One of the most fascinating arguments that Christians raise regarding the proposed Messiahship of Jesus is that no living candidate can prove himself to be a descendant of David, because the family trees were burned with the Second Temple. This is supposed to leave Jesus as the only Messianic claimant whose genealogy can be verified. What fascinates is that the Christian argument relies on a principle of verification, a standard which Christianity by-and-large repudiates. In this article, I will demonstrate why this argument is empty.
In order to do so, I am going to take for granted certain elements of the Christian argument, which if they are not granted do not allow the argument to even be discussed. So, for the sake of argument, it will be granted that the genealogical records were kept in the temple and destroyed with it, though no evidence has been brought in substantiation of this. (The website to which you link quotes from a Christian Biblical encylopedia, which makes the claim that the records were kept in the temple and destroyed with it. The source in the encyclopedia is a non-source: “Babyl. Gemar. Gloss. fol. xiv, 2.” This is like giving a source as a commentary on the Bible, chapter 12, verse 3. Still, I will ignore this bad sourcing, and assume the truth of the claim, in order to examine the argument.) Similarly, I will ignore that the Christian scriptures give evidence that Jesus was not a son of David, being the son of God. Moreover, I will be examining certain prophecies that Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled. In order to allow the argument to progress, I will not discuss how the Church has misrepresented the prophets; I will treat the Christian reading as if it were legitimate, as if these were Messianic prophecies.
Part of what is so fascinating about this argument is the image it conjures regarding a possible future event. Imagine a future in which a king rules in Israel, a temple is rebuilt, the world is at peace, and non-Jews stream to Israel to learn about HaShem. This king claims to be a son of David, but Christians do not accept his lineage, asking: “If you wish to prove a Messianic pedigree now, who will be foolish enough to believe your great, great, great grandfather’s fond pretensions?” They protest outside his home, holding placards that read: “No genealogy- No monarchy!” This protest is based on what—that Jesus is the only possible Messianic candidate, because his is the only verified bloodline? Yet, this king has all the other qualities of the Messiah, all those that Jesus does not have. The greater evidence would seem to be with this king, and it would not be unreasonable to trust that he was a son of David under such circumstances.
What is more fascinating is that the Christian has introduced independent verification as a standard of evidence when many of the Christian claims about Jesus have no such substantiation themselves. So, Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah would be born of the virgin. Yet, no independent verification of the virgin proof has ever been produced. As many have noted before, Mary never submitted herself for examination during her pregnancy or at the moment of birth. As a sign attesting to Jesus as the Messiah, it fails, having effectively no witnesses. Perhaps the future Jewish King imagined above will be born of a virgin, and not only that, his mother will be verified to have been a virgin during the pregnancy. Then the world will have a real conundrum on its hands. Each of these two Messianic candidates will have fulfilled one of the Messianic prophecies in a verified way.
This is not the only prophecy Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled, of course, that has no verification. He fulfilled that great prophecy that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. Of course, Mary and Joseph fled secretly to Egypt, and no one seems to have known to where they had gone. No stamped passports were presented showing that they entered and left Egypt. Moreover, the Messianic prophecy that foretells that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem was not verifiably fulfilled by Jesus either. At the time of his adult ministry, people had no idea that he had been born in Bethlehem, according to John 7. If this possible future candidate is born in Bethlehem and has a birth certificate and a passport stamped, showing that he had been in Egypt, he will have gained quite an advantage over Jesus.
In fact, it is not just the prophecies of Tanach that Jesus fulfilled in secret, but his own most famous prophecy concerning himself. In Matthew 12, Jesus declares that his resurrection after three days would serve as a sign. But, if he rose from the dead, he did it in secret, never appearing to those to whom he promised the sign. It is an event with no independent verification. It is astounding how many markers of Jesus’ Messiahship are events that were never substantiated.
