|Vol. VI, No. 10
Tebeth 5609, January 1849
Dias’ Letters: Letter 23.
The Messiah’s descent from David being (as I observed in my last,) by Christians deemed a necessary circumstance or qualification in the person who should pretend to that character, more than ordinary pains are taken to make out Jesus’ descent, as a thing of the utmost importance. In vain do commentators puzzle themselves to make out this descent: the genealogies delivered by Matthew and Luke do but increase the difficulties, and they are reduced to shifts and assertions peculiar to the cause. “Notwithstanding our Saviour’s voluntary appearance,” says Doctor Eckard, “under these mean circumstances, we are to remember that even in his human capacity he was true heir to the kingdom of Israel, which had been by God entailed upon David and his posterity, so that he was the king of the Jews in a natural and legal, as well as spiritual and divine sense; and this appears not only from former prophecies, types, and other circumstances, but also from the genealogy of our Saviour’s ancestors, given us by the evangelists Matthew and Luke,—which genealogies, though they have their difficulties and their seeming disagreements, yet they both manifest him to be of the line of David. The former draws the pedigree of his reputed father Joseph, and the latter that of his mother Mary.”*
But this is a mere invention, a direct contradiction to the genealogies, which are only of Joseph, and of him only, he being the person mentioned in both <<504>>to be the descendant of those ancestors, and not a word of Mary. The authors of the Universal History assert the same, and declare them both of the house and lineage of David, and in their notes add:—“We have taken notice in a former volume that the Jews had a law which expressly forbade heiresses to marry out of their own tribes. It is true, the Virgin Mary seems to have been far enough from being one of that sort, at least in possession, whatever there might be in reversion, or by virtue of the jubilee laws;—but there was still a much greater tie which kept the virgins of the tribe of Judah, but especially those of the house of David, from marrying into another tribe or family, namely, the sure expectation which they had that the Messiah was to be of that lineage, and to be born in Bethlehem, the city and patrimony of that monarch; and how careful every family was to preserve their genealogy, needs not to be repeated.”
And they then add:—“It is therefore vain that the Jews exclaim against the uncertainty of Christ’s being the seed of David, because Joseph’s and not Mary’s genealogy is deduced from him by the two Evangelists, who is yet affirmed by them to have had no share in his conception. The certainty of the Virgin’s descent from that house is rendered evident enough by what we have observed above, especially if we add the testimony of the Evangelists themselves, who call her miraculous child the son or descendant of David. If it be asked, Why they choose rather to give us that of her husband it may be answered that they conformed in it to the custom of the Hebrews, and even of the sacred writers, who deduce their genealogies from the male rather than the female line; for if Christ, the son of Mary, was the son or descendant of David, it must follow that his mother must be so too.”*
I have cited these historians at length, that you might better take a view of their arguments and chain of reasoning; and now let us consider their proofs as to their asserting that both Joseph and Mary were of the lineage of David; as it is of no weight—it is their proofs which we must consider.
The first proof is the Jews, having a law forbidding their heiresses marrying out of their tribes; but as they tell us Mary was far enough from being an heiress, this of course is no proof that she was a descendant from, or of the line of David, though she had been an heiress.
Their second proof is an invention, “A tie which they pretend was upon the virgins of the tribe of Judah, and especially on those of the house of David, from an expectation that the Messiah was to proceed from that lineage, and to be born in Bethlehem for which reason they were not to marry in another tribe or family.”
But nothing can be more ridiculous than their saying that: “It is therefore in vain that the Jews exclaim against the uncertainty of Christ being of the seed of David.” One would think they had, beyond all dispute, made out Jesus’ descent, and so ridiculed the Jews for their vanity in objecting to that which they had so plainly made out; and, indeed, as they say that “the certainty of the Virgin’s descent from that house is rendered evident enough from what they observe above,” it put me upon examining what they had said to prove this point, but was surprised to find the only arguments made use of to be those of the “heiresses being forbid marrying out of their tribe,” and the pretended tie on the virgins of “the tribe of Judah, in expectation that the Messiah was to be born of them.”
But how these assertions prove Mary to have been descended from the royal house of David, is past my abilities to find out. Thus much is certain, whatever they may pretend, Joseph’s and not Mary’s genealogy is deduced from David by the two Evangelists, so that from the genealogies which they give us, nothing can be drawn or extended to Mary. This is all that the Jews pretend; for though these historians insinuate as if the Jews affirmed that Joseph had no share in his conception, yet they well know it is not the Jews who say so, but the Evangelists who declare it: “And he (Joseph) knew her not (Mary) till she had brought forth her first-born son.”
Therefore it is the Christians, with the Evangelists at their head, who affirm it. The Jews knew nothing concerning these transactions: all that the Jews pretended to insinuate is, that if Joseph be not Jesus’ father, he from those genealogies <<506>>cannot be proved to be a descendant from David, neither are Christians able to make it out.
