Who was Jesus’ biological father?
Some rather wobbly theories of paternity.
Is there more background for this story?
Does the biblical author give us a little clue? Does the author intend to do this, knowing that many of the more mature and careful readers are not reading the text like a fairy tale, but actually studying it? Does the author intend to give us something to jolt us? To intrigue us? To engage us? To make us more alert and more aware?
Or am I about to make a big deal out of nothing?
Well, this could be much to do about nothing. I admit I don’t know Greek and there is only so much one can do with a Greek grammar one has not read much of, a Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament that claims to have each and every word (several I can’t find), a couple of smaller dictionaries, the Google translator (modern Greek), Grosvenor’s excellent but excessively orthodox Analysis, and an index card on which I have written the Greek alphabet with upper and lower case and English phonetic equivalents.
There are two genealogies in the Gospel. Both are supposedly genealogies of Joseph the husband of Mary. Or at least that is the interpretation often given to the genealogies. But the genealogies are both different. The two genealogies are for two individuals, perhaps distantly related by sharing a few distant ancestors. If both genealogies are for a Joseph, then there are two different men named Joseph.
Both individuals are descendants of King David, but through different sons of his. Matthew’s genealogy has far fewer generations than Luke’s (27 vs. 42) in this time frame (from David through Jesus), if I count both Jesus and a Joseph, but not David. Assuming it was approximately 1,000 years from David to Jesus, then the average length of generations is 37 years (Matthew) vs. 24 years (Luke). Why the wide difference? Over so many centuries, on average, the length of generations should be the same or similar for both lines. Did the Matthew line have different marriage customs, or different purity rules (abstinence rituals), or better adherence to those rules? Did the Matthew line have infanticide, sacrifices of children, or a deleterious gene? Or are the average generation lengths so different between the two lines because records are missing or records are incorrect?
Matthew’s genealogy is for the Joseph who was the husband of Mary and Jesus’ foster father (Matthew 1:16). Matthew’s genealogy follows a pattern, is neatly written, and can be clearly understood. If we accept that Matthew’s genealogy is for that Joseph, then the other genealogy (Luke 3) is not for that Joseph because it is different. So who is it for? Is Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-24) for a Joseph who was the biological father of Jesus?
It may be that Luke’s genealogy is not for any Joseph (although it has some distant ancestors of that name) and the initial reference to “Joseph” is simply meant to be like a parenthetical, not part of the genealogy which starts instead with the name after “Joseph.”
Is Luke’s genealogy for Mary’s father and so the genealogy is hers, without naming her, only her father? That would not be an acceptable way to make a genealogy today, and I can’t claim to know what was acceptable then. However, Matthew’s genealogy has the names of Mary and some other women (marrying into the family tree), so it does not seem likely that an acceptable genealogy for Mary could have been made by Luke’s author omitting Mary’s name. So let’s say Luke’s genealogy is not Mary’s.
If we read Luke’s genealogy closely, it becomes evident that it may be the genealogy of Jesus, but not that of a Joseph. The Easy to Read Version (ERV), mistakenly??, calls it the “The Family History of Joseph” but the heading in The Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1983) says it is “The Genealogy of Jesus.” The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) puts parentheses into a key sentence in the Luke genealogy. I’ll expand that parenthetical below to enclose, and thus set aside, the entire reference to Joseph, leaving only what might be the actual genealogy – the genealogy of Jesus. Keep in mind that in the first century there was little punctuation, all upper case was used, and sometimes (often?) writers did not even leave spaces between the words. Readers had to be good at guessing.
I am also going to clarify what is the first name after “Joseph.” It is not “Heli” as is written in the old King James Version and those versions which track it. The name is Eli. I have found three versions that confirm this (YLT, ERV, DHH). It is Eli. No way it should be anything but Eli. That is the English phonetic equivalent of the Greek. The exact same Greek word is translated as “Eli” in Matthew 27:46. So who is this ancestor Eli? Is that a nickname for Elias? So is Jesus’ father named Elias? Or Elijah? Or Elisha? Etc.
This is what the Greek says in Luke’s genealogy (3:23-24) as near as I can tell:
and <> self/even <> was <> Jesus <> beginning <> approximately <> at age of <> 30 <> verb to be (being?) <> son <> as/like/as though/as if <> verb consider/suppose <> Joseph <> of <> Eli <> of <> Maththat[phonetic]
If I write that in a more readable way with the parentheses I just mentioned I get:
And Jesus himself was beginning [ministry] at approximately age of 30 being the son (((considered as though Joseph[’s]))) of Eli, [son] of Matthat.
Here I used the conventional spelling for Matthat and also, added the word “ministry” that some translators add to the text.
If I take Eli to mean “God” as it does in Matthew 27:46 (a Greek phonetic of a Hebrew word), then I can get “Jesus . . . . Son . . . of God [Jesus’ title] [son] of Matthat. Meaning Jesus the Son of God is the son of Matthat.
