Ephrem’s Typological Genealogy of Mary

In two recent posts, I noted the possibility that Justin Martyr and Celsus understood one of the two genealogies of Jesus given in the gospels as Mary’s genealogy. While such a view is at best implied by these early writers, Ephrem is remarkably explicit in his apparent attribution of the Matthean genealogy to Mary:

“Matthew wrote down the genealogy of Mary from whom our Lord was born and, because of this, he began from David and from Abraham, according to the promise revealed, ‘Not to you and to your descendants as though unto many, but to you and to your descendant, which descendant is Christ’ (Gal 3:16).”1

While Justin and Irenaeus imply that it is the Lukan genealogy that belongs to Mary, Ephrem somewhat surprisingly designates Matthew’s royal genealogy “the genealogy of Mary.”

Now there are some puzzling aspects about this passage in the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron. For one, Ephrem is citing the evangelist Matthew in a Diatessaron commentary. This is odd. Since Tatian had combined the four gospels into one, it is remarkable that Ephrem calls out one of the four evangelists by name.

But perhaps this is because of a second puzzle: the Diatessaron purportedly contained no genealogy of Jesus.2 It is remarkable that Ephrem senses a need to comment on a passage that was apparently excluded from the work upon which he is commenting. Indeed, Ephrem’s explicit reference to Matthew (and later to Luke) appears to support the notion that the Diatessaron lacked the genealogies.

But the third puzzle is Ephrem’s surprising attribution of the Matthean genealogy to Mary.

This attribution is all the more surprising because just two paragraphs earlier Ephrem asserts that Mary’s family line is nowhere to be found in the scriptures and, moreover, he implies that it is inappropriate to look for it:

“Scripture is silent [about Mary] since it numbers and counts the generations of men. If Scripture were accustomed to represent the family through the women, it would be appropriate to inquire after the family of Mary.”3

But apparently, in Ephrem’s view, it is not appropriate. Otherwise, why bring the matter up? But if not, why does Ephrem later apparently contradict himself by explicitly ascribing the Matthean genealogy to Mary?

If this is in fact a contradiction, it will not have been the first incongruity to have been discovered in the Syriac Commentary. Similar incongruities of thought have led to the conclusion that the commentary preserves multiple layers of tradition, ultimately compiled by a “school” of Ephrem in the latter fourth century.4

But perhaps this is not an incongruity.

Matthew: A Typological Genealogy?

In the same context, Ephrem refers to the genealogy of David as a “type” of the true genealogy of Mary’s child:

“The family of David continued as far as Joseph who had married her, and her child was through the type of the men, for the sake of the family of David.”5

Is Ephrem spiritualizing the Matthean genealogy?

According to Ephrem, the genealogies of the men establish a pattern of the true genealogy, which is Mary’s genealogy, because she is the one who gave birth to Christ, the seed promised to Abraham and David, as Ephrem reminds us:

“He is the son of Mary, however, and not the son of Joseph.”6

Ephrem says that because “Matthew wrote down the genealogy of Mary,” therefore “he began from David and Abraham.” So according to Ephrem, Matthew’s intent was to set forth the spiritual promise to Abraham and to his seed, Christ, and not to record a literal genealogy.7

Yet even to Ephrem, Matthew’s genealogy is not totally spiritualized. It contains three crucial names in the physical lineage of Jesus: Abraham, David, and Mary, “of whom Jesus was born.”8 If we follow this spiritual path, the genealogy becomes Mary’s genealogy, because, after all, the child is hers. And the seed is literally from David because, as Ephrem insists, Mary was from David:

“take note that [the evangelist] has said [elsewhere], concerning Joseph and Mary, that They were both of the house of David.”9

Here again Ephrem reaches outside of the Diatessaron, referring to Luke 2:4, which in the Old Syriac asserts that both Mary and Joseph were of the house of David.10

Whose Names?

So according to Ephrem, whose names are in the Matthean genealogy, Mary’s or Joseph’s?

Apparently, neither, at least after David. We know that Ephrem does not consider the Matthean names to belong to Joseph, because he later assigns the Lukan genealogy explicitly to Joseph:

“Luke however [was concerned] only with Joseph, husband of Mary, and [went back] as far as Adam who is from God.”11

So Ephrem chooses not to interpret the Matthean genealogy in a literal sense. Rather he interprets it typologically, as a figure of the true but unknown genealogy of Mary.

Is this Ephrem’s own solution to the discrepancies between the two genealogies of Matthew and Luke? It is difficult to say. But Ephrem is certainly not the first — nor the last — early Christian writer to spiritualize a difficult passage. Typological interpretations became one defense against the literalistic readings of certain heretics, such as Marcion, Ephrem’s arch-heresiological foe.12 From Ephrem’s perspective, Marcion’s literalistic interpretation ended up pitting one testament against the other and ultimately splitting the godhead into demiurge and stranger. Considered from this perspective, Ephrem’s pious spiritualization of the Matthean genealogy does not seem terribly shocking.

Celsus, Panthera, and the Genealogy of Mary

As preserved by Origen, Celsus is one of our earliest writers to comment on the genealogies of Jesus. Celsus’s failure to mention any conflict between the genealogies appears to support the view that no conflict was perceived in the second-century context in which he wrote.

But if we follow Origen, Celsus seems to have known that there were two genealogies, as he writes:

“the framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man, and from the kings of the Jews.”1

Presumably, Celsus’s genealogy “from the first man” refers to the genealogy of Luke, while his genealogy “from the kings of the Jews” refers to the genealogy of Matthew. So Celsus seems to allude here to the genealogies of both Luke and Matthew.

