Heli (biblical figure)

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Heli (Greek: Ἠλὶ, Hēlì, Eli in the New American Standard Bible) is an individual mentioned in the Gospel of Luke as the grandfather of Jesus. In Luke's genealogy of Jesus, Heli is listed as the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the son of Matthat (Greek: μαθθατ).

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, of Heli, of Matthat, of Levi (...)[1]

Heli is not mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the only other canonical gospel to include a genealogy; that genealogy instead identifies "Jacob" as Joseph's putative father.[2]

Two genealogies of Jesus[edit]

The New Testament provides two accounts of the genealogy of Jesus, one in the Gospel of Matthew and another in the Gospel of Luke.[3] Matthew starts with Abraham, while Luke begins with Adam. The lists are identical between Abraham and David, but differ radically from that point. Matthew has twenty-seven generations from David to Joseph, whereas Luke has forty-two, with almost no overlap between the names on the two lists.⁠ Notably, the two accounts also disagree on who Joseph's father was: Matthew says he was Jacob, while Luke says he was Heli.[4]

Traditional Christian scholars (starting with Africanus and Eusebius[5]) have put forward various theories that seek to explain why the lineages are so different,[6] such as that Matthew's account follows the lineage of Joseph, while Luke's follows the lineage of Mary. Some modern critical scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan state that both genealogies are inventions, intended to bring the Messianic claims into conformity with Jewish criteria.[7]

Another possibility is that since both Heli and Jacob have a similar name listed as their father (Matthan in Matthew, Matthat in Luke), a discrepancy that can easily be accounted for by error, that the names Heli and Jacob refer to the same person. Matthew relied heavily on fitting existing prophecy to the narrative; in the Old Testament, Jacob (the last of the biblical patriarchs) also had a son named Joseph.[8] This explanation fits for Heli/Jacob himself, but not for the earlier genealogies.

The curse on the Solomonic line[edit]

This is what the LORD says: 'Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.

If Matthew's genealogy is that of Mary, and Luke's of Joseph, then there is a problem with the curse on the Solomonic line, dating from the time of Jeconiah where Jeremiah pronounced that no descendant of Jeconiah would again sit on the throne of David or rule Judah.[9]

Although Israel had at least one Solomonic descendant, Zerubbabel, as governor under the Achaemenid Empire, he was neither crowned king nor related by blood to Jeconiah.[10]

This apparent problem is resolved by other passages, however, and depends on the fact that Jesus had no earthly father (the virgin birth) and, therefore, would not be related to Jeconiah through Joseph’s lineage (or bound by its blood curse). This solves the problem of the “curse of Jeconiah,” but creates a new problem of inheritance, since Jews would typically not be allowed to inherit from their mother. <ref>("Nachalot - Chapter 2" www.chabad.org. Archived from the original on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2017.) <ref> But, as if anticipated, Moses allowed such inheritance if the mother had no brothers and married within her tribe. This would mean that Mary’s husband would become the legal son of her father, a son of his tribe. In this way, Jesus was the legal offspring of David through his other son, Nathan, who was in the lineage of Mary. Joseph would also be recognized as a son of David through Nathan and not through Jeconiah. That is why Luke says that Joseph is the “son of Heli,” Mary’s father. <ref> (Luke 3:23) <ref>

This exception involved the case of Zelophehad, who had five daughters and no sons. As such , typically, they would not inherit when the Promised Land was divided up. They complained about this to Moses, who then asked God about it. God said that the five daughters would be allowed to inherit land and title just as if they were sons. <ref> (Numbers 27:1-11) <ref>

This angered some, however in the tribe of Zelophehad who complained to Moses about losing their land if a daughter who inherited land married outside her tribe. Moses again asked God, who allowed that the woman who is qualified to inherit land must marry within her father’s tribe. <ref>(Numbers 36:5-13), (Joshua 17:3-6) <ref>. Problem solved, the reason for the odd story of the daughters of Jelosphehad revealed, and the beauty and mystery of the 2 genealogies of Jesus explained.

Saint Joachim and Saint Anne[edit]

The apocryphal Protoevangelium of James gives the story of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne as the parents of Mary. This is largely followed in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican tradition.


  1. ^ Luke 3:23: NKJV
  2. ^ Matthew 1:16
  3. ^ Matthew 1:1–16; Luke 3:23–38
  4. ^ Matthew 1:16; Luke 3:23
  5. ^ Eusebius Pamphilius, Church history, Life of Constantine §VII.
  6. ^ R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans, 1985) pages 71–72.
  7. ^ Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas (HarperCollins, 2009) page 95.
  8. ^ Spong, John Shelby. Jesus for the non-religious. HarperCollins. 2007. ISBN 0-06-076207-1.
  9. ^ ed. Allen Paul Wikgren Early Christian origins: studies in honor of Harold R. Willoughby 1961 "The tracing of Jesus through Nathan rather than Solomon may have been promoted by the curse of Jeremiah against Jechoniah"
  10. ^ John F. MacArthur John 1-11 MacArthur New Testament Commentary 2006 Volume 25 - Page 138 "descendants, the wicked king Jeconiah (also called “Coniah” or “Jehoiachin”) was cursed by the Lord: "Thus says the Lord, 'Write.... He was descended from the royal, Solomonic line through his legal (though not biological) father, Joseph."