Noah's flood & the table of nations

Continuing the discussion from Exegesis of Noah's Flood from a Biologos perspective:

I don’t believe it’s saying that all people can trace themselves back to Noah’s sons. The Table of Nations does not mention certain nations which were known to Israel at the time of writing (the exile), or North Africa, or nations in the Far East (India and eastward). This would be odd if it’s supposed to explain where those nations came from.

Additionally, we have a description of Nimrod as the son of Cush, and we are told that “The primary regions of his kingdom were Babel, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar”. We are not told he founded these regions, they are represented as already existing, which is further evidence that the flood was local. Then we are told he went to Assyria, which indicates Assyria was already an established city state, again demonstrating that the flood was local (since Assyria is still around after the flood), and again demonstrating that this is not intended to be an explanation of where nations came from.

The Nephilim were an ethnic group which was around at the time of the flood, and afterwards; Genesis 6:4 says explicitly “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this)”. They also appear in Numbers 13:33, where we read of the Anakim being descended from the Nephilim. This indicates they survived the flood, which again tells us the flood was both geographically and anthropologically local.

  1. ‘In Genesis 6, the Nephilim are connected with the multiplication of humanity on the face of the earth (v 1) and with the evil of humanity which brings about God’s judgment in the form of the flood (vv 5–7). Verse 4 includes a reference to later (postdiluvian) Nephilim. The majority of the spies who were sent by Joshua to spy out Canaan reported giants whom they called Nephilim, and who are designated in the account as the sons of Anak (Num 13:33).’, Hess, ‘Nephilim’, in Freedman (ed.), ‘Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary’, volume 4, p. 1072 (1996).

  2. ‘From Numbers 13 we learn that the Anakites are said to be descendants of the “Nephilim.” If the Nephilim of Num 13:33 and Gen 6:4 are taken as the same group, the verse indicates that the Nephilim and their descendants survived the flood.’, Matthews, ‘New American Commentary’, p. 336 (2001).

  3. ‘It is not clear why or how the Nephilim survived the Flood to become the original 'Canaanites; probably a duality of older oral traditions can be detected in the clash between these two texts.’, Hendel, ‘Nephilim’, in Metzger & Coogan (eds.), ‘The Oxford guide to people & places of the Bible’, p. 217 (2004).

  4. ‘The nephilim of Num 13.33 are the people whom the men saw when they were sent to spy out the land of Canaan while Israel was in the wilderness. These beings described as giganteV in LXX present the reader with the problem of how giants survived the Flood, in contrast to the Watcher tradition that conveys that all the giants were physically killed.’, Wright, ‘The Origin of Evil Spirits: The Reception of Genesis 6.1-4 in Early Jewish Literature‘, p. 81 (2005).

  5. ‘Thus, within the Flood narrative itself, the sole continuity of life between pre-Flood and post-Flood is represented by Noath and the others in the ark. Beyond the Flood narrative proper, however, there are implicit pointers in a different direction. One issue is the presence of “the Nephilim” both before the Flood (Gen. 6:4) and subsequently in the land of Canaan as reported by Israel’s spies (Num. 13:33). Indeed, there is a note in the text of Genesis 6:4 which expliciitly points to the continuity of Nephilim pre-and post-Flood: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterwards” (my italics), a note which of course poses the problem rather than resolves it.’, Barton & Wilkinson, ‘Reading Genesis After Darwin’, p. 12 (2009).

  6. ‘Although in Numbers 13 the inhabitants of Canaan are considered enemies of the Israelites, both the use and co-ordination (LXX) or derivation of the designation (MT) in an allusion to Genesis 6 betrays an assumption that one or more of the Nephilim must have escaped the great deluge.’, Auffarth & Stuckenbruck, ‘The Fall of the Angels’, p. 92 (2004).


The irony here is that the people LEAST LIKELY to accept @Jonathan_Burke’s interpretation are Evangelicals.

So I’m not really sure of the merit of leading with these propositions!

My inclination is to lead with something scientists can confirm - - rather than with speculative interpretations of the Bible that only the tiniest minority of Christians would agree with.