How likely is it that the word “God” is at the beginning of Luke’s genealogy? I’ll guess very likely, because it is also at the end. There it is written as “Theou,” the Greek word for God, referring to Adam as a son of God. So that makes a nice symmetry to have Jesus, Son of God (“Eli”) at the beginning of the genealogy and Adam a son of God (“Theou”) at the end of the genealogy.
The DHH makes the mistake?? of having Luke’s genealogy be the genealogy of Joseph, going so far as to insert another “Joseph” in order to make their point: “Fue hijo, según se creía, de José. José fue hijo de Elí . . . ” But at least they allow the reader to see “Eli.”
The TNIV has ”Eli, Eli” for Matthew 27:46 but the footnote there says, “Some manuscripts Eloi, Eloi.” Evidently, Eloi, also meaning “God,” is not preferred for Matthew. I certainly prefer “Eli, Eli” because it allows me to see the matching word “Eli” in Luke’s genealogy.
These differences Eli/Heli for Luke 3:23-24 and Eli/Eloi for Matthew 27:46 raise the issue of whether translators/transcribers tried to hide the “Son of God” entry in Luke’s genealogy by changing words so a comparison could not be made between the two passages. Were the translators/transcribers afraid that someone might think that the Son of God was the son of Matthat? Or is there some other reason for the confusing word changes?
Most scholars would agree that the author of Luke had access to Matthew. Personally, I suspect both books came out of the same shop or were by the same author. If Luke’s genealogy has a little riddle, puzzle, tease, or clue in it, with “Eli” matching Matthew’s “Eli,” I want to see it, and be able to try to decipher the meaning, not have it blotted out by fearful translators or fearful transcribers who change words so all I can see is what they want me to see, based on their own agendas. Not nice.
For the Luke genealogy, the New King James Version has this in a footnote for Matthat: “This and several other names in the genealogy are spelled somewhat differently in the NU-Text. Since the New King James Version uses the Old Testament spelling for persons mentioned in the New Testament, these variations, which come from the Greek, have not been footnoted.” The translators use “Old Testament spelling” ?!?! So the translators felt the need to correct the spelling of the authors of the New Testament? The translators don’t allow me to see this spelling? My reaction is that I would prefer to see the real spelling, unmodified, as I do not have a need to attempt to harmonize the Hebrew Bible (the correct name for that Bible) with the New Testament.
Did we end up with “Eli” in Matthew 27:46 but “Eloi” in that passage in some other manuscripts because some well-meaning scribe thought the texts needed to be harmonized and changed the spelling in Matthew to harmonize with a corresponding verse in Mark 15:34 which has “Eloi”?
By the way, I can’t find another “Heli,” not even in the Hebrew Bible using the King James, whether old, New, or 21st century versions. So where does this word come from if not from the imagination of a clever seventeenth-century English bishop? Oh, the Latin Vulgate has it, “filius Joseph, qui fuit Heli, qui fuit Mathat,” so was “Heli” invented by Saint Jerome around 400 CE? The quote I have is supposedly from 1598 text, so not necessarily the fault of Saint Jerome.1 (I don’t mind calling this guy a saint because if anyone is a saint, then we all are.) Is “Heli” an honest attempt by a translator to make a word sound more Hebrew? My Greek grammar seems to be telling me there is no such sound in Greek as the English “H” that begins a word. So maybe the translator thought, “It couldn’t possibly be Eli because that has the sound of the word that means God in Hebrew, and a man would not be called God. What letter would the Greek writer have left off because there was no equivalent in Greek? Must be a Hebrew “H.” Well, I know almost nothing about Hebrew, so why am I trying to understand what a translator was thinking about it? OK, enough Heli.
I know you are asking, “But wasn’t Jesus born of a virgin – how can he have a biological father?”
The Gospel does give the impression that Jesus was born of a virgin; but nevertheless, there is lots of room for different interpretations – (more later). Even if we take that virginity to be a main theme in the story, that still does not prevent the author(s) from constructing a secondary story line, even a contradictory story, beneath the main story, to keep the reader interested, to keep the reader thinking.
The New Testament gives broad hints that Jesus has some divine connection or even a divine dimension to him. It is purposely subtle on this matter, I believe. It allows the reader to make up his or her own mind as to what is the relationship that Jesus has with his divine “Father,” and how Jesus could be offspring of “Spirit.” (What is the relationship that I have with life-giving Spirit, coming to me from my Creator-Source, in whose image and with whom I AM creating myself?)
Not necessarily born of a virgin? “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20 (KJV)). Well, isn’t every child a gift of God? “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35 (KJV)) Well, aren’t we all supposed to be Spirit-filled, live in the shadow of the Most High (Psalms 91:1-4), and become members of the Christ?
