I’m doing a bit of research right now that puts me into various genealogies listed in scripture. Many people have one of two reactions (or both) when encountering these passages–fear of trying to pronounce all the names and/or the need to keep poking themselves to stay awake while they read those sections. However, have you ever tried to pay close attention to the parallel lists? Have you ever noticed how inconsistent (names change from one list to another), ambiguous (is that person the father or the son? is that the daughter or son?), and downright confusing they are? I have! It definitely makes me wonder what in the world the purpose of some of these lists is.
Then I read my friend Ryan’s Facebook updates about a bill that has recently made its way to the U.S. Senate calendar (H.R. 31 to provide for the recognition of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina). Ryan is a member of that Indian tribe. And proud of it (I’ve got Indian blood too, I think I’m a generation removed from being able to be officially listed with the Lenni Lenape tribe, but that doesn’t make me any less proud to claim that heritage). So what’s the connection with name lists?
Well, as part of the process of the Lumbee Tribe being recognized various people have testified before the US Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs. One such person was Jack Campisi, an anthropologist, whose testimony in 2006 was part of the official record for hearings on S660, the version of the Lumbee Bill considered by the 110th Congress. As part of his testimony he said:
The knowledge that the average Lumbee has of his or her kin is truly astounding. It is very common for individuals to be able to trace their parents’ genealogies back five or more generations. Not only are individuals able to name their grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents etc., but often they can name the siblings of their ancestors, the spouses of their ancestors’ siblings, relate where they lived in Robeson County, the church they attended, and the names of their offspring. It is common for an individual to name two or three hundred individuals as members of the immediate family.
Now, I’m not writing this post to try to convince anyone to start a new hobby tracing ancestry or pedigree (although, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed learning about some very interesting characters in my own family heritage). No, the connection between these two examples of listing family kin is just that — kinship.
It’s not so much about who was the father or mother of which children, I think it’s more about the fact that the recitation demonstrates community. A specific community, one that brings together both the mundane aspects of life (like who stood at which gate in Jerusalem’s wall or the location of where a specific family lived) and spiritual connectedness (to each other and to God). We are midstream in the history of our own clan(s). We belong. So when we read in Matthew all the “begats” we aren’t only reading Jesus’ genealogy for a history lesson, we’re being told a family heritage that we can be adopted into. That community of righteous is now our ancestry through union with Christ.
Just as the Lumbee are demonstrating to the U.S. Senate that they should be a federally recognized tribe in part because of the generations of names that demonstrate community, so we too can embrace the community of God represented by the ancestral lists in scripture. It’s more than just “me and Jesus” — it’s me and this great big family who are all related because of Jesus.
Now be sure to go back and click on that link for the “begats!”