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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Genesis Chs. 24-36: God's wascally wabbits

The stories of Isaac and Jacob cast the early Israelites in a very interesting light. The "virtues" they valued are clearly much different from the morals and ethics that most of us, Christian or otherwise, pursue today. Basically, any manner of trickery seems to be kosher so long as it helps extend the family line.

Isaac's life, post-"sacrifice," is largely uneventful. God continues to physically direct him, telling him where to live and where not to, places he can find suitable brides for his sons and things like that. Chapter 24 is where Isaac finds his own wife, Rebekah, and it's a romantic (if less than grippingly told) tale of predestined love. In the interest of securing territory for his family, in 26:6-11 Isaac pulls his dad's favorite trick, telling the local men that Rebekah is his sister so they won't kill him--consequently putting them in the path of God's wrath if they sleep with her.

By the way, I didn't make a big point of expressing my personal distaste for this tactic the last time out, so I will here. I really can't imagine why an omniscient God couldn't come up with a way to ensure the safety of his chosen people that doesn't involve needlessly endangering the life of innocent "foreigners" (actually the "invaded" party, as it were). Insight from any of you astute and knowledgeable readers would be quite welcome.

Isaac's son Jacob is an unmitigated ethical disaster from the getgo, from a modern point of view--a wascally wabbit if eva thew was one. Granted, a lot of the sibling rivalry stories seem to be allegorical explanations of the failure of the kingdom of Edom (King Saul smacks them down later on). Nonetheless, Jacob's story carries on the unnerving tradition of screwing people over in the service of the Lord.

First, at the end of Chapter 25, brother Esau (father of the Edomites) comes in hungry while Jake's cooking stew. A good brother would hand some over no questions asked, but instead Jake makes the dimwitted Esau fork over his birthright (leadership of the family and a double portion of the inheritance, according to Oxford).

In Chapter 27, Rebekah becomes an accomplice to Jacob's wascally behavior as Isaac lies on his deathbed. It seems that a verbal blessing was a pretty big deal in the day, and poor blind Isaac is intending to confer one on Esau. When Bek overhears the plan, she tells Jake, who runs, makes some food, dresses himself up like Esau and steals the blessing. "Isaac trembled violently" upon learning his mistake, verse 33 tells us. That's a great way to treat your dying father. Esau, who may have actually been trying to give away the birthright earlier, was definitely incensed by having his blessing stolen; in fact, he consoled himself by vowing to kill Jacob.

Bear this in mind: Jacob the blessing-stealer, according to tradition, is the progenitor of all the Jews and Christians in the world. It's really hard for me to square Jacob's behavior with modern Christian ideals.

It doesn't stop, either. Later, after Jacob marries Rachel, we get a fantastically long and convoluted screw-job on Laban (Rachel's dad), wherein they essentially kidnap his whole family and steal all his stuff... then Rachel sits on it while "the way of the woman is upon me" (31:35).

Jacob's crowning moment of okayness is his wrestling match with an angel at Peniel (32:24-32). Like his grandparents (Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah), he emerges with a new name--the radically different "Israel" (God rules). The story is intriguing enough in itself, especially as it seems to imply that the angel cheated ("When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket and Jacob's hip was put out of joint" [v. 25]), but I never knew the context before, and I'm glad I do now.

See, this wrestling match happens right after Jacob learns that an all-growed-up Esau is one county over and heading this way. Jacob is understandably nervous, and sends out a gigantic gift to try to smooth things over. The thoughts that must have gone through Jake's mind when a guy jumped out of nowhere and started whaling on him are intriguing. Furthermore, the fact that he was left with a limp by the angel's heel turn couldn't have helped his mindset. In the end, though, Esau turned out to be a fantastic sport, and "fell on his neck and kissed him" (33:4)--not a bad example of "forgive and forget" Christianity. I wonder if the Edomites expressed this trait, and if it didn't get them killed.

Finally, I promised in the last entry to say why I expect Jacob to be found eventually. He dies at the very end of Genesis, by which point his son Joseph is second-in-command of the Egyptian empire. The account tells us that they spent forty days embalming him, and then he lay in state for another 70. After that, his remains go to the same cave in which Abraham was buried--in both Jake's and Abe's death stories, pretty explicit directions are given.

