So we are familiar with Jesus being described as the son of David. However, a listener to BBC Radio 4 asked whether this might not be so significant because there could potentially have been many such descendants at the time. Of course, we recognise that this description carries a particular theological significance in the Bible, but it nevertheless raises an interesting question: how many descendants of David (assuming he was a historical figure) might there have been in Jesus’ day?
The startling and non-intuitive answer by evolutionary biologist Dr Yan Wong is that, mathematically speaking,
all of Jesus’ contemporaries [would] be descended from David… This is a good illustration of what’s been called the “genealogical paradox”
A mathematical possibility does not, presumably, tell us very much about actuality, although it is a very interesting idea (with implications for claims of common Abrahamic descent, etc.). For the full argument, and rather mind-boggling mathematics, see here. The podcast for the associated radio programme, More or Less, is also available for download.