1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

Genesis 10: Genealogy – The Sons of Noah

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This is another one of those boring genealogy chapters. In this one, we’re told that the three sons of Noah went off into their own territories, coming up with their own languages. I found it interesting as I was reading that this seemed such a “Just So…” story, explaining the origins of all people. But the problem with that is that “all people” seems to refer exclusively to the regions of the Middle East. Which of the brothers is the ancestor of the Mayans?

The Sons of Japheth

  • Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.
  • Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah.
  • Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.

The sons of Japheth became “the coastland peoples” (Gen. 10:5), which my study bible says would make their political centre in Asia Minor, “the former territory of the Hittites.”

The Sons of Ham

  • Ham: Cush, Egypt*, Phut, and Canaan.
  • Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah.*
  • Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.
  • Egypt: Ludim, An’amim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim, and Caphtorim.
  • Canaan: Sidon and Heth. He is the ancestor of the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. “the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaze, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboi’im, as far as Lasha” (Gen. 10:29).

*In some translations, Egypt is named Mizraim (which is the Hebrew word for Egypt).

*Cush is also the father of Nimrod, even though he isn’t in the original list of sons. Nimrod “was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:8-9). By the way, my study bible has this to say about Nimrod: “An old fragment of tradition relates how Nimrod, a successful warrior, built a kingdom in Shinar (Babylonia) and Assyria.”

Ham starts off in Babel, Erech, and Accad – “all of them in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10).  After that, he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth, Calah, and Resen. The Philistines come from his grandson, Casluhim.

The Sons of Shem

Of Shem, we’re told that he is “the father of all the children of Eber” (Gen. 10:21), which my study bible notes makes him the progenitor of the Hebrews.

  • Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.
  • Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash.
  • Arphaxad: Shelah.
  • Shelah: Eber.
  • Eber: Peleg and Joktan.
  • Joktan: Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

The descendants of Shem lived in a territory that “extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east” (Gen. 10:30).

Phew! We made it to the end of Chapter 10!

Genesis 9: A Covenant and a Curse

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Chapter 9 gives us the covenant with God and the invention of slavery.

The Covenant

God blesses Noah and his sons (their wives, however, are apparently chop suey), and repeats his command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1). Then it gets a bit weird…

“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea” (Gen. 9:2). Just what, exactly, went on in that ark, I wonder?

God tells Noah that he can eat all the animals and all the green plants, but that he’s not allowed to “eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4). I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, and my study bible doesn’t clarify it at all. It could either mean that animals need to be drained of their literal blood prior to eating, or that they shouldn’t be eaten while still alive (or, even, that they shouldn’t be killed for the purpose of being eaten).

Incidentally, it seems that this transition from a mostly vegetarian diet to one that includes meat to a greater extent is reflected in Semitic history. According to Matthews, meat was mostly eaten only on festive occasions, and their diet primarily consisted of grains and dairy (Manners & Customs, p.26). At that time, the meat that was eaten had to be killed in sacrifice, rather than simply butchered with the sole purpose of being used as food, with the exception of certain wild animals (Collins, The Hebrew Bible, p.88).

God then goes into some weird talk about lifeblood and reckoning, and “of every man’s brother I will require the life of man” (Gen. 9:5). I don’t really get what this is all about, but it does sound rather gruesome. We get an injunction against murder – “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6) – and then God finishes it all off by repeating again that Noah and his sons must “be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7). They’ll have to if they want to reach nearly 7 billion people in just over four thousand years!

My study bible points out that the command not to murder is issued to all of Noah’s descendants. In other words, this command (and I suppose this would apply to the “be fruitful and multiply one as well”) is therefore binding on all of humanity.

God then promises that he will never again try to kill every living thing with water (all other methods are still available). To seal the deal, God puts a rainbow in the sky. Why a rainbow? My study bible has this to say: “Ancients imagined the rainbow as God’s weapon (bow) from which the lightnings of his arrows were shot. God places his weapon in the heavens as a sign, or visible token, that his wrath has abated.” So, basically, it’s the godly equivalent of laying down arms.

Noah’s Curse

Drunkenness of Noah by Giovanni Bellini c.1515

Drunkenness of Noah by Giovanni Bellini c.1515

With all that over with, we’re told once again that Noah is the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This time, we’re also told that Ham has a son named Canaan.