Meanwhile, as we know, Egyptian embalming techniques were pretty darned advanced (ask Tutankhamen), so I suspect that Jacob's mummified body, the identity of which could likely be verified by DNA testing against any ethnic Jew, is sitting in a (possibly underground) cave somewhere in Israel, waiting to be discovered. Get out your sand shovels, boys and girls.


Blogger Joe said...

I can field this one, Matt.

Christopher, what you're reading isn't the literal truth in the sense that we perceive it today. The story of Esau and Jacob is not a history of two brothers, but a legend that has sprung up in the years since their death that demonstrates the superior qualities of the line of people who survived. Just as Americans prize (or once claimed to prize) honesty and virtue, giving rise to the not-true story of George Washington and the cherry tree - despite the fact that George himself was a real guy - the authors of the bible felt that cunning was among their most defining features, and thus worked a little cunning into their backstory. Remember, we're talking about oppressed peoples here, and the oppressed are often quick to cite guile as a quality since they obviously lack some sort of political or cultural superiority. Hence, we tell a Bible story about J & E in which our ancestors are the smartest and
thus triumph.

I'm learning, right?

Also, though what Jacob did to his brother might seem like a royal f-job by our modern standards, I think we can all agree that anyone who gives up his heritage for a bowl of beef stew isn't really going to grow up to be the great leader of men God was hoping for.

Finally, every schoolboy knows that Jacob's body WAS remarkably well-preserved, which is why the aliens who "abducted" it in the late 1600s were able to reanimate it and set it back on its course as a religious world leader. Where do you think Scientology came from?

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Joe's initial comments are pretty spot on- especially the notion that trickery is considered a kind of oppressed people virtue of survival. The Christian standard of honesty advocated by Jesus is clearly not the standard adhered to by the Patriarchs, or the Judges, or even King David several books later. The Christian standard is something new and far more extreme than what went before- an extension of honesty so that every "yes" really means "yes" and every "no" really means "no."

At the same time, it is clear even in Genesis that trickery begets trickery- and sometimes the trickster will be tricked. The Jacob material can, in part, be viewed as an object lesson in this regard, rather than as an example to be followed (-an aside- 2nd and 3rd John are sometimes considered an object lesson in the same way- the Johannine churches are so rigid and exclusive that they start dis-fellowshipping with everyone else over minutia- and eventually even with themselves; their inclusion may in part be a warning: "don't follow this example!").

Jacob tricks Esau. Jacob's kinsman Laban tricks him into taking the wrong daughter- and Jacob tricks him back in the way that he divides the animals. The right daughter, Rachel, later tricks her father (and Jacob) over idols and is, perhaps, punished for this trickery with an untimely death (Jacob swears that the one who stole the idols will not live- and Rachel does not live long). Jacob's sons will later trick the men who rape their sister Dinah and, ultimately, Jacob himself regarding Joseph. And one of the best of them, Judah, will find himself tricked by a daughter-in-law that he wrongs. And even the best of the brothers, Joseph, will trick the rest of his family when they most need him, but will ultiamtely relent and forgive them. The message? God can work through human trickery- but when humans act this way, they often hurt themselves more than they realize- and it seems the only way out of the cycle of trickery is the move to forgiveness instead.

Another way to view Jacob/Esau, though, is in the context of other Genesis brother conflicts. Jacob does not murder Esau in secret. He does not sell him into slavery to Egypt. He does not attempt to have him cast into the desert. He tricks him twice- but he is also taking the initiatve against fate, just as he did at his birth when he "supplanted" Esau. In Platonic terms, Jacob is following his spirited nature, as Esau follows his appettitive one. And later, as you noted, Jacob's struggle with God is related to what he did to his brother- who then responds by more or less forgiving him for his wrongs, in foreshadowing of Joseph.

