WOMEN IN THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS (Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ)

The Jews take great pride in their family history. So they take special care to keep their genealogy. The two genealogies given in the Gospel according to St. Mathew and St. Luke prove the importance which the Jewish people give to their family history.

But the Bible-scholars are happily surprised by the fact that there is a great difference between the two genealogies. St. Luke mentions no names of women in his list of the forefathers of Jesus while Mathew mentions the names of five women in his genealogy! They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and the Mary, Mother of Jesus.

Among these five women we discuss here only two women Tamar and Rahab. Both women are not Israelites, they are from Canaanite tribe. The other three characters are well known in the Bible. There is one book named after Ruth in the Bible. Bathsheba is the widow of Uriah, an officer in Davids army. King David got him killed so that he could possess her fully as his wife. She became the mother of Solomon. The fifth woman in Jesus genealogy is his own Mother, the Virgin Mary.

Among the two women whom we discuss here, Tamars story comes in the 38th chapter of Genesis, the first book of Bible. Judah, Son of Jacob, a forefather of the Israelites, married a Canaanite girl, the daughter of Shua. Three sons were born to Shua and Judah. Er, Onan and Shelah.

For his first son Er, Judah got a wife whose name was Tamar. As her name indicates, Tamar was a Canaanite woman. Oar did evil in the sight of God and he died childless. Then, according to Moses law Judah told his second son, Onam: Go and sleep with your brothers widow. Fulfill your obligation to her as her husbands brother, so that your brother may have descendants. But Onam did not want to beget children for his brother so when he slept with Tamar, he let the semen spill on the ground. For such evil deeds Onam also died.

Then Judah told his daughter-in-law Tamar: Return to your fathers house and remain a widow until my son Shelah grows up. He said this because he was afraid that Shelah would be killed as his brothers had been. So Tamar went and stayed with her parents.

As time passed Tamar realized that Shelah has come of age and yet she has not been given to Shelah in marriage. Meanwhile Judahs wife died and after the customary time of morning Judah and his friend Hirah of Adullam went to Timnah where his sheep were being sheared.

Tamar came to know about it and she discarded the dresses of her widowhood and disguised herself covering her face with a veil. She went and sat down at the gate of Enaim on the way to Timnah.

When Judah saw her he took her to be a prostitute. He promised her that for the favour of sleeping with her he would send a young goat from his flock.

At the request of Tamar, Judah gave her as a pledge his seal with its cord and the stick he was carrying for her keep till he send her the promised young goat.

Judah slept with Tamar and she became pregnant. She went away from Judah and removed her disguise and put her widows clothes back on.

Then, Judah sent a goat with his friend Hirah of Adullam to redeem from the prostitute the articles he had pledged. But Adullam could not find the prostitute at the gate of Enaim on the way to Timnah. The village people there told him that there has never been a prostitute in their village Enaim.

After three months Judah come to know that his widowed daughter-in-law has been acting like a whore and now she is pregnant. He then ordered her to be burned according to the law of Moses.

When Tamar was taken to be burned, she sent a message of Judah, her father-in-law saying that she is pregnant by the man from of whom she has received this seal with its cord and this stick.

Judah recognized his belongings and said, she is in the right. I have failed in my obligation to her. I should have given her to my son Shelah in marriage.

Tamar gave birth to twin sons: Perez and Zerah. Among the two, Perez name comes in the genealogy of Jesus.

For the Israelites, Canaanites are foreigners. They are to be destroyed according to the law of the Moses. The Israelite men who marry foreigners are also condemned to death. In spite of such rules and regulations it is no small wonder that a foreign Canaanite woman Tamar find a place in the genealogy of Jesus!

The fact of Judah and Tamar becoming the forefather and foremother of Jesus proclaims that God choose men and women to accomplish his plans for humanity not because they are specially worthy or meritorious but because of Gods own goodness they are chosen. This is the reason a Jew, Judah who sleeps with a foreign woman Tamar, a Canaanite who plays prostitute are chosen by God in the genealogy of Jesus. In this way God tells the whole humanity in advance that the Gospel of Jesus is not only for the Jesus but for all people. In Gods kingdom there is no boundary walls. The door to Gods kingdom is open for all.

The next woman who comes in the genealogy is a prostitute. The story of Canaanite prostitute comes in the book of Joshua. In the genealogy of Jesus the character of Rahab gives a similar message like that of Tamar.

Israelites under the leadership of Joshua defeated every kingdom on their march to promised land and they reached the border of the Canaanite territory. Joshua sent two spies to go into Jericho city and to find out the situation of the people in Jericho and surrounding areas.

Joshuas spies reached the house of a prostitute named Rahab. The king of Jericho came to know about it and sent his men to Rahabs house asking her to bring the spies out. Rahab hid the spies and told the kings men that some men had come to her house but they escaped the city before the door of the city was closed at nightfall.

After the kings men went away, Rahab told the spies, I know that the Lord has given you this land. Everyone in the country is terrified of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea in front of you when you were leaving Egypt. We have also heard how you killed Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan. We were afraid as soon as we heard about it; we have all lost our courage because of you. The Lord your God is God in heaven above and here on earth. Now swear by him that you will treat my family as kindly as I have treated you, and give me some sign that I can trust you. Promise me that you will save my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families! Dont let us be killed!

The spies agreed to the terms of Rahab and promised her that they would protect her and all her relatives who take shelter in her house. The Rahab let the spies down through the window as her house was situated on boundary wall of Jericho city. She instructed them to go and hide themselves in the mountains for three days so that the kings men would not find them.

When, under the leadership of Joshua the Israelites attacked Jericho city, they destroyed everything and killed everyone. Only Rahab and her relatives were spared from death and destruction.

In the genealogy of Jesus Rahab is identified as the wife of one of the two spies, Salmon, who had taken refuge in her house. Rahab and Salmon begot Boaz. Then, as St. Mathew notes, Boaz and Ruth begot Obed and Obed begot Jesse. King David is the son of Jesse. Solomon is the son of king David and Bathsheba the women who had been Uriahs wife.

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