Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Eusebius, EH.1.7: Harmonizing the Genealogies of Matthew and Luke
Image: This chart represents the view espoused by Eusebius, drawing on Africanus, for harmonizing the genealogies of Matthew (left) and Luke (right).
A new installment from Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History has been posted: book 1, chapter 7 (Listen here).
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter is an attempt by Eusebius to harmonize the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3. He cites as a source a letter from Julius Africanus to Aristides on the harmony of the genealogies of the Gospels.
Among the major differences in the two genealogies is the fact that Matthew traces the line through David’s son Solomon and ends, “And Jacob begat Joseph” (Matt 1:16a); meanwhile, Luke traces the line through David’s son Nathan and begins by noting that Jesus was supposed to be “the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). How could Joseph be the son of both Jacob (Matt) and Heli (Luke)?
Eusebius argues that “neither Gospel misstates, reckoning both nature and law.” He adds, “both accounts are strictly true … in a manner complicated but accurate.”
Lake explains in a footnote:
“The point of this obscure argument is that among the Jews if a man died childless his brother was charged with the duty of begetting children of the widow, who was still reckoned as the wife of the deceased. Such children were legally regarded as the sons of the dead brother, though known to be actually the children of the living one. This happened in the case of Joseph. He was legally the son of Eli [Heli], physically of Jacob. A further complication was that Eli and Jacob were only half brothers. They were the sons of the same mother, Estha, but Eli was the son of her second husband, Melchi, descended from Nathan the son of David, and Jacob was the son of her first husband Mattan, descended from Solomon the son of David. Thus, Matthew giving the physical descent of Jesus traces it through Jacob to Solomon, but Luke (who avoids the word ‘begat’) giving the legal descent traces it through Eli to Nathan” (n. 2, pp. 56-57).
I agree with Lake that this explanation is “obscure.” A simpler harmonization would be to say that Matthew provides the legal line through Joseph, a descendent of David through Solomon, and Luke, the natural line through Mary, also a descendent of David but through Nathan, thus making Heli the father of Mary not Joseph in Luke 3:23.
Eusebius also makes reference to traditions handed down “by the human relatives of the Savior,” that Herod the Great had attempted to obscure.
He again, puts forward the idea that Herod the Great was not a Jew. He suggests that Herod the Great’s father Antipater had been taken captive by the Idumaeans from the temple of Apollo, where his father, a certain Herod, was a priest. Antipater was later befriended by Hyrcanus, priest of Judea. Then, when Antipater died, his son Herod the Great was made king of the Jews by the Romans.
Herod the Great had tried to burn family records to hide his origins but private records were preserved, again by the family of Jesus, which tell the true story of his descent.
Finally, Eusebius adds that the Jewish practice requiring tribes to marry among their own also argues for Mary as from the tribe of Judah.
This analysis provides an excellent example of early Christian pre-critical analysis of Scripture, which seeks to harmonize the canonical Gospels and assumes them to be historically reliable.