But if Celsus had sought to undermine Christianity, how could he have resisted pointing out that these two genealogies publish very different lists of names?2

Origen gives us an explanation, flatly attributing the oversight to his opponent’s incompetence:

“in finding fault with our Lord’s genealogy, there are certain points which occasion some difficulty even to Christians, and which, owing to the discrepancy between the genealogies, are advanced by some as arguments against their correctness, but which Celsus has not even mentioned. For Celsus, who is truly a braggart, and who professes to be acquainted with all matters relating to Christianity, does not know how to raise doubts in a skilful manner against the credibility of Scripture.”3

But could Celsus really have been unaware of the discrepancies to which Origen alludes? Certainly, if he had known that one of the genealogies was “from the first man” and the other “from the kings of the Jews,” he must have known something of their contents.

The Panthera Tradition

It is possible that Celsus dismissed the genealogies as pious fabrications, which could not have been expected to agree and, hence, required no in-depth refutation. After all, earlier in his work, Celsus had advanced the story that Mary had committed adultery with a Roman soldier named Panthera and that Jesus was their illegitimate child:

“When she [Mary] was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera.”4

So it appears that Celsus saw the genealogies as part of a cover up for the liaison that led to Jesus’s birth, a cover up that presumably included the account of the virgin birth as well. Perhaps he had heard of a Jewish tradition, preserved in the Talmud, asserting that Jesus was the illegitimate child of an adulterous union, who acquired magical powers in Egypt.5 Celsus writes:

“[Jesus] invented his birth from a virgin. … [He was really] born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God.”6

So in Celsus’s view, not only was Joseph not Jesus’s biological father, but Jesus had never even met Joseph! Of course, any perceived conflict between the genealogies requires that their assertions be taken at face value as giving the lineage of Joseph. But it seems that Celsus was especially eager to point to the irony that Christians considered Jesus to be God despite his apparent illegitimacy, poverty, and lowly birth, circumstances that in his view had only to do with Mary.

Celsus and the Genealogy of Mary

It is not surprising then that Celsus’s criticism of the genealogies focuses entirely on Mary, in particular, on Mary’s supposed ignorance of her noble heritage, as he argues:

“the carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent.”7

Of course, nothing in the biblical text speaks to Mary’s awareness or lack of awareness of her heritage. But Celsus tries to use Mary’s ignorance to show that the genealogies are fabrications. If they were not, he suggests, Mary would certainly have known about her descent from royalty. But since she does not appear to know, the genealogies must be false.

Now Celsus’s attempt to undermine the genealogies with respect to Mary’s lineage, rather than Joseph’s, implies that in his view one of the genealogies — though he does not say which — was understood to be a genealogy of Mary.

The problem is that both evangelists attribute their genealogies to Joseph.8 So some interpretation is necessary to represent either of the genealogies as a genealogy of Mary. It seems unlikely that such an interpretation could have been Celsus’s own idea. In fact, he appears to assume that his readers would share this understanding.

The most plausible explanation then is that he received this interpretation from Christians with whom he had contact, whether directly or through their writings. So Celsus’s criticism of Mary’s ignorance appears to supply additional evidence of an early understanding that at least one of the genealogies belonged to Mary, an understanding that this early critic of Christianity simply took for granted.

Justin Martyr and the Genealogy of Mary

Writing in the first half of the third century, Julius Africanus is our earliest writer to raise the two genealogies of Jesus as a potential apologetic issue.1 But before Africanus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and apparently even Celsus all refer to the two genealogies, yet mention not a word about any conflict between them.

Thus, Origen takes Celsus to task for his failure to mention discrepancies between the genealogies that caused “some difficulty even to Christians.”2 Irenaeus mentions both genealogies by name, but makes no comment on their use of different ancestors.3 With Justin the citations are less clear, though, if we follow one plausible conjecture, he too apparently alludes to both genealogies without any comment on their differences.

Why were these early writers silent about any conflict between the two genealogies?

One possibility is that they believed one of the genealogies to belong to Mary. The obvious choice would have been Luke. While Matthew asserts that Jacob “begat” Joseph, Luke does not say specifically how Jesus was known as “the son of Joseph.”4

The problem is that none of these writers states explicitly that the Lukan genealogy belongs to Mary. Except perhaps Justin.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin is quite interested in Mary’s ancestry.

  • In 43.1 Justin writes of Jesus as “born of a virgin, of the family of Abraham and tribe of Judah, and of David.”5
  • In 45.4 Justin refers to “this virgin of the family of David.”6
  • In 100.3 Justin again refers to “the virgin … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham.”7

Of course, the biblical text never states that Mary belonged to the tribe of David. It is possible though that Justin inferred this from her betrothal to Joseph.

But did Justin have any more secure reason for his belief that Mary, like her husband, was of the tribe of David? Did Justin believe that he had access to Mary’s genealogy?

A Lukan Genealogy of Mary?

It is often thought that Justin alludes to the Lukan genealogy in Dialogue 100.3. In most editions, Justin refers here to a genealogy headed by Adam “from whom Mary derives her descent.” Presumably, this would refer to the Lukan genealogy.8 Thus:

“Jesus said then that he was the Son of man, either because of his birth by the virgin, who was … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent.”9

Unfortunately though the word Adam is a conjecture. While this conjecture is popular among editors, our only surviving manuscripts have Abraham where most editors put Adam.10

Editors seem to prefer Adam because it makes better sense in the context.11 After all, it makes little sense to call Abraham the father of a list of patriarchs that includes himself. Moreover, since Justin is trying to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, it makes sense that he would refer to the first man in his argument.

