I read a fun paper last night. Fun because of the way it conceptualizes “genealogy”. For me, method and technique are always more interesting than mere facts.
“Genealogies are not institutions or even families. Genealogies are components of rhetoric about families and, sometimes, about the institutions they lay claim to.“
And, “In the case of genealogical claims to legitimacy, there is no external referent behind either the text or its modern reconstruction. Genealogies are themselves interpretations, a form of rhetoric that serves to persuade others of the legitimacy of a person within a particular family. There are no genealogical facts short of DNA evidence. Even then, the prevalence of adoptions into a families in antiquity and modernity mitigates the social relevance of DNA. In other words, genealogies are always normative claims about identity and legitimacy, not descriptive accounts of some material reality. That observation applies equally to the modern claims about the genealogies of Israel’s priests as it does to the claims of the ancient priests themselves. There is no ancient referent for a genealogical reconstruction except for ancient rhetoric about family identity.“
- James W. Watts, Priestly Lineages in History and Rhetoric (2016).
Fun stuff. This is a common idea in modern academic writing, but this is the first time I’ve seen the phrase “genealogical rhetoric” where I normally expect to see “genealogical narrative”. I wonder if that’s the trend of the future.