The historicity of Jacob or the Patriarchs is, as Joe alluded, not something necessarily real. The brothers, for example, may well represent their tribes in "later" conflicts that are not recorded historically but merely in the form of legend. So Reuben being the "oldest brother" may mean that the Tribe of Reuben was originally the strongest of the Twelve tribes of the Israelite confederation. His sleeping with his father's handmaiden may mean that the powerful tribe of Reuben attempted to conquer several other tribes of Israel- possibly those who are named the "sons" of that mother- and was put down by the rest of Israel- thus losing its early prominence to Judah. The roles that Reuben and Judah play in the Joseph narrative- both mittigating Joseph's death to various degrees of effectiveness- may also related to the fact that Judah later takes the lead of the Tribes through David's ascension to the throne. This comment is a little out of place here, but woth noting just the same.

An interesting point to end on is that in the first century BC the Edomites get a kind of victory. In 37 BC an Edomite named Herod, son of the Roman picked prime minister to the non-Levitical high priest of Jerusalem of the Hasmonean dynasty, will trick his way onto the throne of Israel (in part through marriage to a Hasmonean wife he will later have killed), will begin rebuiliding the Temple of Solomon, and, according to the Gospel of Matthew, will encounter some Magi from the east who are searching for a star. So, in some strangely ironic way, the Edomites are kind of ruling over the descendants of Israel when a new King comes on the scene.

5:04 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

I totally forgot to go into the rape of Dinah. Vigilante justice was truly rough in the day. For those who don't know, a prince named Shechem rapes Jacob's daughter Dinah. Apparently he was just taking her for a test drive, since soon enough he shows up to ask for her hand in marriage.

Jacob defers the decision to his really angry sons, who say "sure, you can marry her as soon as everyone in your city gets circumcised" - which, after all, has been the way of the Israelites for quite some time.

So, three days later Jacob's sons go in and kill absolutely all the males, who are too sore to defend themselves because they've just undergone a delicate procedure.

Them Israelites sure was enterprising, wasn't they?

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Mom R said...

I believe that the Bible states truth - literal truth, literal history. Truth in the stories and also can be seen in the "begats". It all shows history. Prophecy of the Christ being from David is shown in the lineage of Jesus from Joseph's family "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." Matt. 1:16 (Joseph's lineage even though it's stating Joseph was not the father of Mary's child.)

When I first started reading the Bible, I had the idea that whatever and whoever is talked about in the Bible is supposed to be right in God's eyes or that the Lord God approves of what they do. But the Bible is just the other way around – it is transparent and shows people as we are – sinners going their own way, making wrong choices and the end result of those choices. Then it shows the grace and mercy of the Lord when they realize that they need Him. Jacob may have become “Israel” and the one that the Lord used to continue His promise to Abraham, but Jacob is NOT a righteous man when we first see him – at home, at Laban’s – on the way to go back home and meet Esau. His disobedience in NOT trusting the Lord to bring about what He had promised - scheming, lying, deceiving to get what he had been promised was NOT what God wanted. And as it has been stated by Matthew M, Jacob reaped trickery and treachery back. But then Jacob realizes how much he needs the Lord and starts to desire the Lord’s blessing on his life because of the crisis from having to confront his past in meeting Esau and his possible - probable wrath. Jacob comes to the point of desiring the blessing of the Lord enough to wrestle and endure pain and be persistent enough to ”hang on” until his prayer is answered, even though it took all night. That's when his name was changed - after he had the struggle of Who was in control of his life over. He allowed the Lord to have full control. Jacob's life was changed through that struggle. Yes, the Lord could have zapped him to dust, but He wanted Jacob to know what he could learn through the struggle. And Jacob had a reminder of the blessing the rest of his life in his limp. He never walked the same after. I believe that also shows that he never "walked" in his life the same way either. He was changed from the heart out. But by that time, his boys had caught Jacob's attitude of life - we see that in the Dinah deal - Joseph and others. Jacob's boys did what seemed right in their own eyes, in deceit. They never looked to the Lord for guidance or direction in the matter.
Reminds me of ourselves today. The Lord God is there waiting for us to turn to Him for salvation first, and then for guidance and direction in life. He wants to have a Father/child relationship (and He is the ultimate good Father) with each one of us and has provided the Way to Him through our Lord's death on the cross and His victory over death. I've gone on too long - need to close. I enjoy reading all of your blogs.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

I want to begin by thanking mom r for her post- and by saying that I appreciated her reflections, especially in the second part of that post. It was an interesting perspective and I learned something from it.

