I am asking this under the Hebrew tag because it has to do with Jewish tradition. I would like to ask, can Elizabeth, if she is from the tribe of Levi, be a cousin to Mary, if Mary was from the tribe of Judah?

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. (Luke 1:5)

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    I am not sure this is a hermeneutics question or answer, but the two standard apologetic replies are that "cousin" does not need to mean first cousins, and that even if it did mean that here it could have been that their mothers were sisters.
    – Henry
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 13:20
  • @Henry . . . . in which case, Elizabeth's mother would also be a 'daughter of Aaron' and so would Elizabeth's mother's sister, Mary's mother, thus Mary is of Levi. The question is about the meaning of the word 'cousin' and is on topic.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 13:39
  • If Mary is of Levi (and I firmly believe, myself, that she is) then Jesus inherits the promises made to Phinehas (see Numbers 25 and Psalm 106.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 13:47
  • @NigelJ - For Elizabeth to be a daughter of Aaron, her father would have to be from the tribe of Levi - I do not see that is says anything about the tribe of Elizabeth's mother
    – Henry
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 14:23
  • @Henry Elizabeth is of . . . the daughters (plural) . . . of Aaron. She is not a 'daughter of Aaron'. Her origin is . . . . the daughters of Aaron. (And so is Mary's.)
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


David Cohen, a Levite, and Moishe Moskowitz, a Jew, marry the Finklestein sisters in a double wedding ceremony in Brooklyn, and share a honeymoon vacation in Miami.

The next year, each couple has a beautiful daughter, and these first-cousins become best of friends.

Elizabeth Cohen is a Levite, and Mary Moskowitz a Jew.

Nu, so what's the problem?

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    I am quoting a rabbi's text from another website: "In fact, Luke claims that Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, who he says was a descendant of Aaron the high priest,1 placing her in the tribe of Levi, not David’s tribe of Judah. Moreover, in Luke 2:4, the author writes that the reason it was necessary for Joseph and Mary to return to Bethlehem was because it was Joseph, not Mary, who was from the House of David." link: outreachjudaism.org/marys-genealogy Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 14:48
  • Thus Elizabeth and Mary are cousins - through their sister-parents - and both Elizabeth and Mary share the same origin (of the daughers of Aaron) through the maternal line. It is actually irrelevant what tribe Mary's father was of. She becomes 'of the tribe of Judah' by marriage to Joseph.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 14:55
  • Jesus Christ was not Joseph's son by blood. You have to consider that. Therefore, Jesus Christ is not from the tribe of David. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:16
  • @receiveknowledge, If one takes Luke's genealogy as Mary's, then Mary is descended from David, and therefore so is Jesus. (And David isn't a tribe. David was of the tribe of Judah (Jews).) Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:32
  • @RayButterworth, but Luke's genealogy isn't Mary's, it's Joseph's, so you got that wrong. Also, my problem is not whether he descends from the tribe of Judah or David himself, which is unimportant in this context. The importance is whether Jesus' mother, Mary, is a descendant of David, which she is not. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 19:25

Let's assume for sake of argument that Mary was born into the tribe of Judah (a reasonable assumption but it depends on additional questions--did Matthew/Luke record the genealogy of Joseph or of Mary? Many have concluded that one records Joseph's genealogy and the other records Mary's, in which case Mary would be born into the tribe of Judah)

Because people from different tribes intermarried, a person's tribe was determined by patrilineal descent (their father's father's father etc. -- see Numbers 36:7). It is highly probable that more than a millennium and a half after Jacob, all Jews were descendants of multiple sons of Jacob.

The text does not give Mary or Elizabeth's matrilineal line, but the simplest explanations are:

  • Mary's mother was of the tribe of Levi OR
  • Elizabeth's mother was of the tribe of Judah

There are numerous other possible permutations, but there's nothing at all improbable about John & Jesus being related.

Judah and Levi were probably both common ancestors to Elizabeth & Mary--it is statistically very improbable that they were not--but in keeping with Jewish custom the text records only their patrilineal genealogy. Mary's father was of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth's father was of the tribe of Levi.

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