The line of King David

Over the years I’ve known, and known of, several people who claimed to be descended from King David.  Not that they could trace their ancestry back to him directly.  Rather, they claimed to be descended from one or another famous rabbinical personality who, in turn, was reputed to have been descended from an earlier one who was claimed to be of the Davidic line.
One such individual, according to his followers, was the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.  Though I cannot claim to have known him, I did meet him a few times and saw him speak on many occasions (in Yiddish, which I did not understand).  By claiming their rebbe was descended from King David, his followers bolstered their claim that he was to be the messiah.  I also knew others, humble Jews of lowly stations in life, who claimed descent from King David.  No matter how lowly they were, their alleged royal ancestry would give them a sense of importance.
If I had to venture a guess, I would say that many more people are descended from King David than actually believe this to be the case.  After all, his son, King Solomon, sired many children.  By now, they are probably spread throughout the globe.  Perhaps, given the prolific love lives of royalty, being descended from a king is not so special after all; it might be that an individual who is not descended from a king is the exception.
One of the longest lasting institutions, within Jewry, was based upon direct descent from King David: the “exilarch“, called “Resh Galutha” in Aramaic or “Rosh Galuth” in Hebrew.  According to tradition, the first exilarch was Yehoyachin, the last monarch of Judah.  From him, the title passed, father to son, through the rest of the Biblical era and more, having survived the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and the Sassanid empires.  It lasted through the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods on through the age of those who immediately followed: the Savuraim.  The line was almost extinguished at the end of the Sassanid empire and this is the tale of Bustenai.
The above manuscript is from my collection and tells the story of Bustenai.  Following is an excerpt:

In the days of the kingdom of Persia, arose one stupid king.  He took it upon himself to extinguish the royal seed.  So he sought every Davidic household within his kingdom and killed them.  He imprisoned the members of their households, their in-laws and their friends and he tortured them… and he had the pregnant women split open.   But, in God’s mercy on the seed of the House of David, one bride remained after all the young men were killed – and she was pregnant…
And that king had a dream and they showed him standing in the garden of Betan and within it were trees beautiful to behold and for their fruit.  And he knew that this garden was not his own so he threw its fruits to the ground in anger and jealousy and he went back to check if there were any roots so that he could dig them up so that it could never sprout again.  After a while he found one root and from it was sprouting something like a branch from the Earth.  So he raised his axe in order to destroy it and behold an old man stood before him and he was of ruddy complexion with beautiful eyes and a fine appearance.  And (the old man) rebuked him a great rebuking and he cried a great and bitter cry and he snatched the axe from his hand and stuck it in (the king’s) forehead so that his blood flowed onto his face and onto his beard and his soul was close to death and he fell on his face to the ground and wept and pleaded with him.  He said, “please, my master, let my pleadings fall before you so that you do not destroy me for what have I done to you and what is my sin and transgression that you tried to kill me?”  So the old man answered and said, “this is very little considering the evil you have done for you have come to my garden…

To make a long story short, the old man was King David and he convinced the king to allow his line to continue through the pregnant woman who had been spared.
The office of the Exilarch flourished during Arab rule and began to wane by the 12th century.  I remember reading, a while back, that the institution of the Exilarch was finally destroyed by Tamarlane in 1401 but now I’m having trouble finding a source for this.
One prominent family, that claims descent from King David, is the Meyuhas family.  In fact, the very name “Meyuhas” means “pedigreed” in Hebrew.  More certain is that they were among the Spanish Jews exiled by the inquisition.  Below is one of several signatures from Moshe Mordechai Yosef Bechor Meyuhas (from the margins of one of my books):
The large symbol on the bottom is “S.T.” which stands for either “sofo tov (his end is good)” or “Sefaradi tahor” (pure Spanish).
As uncertain as their claims may be, I envy those whose family tradition includes descent from the kings of Israel.  As satisfying as it is to be of Jewish heritage – not half Jewish and not a quarter Jewish – it would still be nice to know more specifics.  To know which tribe I belong to.  Looking at the story told by the Torah, I wonder if this sense of tribal identity is an underlying reason why the People of Israel was divided into twelve tribes, each with its own territory.  That way, when a member of the tribe of Menashe traveled to the territory of Naftali, he would be conscious of his own distinctiveness and he would be recognizable as such through his cloths, his speech and his mannerisms.  With this in mind, he would take care to be on his best behavior so as not to reflect badly upon his brethren back home.  If all Israel were just one big mishmash, an individual would be accountable only to himself and his immediate family (who would usually remain anonymous).  So, in a nutshell, with affiliation comes accountability.  With accountability comes good behavior.  We live in a world where the most potent type of affiliation, blood affiliation, is being eroded at alarming levels.  Therefore, it should be no wonder that accountability is also eroding.

This entry was posted in Jewish stuff and Israel. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The line of King David

  1. Patrick says:

    Great post! This reminds me of the history of divine right of kings. The divine right of kings to rule in medeival times was based on an older tradition where tribal kings would claim descent from odin. The old norse gods were most likely legends of kings and other personalities that eventually evolved into myths of gods and goddesses. Krishna was a hindu king who became deified. Jesus is said to have davidic blood.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I never could understand how Jesus could be both descended from King David through his father Joseph (as the New Testament starts out telling us) and, at the same time, be born of a virgin.

      • Patrick says:

        Some people say the word translated as virgin actually means young woman. although I am not sure about any of this stuff, I don’t know who Jesus was or whether he had davidic blood or not or anything.
        I don’t get why in judaism the concept of messiah is so important…. it seems like the idea came out of dealing with imperial forces in Israel and wanting them to leave or something. What I am saying is I dont think it has anything to do with Torah judaism because I never hear of any expectant messiah in the first five books of the bible. In fact in the old testament first Israel was ruled by judges I believe, or was it priests?, and then one of the big guys in charge was talking to God and he wanted for israel to have a King because all the other countries had monarchs and he wanted to keep up appearances I guess… and God said a King would not be as good as whatever the present system was but then the guy wanted a King anyways and so they went along with that…. and given the fact that in the bible God said a King wasnt that good anyways why would judaism even place importance upon the messiah concept which seems to be a concept of a jewish King?

  2. jewamongyou says:

    Re: Patrick. I agree that the concept of messiah was of little importance in the Torah and during the time of the judges. The fact that, at best, only hints of it are found in the Bible implies that it might have only been invented much later – probably in response to foreign oppression as you say.
    The word that was mistranslated as “virgin” is ‘alma and it does, indeed, mean “young woman”. But this does not negate the fact the orthodox Christianity considers the virgin birth to be an article of faith.

    • Patrick says:

      Yes it does and it is interesting because the book of revelation does make a point of claiming Jesus to be of the line of King David. I guess most christians are comfortable with the sittuation.

  3. cruft says:

    this is referring to isaiah 9:6-7 “of the ‘increase’ of His government and peace there should be no end”. the hebrew for ‘increase’ is ‘lemarbeh’ written with a final M (picture a square with an opening in the lower left corner. now close the opening to form a square. an transcription error? got that? it’s closed as is the womb prophesing , according to the Kabbalah, a virgin. there are many instances of things in the written unchanged Torah we would at first glance think of as a typographical error. these jewels must be dig out of the earth.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I do not deny that there are cryptic texts, and anomalies in Scripture. I do deny that the “Kabbalah” is an authentic source to understand them. Anybody can make up “secrets” and attach them to curious textual anomalies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *