A thoughtful post. I was taught in a college New Testament course that the disparity in the two geneologies was because one was patrilineal (Joseph’s), the other matrilineal (Mary’s). I have no independent means of establishing or defending that proposition, but it made sense and the professor seemed to have his ducks in a row as he made the argument. Merry Christmas, Professor Mead! Thank you for these elegant and informative posts.
Another way of looking at the Gspel stories is as part of the Jewish tradition of Midrash.
“Midrash is commonly defined as the process of interpretation by which the rabbis filled in “gaps” found in the Torah. It is a literature that seeks to ask the questions that lie on the tips of our tongues, and to answer them even before we have posed them.”
“But, which story is more correct? Both. Midrash is a literature that allows for multiple interpretations. It is a kind of poetry that demands that we explore every shade of God’s intended meaning. While one might argue, logically, that the first midrash did not agree with the second simply because they are composed by different authors, that is the very point!
“The goal of the rabbis was, precisely, in the exercise of “drashing”, seeking and finding meaning in, the text, to come up with their own interpretations. Each one adds something new to the mix, bringing out small details that answer the basic questions of human nature.”
“In the three midrashim cited above, the rabbis attempt to illuminate the evil that takes place when one brother kills the other. In each, a textual “gap” is certainly filled, and the motivation of the killer is pinpointed. Yet in each, there is a different explanation found for the hatred one brother feels toward the other. Each midrash brings its readers a different nuance to the biblical characters, and each ends by helping us understand the authors as well. Midrash is commentary, but it is so much more than that.”
I’ve also always been taught that Matthew records the legal line through Joseph and Luke records the genetic line through Mary (who also seems to have been a prominent source for Luke’s Gospel).
If you’ve ever taken a peek at most skeptic websites, most “proofs” against Christianity are just silly or easily explained. There are great mysteries in Christianity (free Will vs. God’s plan or the Trinity) that could be stumbling blocks, but most skeptics seem to want to latch onto minutia that anyone could give a good response to given google and 5 minutes.
I write this as someone with a Jewish background. The two genealogies of Jesus are indeed important and hard to explain away. The idea that the two gospels are tracing a patrilineal line and a matrilineal line is too rationalistic for what are supposed to be divinely inspired documents. Perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that the two writers are referring to two different children who have been conflated by modern rationalists.
The fact is that there are many inconsistencies and contradictions in the gospels that might be worked out if there were two children being written about. The problem is that this would involve a leap into the mystical, but the story as interpreted is already too improbable and “mystical” for many modern people to consider.
The gospel stories do have elements that fit this thesis. For example, the 12 year old Jesus turns up in the temple spouting great wisdom when he was judged to be a simple boy the day before. What happened? His family was with him in Jerusalem for 7 days; they returned to look for him for 3 days before finding him. What’s with the 3 days? Surely it wouldn’t take 3 days to find him if he were in the temple all that time. And why are both the New and Old Testaments full of such numerology? Lots of questions here which should not be ruled out of bounds.
In any case, thank you, Mr Mead, for all of your good work.