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Genealogy (in the Bible)

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The word genealogy occurs only twice in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 1:4, and Titus 3:9. In these passages commentators explain the word as referring to the Gentile theogonies, or to the Essene generation of angels, or to the emanation of spirits and aeons as conceived by the Gnostics, or to the genealogies of Jesus Christ, or finally to the genealogies of the Old Testament construed into a source of an occult doctrine. Some even appeal to Philo in order to refer St. Paul's expression to the various stories and fables told about Moses and the Patriarchs. In the Old Testament the term genealogia occurs only in a few manuscripts of the Septuagint, in 1 Chronicles 4:33; 5:7, 17; 9:22; I Esd., viii, 1, where the commonly received text reads katalogismos or katalochismos. In the present article, therefore, we shall not dwell upon the term genealogy, but consider the parts, usually genealogical lists, introduced by the phrase "these are the generations" or "this is the book of the generation"; we shall investigate the meaning of the introductory phrase, enumerate the principal genealogical lists, indicate their sources, draw attention to their importance, and point out their deficiencies. Special genealogical lists, for instance those of Christ, found in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, must be studied separately.

Introductory phrase

The introductory formula, "these are the generations" or "this is the book of the generation", is the heading to the ten parts of the Book of Genesis. It occurs also in Numbers 3:1; Ruth; iv, 18; 1 Chronicles 1:29. Similar expressions are found frequently, especially in the Books of Paralipomenon. What is their meaning? They do not denote any genealogy or genealogical table in our sense of these words. There can be no questions of posterity in Genesis 2:4: "these are the generations of the heaven and the earth", as toledhoth, the Hebrew equivalent of "generations", seems to imply. In Genesis 6:9, the introductory formula is followed by the history of the Flood; hence it cannot point forward to a genealogical table. If we keep in mind, on the other hand, that primitive history was only genealogy adorned with various anecdotes and stories of incidents, we begin to realize that the genealogical portions of the Book of Genesis are abbreviated and rudimentary biographies. The proper meaning of our introductory formula is, therefore, simply, "this is the history".

Genealogical lists

The peculiar character of primitive history accounts for the numerous genealogical lists found in the books of the Old Testament. We shall enumerate only the principal ones: Genesis 5:1-31, give the Patriarchs from Adam to Noah; Genesis 10:1-32, the ethnography of the sons of Noah; Genesis 11:10-26, the Patriarchs from Sem to Abraham; Genesis 11:27-32, the posterity of Thare; Genesis 22:20-24, the posterity of Nachor; Genesis 25:1-4, the descendants of Abraham by Centura; Genesis 25:12-18, the posterity of Ismael; Genesis 25:23-29, the sons of Jacob; Genesis 36:1-43, the posterity of Esau and the princes of Edom; Genesis 46:8-27, the family of Jacob going into Egypt; Numbers 3:14-39, the list of the Levites; Numbers 26:1-51, the heads of the tribes; Ruth, iv, 18-22, the genealogy of David; Ezra 7:1-5, the genealogy of Esdras; Nehemiah 11-12, the genealogy of a number of persons. 1 Chronicles 1-9 is replete with genealogical lists which either repeat, or abbreviate, or again develop the foregoing genealogies, adding at times other documents of an unknown origin. For instance, there is a brief genealogy of Benjamin in 1 Chronicles 7:6-12, a longer one in 1 Chronicles 8:1-40; similarly a brief genealogy of Juda in 1 Chronicles 4:1-23, a more complete one in 1 Chronicles 2:3 and 3:24. The inspired historian makes no effort to harmonize these striking differences, but seems to be only careful to reproduce his sources.

In order to appreciate the foregoing lists properly, four of their peculiarities must be kept in mind:

Sources of the genealogies

Generally speaking, the later genealogies were derived from written sources, either inspired or profane. For instance, the genealogy of Benjamin in 1 Chronicles 7:6-12, is based on the data given in the Books of Genesis and Numbers; a more extensive genealogy of the same patriarch found in 1 Chronicles 8:1-40, is based, no doubt, on written sources too, which are, however, unknown to us. As to the earlier genealogies, their veracity cannot be directly proved independently of inspiration. Written documents were used much earlier than the archaeologists of the first half of the eighteenth century believed. Moreover, very little writing was required to preserve the earliest genealogical lists, which are both rare and brief. We may grant freely that the art of writing was not known from Adam to the Flood, and for centuries after Noah. But keeping in mind the following facts, we find no difficulty in admitting oral tradition and memory as sufficient sources for these periods.

Importance of the genealogies

The Hebrews shared the predilection for genealogies which prevailed among all the Semitic races. Among the Arabs, for instance, no biography is complete without a long list of the hero's ancestors. They register even the lineage of their horses, esteeming their nobility according to their extraction (Cf. "Revue des deux mondes", 15 May, 1855, pp. 1775-77; Caussin de Perceval, "Essai sur l'histoire des Arabes avant l'Islamisme", Paris, 1844-48). Among the Hebrews such genealogical lists were of still high importance for the following reasons:

Deficiencies of the genealogies

It cannot be denied that some of the genealogical links are omitted in the Biblical lists; even St. Matthew had to employ this device in order to arrange the ancestors of Christ in three series of fourteen each. At first sight such omissions may seem to be at variance with Biblical inerrancy, because the single members of the genealogical lists are connected by the noun son or the verb beget. But neither of these links creates a real difficulty:


PRAT in Dict. de la Bible; KNABENBAUER in HAGEN, Lexicon Biblicum (Paris, 1905); PANNIER, Genealogiae biblicae cum monumentis Æegyptiorum et Chaldaeorum collatae (Lille, 1886); BRUCKER, La Chronologie des premiers ages de l'humanite in La Controverse, 15 March, 15 May, 1886, pp. 375-93, 5-27; VON HUMMELAUER, Comment. in Gen. (Freiburg, 1895), 572; IDEM, Das vormosaische Priesterthum in Israel (Freiburg, 1899).

About this page

APA citation. Maas, A. (1909). Genealogy (in the Bible). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Maas, Anthony. "Genealogy (in the Bible)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to those preserving their family history.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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