Questions about the Genealogies of Genesis: Symbolism and Purpose

Not sure about the ecumenical or universal aspect. That’s certainly a Christian interpretation but in Judaism, it’s a bit different story. The latter has a distinctly tribal-centric viewpoint. While the Jewish historical narrative was coalescing, the books seem to have left out what was happening with people on 3 or more other continents.

This is another bit of evidence in support of my ‘Ironic Designer’ hypothesis. A simple, straightforward Designer could remove all problems with misinterpretation. A fuller, more complex, Ironic Designer couldn’t, as that is part of Its essential nature to obscure certainty.

Mandatory: :slight_smile:

Hi Evan,

I am not really in your target group for answering but I am Old Earth and somewhere in between Reasons to Believe and the main BioLogos view on creation, though way more “literally true” than most on this forum are.

  1. I don’t see that the Bible even teaches that Adam was the sole progenitor of humanity. I think there were a lot of people around when Adam got here, and the text speaks like it just takes for granted that there were. Adam’s job is to produce the line leading to Messiah, not people the planet. Therefore, he does not have to be the “first man”.

  2. Given #1, I can take a look at the genealogies without being threatened because they don’t go all that far back. Nor do the ages bother me because these don’t represent the “typical” human situation. Before the flood the text reads like the sons of Adam could be out walking in a field and the LORD would just walk right up and start talking to them. How long would we live if we were healed of every infirmity, even the ones we did not know that we had? The Bible does not say that these were typical life-spans. Judging by Jacob’s visit with Pharaoh, they were the exception.

  3. There are two ways to calculate the ages, Ussherian view and Calendar-Patriarch View. One makes Adam just over 6K ago and the other just over 13K ago. I take the latter view for a lot of reasons. In this view there are no time gaps between the generations. There are generation gaps because unless the text makes clear the next one in line is a direct son then the next one in line is instead an ancestor born the year the previous patriarch died, and they are used as the next calendar patriarch.

  4. So then the purpose was to track time. “In the days of Peleg” is an example. It could also be used to track family history but you just have to go back far enough to the previous patriarch to tie into the line. Obed may succeed Jobatch on the list, but Obed may have been the great-grandson of Jobatch. if you were from a different line than that of Obed you have to go back to Jobatch to tie your family in.

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There are some extra-biblical reasons we can reasonably conclude that the ages of the patriarchs were as advertised. If Adam lived in Mesopotamia after 7,000 years ago he and his family were living in the same region as the Sumerians, a culture we have learned quite a bit about in the last 160 years. According to Babylonian tradition the Garden was located near Eridu, the first city. Eridu was dated at 6800 BC. If the flood occurred at ca. 2900 BC that puts 1900 years shared by 10 generations, or a 190 year average. The Sumerian name for Noah was Ziusudra (“he who found long life”). In the eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim (“he who found long life” in the Akkadian language) describes the flood using some of the same words and phrases that are found in the Genesis text. The reason Gilgamesh sought him out was because it was thought he held the secret to eternal life.

I am not quite following your numbers as the apply to life-spans, but am glad that you are also untroubled by their length. That and the idea that Adam and Eve were not the only people on earth, just the founders of the line of Messiah. I don’t see much reason to say the original garden was in Eridu, though it would not surprise me if they tried to build a copy of it there as part of their religious ceremonies

. I notice that the text in Genesis chapter 11 says of the clan of Noah “as they journeyed from the east they found a plain in the land of Shinar”. Surely this indicates that they were not in the plain of Shinar to begin with. I mean, perhaps Cain was because he left them and built a city, but it seems to me that these accounts are later attempts to put some elements of Noah into the deeds of their kings. Government media accounts are the least reliable, even in those days!

I think there is also a lot of evidence which connects the end of the Uruk expansion in 3100 B.C. with the scattering after the Tower of Babel. IOW, the flood of Noah was earlier than the Uruk expansion.

