Friday, October 19, 2012

Three questions from the Rabbi -- part 5

(Letter to Yehudah ben Yiddishkeit, continued.)

If one can believe that a man can rise from the dead, then the next questions are much easier to answer. Now, on to your second question:

2) We find the genealogy of Jesus provided by the Gospels confusing. Who was Jesus’ paternal grandfather? (We notice that Matthew says that his grandfather was Jacob, but Luke says it was Heli). Also, we notice that Matthew declares that Jesus was separated from King David by only twenty-eight generations, but Luke’s list shows a forty-three generation separation. What does this contradiction mean?

Here is Dr. Brown’s answer:

Brown takes the surprising position that “because the early Christians confessed Jesus as Messiah, for which 'Son of David' was an alternative title, they historicized their faith by creating for him Davidic genealogies (neither of which are plausible) and by claiming that Joseph was a descendant of David.” Brown explains that Matthew probably created fictional genealogical links back to Abraham and David also “ appeal to the mixed constituency of Matthew's community of Jewish and Gentile Christians.”

I would refer you to the work of the late Fr. Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine Catholic Scholar who takes into account what no one else seems to: the geography of the Holy Land. It seems that the family of David did not come back to the Holy Land from exile in Babylon in large numbers until about a century before the birth of Jesus. The reason was simple. Messianic expectations were stirring, and the Davidic family, though threadbare and out of power, returned to the homeland hoping for the best. According to Pixner they seemed to have settled in three areas:
  1. Kochaba (“Star’) east of the Jordan, a name which reminds one of the Messianic prophecy in Genesis (B’roshith) “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Num24:17), 
  2. Nazareth (“Little Shoot”) west of the Jordan referring to the prophecy of Isaiah “a shoot from the root of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) and 
  3. to the Essene quarters of Jerusalem.
They seem to have been loosely associated with Essenes among other messianic movements. They were disenfranchised, not wealthy. They had to work for a living as did Jesus and his foster father Joseph. The problem of the genealogies of Jesus is handily answered by Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) quoting Sextus Julius Africanus. (160-240) Both were resident in the Holy Land and Africanus wrote only a century after the lives of the people he was discussing and whose descendants he had interviewed, in a culture that preserved oral knowledge this is hardly a long time. He explains in his letter to Aristides, that the discrepancy between Matthew and Luke in the genealogy of Christ is due to law of Levirate marriage, by which a man had to marry the widow of his deceased brother, to produce offspring so that no family should die out in Israel. 

In the Gospels there are both a legal and a physical genealogy of Jesus according to Africanus. In my own genealogy there are double and triple lines of descent from my forbears in a small German town in Hesse. I suspect that I am my own cousin. If you’re going to keep the gene pool small as the Davidic family probably kept theirs, the multiple lines of descent are going to be many. There was quite probably extensive intermarriage in the Davidic family and these customs are still practiced by the peoples of the Near East. The Davidic descent of Jesus is not an invention despite Dr. Brown’s infallibility. 

Jesus’ relatives, who lived in the century after immediately following His life insisted that they were of the Davidic lineage. It is curious to think that Dr. Brown, from the distance of 2000 years, has such insight that he is able to refute the claims of people who were on the scene. The genealogies may be poetic and  symbolic, but they are not necessarily inaccurate by the standards of the time. For example, the 14-14-14 configuration of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew is clearly poetic. The final 14 generations only include 13 generations. Do you think the author  didn’t know how to count? He meant 14, perhaps as a gematria, a symbolic number. Fourteen in Hebrew is YD, which of course means hand, but it is also DY (4 and 10) “DAI” which implies fulfillment. Jesus is the fulfillment of History, of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. This sets the tone for the whole Gospel in which Matthew says repeatedly “This is to fulfill what was written...” Poetry may be poetic, but it need not be untrue. Jesus, according to those alive at the time was clearly from the Davidic family, but as you point out, he was not the literal son, not “from the loins” of Joseph even if Joseph was a son of David.

On to the third question:

    (3) The genealogical line linking Jesus and King David seems to pass through Jesus’ father. But since Jesus was the product of a virgin conception, then He does not share in his father’s Davidic ancestry. How is Jesus a descendent of David?

Here is Dr. Brown’s response:

III. The Virginal Conception
Brown cautions that “we should not underestimate the adverse pedagogical impact on the understanding of divine sonship if the virginal conception is denied.” On the other hand, admits Brown, “The virginal conception under its creedal title of 'virgin birth' is not primarily a biological statement.”... Because record of the virginal conception appears only in two Gospels, and there only in the infancy narratives which Brown suspects are largely fictional, the Catholic theologian tactfully concludes that “biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved.”

In his implication, Dr. Brown timidly dances on the edge of  Catholic orthodoxy. You will notice that he does not say that Jesus is NOT virginally conceived. Just that the Scriptures don’t prove it. That is how he can say these things and still get an imprimatur.

My response is quite simple. First, if the Resurrection is a possibility, then virgin birth is certainly possible. If one cannot believe in the Resurrection, why would one bother to believe something as preposterous as virgin birth or for that matter transubstantiation or miracles of healing or, for that matter, eternal life? I believe in them all because Jesus of Nazareth assures me through the Scriptures and the Church that these things are so, Dr. Brown’s ideological juggling notwithstanding.

As for the reckoning of the Davidic lineage through a woman, there are many among the Jews of our own era who have pegged their messianic hopes on descent from Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520 –1609) the Maharal of Prague. This descent however is marked through his daughters! This is a minority opinion, and rejected by most who practice orthodoxy. There is a far more significant argument, that even the most orthodox might find interesting. Genesis 3:15 
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” 
How is it that a woman can have seed?  Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews hold this in common, that every word of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is rich in meaning, almost infinitely rich. The word seed is not therefore, arbitrary. And who is the “she” of the prophecy. It would seem that the seed of the woman did not triumph if Eve is that woman. And if Eve can be said to have seed, cannot another woman, whom we call the “New Eve?” The first Eve’s children did not conquer the serpent. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the seed of the second Eve, Mary, the princess of the house of David. We “Nozrim” (Christians) hold that the first prophecy of the Messiah is found in the Torah, in Genesis 3:15 and that the Messiah must be counted as the seed of a woman.

A dear friend who is not a Christian, but a Jew, denies saying it, but he once said to me that, “This nonsense about a divine and human Messiah is simply not Jewish. But then,” he continued looking away into the distance, “...if he rose from the dead, that changes everything.” 

We Christians believe that the Messiah was more than we were expecting, infinitely more.

Your dear, most grateful and respectful friend,
the Rev. Know-it-all

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