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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.
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!'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.
The Messianic Psalms
Micah and Isaiah
From Josiah to Cyrus
The Maccabaean revolt
The Messiah as military leader
The Messiah as sage
The Messiah as high-priest
The 'prophet like Moses'
The 'son of'-titles
The two Messiahs of Qumran
The eschatological king
From Messiah to Christ
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