Thought for the Day - Anne Atkins

The Bible’s boring: everyone knows that. Phares begat Esrom and Esrom begat Aram and Aram begat Aminadab. When I was teaching public bible reading in our church I made the lesson readers practice with a telephone directory, to learn how to make it interesting.

Suddenly though ancestry has become fascinating, as anyone gripped by Britain’s DNA Project on this programe yesterday will agree. Scientists believe, through mitochondrial DNA: that we can now trace ourselves back to one woman, aptly dubbed Eve, living in Central Africa in a hundred and ninety thousand BC; that nine people in the UK have the same DNA marker as the Queen of Sheba would have had, who visited King Solomon in the Book of Kings; and that ninety seven per cent of men called Cohen all share the same sequence, some calling themselves sons of Aaron, older brother to Moses and the first High Priest.

Time was when only toffs could trace their ancestry, the rest of us being too insignificant to have written records. Now, thanks to the internet, many of us are finding our forebears - and are as proud of under-scullery-maids and transported convicts as of those who fought with the Conqueror.

Recently my father gave our daughter’s fiance my mother’s engagement ring. It is apt as well as moving that she should wear it, having inherited her grandmother’s sweet nature as well as her formidable brains. It prompted me to find out more about my own ring, given to my husband by my mother Mary’s sister, my dear aunt Jane. The last person to wear it before me was Mary Jane, my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Scotland to Australia aged six and became an accomplished art student in Melbourne in the mid nineteenth century. We have two of her beautiful paintings, and I’m even more inspired by her feminist professionalism, in such an era, than by her talent.

We become the people we come from: which is why it’s so right that adopted children may now trace their biological families. Genealogies are there because they are not only compelling but critical. At the weekend our nine year old and I read the thrilling Book of Ruth, ending with the bombshell that this poor displaced and desperate immigrant become grandmother to David, the great King of the Jews. Almost, the greatest.

Why would one person have two different ancestries? One, in Matthew’s gospel, is straightforward, the royal succession, king after king regardless of blood. The other, Luke’s gospel, goes backwards, tracing the hidden, biological thread, the genetic descent.

Both culminate with the same ordinary craftsman, living under a foreign tyrant placed on the throne by an invading power. The rightful heir, keeping his ancestry darkly secret, a necessity to preserve his life. So the son he acknowledged fulfilled hundreds of years of prophesy, as the true heir to King David. As Luke says, “the son, so it was thought, of Joseph... the son of David... the son of Adam, the son of God.”

You and I may not be able to trace our ancestry quite so far back, but knowing who we are is never boring.

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