Happy New Year, my dear readers! Most of us love new beginnings – and most of us enter a new year with some wonderful New Year resolutions. No doubt some of my readers have decided to read through the whole Bible during this year! Last year, we spent a lot of time talking about the book of Genesis. This year, I am intending to provide more comments on the Jewish roots of the New Testament.
And what could be more appropriate for the very beginning of the new year than an article discussing the very beginning of this book?
TWO PARTS OF THE SAME BOOK
There is a clear division between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” in every Christian Bible. The words “Old Testament” are very misleading though: one might think that one doesn’t really need to know the Old in order to know the New. In fact, quite the opposite is true: the New Testament comes as the end of this Book and thus can never be understood properly without reading the beginning. However, if this name is a misnomer indeed, how then should we name the Old Testament?
Here in Israel, we call it Tanakh (תַּנַ”ךְ), which is an acronym of the first Hebrew letters of each of three traditional subdivisions: Torah (“Teaching”, or Pentateuch), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”); we could call it Hebrew Scriptures, or Hebrew Bible. What is most important to understand is that God’s revelation cannot grow “old”: we need to read and understand well the Hebrew Bible in order to read and understand well the New Testament. The New Testament is not an independent and self-sufficient text—it is a part of the Great Revelation that began from the Book of Genesis.
Here is some additional evidence of this unbreakable connection. The opening words of the NT: The book of the genealogy (of Jesus Christ)—become even more significant in the light of Torah, because the same beginning occurs many times there! We find it for the very first time in Genesis 2:4, where it opens the second account of creation. Here it forms a literary bridge, connecting and holding together two creation stories—you would not read Genesis 2 without Genesis 1, would you?
In that light, we can now understand that the opening verse of the New Testament is also like a bridge connecting and holding together two very important parts of Scripture: the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. They relate to each other in the same way as the two creation stories relate: we can’t read only the second part, without the first!
I once heard a famous Israeli writer, Meir Shalev, telling about his father, a professor of Tanach from Hebrew University, who fought during the Independence war (it was back in 1948 – but unfortunately, this is our reality even today: our professors also serve in the Army). At some point, he had to spend a lot of time with an English soldier who happened to be a devoted Christian. They talked a lot about the Bible. Clearly impressed with the professor’s knowledge, the English soldier said: “Oh, I didn’t know that our Old Testament was translated into Hebrew.” This is not a joke—it’s is a true story. Sadly, there are many Christians even today who would say the same thing. Even more people believe the same about the New Testament, and since we don’t have a Hebrew original of the New Testament, their claim might seem more justified; it seems less obvious that this is a Jewish book. However, the very fact that this book opens in the most Jewish way imaginable, speaks for itself.
“14” IN MATTHEW’S GENEALOGY
The Gospel of Matthew, the first Gospel of the New Testament, opens with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew presents the names of this genealogy in three sets of fourteen generations each: “all the generations from Abraham to David fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ fourteen generations.” Fourteen seems a strange number: it has no significance in the Bible outside of this passage. So why fourteen?
The number fourteen is a clear example of gematria – a Jewish interpretive method that assigns numbers to each Hebrew letter. Gematria calculates the numerical value of a particular word and then matches it with another word with exactly the same numerical value, thus revealing a connection between them.
Matthew builds his genealogy around the number fourteen because David’s name in Hebrew has a value of 14 (dalet + vav + dalet, or 4 + 6 + 4 = 14). Also, David is the fourteenth name listed in the genealogy. The emphasis on David here is abundantly clear. Matthew uses number fourteen to connect Jesus to King David, and thus presents his genealogy in a distinctively Jewish way.
Both genealogy and gematria were important to first century Jews, therefore it was clearly very important to Matthew to use this number, thus making the connection between Jesus and David abundantly clear.
Why did Matthew include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba in Jesus’ genealogy? Since the Gospel of Matthew was written, this question has been asked endlessly. There are four Biblical matriarchs in Israel: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah; if Matthew included women, would it not be more logical to have these four mothers in the genealogy of the Jewish Messiah? Why aren’t the matriarchs mentioned at all, while these four women are named explicitly?
Let us have a quick look at these women. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, her father-in-law, in order to have a child from him. From this union, Perez was born, and from him would descend David – and Jesus. Rahab really was a prostitute. She lived in Jericho and “hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho,” which is why “Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had.” Ruth the Moabite did something that must surely have felt “improper”: after Boaz had eaten and drunk… she came softly, uncovered his feet (a euphemism for genitalia in the Hebrew Bible) and lay down.” Finally, everyone knows the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and clearly, as in all the previous stories, a sexual transgression is also evident here. Thus, all four women are connected in some way with illicit sexual relations. Why?
You have probably heard the Hebrew expression: “Tikkun Olam”, “repair of the world”. Documented use of this term dates back to the Mishnaic period (approximately 10-220 CE). This means that the term and the concept may well have existed at the time of Jesus, and therefore, for the New Testament writers, the idea of reversing the evil in the world could have been part of their theology.
An essential part of a later Jewish tradition is the belief that, when the Messiah comes, all things will be repaired. Some Jewish texts even say that the pig will become kosher at the time of the redemption: (“Why is the pig called [in Hebrew] chazir? Because in the future, God will return [le-hachzir] it to Israel”, (חזיר-להחזיר). However, the only person could repair the world in such a profound way, the only person who could reverse the evil and restore the divine order of heaven and earth, is the Messiah. Thus, we arrive at a very probable reason behind including these four women in the genealogy of Jesus: the writer is making sure we know that he writes about the Messiah who will bring about the reversal and the repair of the evil of this world.
 Mat. 1:17
 Josh 6:25
 Ruth 3:6,7
If you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ . Also, I wanted to let you know that I am preparing the book with all these Hebrew insights into Torah, the book will be published and available soon .