Son of David – from the tribe of Judah

The traditional doctrine of the virginal conception is taken for granted by most Christians. They are unaware that the idea disqualifies Jesus as the son of David through Solomon, from the tribe of Judah. Indeed, trying to prove to Jews, who are skilled in their ancient traditions, that Jesus qualifies to the throne of the Kingdom leads to utter failure.

Imagine for a moment that we are in the first century. None of the churches have all the NT writings, each of them only have a few, many of them are yet to be written, and the Greek-speaking Gentile churches use the LXX (Septuagint) for study, the Greek translation of the Tanakh (OT). Now, Matthew writes a gospel, and he goes to great length to prove that Jesus is not the Messiah(!), for by the genealogy he compiles he shows that Jesus is not the son of David, that is, his physical descendant. The Jewish society was patriarchal, and tribal membership was passed on from father to son. Sadly, according to Matthew, Jesus is not from the tribe of Judah, so he is not the Messiah, at least this is what he proves through his genealogy. We don’t yet have Luke’s gospel that delivers us another, totally different genealogy on which we could possibly depend.

Even when we receive Luke’s gospel, we still face a problem, because the lineage doesn’t come through Solomon, but Nathan. Sure, but, are we not told that Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary? What proof do we have for that? I mean not assumption, but proof. All we know about Mary is that she and Elizabeth were cousins, and Elizabeth was the daughter of Aaron. She was a Levite. If she was a Levite, Mary might have also been a Levite. Luke’s genealogy certainly doesn’t indicate that, but rather, it gives a davidic lineage. And the lineage is that of Joseph, not Mary.

So we have a problem. Neither genealogies prove that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David through Solomon according to the flesh.

But what if Joseph adopted him? Doesn’t adoption transfer tribal membership? No, it doesn’t. Tribal membership and inheritance came through the father, while Jewishness (which means belonging to the religion of Judaism) came through the mother, for the mothers were responsible for their children’s religious upbringing.

Thus, the child of a Gentile man and a Jewish mother would be Jewish, but would not belong to any of the tribes of Israel, and the child of a Israeli man and a Gentile woman would not be considered Jewish, unless the child learned Judaism and converted to the religion later on in his/her life. Jewishness is belonging to the religion. Tribal membership is by physical descent through the father.

On the other hand we have the testimony of the apostles, that Jesus was indeed the son of David according to the flesh, that is, by natural lineage. Both Peter and Paul testify about what they believed was true:

Acts 2:29 “Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ…”

Rom 1:3 “… who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and designated son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…”

So how do we solve this huge problem?

What is the solution? Is Jesus the Messiah or not? The writers of NT testify that he is. Now they are either wrong and the virginal conception is right, or they are right and we have to find a solution. I can see two possible choices here:

1. We discard the birth narratives as spurious. Indeed, the NT writers outside Matthew and Luke know nothing about it, while if it was important, we would certainly expect at least Paul and perhaps James (correctly Jacob) to dwell on it. However, the silence of the NT apart from the two gospels is striking. The Hebrew version of Matthew used by the Ebionites and the Nazarenes, the Jewish followers of Jesus, also lacked the birth narrative.

We also have problems with the so-called prophecies quoted by Matthew. They are simply not prophecies, but references to history or a sign given to Ahab, one only needs to read them in context (I will deal with them in other posts). Or we stand surprised by the utter historical blunder Luke makes about Quirinius in Ch 2. Why is it that there is nothing common with his and Matthew’s account? Indeed, if we suppose that the original gospels started with John’s baptism – apart from the genealogy of Luke – we have far fewer problems.

2. We don’t discard the birth narratives as spurious, but take into consideration the Old Latin and Old Syriac translations. In their genealogies Jesus is the actual son of Joseph, and Matt. 1:25 (“and didn’t know her sexually until she had brought forth her firstborn son.”) is missing, a practice alien to Jewish culture.

However, we still have enormous problems with Luke’s genealogy, for there is no way we can reconcile it with that of Luke’s. The only way I can see sense out of it is if in the ancient Roman Empire one’s lineage was determined through the mother, but instead of her name the husband’s was inserted. However, I am not aware of any proof that this was indeed the practice.

Conclusion: While I leave it to the reader to make up his or her mind about the issue at hand, my conviction is that the first option is the most likely.

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