Genesis: History of the Semitic Peoples or Not?

The “missing generations” idea between Noah and Abraham is not new, RTB uses this device in order to drive Adam back to a believable timeframe where he could be the father of the whole human race. I don’t think this is a workable idea for a number of reasons. Whereas the writer of Genesis states simply that Noah was “perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9), the writer of Jubilees went into great detail listing the names of the wives and their lineage from Adam to Noah. From Noah to Abraham he did the same thing as in this example: “Terah took to himself a wife, and her name was 'Edna, the daughter of 'Abram, the daughter of his father’s sister.”1

It is unthinkable to me that he would go into this much detail for every named patriarch from Noah to Abraham and then just eliminate dozens of others, wives and all.

Notes

  1. Jubilees 11:13.

The “missing generations” idea between Noah and Abraham is not new, RTB uses this device in order to drive Adam back to a believable timeframe where he could be the father of the whole human race.

I don’t think Adam needs to be pushed back as far as RTB would suggest, but am rather suggesting that there are several missing persons that account for a couple thousands of years. This is certainly not unreasonable as omitting people was common in biblical geneologies.

It is unthinkable to me that he would go into this much detail for every named patriarch from Noah to Abraham and then just eliminate dozens of others, wives and all.

Jubilees is not a book of the Bible and I don’t feel obliged to give it as much credibility as Genesis. In my opinion Jubilees is a number of Jews’ attempts to add things to Genesis that simply aren’t true.

Still, none of this addresses that fact that a flood past 3500 BC would cause significant chronological problems.

In the eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh (ca. 2600 BC) written in Akkadian, in his quest for eternal life the king of Uruk is juxtaposed with Utnapishtim (he who found long life), and the king is told the story of the flood. It would be highly unlikely the two ever met in fact, but the point is that the scribe who put down the story apparently thought they were contemporary. Certainly the survivor of a flood that took place in 5700 BC could never meet someone who lived 3,000 years later.

Gilgamesh (ca. 2600 BC)

I think a more reasonable proposition would be c.2900 BC.

It would be highly unlikely the two ever met in fact, but the point is that the scribe who put down the story apparently thought they were contemporary. Certainly the survivor of a flood that took place in 5700 BC could never meet someone who lived 3,000 years later.

The story of Gilgamesh is called an epic because its claims are exagerated forms of reality. The author makes a point to say Utnapishtim is immortal, that being the only reason he has survived into Gilgamesh’s day. This, however is irrelevant, because Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim probably never met, as the epic is more about Gilgamesh’s struggle with the reality of death, and less about his meeting with Utnapishtim. A more reasonable proposal would be to suggest that Utnapishtim is a descendant of the flood hero.

I am not opposed to any flood after 5700 BC, as long as its not before 3500 BC. The Shurrupak flood barely flooded Kish and did not even reach important city centers like Uruk, Jemdet Nasr, or Ur. I refuse to believe that this type of flood merits the language found in the Bible. For God to wipe out “every living substance” it must be the case that evil was extremely widespread, not confined to two cities. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah he assured Abraham that there were not even 10 good men within their walls, but apparently when he sent his wrath on the Mesopotamian plain not even all the men of one single city were entirely evil.

To suggest a 2900 BC flood undermines the flood’s role as a decreation event.

The flood was an extermination event. Those who were accountable, the Adamite population, failed, just as Adam failed, and due to their idolatry and worship of false gods the flood was the remedy. Those unaccountable were spared, the nearby Sumerians, and all the rest of the world.

What seems to be a sticking point is that Enmerkar is deemed to have arrived too soon and that somehow negates the 2900 BC date for the flood. if we look closely at the Sumerian King List (https://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section2/tr211.htm), after the flood there were 23 kings who ruled at Kish, “Then Kic (Kish) was defeated and the kingship was taken to E-ana (Uruk).”

Then we are introduced to the list of kings who ruled at Uruk, Meskiagasher became king. He “entered the sea and disappeared.” His son became king of “Unug” (city of Enoch/Uruk) and he rebuilt it. I admit I never studied this part closely, but then, I didn’t see the need for it. If we just follow the narrative we might think that Enmerkar came to power after 23 kings ruled at Kish. How long did those 23 kings rule? Likely hundreds of years. Does it seem likely that Uruk was not rebuilt for hundreds of years after the flood, or does it seem more likely that it was rebuilt around the same time that Kish was reestablished? It takes time to rebuild a city. And it would take time to build up the populace and to raise an army of sufficient size and strength to defeat another city. I don’t think that capability would have been there during the time of Enmerkar who would have been busy enough just rebuilding the city.

