Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Family Chronicler

I have pneumonia. I've had it since Memorial Day, and the dry Denver air has made it tough to heal. A couple of days into my steroids, antibiotics, breathing treatments, and sinus flushes, it occurred to me that my grand genealogy project might be part of the problem. I had been scanning pictures touched by pink mildew and transcribing letters stained by hopefully dead-by-now black mold. But when it comes to breathing, "hopefully" isn't good enough. I should have known better than to dive into the trunk without a respirator. First, because I worked for the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a semester--I archived for a living. Second, because the very women I am studying were tuberculosis nurses. I admit that for a fleeting hour moment, I thought I had somehow contracted tuberculosis from the trunk.

Excavating a bowl-lamp-bowl foundation
deposit in Ashkelon, Israel.
Standing at my kitchen sink staring at all the expensive prescriptions in front of me, I wondered, Why am I doing this? When I'm gone, I won't have any children to will these albums and letters and garments to. No one will know I existed, and no one will care that these people existed. (Forgive my maudlin attitude--I was literally coughing up blood, and death felt imminent!)

Always ready to set me straight, my David reminded me that genealogies have rooted my career: I was briefly an archivist, I am a trained biblical archaeologist, and I translated and annotated 1 & 2 Chronicles for The Voice Bible. My entire adult life has been dedicated to preserving, cataloging, and respecting those who have lived before me. Why? Because history fascinates me. Even the genealogies in Chronicles. About six years ago an elder in our church called Chronicles "boring," and I dared to challenge him. It was recent-grad-school-graduate bravado. Today I will admit that, yes, lists of names are boring (on the surface). But they are Scripture for a reason.

The key to genealogies (biblical or ancestral) is "reading between the lines." Consider Jesus' genealogies in Matthew and Luke:
This is the family history, the genealogy, of Jesus the Anointed, the coming King. You will see in this history that Jesus is descended from King David, and that He is also descended from Abraham. It begins with Abraham, whom God called into a special, chosen, covenanted relationship, and who was the founding father of the nation of Israel. (Matthew 1:1, The Voice)
He was assumed to be the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,...the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:22, 38, The Voice)
Jesus is who He is. His ancestors were who they were. So why don't Matthew and Luke have the exact same genealogy for Him? That's the interesting part! The Voice Bible does a good job of highlighting Matthew's point: Jesus is Jewish--just as Matthew's readers were. Luke, who was writing to the rest of the world, connects Jesus to God and makes Him supra-Jewish. The Gospels (and their genealogies) together tell New Testament readers that Jesus is for everyone.

So I look forward to returning to my family's genealogy project as soon as I'm healed. I'll do it with a respirator--so I don't think I've contracted tuberculosis--but with renewed dedication to the importance of all history.

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