Jacob or Heli?

Matthew 1:16—”Was Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Heli (Luke 3:23) the father of Joseph and husband of Mary?”

Matthew records the genealogy through Jesus’ legal father Joseph back to David’s son Solomon, whereas Luke records the genealogy through his biological mother Mary back to David’s son Nathan. Looking at the context surrounding both genealogies, Matthew focuses on Joseph’s perspective, whereas Luke tells the virgin birth story wholly from Mary’s point of view. A logical question to ask is, ‘then why is Joseph, not Mary, mentioned as Heli’s son in Luke’s genealogy?’ There are four pieces of evidence for this:

Luke follows strict Hebrew tradition in mentioning only males; a virgin birth is somewhat of an awkward situation! Therefore, in this case, Mary is designated by her husband’s name. The word “son” is not in the greek text (literally it is “Joseph of Heli”), though it is implied.

The Jerusalem Talmud, a Jewish source, recognizes the genealogy to be that of Mary, referring to her as the daughter of Heli (Hagigah 2:4). A final line of evidence is that every name in the Greek text of Luke’s genealogy is preceded by the definite article (e.g. ‘the’ Heli, ‘the’ Matthat), with the one exception of Joseph. Although not obvious in English translations, this would strike anyone reading the Greek, who would realize that it was tracing the line of Joseph’s wife, even though his name was used.The fact that names like Shealtiel and Zerubbabel occur in both genealogies does not prove that they are the same, for these names were very common. Other common men’s names like Joseph and Judah are likewise repeated within one list (Luke 3:26, 30). It is clear that Matthew’s genealogy is not an exhaustive list; he uses “father” in a figurative sense for “grandfather” or “ancestor” at times, a common usage in Matthew’s Jewish culture. For example, he calls Josiah the father of Jeconiah, though he was the grandfather of Jeconiah. It is also relevant to note that Hebrew names commonly had different forms, such as Jehoram/Joram.

In the Qur’ān , we find an even more perplexing genealogical issue, where Mary the mother of Jesus is described as the sister of Aaron:

“At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: ‘O Mary! Truly an amazing thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! (ياُخْتَ هَرُونَ) Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!'” [Al-Qur’ān 19:27-28]

The early Najrani Arabs found this strange, since Mariam mother of Jesus lived a thousand years after Miriam sister of Aaron and Moses.1 There have been at least three theories to reconcile this baffling passage:

1. When the puzzled Sahaba asked Muhammad about this problem, he said that it was a metaphorical use of sister, to connect to pious persons of the past.2

2. Zakir Naik, apparently not satisfied with the hadith’s explanation, alleged that the Arabic term daughter ( ukhta اُخْتَ) equally means descendant in classical Arabic. The problem is that were this true, both the sahaba and Najrani Arabs, who unlike Naik had Arabic as their mother-tongue, would not have ever asked the question. Furthermore, it is hard to deny that Mary was in the line of David, not Aaron, which is why she went to Bethlehem for the census.

3. Abdul Siddiqi suggest that Mary mother of Jesus had a sister named Aaron, but this contradicts the explanation of Muhammad (pbuh).

  1. related by Mughirah ibn Shu’bah in Sahih Muslim , #5326.
  2. Sahih Muslim, Book 25, Number 5326: “Mughira b. Shu’ba reported: When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read” O sister of Harun” (i. e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Qur’ān , whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them.

One response to “Jacob or Heli?”

  1. Patricia Givens says:

    I am looking for evidence that supports the fact thst Joseph and Mary are in the line of David. I want to give my due diligence to this matter since I teach Sunday School and I got caught off guard with this issue. Any supportive information that you can provide me would be great. Email [email protected].

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