I am learning a lot from what I read in the comments of others here. It is such a complex and emotional topic for many. I also think that the early chapters of Genesis are tallking about things that really happened … but long long ago…I know that some have tried or attempted to link some of those great ages – Methuselah’s and others – to some misinterpretation (on our part) of the Sumerian numbering system — that is, they thought in terms of 60s where we think in terms of 10s/ Kitchen has something on this in one of his books…I see some here offering dates for the Flood and so on…but have read other suggestions elsewhere that this Flood may have come in the breakup of the ice caps at end of last Ice Age…and other ideas, incl the Local Flood option, which may have been the right one. But interestingly enough, I did read something a few years back by a Univ of Hawaii scientist postulating a worldwide Flood caused by a comet hitting earth near Antarctica and creating a tidal wave — he also had this dated to early 3rd millennium BC --so many ideas out there!!..there are books with evangelical scholars debating various perspectives on the historical Adam and they might help you…

Having witnessed the long and convoluted conversations I can only marvel at the trouble human beings get themselves into when they reject the straight-forward word of God and instead accept the whole religion of the atheist and then attempt to impose it on the word of the one and only God.

The reason that this topic is so complex and emotional is simple: The ages clash with the evolutionary belief system and therefore has to be explained away or accommodated in some kind of symbolic religious fashion.

The point is that the evolutionary ages and process of human development are sacrosanct and cannot be compromised. The word of the one and only God on the other hand is just so much fodder to be trampled on as makes the most sense for evolutionary interpretation.

That is of course the whole issue at work here.

Jesus did warn quite clearly though that if a person does not believe what Moses wrote s/he will also not believe what Jesus has to say. For instance Jesus said that ïn the beginning He created them male and female¨ meaning quite clearly that when the heavens and the earth was created humankind also was created. Not billions of years later. But that is of course just another symbolic statement in the evolutionary paradigm. Nothing has any clear straight forward meaning anymore when it passes under the scrutiny of the evolutionary lens.
Just a thought with a sighhhhhhh.

Hi Prode,

I wonder if you read this article that was linked to recently from these forums?

Since it’s so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help swapping out “the whole religion of the atheist” for “reality.”

Since when does everything God says have to be straightforward?

In the beginning of what? The universe? The Earth? Life? Humanity? The story of the Bible? And who exactly is “them?” Were other animals created male and female before humans? How about plants?

For you to assign the meaning you want to hear to this and reject any others is a mite hubristic. And how do you know exactly what Moses wrote, anyway? Does Jesus clearly identify which parts of the Pentateuch that was?

Is he saying that one has to believe in Moses before they can be Christian? Does that mean only Jews could follow him?

The desire for simple, thoughtless answers is understandable, but nothing simple could possibly be adequate to fully describe the complex world we live in and, even more, the complications each one of us represents as a sentient creature.


We recently talked a bit about the definition of “toledot” and specifically “These are the generations (literally ‘births’) of the heavens and the Earth” which I believe could be taken to mean that Adam (humanity) was descended literally from the heavens and earth. Genesis 1 also speaks of the land producing plants and animals and the waters producing fish. It is not out of bounds to suggest that the physical earth was the raw material which God shaped into all His creations: it says that in so many words. But there’s a skipped generation for you: God–>Earth–>Adam vs in the New Testament it says God–>Adam.

Maybe not quite what you meant, but worth a thought. I don’t see much point in placing Adam very far back in human history: he is much more obviously a farmer than he is the first human, so supposing him to be an ancient hunter-gatherer leaves me, personally, confused.

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Ah yes, that was in Jesus’ discourse on the origin of sexual reproduction. Thanks for clearing that up. Is that really the meaning you get from a “plain reading” of the text?

Hi Prode and thanks for your thoughts. I see that you have had some responses from other forum browsers and they are interesting.

Yes, some arguments and/or explanations do seem “long and convoluted,” but some – maybe most or all – come from people trying to square ancient Mesopotamian thinking with modern perspectives.