Noah, we’re told, plants a vineyard and then “he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen. 9:21). Yes, that’s right. Noah got smashed and then passed out naked in his tent. But who hasn’t, amiright?

Unfortunately, Ham happens to walk into Noah’s tent and sees him naked. He then goes back outside and tells his brothers. Shem and Japheth take some clothes, walk into the tent backwards with their eyes averted, and cover Noah. It’s bad enough seeing your father passed out with booze and stark naked without the added fact that he’s over 600 years old!

When Noah wakes up, he knows “what his youngest son had done to him” (Gen. 9:24). What was this terrible crime? Walking in on Noah while he’s passed out drunk and naked and then going back outside and telling someone about it. In other words, the crime is not in the act, but rather in the tattling. We had a similar rule when I went to kindergarten.

Noah then feels that an appropriate punishment for his son is to curse Canaan. “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (Gen. 9:25). So once more, just because it bears repeating: Noah gets so drunk that he passes out naked (what on earth was he doing to get naked in the first place?), his son walks in on him by accident and sees his nakedness, tells people, and the appropriate response is to condemn his son’s son to a life of slavery.

Awesome.

Just to close off the chapter, we’re told that Noah lived for a total of 950 years, “and he died” (Gen. 9:29).

Genesis 8: The Flood Ends

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But God remembered Noah… (Gen. 8:1)

Nice of him, innit?

genesis-8-noahs-ark-1772-1828The rain finally stops and the fountains of the deep close up, and, after 150 days, the waters begin to recede. At 7 months and 17 days, the ark finally touches ground in the mountains of Ararat (150 days being about 5 months, so the ark touches ground about two and a half months after the rain ends). It takes a further two and a half months for the tops of the mountains to be seen.

Travelling back in time, 40 days after the rain begins, Noah pokes his head out the window and sends out a raven. The bird flies “to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth” (Gen. 8:7), which I guess means that the raven never returned. Noah then sends out a dove, but the dove returns empty-taloned. He waits another seven days and then gives the dove another chance to find land (racist!). This time, the dove manages to bring back a “freshly plucked olive leaf” (Gen. 8:11), which proves that the waters have subsided. Now, this olive leaf would have spent, at minimum, 47 days under water (40 days of rain, plus the 7 days between the dove’s first and second flights – the only time markers we’re given). Somehow, it hasn’t turned to mush in that time.

Once the ground is dry, God tells Noah to leave the ark, which he does. He then builds an altar and “took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen. 8:20). This only makes sense if either: a) Noah followed God’s command in Genesis 7:2-3, rather than actually doing what we’re told he did in Genesis 7:8-9, or b) all the clean animals went extinct right after the flood, either because they were sacrificed or because they had no one left to breed with.

We hear once again how much God loves the “pleasing odor” of burnt offerings (Gen. 8:21) – that’s the second time, for those of you keeping count at home – and promises never again to “curse the ground because of man” (Gen. 8:21). Rather, nature will behave according to regular cycles (summer/winter, seedtime/harvest, day/night) without cease for as long as the earth remains.

There’s some question as to whether this flood should be taken to mean a literal global flood, or rather an exaggeration of a more localized disaster. James McGrath points out a rather interesting retelling of this story from Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 1.4.1:

Now the sons of Noah were three, – Shem, Japhet, and Ham, born one hundred years before the Deluge. These first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples.

In this version, Noah’s family are not the only survivors – some people did manage to reach higher ground. I think it’s rather clear that there were many versions of these stories circulating around, in addition to the version that eventually made it into the canon of the Bible. The idea that we should “take the Bible literally” (as argued by groups like Answers in Genesis) seems rather absurd given this fact.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered if the ark still exists? Bad Archeology and Robert Cargill both have lovely articles on the topic that you should go read.

Genesis 7: The Flood Begins

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The flood story continues…

The Deluge by Antonio Carracci 1615-1618

The Deluge by Antonio Carracci 1615-1618

Noah et al get into the ark and God repeats once more that “every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground” (Gen. 7:4). Seven days after everyone packs into the ark, “the waters of the flood came upon the earth” (Gen. 7:10).

We’re told that the flood occurs when “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Gen. 7:11), so it seems that the rain only accounts for part of the flood. Water is welling up as well (from where?). The rain lasts for forty days and forty nights. As the water levels rise, the ark is born up. Eventually, “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” (Gen. 7:19) – which blows my local flood justification out of the water (ah ha, pun!).