So Adam is not a bad guess. But if this is Justin’s intention, in a context that also invokes the descent of Mary, in order to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, we have to wonder, did Justin regard the Lukan genealogy as the genealogy of Mary? Perhaps this is why he mentions no conflict between the genealogies.

Fathers of Daughters and their Sons

But Justin leaves us with one more clue. Almost as an afterthought, he adds:

“For we know that the fathers of women are the fathers likewise of those children whom their daughters bear.”12

Is Justin calling Mary’s child the child of Mary’s father? Is Justin connecting Jesus to Luke’s genealogy through Mary? After all, Mary is the only woman or daughter mentioned in the context.

Maybe Justin is referring to the patriarchs as the fathers of Mary. But this hardly makes sense. The patriarchs already had sons to trace their lineage. By invoking the daughter as bearer of her father’s lineage, Justin seems to be referring to Mary’s immediate father and, more specifically, to her father’s lack of sons. Perhaps it is better then to understand Justin’s expression the fathers of women as fathers who have no sons.13 So it is possible that Justin understood Joseph to be the adopted son of Heli, presumably because in his view Mary had no brothers.14

Does Justin believe that the Lukan genealogy is the genealogy of Mary?

We cannot be certain. But his obscure reference to fathers passing their inheritance to the sons of their daughters suggests that he was prepared to understand Mary’s child, Jesus, as the son of her father. At the same time, Justin’s confidence in repeatedly mentioning Mary’s lineage from the family of David suggests that he had a text in mind to back this up. But Justin would have been hard pressed to find such a text outside of the genealogies of Jesus. Of course, since Justin argues passionately on behalf of Jesus’s miraculous birth, this would only have offered him more incentive to emphasize Mary’s tangible role in the genealogy of Jesus.

New Essay on Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy

I have recently published an essay on Codex Bezae’s remarkable and singular Lukan genealogy in the Papers from the Tenth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, edited by H. A. G. Houghton and published by Gorgias Press.1 The essay is a development and expansion of a paper I presented at the Tenth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament in March 2017.

Since one of the themes of the colloquium was to reflect on David Parker’s The Living Text of the Gospels, I examine Bezae’s Lukan genealogy through the method Parker outlines in his book, namely, collecting and describing the textual evidence, reconstructing the path of change, and attempting to contextualize these changes in the history of the users of the text.2

As far as external evidence, one startling fact about Bezae’s genealogy, as mentioned in this earlier post, is that its otherwise highly-original list of names, while singular in the manuscript tradition, corresponds to a nearly-identical list in Aphrahat’s Demonstrations. I say “nearly identical” because Bezae’s only divergence from Aphrahat is its puzzling duplication of Jehoiakim’s name, first (according to the reverse order of the Lukan genealogy) under his regnal name, Jehoiakim (ιωακειμ), and then under his birth name, Eliakim (ελιακειμ).

A second surprising observation is that the structure of the genealogy in Bezae the manuscript appears to mirror the structure of the names in Aphrahat’s list. The structure of Aphrahat’s list seems to divide the names into six groups of ten names around a central group of three names, culminating with the name of David. It turns out that Bezae’s page divisions fall precisely at these theorized divisions in the genealogy. Since Bezae has 33 lines per page, three groups of ten and the group of three occupy a single page on Folio 196.

The greater part of the essay is devoted to an effort to contextualize Bezae’s peculiar Lukan genealogy in the early church. Beginning with Justin’s two allusions to Jesus’s genealogy, I consider remarks on the genealogies by sixteen writers, including Aphrahat himself, down to the time of Jerome and Augustine, who were contemporaries of Bezae’s producers.

It is clear that anxiety about discrepancies between the Matthean and Lukan genealogies becomes more pronounced the later we go, reaching a peak in the Latin church in the second half of the fourth century. Earlier writers, such as Justin, Irenaeus, and even Celsus appear to have seen no conflict between the two genealogies, apparently understanding them as belonging respectively to each of Jesus’s human parents, Mary and Joseph. But starting with Julius Africanus, it is generally assumed that both genealogies belong to Joseph, whom they are purported to represent in the two gospel texts.

So later writers, when they mention the genealogy of Jesus, sense a need to explain that any appearance of conflict between the genealogies given by Matthew and Luke is merely an appearance. By the end of the fourth century, the preferred explanation is some form of the interpretation based on Levirate marriage, though this is not the only explanation given, as discussed in the essay.

The Lukan genealogy supplies a fascinating background to examine the development of Bezae’s tradition, given that its secondary character is so obvious and yet it is one of the longest variations in any of the gospels, consisting of eighty words.

Did a Manichaean tract inspire Bezae’s Lukan genealogy?

In an earlier post, I noted that the synoptic genealogies of Jesus were not necessarily perceived as being in tension before the third century. Celsus, for example, seems to have taken for granted that the genealogies belonged to Joseph and Mary respectively, while Tatian objected not to the discrepancies between the genealogies but rather to their mention of David.1

Yet by the end of the fourth century, the perceived incompatibility of the Matthean and Lukan genealogies as competing accounts of Joseph’s lineage had most certainly come to be regarded as a significant problem requiring resolution.2 So we find writers such as Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384) building an apologetic case for the integrity of the two genealogies. In his Quaestiones veteris et novi testamenti, Ambrosiaster devotes no fewer than six of his 127 questions to the genealogy of Jesus.3

Questio 56 on the Old Testament addresses conflicts between the Matthean and Lukan genealogy:

“Why is it that in Matthew the father of Joseph is written ‘Jacob’ and in Luke ‘Heli’?” (trans. mine)4

While in Questio 85, Ambrosiaster queries:

“Since it is clear that from David to the Babylonian exile there were seventeen generations, why does the evangelist say fourteen, passing over Ahaziah, who after Jehoram is son of Jehoshaphat and Joash son of Ahaziah and Amaziah son of Joash?” (trans. mine)

Of course, Ambrosiaster offers his own explanations for each question. But it is significant that Bezae’s genealogy also resolves these same questions by harmonization. It is clear from this that Bezae’s Lukan genealogy fits naturally in the same late fourth-century context that ultimately produced the manuscript.

