The genealogy of Jesus.

Matthew 1.2-17; Luke 3.23-38.

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Notes and quotes.

§ The Matthean and Lucan genealogies share three important points in common:

  1. Both give Joseph as the father of Jesus.
  2. Both trace the line through Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in the postexilic period.
  3. Both trace the line back to David, and share, with only two exceptions, the same names from Abraham to David. This tradition that Jesus was of the line of David is not unique, of course, to Matthew and Luke.

§ But the differences between the two genealogies are far more significant than their similarities:

  1. Though they both name Joseph as the father of Jesus, they give different names for the father of Joseph (id est, the paternal grandfather of Jesus). Matthew gives Jacob; Luke gives Heli. And thence the lists diverge completely until we come to Shealtiel and Zerubbabel.
  2. Likewise, Matthew and Luke give different fathers for Shealtiel. Matthew gives Jechoniah; Luke gives Neri. And thence again the lists diverge until we come to David. Matthew traces this part of the line through Solomon and the kings of Judah. Luke traces it through Nathan and an otherwise unknown bevy of names.
  3. The matching names from Abraham to David are easily gleaned from the Old Testament, and even in this solid line of descent Luke manages to deviate with the names Arni and Admin. If Arni is the same man as Aram (or Ram), then the problem is alleviated slightly, but I know of no direct evidence for the identification. Admin, on the other hand, is an extra name no matter how one slices it. One wonders what independent tradition Luke could have had access to that he valued more highly than either the LXX or (what was to become) the Masoretic!
  4. Matthew lists his names in descending order, like the tables in Genesis 5 and 11, as well as those of 1 Chronicles. Luke lists his in ascending order, more closely resembling the abbreviated genealogical notices of the Hebrew scriptures.
  5. Matthew goes back only so far as Abraham: Jesus was a Jew, a son of Abraham. Luke goes back to Adam, the first man: Jesus was a human being, and in a very special sense the son of God.
  6. Matthew introduces comments into his genealogy. He manages to squeeze in mention of brothers (those of Judah and of Jechoniah), of mothers (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah), and of the Babylonian exile in the course of his list. Luke, however, presents a much sparer genealogy. Only the names themselves and the genitive article του make the list.
  7. In Matthew the genealogy comes right at the beginning of the gospel. In Luke the genealogy comes in the course of the narrative, right between the baptism and the temptation of Jesus.

As these two genealogies, apart from their mutual identification of Joseph as the father of Jesus, overlap only where the Hebrew scriptures can offer support, it is rather clear that the Matthean and Lucan genealogies of Jesus are wholly independent of one another.

§ Both Matthew and Luke have a weak link at Zerubbabel. Although each names a different son of Zerubbabel as continuing the line, neither son mentioned is listed in 1 Chronicles 3.19-20 as belonging to Zerubbabel (Masoretic and LXX):

ובני פדיה זרבבל ושמעי ובן־זרבבל משלם וחנניה ושלמית אחותם׃
וחשבה ואהל וברכיה וחסדיה יושב חסד חמש׃

Και υιοι Σαλαθιηλ Ζοροβαβελ και Σεμει, και υιοι Ζοροβαβελ Μοσολλαμος και Ανανια και Σαλωμιθ αδελφη αυτων και Ασουβε και Οολ και Βαραχια και Ασαδια και Ασοβαεσδ, πεντε.

And the sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei; and the sons of Zerubbabel were Meshullam and Hananiah, and Shelomith their sister, and Hashubah, and Ohel, and Berechiah, and Hasadiah, and Jushabhesed, five.

I do not yet know what to make of the fact that the seven sons (and one daughter) are numbered as five. Perhaps the two named before Shelomith and the five named after her had different mothers, since Shelomith is called the sister only of the former two, and the five-count applies only to those from the latter group.

At any rate, what is clear is that neither Abiud (according to Matthew) nor Rhesa (according to Luke) make the list. Fitzmyer, page 500, on Rhesa:

The suggestion has been made that this name is actually a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic title rēšā’, "prince," and that it should be taken with the former name, "Prince Joanan, son of Zerubbabel," referring to Hananiah, the son of Zerubbabel in 1 Chr 3:19. According to Plummer (Commentary, 104), "some Jewish copyist" of the pre-Lucan list would have mistaken it for a proper name.... This is, however, highly speculative, and the formation of the list, as it now stands in the Lucan text, is against it.

It might be remarked that such a view is precisely an explanation of how the list, in the words of Fitzmyer, now stands in the Lucan text as it does, and is therefore not subject to the current Lucan formation of the list, all relevant exegetical mistakes having been made before Luke got to it. However, Fitzmyer is correct to note how speculative all such hypotheses must remain.

