May 2, 2009

Biblical Genealogies: The Purpose

This post continues a series on biblical genealogies (see here, here, and here). Today, I will discuss the purpose of biblical genealogies.

A cursory reading of biblical genealogies might suggest that the genealogies sole purpose was to provide a written account of family histories. However, Johnson has actually identified nine different purposes for Old Testament genealogies. These purposes are as follows:

“(1) The demonstration of existing relations between Israel and neighboring tribes by tracing them back to a common patronyms, thus establishing a degree of kinship and at the same time a degree of distinction between Israel and her neighbors . . . (2) The interrelating of the previously isolated traditional elements concerning Israelite origins by the creation of a coherent and inclusive genealogical system. . . (3) to establish continuity over those periods of time not covered by material from the tradition . . . (4) as the vehicle for chronological speculation concerning the ‘Great Year’ or world cycles . . . (5) Several genealogies of tribes in I Chron. 2–8 no longer in existence in the Chronicler’s day show signs of being constructed of material from lists of military leaders . . . (6) to demonstrate the legitimacy of an individual in his office or to provide an individual a rank with connections to a worthy family or individual of the past . . . (7) for establishing the homogeneity of a race . . . (8) [an] attempt to assert the importance of the principle of the continuity of the people of God through a period of national disruption . . . (9) the most frequent use of the genealogical form is to be found in those writings which emanate from priestly circles, and that this use has a primarily literary function.”[1]

[1] Marshall D. Johnson, The Purpose of Biblical Genealogies with Special Reference to the Setting of the Genealogies of Jesus, 2nd ed., Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series, ed. G. N. Stanton, vol. 8 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 77–80.

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