Still we might wonder why Bezae’s producers were willing to take such drastic measures in erasing so much of Luke’s text. At eighty words of the mainstream text, the section replaced in Bezae amounts to one of the longest deliberate excisions of material in the New Testament.5 Bezae’s variant makes even the longest of F. J. A. Hort’s so-called “Western non-interpolations” look like small change indeed! But was the problem of the genealogy really such a burden to the religious life of the community in which Bezae’s text was produced?

One clue may lie in Augustine’s response to the Manichaean bishop, Faustus of Milevis, in Contra Faustum Manichaeum (401/402), a work allegedly motivated by the questions of Augustine’s congregation concerning Faustus’ tract against Christianity.6 According to Augustine, Faustus names the discrepancies between the synoptic genealogies as the main obstacle preventing him from accepting the “catholic” view of the incarnation. As he reputedly observes:

“the discrepancy in the genealogies of Luke and Matthew stumbled me, as I knew not which to follow … This is my reason for not believing in the birth of Christ. Remove this difficulty, if you can, by harmonizing the accounts, and I am ready to yield.” (Faust., 3.1; NPNF 1.4, 159)

So according to his opponent, Augustine, Faustus not only prescribes what to do (i.e. “remove this difficulty”), but how to accomplish it (“by harmonizing the accounts”)! Faustus appears to suggest the very solution we find implemented in Bezae!

We should be skeptical, of course, that a leader of Faustus’ stature in the Manichaean church could be swayed from his convictions by merely scrubbing a dozen or so lines! If in fact Faustus really made the claim cited by Augustine, it was doubtless intended rhetorically, though evidently it was taken at face value by some of his Christian readers. But this is precisely the point.

Evidently there was a perception among certain Christians that if only the discrepancies between the genealogies could be resolved, influential Manichaeans like Faustus could be refuted and the Manichaean church at large won to the orthodox faith! We can envision then a real incentive to harmonize the genealogies, much as we find in Bezae’s Luke. But how likely is it that Bezae arose the context of a struggle with Manichaeism?

In fact, if Bezae’s genealogy derives from the same tradition as that of Aphraates, which seems not unlikely (see post), it had appeared already in a context striving against Manichaeism. Earlier in his Demonstrations, Aphraates takes aim at followers of Mani, accusing them of practicing Babylonian arts:

“But even the children of darkness, the impious followers of Mani, lurk in the darkness in the manner of serpents, serving the Chaldean arts and teachings of Babylon.” (Dem. 3.9, translation mine)

But this struggle was not confined to the East. From a Roman context strongly sympathetic to the Old Latin version, Ambrosiaster singles out followers of Mani for special reprobation in his remarks on 2 Timothy 3:6:

Although all sorts of heretics make their way into houses and capture women [regarding 2 Tim 3:6] by tricks and clever words … nevertheless, the description fits the Manichaeans more than others. Nobody else is as troublesome, as deceptive or as harmful as they are, for it is clear that they worship one thing but profess another, and that they act one way inside but preach something quite different outside. They defend holiness yet live wicked lives, something which their law supports. They praise mercy even though they act unjustly toward one another. They claim that the world must be rejected but always go about well dressed. They preach publicly that they insist on fasting, although they are all bloated, even if they wear make-up (which makes them look sickly) in order to deceive people. Therefore the apostle was prophesying about them more than anyone else. … The Emperor Diocletian referred to the Manichaeans in one of his laws, calling them a sordid and impure heresy which had recently emerged from Persia. (Com. 2 Tim. 3:16, translation by Gerald L. Bray, p. 463) 7

Of course, we have already seen that Ambrosiaster takes a special apologetic interest in the synoptic genealogies. As I have suggested in another post, we also find Ambrosiaster working in a context that in many ways seems to resemble that of Bezae’s producers.

Now this is consistent with what we have already come to suspect regarding Bezae’s remarkable harmonization of the Lukan genealogy, namely, that it is simply unnecessary to posit a second-century date for this variant. Faustus’ putative challenge and the concerns of contemporary writers both reveal that the problem of the genealogies was still an open question in the larger church at the end of the fourth century. But if this is so, we have at the time Bezae’s text apparently attained its final form, that is, in the latter fourth century, all of the ingredients necessary to account for a relatively recent revision of the Lukan genealogy.

Aphraates, Bezae, and the 63 generations from Adam to Christ

In a recent post, I noted the parallels between the generations given in Bezae’s Lukan genealogy — harmonized to Matthew — and the list of generations given by Aphraates in his Demonstration 23.21. With a single exception — the apparently erroneous double inclusion of Jehoiakim under both his birth name Eliakim and his regnal name Jehoiakim — the names in Bezae’s singularly-attested Lukan genealogy are identical to those in Aphraates’ list of the generations from Adam to Christ. 1 In addition, Bezae and Aphraates share two significant but smaller textual variations within their respective lists of generations. 2

So given these similarities, we might wish to conclude that Aphraates attests an early form of Bezae’s genealogy that at one point must have circulated in third-century Syria. Yet it is by no means clear that Aphraates intends to cite a gospel text at all and, least of all, the Lukan gospel.

