In ancient Jewish society, if you couldn’t prove your Jewish ancestry back many generations, you were in many ways a “nobody.” From Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus,
Along with Sepphoris…Emmaus-Nikopolis…it was chiefly Jerusalem which was renowned for the care taken to protect the rights of pure Israelites…. It was claimed that in the Holy City every public official was of pure ancestry…. Another report claims that noble-minded men of Jerusalem would not sign any document, nor sit as judge in any court, nor accept any invitation without first assuring themselves of the kind of men their cosignatories, colleagues in court or fellow-guests were; that is, they desired to know, among other things, if they were pure Israelites…. The most important advantage which these families had…was in the religious sphere…. First, the common teaching said that the whole of Israel participated in the merits of the patriarchs, of Abraham in particular. These merits made prayers acceptable, protected from danger, helped in war, were a substitute for each man’s lack of merit, expiated sins, appeased the wrath of God and warded off his punishment, saved from Gehinnom and assured a share in God’s eternal kingdom…. Conversely if he chose a wife who was not of equal purity of birth, vengeance would come on his children…
My source went into considerable research. It showed much accuracy and reliability that the ancient Jews would document their lineage with. Mind you, there were times they’d perhaps skip generations or “assign” ancestors. They did this on occasions when it was too advantageous to do without. But there was always enough evidence to hunt down the real story if one wanted it.
After the return from exile, the pure families separated themselves from those who mixed with Gentiles (Ezra 9:1-10, 14); consequently…proof of legitimate ancestry had become the very foundation of the…returned people…. This interest showed itself too by…men…use as surnames the names of the…twelve tribes…. Every Israelite, even if living in a foreign country, if she wished to marry into a priest’s family had to produce her genealogy…each candidate for a public position also had to supply proof…. The Essenes…enrolled new members according to their ancestry…. Even today a Palestinian feels it important to know his pedigree.
In the New Testament times,
Naturally there are only very isolated claims to belong to one of the…”lost” tribes of Israel…. On the whole…almost all their families were from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin…with the…Levites, constituted the core of post-exilic Judaism.
Since Herod the Great desperately wanted the Jews to accept him as king, there is a record of him destroying these archives tracking Jewish ancestry. Same with Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). Herod
wished to conceal his base origin…in destroying the genealogical documents he may have hoped to check the messianic claims attached to the line of David…
On this note, it’s also important to mention (in brief) the differences between Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Christ’s lineage.
The two genealogies differ entirely. From Abraham to David they agree, for both follow…Ruth 4:12, 18-22; I Chronicles 2:1-14). Then the differences appear…. Matthew follows the succession through Solomon, Luke through David’s son Nathan…. At the time of the Babylonian exile the lists agree on the name of Shealtiel, but give him different fathers (Matthew 1:12; Jeconias, cf. I Chronicles 3:17; Luke 3:27…. From Zerubbabel onwards…the lists again diverge completely…. A comparison of the two lists with regard to their authenticity gives the following…. Matthew…assuredly knew I Chronicles…. Concurring evidence in Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 23; Ezra 3:2, 8; 5:2; Nehemiah 12:1…it is absolutely certain Luke is right….
To me, it’s obvious that there could be two men with the same names, just like there were two or more Simons and Judas’s in the New Testament. Or perhaps Shealtiel was adopted at a young age, giving him two “fathers.” At any rate, “Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus back to David through the reigning line…but Luke traces it through a non-reigning branch….”
There’s no doubt Jesus descended from David. Christ’s opponents never once brought up this subject as a reason to suspect he wasn’t the Messiah. But whether one lineage is Joseph’s ancestors and the other is Mary’s, this isn’t specified.
The Jews taught “a true Israelite” has a better spiritual standing than Gentiles or even proselytes. Jesus brought to the Jews and Gentiles a replacement for spiritual identity: identifying with Christ alone. Titus 3:9 says, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” And Paul the Apostle counted his heritage of the tribe of Benjamin as rubbish that he might gain Christ (Philippians 3:3-11).