Monday, January 24, 2011

Genealogy in Homeless World

A fellow [I’m call him Lenny] who regularly stays at the mission is greatly interested in his ancestry. He spends a lot of time and money putting together books identifying those who preceded him on this earth, who, through a procession of births, from generation-to-generation, led to his being here (on earth and, now, a homeless guy).

He has a great many notable ancestors who were royalty: Kings and dukes, lords and ladies from families that ruled Denmark, Poland, Germany, Russia, and to a lesser extent, other European countries. He has even traced his line back to an ancestor mentioned in the first book of Matthew where Jesus’ family line is given, tracing King David forward to Joseph, Mary’s husband.

When Lenny went around telling people he was related to Jesus it became too much.  His pride in himself and feeling of superiority became constant and keenly evident.  He seriously began to disdain the rest of us, the unwashed masses, and feel himself a (much much better) breed apart.

My erstwhile friend, this avid amateur genealogist, proudly claims to have linked his tree up with Phares, found in Matthew 1, verse 3: “3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;”

Unless I blew the count, Phares is 36 generations before Jesus, which means he was born, something like 800 years prior to Jesus’s birth (figuring 22.5 years per generation). Since one’s great-grandfather is three generations prior, Phares is Jesus’s great-times-thirty-three grandparent.

Lenny often told me how proud he is to have royal lineage.  When he made a new find, he'd bend the ear of everyone he knew to let them in on the good news.  And he tells us that he, seriously, would like to see royal succession in the United States.

But in being prideful, Lenny is unaware of the geometrical explosion in the count of ancestors after but a piddling few generations. After a thousand years it is pretty much the case that everybody is rather closely related to everybody else.

And nowadays, with jumbo jets and instant communication everywhere, the division of continents is meaningless.  Soon, the distinction we give to 'race' [even as there is really no such thing as race] will disappear in only a matter of five hundred years or so because we will be so very very intermixed.

Here’s how the math works with Jesus' descendancy from Phares:

Everybody has two biological parents; four biological grandparents and eight biological great-grand parents. Each generation backward doubles. If you go back ten generations, you have 2-to-the-10th-power or 1024 greatXseven-grandparents. If you go back 20 generations, you have 2-to-the-20th-power or 1,048,576 greatXseventeen-grandparents. If you go back 36 generations, the distance in generations that separates Phares from Jesus, you can say that Phares is just one of Jesus’s 2-to-the-36th-power, or 68,719,476,736 [that’s, sixty-eight billion, seven-hundred-nineteen million, four-hundred seventy-six thousand, seven-hundred thirty-six] greatXtwenty-nine-grandparents. Indeed, it is certainly the case that every Israeli alive in Jesus’s time was a descendant of Phares [and of David!] and probably along many, if not all, of the 68 billion lines of descent.
According to various sources, the population in 1 A.D. was about 250,000,000 people, with about 7,000,000 Jews in the Middle East.  In David's time, there were 5,000,000 Jews in the Middle East.  It's hard to do any specific mathmatical analysis, but 68 billion divided by 5 million is 1,360 which suggests that Phares can have been an ancestor of Jesus more than a thousand times!

You bring things forward to today, the year 2011, that's about 75 generations after the life of Jesus, let's say -- though 100 is probably closer.  2-to-the-75th-power is 37,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 -- which is astronomically large -- and means we each have greatXseventy-five-grandparents that out number the population of the year Zero [which is approximately when those ancestors were alive] by a mulitple of trillions. This means we are each and all pretty much related to EVERYBODY who was on earth in the year Zero thousands and thousands and thousands of times over, with only the exception of those whose bloodlines died out.

It is difficult for us to comprehend how very closely related we all are. Sure, the continents, separated us by waters for tens of thousands of years, allowing for there to be continent-caused outward physical differences that we can see that are distinctive for folks most of whose ancestry comes from these continents. Europeans are light skinned; Africans are dark skinned; Asians are yellow; New World Indians are red or brown; Mideastern people are brown. But even with these continent differences, there was A LOT of intermixing. Indeed, each of us also has from 1% to 4% Neanderthal DNA. Neanderthal people are considered to be a distinct and extinct species from us homo sapiens and yet they are in the bloodline of ALL of us today.

We don’t see it, because it happens in the course of generation to generation, but these skin-color distinctions are fast disappearing. While we are not, as a species, becoming uniform in our appearance by any means, we are becoming radically and completely connected with one-another in a single family tree that wraps ever-faster around itself. The basis for being alienated from one-another is, happily, getting lost.

If we are not yet brothers and sisters, we are already all close cousins, and we should get used to it, accept it, and act like it is so. We should celebrate the success and happiness of any people on the other side of the street, or on the other side of the globe. Because them is us.  We are all connected to the royals and we are all connected to those who are starving.  We are all connected to the rich and we are all connected to the homeless.  Hooray!



Blogger Nagarjuna said...

How right you are, Tom! A very interesting and compelling take on genealogy.

January 25, 2011 at 7:23 AM  

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