A: You’ve said more than once that you were the son of a wealthy, aristocratic family, a descendant of priests. Were you a descendant of King David? Was your father “of the house of David,” as Luke says in Luke 1:27?
J: This is the great thing about modern socio-historical criticism of ancient religious texts. Today’s research gives so many terrific, irrefutable facts that contradict the Church’s teachings. It’s like a game of Battleship, blowing up beloved traditions and sacred doctrines one piece at a time.
A: So I’m thinking the answer to my question is “No”?
J: With a capital “N.” There is no way — no possible way — that the Jewish hierarchy or the Roman hierarchy would have allowed a male with a proveable link to the lineage of David to survive, let alone go around preaching a radical doctrine about God. That lineage was dead. Long gone. Jesus scholars trace the last reference to a verifiable descendant of David in Hebrew scripture to the 5th century BCE Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. After that, the Jewish texts are silent on David’s genealogy.
A: This appeared to be no obstacle to the writers of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Matthew and Luke both insist you’re an actual descendant of David, and give you a genealogy to prove it.
J: Yes, but they don’t give the same genealogy, which has to make you wonder . . . could it be possible these men made it up? [Voice dripping with facetious humour.]
A: You mean, invented the genealogy. Lied about it.
J: Well, there’s certainly no truth to either of their genealogies.
A: If a written record of David’s line of descent had actually existed in the first century, where would it have been kept?
J: In Jerusalem. In the Temple. The records of bloodlines for the high priests and the other priests were highly valuable documents. They were carefully preserved. Any record of Judah’s or Israel’s ancient kings would also have been preserved. During the Second Temple period, the safest storehouse for valuables was the Temple and its precincts. The originals were kept there.A: But in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple. Any scrolls that were saved were probably taken into hiding. Making them hard to check, hard to verify — at least until the political situation had settled down.
J: A fact that “Matthew” and “Luke” both took advantage of. Both of them wrote after the Temple was destroyed. “Mark” wrote just beforehand. Mark was very careful not to make any claims about my background that could easily be disproved.
A: Yet in the Gospel of Mark, there’s reference to you as “the son of David.” How do you explain that?
J: That’s an easy one. Mark never says that I’m from the “House of David.” Mark says that a blind beggar named Bartimaeus called out to me as the “son of David.” The short and simple answer — plain as can be — is that “House of David” and “son of David” mean two completely different things.
J: To claim to be of the “House of David” is to make a genealogical claim — a claim to be a direct blood descendant of a former king. It’s like saying, “I’m descended from King Henry VIII” or “I’m descended from Queen Elizabeth I.”
A: Except that everybody knows Queen Elizabeth I died without children, without direct heirs. So anybody making that claim would have a hell of a time proving it to historians and archivists.
J: Same thing with King David. If descendants of King David were still known, still living, where were they when the Hasmoneans — the so-called Maccabeans — claimed both the High Priesthood and the de facto Kingship of Judea in the 2nd century BCE? Why didn’t the Davidic family step forward then to reassert their “claim” to the throne? Or when Pompey invaded in 63 BCE and made Judea a Roman protectorate? Or when Augustine officially turned the Roman Republic into an Empire with the Emperor as divinely appointed ruler and keeper of the Pax Romana in Judea, (as well as everywhere else)? It’s just not historically realistic to believe there really was a “House of David” by the first century of the common era.
A: So when “Matthew” and “Luke” made their claims about your ancestry, we should understand these as fictional claims — about as meaningful and factual as it would seem to us today if Stephen Harper were to say he’s a direct descendant of King Arthur of the Round Table. Pure hype.
J: You bet. On the other hand, if Stephen Harper were to liken himself symbolically or metaphorically to King Arthur — if he were to say he’s following the inspiration of his hero King Arthur — then people would respond differently.
A: It never hurts for a politician to model himself after a popular hero.
J: And in the 1st century CE, David was a popular folk hero. Not David the King, but David the humble shepherd lad who brought down the oppressor Goliath with one well-aimed blow of a stone.
A: Plus a swift sword to the neck.
J: People often forget that just as there are two different versions of the Creation story in Genesis, there are two different versions of the early David story in First Samuel, and there are two strikingly different “images” of David in the Bible — one humble, one royal. Which version is going to appeal more to regular folk oppressed by their leaders, both domestic and foreign?
A: The version where David is the little guy up against the big, mean, nasty Goliath.
J: Or the big, mean, nasty Herodian Temple, in my case.
A: It was a metaphor, then. A reference to the heroic folk tale of David. A reminder that God doesn’t always choose “the big guy” or “the firstborn son.”
J: Regular people didn’t love David because he was a king. Regular people loved David — the young David, the innocent David — because they could relate to him. David was a popular symbol amongst the slaves and the hard-working lower classes who longed to be freed from the cruelty of unjust leaders.
A: Huh. Well, as the Staples commercial says, “That was easy.”