The Sumerian King List does not tell us who was king of Uruk when Kish was defeated. In Emerkar and the Lord of Aratta, Enmerkar takes credit for building the city, but neither he nor Meskiagasher take credit for the destruction of Kish. What seems likely is that Kish was defeated long after Uruk was rebuilt. The king lists for Kish and Uruk should be considered as concurrent not consecutive in my opinion, and the years that Enmerkar reigned should pose no problem for a 2900 BC flood.

Sorry for the late response,

I find it quite odd that only the supposed Adamaites found themselves commiting evil. Does evil confine itself to one race? It is equally strange that the supposed Adamites only lived within a few hundred square miles and two major cities. Why would the Sumerians say they were wiped out in a flood that only affected another people group?

I don’t think that capability would have been there during the time of Enmerkar who would have been busy enough just rebuilding the city.

The 2900 BC flood never passed through Uruk, so no rebuilding was necessary.

The king lists for Kish and Uruk should be considered as concurrent not consecutive in my opinion, and the years that Enmerkar reigned should pose no problem for a 2900 BC flood.

Maybe I have been slighly unclear, and I apologise; it is without doubt in my mind that the kings of Kish and Uruk were concurrent. However, I don’t think that chronology has much bearing on the way that I am dating Enmerkar’s reign. Miguel Civil discovered a tablet that mentions Enmerkar’s name in the context of a leader of architectural reform. This tablet has been dated, on paleographic grounds, to the Uruk III level, which is roughly correspondant to the Jemdet Nasr Period (c.3100-2900). If Enmerkar, who is a post-diluvian king, is mentioned on a non-contemporary tablet from Jemdet Nasr, it follows that the flood took place no later than Late Uruk (c.3400-3100).

My point all along from the very beginning is that Genesis 2-11 was not about humankind that has a 6 million-year history but solely about the Semites who can be traced back no further than ca. 7,000 years ago. It has validity and can be corroborated with the history of the ancient Near East. That is what my entire book is about, Historical Genesis from Adam to Abraham .

As to your comment about evil, if a child of two sticks a penny in a light socket (as I did) and learns quickly he should not do that, a parental admonition when I was only one year-old would have had no impact because I would have been too young to understand. God sought to bring the world into accountability when he believed it had reached a necessary maturity and chose Adam as the messenger. We all know he failed and the task of redemption fell to Christ 4,000 years later. The difficulty is that Genesis was translated into English as if it was human history and so we are led to believe that evil was universal from the unenlightened translation, not from the Hebrew text. For example, Gen. 6:5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man (‘adam) was great …” If all mankind was evil a local flood would provide no cure. If ‘adam refers to those from Adam then a local flood would be sufficient.

My personal belief is that distinguishing between Adamite and Non-Adamite populations undermines the universal message of the scriptures, this being the chief reason behind all our disagreements. Even still I think archaelogical evidence needs to be taken into account when determining dates for biblical events; extrabiblical and biblical revelation should match up well. The scale of the flood may be as small as you wish, but my points about Enmerkar still remain.

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The “universal message” starts with Matthew. Before we get too deep in the weeds for anybody to find us, if we are talking about a biblical flood I think Scripture should have a say in the matter. God’s avowed purpose was to destroy evil men, and I would limit that to “evil Adamites.” The proof is that the nearby Sumerians survived as did every other people group all over the world which was sparsely populated in the millions by then.

Of course, the Sumerians would have survived a 5700 BC flood because they arrived in southern Mesopotamia some 1600 years later. In fact, there would be no casualties at all because no one was there at that early date. God’s purpose in sending the flood would be moot because it would have been far too early to kill anybody.

Enmerkar’s purpose was to rebuild a city that was decimated by the flood. I would consider the dates for him and the flood are malleable enough to allow him to do that, if you don’t think they are then we have an anomaly. At least we aren’t bothered by talking snakes.