§ While Luke specifies no particular numerical arrangement, Matthew explicitly organizes his genealogy into three sets of fourteen. Matthew 1.17:

Πασαι ουν αι γενεαι απο Αβρααμ εως Δαυιδ γενεαι δεκατεσσαρες, και απο Δαυιδ εως της μετοικεσιας Βαβυλωνος γενεαι δεκατεσσαρες, και απο της μετοικεσιας Βαβυλωνος εως του Χριστου γενεαι δεκατεσσαρες.

Therefore all of the generations from Abraham unto David are fourteen generations, and from David unto the exile to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the exile to Babylon unto Christ fourteen generations.

We might represent this arrangement schematically as follows:


What becomes apparent is that Matthew has had to artificially juggle the names somewhat to come up with his scheme of fourteen. The first group, from Abraham to David, poses no problem. The second group, however, comes out to fourteen names only by omitting three names immediately after Joram (asterisked * above), the kings Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, and, a bit later, the king Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah (or Joseph, asterisked * above). And the third group comes out to only thirteen names unless we count, for no apparent reason, Jechoniah twice (both instances of which are boldfaced above).

§ The names after Zerubbabel on the Matthean list do not derive from the Hebrew scriptures, nor do they match in any way those in the equivalent part of the Lucan list until we reach Joseph. So did Matthew invent them?

It is precisely his scheme of fourteen that persuades me, at least for the time being, that Matthew was working with an existing list of names from Abiud to Jesus. For he clearly wants fourteen names in each of his three groups, yet we have to double up on Jechoniah in order to make the last group come out to fourteen. If Matthew invented the names in this last group, why did he not invent one more name to round out the number?

But, if he was working with an existing list of names, we find that he had fourteen names from Abraham to David (which simple fact may have sparked the idea of fourteen in the first place), seventeen from Solomon to Jechoniah, and only thirteen from Shealtiel to Jesus (or perhaps rather only eleven from Abiud to Jesus, and he knew that he could get two more out of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel). He therefore left the first group alone, took away three names from the second, and had to double up on a name in the last. What he does to Jechoniah, therefore, is inversely analogous to what he does to Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. This analogy, however, would make no sense if Matthew were creating the names from Abiud to Jacob from scratch.

On my principle of the the real and the ideal, then, Matthew really had only thirteen names, but ideally he wanted fourteen. Thus the thirteen names probably preceded him in the tradition, and he had to make do with what he had.

The possibility of Lucan invention may swing the other way.

§ The Old Testament introduces a good many characters to the reader with an abbreviated genealogy. The standard practice is as follows:

  1. Name the character in the course of the narrative.
  2. List a few of his ancestors in ascending order.
  3. Name the tribe of the last ancestor in the list as a way of identifying the tribe of the character in question.

Take 1 Samuel 9.1, for example (Masoretic and LXX):

ויהי־איש מבן־ימין ושמו קיש בן־אביאל בן־צרור בן־בכורת בן־אפיח בן־איש ימיני גבור חיל׃

Και ην ανηρ εξ υιων Βενιαμιν και ονομα αυτω Κις υιος Αβιηλ υιου Σαρεδ υιου Βαχιρ υιου Αφεκ υιου ανδρος Ιεμιναιου, ανηρ δυνατος.

And there was a man (from among the sons) of Benjamin, and his name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man.

Or 2 Chronicles 20.14 (Masoretic and LXX):

ויחזיאל בן־זכריהו בן־בניה בן־יעיאל בן־מתניה הלוי מן־בני אסף היתה עליו רוח יהוה בתוך הקהל׃

Και τω Οζιηλ τω του Ζαχαριου των υιων Βαναιου των υιων Ελεηλ του Μανθανιου του Λευιτου απο των υιων Ασαφ εγενετο επ αυτον πνευμα κυριου εν τη εκκλησια.

And the spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah the Levite, of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the congregation.

Note then how Luke 3.23, 38 follows the general pattern:

Και αυτος ην Ιησους αρχομενος ωσει ετων τριακοντα, ων υιος, ως ενομιζετο, Ιωσηφ του Ηλι... του Ενως του Σηθ του Αδαμ του θεου.

And Jesus himself was beginning to be about thirty years old, being the son, as it was thought, of Joseph, of Heli... of Enosh, of Seth, of Adam, of God.


