I am curious to know what happened during the 400 years or so between the Torah and the New Testament. Also, did the Jews have a king during Roman Era at all, and what was the function of the Sanhedrin? Why do they say Jesus was the king of the Jews? To which Jews are they referring? Also, as far as the line of David goes, can we trace Mary and Joseph back to David? Were they even from any tribe at all?
Iam going to assume that in your first question you are asking whether there was a legitimate Davidic king over the Jewish people during the Second Temple period. If this is in fact your question, the answer is no. Although there was a royal crown held by both the dynasty of the Hasmoneans and Herod, they were not legitimately anointed kings over the Jewish people, because they were not heirs to the Davidic throne. Rather, they were priests descendants from the tribe of Levi, not Judah.
The answer to your second question is the Sanhedrin was the Jewish court system in the land of Israel, not the seat of a king.
With regard to your third question, when Christians refer to Jesus as king of the Jews, they are asserting, in essence that Jesus was the messiah, and the final heir to the throne of David. This claim, however, is self-defeating because it undermines the Christian claim that Jesus was miraculously conceived of a virgin.
According to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born of a virgin. This claim, however, completely shatters the core Christian claim that Jesus was a legitimate heir to David’s throne and king of the Jews. The virgin birth myth undermines this fundamental Church teaching because tribal lineage is traced only through a person’s father, never the mother. This principle is clearly stated in the Torah:
And on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head. (Numbers 1:18)
According to Christian teachings, Jesus had only a human Jewish mother, and was not related to Joseph. A human Jewish father, however is essential for anyone to be a legitimate heir to the throne of David, which the real messiah will be.
With regard to your final question, Mary’s genealogy is completely irrelevant to Jesus’ supposed lineage to King David. For good reason, nowhere in the New Testament is Mary’s genealogy recorded. As mentioned above, matrilineal ancestry is irrelevant to tribe identification. Both the first chapter of Matthew and in the third chapter of Luke contain a putative genealogy of Joseph alone. Although these two genealogies completely contradict each other, neither suggests that Mary was a descendant of king of David. Joseph’s genealogy is irrelevant to Jesus because according to two out of four Gospels claim that Joseph was not Jesus’ father. The author of the Book of Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels, knows nothing of a virgin birth, and accordingly, begins his book with the baptism of Jesus. The Book of John contains no infancy narrative.
It should be noted that both Catholic and Protestant traditions hold that whereas Matthew’s genealogy is that of Joseph, Luke’s genealogy is of Mary. Although this tradition is nowhere to be found in the New Testament, it was a necessary doctrine for the Church to adopt.
Nowhere in the third Gospel, or in the entire New Testament, for that matter, is there a claim that Mary was a descendant of the House of David. On the contrary, Luke plainly asserts that it is Joseph who was from the House of David, not Mary.
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:27)
In fact, Luke claims that Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, who he says was a descendant of Aaron the high priest,1 placing her in the tribe of Levi, not David’s tribe of Judah. Moreover, in Luke 2:4, the author writes that the reason it was necessary for Joseph and Mary to return to Bethlehem was because it was Joseph, not Mary, who was from the House of David.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David. (Luke 2:4)
There are a number of reasons why the Church sought to claim that Luke’s genealogy of Jesus is traced through Mary’s line. To begin with, Paul claims in Romans 1:3 that Jesus was from the seed of David after the flesh. This has always been understood to mean that Paul was claiming that King David was the biological ancestor of Jesus. At the time when Paul penned the Book of Romans, he was completely unaware that Christendom would eventually claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. Consequently, the Church desperately needed Paul’s statement to correlate with the virgin-birth story.
This dilemma was solved by the assertion that whereas Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus was traced through Joseph’s line, Luke’s genealogy of Jesus was through Mary’s lineage. In this way, Jesus could now be from the seed of David after the flesh through Luke’s genealogy. Likewise, establishing Mary's lineage to King David, Luke's genealogy ostensibly solves the problem of what to do with Romans 1:3 (Paul), and enables the Church to claim a physical link between Jesus and King David.
Finally, it seeks to resolve an awkward discrepancy between the conflicting genealogies contained in the books of Matthew and Luke. Whereas in Matthew’s genealogy, Joseph’s father is Jacob,2 in Luke’s genealogy it is Heli.3 By claiming that Luke’s genealogy is of Mary, Heli becomes Mary’s father and Joseph’s father-in-law.
Sadly, Christendom’s far-fetched resolution to the Gospel’s conflicting genealogies has satisfied the unlettered minds of billions of parishioners worldwide.
Rabbi Tovia Singer
1. Luke 1:5
2. Matthew 1:16
3. Luke 3:23
(c) Copyright Tovia Singer 2011