Did You Know?

Why were the Jews so interested in their genealogies?

Genealogical records were essential in establishing tribal and family relationships. They were also needed in determining land division and inheritances. Of particular importance was the lineage of the promised Messiah. The Jews were well-aware that this One must come from the line of David of the tribe of Judah.​—John 7:42.

Additionally, “since the offices of priest and Levite were hereditary . . . it was of the greatest importance that the purity of line remain unblemished,” states scholar Joachim Jeremias. Israelite women who married into priestly families were required to produce their genealogies so that the priesthood would remain “unadulterated and pure.” In Nehemiah’s day, whole families of Levites were disqualified when they “looked for their register, to establish their genealogy publicly, and it was not found.”​—Nehemiah 7:61-65.

Furthermore, the Mosaic Law stipulated that “no illegitimate son” nor any “Ammonite or Moabite may come into the congregation of Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 23:2, 3) For this reason, adds Jeremias, “pure ancestry had to be proved for a man to exercise any civic rights, and this fact confirms our conclusion that . . . even the simple Israelite knew his immediate ancestors and could point to which of the twelve tribes he belonged.”

How did the Jews compile and preserve their genealogies?

The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke produced detailed genealogies of Jesus’ forebears. (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38) Other genealogical records have also been preserved. For example, a Jewish midrash, or commentary, states concerning Hillel, a rabbi in Jesus’ time: “A genealogical scroll was found in Jerusalem, in which it was written that Hillel was descended from David.” First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his work The Life, claimed that his ancestors were priests and that on his mother’s side, he was “of royal blood.” He stated that he found this information “recorded in the public registers.”

As to custody of the records of priestly families, Josephus, in his work Against Apion, stated that his nation gave the task to “men of the highest character.” The Jewish Encyclopedia states: “A special officer seems to have been entrusted with these records, and a court of inquiry is mentioned as having been instituted in Jerusalem.” Nonpriestly Jews would register in their fathers’ cities. (Luke 2:1-5) The resulting public archives were evidently consulted by the Gospel writers. Private records also seem to have been preserved by individual families.