Sunday, November 17, 2013

Luke's Genealogy: "Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, son of Melchi".

Damien F. Mackey


Saint Luke traces the Genealogy of Jesus as follows (Luke 3):

23 When he began, Jesus was about thirty years old, being the son, as it was thought, of Joseph son of Heli,
24 son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Jannai, son of Joseph,
25 son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum, son of Esli, son of Naggai,
26 son of Maath, son of Mattathias, son of Semein, son of Josech, son of Joda,
27 son of Joanan, son of Rhesa, son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri,
28 son of Melchi, son of Addi, son of Cosam, son of Elmadam, son of Er,
29 son of Jesus, son of Eliezer, son of Jorim, son of Matthat, son of Levi,
30 son of Symeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam, son of Eliakim,
31 son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David,
32 son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Sala, son of Nahshon,
33 son of Amminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni, son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah,
34 son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor,
35 son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah,
36 son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech,
37 son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan,
38 son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.

What interests me here, though, are vv. 27-28: 
Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, 28 son of Melchi
in light of the fact that Saint Matthew has, for the corresponding phase of succession (Matthew 1):
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel
The question to be asked is: Why do the names of the supposed father of Shealtiel differ between the two accounts, with Luke calling him [King] Jeconiah [var. Coniah, Jehoiachin], who is well known as a king of Judah, but Matthew calling him Neri, who is quite unknown by that name?
And who is the Melchi [var. Melki], the apparent father of Matthew's Neri?
Suffice us, here, to try to determine solely who this Neri was, without the added complication of Melchi (who might nevertheless be - given that Melchi means 'male ruler' - king Josiah himself, the father of Jeconiah. Matthew 1:11).

Could Neri have in fact been another name for king Jeconiah?
My answer to this will be, Yes.
The evil king Jeconiah, whom I have recently identified tentatively as the wicked Haman of the Book of Esther:

Is the Book of Esther a Real History?

I am now going to propose, tentatively again, was the rather enigmatic Chaldean official, Neriglissar, very much a contemporary of Jeconiah's (throughout the entire reign of King Nebuchednezzar II and beyond). And that the biblical name, Neri, was an abbreviation of that name Neri-glissar, which is a Greek version (fitting in with St. Luke) of the Chaldean name, Nergal-sharra-usur.
Neriglissar was active from as early as the 9th year of Nebuchednezzar II (Ronald H. Sack, "Neriglissar - King of Babylon", Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 1994, p. 23): "The earliest known mention of Neriglissar occurs in a contract dated in the ninth year of Nebuchadnezzar ..."; this being the year after king Jeconiah was taken into captivity (2 Kings 24):

10 At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, 11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him. In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner.

And Neriglissar continued to be most active right throughout the 43-year long reign of Nebuchednezzar and beyond that. This would mean that, if Neriglissar were the biblical Neri (aka Jeconiah), then he must have had considerable freedom even during the reign of the mighty Chaldean king, Nebuchednezzar. This is quite contrary to the general view that Jeconiah was treated harshly during this long period of time. Certainly his initial treatment would have been rough, according to customary practice. We know from the prophet Ezekiel's lamentation (chapter 19) that Jeconiah would be caged up and carried off like an animal: “They put him in a cage with chains, And brought him to the king of Babylon; They brought him in nets, That his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel.” (v. 9).
In Babylon, Jehoiachin was treated as a royal hostage. He is named Ya'u-kin in Babylonian tablets, which speak of him and his five sons as receiving rations at the Babylonian court. He was known to the Jews as 'Jeconiah the Captive' (Assir) (I Chronicles 3:17). But Jeconiah, (if) as Neriglissar, would actually (at some stage) have married a daughter of King Nebuchednezzar's, thereby obtaining for himself legitimacy to the Chaldean throne. (see e.g. James B. Jordan's The Handwriting on the Wall, A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 2007, Ch. 10)
And that Jeconiah, even though a captive, enjoyed a degree of freedom, at least early on, is apparent from this statement in the Book of Baruch (1:3):

Baruch read the book aloud to Jehoiachin ... king of Judah, and to all the people who lived in Babylon by the Sud River. Everyone came to hear it read - nobles, children of royal families, elders, in fact, all the people, no matter what their status.

According to A. Fitzgerald, article “Baruch” (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968, 37:9): “At first a pensioner in the King’s court, [Jehoiachin] was jailed sometime after 592 [BC] (W.F. Albright, BA, 5 [1948] 49-55), probably in connection with some insurrection …”.

After the death of Nebuchednezzar, Evil-Merodach [var. Awel-Marduk] freed Jeconiah from his imprisonment and exalted him (2 Kings 25:27-30):
“And it came to pass in the 37th year of the captivity of Yeho’yachin king of Judea, in the twelfth month, on the 27th day of the month (27 Adar, today’s Hebrew date) that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, did lift the head of Yeho’yachin king of Judea out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon. And he changed his prison garments, and [Yeho'yachin] ate bread before him [Evil-Merdoch] continually all the days of his life. And there was a continual daily allowance given to him by the king, all the days of his life”.

Now, this "set[ting of] his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him" by an eastern king, may, I think, be reflected in this action in the story of Esther (3:1): "After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman ... and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him". 

Neriglissar (Nergal-shar-usur) ....

It is probable that Neriglissar was a leading prince in the Babylonian court long before he seized the throne. A man of that name entered Jerusalem with the armies of Nebuchadnezzar and held the post of Rab-mag with the occupying armies (Jeremiah 39:3). The meaning of Rab-mag (Akkadian rab-mugi) is uncertain but it designates a high political office. Nergal-shar-usur was one of "the princes of the king of Babylon" and he sat "in the middle gate" of Jerusalem, which evidently served as the center of government for the Babylonians before they destroyed the city. Nergal-shar-usur as Rab-mag was a member of the delegation assigned to release Jeremiah from prison and entrust him into the friendly hands of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 39:11-14). He had married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and, for that reason, considered himself a legitimate successor to his throne.

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