Was Jesus from the tribe of Judah? Well, here is where we run into our first problem. How does one inherit tribal lineage? From his father. Who was Jesus’ father? Well, according to the New Testament, it certainly wasn’t Joseph – he was going to divorce Mary because she was pregnant. So, you can’t use Joseph’s genealogy. Now, both of the genealogies given for Jesus in the New Testament are listed as belonging to Joseph. That right there presents problems, primarily because they are different. Christian scholars have asserted that the reason they are different is that one of them is actually Mary’s. They never satisfactorily explain why Mary’s genealogy is listed as Joseph’s, but let’s go with that for a minute.
Joseph’s genealogy attributes him to being from the tribe of Judah. But remember, Joseph isn’t Jesus’ father, so it doesn’t count. One cannot inherit tribal lineage through adoption. Here’s an example… Let’s say that Yonatan is a Cohen (of the priestly line) and he marries Rivkah and they have a son named Yosef. Yosef is a Cohen (he inherited it by birth from his father), and when he grows up he can serve in the Temple. Now, let’s say that Yosef’s father Yonatan dies. Can Yosef still serve in the Temple when he grows up? Absolutely – he’s still a Cohen – still of the priestly line. Now let’s say his mother Rivkah marries Shlomo, from the tribe of Yehuda. Shlomo can one day serve as a King. And let’s say that Shlomo loves Yosef and decides to adopt him. Is Yosef still a Cohen? Yes. Can Yosef still serve in the Temple? Yes. Can he serve as a king? No. Even though his adopted father is from the tribe of Yehuda, Yosef is still a Cohen. Adoption doesn’t change a fact of birth.
So, if Joseph is not Jesus’ father, then his genealogy is pointless. It’s a red herring. It doesn’t make a difference, and it doesn’t matter.
-from “The Messiah and the Lineage of Jesus”
OK, I’m at a loss. I found this troubling bit of information a little while ago (as I write this) and very much on the coattails of me publishing my review of the FFOZ TV episode Son of David. In the TV program, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher Toby Janicki did what I thought was a thorough job of resolving any troubling questions about the genealogy of Jesus (you’ll have to view the program to see the explanation) establishing him as of the tribe of Judah and in the lineage of David and Solomon.
However, as you can see from the above-quoted information, one question remains: how can one inherit a genealogy from an adopted father, and particularly tribal affiliation?
And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
You shall not pervert the judgment of a stranger or an orphan, and you shall not take a widow’s garment as security [for a loan].
The stranger or “ger” in ancient, tribal Israel, was a non-Israelite, someone born of the nations, who desired to join the community of Israel and to obey all of the requirements of God. That person behaved just as a born-Israelite but he or she lacked any sort of tribal status, and therefore no protection from tribal leaders and no inheritance in the Land. This person was potentially vulnerable, along with widows and orphans, to all sorts of abuses, and God made a specific point on numerous occasions that the tribally affiliated Israelites were not to afflict or take advantage of this population.
Eventually, their descendants would intermarry and would become tribally affiliated, but especially that first generation of gerim were connected to no Israelite tribe.
If Jesus did not gain tribal membership through Joseph, then he had a unique status in Israelite society in the early First Century. I’m not sure if he could legally gain a tribal affiliation from his mother (JewishAnswers.org says, “no”), but if not, then he did not have one at all. As far as Toby’s presentation is concerned, we don’t have a record of Mary’s (Miriam’s) genealogy, so even if Jesus could inherit affiliation from her, we’d still have no idea about who Jesus was as a tribal member.
As far as I understand it, the status of a “ger” didn’t exist in the Israel of Jesus’s day. Many tribal affiliations had been lost in the Babylonian exile and the only ones still recognizable were Judah, Benjamin (Paul knew he was of that tribe), and Levi. We have no record of any other tribes being recognized, such as Dan, Gad, Naphtali, and so on. These were supposedly part of the “lost tribes,” but one theory on where they went was that representatives did return to Israel after some time and were simply assimilated into Judah and Benjamin.
But that’s beside the point.
The question is, given the unique circumstances of the birth of Jesus, what tribal affiliation (if any) did he possess and how can you prove it from scripture? Any information about tribal inheritance and the specifics of legal adoption practices from the early First Century CE in Israel would be a bonus.
I’m not aware of any other virgin births in the Bible. If there were, we could look at the person/people who were the products of such births and see how tribal affiliation was managed. There are other miraculous births such as Isaac and Samuel, but they still required a participating male to biologically father these children.
In the case of Jesus, we have none since Joseph, by definition, could not have been involved in a virgin birth.
I should mention at this point that an explanation and evidence satisfactory to Jewish audiences (as well as Gentiles) must exist based on Paul’s presentation of said-evidence in Acts 13:13-34. Luke only gives us a summary of Paul’s oratory in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, but assuming we believe the text is accurate, whatever Paul said must have been sufficient to have convinced the born-Jews, righteous converts, and God-fearing Gentiles present that Jesus was the Messiah. The only objection the Jewish audience seemed to have was on the following Shabbat (Acts 13:44-52), when the synagogue was inundated by masses of pagan Gentiles, all eager to hear what Paul had to say about Jesus. The Jewish leadership didn’t question the authenticity of Jesus as Messiah, only the necessity of involving a whole lot of Gentiles (which eventually tainted anything Paul said about Messiah or anyone else).
However, if we cannot find the proof that resolves the issue of the genealogy of Jesus based on scriptural evidence and ancient Israeli inheritance and adoption practices, then it is a showstopper. I don’t expect that anyone responding to this will present iron clad evidence that absolutely cannot be denied, but this is a good question and it deserves a good answer. Otherwise, we are left to fill in the missing pieces of this puzzle with faith, and that wasn’t the point of Toby’s teaching in his video lesson.
Is Jesus the Son of David or not?