Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2b: "The First Christmas": genealogy as destiny chapter

Excerpts for discussion from Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan:

"Most Christians and many non-Christians could tell you the basic story of the conception and birth of Jesus. But they would probably never mention the detailed genealogies given to him in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38...Nowhere is it so clear as in these two genealogies that theological metaphor and symbolic parable rather than actual history and factual information create and dominate the Christmas stories of the conception and infancy of Jesus.

Different genealogies for the same Jesus:
Matthew comes at the very start of his Christmas story while Luke's genealogy comes at the start of Jesus' public life--after his baptism, in fact--and therefore outside his Christmas story. Matthew goes from Abraham to Jesus; Luke from Jesus to Adam. Matthew descends from David through Solomon, a king; Luke descends from David through Nathan, a prophet; Matthew names Jesus' grandfather as Jacob, but Luke names him as Heli. Both are heavily male-oriented, but Matthew names four women ancestors whereas Luke names none. Where have all the mothers gone?...They point to Josephus' own genealogy as an example, as Josephus includes especially how he has a royal and a priestly lineage, and they say "That combination is the highest Jewish pedigree for that time and place. Luke--but not Matthew--gives a similar double pedigree to Jesus. He is of priestly lineage through Mary and of royal lineage through Joseph. "

The importance of the women named in Matthew's genealogy:
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, wife of Uriah (Bathsheeba), and Mary. Tamar played a prostitute and bore two sons by her father-in-law who had disowned her, in order to gain justice. Rahab was a Caanite prostitute from Jericho who helped the Israelis. Ruth was a Moabite woman married to an Israeli, a widow who did not desert her Israelite mother-in-law who also became widowed, she returns to Bethlehem with her and seduces Boaz whom marries her. Bathsheeba was the wife of the Hittite warrior Uriah whom David committed adultery with and bore sons, and after Uriah is killed in battle after being ordered to the front by David, David marries Bathsheeba.

The first four were all Gentiles and they say Matthew, who also includes the Gentiles,the Persian Magi, in his infancy story, might be stressing the inclusion of Gentiles in the broader story of Israel. They go on with other possibilities: "The second answer haas the advantage of connecting all five mothers together. In every case there was a marital abnormality, but it was precisely through these five somewhat surprising or irregular unions that God controlled the lineage of the Messiah. It has also been suggested that the women took the initiative and moved boldly to solve the irregularity. But, although that is certainly true for Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and maybe even Bathsheeba with regard to Solomon's royal ascendency, it is hardly true for Mary--as Matthew, rather than Luke, narrates the infancy of Jesus....Why did Matthew find it necessary to defend Mary by linking her to those other ancestral women?" That will be discussed in the next chapter, and the next post...

Luke's genealogy: it emphasizes Jesus' title as Son of God, which is also used at the baptism; Luke's ending the genealogy with Adam evokes Genesis, as does the baptism scene in Luke. His purpose is theological: "Jesus is a new Adam, a new "Son of God", the start of a new creation, the beginning of a transfigured earth."

But why evoke a genealogy at all? Descent from Abraham was true for all Jews; descending from David didn't make one a Messiah. At the time of Jesus, however, there was already a divine Son of God (Augustus), and one who claimed a genealogy back to the time of Troy and the goddess Venus and her child Aeneas who through his son Julus begins the Julian family line. Aeneas escpaes Troy taking his father on his shoulder (his father carrying the family idols) and his son by his hand, and flees to Italy. Artistic scenes of that story were ubiquitous in the Roman empire of Jesus time....Think of that imperical image, they write, when you read the biblical story of another fleeing family.

"...if you wanted to oppose and replace one Son of God born with a millenium-plus descent from the divinely born Aeneas,you would have to introduce an alternative Son of God with a better than millennium-plus descent from, say, the divinely born Isaac, as in Matthew, or, better, the divinely created Adam, as in Luke. But what is always clear is that ancient genealogy was not about history and poetry, but about prophecy and destiny, not about accuracy, but about advertising."

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