A Davidic Key to Matthew’s Genealogy

In an informative and wide-ranging article, “The Davidic Key for Counting the Generations in Matthew 1:17” in a 2014 issue of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Australian scholar Stephen Carlson reviews solutions, as well as proposing his own solution , to the well-known problem of allocating the various generations recorded by Matthew to the three sections of his genealogy of Christ. Stephen Carlson reminds us of the importance of David in this genealogy (hence the title of his paper), and this has got me thinking about other ways in which the name David appears to be significant for the structure of Matthew 1:1-17.

The name David is three letters in Hebrew: “D-W-D”. Thus, the name is already chiastic, and I suggest that this is reflected in a number of aspects of Matt. 1:1-17.

1)  Verses 1-17 are divided into three parts which we can call D-W-D`

In the opening verse, v.1, which we shall call D, Matthew links Jesus Christ to David and to Abraham. (These names therefore also constitute a d-w-d` sub-structure!) and, as is well known, he reverses the order ( i.e. d`-w-d) in which these names appear in the closing verse, i.e. v.17, which verse we can call D`. However, in the best style of chiasms, the second half of a section (in this case, D`) not only corresponds to the its first half (i.e. D), but often develops it along the lines suggested by the intervening material. Hence v. 17, unlike v.1, includes the deportation to Babylon, which Matthew has developed in the intervening section.

So, we can structure verses 1-17:

D       verse 1

W     verses 2-16

D`       verse 17

In verse 1,  Matthew is “working” backwards in time: he starts with the latest birth in the family tree – that of Jesus Christ – and then works backwards in time to David and then to Abraham. This is in contrast to the order in the next two sections, vs. 2-16 and v.17. These both follow the forwards flow of time and start with Abraham, then reach David and finally Jesus Christ. If we are  looking at just this aspect, we could say that (using the above notation), W and D` are both chiastic inverses of D. In this respect, we could notate the structure as something like  A – A1`- A2` (where A = v.1, A1`= vs. 2-16 and A2`=v.17), and that W and D` can be grouped into a single unit which contrasts chiastically with D.

(I wish to return to this, as well as to the specific relationship between D and D` in a little more detail later in this article, as well as in future posts.)

2. Verses 2-16 are divided into 3 parts

Furthermore, verses 2-16 themselves, which constitute the main body of the genealogical table, have a tripartite structure (14 generations each according to v. 17) in which, the first and third elements are, of necessity, different from the middle section since the former are “open” at one end only, whereas the latter is “open at both ends”. Again this is a D – W – D` structure.

3. Each “building block” of verses 2-16 is divided into three parts

What I find really interesting however, is that the basic components  or building blocks of verses 2-16 are all very similar! There are 40 of them, and they are all statements whose basic form is “A begat (generated) B” – for example, Abraham begat Isaac. The word for begat, (egennese in Greek) is cognate with the words for generation and generations that appear in verses 1 and 17. Some on these 40 occurrences have  additions to them – for example, Judah’s brothers are also mentioned in the third member of the sequence. The basic form however, is

name – begat – name`

which is the same structure as                 D    –     W     –     D`

This is in marked contrast to the structure of Luke’s genealogy of Christ (Luke ch. 3)  which is a sequence of names:  A – B – C – D . . . .etc.

Significance of these “building blocks for exegesis

I would just like to point out here that, despite the fact that Matthew’s genealogy has this interesting form, the possibility that Matthew’s  “generations” (enumerated in v.17) might actually be these triads – which after all have a “generate” word in the centre, and which each describe the generation of an individual – does not, so far as I know, ever feature in solutions to the “problem” mentioned in the first paragraph above. Nevertheless, this will be the basis for one of two solutions to the problem that I will be suggesting in these blog posts. (The other solution that I will be putting forwards is a version of the well-known solution which identifies King Jehoiakim as the missing generation).

4. The Significance of the Syllabification of David’s Name

So far so good, but there is more! Anyone like me who has struggled through the opening chapters of an introductory Hebrew grammar will know that syllabification is important! Now “David” in Hebrew has two syllables, Da and Wid, or D – WD: the syllable break point comes after the first D. This suggests that, if Matthew is basing the structure of verses 1-17 on the name David, he will respect the two “letter” divisions in  D-W-D, (i.e. the one between D and W and the one between between W and D) but simultaneously “privilege” the first of these – that between the first D and the W – since it is both a letter break point and a syllable break point. Is this what we find? Yes indeed! First of all, as we have just seen when considering verses 1-17 in their entirety, “D” (i.e. verse 1) gives us a single break point between Abraham and Christ, namely David, and thus is operating at the “hierarchically higher” level of syllabification, but D` (verse 17) is a fuller treatment of the same material, and includes the deportation to Babylon: it is therefore operating simultaneously at the “letter” level also.