  1. Jesus is named in the course of the narrative (unlike in the Matthean genealogy).
  2. His ancestors are listed in ascending order (again unlike Matthew).
  3. The main difference comes at this third point, for the last ancestor on the list is not identified tribally. But, then again, the last ancestor on the list is God himself in this case, a genealogical innovation. Alternately, we might regard Adam as the last true ancestor on the list, and his identification (and therefore that of Jesus, as well, following the abbreviated genealogy model), is son of God. Just as Adam was in some special way the son of God, so Jesus too is in some special way the son of God.

Such speculation on Adam as an analogy to Jesus would not be limited to Luke. For confer the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.45:

Ουτως και γεγραπται· Εγενετο ο πρωτος ανθρωπος Αδαμ εις ψυχην ζωσαν, ο εσχατος Αδαμ εις πνευμα ζωοποιουν.

Thus also it is written: The first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam a lifegiving spirit.

§ Matthew, as we have seen, explicitly organizes his list around the number fourteen. Luke does not explicitly mention a numerical scheme for his list, but could it be that he has classed his genealogy loosely in sevens?


It may not be coincidental, then, that David heads the seventh septet, Abraham the ninth, and Enoch the eleventh. (That Enoch was seven generations from Adam did not go unnoticed in Judaistic thought, as Jude [1.]14 indicates: ...εβδομος απο Αδαμ Ενωχ....)

§ Such a numerical arrangement may help to explain the presence of the otherwise unknown Admin on the stretch of names between David and Abraham: Luke needed another name. Matthew got away with the 13 names from the Old Testament only by reckoning inclusively (Abraham begins the group of fourteen that David ends). Luke, working with the tabular groups of seven that we see in the table above, and wishing to include Enoch in the pattern, could not meaningfully place Abraham at the end of the eighth septet when David began the seventh. Hence the need for an extra name, though it is not at all clear whence the name Admin might have come, unless it is a corruption of Amminadab, who comes just before Admin on the list.

Such considerations do not absolutely prove invention, but they seem to point that way, again invoking the principle of real and ideal. Luke did not really have fourteen generations from Abraham to David, counting exclusively, but ideally he would have liked two septets to span that gap. (This example of the principle at work is weaker than the Matthean example because Luke does not actually tell us that he is trying for groups of seven.)

In any case, the change from Aram to Arni in the next spot on the Lucan list remains unexplained unless, again, we have textual corruption.

§ I note the following characteristics of the Lucan genealogy:

  1. The Lucan genealogy lists 77 human generations from Adam to Jesus, counting inclusively; that is, Adam is the first generation and Jesus is the seventy-seventh.
  2. Certain important people in Jewish history appear as the last generation within their own group of seven. For example, Enoch rounds out the first seven, Abraham the third, David the fifth, and Jesus the eleventh. Furthermore, another Jesus rounds out the seventh seven, in position 49, a jubilee figure.
  3. Thus Enoch is the seventh human generation, his son Methuselah the eighth. The genealogy, therefore, lists 70 human generations from Methuselah to Jesus, counting inclusively; that is, if we count Methuselah as the first generation after Enoch, Jesus is the seventieth.

The first and last observations above will be the important ones for this exercise. The middle observation only serves to confirm that there is more to this genealogy than a simple list of ancestral names. Whoever assembled it must have had some greater plan or purpose in mind.

The naming of Enoch in the seventh generation and of Jesus exactly seventy generations after him is surely no accident. It so happens that there is a certain document, quite popular in its time, written in the name of Enoch that also attaches significance to seventy generations.

The book of Enoch, also known as 1 Enoch, tells of the angels called the watchers who had relations with human women, as per Genesis 6.1-4, and were thus condemned to be bound in the valleys of the earth until the great day of judgment, a total of seventy generations.

When were the watchers bound? The Enochic literature is not entirely precise on that point, but on page 320 of Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church Richard Bauckham observes: certainly happened after Enoch's translation and during the lifetime of his son Methuselah. So a reader might easily suppose that it should be dated in the generation after Enoch's.

The book of Enoch is divided into 5 sections, of which sections 1 and 3-5 are attested at Qumran; section 2, the parables, is not attested before Christian times. Methuselah does not appear in section 1 (or 2, for that matter), but each of sections 3-5 is set up as a direct address from the translated Enoch to his son Methuselah. Indeed, what Enoch is sharing with his son is vital information for posterity, for the generations of the world (82.1; 83.10).