The prophecy was fulfilled: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son” (Matthew 1:22-23 (KJV)). Well the prophet Isaiah (7:14) actually says “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son” – this according to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the flagship Bible of the Protestant world, which has relegated the KJV “virgin” to a footnote. So the Gospel writer didn’t mind warping the Isaiah quote more than a little bit, and would expect that his/her more educated Jewish readers would instantly pick up the change? Was the change to add “virgin” carefully calculated, so that those who were being steered away from the Pagan story of the virgin Lady and her young Lord (a similar legend), then be more amenable to having their thinking reformed, and those in the know would be able to feel superior? Or the Gospel writer did not have access to the original Hebrew for Isaiah (was the available Greek version flawed?).
Luke 1:34: Mary says to the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (KJV) That doesn’t mean she stayed a virgin after that conversation and on through the birth of Jesus.
The angel says that the cousin Elizabeth is also going to have a child – so is that child also lacking a biological father? That’s not assumed by interpreters, but actually the biblical text makes no distinction as to origin between the two spirit-children, Jesus and John the Baptizer – both are from God. If one lacks a biological father, then presumably the other would also. The text names the Baptizer’s father – is he the biological father? (At the time the Gospel was written, the Baptizer was still highly renowned and so the author honors his memory by having him announced by the angel??)
OK, granted, it does seem that the main story line is supposed to be that Jesus was born to a virgin, but the accounts are so loosely written (intentionally so?) that I personally would not attempt to make a dogma out of them. I didn’t find a verse in the New Testament that says, “Jesus did not have a biological father.” Incidentally, whatever I write about what a first-century author wrote will not change the Queen of Heaven one iota. She knows who and what She is.
The Sisters of the Congregation of Joseph remind me of our role in the mystery of the incarnation: “Each day, each year, God begins anew. Planting within us the seed, the promise, God’s own self. May our journey give birth each day to the Love which will heal and transform our world.” (Christmas card #C143.)2
It might be that the historical Jesus and his family, even his biological father, were well-known to many of the readers of the Gospel and Acts, and the biblical author could not get away with not pointing to Jesus’ biological father. The author points to Matthat, even though the main emphasis is elsewhere – on Jesus’ relationship to his heavenly Abba-guide and the virgin Queen of Heaven. These relationships to the Divine are presumably something we can emulate and in fact, we can ponder if we exist in relation to the Divine just as Jesus did – perhaps that is ultimately the point that the biblical authors are trying to make. Personally, I don’t think it really matters who Jesus’ biological father was. It mattered to both of them, I hope, but why make an issue of it? The biblical author doesn’t make a big deal out of it, if indeed the subject is even covered at all and I am not just hopelessly mistranslating or misinterpreting.
Is there any other indication that Matthat is the biological father of Jesus? Any confirmation?
Well, the next clue is even more ambiguous and you may not be impressed at all.
“So they proposed the names of two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.” (TNIV)
“And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.” (Catholic DRA)
There are four names in this sentence, (1) Joseph, (2) Barsabbas, (3) Justus, and (4) Matthias. But there are only two men. The translators give one man three names, the other man one name.
One of these men may be the biological father of Jesus – maybe. Barsabbas (in Greek also Barsabas) contains the Hebrew phonetic equivalents of bar (son of) and abba (father). Thayer’s dictionary says it means son of Saba or Zaba. Who or what is a Zaba? (I don’t know.) Elsewhere in the New Testament there is a Barnabbas (son of Naba??). Thayer’s acknowledges that “Barabbas” means “son of a father.” Bar-Abba names may have been common in those days (meaning “Sonny”?) or maybe the biblical authors are setting up little son-father puzzles??
Assuming there is some sort of son-father clue in Barsabbas that relates to Jesus and not to “Zaba” (and I’m not convinced there is a clue), then it becomes important to know which of the three other names go with Barsabbas. The translators say it is Joseph who is called Barsabbas. Perhaps they are straining to have it be Joseph because they believe Luke’s genealogy begins with a Joseph.
I get this alternative translation for Acts 1:23 using my very primitive translation skills:
>>Nominated two,  he-called-Joseph [and 2] Bar-s-Abbas, called upon Justus and Matthias.<<
So Joseph = Justus, and Barsabbas = Matthias. But only if we have names 1 and 2 correspond respectively to names 3 and 4, that is, in conformance with the order in the sentence. Of course it could be out of order with 1=4 and 2=3. Another possibility is that there are four men, two nominated and two called upon.
Google says that ιωσηφ τον καλουμενον = “Joseph-called.” Google adds the dash. Makes me think that “called” is associated with “Joseph” as in He-who-is-called-Joseph. Now Google is modern Greek. Which will I believe, an electronic translator of modern Greek or the traditional translation of centuries of churchmen? (hmm) Maybe the dash means Google dropped a word (oops). But supposing that many centuries ago, someone who didn’t know much Greek, only Italian and some Latin, botched the translation and pious indifference kept that error going . . . . well, I just don’t know. How did I get “called upon” instead of “also known as”? Grosvenor’s Analysis tells me the verb and one of my small dictionaries gives me the alternative meaning.
