BORN WHERE? AND SON OF WHO?

In Eastern Orthodoxy, King David of the Old Testament is called both king and prophet.

We see that from the title inscription in this 17th century Russian icon:

It reads:

ПРОР[О]КЪ Ц[А]РЬ ДАВЫД
PROROK TSAR’ DAVUID
“Prophet King David”

The spelling of “David” is a bit unusual.  Usually it is ДАВИД, but as we know, icon inscriptions are sometimes spelled phonetically rather than following what we think of as standard.

In icons such as this one, David often holds a scroll:

It is a text found both in the Psalms (131:8-9, or 132 in the KJV)  and in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy:

Воскресени, Господи, в покой Твой, Ты и киотъ [святыни Твоея. Священницы Твои облекутся правдою, и преподобнии Твои возрадуются].

Voskrenseni, Gospodi, v pokoy tvoy, tui i kiot [svyatuini tvoeya.
Svyashchennitsui tvoi oblekutsya pravdoiu, i prepodobnii tvoi vozraduioutsya].

Arise, Lord, into your rest, you and the ark [of your holiness. Your priests shall be clothed in righteousness, and your venerable ones shall rejoice.]”

We may wonder why the ark is mentioned.  In Eastern Orthodoxy, the ark is considered a prefiguration of Mary, who is called the “Ark of the New Covenant.”  So the ark in this Psalm is regarded in such icons as referring to Mary and the incarnation of Jesus in her.  It is such rather far-fetched interpretations — of reading later dogmas back into the Old Testament — that contributed to David being called a prophet as well as king.

Now as anyone familiar with the Bible knows, Jesus is referred to as the “son of David,” who was born in the city of David — Bethlehem.  Well, that is one side of the story as related in the Gospels, but there is another, which we find in the Gospel called “of John.”

It is commonly held that “Mark” was the first of the four Gospels to be written, and that Matthew and Luke are edited, expanded books based on Mark.  Matthew contains about 97% of the material found in Mark, and Luke contains about 88%.  The Gospel “of John,” however, is 92% unique.  It has often quite different things to say of Jesus than we find in the other Gospels.

You will recall that Mark has no birth story about Jesus.  The writers of Matthew and Luke each added somewhat different birth stories to the beginning of their edited, expanded versions of the material of Mark, as well as adding stories of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus at the end.

One thing Mark and John have in common, however, is that unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark never says Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the “city of David.”  Like Mark, John gives no birth story of Jesus, other than the beginning chapter, which refers to him as the Logos that “became flesh, and dwelt among us.”  No place of birth is mentioned.  We do find, however, that in John, Jesus is several times called “Jesus of Nazareth,” as in John 1:45:

Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

Now in the gospels called “of Matthew” and “of Luke,” Jesus is called the “son of David.”  And even in Mark, blind Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus (Mark 10:7), “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me.” Paradoxically, however, Jesus himself is described in “Mark” as asking how the scribes can say that the Messiah (the “Christ”) can be called the “son of David,” when David called the Messiah (in Jesus’ interpretation) “Lord.”

In any case, when we get to John, we find, as already stated, that there is no mention of a birthplace for Jesus, other than indicating he was from Nazareth, a tiny place in Galilee.  And when we find Bethlehem mentioned in John, it is in a very odd way.  There is a controversy among the people in Jerusalem over just who Jesus is.  In John 7:47, they say:

How is it that we know where this man is from?  But when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

And when Jesus spoke publicly, some said,

Truly, this is the prophet.” (John 7:40);

Others, however, said (7:41):

This is the Christ [i.e. the Messiah]. But some said, What, does the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? So there arose a division in the multitude because of him.”

So some of the people are saying no one will know where the Messiah comes from — but they do know where Jesus is from; and other people are saying that the scriptures say he is to be a descendant of David, and from Bethlehem.  There is no agreement.

Now it is noteworthy that no one in the crowd says, “Well, you know, Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem.”  Instead, to all appearances here, his origin is in Galilee, as we find in John 7:41:

Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?”

Now if one discusses this excerpt with biblical fundamentalists, they will say that this exchange about Bethlehem and just where the Messiah was to be from was intended as a bit of irony — a kind of veiled reference to the fact that Jesus really was born in Bethlehem, as we know from the other Gospels.  But keep in mind that the Gospels were originally separate books, circulated separately.  And that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is never actually stated in “John,” and in fact the claim that Jesus is from Galilee rather than from Bethlehem is never contradicted in that gospel.  Remember that the people say, “We know where he is from. (John 7:47), and that place appears to be Galilee.  This gives us the strong impression that John did not hold Jesus to have been born in Bethlehem.

Adding further to that, and to the impression that the writer of John did not believe Jesus to be the “son of David,” we find an interesting comparison.

In “Mark,” when Jesus has his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we read (11:9-10):

“And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord:
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that comes in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.”

And in “Matthew,” we find (21:9)

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

And in 21:15:

“And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased….”

Yet strangely, when we come to the parallel account in “John,” all reference to David and the “son of David” is absent (12:12-13):

John-12-12:

On the next day many people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him,and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord.”

In short, one gets the very strong impression that the writer of “John” — for his own reasons — did not hold that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, or that Jesus was descended from King David and so was the “son of David.”  We may conclude from this that he did not believe the Messiah required either of these qualifications. Of course rather fundamentalistic readers of the Bible just mentally gloss over all this, with many not noticing the discrepancies at all.

Here is another Russian icon of “Holy Prophet David”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

This David, as you can see, has a different Church Slavic inscription on his scroll, though one we have already seen in a different context:

It is part of Psalm 109:3 (in Eastern Orthodox numbering; 110:3 in the KJV):

Из чрева прежде денницы родих Тя. Клятся Господь и не раскается: [Ты иерей во век по чину Мелхиседекову.]

Iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh tya.  Klyatsya Gospod’ i ne raskaetsya: [Tui ierey vo vek po chinu Melkhisedekovy.]

“I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.  The Lord swore and shall not repent: [You are a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek.]”

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