The genealogy of Messiah – could Jesus be from the tribe of Judah and a descendent of David if he had no biological father?

In his book, Twenty-six reasons why Jews don’t believe in Jesus, Asher Norman states a common objection of the rabbis:

“The Messiah ben David must be Jewish, from the Tribe of Judah … Under Jewish law, tribal affiliation is through the birth father only. Since Jesus allegedly had no human father, he had no tribal affiliation. Therefore, Jesus was not from the tribe of Judah and is eliminated from messianic consideration.” (page 61)

This view is supposedly based on Numbers 1:18-44, 34:14 and Leviticus 24:10. But none of these provide clear support for Norman’s claim.

Can Jesus be included in the genealogy of Joseph, husband of Mary, if Joseph was not his natural father? Was he legally descended from Judah and King David, either through Mary or Joseph?

What do the Scriptures really say?


Our first enquiry is whether in a biblical, Hebraic genealogy, a boy child could be included in the lineage of a man who was not his natural (i.e. physical or biological) father?

This happened often through a levirate marriage, when the brother of a deceased man was obligated to marry the widow and produce a child for his deceased brother. The Law requires that the firstborn child of the levirate marriage should be counted in the genealogy of the man who died childless:

‘If brethren shall dwell together, and one of them shall die and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her to him for a wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be, that the first-born which she bears, shall succeed in the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not become extinct in Israel.’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

We have the further example of Caleb, who is described in some places as the son of Kenaz (Judges 1:13) and a Kenezite (Numbers 32:12, etc.), the son of Japhunneh (Num 13:6, 14:6, etc.) i.e. a descendent of the Edomites. Elsewhere he is reckoned as the son of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:18, 2:9 and 2:42), who was allotted an inheritance of land among the clans of Judah (Joshua 15:13), and listed in the genealogies as a descendant of Judah. We assume that Caleb was an adopted son of Hezron, which explains why Caleb is not counted in 1 Chronicles 2:9 among the sons “born to him” (i.e. to Hezron), but counted nonetheless as a son in Hezron’s genealogy in 1 Chronicles 2:18 and 2:42, having seemingly obtained his “tribal affiliation” with Judah in that way.

Then there is the interesting case of Zerubbabel, who became Prince of Judah after the Babylonian captivity. Zerubbabel is stated as the son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2, Nehemiah 12:1, Haggai 1.1, etc.). Shealtiel was a son of King Jehoiakim, whom God cursed, stating that he would have no descendant to sit on David’s throne:

‘Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David: and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost.’ (Jeremiah 36:30)

In 1 Chronicles 3:19, it says that Zerubbabel was a son of Pedaiah, which discrepancy may be explained by inferring a levirate marriage between Pedaiah and the widow of Shealtiel, his brother, who probably died childless.

We can further assume that Pediah was not a physical / natural son of Jehoiakim – for if he was, Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Jehoiakim would have failed. For this reason then, Shealtiel alone, among all the men listed in Jehoiakim’s genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:17-18 , is described as being Jehoiakim’s son.

The above references establish clear precedents from the Hebrew Scriptures for the inclusion of ‘sons’ other than natural descendants in the genealogies of the patriarchs. It further appears that adopted sons took on their adoptive fathers’ tribal identity and became their heirs in legal succession.


Next we consider whether a man’s posterity could be counted through a daughter.

If there were no male siblings in Mary’s family, would Jesus acquire the tribal identity of his grandfather and be his legitimate heir?

Again we find evidence of this from the Hebrew Scriptures. If a man died without a son, having daughters only, his posterity would continue through his daughters. We see this in respect of Zelophehad’s daughters in Numbers 27, who petitioned Moses, saying:

‘Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give to us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father. And Moses brought their cause before the LORD. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right: you shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, If a man shall die, and have no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter.’(Numbers 27:4-8)

While the father’s name and posterity could thus be established through his daughter, her allotted inheritance would become part of the patrimony of her husbands’ tribe (if she married outside of her father’s tribe).

Then, in 1 Chronicles 2:31- 37 we find the interesting example of Sheshan, a descendant of Judah who had no sons, only daughters. In these verses, we see Sheshan’s genealogy continued through his daughter, Ahlai, whom he had given in marriage to an Egyptian servant:

‘Now Sheshan had no sons, but daughters. And Sheshan had a servant, an Egyptian, whose name was Jarha. And Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant for a wife; and she bore him Attai. And Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, And Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed, etc.’ (1 Chronicles 2:34-37).

In total, thirteen generations are mentioned as the descendants of Sheshan through his daughter Ahlai, and these are all chronicled under the tribe of Judah.

This gives clear precedent from the Hebrew scriptures that tribal identity and heredity could also flow through a daughter.

Jesus Messiah was thus legitimately of the tribe of Judah and legitimately an heir to the throne of David – by virtue of established precedents from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Genealogy was the first of ‘six authentic Jewish messianic criteria’ listed by Norman. The other five criteria that Jesus allegedly failed to meet are that:

  • he was not anointed king over Israel;
  • he did not return the Jewish people to the Land;
  • he did not rebuild the Temple;
  • he did not bring about peace to the world and end all war;
  • he did not bring knowledge of God to the world.

We respond to each of these in turn. Proceed to the SECOND CRITERIA: Was Jesus anointed king over Israel?