I don’t see any evidence for this. Additionally, this is not simply my interpretation.

I agree.

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The EVIDENCE, my dear sir, is the relatively few people in the last 50 years who endorsed or promoted the positions described in this thread.

I’m sure you are not the ONLY person who holds these views… but I am equally sure that you and all the others who agree on these views are not drivers in the Evangelical community.

Do you mean like all the scholars I cited?

I don’t see how that’s relevant. I was asked a question, and I was not asked “Please ensure your answer conforms to typical evangelical preferences, rather than facts”. I answered accordingly.

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That’s a perfectly reasonable point, Jon.

I think it would be grand if we both agreed with that point and the one I was making. Self-reflection is sometimes secondary in posting, which is no crime. Otherwise I’d be in jail myself.

Though there may be others who would like to make it so.

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I for one, find this very interesting, just like I found your paper on Exodus very interesting. Well thought out arguments that can help in interpreting scripture.

Thanks, I’m glad you found it useful.

I jotted down some thoughts for additional questions:

Is it possible that the Table of Nations was not written at the time of the exile? Part of your evidence hinges on that being the case and I wanted to see some support for it. You’ve made a good case for the time period during which some Genesis accounts were written (or at least reached their ‘final form’).

If not intended to be an explanation of where nations came from, then what is it intending to be?

How do we know the Nephilim were an ethnic group? It seems to me that the “im” at the end follows a trend seen with cherubim, seraphim, elohim, whereas most ethnic groups seemed to use “ite.” I don’t know much at all about Hebrew, but it’s just a trend I noticed.

Also, they seem to come into being when the Sons of God took the Daughters of Man as brides. What is this referring to, and how could an ethnic group come from it? And if Sons of God are mere kings and daughters of man are mere normal women, then how could that result in some new ethnic group, or even some “giant-like” figures?

Seems the natural way to read this is still to have Sons of God as angels and daughters of man as women, that would seemingly result in some trouble being made with their offspring. But normal people who happen to be kings taking normal women wouldn’t seem to produce a whole batch full of exceptional people like Nephilim seem to be. Kings married common women all the time without any trouble resembling what seems to be painted here.

Certain names appear only in Genesis 1-11 and books written during or after the Babylonian exile; typically they appear later in 1 Chronicles 5 or later books as personal names, and in Isaiah and Ezekiel as place names. Some names appear as personal names before the exile, but as place names only during or after the exile. A few names appear only in Genesis 10.

  1. Gomer (Genesis 10:2-3, 1 Chronicles 1:5-6, Ezekiel 38:6, Hosea 1:3).
  2. Magog (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 38:2; 39:6).
  3. Madai (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5).
  4. Javan (Genesis 10:2, 4, 1 Chronicles 1:5, 7, Isaiah 66:19, Ezekiel 27:13).
  5. Tubal (Genesis 4;22; 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Isaiah 66:19, Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1).
  6. Meshech (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Psalm 120:5, Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1).
  7. Tiras (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5).
  8. Togarmah (Genesis 10:3, 1 Chronicles 1:6, Ezekiel 27:14; 38:6).
  9. Dodanim (Genesis 10:4).
  10. Dedan (Genesis 10:7; 25:3, 1 Chronicles 1:9, 32, Jeremiah 25:23; 49:8, Ezekiel 25:13; 27:20; 38:13).
  11. Akkad (Genesis 10:10).
  12. Erech (Genesis 10:10).
  13. Calah (Genesis 10:11-12).
  14. Resen Genesis 10:12).

That’s a good way to date Genesis 10; look at all those place names which only occur in exilic books or later, or only in Genesis 10.

Some other verses in Genesis 1-11 use place names which help date the text. In particular, several verses in Genesis 10 indicate the chapter could not have been written until after the reign of Solomon.

  1. Genesis 2:14; 10:11. These verses refers to Assyria, which did not exist until the reign of Assuruballit I (1363-1328 BCE). The city of Assur was built earlier (around 2,500 BCE), but was ruled over by Akkadians, Amorites, and Babylonians in succession. Assyria did not become an independent state with Assur as its capital reign of Assuruballit I.

