Checking family history
I first considered the title Who do you think you are? But that is not a very useful title. And it is stolen from SBS and Ancestry.com for their program researching the family history of celebrities. So I cannot use that. Likewise Jesus Christ is not the usual celebrity.
I did try - Jesus and his women - but thought that a title best left to fantasy novelists like Dan Brown.
Actually for this essay I am more interested in the female lineage of Jesus Christ. This study is not as boring a topic as it sounds. So I think I shall use - Women in Christ’s family tree. You have to do the study and thinking so it is not too hard for me either. Indeed I have not thoroughly checked the lineage of either Mary or Joseph.
Many folk have found time to work on their family history during their period of COVID-19 isolation. This can be hard work and a bit boring unless one discovers a bit of scandal. This reminds me of what I used to consider the most boring bit of the New Testament - the genealogies of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew and Luke. A quick examination of these draws attention to something odd in family trees of the time - the inclusion of women! Not only that but women who had drawn attention to themselves by being seen as naughty or at least having been in a situation where society may well have scorned them.
In those days the fact that these women were even recorded says something about their importance, worthiness as ancestors. Nonetheless most drew attention that would make the Kardashians blush.
I want to highlight six of the strong, intelligent, beautiful, amazing, faithful, courageous, trusting - even though notorious in their day - women in Jesus’ family tree. Many of these women of biblical times have had, or could have, novels, movies and/or TV series made of their lives because they have all the elements of female heroes the stars would want to play. The adjectives just mentioned would sell any such venture.
One fascinating element of Jesus' ancestral line is that it includes frequent scandals. What does that mean for the reader. Do you try to explain it away like many in church history, or do you embrace it as a welcome part of his humanity?
Who are these women
Although not named in either genealogy we know she was Abraham’s wife. This beautiful woman in her sixties was passed off as Abraham's sister to save his life from the Egyptian Pharaoh (Gen 12) and the king of Gerar (Gen 20). She then arranged for her maid Hagar, an Egyptian slave given her by the Pharaoh, to bear a child, Ishmael, for Abraham. Despite Abraham’s and her deceit and her willingness to act outside our norms of behaviour God blessed her and she was a significant ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Tamar is the first woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy (1:3). Remember her? Tamar was a woman of unidentified origin (many scholars think she was a Canaanite) who had been widowed by two of Judah’s sons (Er and Onan), and had been promised to the third and youngest son, Shelah. Judah, fearing for the life of his third son since the Lord had struck the other two dead, delayed giving him to Tamar. In fact, he probably didn’t intend to ever allow Shelah to marry Tamar.
Tamar was stuck in a very hard place; because she had been returned to her father’s house to wait for Shelah, she had no status, no inheritance, no Social Security would ever come her way because her only route to the future was through children and she was not a mother. And she was not eligible to remarry since she was ‘waiting’ for Shelah.
So she took matters into her own hands. Much of what follows is difficult for the modern reader to understand. After Judah’s wife died, she posed as a prostitute, though she was not. She needed a Judah offspring—Shelah was preferable, but denied that, she would have a child through the tribal chief himself (Gen. 38:1-25).
Judah’s role is less worthy. He readily propositions a ‘prostitute,’ little dreaming she is his daughter-inlaw. He soundly condemns Tamar when her pregnancy is revealed, and even intends to have her burned to death in a shocking case of a double standard. But Tamar has cleverly protected herself and the identity of her child’s father by holding Judah’s personal belongings—cords and a seal and staff.
Finally, we see some honour from Judah when he acknowledges his paternity and proclaims that she is more righteous than he is (Gen. 38:26). He was seeking an irresponsible sexual encounter; she was seeking to responsibly protect her future and even his, by providing a child who would live and produce offspring. She was indeed more righteous than he. In a culture when women had few rights, Tamar thoughtfully invested in the future (Gen. 38:27-29). Tamar was a determined woman in Jesus' genealogy.
Honestly, Judah had it coming because he had denied her justice (see Genesis 38).
What strength, courage and cunning.
I have spent a bit more time with Tamar to show the pattern to come with some of the other women.