Earlier in chapter 20 of Demonstration 23, discussing the post-exilic restoration, Aphraates recites eleven generations of the Matthean genealogy from Zerubbabel to Joseph, offering no specific identification or context. If we had to name a source here, it would not be Luke, but Matthew, who is also interested in the restoration.

Then in chapter 21, Aphraates recites a second, complete list of sixty-three generations from Adam to Joseph, again with no identification or context pointing to a specific gospel. Now if Aphraates were citing Matthew, we would expect Matthew’s “X δε εγεννησεν τον Y” formula, or if he were citing Luke, we would expect Luke’s “X του Y” formula. 3 But Aphraates’ list of generations gives us little confidence that we have a gospel citation versus a free tradition assembled from pieces of Matthew, Luke, and Hebrew tradition. In fact, it is possible to reconstruct Aphraates’ list without even consulting Luke at all!

But if Aphraates is not citing from a biblical text, might his tradition be a source for a text such as Bezae’s? After all, Bezae seems in other cases to have appropriated extra-canonical sources.

While Aphraates identifies no gospel source for his list of generations, he mentions twice that the number of generations from Adam to the coming of Christ is sixty-three (Dem. 23.20,21), a number that does not correspond to the total generations given in any other gospel (for comparison, mainstream Matthew has 40 generations, while Luke has 75).

So it seems then that Aphraates’ tradition at one point emphasized the distinctive number of generations in its genealogy of Jesus. This genealogy was essentially constructed of the names in Matthew from Joseph to Abraham, while a variety of sources is possible for the generations from Abraham to Adam. 4 But what exactly does the distinctive number sixty-three signify?

While Aphraates does not tell us directly the significance of the number sixty-three, the context suggests that it conveys a sense of the fullness of time from Adam to Christ. We might further speculate, for example, that the perfection of the number 63 lies in its being the product of three squared times seven or its having a sexagesimal basis with the addition of three. In Syriac, the gematric value of 63 implies the root sgi (semkat = 60, gamal = 3), meaning much or many.

Aphraates’ mention of Daniel’s sixty-two weeks (Dan. 9:25) offers further support for the notion that sixty-three generations symbolizes a fulfillment of times. Aphraates explains:

From Adam until Joseph are sixty-three generations. He [Jesus] took his paternal name from Joseph and thus was declared anointed [i.e. Christ]. So from Joseph he received his paternal name, from John his priestly name, and from Mary he was clothed in a body and received his birth name. Then after sixty-two weeks [from the exile], the anointed [Christ] was born and put to death. (Aphraates, Demonstration 23.21, translation mine)

Here the erroneous duplication of a generation in Bezae’s genealogy offers a clue that Bezae reproduces a tradition that once stood outside of its present context in Luke. It seems that a marginal note identifying Jehoiakim’s birth name (Eliakim) crept into Bezae’s text as an additional, sixty-fourth name, suggesting that the tradition already contained readers’ annotations. At the same time, the annotation was not part of Bezae’s tradition, otherwise it presumably would have been recognized as such.

The result is that Bezae’s duplicated name disrupts the symbolism of the number of generations, suggesting that the tradition used by Bezae was not entirely understood by those who imported it. Aphraates himself may or may not have understood the significance of sixty-three generations, but no one in Bezae’s tradition was even sufficiently aware of the potential symbolism to count the number of generations! So the genealogy may itself be ancient, but is evidently recently placed in its present situation in Bezae.

We might conclude then that Bezae’s genealogy has been imported from an outside tradition. This is revealed by its inclusion (or failure to leave out) what must have originated as a gloss, which at the same time destroys the symbolism of the sixty-three generations before Christ. When the genealogy was taken up by Bezae’s producers, it was no longer in a context that could appreciate its rich history. Perhaps the tradition was too ancient. Perhaps it was too far removed from an original source farther East. But one thing seems clear: By the time Bezae’s tradition appropriated the genealogy of sixty-three generations, it was no longer perceived as a mystical statement of the perfection of the times, but merely as a convenient harmony of Matthew and Luke.

Is Bezae’s Lukan genealogy the work of an editor?

In an earlier post, I suggested that Bezae’s harmonization of the Lukan genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38) offers one of the most assured glimpses of an editorial process behind its distinctive text, simply because the motivation for such harmonization is so patently clear. In short, the nature of the variation itself suggests a deliberate attempt to smooth over what was evidently perceived as a major apologetic problem posed by the divergent Matthean and Lukan genealogies.

Bezae’s variant genealogy is technically a “singular” reading in that no other witness presents a similar genealogy as the text of Luke 3:23-38. Yet Bezae’s genealogy seems closely related to a sequence of names offered by Aphraates in his Demonstration 23 — though Aphraates presents the names in chronological order and does not identify his source either as a biblical text or as a harmony. 1 Aphraates seems content merely to demonstrate that there were sixty-three generations from Adam to Christ by listing all sixty-three names.

