Asaph, King of Judah – Part 2

“Abijah [was] the father of Asaph, and Asaph [was] the father of Jehoshaphat” (Matthew 1:7-8 NRSV).

Read Part 1 here.

Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible is Asa called Asaph. Asaph was appointed by David to serve as one of the chief musicians who would minister before the Ark of the Covenant. His descendants, “the sons of Asaph,” played an important role in the religious life of the postexilic community.[1]

Robert H. Gundry wrote that Matthew deliberately changed the text for theological reasons. He explained: “Matthew’s addition of φ to Asa’s name (1 Chr 3:10) produces a secondary allusion to the psalmist Asaph, who, according to very early tradition in the title, wrote Psalm 78. In 13:35 Matthew will quote part of that psalm as a fulfillment.  Thus, a note of prophecy comes into the genealogy.”[2]  David and Allison said that the quotation of Asaph’s words (Psalm 78:2) in Matthew 13:35 “could indicate an interest in the realization of the psalmist’s hope.”[3]

In Matthew 1:7-8, the Textus Receptus reads “Asa,” however, scholars agree that the earliest and best textual tradition strongly supports Asaph as the original reading. According to Hagner, “early scribes altered Asaph (the psalmist of the titles of Pss 50 and 73-83) to the more appropriate royal name Asa.”[4]

Alan H. McNeile, citing C.F. Burkitt, said that at one time, Asaph was the prevailing spelling in the LXX.[5]  According to Burkitt, the spelling was changed to Asa under the influence of Origin’s Hexapla. Burkitt also argued that Άσὰφ was the way the translators of the Septuagint translated Asa’s name in the same way the name Sira (סירא) was translated as Σειρὰχ.  Johnson has taken a similar position.  He said that the variance between Asa and Asaph in Matthew 1:7-8 does not indicate a confusion between the king and the psalmist, but rather is “a difference in orthography, the longer form being a later transliteration.”[7]

Most scholars believe that the inclusion of Asaph’s name in the list of David’s descendants is an error because the Septuagint is consistent in identifying Asa by his correct name. Whether the error was an accidental corruption of the text by a scribe or a deliberate or accidental confusion between Asa the king and Asaph the leader of the Levitical temple musicians, is a matter of debate.

The error introduced by the writer of Matthew into the list of the kings of Judah is consistent with similar errors of citation found elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel. More than once the writer of Matthew misidentified people and quotes taken from his sources. For example, in Matthew 1:10 the gospel writer said that “Manasseh [was] the father of Amos, and Amos [was] the father of Josiah.” However, this statement contradicts 2 Kings 21:18 and 2 Chronicles 33:20 where it says that Amon succeeded his father Manasseh. In this text, the writer of Matthew confused the name of the prophet Amos with the name of Amon, king of Judah.

The reading of Amon in the Textus Receptus may be an attempt by scribes to correct the text and harmonize it with the correct name of the Judean king. However, the earliest and best textual tradition give strong evidence that the original reading was Amos and not Amon. Some commentators affirm that Matthew deliberately used Amos for theological reasons.

In defending Matthew’s use of Amos, Gundry wrote:

Matthew writes “Amos” instead of “Amon” (1 Chr 3:14). Orthographical variation or simple confusion of names (with possible influence from Matthew) in the textual tradition of the LXX suggests we have nothing more than that in here.  But Matthew may have chosen or coined the spelling “Amos” for a secondary allusion to the prophet Amos, just as he spelled Asa’s name like that of Asaph to introduce a prophetic note. In support of this possibility, Matthew’s version of Jesus’ saying recorded in 10:29 and worded differently in Luke 12:6 conforms to Amos 3:5.[8]

Frederick Dale Bruner also proposed that Matthew used Asaph and Amos for theological reasons. He wrote: “It is easy to see why Matthew changed King Asa into the psalmist Asaph (whom Matt 13:35 calls ‘prophet’!) And why Matthew changed King Amon into the prophet Amos: . . . Matthew wants to teach a . . . prophetic truth– the truth of judgment. . . . Together Asaph and Amos stand for all the seers and prophets sent by God to snatch God’s people from either too much engagement with the world (then enter the spiritual psalmists!) or too little engagement with the world (then enter the social prophets!).”[9]

Footnotes:

[1].  Claude F. Mariottini “Asaph,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), 1:290.

[2].  Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 15.

[3].  W. D. Davie and Dale C. Allison, Jr., The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988) 1:175.

[4].  Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Dallas: Word Books, Publishers, 1993), 4.

[5].  Alan H. McNeile,  The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 2.

[6].  F. C. Burkitt, “A Note on the Names Asa and Asaf in Mt. i 7, 8,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society XLVI (1897), 7-8.

[7].  Marshall D. Johnson, The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 182.

[8].  Gundry, 16.

[9].  Frederick D. Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1987), 8-9.

To be continued.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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