The 19th century brought forth a new breed of explorers to Mesopotamia as much bent on returning souvenirs to their homeland as ascertaining the intricacies of a distant, ancient civilization. Claudius Rich visited Babylon in 1811 and stayed for ten days. Taken in by the spotty accounts of previous travelers, Rich found not a few “isolated mounds.” He quickly discovered:

“… the whole country covered with the vestiges of buildings, in some places consisting of brick walls surprisingly fresh, in others merely a vast succession of mounds of rubbish of such indeterminate figures, variety, and extent as to involve the person who should have formed any theory in inextricable confusion and contradiction.”1

As to Babylon itself:

“These ruins consist of mounds of earth, formed by the decomposition of buildings, channeled and furrowed by the weather, and the surface of them strewed with pieces of brick, bitumen, and pottery.”2

The most northern mound Rich described as “Babil,” was the tower the natives called Mujêliba (overturned):

“Full five miles distant from Hilla and one hundred and fifty yards from the river bank, it is of an oblong shape, irregular in its height and the measurement of its sides, which point to the cardinal points. The elevation of the southeast or highest angle, is one hundred and forty-one feet.”3

Notes

  1. H. V. Hilprecht, The Babylonian expedition of the University of Pennsylvania. Series D: Researches and Treaties (Philadelphia, Pub. by the University of Pennsylvania,1904-10), 27.

  2. Hilprecht, The Babylonian Expeditiona , 28.

  3. Hilprecht, The Babylonian Expedition , 28-29.

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On his way to India in 1816, J. S. Buckingham examined the ruins of Aqarqûf, so called “Tower of Nimrod.” Although the interior of the ruin was comprised of sun-dried bricks, Buckingham took note that the exterior surface had been coated with furnace-baked bricks. Well-acquainted with pyramids from his sojourns in Egypt, Buckingham recognized the mound as having been a step-pyramid or stage-tower.

A veritable mother lode of information on monuments, inscriptions, and antiquities of Babylonia surfaced in the early 1800s, when Sir Robert Ker Porter compiled two volumes of his extended travels in Western Asia. He inspected the four principal Babylonian ruins that had become the center of attention; ‘Aqarqûf, El Birs (Birs Nimrud), Babil, El-Ohêmir at Kish, and a number of other mounds in the general vicinity. As were his predecessors, Porter was disinclined to believe Mujêliba was the famous tower and offered evidence in support. On the ruin at ‘Aqarqûf, he commented:

“I should suppose the mass we now see to be no more than the base of some loftier superstructure, probably designed for the double use of a temple and an observatory; a style of sacred edifice common with the Chaldeans, and likely to form the principal object in every city and town devoted to the idolatry of Belus and the worship of the stars.”1

From his examination on the huge mass of buildings at Birs Nimrud, Porter opined that this extraordinary ruin as it stood was “doubtless representing the Tower of Babel,” built by Nimrod, and “partially overturned by Divine wrath.”2 A few years later vitrified bricks were discovered at this city bearing the inscription of Nebuchadnezzar (605 BC – 562 BC) who lived over 1500 years after the original tower was built during the reign of Nimrod.

Notes

  1. Robert Ker Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia, &c. &c. during the years 1817, 1818, 1819, and 1820 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1821-22).

  2. H. V. Hilprecht, The Babylonian expedition of the University of Pennsylvania. Series D: Researches and Treaties (Philadelphia, Pub. by the University of Pennsylvania,1904-10), 46.

Rebuilding destroyed temples carried on long after the heyday of Sumer and Akkad. The ziggurat at Babylon was restored by Nabopolassar, the founder of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, about 625 to 605 BC. These were his words:

“The lord Marduk commanded me concerning Etemenanki, the staged tower of Babylon, which before my time had become dilapidated and ruinous, that I should make its foundations secure in the bosom of the nether world, and make its summit like the heavens.”1

The firstborn son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar (see ll Kings 24:1-15, ll Chron. 36:6-17) continued in the efforts started by his father, carrying out building the tower until 562 BC. When finished, a seven-stage structure and its temple complex reached nearly 300 feet in height.2 Herodotus visited Babylon about 460 BC and gave this report:

“In the midst of the temple a solid tower was constructed, one stadium in length and one stadium in width. Upon this tower stood another, and again upon this another, and so on, making eight towers in all, one upon another. All eight towers can be climbed by means of a spiral staircase which runs round the outside. About halfway up there are seats where those who make the ascent can sit and rest. In the topmost tower there is a great temple, and in the temple is a golden table. No idol stands there. No one spends the night there save a woman of that country, designated by the god himself, so I was told by the Chaldeans, who are the priests of that divinity.”3

Notes

  1. H. V. Hilprecht, The Babylonian expedition of the University of Pennsylvania. Series D: Researches and Treaties (Philadelphia, Pub. by the University of Pennsylvania,1904-10), 28-29.