One reason I am not really satisfied with Matthias as “abba” or father is that there is another Barsabbas in Acts 15:22, Judas surnamed Barsabas (KJV). Is this Judas also the father of Jesus? So it doesn’t work really. Not unless I can finesse this to say that Judas-father is a negative search result, that is, a clue that shocks or offends (Judas is also the name of the man who betrayed Jesus – not that this is the same Judas), a negative result much along the same lines as the result I describe later below – “Jesus son of evil.”
Thayer’s would split Barsabba into bar and saba or sabba or Zaba. Perhaps, rather, it should be understood as bar + Greek case ending or other ending (Hebrew?) or abbreviation?? + abba, saying what?? And what about Barnabbas? Thayer’s points to Acts 4:36 where the biblical author interprets “Barnabas” as “son of consolation” (KJV), or “son of encouragement” (NRSV). Well, maybe that’s all there is to it. No “abba,” just son of Zaba and son of encouragement.
For the record, there is no one alive today who fully knows the Greek of the first century – it is a dead language. Well, for that matter, English today is changing so fast, can anyone know all of it? There are people who seem to be able to understand a performance of Shakespeare in the original old English or maybe they just pretend to understand. I just got up to open Chaucer who wrote in the 14th century in England. I looked at a line. I need a translator. Point being – no one can be sure what the New Testament texts mean. When I look in a New Testament Greek dictionary, sometimes I just get the traditional meaning, which is not necessarily the original meaning. Sometimes the dictionary gives me a bit more, like alternative meanings or the derivation of a word. Bible dictionaries give traditional Bible meanings. That’s mostly it. Here’s a line from my Greek grammar, sort of says it all: “the effort has been made not to introduce into the illustrations any usages except those which are common in the New Testament idiom.” And so, if in the course of several hundred years no one thought to ask what the original meaning could have been, and people just continued to parrot the same old, possibly unscholarly, translations based on dogmas devised by bishops and kings, true meanings were lost. Or scholars knew better translations but could not have these published for fear of reprisal. Real scholars these days have to look beyond church-Greek for real meanings.
The NRSV has shown some courage in moving “young woman” into the text of Isaiah and moving “virgin” down into a footnote.
Next job: make some sense, officially, of the two conflicting genealogies. The NRSV still has “Heli” and not even a footnote for the correct “Eli.” (tsk, tsk)
If Matthias is Barsabbas (son (s?) father??), then the next question is – is Matthias in Acts the same person as Matthat in Luke’s genealogy? There are so many different spellings, different names for the same person, etc. in the New Testament (Mary is both Maria and Mariam, for example) that I can’t rule out the possibility that Matthias is Matthat.
I can be fairly certain that Matthias is not the apostle Matthew because that Matthew is included in the remaining 11 apostles in Acts 1:13 just a few verses before the vote on the nomination of Matthias and the other guy (or the other three guys).
Could the apostle Matthew (and not Matthias) be the Matthat of Luke’s genealogy? It might help explain why Jesus dines at Matthew’s house (Matthew 9:10) but – not much to go on. The apostle Matthew has a dining scene similar to that of Levi son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14-15). This Levi could not be the same as the father of Matthat who is Levi son of Melki. If the apostle Matthew is Jesus’ father, then that could help account for Jesus’ preoccupation with taxation – Matthew was a tax collector.
Could there be more?
Luke 2:49: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (KJV) (Said by the young Jesus while at the Jerusalem temple.)
Well, this is usually interpreted that God is at the temple so when Jesus is at the temple and says he is at his “father’s business” he just means Father-God is there at the temple. Not an entirely convincing interpretation, since Jesus, later a rebel against the temple establishment, or at least rejected by them, actually finds God in the Kingdom of Heaven, not just in a temple. I’m wondering if Jesus’ biological father had some business at the temple and this verse is a clue. Was Matthat’s father “Levi” (like “Levite,” the priestly tribe) a priest? Was Matthat also a priest? Was the “business” of Jesus’ father Matthat at the temple, where perhaps he did something to collect taxes, the temple tax, not the Roman tax, and if all that were true, might he be a match for the apostle Matthew the tax collector???
Well, these are all tantalizing possibilities and all highly imaginative.
Because the various “father” clues in the New Testament are so vague, I suspect that what we have is not supposed to be taken as a presentation of facts, but rather just dream-like story fragments, undercurrents, or even just a “tease.” The biblical authors know that mature and patient readers have inquiring minds and the readers want to know – just who is the biological father of Jesus? The authors can’t wait to lead us on a wild-goose chase – that leads nowhere – all for the purpose of getting us involved, getting us excited, getting us growing and expanding our minds, increasing our awareness, becoming people who are becoming more. Matthat/Matthias or Matthat/Matthew could have been the biological father of Jesus, or the clues, which are so subtle, just below the surface of the story really, could be just like I said, a tease.
Sure got me going – maybe on a wild-goose chase.
