The Real Bloodline of Jesus
by Richard Poe
Monday, December 17, 2007
12:00 am Eastern Time
AT CHRISTMASTIME, Nativity scenes help bring the family of Jesus to life. However, they present only a small portion of his family. Scripture informs us that Jesus grew up in a large, sprawling clan, with many relatives. What became of that clan? Some branches may have survived. It is possible that some people living today might be related to Jesus.
Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code contends that Jesus wed Mary Magdalene and fathered a royal dynasty of France. The book sparked interest in Jesus’ bloodline. Unfortunately, Brown’s wild speculations and burning hostility toward the Church tainted the subject with an odor of crankery.
The fictional bloodline of Jesus ballyhooed in Brown’s novel should not be confused with Jesus’ real bloodline.
Ancient writings make clear that Jesus hailed from an old and honored family. The first sixteen verses of the Gospel of Matthew set forth a genealogy depicting Joseph, the father of Jesus, as the twenty-fourth great grandson of King David.
Early Christians plainly viewed Jesus as an heir of David, a legitimate claimant to the throne of Israel.
Of course, they also viewed Jesus as the son of God, not of Joseph. This complicates the picture, but an adopted prince is a prince nonetheless.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, also came from a prominent family. Luke 1:5 tells us that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was a Levite, descended from a long line of Israelite priests.
Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna (or Hannah) were a wealthy and pious couple favored by God, according to the Gospel of James. Though never included in the Bible, the Gospel of James has received respectful study from generations of Christian scholars.
Despite his illustrious pedigree, Jesus worked as a humble carpenter. This should not surprise us. In his day, the sons of Herod ruled Judea, serving as puppets of Rome. The House of David was out of power, out of favor, and, in Jesus’ case, out of pocket as well.
The New Testament names other relatives of Jesus. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas”, states John 19:25.
It may seem odd that two sisters would share the same name, but these two Marys were probably cousins, not sisters.
Poor translation is to blame. The oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament are written in Greek. However, these Greek documents apparently drew on earlier sources composed in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.
Neither Aramaic nor Hebrew has any word for cousin. In these ancient tongues, the only precise way to identify a cousin was to use a clumsy formula such as “the son of my uncle”. Consequently, Hebrew and Aramaic scribes often referred to cousins and other relatives as “brother” or “sister.”
Two of them — James and Joseph — are probably identical with the two sons of “Mary, wife of Cleophas” mentioned in Matthew 27:56. This same Mary also had a daughter named Salome, according to Mark 15:40.
At least a dozen blood relatives of Jesus can be identified by name. Could any of these have living descendants today?
Written records provide some clues. Other research methods are needed, however.
Former host Josh Bernstein put the Da Vinci Code to the test by comparing DNA from the bones of a French Merovingian queen with DNA from a community claiming kinship with ancient Galileans. Not surprisingly, the samples showed no match. However, Bernstein made a more important discovery.
He found that members of Jerusalem’s Syriac Orthodox Church claim descent from the family of Jesus. This ancient community still speaks and worships in Aramaic. Its origins are obscure.
“These families can be traced all the way back to Jesus Christ?” Bernstein asked the church’s Archbishop Severios Malki Murad.
“Of course,” he replied. “We are from the same family.”
Such claims may or may not withstand scientific scrutiny. But they are worth exploring.
By comparing oral history, DNA and whatever scraps of written records survive, we may yet succeed in locating the nearest living relatives of Jesus.