Section 1 of 3: From Joseph to David

All versions of Luke’s genealogy begin with Joseph and proceed backwards to Adam: 2

Verse Luke (D) Luke (B) Matthew (B) Aphraates
3:23 ιωσηφ (01) Ιωσηφ (01) Ιωσηφ (40) yawsep (63)
Forty names according to the mainstream tradition omitted in Bezae

The forty names between David and Joseph in mainstream Luke depict Jesus’ descent from Nathan, an otherwise unknown son of David. They differ entirely from the well-known royal line of David given by Matthew. The forty names — all absent in Bezae — are as follows (from Codex Vaticanus):

Verse Luke (B)
3:23 Ηλει (02)
3:24 Ματθατ (03)
ηλειει (04)
Μελχει (05)
Ιανναι (06)
Ιωσηφ (07)
3:25 Μαθθαθιου (08)
Αμως (09)
Ναουμ (10)
Εσλει (11)
Ναγγαι (12)
3:26 Μααθ (13)
Ματταθιου (14)
Σεμεειν (15)
Ιωσηχ (16)
Ιωδα (17)
3:27 Ιωαναν (18)
Ρησα (19)
Ζοροβαβελ (20)
Σαλαθιηλ (21)
Νηρει (22)
3:28 Μελχει (23)
Αδδει (24)
Κωσαμ (25)
Ελμαδαμ (26)
Ηρ (27)
3:29 Ιησου (28)
Ελιεζερ (29)
Ιωρειμ (30)
Μαθθατ (31)
Λευει (32)
3:30 Συμεων (33)
Ιουδα (34)
Ιωσηφ (35)
Ιωναμ (36)
Ελιακειμ (37)
3:31 Μελεα (38)
Μεννα (39)
Μετταθα (40)
Ναθαμ (41)
Thirty names according to Bezae’s text

In place of the forty names in mainstream Luke, Bezae substitutes twenty-five names drawn from Matthew and five from the LXX for a total of thirty names. The effect is to bring the Lukan genealogy into consistency with Matthew. 3

Yet Bezae introduces two notable variations to Matthew’s genealogy. First, three kings missing from Matthew’s genealogy are inserted by Bezae (αμασιου, ιωας, and οχοζιου), a variation also found in Aphraates. Second, Bezae is the only witness that counts Jehoiakim (a.k.a. Eliakim) twice by listing him under each of his names (του ιωακειμ του ελιακειμ, i.e. “Jehoiakim the son of Eliakim”). But according to 2 Kgs 23:34, Jehoiakim was the name assigned to Eliakim by Pharaoh Necho when he installed him as an Egyptian client! This variation is not found in Aphraates.

Luke (D) Matthew (B) Aphraates LXX
ιακωβ (02) Ιακωβ (39) tmp_24098-62-gen-525853145 yaʿqúb (62)
μαθθαν (03) Μαθθαν (38) mattan (61)
ελεαζαρ (04) Ελεαζαρ (37) ʾelíʿāzar (60)
ελιουδ (05) Ελιουδ (36) ʾelíúd (59)
ιαχειν (06) Αχειμ (35) ʾakín (58)
σαδωκ (07) Σαδωκ (34) zādúq (57)
αζωρ (08) Αζωρ (33) ʿāzúr (56)
ελιακειμ (09) Ελιακειμ (32) ʾelíqím (55)
αβιουδ (10) Αβιουδ (31) ʾabíúd (54)
ζοροβαβελ (11) Ζοροβαβελ (30) zúrbābel (53) Ζοροβαβελ (1 Chron 3:19)
σαλαθιηλ (12) Σελαθιηλ (29) šelatiʾél (52) σαλαθιηλ (1 Chron 3:17)
ιεχονιου (13) Ιεχονιαν (28) yúyākín (51) ιωακιμ (4 Kgs 24:8)
ιωακειμ (14) yúyāqím (50) ιωακιμ (4 Kgs 23:36)
ελιακειμ (15) ελιακιμ (4 Kgs 23:34)
ιωσεια (16) Ιωσειαν (27) yúšiyā (49) ιωσιας (4 Kgs 22:1)
αμως (17) Αμως (26) āmún (48) αμων (4 Kgs 21:19)
μανασση (18) Μανασση (25) mnaše (47) μανασσης (4 Kgs 21:1)
εζεκεια (19) Εζεκιαν (24) ḥezaqyā (46) εζεκιας (4 Kgs 18:1)
αχας (20) Αχαζ (23) āḥāz (45) αχαζ (4 Kgs 16:1)
ιωαθαν (21) Ιωαθαμ (22) yútām (44) ιωαθαμ (4 Kgs 15:5)
οζεια (22) Οζειαν (21) ʿúziyā (43) αζαριας (4 Kgs 15:1)
αμασιου (23) ʾamúṣiyā (42) αμεσσιου (4 Kgs 15:1)
ιωας (24) yāhúʾāsh (41) ιωας (4 Kgs 12:2)
οχοζιου (25) ʾeḥazyā (40) οχοζιας (4 Kgs 8:25)
ιωραμ (26) Ιωραμ (20) yāhúrām (39) ιωραμ (3 Kgs 16:22)
ιωσαφαδ (27) Ιωσαφατ (19) yúšāpāṭ (38) ιωσαφατ (3 Kgs 15:24)
ασαφ (28) Ασαφ (18) ʾāsā (37) ασα (3 Kgs 15:9)
αβιουδ (29) Αβια (17) ʾabiyā (36) αβια (2 Kgs 14:27; 3 Kgs 12:24)
ροβοαμ (30) Ροβοαμ (16) rḥabʿam (35) ροβοαμ (2 Kgs 8:7)
σολομων (31) Σολομωνα (15) šlémún (34) σαλωμων (2 Kgs 5:14)

Section 2 of 3: From David to Abraham

Fourteen names

Mainstream Matthew and Luke are in essential agreement with each other and with Bezae for the fourteen names from David through Abraham, though there are some minor orthographic variations.

