The Bible, Jewish people, Jesus and David

Which didn’t stop either the Hasmoneans or Herod from trying to claim the title, interestingly enough. I think the Hasmoneans, IIRC, denied the Messiah had to be of Davidic descent, and Herod invented a Davidic connection.

While the Hasmoneans did take the throne (against Jewish law) I have not seen any indication that any of them laid claim to being the messiah. In any event, the requirement that the messiah must come from David is biblical, and dates to well before Herod’s time.

Zev Steinhardt

Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that anyone was lying, although my unfortunate use of “took on” could certainly be taken that way. I maybe should have said “ended up with,” or “had thrust upon them.”

My increasingly feeble memory is telling me that the tradition of who’s a kohane more accurate precisely because of halacha.

Ah, OK, now I think I understand.

In truth, however, there weren’t really any “Levitical” (or kohanic) names until fairly recently when Jews (and everyone else) were forced to take surnames. Before then one’s name was simply "X the son of Y [the kohen/Levi]. When Jews began to take last names, many of the kohanim and Levites took names that were associated with that status, such as (for kohanimCohen, Katz, Kagan, Kohn, and (for Levites) Levi, Segal, etc.

I know people with these names who are not kohanim or Levites and I know people who are kohanim/Levites without these particular names. This could happen in any number of ways – heck I married into a family with such a name who are not kohanim (an ancestor was raised by his maternal uncle who was a kohen and took on their last name). While it’s certainly possible that someone carrying such a name may (in the lack of a family tradition to the contrary) assume that they are a kohen/Levite, I think most Jews do know their status in this regard.

Zev Steinhardt

I know, which is why Herod claimed to be descended from King David. As for the Hasmonean messianic claims, take a look at “The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs”. The current surviving version is Christian, but most scholars who have studied it claim that the original version dated from the Hasmonean period, and talked about a messiah descended from Levi.

Expanding briefly on what Zev has said: there are no genealogical tables or proof of patrilineal descent from David. Tradition holds that certain famous rabbis are of Davidic descent, but God only knows whether that tradition is valid, or simply arises because some students thought the rabbi was so wonderful that he must be of Davidic descent, or what. Even at the time of Jesus, there were very few people (if any) who could trace their ancestry back to David with anything beyond “family tradition.” Daddy told me we were descended from David, and his grandaddy tole him, so it must be true.

However, for Jews, the question of Davidic descent is somewhat irelevant. When the Messiah comes, the dead will arise, there will be no more war or poverty, and all the world will acknowledge the common Parenthood of God and the common brotherhood of mankind. When that happens, there won’t really be much room for doubt, and no one is going to try to check through the millenia of Davidic descent. We’ll trust God to have taken care of that little detail.

Now, for history: in the earliest years after Jesus’ death, his disciples thought he was the fulfillment of Messianic predictions, and tried to convice their fellow Jews of this. They needed arguments to prove their case, and so they spent lots of time delving into old prophecies (Isaiah et al) to find references that might point to Jesus’ life and death. Candidly, I think this was kind of like looking at some vague prophecy of Nostradamus – the really best prophecies tend to be beautiful poetry, but highly ambiguous, and able to be interpreted or re-interpreted to fit whatever situation you want. Hence, the efforts to track Jesus lineage back to David, the idea of having Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem so that Jesus could be born in the City of David, and similar creative history.
These attempts basically failed, and the Jews weren’t convinced. Then along came Paul, who said this was all unnecessary, and dropped the efforts to preach to the Jews (indeed, started condemning the Jews) and turned towards the pagans. The pagans, of course, had no need for Jesus’ story to match historic prophecies, but it made a nice argument, especially when they were ignorant of the historic prophecies.

I would only add to this erudite discussion, and especially the last post, that there was, in addition to Paul’s ministry directed to Gentiles, the mission to the Jews centered in Jerusalem.

The debate between Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, regarding circumcision of new Christians is indicative of this debate.