I know that St. Augustine, for one, wondered how there could be “:light” before there even was a sun – per the Genesis One chronologies. That is a good question and evidently one that people have “explained” variously. And we continue to struggle with a particular reading of the text in light of other discoveries – things that the great Augustine and his generation could never have guessed at.

For me, the question is: we like it when archaeology and/or history and/or various sciences like astronomy and/or physics reveal or uncover things that confirm biblical teaching. Yes-- we may already believe those things to be true, but we like it when they have seemed verified.

So when some branch of science/philosophy/ history (fill in the blank with your favorite field) seems to run against what we see, or believe we see, in the biblical text – then how do we handle that? To love one thing (affirmation) and scoff at another (doubt) coming from the same field and the same mindset – it seems a bit inconsistent.

I am still thinking and re-thinking this issue — and I enjoy what I learn and read from others (even if I disagree)…but science tells us how God did, or might have done, what He did. Ultimately, we are looking through a glass darkly on all this…but I think science contributes to our understanding of the majesty of the Universe and to its complexity. It is not the enemy here. But I do think the “:enemy” is thinking that the biblical text might have meant more than it was intended to say. Moses did not need a lecture on plate tectonics and so it was never given. Is it not possible that the chronologies of the first chapters of Genesis were given as rebuttals or counterarguments against the worldview of the times and not ever meant to be thought of in terms of a particular span of time???

Just wondering…

The alien world of Hebrew “numerical allegory”…

The section below covers some pretty strange ground … but it seemed like it was describing some valid points, so I thought I would include it in this thread:

I. Numerical Parallelisms
Sometimes when people read the statements in the middle of the Ten Commandments about, “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation,” and so on, they say, “Wow! How can that be? That is totally unfair. This doesn’t make any sense. God would punish the great grandchildren for what the parents did? That is unreasonable.” I just want to show you how sometimes knowing a phenomenon that can be observed in Scripture, if you know how to look for it, can solve a question. This is just an attempt to show you a perfectly sensible, and once you see it, I think even an obvious conclusion, not original with me but I am just relaying it to you. First of all to appreciate how this works, a scholar named Gervitz at the University of Chicago, a number of years ago, published a book in which he described how the numerical parallelisms work. (Stanley Gervitz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel [University of Chicago Press, 1963]). Now, we will learn more about parallelism when we study Hebrew poetry.

A. [To Emphasize One, Invoke Two]
When they want to have a synonym for the number one, the closest they can come is the number two; that is what they do. (Job 33:14; Ps 62:11)

B. [To Emphasize Three, Invoke Four]
When they want to have a synonym for three they parallel it by four. It is a style of parallel. I am not going to give you time to copy all these down but you can generate these with a computer any time in a concordance program. (Prov. 30:15, 18, 21, 29; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11)

C. [If Six, then Seven]
When you want to parallel six you use seven. (Prov. 6:16; Job 5:19)

D. [If Seven, Then Eight]
When you want to parallel seven you use eight. Give a portion to seven or even to eight. Seven shepherds, eight princes. There is a story in one of the Ugaritic epics. King Keret wife gave birth to seven children, yes, eight were born to her. You might say, “Which was it?” They would not have any problems with that at all in the ancient world; they knew what that meant. It meant, basically, she had a whole bunch of children. That is the way the parallelism works in some of the numbers. You get N, N + 1 parallelism. (Eccl. 11:2; Micah 5:5)

E. [If a Thousand, then Ten Thousand]
Here is a special case of N, 10N. One thousand to ten thousand. There are several examples of that. (Deut. 32:30; Micah 6:7; 1 Sam. 18:8; Ps. 91:7)

F.[If a Specific Number, then that Number plus Ten Times that Number]
A special exception N, 11N in the boast of Lamech, “If Cain is avenged seven fold, Lamech seventy-seven,” (Gen. 4:24). Then there is an N, 70N. This is really big. Jesus says, “Not just seven times but seventy times seven,” (Matt. 18:22). That is N to 70N. That really breaks the pattern. That is a dramatic extension of the usual “numerical parallelism”.