Verse Luke (D) Luke (B) Matthew (B) Aphraates LXX
3:31 δαυειδ (32) Δαυειδ (42) Δαυειδ (14) dawíd (33) δαυιδ (1 Kgs 16:12)
3:32 ιεσσαι (33) Ιεσσαι (43) Ιεσσαι (13) ʾíshay (32) ιεσσαι (1 Kgs 16:1)
ωβηλ (34) Ιωβηλ (44) Ιωβηδ (12) ʿúbíd (31) ωβηδ (Ruth 4:21)
βοος (35) Βοος (45) Βοες (11) bāʿāz (30) βοος (Ruth 4:21)
σαλμων (36) Σαλα (46) Σαλμων (10) šelā (29) σαλμαν (Ruth 4:20)
ναασσων (37) Ναασσων (47) Ναασσων (09) neḥšún (28) ναασσων (Ruth 4:20)
3:33 αμειναδαβ (38) Αδμειν (48) Αμειναδαβ (08) ʿamínādāb (27) αμιναδαβ (Ruth 4:19)
αραμ (39) Αρνει (49) Αραμ (07) ʾārām (26) αρραν (Ruth 4:19)
ασρωμ (40) Εσρων (50) Εσρωμ (06) ḥeṣrún (25) εσρων (Ruth 4:18)
φαρες (41) Φαρες (51) Φαρες (05) pareṣ (24) φαρες (Ruth 4:18)
ιουδα (42) Ιουδα (52) Ιουδαν (04) íhúdā (23) ιουδα (Gen 29:35)
3:34 ιακωβ (43) Ιακωβ (53) Ιακωβ (03) yaʿqúb (22) ιακωβ (Gen 25:26)
ισακ (44) Ισαακ (54) Ισαακ (02) ʾísḥāq (21) ισαακ (Gen 17:19)
αβρααμ (45) Αβρααμ (55) Αβρααμ (01) ʾabrāhām (20) αβρααμ (Gen 17:5)

Section 3 of 3: From Abraham to Adam

Twenty names

Only Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus past Abraham to Adam, with the mainstream Lukan tradition including twenty names before Abraham (Luke 3:34-38). Bezae follows the mainstream tradition here, except for lacking the name Καιναμ, a variation it shares with Aphraates and P75(vid). 4

Verse Luke (D) Luke (B) Aphraates LXX
3:34 θαρα (46) Θαρα (56) tārāḥ (19) θαρα (Gen 11:24)
ναχωρ (47) Ναχωρ (57) nāḥúr (18) ναχωρ (Gen 11:22)
3:35 σερουκ (48) Σερουχ (58) srúg (17) σερουχ (Gen 11:20)
ραγαυ (49) Ραγαυ (59) ʾarʿú (16) ραγαυ (Gen 11:18)
φαλεκ (50) Φαλεκ (60) pālāg (15) παλεκ (Gen 11:16)
εβερ (51) Εβερ (61) ʿābār (14) εβερ (Gen 11:14)
σαλα (52) Σαλα (62) šālāḥ (13) σαλα (Gen 11:13)
3:36 Καιναμ (63) καιναν (Gen 11:12)
αρφαξαδ (53) Αρφαξαδ (64) ʾarpakšar (12) αρφαξαδ (Gen 11:10)
σημ (54) Σημ (65) ším (11) σημ (Gen 5:32)
νωε (55) Νωε (66) núḥ (10) νωε (Gen 5:29)
λαμεκ (56) Λαμεχ (67) lāmāk (09) λαμεχ (Gen 5:25)
3:37 μαθουσαλα (57) Μαθθουσαλα (68) matúšlaḥ (08) μαθουσαλα (Gen 5:21)
αινωχ (58) Ενωχ (69) ḥnúk (07) ενωκ (Gen 5:18)
ιαρεδ (59) Ιαρετ (70) yārād (06) ιαρεδ (Gen 5:15)
μαλελεηλ (60) Μαλελεηλ (71) mahlālāʾél (05) μαλελεηλ (Gen 5:12)
καϊναν (61) Καιναν (72) qaynān (04) καιναν (Gen 5:9)
3:38 αινως (62) Ενως (73) ʾānúš (03) ενως (Gen 5:6)
σηθ (63) Σηθ (74) šít (02) σηθ (Gen 5:3)
αδαμ (64) Αδαμ (75) ʾādām (01) αδαμ (Gen 2:16)

So the total number of names in Jesus’ lineage in each genealogy is:

Luke (D) 64
Luke (B) 75
Matthew (B) 40
Aphraates 63

Certainly Bezae’s similarity to Aphraates is striking, despite its unique listing of Jehoiakim under two names.

So does Bezae’s Lukan genealogy reveal the work of an editor? It is clear that at various times an apologetic motive would have existed to produce a single harmonized genealogy of Jesus. Such a genealogy may have been intended to silence critics, but might also have served to instruct the orthodox in the “correct” synthesis of the two genealogies. But what makes Bezae’s Lukan genealogy most likely the work of a resolute editor is the difficulty of imagining why a genealogy originally in harmony, as found in Bezae, might have been taken out of harmony in the respective traditions of Matthew and Luke. Until this question is answered, it is difficult to see Bezae’s text here as anything other than implied evidence that its distinctive text could not represent the initial text.

When was Bezae’s Lukan genealogy harmonized?

At eighty Greek words — roughly half the size of the Pericope adulterae — Bezae’s distinctive harmonization of the Lukan genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38) stands as one of its longest variations from the mainstream text. By comparison, the longest so-called “Western non-interpolation” at Luke 22:19-20 involves thirty-two words, while the Sabbath worker episode at Luke 6:5 consists of just twenty-eight words. Yet from Luke 3:23-31, Bezae’s text replaces the forty names from Joseph to David in Luke’s genealogy. In their place, we find the twenty-five names between Joseph and David in Matthew’s genealogy.

