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The 77 generations


Coin of Bar Kochba, showing the Temple with a star on the roof and the Ark of the Covenant. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
 Coin of Simon ben Kosiba ,showing the Temple with the Messianic star on the roof and the Ark of the Covenant inside (British Museum)

 
In the Gospel of Luke 3.23-38, we can read the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth. Like all genealogies in preliterate societies, it is not reliable: we may be confident that Jesus' father was a man named Joseph, but it is questionable whether his grandfather was indeed called Eli. (Matthew 1.16 calls him Jacob.) Going further back, the family tree becomes increasingly unreliable, although it is of course possible that the family of Jesus remembered correctly that it descended from David. The discovery of a first-century CE tomb of the 'house of David' in Jerusalem proves that descendants of the legendary king were recognized in Jesus' age.

The genealogical truth was, of course, not Luke's real aim. He wanted to show that Jesus was of Davidic descent and could therefore be the Messiah. Luke plays an interesting game in this genealogy, which we can appreciate by comparing his text with its sources.

  • Luke started by combining existing genealogies. 
    • Genesis 5.3-32 (from Adam to Shem)
    • Genesis 11.10-26 (from Shem to Abraham)
    • Genesis 25.19-26, 35.23, 46.12 (from Abraham to Hezron)
    • Ruth 4.18-22 (from Hezron to David)
    • 2 Samuel 5.14, Kings 1 and 2, Ezra 5.2 (from Nathan to Zerubbabel)
  • Having combined these family trees, Luke inserted two names. In Genesis 11.12-13 Shelah is the son of Arphaxad; but Luke makes Shelah the grandson of Arphaxad by inserting Kainan. The other addition is Admin. In doing so, Abraham, who had belonged to the twentieth generation, moved to the twenty-first generation, and David moved from generation #33 to generation #35. In other words, Luke introduced a system in which every seventh generation, a special man arose: e.g., Enoch (7), Abraham (21), David (35).
  • Finally, he added new names to bridge the gap between David and Jesus' father Joseph. Luke was more or less obliged to mention Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, a descendant of David who played an important role in the development of messianology (more). Shealtiel was probably the son of one of the last kings of independent Judah and therefore a descendant of king Solomon (cf. Matthew 1.6), but Luke makes him a descendant of another son of David, the prophet Nathan.
  • The names added by Luke are again highly significant: in the forty-second and the seventieth generation we find a Joseph, in the forty-ninth (7x7) a Jesus. Again, Luke plays with the number seven. Other interesting names are the four patriarchs in generation 42-45. 
 
LUKE
LUKE'S SOURCES
 
77
Jesus of Nazareth
   
76
Joseph
   
75
Eli
   
74
Matthat
   
73
Levi
   
72
Melki
   
71
Jannai
   
70
Joseph
   
69
Mattathias
   
68
Amos
   
67
Nahum
   
66
Esli
   
65
Naggai
   
64
Maath
   
63
Mattathias
   
62
Semein
   
61
Josech
   
60
Joda
   
59
Joanan
   
58
Rhesa
 
 
57
Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel
53 
56
Shealtiel
Shealtiel
52
55
Neri
 Mattaniah/Zedekiah
50
54
Melki
 Jehoiachin
51
53
Addi
Eliakim/Jehoiakim
50
52
Kosam
Jehoahaz
50
51
Elmadam
 Josiah
49
50
Er
 Amon
48
49
Jesus
 Manasseh
47
48
Eliezer
 Hezekiah
46
47
Jorim
 Ahaz
45
46
Matthat
 Jotham
44
45
Levi
 Azariah/Uzziah
43
44
Simeon
 Amaziah
42
43
Judah
 Joash
41
42
Joseph
Ahaziah 
40
41
Jonan
 Jehoram
39
40
Eliakim
 Jehosaphat
38
39
Melea
 Asa
37
38
Menna
 Abijah
36
37
Mattatha
 Rehoboam
35
36
Nathan
Solomon
34
35
David
David
33
34
Jesse
Jesse
32
33
Obed
Obed
31
32
Boaz
Boaz
30
31
Salmon
Salmon
29
30
Nahshon
Nahshon
28
29
Amminadab
Amminadab
27
28
Admin
   
27
Aram
Aram
26
26
Hezron
Hezron
25
25
Perez
Perez
24
24
Judah
Judah
23
23
Jacob
Jacob
22
22
Isaac
Isaac
21
21
Abraham
Abraham
20
20
Terah
Terah
19
19
Nahor
Nahor
17
18
Serug
Serug
17
17
Reu
Reu
16
16
Peleg
Peleg
15
15
Eber
Eber
14
14
Shelah
Shelah
13
13
Kainan
   
12
Arphaxad
Arphaxad
12
11
Shem
Shem
11
10
Noah
Noah
10
9
Lamech
Lamech
9
8
Methuselah
Methuselah
8
7
Enoch
Enoch
7
6
Jared
Jared
6
5
Mahalalel
Mahalalel
5
4
Kenan
Kenan
4
3
Enosh
Enosh
3
2
Seth
Seth
2
1
Adam
Adam
1
 
God
God

One question is: why seventy-seven generations? The answer lies in the First book of Enoch, a collection of texts that share an interest in the patriarch Enoch, about whom it is written that 'he was taken away' instead of 'he died' (Genesis 5.24). This line caused many to think that Enoch had ascended to heaven and had written reports about it.

One of the five parts of 1 Enoch is the 'Book of the Watchers', which was written in the third century BCE. It describes the fall of the angels and their punishment:

And the Lord said to [the arch-angel] Raphael: 'Bind [the rebel] Azazel hand and foot and throw him into the darkness!'
   And Raphael made a hole in the desert, which was in Dudael, and cast him there. On top of him, he threw rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered Azazel's face in order that he may not see light and [...] may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment. [...]
   And to Michael the Lord said: '[...] Bind them for seventy generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment is concluded.'
[1 Enoch 10.4-6, 11-12;
tr. E. Isaac]
In other words, the day of judgment was to take place seventy generations after Enoch. Now this patriarch lived in the seventh generation, and we may therefore conclude that the author of the Book of the Watchers assumed that the end of history would be in the seventy-seventh generation.

In another part of the First book of Enoch, the 'Book of Similitudes' (first half first century BCE), we learn more about the last judgment. We read how the Messiah, who is said to be created before the universe and is called the 'son of man', will judge mankind, which has risen from the death.

Back to Luke. By making Jesus of Nazareth the seventy-seventh of the list, he is obviously playing with these thoughts. What he is in fact saying is that Jesus was the Messiah and that the last judgment is very, very near. After all, when Luke composed his gospel during the persecution by the emperor Domitian, there were only a few survivors of the generation of Jesus.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

Anointment
The Messianic Psalms
Micah and Isaiah
From Josiah to Cyrus
Zerubbabel
The Maccabaean revolt
The Messiah as military leader
The Messiah as sage
The Messiah as high-priest
The 'prophet like Moses'
Balaam's prophecy
The 'son of'-titles
Other titles
The two Messiahs of Qumran
Messianic expectations
Catastrophic messianism
The eschatological king
From Messiah to Christ



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