  2. Genesis 10:11. This verse refers to Nineveh as part of Assyria, but it was not until the reign of Assuruballit I (1363-1328 BCE), that Nineveh became part of Assyrian territory. Note that Nineveh is mentioned in Genesis 10:11-12, but not mentioned again until 2 Kings, written during the exile; this supports the conclusion that Genesis 11 was not written before the exile.

  3. Genesis 10:11-12. This refers to the city of Calah as “that great city”. Calah did not exist until 1750 BCE, and was a mere village until the ninth century BCE, when it became “that great city” during the reign of Assurnasirpal II, who made it the capital of Assyria. It could not have been called “that great city” until after the reign of Solomon.

  4. Genesis 10:19. The boundaries of Canaan described here did not exist until 1280 BCE by a peace treaty between Ramses II and Hattusilis III in 1280 BCE; it is therefore unsurprising that the borders of Canaan described here do not match the description of Canaan in Genesis 15:18 or Numbers 34:2-12, or any text of Moses’ time. This verse could not have been written earlier than 1280 BCE.

  5. Genesis 10:19. This verse refers to Gaza, but this location was first called “Gaza” during the reign of Thutmose III (1481-1425 BCE); it was not called “Gaza” before this time. It would have been known as “Gaza” by the time of Moses, but not in the time of Abraham.

  6. Genesis 11:28, 31. These verses refers to “Ur of the Chaldeans”. The Chaldeans did not occupy Ur until around the tenth century (1000 BCE). The only pre-exilic use of the phrase “Ur of the Chaldeans” in the Old Testament is in Genesis 15:7, which was clearly written at least as early as the eleventh century (possibly by Samuel), by which time the term “Ur of the Chaldeans” was already the common term for the area. The only other use of “Ur of the Chaldeans” is in Nehemiah 9:7, a post-exilic book.

Additionally, if you take a map and draw on it a rough distribution of the sons of Noah and their descendants, you end up with something which looks suspiciously like the borders of the Persian empire. A number of those outer lying regions were simply unknown to Israel at the time of Moses, or even the time of the monarchy.

We know it isn’t, because it doesn’t mention all the nations known to Israel even at the time of Moses, let alone later. It’s part of the overall 'cosmos building" pattern of Genesis 1-11, explaining the back story to present day events. This is why it ends with Abraham, because that links up with the already extant text of Genesis 12 and onwards. This might not be very clear, and I’m sorry about that but it’s a big subject. I am currently preparing a study on Nimrod which might prove useful in identifying what Genesis 10 is and isn’t doing.

Because they were the ancestors of the Anakim.

Here are some ethnic groups with the “im” plural ending, all in Genesis 10; Kittim, Dodanim, Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim, Caphtorim. Notice something interesting? Most of those are rendered with the suffix “ites” in your English translation. But there is no actual Hebrew suffix “ites”. All those names actually end in the Hebrew plural suffix “im”. Your English translation is leading you astray. To make it more confusing, other names which in your English translation end in “ites” don’t end in “im”, they just end in “i”; Arvadi (Arvadites), Zemari (Zemarites), Hamathi (Hamathites), etc. And of course when the Nephilim are referred to in Numbers 13:33, they are identified as the ancestors of the Anakim, another ethnic group with a name ending in “im”.

I believe it’s referring to the covenant community which emerged with Seth (the faithful, the sons of God), and the general population of the unbelievers (some of whom were from Cain, the daughters of men). This is not referring to ethnic groups.

It didn’t. There’s no mention of a new ethnic group resulting from this, only “men of renown”. The Nephilim are not identified as the descendants of the sons of God and daughters of men.


6 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in[a] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim[b] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

It seems that you’re making the case that the Nephilim are NOT the same as the “men of renown.” Is that correct?

