He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Friday, December 30, 2016

Catena Aurea: The Curse of Jeconiah

The Catena Aurea is a work of Biblical commentary compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas.  It contains the verses of the Gospels immediately followed by the most relevant commentaries of the Church Fathers upon that subject and/or that specific verse.  As I read the English translation commissioned by Cardinal John Henry Newman, I will be providing information about what the Catena Aurea contains regarding certain questions that are generally controversial or interesting to me.

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The Curse of Jeconiah is a phrase commonly used to refer to the events described in the Book of Jeremiah the Prophet, Chapter 22.  In it, Jeremiah the Prophet proclaims God's judgment upon the wicked King.

The King is variously named Coniah, Jeconiah, Jechonias, Jeconias, or Jehoiachin, et cetera.  What he is called seems to depend on the translators and the era in which they did the translating.  Regardless, the important event here is the curse that is placed on him, and I am providing the relevant passage in context below as follows:

24 As I live, says the Lord, even if King Coniah son of Jehoiakim of Judah were the signet ring on my right hand, even from there I would tear you off 25 and give you into the hands of those who seek your life, into the hands of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hands of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and into the hands of the Chaldeans. 26 I will hurl you and the mother who bore you into another country, where you were not born, and there you shall die. 27 But they shall not return to the land to which they long to return.
28 Is this man Coniah a despised broken pot,
    a vessel no one wants?
Why are he and his offspring hurled out
    and cast away in a land that they do not know?
29 O land, land, land,
    hear the word of the Lord!
30 Thus says the Lord:
Record this man as childless,
    a man who shall not succeed in his days;
for none of his offspring shall succeed
    in sitting on the throne of David,
    and ruling again in Judah.

As we can see, this is quite a serious curse for a King.  Not only will he be exiled from the land he should be ruling, but it is prophesied that none of his descendants would end up seated on the Davidic throne inherited from the great King David that was at the Jewish seat of government in Jerusalem.

Many years, ago, I was reading debates between Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews regarding the Curse of Jeconiah and its implications for the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah the Jews were waiting for per the prophecies of the Tanakh.

Understandably, Orthodox Jews (or Jews today belonging to Conservative or Reform temples, for that matter) would see the curse placed on Jeconiah as a serious problem for Christian claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, given that the Messiah was to fulfill the Davidic Kingdom, and the genealogy provided in the Gospel of Matthew (written to be read by a Jewish audience) provides the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph's ancestors, one of whom is the accursed Jeconiah.

The relevant portion of the genealogy listed in Matthew verses 12-16 is written in the Catena Aurea as follows:

And after they were brought to Babylon,  Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob.  And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

The problem here can be stated simply: the Messiah must sit on the throne of Jerusalem, descendants of Jeconiah are barred by God from sitting on that throne, Jesus of Nazareth is a descendant of Jeconiah who was cursed by God, and therefore he cannot be the Messiah promised to the Jews by God.

There are a variety of answers to this problem, and they are readily available online on various Christian apologetics sites.  One of the answers commonly given is that the curse was lifted in the Book of Haggai (Chapter 2) when Jeconiah's grandson (listed above as Zorobabel) is chosen by God as part of the plan of salvation for the Jews.  Alternatively, if the curse applied to ALL of the descendants of Jeconiah rather than just his immediate offspring, why would God later choose Jeconiah's grandson to fulfill His divine plan?

Another answer commonly given is that while Joseph was indeed of the lineage of David through Jeconiah, he did not actually beget Jesus, but rather adopted Jesus because he was wed to Mary (who was also of the lineage of David through Nathan).  Thus, the Curse of Jeconiah would not have applied to Jesus because he was not the offspring of Jeconiah by birth, only by law.

In the Catena Aurea, St. Augustine of Hippo is quoted on this subject:

Also, the line of descent ought to be brought down to Joseph, that in wedlock no wrong might be done to the male sex, as the more worthy, provided only nothing was taken away from the truth; because Mary was of the seed of David.

St. Jerome is quoted answering those who question why Matthew would bother providing the genealogy of Joseph the adopted father of Jesus, if he wasn't the biological father:

The attentive reader may ask, Seeing Joseph was not the father of the Lord and Saviour, how does this genealogy traced down to him on order pertain to the Lord?  We will answer, first, that it is not the practice of Scripture to follow the female line in its genealogies; secondly, that Joseph and Mary were of the same tribe, and that he was thence compelled to take her to wife as a kinsman, and they were enrolled together at Bethlehem, as being of one stock.

As we can see, both law and birth were very important when considering parentage in the culture of the Jews and were legitimate topics to bring up, but the Curse of Jeconiah would not have applied to anyone who was his descendant by law only, goes the reasoning.  And this would especially be true when he was the descendant of David through the maternal line that did not contain Jeconiah.

In the Catena Aurea, there is another interesting point made by St. Ambrose of Milan:

Of whom Jeremiah speaks.  Write this man dethroned; for there shall not spring of his seed one sitting on the throne of David.  How is this said of the Prophet, that none of the seed of Jeconias should reign?  For if Christ reigned, and Christ was of the seed of Jeconiah, then has the Prophet spoken falsely.  But it is not there declared that there shall be none of the seed of Jeconiah, and so Christ is of his seed; and that Christ did reign, is not in contradiction to the prophecy; for he did not reign with worldly honors, as He said, My Kingdom is not of this world.

Here St. Ambrose makes the point that Jesus reigns in the heavenly Jerusalem rather than the earthly Jerusalem, and thus never sat on the throne of David referred to in Jeremiah's prophecy.  I'm not sure I agree with his argument, but it stood out to me for its uniqueness.

At any rate, there are a variety of good reasons to think, from a Christian perspective and perhaps even from a Jewish perspective, that the Curse of Jeconiah does not invalidate claims that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah awaited by the People Israel.

This doesn't settle, by itself, the question of whether or not Jesus was the Messiah.  I'm sure that the debate between Christians and Jews on that point will continue regardless.  Nonetheless, it is interesting to read the Church Fathers answering the exact same points 1500+ years ago that are still being brought up today.

Jeconiah may have lost the throne of David, but he has certainly not been lost to history thanks to these perennial religious debates.  Sadly, he lives on in history because he was cursed to lose everything that mattered to him. I'm not sure if that makes the curse better or worse.

Note:  The above is a picture of my copy of the Catena Aurea (Volume 1: St. Matthew).


  1. There could also be some Christological questions inherent in this matter as well. I have spent the past 24 hours reading the first 7 ecumenical councils, which laid the foundation of an orthodox theology and Christology for Catholic and Orthodox Christians (and for the Protestants who assent to them). Romans 1:3-4 (which was quoted at one of the councils, I forget which), says that Christ the Son "...was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead..." Since Christ had two different natures, a human and a divine nature (as defined at the 2nd council of Constantinople), one could argue that Christ, because He also possessed a divine nature, was able to transcend the curse on Jeconiah's descendants, even as He has taken away the curse on Adam's descendants by sacrificing Himself on the Cross. Any thoughts?

    1. That's an interesting argument. It could be persuasive to someone who already agrees for other reasons that Christ had a divine nature. I think that the difficulty in making that argument to a Jewish audience would be that it presupposes the Jesus of Nazareth had a divine nature, and that's likely to be an extremely dubious claim to a devout Jew.