Did the author of Luke leave a nasty little trap for those eagerly searching for the biological father of Jesus while assuming that a Joseph starts Luke’s genealogy (rather than being in a parenthetical), and assuming Jesus’ father was a man named “Joseph,” someone other than Mary’s husband? Those under the impression that the books of the Gospel were written by separate authors, acting independently of each other, would limit themselves to searching for this other Joseph within the book of Luke. The only other Joseph expressly named in Luke (except for Jesus’ younger brother Jose and some ancient ancestors, none of whom could have possibly fathered Jesus) is Joseph of Arimathea. Arima means the Persian principle of evil. So you would get “Jesus son of evil.” Did the author of Luke set that up intentionally to shock readers?
Well, that didn’t stop me from looking further and getting into Matthat and Matthias and Matthew and I am pleased with the journey even if not fully satisfied with my particular findings.
Are the genealogies genuine? How many common people in the backwoods of Galilee knew a thousand years’ worth and more of ancestor names? I’ll tell you that probably I would not have been a great success as a child at memorizing dozens and dozens of names in my family history. But maybe in Old Palestine there was a verbal tradition where children learned and remembered family names, without fail, for all the generations back to David and supposedly even back to Adam. (hmm) Or was it only those families associated with the society of priests, the Levites, who ran the temple and who had the resources and the institutional memory (written records and the ability to do recordkeeping without interruption, even when there was famine, war, and exile) to maintain genealogies? So was the historical Jesus and his foster father Joseph (Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem near Jerusalem (Luke 2:4)) from families associated with the temple or at least prominent enough to be closely related to them? How else would Jesus and his foster father happen to have such long genealogies? OK, so some churches today keep baptismal records, but not a thousand years’ worth – just parents and grandparents for each baptism, but maybe out in wilds of Galilee, shortly after the death of Jesus, a local rabbi just happened to have Jesus’ male ancestry – back to David and more, or someone in Jesus’ family had memorized it??
Recall that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s husband is a priest at the Jerusalem temple (Luke 1:8-9). Not proof that Jesus’ biological father was in the same business but people did tend to live and marry within the same neighborhoods, within the same tribes, not with strangers or foreigners. Recall also that there was a disciple who had access to the high priest’s house and was known to the high priest (John 18:15-16) – and that disciple (unnamed and therefore likely a woman) was not necessarily a member of Jesus’ family, but may be indicative of the social circle he came from. (Or maybe just an acquaintance. Or maybe an invention by the biblical author in order to move the action inside, who knows.) Recall also that Jesus spends a lot of time commuting, as it were, between Galilee and Jerusalem and hanging around the temple. Like it is his territory somehow.
“I must be about my Father’s interests.” (“interests” from a NRSV footnote for Luke 2:49)
I’ve noticed that the NRSV does not mention the name “Joseph” in the passages on the circumcision of Jesus, the presentation in the temple and on through the boy Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:21-52). Not even once. Parents, yes, mother, yes, father, yes, but not “Joseph.” (hmm) So is Jesus’ biological father the one participating? If yes, is he just a visitor to the temple or is he stationed there much of the time? The KJV has “Joseph” in 2:33, but that Joseph has been discarded by the NRSV and is not even footnoted. My Greek NT (UBS, 1983) has “pater” (father), but no “Joseph” in 2:33. So did the King James translators’ inferior Greek manuscripts actually say “Joseph” in 2:33 or did the translators add “Joseph,” presumably Joseph the foster father, because their agenda was to portray Jesus as a man without a biological father? I could research that, but not now. The TNIV adds two Josephs in the Luke childhood passages relative to the NRSV. But Matthew has Joseph name the child Jesus (1:25), so if that happened at the circumcision, that would also place Joseph at the circumcision in Luke’s? Assuming we are supposed to merge these stories – and they are not really amenable to that.
Well, I was just idly curious as to the first name of Caiaphas who was the high priest at the temple who condemned Jesus. (A friend keeps pointing to Caiaphas; why does she do that?) So I did some clicking around in Google. According to a NY Times article,3 “Flavius Josephus gives his full name as ‘Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.’ Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, provides the only contemporary mention of Caiaphas outside the Talmud and the New Testament.” So far I don’t have authoritative statements on the supposed inscriptions of “Joseph son of Caiaphas” and “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas” on ossuaries (bone boxes). Even if the Caiaphas bone box does say “Joseph son of Caiaphas,” it doesn’t prove it is the New Testament’s Caiaphas. And lots of men had sons named Yeshua (meaning Jesus or Joshua). It was a common name. There’s a lot of chatter about these bone boxes. I am not going to go off on a tangent here to speculate if Joseph Caiaphas is the Joseph that seems to begin the Luke genealogy. There were lots of Josephs around in those days. It was a common name. Probably lots of Josephs were working at the temple. And why would the man kill his own son?
John 11:49 (KJV): “And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all.” Oh, oh, oh, JOSEPH Caiaphas, what is your secret that we don’t know? OK, enough of that. I don’t think Caiaphas is the father of Jesus. It’s an interesting theory though; interesting enough to put in my post.