So would you say this interpretation is what these verses can be summarized to be saying:

“Seth’s covenant line began to intermarry with the ungodly population. Because Seth’s line began to abandon God, He determined that he could no longer abide with them, and resolved that in 120 years their wickedness would be full in the land, and at that time He would bring judgement. Surely enough, the offspring of those intermarriages were mighty men, men of renown (they were known for their strength, and were great among men, like the men at Babel and like Adam and Eve before them, they sought to make names for themselves, and to be praised and worshiped rather than worship God). And as God’s covenant people through Seth’s line began to fade away, all of mankind in this land became corrupt, and their wickedness became so great in the land and God was regretful that he made men and resolved to send a flood to wash them all away.”

If that’s a good summary, then why the need to mention a single random ethnic group (Nephilim) among references to the covenant line interbreeding with the ungodly line?

Yes. This is pretty standard stuff which you’ll find in Bible footnotes and commentaries. The fact that the Nephilm were already “on the earth i those days when the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of men”, proves that they were not the descendants of the sons of God and the daughters of men.

Yeah but I would replace “Seth’s line” with “the covenant community”. And the basic idea in that summary is found in a number of the early rabbis and historic Christian commentaries, it’s not new.

Two reasons. One is to explain the origin of the Nephilm in Numbers 13:33, since one of the functions of Genesis 10 is to identify the source of Israel’s enemies (most of the groups described in Genesis 10 are in fact enemies of Israel). Another is to ensure we know that the flood was not only geographically local but anthropologically local; it did not destroy all the humans on the planet.

Thank you Jonathan, you’ve answered well all the questions that I can think of. Thanks for humoring me. I’ve learned a lot from this and gained a lot to chew on, you cite things and back up your claims very well. If anyone else would like to add anything, that would be appreciated as well. But I have certainly got what I came here for!

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@Mark_Elsasser you’re very welcome, I’m glad to have helped. I hope to have my study on Nimrod completed soon (don’t worry it’s not anything massive), which you may also find interesting. These studies of mine are actually related to a question raised by a friend of mine recently, which was 'When does Genesis 1-11 start being history?", a question which is posed frequently in these discussions. As far as I’m concerned the answer is “From Genesis 1:1”, but of course the real question behind the question is “When does Genesis 1-11 start interacting demonstrably with verifiable history?”, and I’d say that’s at least as far back as Genesis 4.

Sounds interesting to me. Definitely would read. I guess I could pull another question out related to the account in Genesis 6:

What indication is there that there was a covenant community before Abraham? Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden. After that time we see their sons giving burnt offerings to the Lord, Abel’s accepted and Cain’s rejected, with Seth being a “replacement” for Abel. So I guess that’s where we infer that a covenantal structure of some kind was given to them after the Garden?

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I concur that this is tremendously helpful. I don’t know what your day job is, but you no doubt had to take considerable time to put this together, which we certainly all benefit from. Thanks!

My only comment, which I made on an earlier related thread, is that, while I concur that there is very strong evidence for the multiple authors of Genesis 1-11 which were fused into their current form during or after the exile, the pre-exilic community was not a blank slate regarding a creation story and other important views such as afterlife. Moses had to have a view on creation that could have been a direct precursor to the final Genesis version (maybe captured in one of the “sources”). This would be consistent with his religious counterparts that would have had creation myths. Similarly, the Pentateuch is very sketchy on references to afterlife, which NT Wright examines at length in Resurrection of the Son God. Daniel is the first time “resurrection” is explicitly referenced. I think the pre-exilic Hebrew people had to have views on creation and afterlife that for whatever reason were not codified until the exile period. In the latter case, there was clearly still disagreement until the end of the 2nd Temple period.

In your research, have any of the scholarly articles postulated what might the pre-exile Hebrews views been on creation prior to the final Genesis form?




One additional question, are there any good scholarly Old Testament commentaries you’d recommend? I bought a great overview by Brueggemann (from 2005) that was very helpful, but I was curious if there was anything you think would also be useful, perhaps even more recent.


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Hi Jonathan. I really appreciate your insights on these topics! I’d love to read through your findings on Ninrod and subsequent studies on other material from Genesis/Exodus. Are any of said studies available for consumption on the web?

