his descendants, but Isaiah’s text requires only that Messiah be from the tree at whose root is Jesse, a tree which can be purely genetic in character. So the second dilemma is solved also. As to the third dilemma, the passage in Chronicles doesn’t say that a genealogical descendant of David through Solomon will sit on the throne of Israel forever, it says only that this throne will be established forever:
… His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.
This means that a man possessing Davidic/Solomonic Y-DNA who sits on the throne of Israel forever fully satisfies the description in Chronicles, and so this dilemma also is solved. Suppose for the sake of illustration that a complete genetic clone of King David is created. If the David-clone sits on the throne of Israel forever, is it not true that the throne of David is thereby established forever? Similarly, is it not true both that the David-clone is a genuine member of the house of David, and that he is not a descendant of Jeconiah? That Messiah is a part David-clone is suggested by Ezekiel 37:24:
My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees.
No one is a better candidate for the role of David-clone than the man who, given the reality of the virgin birth, must have been a clone. From man’s point of view, this scheme of things is something that could not have been understood any earlier than the 20th century, when DNA was discovered and the science of genetics founded…
(1) Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 21.
(2) Victorinus of Pettau, Apocalypsin, 4.7\[Dash]10.
(3) Garza-Valdes, L (1999), The DNA of God