I hope that what I am about to post in response does not come off as confrontational or derogatory- becase I do not intend it that way-but merely as my concern about the first part of her post, specifically the historical "literal" understanding of the genealogy of Jesus as evidence for the historical, literal nature of the entire Bible. While I would strongly affirm what we would call "literal truth" in many aspects of the Bible, the inspired authors do not have our concepts of this kind of truth- they are pre-Enlightenment peoples- and we misunderstand them if we treat them like they aren't.

I know that this is somewhat off-topic (we are in Genesis, after all, not the New Testament) but the quotation that was given is worth considering briefly as a clue to the way that God works in both Testaments. It seems to me that God works theologically in the Bible through the theological purposes of human beings and that, while God's saving action in history is a theme of the Bible, the inspired authors are not writing with our criteria or concerns of history- they are writing salvation history with very different concerns from ours. They USE the material at their disposal theologically, not in the way that we consider proper history. While there are points of intersection between salvation history and secular history- such as the historical character of the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate under whom Christ was crucified- the concerns of the Bible authors really are not our concerns in many cases.

My contention involves the (two!) genealogies of Jesus in the New Testament. These two different lists have different theological points to make, not directly "historical" points as we would understand them today. They have a few points of similiarity- such as Zorobabel the son of Salathiel- and so they may have been drawing on similar material- but the inspired authors chose, for theological reasons that we can often discern, to have different lists included in their two distinct works. They did this because they were writing theologically, not by our standards of historical, literal truth.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew, who is probably writing to a Jewish-Christian community, is stressing that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah (hence the concentration on David and Abraham) and the author of the Gospel of Luke, who is probably writing to a Pauline community, is stressing that Jesus is the Universal Messiah (hence the end of his genealogy, "the son of Adam (aka 'the son of Man'), the son of God." Luke has a very long list, which indicates a long time frame from which all human beings are descended. Matthew also has a way of indicating a universal aspect of Jesus' Messiahship, however, but it is in his use of the number 14- which is twice 7, which is the number of the Gentiles- by which he structures the names he includes in the list. And so Matthew sets his material up in sections of 14- which Luke does not do (besides, he has a whole lot more names).

If we compare the genelogies, then we do not see much agreement after David (indeed, they do not even agree on which son of David it is that Jesus is directly descended from!) although there is essentially perfect agreement between David and Abraham. I have used a King James Bible to compile the following (hopefully) complete list (although it is late and I did it very quickly and I may well have made a mistake or two in this). Regardless, if there is a good way to reconcile these two lists in a literal/historical understanding, then I am interested in hearing what that would be. If there is not, however, then I don't think it makes sense to make this kind of literal/historical argument about the entirety of the biblical account in every place. I have bolded what seem to me to be points of similiarity, but I am more than willing to entertain many more. Any takers?

Matthew 1:1-16_____Luke 3:38-23:

Jacob_____ Heli





11:18 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

...all of which makes me feel foolish for glossing over the genealogies.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

I don't think you should feel foolish (if anyone should feel foolish, I should- for posting such a long, off-topic post). The actual content of the Genesis genealogies (apart from being vaguely interesting in reference to the genealogies of Jesus in the NT) has rather little value to us. Mostly, they just bog down first time readers who want to read the whole Bible from cover to cover. What edification do most people get from reading that Maleleel begat Jared?

On the other hand, the *presence* of the genealogies- regardless of their particular content- stresses the degree to which the original readers were concerned with their own narrative as a people (and therefore contrasts them to our technological, "how do things work" way of viewing the world). It connects them to a mythic past and tells them what their place is within that story- where they came from and how they should be.

Our story is different. We tend not to pass this kind of family information down anymore- partly because they have been supplanted by the national narratives of pilgrims, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln- partly because the story we all "live in" tells us that we are free, autonomous individuals who ought to seek fame and fortune through a correct application of captialist principles to our own "unique" situation- and partly because we just think differently.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

I think I'll join in, if that's alright. If not the bartender can kick me out... my name is Liz, although I'm commonly known online as AlieraKieron. I went to high school with Matt, Chris, and Joe, and now I'm a grad student studying Ancient Greek and Latin, so I have a slightly different perspective on the text. (I should add that scholars of Ancient Greek don't study the bible for a whole host of reasons, but we can get to that when we make it to the New Testament.)

