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This one has been dogging me for a while. I know there is no (direct) Biblical source to answer this question, but perhaps the scholars here might be better informed as to the existence of some secondary sources or references to who this mystery person mentioned in Luke 3:27 (and nowhere else) might be.

Luke 3:27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melki, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,

So, without going into the question of the divergent lineages (unless you think it is relevant to answer this), who was Neri? Are there any clues anywhere as to who he might have been?

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Unless you’re looking to unify the lineage lists (in which case neri = “my light” & malki = “my king” might be useful) there seems to be exactly no information on Neri. – J. C. Salomon Apr 1 '14 at 15:15
Yeah, I don't believe the lineages do unify, as far as I see one is to Mary, the other to Joseph, so they need not be the same. I know it's a long shot, but sometimes someone out there might have some clue or little bit of info that can be really useful. – Raphael Rosch Apr 1 '14 at 20:11
You might enjoy reading a work of 19th C scholarship: Lord Arthur Hervey, The genealogies of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as contained in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke... (Macmillan, 1853). It will take a while for that link to load: be patient. :) See also the "hit" on p. 159 for a connection with @J.C.Salomon's suggestion. Also, Plummer's ICC commentary on Luke is regularly referenced still. – Davïd Apr 2 '14 at 20:11

3 Answers 3

The idea in brief

A recent (2015) work, The First Nativity (Part II): History and Theology of Our Incarnate Lord and Savior by Joseph David Rhodes contains a good discussion of Neri. In short, the hypothesis is that Neri was the biological father of Shealtiel while Jeconiah was his legal father.

The idea is not entirely new (the following image is from The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Original Greek published in 1861), but is especially well argued by Rhodes.

Illustration of how Neri fits into Jesus' lineage

Evidence from I Chronicles

Rhodes suggests that a careful reading of I Chronicles 3:15-20 supports an interpretation that the passage is outlining legal heirs wherever it says "his son", not necessarily biological children. The repetition of the name Zedekiah in v15:

The sons of Josiah: Johanan the firstborn, the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum (ESV)

and v16:

The descendants of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son

Means that Zedekiah was a biological son of Josiah and brother of Jehoiakim. (See also II Chronicles 36:10). He became the legal heir of Jeconiah when

the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's [=Jeconiah] uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah. (II Kings 24:17)

and thus is called "his son" here. The right of succession then passed to Shealtiel, who was not a biological son of Jeconiah. Thus making Shealtiel the "son" of Jeconiah.

A plausible explanation

While we don't know the exact reason for a non-biological heir here, it is an entirely plausible scenario. For example, the law concerning Levirate marriage states:

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. (Deuteronomy 25:5, ESV, emphasis added)

That is not to say that what happened here was a Levirate marraige per se. The point is that, in Jewish thought, someone could be considered the child of X without being the biological child of X.

Rhodes' hypothesis would also explain how the curse/prophesy of Jeremiah 22:28-30:

Is this man Coniah [=Jeconiah] a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares for? Why are he and his children hurled and cast into a land that they do not know? O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the LORD: “Write this man down 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.”

fits in to Jesus' genealogy. If Shealtiel is only the legal successor of Jeconiah and not actual his son, there is no problem with Jesus being the Messiah.

This interpretation also fits with the theory that Luke's genealogy traces the biological lineage of Jesus (either through Mary or the biological parent in Levirate marriages), while Matthew traces His legal lineage.

While we, of course, have no way of verifying whether Neri is the biological father of Shealtiel, it does seem likely that this is what Luke is saying.

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Raymond E. Brown says in An Introduction to the New Testament, p131, that Luke's list is less classically monarchical than Matthew's, but there is little likelihood that either is strictly historical. In other words, we should not look for Neri in biblical history, but try to understand why the author of Luke chose to depart from the Old Testament genealogy for Shealtiel.

From a hermeneutic point of view, there is no reason to see Luke's genealogy as that of Mary. The text in Luke 3:23 clearly states, "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli." Also, no matter whether Luke's genealogy was that of Mary or Joseph, Shealtiel (father of the great Zorobabel) can have only one father - either Neri (Luke) or Jechonias (Matthew). If we accept that the Old Testament (followed by Matthew, with spelling variation) was correct in recording the father of Shealtiel, then Neri was a literary creation and does not exist outside Luke's Gospel.

The author of Matthew's Gospel chose a classically monarchical genealogy, with a couple of modifications for theological reasons. The author of Luke's Gospel chose a genealogy outside the monarchy until we go all the way back to King David - in line with this author's empathy for the poor and disadvantaged.

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Saying that the genealogies presented are not historical but a "literary creation" introduces all manner of hermeneutical problems, not the least of which is to throw into question the claim of historicity of the Gospel account, when there is no indication that any of its content is to be taken figuratively (as would be the case in the Psalms for example). So this creates more problems than it solves. But thanks for the answer anyway. – Raphael Rosch Apr 2 '14 at 22:04
@RaphaelRosch but it's a perfectly valid perspective and he shows his work for it. I'm glad to have Dick's perspective, and many others alongside it. +1 – Dan Apr 2 '14 at 22:31
I didn't say it wasn't, and I didn't -1 him either, just pointing out the hermeneutical problems with the position. As I mentioned, the question itself is difficult to answer, so any insight is appreciated, but I am looking for an answer that is Biblically sound, which doesn't mean I am not grateful for the effort and the answer. – Raphael Rosch Apr 2 '14 at 23:19
@RaphaelRosch the ideas that the text is infallible and/or historical are hermeneutical presuppositions, and an approach can be hermeneutical regardless of where it falls on those issues, as a clarification. – Dan Aug 29 at 4:48

In the Bible people people were often given names as recognition of their role in the history of Israel. Note the name change of Abram to Abraham.

Neri, perhaps a shortened form of Neriah, means Jehovah my light. Certainly Jehoiachin was not that during the three years of his reign in Jerusalem. But it appears that while in captivity in Babylon he changed. One indication is that he named his first son Sheatiel, meaning asked of God. Did Jehoiachin repent?

In addition his grandson Zerubabbel returned with the early returning exiles and became the governor of Jerusalem. While governor Zerubbabel revealed a godly character, which might reasonably be traced to his family - father and grandfather.

If so, it would be an honor to Jehoiachin, whose name meant established by Jehovah but whose life as king belied that name, to be called God's light as the final epitaph. That is why, I believe, his name is changed.

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