We’re told that “all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and every man” (Gen. 7:21), proving that God makes good on his word – which is a good thing, I guess… I’m still having trouble imagining the kinds of great sins cattle and babies can get up to, but whatever I guess. The next three verses go on about blotting out, and list a second time all the things that are so blotted. We’re then told that the waters “prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days” (Gen. 7:24).

Biblical math

So here’s the timeline of the flood, as presented in Chapter 7:

  • Noah et al get in the ark.
  • Day 7: The rain starts and the fountains of the deep overflow.
  • Day 47: Rain finally stops, having gone on for 40 days.
  • Day 197: The waters no longer prevail upon the earth, after 150 rainless but still very wet days.

But biblical math is never quite so straightforward. These calculations start with Genesis 7:9-10 – The animals “went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.” Unfortunately, we then get this: “And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark” (Gen. 7:12-13). So did they enter the ark seven days before the rain started, or on the very same day?

How many animals?

LOLcatsWe found out last week that God commanded Noah to bring “two of every sort” (Gen. 6:19), one male and one female. And, indeed, we find out that “they went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life” (Gen. 7:15), a male and a female. Perfect!

Ah, dear reader! You know better than that!

Indeed, we see God tell Noah to “take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female” (Gen. 7:2-3).

But not to worry – Noah just completely disregards God’s momentary memory lapse and simply follows the original command. “Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah” (Gen. 7:8-9). So we’re told specifically that he was commanded to bring 7 pairs of each clean animal and each bird, but we’re also told specifically that Noah only brought one pair of each clean animal and each bird. Somehow, this counts as Noah doing as God commanded him. Excellent!

Genesis 6: The Wickedness of Humanity

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Chapter 6 is the beginning of the Flood story.

The Nephilim

“When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose” (Gen. 6:1-2).

We can ignore the misogynistic language of “taking” women, etc, since God does judge them. It’s never stated that he judges them because of their misogyny, but the interpretation is possible.

We do have this interesting reference to the fathers of the Nephilim as the “sons of God.” My study bible says that this ties them to the heavenly court referenced in Genesis 1:26. Wikipedia presents two theories: 1) That this is a story about angels breeding with humans, and 2) that the sons of God are the descendants of Seth and the daughters of men are the descendants of Cain. This second theory divides the favoured line from the fallen one.

Regardless of their parentage, the Nephilim are the products of this union. Wikipedia says that the etymology of the name is from the Hebrew word “to fall.” The only other thing we are told about them is that they were “mighty men that were of old, the men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). This suggests to me that there were other stories floating around at the time about the Nephilim – perhaps they were heroes, or this was an attempt to explain, from a Hebrew perspective, the hero myths of surrounding cultures. This is all just personal speculation, of course.

The four verses about the Nephilim come out of nowhere. We’re talking about Noah and his sons at the end of Chapter 5, then we get two paragraphs about the Nephilim, and then we bounce right back to Noah. It feels very much like an accidental insertion. And in the middle of this, we’re told that God’s spirit “shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). Seriously, just plopped right in the middle of the description of the Nephilim. Providing context is clearly beneath the authors of Genesis.

The First Judgement

Mankind before the deluge by Cornelis van Haarlem 1615

Mankind before the deluge by Cornelis van Haarlem 1615

God decides that there’s too much wickedness on earth and he regrets having created humanity. He’s so angry, in fact, that he’s not content to just kill off all humanity, but he’s going to go after “man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:7).

One has to wonder about the emotional maturity of someone who is angry at one group and therefore decides to destroy all groups. Far from the actions of a being worthy of worship, this sounds rather more like the tantruming of a child – or, perhaps more accurately, like the capricious behaviour we see in polytheistic pantheons. I find this comparison especially interesting since my study bible points out that the Genesis Flood is only superficially similar to the Babylonian myth because the Genesis account is attributed to God’s judgement of human wickedness rather than an “expression of polytheistic caprice.”

At the end of this passage, we find out that there’s an exception to God’s hatred – “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8) – and we are told again that Noah has three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The Second Judgement

The third portion of Chapter 6 is a repetition of the second. Once again, we are told that God sees corruption on earth, and once again he says that he has “determined to make an end of all flesh” (Gen. 6:13). Genesis 6:14-16 are instructions for the construction of the ark (my study bible has the dimensions as roughly equivalent to 450 x 75 x 45 feet), and then we are told that this ark will be necessary because God’s chosen method of mass destruction is flooding.