On second thought, the genealogy of the high priest would be written down and presumably be readily accessible to a researcher in the first century. Maybe we should search for Jesus’ father among those men likely to have genealogies!!! Maybe Luke’s author did mean to say, “Jesus son of Joseph son of Eli son of Matthat.” The biblical author did not have to recount the enormity of the tragedy, Caiaphas killing his own son Jesus – a sacrifice of a son by a father – all knew the facts already. So we are told the tale allegorically: the sacrifice of the Son by the Father. As my friend puts it – this could be reminiscent of the agonizing decision of Abraham over his son, whom he was prepared to sacrifice. Is the genealogy of Joseph Caiaphas still known today by anyone? Does it match Luke’s? Probably did not survive the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
Why does the author of Acts care who is a member of the family of Caiaphas and Annas, mentioning John, Alexander, and “others” of the high priest’s family (Acts 4:6 (TNIV)). Is there some preoccupation with this?
The bitty clues pointing to Caiaphas as Jesus’ father are very illusive, but hard to ignore.
What was the name of the father of Joseph Caiaphas? The ossuary find indicates it was “Caiaphas.” Is that a first name or a surname used like a last name? Were last names known among the elite? Certainly it was more common for a man to be known as the son of “first name of father.” So if Caiaphas is the first name of the father of Joseph bar Caiaphas, then the father of Joseph bar Caiaphas is not Eli/Heli. But if Caiaphas is a surname like a last name, then we could have Joseph bar Eli/Heli, surnamed Caiaphas.
The only example of a surname used like today’s last names that I can recall at the moment, is Judas Iscariot whose father was Simon Iscariot (John 6:71 (TNIV)). So possibly Caiaphas is like a last name. Another NY Times article4 says that Caiaphas is a “family name.” Is a family name like a last name? If so, someone named Eli/Heli Caiaphas might be what we are looking for.
If I had to guess, I’d guess that Jesus’ biological father was a man named Matthat (Maththat) whose family was associated with the temple business, and thus was privileged to have a genealogy. If he had been involved in handing Jesus over to the Romans, that might have earned him a visible role in history, but I find no indication Matthat was involved. Matthat had a name similar to Matthias the 12th apostle, and similar to that of Matthew the apostle, and Matthat could have been one of these two or neither. I like to think Jesus’ father Matthat assisted Jesus’ by being one of his followers as was Mary, Jesus’ mother.
On the other hand, there is something compelling about a story of a man who kills his own son in order to “save the nation.” Caiaphas the high priest was a collaborator with the Romans who occupied his country (or if not a collaborator, knew how to manage them). He likely felt he had to do what they wanted and if they wanted to execute Jesus, he had to consent, or risk losing not only his job but risk having them retaliate against the nation, risk having them try to take Jesus by force with ensuing riots and bloodshed, many people killed.
The Gospel has several references to Jesus as “son of Joseph.” Why keep making an issue of it over and over? Yeah, we get it, people thought he was the son of Mary’s husband but in reality, Jesus was born to a virgin. How many times do we have to be told this? I get it. I get it. Or are the authors preoccupied with this “son of Joseph” stuff for a reason? (It’s a different Joseph. It’s that Joseph, over there. Point. Point.) See “son of Joseph” in Mt 13:55 (carpenter’s son (TNIV)), Lk 4:22, Jn 1:45, 6:42 and see the nativity passages, too. The similar Mk 6:3 leaves out Joseph’s name and its absence draws even more attention to it. John 6:42 (KJV): “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” One possible inference – Joseph is not the same as “father and mother” who are known. Or we know his father is that Joseph.
While I am speculating here, let me say that the only person who could possibly know for certain who was the father of Jesus, was Mary, and there is a possibility she might not have known either. Historians can’t know for sure. Biographers can’t know for sure. And even if Caiaphas was it, he could not have known for sure either. Jesus could not have known for sure either, not unless he was more divine than the rest of us.
A puzzling question is, why didn’t the Romans simply arrest Jesus and execute him without involving the Jewish government? True, Jesus had been antagonizing the temple authorities, but it was the Romans who executed him for Roman reasons. Did Caiaphas beg Pilate for a chance to turn Jesus around? “Just give me 24 hours. Just give me some soldiers to bring him in. I know I can get him to cooperate with us.” Pilate: “What do you care?” Caiaphas: “He’s (um) a relative of mine.”
Another puzzle is why after Jesus’ arrest, he is taken first to the former high priest Annas. So did Caiaphas arrange for Jesus to meet Annas first? “Annas, you get him talking. I know he won’t want to talk to me. Not after what happened. Reason with him. You’re his only chance.”
Did Annas take one look at Jesus, whom he had never seen before??, and see a younger version of Caiaphas?? Did Annas remember the rumors many years earlier, that charges were never filed, that Caiaphas did not have to face the death penalty?? (Leviticus 20:10) (My friend keeps hinting maybe there is a dark secret.)