We are justified, then, in seeing a connection, at least in hindsight, between these instructions to Methuselah for the generations and the seventy generations of 10.11-14:

Και ειπεν τω Μιχαηλ· Πορευου και δησον Σεμιαζα και τοις λοιποις συν αυτω ταις γυναιξιν μιγεντας μιανθεναι εν αυταις εν τη ακαθαρσια αυτων. και οταν κατασφαγωσιν οι υιοι αυτων και ιδωσιν την απωλειαν των αγαπητων, και δησον αυτους εβδομηκοντα γενεας εις τας ναπας της γης, μεχρι ημερας κρισεως αυτων και συντελεσμου, εως τελεσθη το κριμα του αιωνος των αιωνων. τοτε απαχθησονται εις το χαος του πυρος και εις την βασανον και εις το δεσμωτηριου συγκλεισεως αιωνος. και ος αν κατακαυσθη και αφανισθη απο του νυν μετ αυτων ομου δεθησονται μεχρι τελειωσεως γενεας.

And the Lord said unto Michael: Go and bind Semjaza and the rest with him who have had intercourse with women so as to have been defiled with them in their uncleanness. And, when their sons have slain each other and they have seen the destruction of their loved ones, also bind them for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the day of their judgment and consummation, till the judgment of the age of the ages is fulfilled. At that time they shall be led off into the chaos of fire and into the torment and into prison to be shut up for the age. And whoever shall be burned and ruined will from now be bound together with them until the end of generations.

Thus, although the immediate context of this passage includes instructions to Noah, the son of Lamech (10.1), it is easy to see how one familiar with the Enochic literature might start counting the seventy generations with Methuselah as the first. (This is especially true given that, according to all three extant versions of the genealogies in Genesis 5.1-32, Masoretic, LXX, and Samaritan, the lifespans of Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah overlap to a great degree.) If Methuselah is the one receiving instructions for all the generations, then it makes sense that all the generations (the seventy) should start being counted with him. Whether or not this is how the original author(s) of the Enochic literature intended the generations to be counted, what matters for our purposes is that this is a valid and plausible reading on the part of a Jewish reader from century I.

It seems, at any rate, quite a coincidence that (A) an ancient book written as instruction from Enoch to his son Methuselah should number the generations of the world at 70 and (B) a genealogy for the messiah, supposed to appear at the climax of history, should place that messiah in generation 70 after Enoch. I think, rather, that this is no coincidence at all. It is intentional.

It also helps explain the presence of Admin in the Lucan genealogy (Luke 3.33). In Ruth 4.19 and 1 Chronicles 2.9-10 Ram is the father of Amminadab; in Luke 3.33 Arni must correspond to Ram (Aram in Matthew 1.4), since both are said to be the son of Hezron, but his son is Admin, whose son is then Amminadab. No matter how the extra name Arni got onto the list, it serves a vital purpose to the christology of the genealogy, pushing David into the climactic seventh slot of the fifth septad. Without Arni, the genealogy would come out one name short as a messianic tract.

It would seem that whoever compiled this genealogy thought of Jesus as a member of the very last human generation before the great judgment at the end of the age, according to 1 Enoch.

Refer also to the article by Jona Lendering on the 77 generations.

§ Epiphanius, in Panarion 29.9, does not know whether or not the gospel of the Nazoraeans included the genealogy:

Εχουσι δε το κατα Ματθαιον ευαγγελιον πληρεστατον Εβραιστι. παρ αυτοις γαρ σαφως τουτο, καθως εξ αρχης εγραφη Εβραικοις γραμμασιν, ετι σωζεται. ουκ οικα δε ει και τας γενεαλογιας τας απο του Αβρααμ αχρι Χριστου περιειλον.

And they have the gospel according to Matthew very complete in Hebrew. For among them this is clearly still preserved, just as it was written from the beginning in Hebrew letters. But I do not know if it has taken away the genealogies from Abraham to Christ.

Of the gospel of the Ebionites Epiphanius writes in Panarion 30.13:

Εν τω γουν παρ αυτοις ευαγγελιω κατα Ματθαιον ονομαζομενω, ουχ ολω δε πληρεστατω, αλλα νενοθευμενω και ηκρωτηριασμενω, Εβραικον δε τουτο καλουσιν, εμφερεται οτι, Εγενετο τις ανηρ ονοματι Ιησους, και αυτος ως ετων τριακοντα, ος εξελεξατο ημας.

In the gospel among them named according to Matthew, but not all very complete, but illegitimized and adulterated, but they call it the Hebraic [gospel], it states: There was a certain man, Jesus by name, and he himself was about thirty years old, who elected us.

These passages let us know that the respective gospels of the Nazoraeans and of the Ebionites were, at least by the time of Epiphanius, different documents. The Nazoraean gospel he considered very complete (πληρεστατον), despite its possible omission of the genealogy of Jesus, while the Ebionite gospel he called not all very complete (ουχ ολω πληρεστατω).