No other of Bezae’s variations suggests more clearly the work of a determined editor! In fact, the process of harmonization required the Matthean order to be reversed to accommodate Luke’s reverse-chronological design! So Bezae’s Lukan genealogy must be regarded as evidence of the secondary nature of its distinctive text. After all, to suggest otherwise, we must explain why the mainstream text would have introduced genealogies that do not agree. Yet while the motive for a change on Bezae’s side seems obvious enough, it is not so obvious when such a change might have occurred.

Our investigation of synoptic harmonization must naturally begin in the second century. But while our second-century sources mention the two genealogies, they are notably quiet on any conflict between them. While Justin Martyr does not cite Matthew’s genealogy, he refers to the Lukan genealogy in connection with Jesus’s descent from Adam, explaining why Jesus called himself “Son of Man”:

“He called himself Son of Man either because of his birth by the Virgin who was … of the family of David and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham, or because Adam himself was the father of those above-named patriarchs, from whom Mary traces her descent.” (Dial. 100.3) 1

Now Justin mentions nothing here of any conflict between the genealogies. More striking though is the apparent reason why, namely, that Justin sees the Lukan genealogy, not as an account of Joseph’s lineage, but rather as the account of Mary’s illustrious descent through David and the patriarchs to Adam. Clearly there is no other genealogy to which Justin could be alluding than the Lukan text.

Justin confirms this understanding in the Apology, where he refers to Mary’s descent from Judah, the father of the Jews:

“For by the power of God He [Christ] was conceived by a virgin of the seed of Jacob, who was the father of Judah, the father of the Jews, as we have shown; and Jesse was His forefather according to the oracle, and He was the son of Jacob and Judah according to lineal succession. (1 Apol. 32) 2

It is clear then that Justin could perceive no conflict raised by the Lukan genealogy, which he believes to represent Jesus’ lineage through Mary.

Irenaeus is similarly aware of the Lukan genealogy, citing it with its Matthean counterpart in support of his doctrine of recapitulation. He first cites the Matthean genealogy (which he regards as giving Joseph’s lineage) to argue the impossibility that Jesus could have been born physically of Joseph, because Jeremiah had cursed Jeconiah’s descendants, barring them from the throne:

“For Joseph is seen to be the son of Joachim and Jechonias, as also Matthew explains His origin. Now Jechonias and all his descendants were disinherited from the kingdom. So says Jeremias …” (Haer. 3.21.9) 3

Irenaeus then cites the Lukan genealogy to argue that Christ is descended from Adam and thus is able to rescue the whole of fallen humanity:

“Luke shows that the genealogy of our Lord, which extends to Adam, contains seventy-two generations, and so he joins the end to the beginning and points out that He [Christ] it is who recapitulates in Himself all the nations that had been dispersed from Adam onward.” (Haer. 3.22.3-4)4

In neither case does Irenaeus mention any discrepancy between Luke and Matthew.

Yet of all second-century writers, the one that we would most expect to have attempted a harmonization is Tatian. but It seems rather that Tatian omitted the genealogy altogether from his harmony. According to Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 457), this was not due to any inability to reconcile the synoptic texts, but from a prejudice against Jesus’s Davidic heritage.

Most striking though is the silence of Celsus on the conflict, even though according to Origen was aware of both genealogies:

“he [Celsus] asserts that the ‘framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man [i.e. according to Luke], and from the kings of the Jews [i.e. according to Matthew].'” (Cels. 2.32; ANF 4, 444)

Yet amazingly Celsus seems to have said nothing of any discrepancies between the two genealogies, though he seems to know both! In fact, Origen takes Celsus to task for his neglect of this obvious problem:

“in finding fault with our Lord’s genealogy, there are certain points which occasion some difficulty even to Christians, and which, owing to the discrepancy between the genealogies, are advanced by some as arguments against their correctness, but which Celsus has not even mentioned. For Celsus, who is truly a braggart, and who professes to be acquainted with all matters relating to Christianity, does not know how to raise doubts in a skilful manner against the credibility of Scripture.”

Origen dismisses Celsus’ comment about Jesus’ social status:

“the carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent.”

But it is clear from this that, like Justin, Celsus understood Luke’s genealogy to be that of Mary and Matthew’s to be that of Joseph. In fact, Celsus apparently considered it so self-evident that Luke recorded Jesus’ genealogy through Mary, that he does not bother to mention it. Yet Origen does inform us that in his time the discrepancies between the genealogies had been “advanced by some as arguments against their correctness.”

It is not until the third century that we find the issue of the genealogies being raised in the surviving literature, when according to Eusebius, Julius Africanus noted the problem and suggested the custom of Levirate marriage as a possible solution. But although Eusebius claims that Africanus is “refuting the opinions of others” (Hist. eccl. 1.7.1; NPNF 2.1, 91), it is hard to rely totally on his evidence, given his mistaken claim that Africanus received his answer “from tradition,” when Africanus himself contradicts this very statement, admitting namely that

“we can urge no testimony in its support [the Levirate marriage solution], we have nothing better or truer to offer.” (Hist. eccl. 1.7.15; NPNF 2.1, 94)

It seems then we cannot assume that Bezae’s harmonized Lukan genealogy arose in the second century. If an individual as hostile to Christianity as Celsus apparently saw no conflict, then neither can we assume that Bezae’s editors necessarily saw a conflict. Like Celsus, they may have viewed the two genealogies as belonging to Mary and Joseph.