It’s striking, then, that the Gospels explain that Jesus was not from David’s house, nor a male descendent of any but God, as he was born of a virgin. I’ve already explained it is anathema to Judaism for the divine to be in any way mortal or otherwise individuated as a human man. But if we set this stricture aside and take the Gospels at face value, already it seems they have contradicted the prophecies.
Some Christians have explained that Mary was from the bloodline of King David, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both specifically trace Jesus’ genealogy to David through Joseph. Not only that, even if Mary was descended from David, Jewish law traces genealogy paternally. Jesus still would not qualify as the messiah, at leat by the standard set by the prophecies he was supposed to fulfill.
-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
“Chapter 30: A Davidic Messiah?” (pg 173)
I’ve already written my review of Rabbi Boteach’s book, but questions remain. This one is a doozy, at least for me. I’m sure some New Testament scholar can easily brush away the Rabbi’s objections to the lineage of Jesus, but I have no way of evaluating his words except at face value. My understanding of the genealogies of Jesus provided in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is that they establish that Jesus is a male heir of the throne of David, but Rabbi Boteach says the opposite. He states in his book that both of these genealogies actually prove that Jesus could not be a proper descendant of David and thus, he could not possibly fulfill the Messianic prophesies. It means that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah; the Christ, as we have been taught in the Christian church.
That’s pretty disturbing, but as I said, I’m sure New Testament scholars can resolve this apparently iron-clad supposition that Rabbi Boteach offers…can’t they?
Before answering, let’s have a look at the offending passages, including Rabbi Boteach’s remarks about each one.
Boteach states (pg 174): Matters are further complicated by the fact that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke contradict one another. They even disagree regarding which branch of David’s descendants Jesus came from. Matthew says he was from Solomon’s line…
Throughout his book, Boteach quoted from the NIV Bible when referencing any New Testament text, but I’ll be using the ESV translation:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… –Matthew 1:1-6
Rabbi Boteach emphasized (as I did above) the fact that Jesus is, according to Matthew, descended from David through Solomon. Here’s more of the Rabbis’ comments:
Matthew concludes his genealogy by linking David and Solomon with Jesus: “And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (pg 174)
Now Boteach turns to Luke’s genealogy of Jesus:
Luke differs, claiming that Jesus was of Nathan’s line (pg 174):
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David… –Luke 3:23-31
I’ve added Boteach’s emphasis again, which he uses as proof that neither genealogy could be used to establish Jesus as the Messiah. He cites 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 to immediately dismiss Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, since it clearly states that the Messiah will be descended from David through Solomon (though for some odd reason, Boteach continues to use the NIV translation rather than the JPS or Stone Edition of the Tanakh). Luke clearly has Jesus being descended from David through Nathan, rather than Solomon, as is required according to Boteach, so that, as they say, is that.
Yet Boteach says that Matthew’s genealogy also disproves the “Messiahship” of Jesus because of verse 17:
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
To make this neat numerological passage fit so that there are “fourteen generations” between these three epic events, Boteach says that Matthew had to remove any mention of four kings that should be in the line between Solomon and Jesus, given how Matthew has structured his list: Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim. Once these four kings are added back into the genealogy, there’s a big problem.
Boteach continues (pg 176):
Elsewhere in the Bible it is made clear that Jeconiah is the son of Jehoiakim, as in Jeremiah here it is written, “…when he carried Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 27:20 NIV) Sickened by the idolatrous and blasphemous misbehavior of Jeconiah, God curses him and all of his descendents. God specifically vows that “none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:30 NIV)
If Jesus was indeed descended from Jeconiah, he is included in the curse and forbidden from being the King Messiah as described in the Hebrew Bible. Both New Testament genealogies therefore disqualify Jesus from being the messiah: Luke because the messiah must come from Solomon, and Matthew because he must not come from Jeconiah.
This may be a common argument used by Jewish anti-missionaries and for all I know, these genealogical problems may have long since been laid to rest by Christian respondents, but I don’t know that for a fact. There’s a lot that I don’t know, which I suppose is what Rabbi Boteach is counting on in his Christian audience. On the other hand, for all I know, he may have just delivered a devastating blow to Christian claims of Jesus being the Messiah based on Matthew’s and Luke’s lists. If Boteach has, in fact, effectively proven that Jesus cannot be the Messiah as the church states, then he has unraveled the very fabric of Christian faith in Jesus as the Moshiach. Being the Messiah is inexorably tied to Jesus being the Son of the Most High God, Savior of the world, and the one upon whom all our hopes are laid. If Jesus is not the Messiah; the Christ, then he isn’t anything else the church counts on for the salvation of our souls.
Since I can’t answer Boteach’s challenge, perhaps you can. How can we look at the genealogies listed by both Matthew and Luke and say that they really do prove Jesus is the Messiah? The comments box is now open and ready.