Religiously? That's a sticky question. I was raised a United Methodist, became a pagan for several years, and have recently returned to the UCC - United Church of Christ, also known as the most laid back church you can join before coming a Unitarian Universalist. I'm still figuring out exactly where I stand (or as I put it, God and I are still negotiating what language we'll be speaking to each other), but I find myself quoting the Indigo Girls:
"The less I seek the source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Scarlet said...

I was invited to write by a family member. I hope that I am welcome, since Christopher did not invite me. I am Christopher’s cousin. I should add that I am a Christian. I believe that the Bible is truth. I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and am not frightened by opposing ideas. I often watch “Mysteries of the Bible” and other knowledge seeking shows from the History Channel and other related channels that oppose the truths that I value. There are many scientists and non-Christians that struggle with what to do with the Bible. I specifically remember one episode that tried very hard to disprove the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Amazingly enough they found two cities on the Dead Sea that had been mysteriously destroyed by what seemed to be fire and ash. Their conclusion was that there must have been volcanic activity in the area (although there is no evidence of past or current volcanic activity in the area). I thought it was interesting that scientists who do not hold any value in the Bible as an accurate historical document followed it, as if it were a historical document, and found exactly what they expected not to find.

I know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is from chapter 18, and not the current text. But the story reminds me that there are many individuals that believe the Bible is not a historical factual document. But I do not believe that fact has been proven. We also know that many of the ideas modern scientists use to prove their theories are very fallible. In my mind, that means we are individuals all sharing our interpretation of these Biblical ideas. We must include faith in this process--faith in God and the Bible, or faith in believable but unproven theories of scientists.

When I look at the individuals in the Bible, I am amazed at God. Why does he care about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their family? If he is hard to please, difficult to understand and temperamental, then why does he not destroy them all? Have you not asked yourself this question? Could we be distorting the perspective of the text? I think of the verses in Hosea 11:3-4--I myself taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms; yet they have not understood that I was the one looking after them. I led them with reigns of kindness, with leading strings of love. I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek; stooping down to him I gave him his food.

These verses show me that God deals with all of his people as a loving compassionate father deals with his children. As a parent I see the folly in my children’s ways. I see how selfishness motivates them. I observe how they are always trying to go a different way than I am trying to direct them. They need my constant guiding. But my guiding does not make them always go the right way. In fact, many times immediately after I have instructed them, they do the opposite. Does this frustrate me? YES! Does it make me want to destroy them, or send them from my home? NO! If I forced them to always go my way and not learn from their mistakes, would I be helping them or hurting them? I think God, in a more perfect way than me, guides his children and encourages them to follow his instruction. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they learn from their mistakes, sometimes they don’t...

How encouraging! I would have given up long ago if I had not seen God’s consistent hand guiding the sinful men that were his chosen people. It is the fault and sins of people like Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Isaac and Joseph that give me hope. God has a plan in spite of their failures. So many people think that God is demanding perfection from his people then and now. He does delight in obedience. But he also knows that his people will not be perfect. That is why the patriarchs of the Old Testament do not live up to the “Christian standard” that so many claim we have. (Men are more stringent and unloving in regard to sinless perfection than God. They see sin in others, ignore their own, and openly criticize the sin in others.) It is also why we who are Christians fail today. Modern Christians are no different than Bible figures.

With that said, I think we need to look more carefully at the things we are reading in these passages. When we scrutinize the birthright, the rape, the lying to the foreign kings, etc.—we are looking at them from our own understanding. We are very influenced by our culture. Our culture is very different than the culture of the people in Old Testament times. Recently, I read a vignette by Francine Rivers called Tamar. It is a fictional story of Joseph and Tamar based on the Biblical verses from chapter 38. The author has painstakingly researched the culture of the time. As I read this book, I was stuck by all that I had missed from this story by not understanding the culture of the individuals in the story. Understanding the motivations, occupations, social pressures, etc. of the culture and time could add an amazing new depth to your Genesis reading…just a suggestion.