There is high drama as Jesus comes before Caiaphas and the assembly for trial. Caiaphas cannot acknowledge him as a son, nor does Caiaphas want to appear weak before the assembly and the city by negotiating with Jesus. What to do? Caiaphas thinks to himself, “I have to give him another chance. He does not want to talk to me, but perhaps if I speak to him of fatherhood, it will remind him he is my son, it will remind him he should be a good son to me and be obedient to me, it will persuade him to call on me as a son calls on a father for protection, it will persuade him to follow my ways of cooperation with the Romans. I will place him under oath. He will not lie. He will say ‘I call on you as a son calls on a father for mercy,’ because he does not want to die. Then I will not have to make the first move. He will come to me.”
Caiaphas says, “Tell me if you are the Messiah. Tell me if God is your father. You are under oath.” (paraphrase Matthew 26:63-64)
Jesus thinks to himself, “My father, how I long to call you my father and obey you. I forgive you everything because I know who you are and who I am. But I will not abandon my cause which is just.”
Jesus side-steps Caiaphas’ question with, “That is what you say” (paraphrase Matthew 26:63-64), then says something about a “Son of Man.”
Is there anything that actually points to Caiaphas as father? Yes. Not a proof, but the best clue yet: Caiaphas tears his garment. Ripping a garment is a biblical sign of acute distress. Was Caiaphas acutely distressed that some rebel from distant Galilee gave him a verbal retort – “That’s what you say”? Now maybe Caiaphas was simply being theatrical and trying to impress the assembly, and so ripped his garment for that reason. But Jesus didn’t actually say anything even mildly offensive. Perhaps the reader is supposed to be reminded of 2Samuel 13:31 where King David rips his garment and collapses to the floor and all his courtiers rip their garments also, because they all believe the king’s sons have been killed. Should we take this garment ripping as a sign that Caiaphas has just realized that there is no way Jesus will ever cooperate with him, and he has lost Jesus, Jesus whom he never knew, Jesus whom he never held, never blessed, never taught, but whom he loves, instantly, and Caiaphas is overwhelmed with anguish, doesn’t care who knows it, rips his garment, because his son will die, then recovers enough to get on with the necessary business at hand?? Caiaphas the father mourns his son as King David the father mourned his sons – is that what the reader is supposed to conclude?
By the way, when you read your Bible’s translation as to what Jesus actually said to Caiaphas in Matthew 26:63-64, it may not be correct. The TNIV says, “It is AS you say.” Quite different from the NRSV: “You have said SO.” Polite and inoffensive. Not worth spoiling a garment over that. And “Son of Man” just refers to the Hebrew Bible.
What are we to make of Leviticus 21:10? “He that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes.” (KJV)
Caiaphas tears his clothes. He thinks to himself: “I am forced to kill my own son. My soul is shattered into a thousand pieces. What does it mean to be high priest anyway?”
Jesus is astonished to see his father rend his clothes. Jesus thinks to himself: “My father tore his robe! He just violated The Law!!! Why is he in such great despair? Doesn’t he understand what I just told him? I just reassured him. I just made him a promise: ‘You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven beside great power.’ Wasn’t that clear? My father, the Gift will be yours. My triumph will be yours also. Don’t you understand?”
Caiaphas tries to recover himself and turns to the assembly: “You have all heard the blasphemy. What do you say?”
They say, “He must die.” (paraphrase of Matthew 26, see also Leviticus 24:16)
We can be reasonably certain that no blasphemy was written into the Gospel. Presumably the author was a reverent Jew who would not say or write a blasphemy lest he/she would endanger his/her own soul, or if the author was Greek (Luke was thought to be Greek and whether he was the author of Luke is not something we really know), that author would not write something that would horrify his Jewish readers. So in the Gospel, neither Jesus nor Caiaphas actually say anything blasphemous.
What are we to make of Leviticus 21:13? “And he [the high priest] shall take a wife in her virginity.” (KJV) Doesn’t say whose wife. I wonder what the Hebrew actually says. For the biblical author who wrote the Gospel, was this a prophecy fulfilled? Inspiration for a story line?
Back briefly to Acts 4:6, and here I’ll use the NRSV: “Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” So, like I said earlier, what is the preoccupation with that family? I would not expect to see Jesus listed among the members of that family – he had already died. But wait! I do see Jesus! Here is the Greek for the phrase the NRSV translates as “all who were of the . . . family.”
οσοι ησαν εκ γενους (Westcott-Hort)
Now I will write it again with certain characters bolded.
οσοι ησαν εκ γενους
ι – η – σ – ο – υ – ς
Spells “Jesus.” With all the letters in the correct order.
So Jesus is there along with all those of the high priest’s family. By the way, I have no idea if this anagram is an intentional puzzle made by the biblical author or if it could even be statistically significant. Seems kinda neat though to have the word Jesus appear in the phrase referring to members of the high priest’s family. (Annas, the high priest at that time, was the father-in-law of Caiaphas. (John 18:13))
What about this passage in Luke that is translated as, “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” (3:2 (KJV)) I doubt any English translation will allow you to see a pun or double meaning in that verse. Translations into English are arranged to fit English grammar rules. However, the TNIV made me suspicious with, “Caiaphas, the word of God came . . . “ and the proximity of “Caiaphas” to “God.” The Greek has possibilities that are provocative:
καιαφα εγενετο ρημα θεου (Westcott-Hort)
We see that the words “Caiaphas”(καιαφα) and “God” (θεου) bracket two other words. These are:
Grosvenor’s Analysis tells me the identity of this verb – γινομαι. Thayer’s devotes two pages to this versatile verb. It has lots of different meanings. I’ll pick out a few of interest: to come into existence, to receive being, to be born, to be made, to come on, etc., etc.
