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.