Wednesday, July 10, 2019

14 generations

In Matthew’s list, some names have been omitted. The 14-14-14 pattern is only achieved through means of those omissions. If we add in the missing individuals, the symmetry (and divisibility by seven) disappears...The difficult questions, though, are a) on what principle does Matthew omit the particular individuals that he does (or, conversely, include the others) – is it arbitrary, or is there some scheme in it...

I'm not going to offer a solution to the crux. Instead I'll use a comparison to illustrate a general principle. As of 2019, there have been 45 US presidents. Suppose someone listed the US presidents, but the list was incomplete. There might, however, be a pattern to who's included and who's excluded so that that total isn't randomly selective. For there are different ways to group US presidents. For instance, wartime presidents or peacetime presidents, Yankee presidents or Southern presidents, Republican presidents or Democrat presidents, Baptist Presidents or Presbyterian presidents, Presidents who served in the military, and so forth.

So there might be an unstated selection criterion, if you know what to look for. The reason for the selectivity wouldn't lie on the surface. Rather, it would have a coded significance to readers in a position to register the subtextual affinities. Perhaps Matthew's selection criterion is too in-house for readers who donn't share a 1C Palestinian Jewish frame of reference. Perhaps we've lost the key to unlock Matthew's numerology. 

It's like Dante scholars who find some of Dante's historical allusions in the Divine Comedy to be inscrutable because we lack the topical background knowledge he took for granted. Yet that doesn't mean Dante was writing nonsense. 


  1. I think that, as an apologetic defence against skeptics who simply say "Matthew cooked the figures, then tried to prove something by it", this is valid and useful.

    However, for a preacher evaluating how best to understand the passage in terms of weighing up the most likely interpretation, I don't think I could assign it a very high likelihood. If there was such a set of principles, then as yet, as far as I know, we've found no trace of it - either in early writings about Matthew, or Jewish genealogies in general, or elsewhere. It is sunk without trace, and furthermore no scholarship has yet managed to reconstruct it by "reverse engineering" what Matthew did (i.e. see what he missed out, try to understand the patterns and derive the principles from that). Perhaps it will be done in future. I don't know what's been tried, and think it'd be interesting to try if the existing scholarship hasn't done so. But generally speaking (I saw William Dembski argue this somewhere once, and thought he did so well), if something's had a lot of focussed time and energy spent on trying to discover a solution for it, the more work has done, the higher our confidence that we're barking up the wrong tree. i.e. Most likely, at this point in time, it'd be reasonable for us to believe that the guiding principle involved in Matthew's omissions is simply that they achieve the result. (Where "the result" is the pattern, whatever the purpose of the pattern is - memory aid, theological message, both, etc.).

    i.e. Apologetically it must be granted as a possibility. But exegetically, on the balance of probabilities if we have to choose our favoured interpretation, it's hard to go for it.

    1. But isn't that in fact the situation that we're in regarding the nuances of Matthew's genealogy?

  2. N.B. Quite a bit of where I come to is contingent upon something I don't know. I don't know how much investigation of the omissions and possible patterns has been made. Possibly I'm mostly working on an incorrect hypothetical. As I write I'm not near a good library.