In my studies of the great-grandmothers of Jesus, I wrote about the four women who appear in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. I also wrote about several other women whom Matthew did not mention but who are also legitimate great-grandmothers of Jesus. Their names appear in the Old Testament. They were the wives and mothers of the kings who ruled in Judah as legitimate descendants of David.
In my last post I mentioned that there are two other great-grandmothers of Jesus who were not mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy and whose names were not mentioned in my list of great-grandmothers. In today’s post I want to explain the reason they were omitted in Matthew’s genealogy. Before I do so, it is necessary to say a few words about Matthew’s genealogy.
Matthew’s genealogy concludes with the following statement: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew is based on history but it is also not a complete genealogy. Matthew’s genealogy is artificially divided into three sections, each containing fourteen generations. According to Matthew, there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile of Judah to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile to Jesus.
The evidence that Matthew’s genealogy is artificial is found in the second section. In the genealogy from David to the Babylonian exile, several names are omitted. For instance, Matthew writes that Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat was the father of Joram, and Joram was the father of Uzziah (Matthew 1:8). However, three generations were omitted in Matthew’s genealogy.
According to the genealogy of David in 1 Chronicles 3, these are the descendants of David beginning with Solomon: “The descendants of Solomon: Rehoboam, Abijah his son, Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, Amaziah his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son” (1 Chronicles 3:10-12).
This means that in the second group of generations, Matthew omitted three names, the names of Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, all of them were kings of Judah and all of them were descendants of David. The same thing happens in the third group. Matthew says that Jechoniah (Jehoiachin) was deported to Babylon and that after the deportation there are fourteen generations until Jesus. However, if one counts Salathiel as the first generation after the deportation to Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, there are only 12 names.
In the genealogy of Jesus in Luke, there are eighteen names from Zerubbabel to Joseph (Luke 3:23-27), while in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew there are only eleven names from Zerubbabel to Joseph.
There are several ways of understanding these omissions in Matthew’s genealogy. When the evangelist says that so and so was the father of so and so, it does not mean that he was the immediate father of the person named. Rather, it means that he was the ancestor or forefather of that person.
Another issue is the reason Matthew divides his genealogy into three groups of fourteen generations. George F. Moore believes that the fourteen generations represent 490 years of Israelite history. Another possible reason is that since there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, Matthew sought to use the same symmetry for the other divisions.
Another possible explanation for Matthew’s division is based on gematria, that is, the numerical value present in David’s name. In Hebrew, the three letters found in the name of David (dwd) have the numerical value of 14 (4+6+4). Thus, since the Messiah would be a new David, Matthew’s artificial genealogy was intended to link David with the new David. To me, this proposal has little merit. It is difficult to see how Greek readers who were unfamiliar with Hebrew gematria would understand the meaning of these numbers.
The Purpose of Matthew’s Genealogy
Another issue in Matthew’s genealogy is the reason he omitted the names of three kings in the line of David. The three kings, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah should be listed between Asa and Uzziah. The names were either omitted in error or they were omitted intentionally.
The most probable reason these three kings were omitted was because of their association with Ahab, king of the Northern Kingdom, and their relationship with Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Jezebel promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah and persecuted and killed the prophets of Yahweh. Because of her evil acts, Elijah placed a curse on the house of Ahab: “I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel” (1 Kings 21:21).
I believe that the purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is theological, that is, that it was designed to convey a message to its readers. Thus, one purpose of the genealogy is to serve as a theological interpretation of the history of Israel. The theological structure of Matthew’s genealogy is to summarize the history of Israel from Abraham to Christ. It is an effort to say that when the history of Israel is read in light of God’s promises, the meaning of this history is Jesus, the son of David.
Another theological purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is to legitimize Jesus as a son of Abraham and a son of David. As a legitimate descendent of David, Jesus was an heir to the royal throne of Israel, and he was the promised Messiah.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:23-24).
In light of the fact that there are so many different, and at times contradictory, interpretations of the purpose and intent of Matthew’s genealogy, one would be wise to remember Paul’s words that believers should not “occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4).
The Other Great-Grandmothers of Jesus
Since three kings of Judah were omitted in Matthew’s genealogy, the wives and mothers of these kings were also in the family line of Jesus and were legitimate great-grandmothers of Christ. These three kings were Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Below I will say a few words about these women whose husbands and sons Matthew deliberately omitted from his genealogy because they were associated with Ahab, the evil king of the Northern Kingdom.
Athaliah: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
“Jehoshaphat [was] the father of Joram (Matthew 1:8).
In my previous post I said that Azubah was the mother of Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:42). However, the Old Testament does not say who the wife of Jehoshaphat was. Jehoshaphat became the father of Joram. His name appears in the Old Testament as Jehoram.
Jehoshaphat made a military alliance with Ahab to fight against the Arameans. This alliance was sealed with the marriage between Joram, Jehoshaphat’s son, and Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chronicles 21:6). Joram and Athaliah had a son whose name was Ahaziah.
Jezebel: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
Since Athaliah was the wife of the king of Judah and one of the great-grandmothers of Jesus, then Jezebel was also a great-grandmother of Jesus. Jezebel enters Jesus’ family line because of her direct relationship with Athaliah. Jezebel was the grandmother of Ahaziah, Athaliah’s son.
Zibiah: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
The name of Ahaziah’s wife was Zibiah, a woman from Beer-sheba. Ahaziah was killed by Jehu but Zibiah’s son Joash did not become king of Judah after the death of his father because Athaliah tried to kill Joash.
Jehoaddin: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
After Athaliah took the throne of Judah by force, she killed all the members of the royal family. However, one member of the royal family survived: “Jehosheba, King Joram’s daughter, Ahaziah’s sister, took Joash son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king’s children who were about to be killed; she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus she hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not killed” (2 Kings 11:2).
When Joash came of age, he married Jehoaddin of Jerusalem (2 Kings 14:2). Her name appears as Jehoaddah in 2 Chronicles 25:1. Jehoaddin’s son was Amaziah. Nothing is known about Jehoaddin, but with the marriage of Amaziah to Jecoliah, the story of David’s family continues with Uzziah (Azariah). Jecoliah was one of Jesus’ great-grandmothers and she was mentioned in my previous post.
The stories of Athaliah and Jezebel deserve more attention because of the special part they play in the history of Israel. These two extraordinary women will be discussed at length in future posts.
The family tree of Jesus contains many known and unknown people. All of them have something to contribute to the bloodline of the son of Mary. The women Matthew mentioned in his genealogies and the ones he failed to mention reveal the inclusive nature of God’s plan for humanity. The indirect inclusion of Athaliah, whom the Chronicler calls “that wicked woman” (2 Chronicles 24:7), and Jezebel, whom Jehu called a whore and a witch (2 Kings 9:22), also reveals that Jesus is the Messiah for all people.
In my last post on this topic, I will revise Matthew’s genealogy and introduce Jesus’ genealogy according to his great-grandmothers.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Other Posts on Jesus’ Great-Grandmothers:
George F. Moore, “Fourteen Generations: 490 Years. An Explanation of the Genealogy of Jesus,” Harvard Theological Review 14 (1921): 97-103.
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