The Scriptorium

Genealogy as Literature

They have their own unique forms and devices. Ezra 7.1-10

Gleanealogy: Introduction (6)

Pray Psalm 99.1-3.
The LORD reigns;
Let the peoples tremble!
He dwells between the cherubim;
Let the earth be moved!
The LORD is great in Zion,
And He is high above all the peoples.
Let them praise Your great and awesome name—
He is holy.

Sing slowly and contemplatively Psalm 99.1-4, 9
(Sine Nomine: For All the Saints)
The Lord is King! Let all the peoples quake! He rules above the angels; let earth shake!
Amid His people Jesus Christ is great: Exalt the Savior! Exalt the Savior!

Let all men praise Your great and awesome Name, O holy Lord, of strength and justice fame.
Your righteousness and justice we proclaim: Exalt the Savior! Exalt the Savior!

Read Ezra 7.1-10.

Read aloud.

How It Works

Within a frame of fourteen lines – of eight
and six or twelve and two – consisting each
of five iambs (duh-DUH), we try to reach
a bit of clarity, or lend some weight
to a perception or a worldview. End 
rhymes, strict and plain to see, add music to
the rhythm of the beat, and lead us through
the lines and stanzas, like a knowing friend,
unto a place that seems as if it should
require a pause, however slight. We let
our thoughts arrive together, then we set
our mind for what remains, and hope it’s good.
  A genealogy can like a sonnet
  work, if we will but meditate upon it.

1. What strikes you as interesting about Ezra’s genealogy?

2. Why does his genealogy stop with Aaron? Why not go on to Levi? Or Abraham?

As a preview to what we’ll be doing in parts 2 and 3 of our study in Gleanealogy, let’s take a look at Ezra’s pedigree, focusing in particular on the literary form of this list.

Ezra’s genealogy is an example of an ascending genealogy – tracing from the individual in focus backward in his line, or “up to” his ancestors. Most genealogies are descending genealogies, beginning with head of the clan and tracing his descendants. Ezra’s genealogy is brief, almost like a calling card, which he might have presented to introduce himself to the authorities in Jerusalem, who would have compared it with their lists (cf. Ez. 2.59-63).

We note that Ezra’s genealogy identifies him as a bona fide participant in the captivity – he had known the suffering and separation of those years (cf. 1 Chron. 6.14). His credentials ascend all the way to the sainted Phinehas, who delivered Israel from the Midianite treachery (Ps. 106.28-31), and from him, through Eleazar, to Aaron.

We note that the list ascends in four verses of three names each, until landing on the final verse, which has four names. Four is the number of earth and man in Scripture, while three is the number of God. Ezra’s credentials “add up” to perfection (4 + 3 = 7) before returning to the number for man (four names, in v. 5), and implying God in the reference to “the chief priest”. Ezra (“helper”) will help God’s people connect with Him and His Law – just like Jesus does.

His genealogy did not go further – up to Levi, for example, or on to Abraham. Ezra had come to Jerusalem to teach the Law, and his genealogy was crafted to support that call. It showed the authorities in Jerusalem that Ezra had the mantle of Aaron, the first high priest and interpreter of God’s Law. Moses received the Law from God and wrote it down, but Aaron proclaimed and taught it.

The literary form of Ezra’s genealogy was meant to impress. It is important to note that we are told about his spiritual credentials even before we know about the letter from Artaxerxes, authorizing his work (vv. 11-26).

The genealogies of Scripture are literature. They were composed at certain times, in particular forms, using a variety of literary devices, to accomplish a particular purpose. Sometimes they are identified as toledoth, a form of genealogy commonly in use among ancient peoples. The toledoth of Scripture contextualize the people they list among all the nations of the day.

Some genealogies ascend, and some descend. One – as we shall see – does both, invoking the image of going up and down on a ladder.

Reading the genealogies aloud in Hebrew, one gets a sense of the rhythm of them. Ezra’s moves along like a series of trochees or iambs, interspersed with grace notes: Ezra (DUH-duh), son of (DUH-duh), Seraiah (duh-DUH-duh), and so forth. Even some rhyme appears in the Hebrew (cf. Seriah, Azariah), which would have been an aid to memorizing the list.

Finally, Ezra’s list – like many others we will see – does two additional things. First, it nods to the Gentiles by mentioning Phineas. I’ll be saying more about this in subsequent installments. Second, the names in this list employ many morphemes that point us to God: yah,y’shua, and el in this case. The names were given by faithful parents, to indicate their hopes, aspirations, and longings for their children. We’ll be looking more closely at some of these in parts 2 and 3 of our study.

A genealogy is not a sonnet; however, genealogies use a variety of forms and devices, like poetry, to make them memorable and compelling, and to help us savor the grains of truth we may glean from them.

1. What’s the difference between reading and meditating on Scripture? Why do we need both, especially where the genealogies are concerned?

2. Based on what we saw in Ezra 2.59-63, why would it have been important that Ezra have been able to produce his genealogy? Would the authorities in Jerusalem have been able to corroborate his “calling card”? Explain.

3. Do you suppose that Ezra’s pedigree had any effect on him during his time in captivity? Explain.

For the fact that Ezra goes up from Babylon, and some of the children of Israel and descendants of the priests and the Levites go up with him. This signifies the merciful provision of our Redeemer by which, appearing in the flesh, he entered into the “confusion” of this world though he himself was free from the confusion of sins so that, when he returned, he might free us from all “confusion” and lead us with him into the restfulness of celestial “peace.”
The Venerable Bede (672-735), On Ezra and Nehemiah 2.9

Feed me, Lord, on the sweetness and power of Your Word, so that I may…

Pray Psalm 99.4-9.
Seek the Lord’s strength to live for justice, equity, and righteousness today. Call upon Him to bless your church and her leaders. Exalt the Lord and worship Him with gladness.

Sing Psalm 99.4-9.
Psalm 99.4-9 (Sine Nomine: For All the Saints)
You have established strength and equity; before Your throne, O Lord, we bend the knee.
To You, O Savior, praise and honor be: Exalt the Savior! Exalt the Savior!

Your servants called, You answered their requests; in Your forgiveness they were greatly blessed.
Their wand’ring ways You judged in righteousness: Exalt the Savior! Exalt the Savior!

Exalt the Lord! Exalt the Savior’s Name! Before His holy hill His grace proclaim!
The holiness of Jesus is His fame: Exalt the Savior! Exalt the Savior!

T. M. Moore

The poems featured in the Gleanealogy series are by T. M. Moore. To order T. M.’s most recent collection of poems, Bricks and Rungs, click here. The genealogies of Scripture reveal the heart of God in His covenant relationship with His people. To learn more about God’s covenant, order our book, I Will Be Your God, by clicking here. You can learn to sing all the psalms to familiar hymn tunes by ordering a copy of The Ailbe Psalter (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore