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The pain of family trees

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 ….. and ….. 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, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and ….. and ….. and ….. Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. Matthew 1: 1-16
One of the four first-century biographies of Jesus Christ was written by a man named Matthew. He was a well-educated man and originally a tax farmer. Tax farmers were businessmen who tendered for the right to collect taxes imposed by the Roman Empire. The person who tendered the most got the job and he was then permitted to extract in taxes whatever he could, retaining any surplus as “lawful” (from Rome’s perspective) profit for himself.

Matthew was no fool.

In bold above are the first sentences of his biography of Jesus. He wanted to place before his readers the pedigree of Jesus Christ – the Jesus whom he had followed, who had been crucified and who rose from the dead.

He wanted everyone to be aware that Jesus was a descendant of King David (reigned BC 1011-971) and of Abraham, the Jewish patriarch (alive c. BC 1950). He succeeded in that no doubt through researching the genealogical records kept in the Jerusalem Temple before its destruction by Rome in AD 70.

Matthew did something rather surprising in reporting that genealogy. He listed the fathers and the sons. But he listed only five mothers. What’s special about four of those five women?

‘What history does is to uncover man’s universal sin.’ (Sir Herbert Butterfield, Cambridge History Professor, 1900-1979)
Tamar’s story is in the Bible in the book of Genesis 38; Rahab’s story is in the book of Joshua 2; Ruth’s story is in the book of that name; Bathsheba’s (the wife of Uriah) story is in the book of 2 Samuel 11 onwards. All four books are part of the National Archives of Israel and date back many centuries before Jesus came.

Do you research your ancestry? Have you found unusual people there?

I must confess to having no certainty whatsoever why these four women are listed. But here are two facts which apply to them.

First, all four women had bad reputations. Tamar dressed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law. Rahab was from the red-light district of Jericho, a city condemned for its evil. Ruth was a young widow who set her stall to attract a much older wealthy bachelor. Bathsheba "carelessly" bathed in full view of King David.

Second, all four had been badly treated by men or had had unhappy lives. Tamar had been cheated out of a husband and children. Rahab was under the thrall of the King and men of Jericho. Ruth was a childless widow in a land of famine. Bathsheba has no choice but to allow the King to have his way, the King who then murdered her husband.

What a world..... Equally, when you think about it, we know from these boos that many of the men in the ancestry of Jesus Christ were far from “nice”......

Have you spotted the fact that Matthew did not state “and Joseph was the father of Jesus”? Instead he wrote that Joseph was “the husband of Mary”. Jesus’ legal ancestry is clear - through Joseph to Abraham.

Biologically? Matthew records that “Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit”. What’s this? Was it adultery (given that Mary was contractually married)?  Was it yet another moral failure? Neither - but Mary’s “bad reputation” clung to her and also attached itself to Jesus.


‘God excludes none if they do not exclude themselves.’ (William Guthrie, minister and author, 1620-1665)
What on earth could persuade Jesus to come to earth and be born into such a pedigree as this?

He wasn’t ashamed to come to us – to come even to me. Only by coming to such a pedigree could he save those who wish to lose their pedigree and become children of God for ever.
Richard Syvret

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