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.

Justin Martyr and the “Western” Text

As the 2015 SBL Annual Meeting approaches, I wanted to post a slightly revised version of the paper I presented at the 2014 meeting, “Justin Martyr: An Early ‘Western’ Witness to the Synoptic Gospels?” The topic was inspired by my attempt to validate the claim that Justin’s biblical citations represent the so-called “Western” text (see the paper for citations). It is well-known that Justin’s biblical citations tend to be highly adapted, at least in relation to our canonical texts. It turns out that some of the more frequently-cited “Western” readings in Justin occur in these highly-adapted texts, three of which are examined in the paper. My observation in the present paper is that, when Justin’s form of citation is compared with the presumed “Western” form as found in D and the Old Latin Gospels, Justin’s form appears to be the more primitive on internal grounds. Justin’s form also tends to appear in the African Old Latin tradition, often presumed to be earlier than the European tradition, which attests the form found in D (however, this historical aspect requires further research). It seems we must allow for greater ambiguity in the direction of influence than is usually acknowledged in assertions that Justin used a “Western” text.

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