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@Mark_Elsasser yes the burnt offerings of Cain and Abel indicate there was the beginning of a covenant community. In addition, it’s very clear that from the time of Seth a distinctive covenant community existed.

Genesis 4:
26 And a son was also born to Seth, whom he named Enosh. At that time people began to worship the LORD.

Cut forward to Genesis 6, and I think it’s natural to understand the “sons of God” as the covenant community. Otherwise why are the faithful people not mentioned at all? And why would God punish all the humans on the planet, for a sin committed by the angels?

@arr123 Andy I’m glad you found it helpful. I don’t have any formal qualifications in relevant fields; my Masters degree was in information management and my PhD is in industrial management. I’m a technical writer by day (I write all kinds of documentation relevant to the consumer and industrial electronics industry, from technical marketing documents and quick guides, to lengthy user manuals and 300 page field service guides), and study in my own time after work and on the weekends.

But I’ve been familiarizing myself with the relevant scholarly literature over the last 15 years or so, assisted significantly by the Logos library system (I started with version 2, and I’ve purchased them all since, so now I’m on version 6). I bought the Portfolio edition back in version 4, and I’ve collected many resources in addition to that, which basically provides me with close to a seminary quality library on my computer, complete with a virtual research assistant. I strongly recommend the Logos system for serious Bible study.

Yes there was certainly a theology of creation (a cosmogony), in the early Hebrew community, even before Moses. There are references (though sparse), scattered all through the pre-exilic books. However they are not systematized, so they tend to speak in general terms. Nevertheless they reflect the typical concerns of other ANE cultures whilst at the same time retaining a distinctive character which made the Hebrew cosmogony unique in the region. And yes the same goes for the afterlife. I am of the view that the resurrection of the body was the only hope of the pre-exilic Hebrews, and even of most of the post-exilic Hebrews up to the time of the Roman era; say the middle of the Second Temple Period, to be safe. And yes I have read Wright’s monumental study on the subject, it’s superb.

As for scholarly commentary on pre-exilic Hebrew views of creation, I would definitely start with Walton. I have read practically everything he has written, he’s my first go-to scholar on this subject.In particular I would recommend “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament” (2006), and “Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” (2011). Other commentators I would recommend on Genesis 1-11 specifically and the Old Testament generally, are Victor Hamilton, Nahum Sarna, Gordon Wenham, Jeffrey Tigay, Jacob Milgrom (a towering figure when it comes to the Law, especially Levitical studies), Claus Westermann (a German critical scholar, so don’t expect him to be sensitive to creedal theology, though he provides a significant depth of research), and John Goldingay (though he’s better for a general treatment of pre-exilic theology than specifically Genesis 1-11). Brueggemann goes without saying. By the way you may find this site useful when considering different commentaries for different subjects.

Archaeological commentary has its place here too, and I would definitely recommend OROT from Kenneth Kitchen, and anything you can get by James Hoffmeier, for a start. Lawrence Stager, Tremper Longman, Baruch Halpern, Avraham Faust, Alan Millard, William Lambert, John Day, William Dever, all recommended. And here’s a guide to their various positions (in terms of whether they’re conservative or critical).

For primary source reading relevant to pre-exilic and exilic cosmogony, ANET and COS provide invaluable contextualized material with useful commentary. If you want to dig really deep, then WFAW, RSP, AEL, and the Origins of Ancient Israelite Religion Collection are strongly recommended.

But honestly you’ll get a lot out of ANET and COS without adding those other (far more expensive), resources. For a scholarly guide to sources, go here.

@jimi thanks for your kind words. You can find quite a few of my studies on my Academia account. Of those studies these are the ones you’re probably most interested in.

Scholarly Resources for Biblical Studies

And God Said: The Eyewitness of Genesis 1

Re-sanctifying the Cosmos: Genesis 1 as cosmic temple

Natural Disasters & the Cost of Creation

Natural Laws and Science in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition

The Date of the Exodus: part one

The Date of the Exodus: part two

The Historicity of the Exodus (1)

The Historicity of the Exodus (2)

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Seconding the recommendation. :relaxed: