Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Addendum: Another Fascinating Female in the Line of David and Jesus

In my discussion of the genealogies of David and Jesus, I neglected to mention an intriguing twist set forth in the New Testament. Matthew – the evangelist most concerned with Jesus’ ties to historic Judaism – says that Boaz’ mother was one Rahab. Matthew also mentions Ruth and Tamar, as well as David’s wife Bathsheba, although the last is not named but described as “her who had been the wife of Uriah.”

Although it is not made explicit, Rahab would seem to be the same woman whose story is told in the book of Joshua, a “harlot” living in Jericho who becomes a heroine after she hides two Israelite spies from town soldiers who are looking for them.

Ruth, Tamar and Bathsheba, the only other women named in Matthew’s genealogy, are all famous old Testament figures, so it makes sense that the Rahab mentioned here would also be the subject of an Old Testament story. While some theologians have argued that this is not the case – and have constructed imaginative alternate narratives – I think the Jericho connection is most likely. (None of the women are named in Luke’s reverse genealogy, which also varies significantly in other ways from Matthew’s – it posits, for example, that Jesus was descended from David’s son Nathan, rather than from Solomon as related in Matthew).

It’s interesting that these four women, all subjects of stories that present them in provocative sexual situations, should be the only members of their gender named explicitly as ancestors of Jesus. The matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are in there, of course, given that their husbands are all ancestors of Jesus, but are not mentioned by name.

Jesus’ encounters with women of dubious reputation are well known – the Samaritan woman and the woman about to be stoned are both adulteresses, and there’s the enigmatic Mary Magdalene, who is difficult to pin down but who is said to have been possessed by seven demons and who was later made by church fathers into an uber-prostitute figure – so it is perhaps not surprising that he counts among his ancestors a group of women who are no strangers to sexual controversy.

I don’t know what to make of it, I just think it’s interesting and worth noting.

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