To the foregoing proofs they “add the testimony of the Evangelists themselves, who call her miraculous child the son or descendant of David;” but this proves nothing—1st. Because the Jews admit not their authority. 2dly. Because their calling him the son of David* can be no proof of his descent because, as we proved from Mr. Locke, the calling him so means no more than that he was the Messiah. 3dly. By the same rule that Luke supposes him to be Joseph’s son, or, if you please, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph,† when in fact he was not, since “he had no share in his conception,” so might the other Evangelist suppose him to have been the son of David, though in fact he might not be so. In short, it is from facts alone we are to form our judgment, and none of the Evangelists mention anything concerning his ancestors.
“The Scripture,” says Calmet, “tells us nothing of her parents, not so much as their names.”‡ All that they say concerning her parentage is, that she was related to Elizabeth, who, we are told, was of the daughters of Aaron.§ “If it be asked,” continue the historians, “why they chose to give us that of her husband, it may be answered that they conformed in it to the custom of the Hebrews, and even of the sacred writers, who deduce their genealogies from the male line.” This proves that the male line alone constituted a right, and that it was of no consequence of what line the mother was, or from whom she descended. Now if he was not Joseph’s son, he was no more the son or descendant of David than of Jeroboam, (for anything that appears,) and consequently could not claim the kingdom of that monarch by his lineal descent.
The Messiah’s right to the kingdom of Israel so necessary a qualification—give me leave to repeat it—that “we ought to remember,” says Dr. Eckard, “that even in his human capacity he was true heir to the kingdom of Israel, which had been by God entailed upon David and his posterity; so that he was the king of the Jews in a natural and legal, as well as spiritual and divine sense; and this appears not only from former prophecies, types, and other circumstances, but also from the genealogy of our Saviour’s ancestors given by the two Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, which genealogies, though they have their difficulties and seeming disagreements, yet they both manifest him to be of the line of David,”|| which might possibly be, had he been the son of Joseph; whose ancestors those genealogies describe; <<507>>but his not being Joseph’s son, the genealogies, though full of difficulties and contradictions, can give him no legal right.
And the learned doctor seems to have been so possessed with the divine indefeasible right, that he again takes up the subject. “Jesus,” says he, “being rightful and legal king of the Jews, and that only by his reputed father’s side”—(if so, how could his title descend to Jesus?)—“is an unanswerable argument both against those who affirm Joseph to have had other children by a former wife, as also against those who deny the perpetual virginity of Mary, affirming that Joseph had often children by her after the birth of Jesus; for had Joseph had any children, either by Mary or any other wife, they, as coming from the elder branch by Joseph, their father, must have claimed the inheritance of his kingdom in his right, and not Jesus, the son of Mary, who descended from a younger line, and therefore could not legally inherit but upon default of issue from Joseph, the only remaining heir of the elder; so that Joseph was the very last of the royal line of David, which was fully terminated in him.”*
I know that you see the fallacy of all this; yet it is on such evidence that foundation is laid for raising a most extraordinary superstructure. Now if Jesus was that rightful and legal king of the Jews, how came he to declare “his kingdom was not to be of this world?” If his title was so clear, how came the Jews to disown him? Did he ever claim his inheritance, then possessed by Romans? No doubt but the reverend doctor can prove that he did; for if no claim was to be made, why so much pains to prove the right? I think Joseph acted the most prudent in maintaining himself by his labour rather than to engage in a contest, or exert his right. And why might not Joseph’s children have sat down contented and easy in like manner as their father did?—for who in his senses would claim such a kingdom, or be such a king?
So that it is no argument, much less an unanswerable one, either of Joseph’s not having other children, or of Mary’s perpetual virginity. But that he had other children is plain; for when the Evangelist relates how Jesus was despised by his countrymen, the people say: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, and of Judah, and of Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?”† And though his behaviour, either towards his mother or brethren, is not represented in the best light,‡ yet it proves Joseph had other children; and those probably by Mary, since the Evangelist declares “that he knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born,” plainly indicating “that he had knowledge of her afterwards.”
But <<508>>that Jesus was the last of the royal line of David, his whole posterity becoming extinct in him, as as extraordinary an assertion as any of the rest. In short, they grope in the dark, and care not either what they say or what they affirm, if they could but establish their point, no matter for the evidence, or whom they contradict.
To return to the authors of the Universal History, their last proof is this: “If Christ, the son of Mary,” say they, “was the son or descended of David, it follows that his mother must be so too;” but this is a fallacious proof, (rather begging the question;) for the question is, Whether Mary (for Joseph not being his father, is consequently out of the question,) is a descendant of David. Had they made that out, then they might have concluded that her son was so too. Here the thing to be proved is taken for granted, and then a conclusion is drawn from it; but the Jews will say, If there be no proof that Mary is descended from David, there can be, consequently, none that Jesus was, the latter proceeding from the former, and not the mother from the son. This is inverting the order of things: therefore if Mary’s descent cannot be proved, the consequence is that her son’s cannot. I shall take no notice of the ineffectual endeavours made to reconcile the different genealogies of Matthew and Luke: their labour is not only vain, but even absurd; for after all, neither of them can serve their cause, because they reject Joseph, Mary’s husband, from being Jesus’ father, and the genealogies concern him, and him only; so that if Shiloh was to be of the tribe of Judah, it does not appear that Jesus was he, his descent not being ascertained or proved.