God then proceeds to instruct Noah to get in the ark along with his wife, his sons, and his daughters-in-law. Further, he must take with him “of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female” (Gen. 6:19). I’d just like to note that God does not make any exceptions – this is two of every living thing (though he does go on to specify birds, animals, and creeping things). In addition, Noah is to take “every sort of food that is eaten” (Gen. 6:21). Noah follows all of God’s instructions.

Why the second judgement story? My study bible says that “it is generally recognized that an earlier and a later (priestly) tradition have been combined.”

Now, it’s often been pointed out that it would be pretty near impossible to fit two of every animal onto an ark of the dimensions listed above. In fact, it would be pretty difficult even if the ark were much larger. I’ve heard quite a few theories given to explain away this problem – such as that only juvenile animals were boarded (and therefore took up less space), or that only representatives of “kinds” were taken (diverging into the many species we see today after the Flood ended) – but they never seem particularly satisfactory. It seems far more likely that the story was simply written by people who had never travelled to far beyond their own borders and whose imaginations were thus limited.

And, of course, the care of so many animals by the only eight humans allowed on the ark is plainly unrealistic.

A Few Final Thoughts

The idea that this chapter could be the retelling of a literal, world-wide flood is rather absurd. It strikes me as silly that there are so many people who would even try, especially since there’s a simpler interpretation available. I don’t want to do the apologists’ work for them, but God only says that he wants to kill all of humanity – not that he wants to flood the whole world. So far, we’ve only seen 11 (or possibly 12, if Shem, Ham, and Japheth have kids who were not allowed on the ark) generations. We have no reason to believe that humanity has spread outside of their starting point and the land of Nod. A large local flood could conceivably kill all of humanity (thereby honouring God’s covenant of not doing that again) without the necessity of being global. It still makes a liar of God in that he says to take two of every animal, but even that can be rationalized by the diligent imagination.

But none of this makes God a good guy. He spares Noah because Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8) – what did he do, exactly, to warrant this favour? There haven’t been any commandments issued for him to follow yet, so it can’t be that he’s done good works. If he’s simply abstained from partaking in the violence and corruption of his fellows, why would God not also command him to take all the little babies into the ark as well? The only way I could possibly accept that it would be legitimate for God to slaughter newborns would be if we live in a deterministic universe and God knew that all those babies would someday grow up to commit atrocities (and that no other possibility exists). But wouldn’t this conflict with the (thus far extra-biblical) doctrine of free will? My humble human morality simply cannot accept the slaughter of infants – but perhaps I just don’t understand God’s mysterious ways.

And finally, is this an instance of God changing his mind? Why do I keep hearing the claim that God is omniscient when he clearly regrets his own actions? Shouldn’t he have been able to foresee the consequences of creating humanity and, therefore, known what he was getting himself into?

Genesis 5: Genealogy – The Sons of Adam

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Chapter 5 is pretty boring. As the first verse says: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” We’re just given a list of Adam’s descendants (through Seth), with the ages of each individual when they had a particular son and when they died. We’re also told with each that they had “other sons and daughters” who are not named or numbered.

  • Adam: 130 when Seth is born, 930 at death.
  • Seth: 105 when Enosh is born, 912 at death.
  • Enosh: 90 when Kenan is born, 905 at death.
  • Kenan: 70 when Mahalaleel is born, 910 at death.
  • Mahalalel: 65 when Jared is born, 895 at death.
  • Jared: 162 when Enoch is born, 962 at death.
  • Enoch: 65 when Methuselah is born, 365 when taken.
  • Methuselah: 187 when Lamech is born, 969 at death.
  • Lamech: 182 when Noah is born, 777 at death.
  • Noah: After reaching 500, he has three sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The only real variation in this chapter is that Enoch doesn’t die, but rather “walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). I take this to mean that he was swooped off by God rather than dying a more earthly form of death.

One thing that struck me as I was reading this is the similarity in many of the names to Cain’s descendants. Even the order is intact (although some individuals are missing). This leads me to wonder if the two genealogies didn’t begin as a single line that was split into two variations and then harmonised at some point by sticking one to Cain and the other to Seth.

My study bible notes that the “Babylonian tradition also reckons ten heroes before the flood.”