I have written too much. I will close for now. Enjoy reading!

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Scarlet said...

I made a mistake on the Francine River's book. It was about Judah and Tamar, not Joseph.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Mom said...

Ok Matt, I'm going to take a couple of stabs at this. Truly history and geneologies are not my areas of expertise. And I preface my comments by saying I come from a similar perspective as Mom Rivers--I believe the Bible is True and unless the Bible tells me otherwise, I interpret it literally. So when I come to a passage that seems to be a contradiction, I have to consider other passages and recognize that somehow my personal logic must be in error. For example, Numbers 27:1-11, and 36:1-12 give some guidance on what happens when a lineage doesn't have a son and rights and inheritences are transferred. Considering this as an aid to interpret the lineages can help us understand other possibilities of why they may have differed in perspective. So it seems to me there are two possibilities with this. (Maybe more from others?)

One is very simplistic. Every person has two geneologies--one from their Mother's side and one from their fathers. Both of these geneologies could start in different places--obviously I could start mine with my great-great-great-great grandpa on my Mom's side or I could start it more recently. I could also do it on my Dad's side. The hard part is that both come down to Joseph--Mary's husband and seem to take a different route getting there. Not being a Biblical language scholar, I don't know the "punctuation" or word endings etc or even the culture and traditions, but I believe it is at least possible that Heli could be Mary's father and Joseph's father-in-law, making the Luke account the geneology of Mary's side rather than Joseph's. From a quick review of the names in the Luke account--all are men, whereas Matthew includes women which was unusual--again making the case that perhaps the beginning of the Luke account mentions Joseph because that's how they traditionally recorded the lineage using the father's name, but was really Mary's lineage. I Chr. 1-8 gives a whole bunch of fathers, but not mothers....

The other possibility I've seen cited in notes is that Matthew gives the legal descendants of David to establish the Lord's claim to the Davidic throne (when the legal line is incapacitated or becomes extinct), while Luke gives the actual line to which Joseph actually belonged.

I can't say which of these are absolutely correct, but in faith I accept that Christ is who He said He was, that prophetic scriptures were fulfilled and that I still have a lot to learn!!!! But it is me needing to learn, not an error in Scripture.

Lastly, Matt my friend.....I want you to know I still haven't forgotten you......Officer!!!!

Anyway, I hadn't read the blog in a while, but it sure has been interesting....I'll try to keep more up to date. I even failed to give you my Ozone theory of the flood....but I'll save that for another day.

Good night & God Bless as you study!

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Very good response, Chris' Mom!

I sincerely appreciate both the effort and the thoroughness you gave to this question. And I think you did a pretty good job of defending your position- although I am not entirely sure your own position is consistent with what you otherwise want to hold, as I will explore below.

But let me first say again that I very firmly believe that the Holy Scriptures are True... I just think that Truth is more complex- more broad, beautiful and interesting, if you will- than the modern (narrow) conception of the truth as "the literal/historical" is capable of admitting. So I would firmly agree that both genealogies of Jesus are True- but not necessarily literal/historical in the ways that we commonly understand those terms.

What is interesting to me is that, in your own way, you kind of agreed with me in your responses (even while you asserted from the outset that you hold to a literal interpretation of the sacred scriptures "unless the Bible tells you otherwise"). For example, your first "simple" response was essentially that, despite what the text literally says, one of the genealogies could be Mary's genealogy instead of Joseph's. But, of course, since both of them quite "literally" claim to be genealogies through Joseph (and not through Mary) the moment you make that particular move, you have already conceded that the two accounts cannot be reconciled on a truly literal/historical level and so you have abandoned the notion of strict "literalism" in favor of a more open "not exactly literalism" which is, in reality, an appeal to a broader concept of truth! You have managed to preserve the possibility that they could both "historically" refer to Jesus' ancestry- but when interpreted "literally" both texts quite clearly claim something more than that- specifically, both genealogies claim to trace Jesus' ancestry through Joseph. So, if you want to go against the literal sense of the text and argue that Luke's genealogy is of Mary's ancestry instead, well, that's totally fine with me- but you ought to recognize that you are saying that, despite the way it reads, the text of Luke 3:23 ("Joseph, the son of Heli") is not, in fact, "literally true," even though it may actually be "metaphorically true" (which, I think, is what that argument comes down to).