Some translators say this means “word,” but it is not the same word as “Logos” in John, for Word of God. Seems like translators should not use the same English word for two different Greek words when the words could be vastly different. The meaning could be a “word” (lower case only?) or it could be command, thing spoken, etc., etc. (Thayer’s)
So could a first-century reader of Greek come up with a pun or double meaning here (that was grammatically correct in Greek, and recall that I am not yet even a novice at it)? For example, “God received being, was born [by] command [of] Caiaphas.” I am not saying that the translators have got the meaning of the entire verse wrong; rather, the careful reader may be able to find an alternative meaning, maybe just a tease, in just a few of the Greek words, pointing to the godly Jesus as son of Caiaphas, born as a result of his command.
Or maybe this is just a misunderstanding born of my ignorance of Greek.
You may wonder how I can be writing so casually about Jesus’ origins and speculating so much. Well, I am not proselytizing, not invested in religion, not a Bible-thumping preacher, not a translator selling Bibles, not Her Holiness at the Vatican in charge of dogma, and so I am free to explore, as you should. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 (NIV)) The “rich” killed Jesus (James 5:1-6 (TNIV)). Likewise, the political and religious establishments today are doing a number on him. He wouldn’t recognize himself.
It’s not important to me who Jesus’ father was. But if there’s a secret, I want to know it (hehe). If the biblical authors have put clues there for us to find, if they did, then we should look for them. Better than reading the texts in a shallow way. Better not to read them at all if you’re just going to make dogmas out of them. Some prefer to let men in authority dictate religion to them; however, the New Testament is open enough and welcoming enough so that you are able to form your own opinions, find your own spiritual truths (and maybe be entertained a little bit at the same time).
I don’t think we will find an obvious answer to the paternity of Jesus in the Gospel or in Acts because in more ancient religious belief, the young lord of the virgin Goddess would not have had a conventional father. So the biblical author brings Jesus along sort of tracking that. So maybe we get a few clues, maybe it is Matthat, maybe it is Caiaphas, maybe not.
Is it the intention of the biblical author(s) to change our perception of the Queen of Heaven by turning Her into an adulteress or a rape victim (or as another friend has proposed, a practitioner of ritual sex at a Pagan temple)? Perhaps we should just assume that Luke’s genealogy is Mary’s and so Joseph is the name of Mary’s father who is Jesus’ grandfather. Simple solution or too simplistic? The tradition is that Mary’s father was Joachim. See this very interesting article from the Catholic News Agency, “Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Virgin Mary, honored July 26,” July 24, 2011. 5 The tradition is based on writings thought to be from the early second century. Maybe the biblical authors simply intend to show us historical facts (and a life lesson), that Jesus’ life had some difficulty in it, even at the very beginning, and that Mary likewise experienced real life, but despite all that, the Spirit was not absent, and Mary was indeed, “blessed among women.”
I have to ask myself how Christians today can claim to be heirs of Peter, directly connected to Jesus, directly connected to Paul, or an even earlier group of Christians likely distinct from Paul’s followers, when today’s Christians don’t know for sure whose genealogy is in Luke? That genealogy is in no way a minor, inconsequential part of the Gospel! Yet there’s no definite explanation?
What has this biblical exercise taught me? That there is not necessarily only one right answer and indeed there may not be any answer. Life teaches this also. The oppressed students in our nation’s schools may have yet to learn this after years of schooling that have taught them there is only one right answer; schools that treat the students like chimps – press a button, get a cracker or a banana. Rats working a maze with more than one solution have it better than students in our schools. At least the rats get to make choices. And no, I don’t consider multiple-choice questions with only one right answer an exercise in decision-making.
So who do I choose? Caiaphas? Matthat? Mary-ever-virgin? Or none of the above? What are my other choices? A different Joseph? An Eli or Elijah? I can start to think outside the box (perhaps an extraterrestrial alien? asexual reproduction, but where’s the Y chromosome? what is an angel? what is an avatar? what is a soul that “magnifies”? is there no such genealogy? no such Jesus?) I can choose to not answer. I can choose to ask someone else to decide. I can decide later. I can write a post on this subject while I become informed. I can enjoy the puzzle and being puzzled. I can choose to not choose.
To conclude then, I don’t know if Jesus had a father and if so, who that father was.
Or consider: “Joseph of Eli” = Joseph of God = Joseph Caiaphas, because the high priest is the anointed of God. “The consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him.” (Leviticus 21:12 (NRSV)).