  2. Andre Parrot, The Tower of Babel (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954), 19-22.

  3. Parrot, The Tower of Babel , 22-23.

Not enough was known in the early days of Mesopotamian exploration to piece together the history of the tower, likely constructed originally between 2400 and 2050 BC. Expecting to find an ancient structure, they found bricks stamped with the name Nebuchadnezzar. When they looked for signs of sheer antiquity, such was not to be seen. What was unknown at the time, however, was that Sennacherib (see 2 Kings 18:13, Isaiah 36:1) sacked Babylon in 689 BC, destroyed the city and the tower itself, dumping the bricks in a canal!

“The existing ruins of Babylon date from the period of Nebuchadnezzar II, and so thorough was Sennacherib’s destruction of the city in 689 B.C., that after several years of work, explorer Dr. Koldewey concluded that all traces of earlier buildings had been destroyed on that occasion.”1

This was a pattern seen often. The following inscription was repeated frequently in the annals of Assyrian kings when an enemy city was defeated or captured:

“I despoiled it, burnt it down with fire, and converted it into a heap of ruins and deserts.”2

Notes

  1. Leonard King, A History of Sumer and Akkad (New York: Greenwood Press Publishers, 1968), 37.

  2. Svend Asge Pallis, The Antiquity of Iraq (Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard, Ltd., 1956), 601.

Individual cities united for civic works projects such as building ziggurats were sufficiently organized for waging war. Pre-flood Mesopotamia featured a single king who ruled over the entire region. When kingship was passed, the ruling city was invaded by an army from another city and this caused a new king in the victorious city to reign over the region. In post-flood Mesopotamia individual kings ruled over their own cities. Sumerian king lists recorded continual battles with ensuing changes of kingship, interspersed with the names of the kings and the years they reigned.

Seemingly exasperated, the Sumerian King List had this comment: “Who was not king"? - recording twenty-one kings in a period of ninety-one years.1

This is a partial example omitting the names of kings and the years they reigned:

The weapons of Kish were overthrown;

its kingdom passed to Opis. (kings omitted)

The arms of Opis were overthrown;

its kingdom passed to Kish. (kings omitted)

The arms of Kish were overthrown;

its kingdom passed to Erech. (kings omitted)

The arms of Erech were overthrown;

its kingdom passed to Agade, etc.2

From a land of great promise to a land of turmoil in 2,000 years, Sumer was the first of many nations that made the trip from birth to oblivion.

Notes

  1. C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, and Jeremy A. Sabloff, Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica (Menlo Park: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1979), 165.

  2. George A. Barton, The Royal Inscriptions of Sumer and Akkad (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929), 351.

Is it really that binary? There’s “only one interpretation”? What about layers of interpretation?

There is only one reality. People actually lived, events actually happened. These people and events have corroborating evidence that would make an alternate scenario highly unlikely.

And yet there are various perspectives: technological, economic, sociological, theological, psychological, and various symbolic versions of each of those.

Consider that at the turn of the millennium, a TV channel (A&E?) hosted a show that traced world history–but it was only through the lens of technology (e.g., "this civilization existed, that technology was developed, and this is how the world changed).

So it isn’t about “alternative scenarios” but about the meaning of the text. You can “read behind” some of the biblical texts and see all different possible perspectives, but the primary intent (I would argue) is a theological perspective or lens…not a “flat historical lens” (if such a thing were even possible). Case in point: Isaiah 7 - there’s a lot going on there politically and historically; but the Bible’s perspective is primarily theological.

I certainly agree that the purpose of Genesis 1-11, and the whole Bible for that matter, is primarily theological. I think @Dick_Fischer is saying that this particular section of Genesis is in the vein of historical narrative, a proposition I agree with. Should we not consider Job as a historical character?

We could. Should we?

What do we gain if we do? What do we lose if we don’t?

What do we lose if we say there was a global flood?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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