Let us consider v. 17 first (for a reason that will become apparent):

Verse 17 describes 3 time periods – and opening one, a closing one and an intermediate one. As we have already mentioned, this can also be thought of as a D-W-D` type structure:

<- – – – D – – – – – ->< – – – — – – -W – – – – – – – – ->< – – – – -D` – – – – – – ->

Abraham . . . . . . . David . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Deportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Christ

Thus, in the above, we are “operating” at the lower hierarchical level of letters, (rather than at the higher level of syllables). However, if we are thinking just in terms of the key names introduced in v. 1, then v. 17 can be analysed at the “syllable” level:

< – –  – – – – – D – – – – — – ->< – – – – – – – – – WD – – – – – – ->

Abraham . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .David . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Christ

Thus, v. 17 actually combines both hierarchical levels since David himself, as well as being a “time marker” is part of the generational process itself, whereas the deportation functions as a time marker only.

If we now look again at v. 1 in the light of v. 17, we can see that, as already noted, compared with the “forwards flow of time” utilised by verses 2-16, and v. 17, the introductory verse, v.1 is actually the chiastic inverse – since it “works its way upstream” as it were. If this were a piece of music, we would say that the composer has introduced the main theme or motif by means of its inversion – subtly preparing us for the later statement of the theme itself. Thus, on this analysis, v.1 is actually the inversion of the D-WD theme – i.e. (WD)`-D`:

< – – – – – – – – – (WD)’ – – – – – – – ->< – – – – – -D’ – – – – – – ->

Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .David . . . . . . . . . . . . . Abraham

Of course, we only realise in hindsight that the piece started with an inverted motif, once the main theme has been heard! Likewise, it is by comparison with v. 17 that we can recognise that the Christ’s Sonship of David in v.1 actually implies and  incorporates the time, and family members, of the deportation.

5) A “Syllable” Approach to Chiastic Structures in vs. 2-16

The word -> syllable -> letter hierarchy that we have been looking at also gives us a basis for attempting to recognise chiastic structures in Matthew’s genealogical table itself – that is, verses 2-16. We have already discussed this at this at the “word” level. At the “syllable” level, we would look for chiastic elements within Matthew’s “Abraham-David” section, (the first third of his genealogy) and within his “David-Christ” section (the remaining two thirds of the genealogy considered as a single unit). If we do this, we will not be disappointed, and I have in fact given a chiastic element to this latter section in an earlier post, and the Abraham-David section has some wonderful chiastic aspects, and I hope to draw attention to some of the basic ones that I have noticed in a future post.

6) Gematria and the name David

A final, and well-known, Davidic key lies in the numeric value given to Hebrew letters (the basis for gematria). D is the 4th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as in English, and so has the value 4. W (or V as it is sometimes written) is the 6th letter (it’s quite similar in some ways to our 6th letter “f”) and has the value 6.

Thus D-W-D is 4+6+4 which adds up to the significant number 14.

However, at the level of syllables, we have D-WD, so the division is 4, and 6+4 and this gives us two numbers to work with: 4 and 10. Now 4+10 gives us 14 as before, but 4×10 = 40, and, Matthew gives us 40 generations in his table (Note: Matthew gives us 40 sequential statements of the form “A begat (generated) B” – the final one of these actually being passive rather than active (Jesus was begotten (generated) of Mary). As mentioned earlier, one of the solutions that I am suggesting to the “problem” of Matthew’s generations is that these 40 statements are the generations (i.e. births) of which Matthew speaks – but that is for another post!)

7) David, Syllables and Word Counts

Finally, finally,  verses 2-16 have a total 240 words in the Received Text – which is 80×3. Well, the “3” corresponds to the tripartite division, and the break points – between words 80 and 81 and 160-161 come at significant locations – as I hope to describe at some stage. The 80 words for each division are 40×2. Thus there are three divisions of 14 (10+4) generations each. (On the “generation = birth” proposal, there are two symmetrically placed overlaps hence the difference between the “expected” 42 (=14×3) and the actual 40 generations), and the break points divide the 40 generations using “chunks” of 80 (=40×2) words each. (On the number 2, well Matthew likes to double things!) With the second proposal – that King Jehoiakim is the missing generation – there will be 42 generations in all, so no overlaps are needed.

I hope this spells out, literally(!), some of the ways in which David functions as a key to Matt. 1:1-17!


Categories: Matthew's Genealogy of Christ

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