Tag Archives: Luke

A Question of the Division of Abijah

levites-aaronic-blessingIn the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Luke 1:5 (NASB)

I very recently wrote a blog post called Was He Born in a Sukkah and, based on a teaching by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) theologian and teacher D. Thomas Lancaster, I suggested that Jesus was not born either on Christmas or on Sukkot. I received some pushback as a result and some readers provided further evidence on how the Master was very probably born on Sukkot.

My original source was an article in Messiah Journal 111 (Fall 2012 issue) called “The Birth of Yeshua at Sukkot: Evidence from an Old Source” but I later listened to an audio CD of Lancaster teaching the same material. The audio contained more information that expanded upon Lancaster’s reasons as to why we can’t really know if Jesus was or wasn’t born on Sukkot.

I just found Lancaster’s sermon online at the Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship website. If you click that link, you’ll be taken to the Audio page specific to the material. To listen to the relevant recording, scroll down until you locate “Birth of Yeshua at Sukkot.” At about 8:29 on the audio, Lancaster introduces the information about Zacharias (father of John the Baptist) that I’m also going to summarize here.

The strongest evidence anyone has presented me about Yeshua (Jesus) being born on Sukkot has to do with the timing of Zacharias’ service in the Temple. But let’s take a step backward:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.

Luke 1:26-36 (NASB)

Here we see the angel Gabriel announcing to Miriam (Mary) that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, and popular opinion states that at this time Mary was already pregnant or would become pregnant very soon afterward. We also see that her cousin Elizabeth was six-months pregnant with her child, John the Baptist. The Priest Zacharias is John’s father.

Remember, Zacharias is a Priest in the division of Abijah and we know, based on 1 Chronicles 24, the order of the service of the Priestly divisions. We know that the division of Abijah, like the other divisions, served twice a year for a full week each time. If we could figure out when the course of Abijah was, we could figure out when Elizabeth became pregnant (since she became pregnant immediately after the end of Zacharias’ service in the Temple), count ahead six months and then nine months, and then figure out the birthdate of Jesus.

But Lancaster says it’s not that easy.

First of all, there were 24 courses which meant that each division cycled through the year twice making 48 week-long courses in a year. But in the solar calendar, there are 52 weeks in a year, so unless there was some way to compensate, each course would drift across the calendar making it very difficult to determine when a particular division was serving at any given year.

D.T. LancasterThe assumption though is that the Abijah division was serving in the spring or the fall. But Luke doesn’t tell us what season it was when describing Zacharias’ service, so we have no way of knowing if it was during springtime or autumn.

On top of that, one out of every three years in the Jewish religious calendar contains 13 months. Rabbinic sources don’t tell us how or if the priesthood compensated for an extra four weeks in their calendar every three years. We assume that they must have, but without knowing the exact method they used, we’re stuck as far as calculating the timing of the service of divisions.

And after all that, the entire priesthood was called to serve during each of the three pilgrim festivals: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, and Lancaster says we can’t rule out that it was during one of the festivals that Zacharias was serving.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that experts don’t agree on whether the priestly rotation began on Nisan 1 or Tishrei 1.

Add all this up, and it becomes impossible to calculate when Zacharias served in the Temple in the Luke 1 text, and thus the entire basis for calculating the birth of Messiah disintegrates like wet tissue paper.

Since this is just a summary, I encourage you to click on the link I provided above and listen to the entire recording for yourself. I can’t speak for Lancaster, but unless some additional data comes to light that modifies everything I just said, the information about Zacharias and the Abijah division of priests is a dead-end in terms of discovering the birthdate of the Master.

The Messiah’s Father

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)
Kosher Jesus

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.