G. [Special cases involving Thousands]
But there is an even greater exception and that is the one we are looking at. Three or four to thousands. That is big. That is our passage. “Yes,” says God, “not that I punish the fourth generation for what the first generation did.” That is not the point at all. It is rather, “If generations keep sinning against me and breaking my law, I will keep punishing them. If the first generation does it, I will punish it. If the generation after that does it, I will punish them too. I’ll have to do that on to maybe the third or fourth generation, but what I want to do is to bless thousands of generations who love me.”

So the parallelism demonstrates that God’s purpose is to show love, his loyalty, his hesed in the Hebrew, “to thousands of those who love me.” The contrast is between what he will do, “If the generations keep doing it, I’ll have to keep punishing, but what I want to do, which is essentially forever, to be a blessing to my people generation after generation, if only they will remain faithful.”

“The meaning is, “I will, if I have to, punish successive generations but not for long. I really don’t want to do this for long.” It may go on for awhile but that is why it is limited to three or four, it makes the suggestion that this is not forever. “But what I would like to do is bless my people forever if only they will keep my covenant.” What it really shows is what you might think it shows. It shows the desire of God and the invitation of God for his people to be obedient to him and enjoy his blessing. It is not really a statement about how he unfairly judges at all.”

“If we had time I could show you how the Hebrew is applied in other passages and it really does not mean punishing X for Y, it means applying the same punishment that you applied to X also to Y. That is really what it means in terms of translation. That is a little thing, I just thought I would show it to you because it often comes up and people wonder about it and puzzle it out and try to understand its significance and it is useful, I think, to be aware of that.”

For the much longer article at this URL…

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I think you will find these few paragraphs mind-blowing:

"Further evidence that the patriarchal ages
in Genesis are not real numbers is the “overlap”
of the patriarchs’ life spans. If the genealogies
in Genesis 5 and 11 are both literal
and complete, then the death of Adam has to
be dated to the generation of Noah’s father
Lamech. [Footnote 41]

Footnote 41: W. H. Green, “Primeval Chronology,”
chap. 7, The Bibliotheca Sacra (Andover: Draper, 1890), 302–3.

"Shem, Arphaxad, Shelah, and Eber
would have outlived all of the generations
following as far and including Terah. Noah
would have been the contemporary of Abraham
for 58 years and Shem (Noah’s son)
would have survived Abraham by 35 years."

"But where does the Bible indicate that any of
these men were coeval? They are spoken of
as respected ancestors, not as contemporaries
that interacted with them or who were to
be cared for in their old age."

“The whole impression of the biblical narrative
in Abraham’s day is that the Flood was an event
long since past, and that the actors in it had
long passed away. Concluding that the ages
for the patriarchs are literal is contrary to the
spirit of the record that presupposes gaps
between the lines of Adam and Noah and
between Noah and Abraham.” [Footnote 42]

Footnote 42: J. H. Raven, Old Testament Introduction - General
and Special (New York: Revell, 1910); P. P. Pun, Evolution - Nature
and Scripture in Conflict? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 259.


Another sort of nail in coffin is the fact that the landscape in Abraham’s time is described as it is today. Joel Duff has a series on the Dead Sea that is really fascinating to read in his blog.


What I want to know is, is there any passage of scripture we can look at that indicates that there are gaps in the genealogies of Genesis, in the same manner that that passages in Kings and Chronicles indicate gaps in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke?

(Scriptures from the New King James Version)
Genesis 11:12-14 Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Salah. After he begot Salah, Arphaxad lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters. Salah lived thirty years, and begot Eber.
Luke 3:35-36 […] Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad,

In Genesis Cainan is missing, so there is a gap in the Genesis genealogy. If there is one gap, there can be more. Moreover, any ages of Cainan is missing, so obviously it cannot be used to calculate the age of the earth.


I like the conclusion to Dr. Green’s Primeval Chronology article.

He provides some very good reasons why you can’t use the genealogies to work out dates.

Article is here. Thanks again to @Jay313 for providing it.

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