The Pauline approach, of severing Christianity from its Jewish roots as much as possible won by default when the center of the Jewish/Chrisitian church was destroyed in the great revolt of 66-70 CE/AD.

One sees evidence of this turn in, e.g, the gospel of John, chapter 8, where Jews who do not accept Jesus as messiah are called children of Satan.

A few more things: the rule of matrilineality for identification as a Jew, was a second temple phenomenon; it is not in the Bible.

It is well to read Isaiah 9 and 11 as good examples of OT background on Messiah, which simply means “annointed one” in Hebrew. In the OT, the term does not necessarily refer to the Messiah son of David. See Isaiah 45, where Cyrus is called the Messiah (annointed one) of God.

Messiah as referring to supernatural figure, and not simply God’s annointed one, like David or Cyrus, is a second temple phenomenon, and certainly stems from apocalyptic and mystical literature of that time.

Lots more on this topic – better stop here.

wouldn’t dna help figure out who is decended from whom?

i have a vague memory of seeing a pbs thing where they were able to trace a jewish group in africa to a line of rabbis in the states. they used dna to validate that the group in africa was jewish.

If I recall correctly, that group was descended from the Aaronide priesthood.

btw: In prophecy from Isaiah, it is a descendant of Jesse (Yishai) David’s father, not David, who will be the “messiah.” This complicates things a bit.

In hindsight, I did not want to convey the impression that the early Christian writers and preachers “lied” or “twisted the truth.” One interprets historic events (or events that one believes to be historic.) If I were writing a biography of Thomas Jefferson, I might want to stress his brilliance in the Revolution, and I might not want to mention his relationship with female slaves. OTOH, if I wanted to stress his relationship with female slaves, I might write my biography and never mention the Declaration of Independence. When an author has an agenda (such as preaching or converting people to the Truth), one selects what points to emphasize and what to de-emphasize.

Ah, then- *as far as we * know , there are no living *patrilinear * descendents of David or his father, right? No one currently claims such- outside of a loony-bin. :stuck_out_tongue: Not that there couldn’t be , of course.

You’d have to be pretty far out to think that the New testament writers & editors didn’t have an “agenda”. Whoever was the author of Matthew seemed to stretch some of the Old Testament and the known facts about the man who was Jesus quite a bit to get some of them to meet. Not that that invalidates his work, mind you.

I don’t have much of significance to add to what Zev and Dex have already provided some very thorough and informed responses to but I just noticed a couple of stray ends I can clean up.

The Gospel sometimes argued to provide a geneology through Mary is Luke. You are correct that this argument is not really supported by a plain reading of the text and it is further hampered by the fact that matrilinear descendancy from David doesn’t count. It has to be patrilinear in ancient Jewish law and traditin. As a matter of fact (and Zev, please correct me if I’m wrong) I’m pretty sure that matrilinear records were never kept at all.

Sorry to nipick but Messiahship through “adoption” does not fit the bill. The Messiah must be a direct, biological, patrilinear descendant of David.

This part is exactly right.

Most of the points here have already been answered, but I wanted to add two points:

  1. Amongst the families in known history (like Rashi’s, mentioned by Zev) that had been accepted in their time as being of Davidic descent is the family of Bustenai, who held the position of Jewish Exilarch (Reish Galuta, in Aramaic) under the Caliphs of Baghdad. The position of Reish Galuta (which was passed to his male-line descendents) survived until the twelfth or thirteenth century, so it’s very possible that somewhere in Iraq, North Africa, or Israel, there is documentation for a family which claims descent from them.

  2. Lynwood Slim wrote:

Not really. If that contradicted Davidic descent, it would be a complication, but since Davidic descent is a subset of it, other Biblical statements in which G-d promises eternal kingship to David’s line (and specifically through Solomon) are still the guide to the legitimacy of a Messianic claimant, negating the claim of anyone who is descended from a brother of David (or, for that matter, a brother of Solomon as well).