Even Jesus’ lineage remains unsubstantiated. Christians imply that Matthew and Luke verified Jesus genealogy in the temple before it was destroyed. However, this is not even asserted by either of them. Modern scholars believe that those two gospels, the only two with genealogies for Jesus, were written after the destruction of the temple. If one assumes, however, that this is not so, that those gospels predate the destruction of the Second Temple, the problem of verifying Jesus’ genealogy remains. In that case, shortly after the writing of those gospels, the only papers that could substantiate their genealogical claims were destroyed, making it impossible to compare them to the originals. It is as if the Christian god said to Matthew and Luke: “You believe in me, because you have seen my family tree; blessed are those that have not seen, but still believe.” The claim that Jesus’ genealogy has independent verification is baseless.
And the need for this baseless claim arises from the fact that Jesus did not fulfill the role of the Messiah. The Messiah is a promised king that will rule under the conditions briefly outlined in the third paragraph above. Jesus is not such a king, and, as such, is not the Messiah. However, the Church has asserted that Jesus is the Messiah, despite not fulfilling this promise. This claim demanded some evidence that would counter this obvious lack of fulfillment. One part of that was to say that the Jews (to whom this promise was made) did not understand the promise. Another was to introduce further qualifications to the Messiah that Jesus could be said to fulfill, qualifications that could not be tested. These qualifications would include the virgin birth and the resurrection and would have to be taken on faith. And yet, against reason, these are supposed to hold greater weight than observable evidence.
Because the unsubstantiated claims of Christianity are so weak, the missionary and apologist attempt to rule out all other possible candidates. He puts forth the notion that no other candidate could fulfill the prophecy, and in eliminating all other candidates, hopes to leave Jesus as the only possible candidate. It is as if the missionary has admitted: “Yes, Jesus’ claims do not rise above mere assertion, but he is the Messiah by default. No other candidates are possible.” In making this argument, however, he has adopted a standard contrary to that of his other claims, all of which must be accepted without evidence.
Yet, he can ask: “How can this prophecy ever be fulfilled?”
The answer is simple. Let it be granted that no one today knows who are the descendants of David. This will not hinder God from fulfilling his promise to David, because human ignorance is irrelevant to God. God knows what humanity does not. He knows who is and is not a son of David. And, He is faithful to fulfill His promises, so that, one can rely upon them—His word will come to pass.
Imagine that Jesus had never come, yet the temple was still destroyed and with it the records of the Davidic line. Imagine even that no one claimed to be a descendant of David. Under these conditions, shall we say that God cannot fulfill his promise? Not at all. Even after nearly 2,000 years since the destruction of the temple, one can rely upon the promises of God. He need have no doubt.
But a problem remains: How, then, shall one know that this king actually is a son of David? It is not hard to find a solution to this problem. Malachi writes of the coming of Elijah before the end, and it is in no way unfeasible that he will, through prophecy, verify that the Messiah is descended from David. Moreover, Joel prophecies about a time when prophecy will abound. The Church claimed to have fulfilled this prophecy 2,000 years ago, but such prophecy is not evident in the Church today, and nothing is more apparent that this time has not yet come. If the Church ever had a gift of prophecy, it has long ago dried up. 2,000 years of the light of Jesus has left not only the Church but the world in darkness. Nevertheless, a time will come when prophecy, true prophecy will abound, and when it does, surely it will not be impossible that the lineage of the Messiah will be revealed.
It is most fascinating that the Church teaches that one should accept Jesus without sufficient evidence, and then attempts to eliminate any other Messianic candidates on the ground that those candidates cannot produce sufficient evidence of their claims. It is precisely because Jesus did not fulfill the promise of the Messiah that secret signs are needed, which forces the Christian to adopt a double standard. But the argument fails to account for the possibility of some other candidate fulfilling the same prophecies as Jesus, only openly and with the verification that Christian claims lack. And it fails to note that a son of David could be verified through prophets, an oversight that arises out of the failures of Christian prophecy. No one whose trust is in God need suffer any consternation from the Christian argument; he may rely upon HaShem to fulfill His promises.