Friday, June 4, 2010

Genesis 10,11's genealogies: from Noah to Abraham through Babel

Between the end of Noah’s story and the infamous “Tower of Babel” account, we have another genealogy in Gen 10:1-32. Compared to what follows in Gen 11, Kass describes this as a “gentler account of the division of mankind”. It is a horizontal genealogy showing the emergence of nations—apparently (according to my notes; I’d have to find the original source) supported by archaeology (the Nuzi tablets). Here, we have 70 names/grandchildren of Noah—an important number in numerology and it also parallels Jacob’s family of 70 going to Israel (Gen 46, Ex 1) and heading to Canaan (Num 26).

A few notes: 10:2-5 details the descendants of Japheth (the oldest); 10:21-32's lists the sons of Shem—the Semites; 10:6-20 picks up the lineage from Ham (the youngest). 10:21,25's Eber is the origin of "Hebrew" (in 11:17, he is the longest-lived of Shem’s descendants); 10:23’s Uz reminds one of Job 1:1; 10:24's Shelah is the same as Gen 38; 10:25’s "division" dates Babel as five (half of ten) generations after the flood; 10:13-14's sons of Mizraim (which means “Egypt”) notes their Philistine origins (Jordan's Exodus chronology argues that this connects Philistines in Canaan with Egpyt); 10:15-20's sons of Canaan lists all the Canaanites incl. 19's Sodom/Gomorrah; and 10:7's sons of Cush include 8-12's Nimrod (one of Ham’s grandsons; name means "mighty hunter" or “rebellious”) whose kingdom included 11,12’s Nineveh and 10's Babylon/Babel.

This connection to Babel is presumably the most important agenda item for God and the Biblical writer. Something similar happens in the post-Babel geneaology—the account of Shem in Gen 11:10-26 (another 10-name vertical genealogy a la Gen 5).

Looking forward to chapter 12, we’ll wonder: Why does God call Abram and why does he go? There is nothing directly in the text (maybe to avoid distracting us). But both genealogies seem to connect Abram’s call to Babel’s failure. As we’ll see shortly, Babel seeks to “make a name” for itself, but Abram is descended from pious Shem—whose name means “name”, who made a name for himself in how he handled Noah’s nakedness, and eventually passes his name to Abraham.


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