Mary's Family Tree

One of the first ironic things that one might notice about the lengthy lists of names that trace Joseph's lineage back to King David is that these genealogies are specifically related to Joseph, who was not, according to Christian teaching, biologically related to Christ. At first glance, it seems strange that these writers would go to such great lengths to establish a royal line if this royal line were only connected to Joseph. However, in Jesus' time, the father's lineage would be of utmost importance for establishing legal parentage. Matthew emphasizes Jesus' adoption into this line. There is a church tradition that Mary was also a descendant of King David, but the Bible is ambiguous about this. In any case, all four of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — speak of Jesus as the son of David.

There is an interesting divergence between the way the Koran and the Gospels present these genealogies. In the Gospels, the genealogies seem to be chiefly intended to show that Jesus came from the royal house of David. In the Koran, however, Christ's genealogy offers a different set of Old Testament figures than any of the Gospels. These figures are not from the kingly line but from the line of prophets. This variation between the two texts parallels the different teachings about Christ. Within Christianity, Christ is the Son of God and a descendant from the royal line of David. In the Koran, however, Christ is a great prophet, but is not considered divine.

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Some theologians have pointed out parallels between the Virgin Mary and the Old Testament prophet Abraham. Both struggled with the question of how they would bear children, and both heard, “Fear not!” in response. Just as Abraham pleaded with God to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Mary was seen as one who interceded for people seeking God's mercy.

Matthew's genealogy mentions four women: Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and “the Wife of Uriah,” or Bathsheba. Although all of these women's lives were significant, each of their names was at least slightly tainted by scandal.

Tamar, who was a widow without children, dressed up as a prostitute so that she could trick her father-in-law into sleeping with her in order to claim her legal right to continue the family line of her deceased husband. Ruth was not Jewish by birth, but her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi helped her into a marriage with Naomi's wealthy relative, Boaz, so that Ruth could also perpetuate her family line. Rahab was herself a prostitute, but she put her efforts toward helping the Jews to enter the promised land.

Finally, there is Bathsheba. King David spied her bathing naked one day as he was walking on his roof. David lusted after her to such an extent that he gave orders that she be brought to his palace, and he committed adultery with her. When she became pregnant, he commanded that her husband, Uriah, be put on the front lines of battle so that he would be killed and David could marry Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 11) The child born of her was Solomon, who later became king and was renown for his wisdom. It was Solomon who built the temple for God that David dreamed of, and through whom the royal line continued. All of these women used unconventional methods to accomplish extraordinary things that profoundly affected the history of the Jewish lineage.

In these women, many theologians have seen a suggestion of what was to come — another woman who would enter into an equally unconventional marriage for the greater good of her people.

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