As far as your comments on Matthew and kingship- I think that's very interesting indeed! While I didn't develop this in my earlier post, I would argue that Matthew is making a theological argument with his genealogy that Jesus is the proper King of Israel, so that Herod is immediately highlighted as the usurper to the throne (which he was in the mind of many Jews of Jesus time, being an Edomite with no connection to David)- because the true King-the new Moses and long awaited Messiah- was born a refugee in Bethlehem. The result is that Matthew is making a theological argument about Jesus being the "son of David" (which is not a literal designation, of course, but which I believe is primarily a theological claim- that Jesus is the one that God has chosen to be the promised leader of the true Israel) through the use of a genealogy that connects him to David through a pattern of 14 generations- that are not even really 14 generations (a clue that Matthew doesn't mean it literally?)! And, in this particular case, I find your proposal that Matthew is accurately tracing the legal descent of the Davidic kingdom from different barren lines very intriguing- there is, of course, no way to prove or disprove the historicity of this particular speculation as far as I can tell- as an argument for a historical content to the genealogy. But this speculation is, once again, not a literal interpretation- you are actually arguing for what I can best describe as a "legal truth in scripture" in this case instead of a literal truth (The only way that I can see to genuinely reconcile the two accounts "literally" is to argue something to the effect that "Jacob=Heli," "Nathan=Solomon" etc, which you have chosen not to do from the outset).

What I find most interesting about your defenses is that, if I am reading you correctly, you are implicitly giving a primacy to history over the literal text- even if it requires speculation about historical events apparently left un-chronicled by Scripture (1. Joseph presumablly having a close enough relationship to Mary's own father to call him the "son of Heli" even metaphorically? or 2. A scripturally un-recognized dying out of all of the male descendants of Solomon so that the line of Nathan son of David can take the throne?). What I find so fascinating about that move is that it is essentially a move toward something like tradition- you have implicitly invoked these speculations- and abandoned the literal words of the text- for the sake of preserving the mere possibility of historical truth. It is a fascinating move- which I will have to think about more- but I am not sure it is a move you really want to make, ultimately.

Your second speculation also gives me an interesting opportunity that, as a Catholic who believes Jesus was an "only child," I feel compelled to throw out there: If your argument is that Matthew is tracing a line of legal descent from lines without sons in a manner similar to that described in Number 27, then a requirement for such descent is a lack of male offspring who are more properly "legal heirs" than the one who is receiving the legal status. An interesting point to raise with this that may not have occured to you is that, if this argument about legal descent is correct, then Jesus can be the legal heir of Joseph (and therefore the proper King of Israel) IF AND ONLY IF Joseph has no "genuine" male offspring of his own to whom the position would otherwise belong. In other words, as we both agree that Jesus is not the physical son of Joseph, his claim to the Throne of David- a claim that would "legally" belong to Joseph's heir- would fail if Joseph had another heir by his own loins- because that child would necessarily take precedence over Jesus. It seems to me that this argument is, implicitly, an argument that Jesus could not have had any brothers by Joseph.

Also worth mentioning and a great way to end this thread: A Protestant friend in the PhD program here pointed out to me yesterday that the way Joseph is portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew is actually intended theologically to remind us of the Joseph of Genesis (which relates us back to this actual blog topic!) So we have Joseph, who in Matthew is the "son of Jacob" and this Joseph dreams true dreams sent by God in both Israel and in Egypt. And Jesus is thus like Moses- almost killed as a babe by the edict of an evil king, Jesus also finds safety in Egypt but ultimately leaves it to fulfill his destiny before God. A very fitting way to end in anticipation of where Chris shall soon be picking up the discussion.

--Sgt. Peterson, Munice Police :)

11:53 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

Gosh. I'll have to make sure I wrap up Genesis ASAP just to preserve the momentum. Thanks for stopping by, everyone--and I'll use this chance to remind you that you can e-mail me at habnem at if you want me to alert you whenever there is a new post (assuming you don't have a fancier way to do that, which probably exists but I don't know about).

4:37 PM  

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