Sunday, January 12, 2014


Rose window on south end of transpet arm,
St. Denis Cathedral, St. Denis, France.
The stained glass depicts the Tree of Jesse.
(Behind on posting again! Sorry! This was a good Christmastime study based on the genealogy of Jesus given in Matthew. Inspired more than a little by a Richard Beck post at his Experimental Theology blog.)

Matthew’s (MT 1:1-17) and Luke’s (LK 3:23-38) gospels both offer a genealogy for Jesus.  They differ – a lot. Luke’s is backwards from Joseph (Jesus’ dad) to Adam, Matthew’s is forwards from Abraham. There’s a small difference from Judah to Amminadab. But then the lines from David to Jesus are completely different, including different fathers for Joseph!

One explanation for this is that Jewish law at the time encouraged brothers to marry their widowed sister-in-law if they had no children (or sons), called Levirate marriage. Any children from the new marriage were referred to as children of the deceased brother. Another possibility is that Joseph and Mary moved into Mary’s house, making her father a father to Joseph, meaning one of the genealogies could be Mary’s.

1)    What do these kind of seeming conflicts mean to you? Are they worth much attention or emphasis?

Another real oddity for the time period is that Matthew explicitly mentions women in his genealogy. And these are interesting people to include.

“Judah and Tamar were the father and mother of Perez and Zerah.” (MT 1:3) Tamar’s story is not one of the most retold of the bible. Just after chapter 37’s attack on Joseph, son of Jacob, by his brothers, (where Judah says “What will we gain by killing our brother and covering up his death? 27 Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let’s not hurt him, because he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.”) is the story of Tamar. Read Genesis 38.

2)    In some bibles this is titled Judah’s sin. What was Judah’s sin?

3)    What do you think of Tamar and her actions?

4)    Other ideas or questions? (What is the red yarn about?)

“Salmon and Rahab were the father and mother of Boaz.” (MT 1:5) Rahab might be more familiar. Read Joshua 2 and Joshua 6:22-25. Salmon is five or six generations descended from Perez, son of Judah.

5)    Why did Rahab do as she did?

6)    Anything else you noticed or wondered about in the story?

“Boaz and Ruth were the father and mother of Obed.” (MT 1:5) Ruth, of course, has her own book of the bible. Ruth is the answer to trivia questions, since hers is one of only two books named for women, and the only name-book whose protagonist is not a Jew. In chapter 1 we hear how Naomi went to Moab, married a Moabite, had two sons who married – and then all three men died. The daughters-in-law wanted to stay with Naomi as she returned to Israel, but Naomi told them not to. Ruth did anyway. In chapter 2, they have returned but things are hard. It’s harvest time, so Naomi sends Ruth out to the fields to pick up the scraps missed by the harvesters. Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi’s, without knowing who Ruth was, instructs his people to be kind to her.  Read Ruth 3 and 4. (The genealogy in Ruth 4, by the way, agrees with Matthew’s, not Luke’s.)

7)    Uncovering the feet is thought by most analysts to be a way of referring to sex. Is there anything in the text to support that idea?

8)    What do you think of Ruth and Naomi’s plan?

9)    Anything else you noticed or wondered about in this story?

“David and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba were the father and mother of Solomon.” (MT 1:6) Here’s where the gospel genealogy makes a difference. Luke’s history goes through David’s son Nathan (mentioned in 2 Sam 5:14 as one older than Solomon).  Bathsheba’s more familiar story is in 2 Samuel 11:1-17, and 2 Samuel 12:13-25. (Read if time.) But she finally has a speaking part in 1 Kings 1:1-40.
10)    what do you think of Bathsheba’s actions?

11)    Anything else you noticed or wondered about in this story?

So those are Jesus’ named female ancestors.
12)    What do they have in common?

13)    Why might Matthew have included them specifically in the genealogy?

In the Richard Beck article that inspired this study, he writes:
“But I think a more interesting way to read the genealogy is that Matthew is trying to highlight the scandal. Presumably, God could have entered the world in a variety of fashions. We know Jesus enters the world under humble circumstances (peasant parents, occupied outpost of the Roman world, born in a stable, refugees in Egypt, raised in a backwater town, etc.). But what does it mean that God enters the world under the cloud of moral scandal? God chooses to enter the world in the middle of small town gossip. (And if you've ever lived in a small town you know exactly what that is like.) What does it say about God in this choosing to enter the world under these particular circumstances? I think it is a hint about where and how God begins God's work in the world. Then, as now, God doesn't start in churches. Nor does God start in world capitals or with superpowers. God doesn't start with the talented, powerful, rich, or famous. Rather, God starts with the poor, the alien, the immigrant, the person on the street out in the cold. And God starts in the midst of moral scandal and gossip. God starts in the place of social shame and moral blame. God starts with an unmarried pregnant teenager. A human being--along with her embarrassing "situation"--still shunned, shamed and shut away in our churches.
Where does God begin? Here, in the place the religious and the powerful least expect it.”

14)    Whether that was Matthew’s intent or not, what does that mean for us today, this Christmas?

Of course, I had to try to make a visual comparison of the geneaologies.  So...

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