Another surprising inclusion is Rahab (Joshua 2; Joshua 6:17-25) . Rahab was a prostitute, and a Caananite Gentile, living in Jericho. You would think that this was not a desired pedigree for a Messiah. She was obviously a worthy, intelligent woman who provided financially for her parents and siblings. Rahab was quite willing to hide the Israelite spies who have come to search out a way to attack and defeat Jericho. She was compassionate and helped them escape.
Rahab must have believed that the Israelites would take her city because of what had befallen the people in her land. She would have heard the stories of how the Israelites came out of Egypt and how the Red Sea dried up to allow them passage across. She had heard of the defeat of her powerful neighbors across the Jordan River, King Sihon and King Og. She knew that Jericho was the gate to Canaan and she wanted to survive the attack she knew was coming. She, like Tamar, has cords that signify belonging. “Hang this scarlet cord in this window where you let us down, and we will spare you and all in your house,” the spies instructed her.
Later in Israel, she married Salmon and became King David’s great, great grandmother. Has a Hollywood producer imagined the story of Rahab and Salmon? Despite what some may see as the shame of her profession we are told that God saw her as a worthy, faithful woman.
Did you know there are groups named after ‘Rahab’ which give succour and support to Prostitutes?
Through personal tragedy and loyalty she wound up at Bethlehem and in the arms of Boaz. How did that happen? Jews were prohibited from intermarrying with Moabites (Ezra 9:10–12)
Ruth, like Tamar and Rahab, was a Gentile - a Moabite. Her ancestry had its origin in the incest committed between Lot and his oldest daughter. Ruth’s people were polytheistic pagans, occasionally offering human sacrifices to idol-gods like Chemosh.
Like Tamar, Ruth was a widow, but her sexual purity has not been compromised. In fact, the highest words of praise are spoken by Boaz in identifying her as a woman of virtue, a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11). She became an earnest follower of ‘Yahweh’ thanks to the instruction of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Following Naomi’s advice on how to seduce Boaz, Ruth entreats Boaz to marry her and to provide for her and Naomi. No seduction was needed as Boaz was honorable and in love with Ruth . Their son, Obed, became grandfather to King David (Ruth 4:16-22) and therefore, in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
There was potential for shame, but the virtue of both Ruth and Boaz avoided scandal.
Bathsheba is not named initially, but is identified as “the wife of Uriah”. She was seduced by Israel’s greatest king, and to some extent, was complicit, though as the powerful one in the ‘relationship’ David clearly carries the blame. He instigated the adultery with the beautiful wife of one of his finest generals. Later, to protect himself, David has General Uriah placed in battle where he is sure to be killed. The story is full of death, for the child from the adulterous union also died.
(2 Samuel 11(NIV))
We are told that David repented and eventually and God granted a son, Solomon, to him and his now legitimate wife, Bathsheba. As a result she became an ancestor of Jesus through her son Solomon.
Just imagine the scandal. Then as now the Royals can get away with it in the public eye. Imagine the stories in the Tabloids - well rumours of the day. Repentance before honour was significant in the story.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the last woman mentioned in his genealogy.
She became pregnant with Jesus before her wedding, and the Child’s father was not her betrothed, Joseph. This scandal would have lingered like a cloud in the whispers and suspicions of her wider family and fellow Nazarenes for many years.
Mary later married Joseph (Matt 1:16). Mary was a very young Jewish teenage virgin with no hint of sexual scandal. Mary was a devout believer in Yahweh to whom she entrusted her reputation, her future, and her entire hope. The church accepts the story an angel told her she would be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She is said to have believed (Luke 1:35-38) and accepted what had never happened before. We are told that this slip of a girl, scarcely a woman, showed enormous faith and trust. “I am the Lord’s servant,” were her amazing words. She wasn’t sinless, but she was a godly, virtuous, and young Jewish girl.
There would have been unwarranted scandal and disgrace and Mary went or was sent away to her cousin Elizabeth.
Disgrace or Grace
You the reader have been charged with doing the reading and thinking about the women in Jesus Christ’s family tree. Why in an age when women were often considered incidental did these women rate such a mention? Immerse yourself in the narratives and build images of each of these wonderful ancestors. Your views are valid if you are open and accepting.
This author from a twenty first century point of view believes that the presence of such strong, intelligent, caring women in his ancestry must have added significantly to his DNA and personality.
What do you think?