If you want to see the rest of this exhaustive chart, it’s here.
Ever read those genealogies in Genesis or any variety of other places in the Bible? Most people think they’re the kind of material that puts you to sleep, but put it in its proper context and it’s much more interesting. They exhibit many mysteries that I do not think (unless you’re taking a purely materialist view) anyone solved quite yet. Like, for example, did people live that long? Who were they, anyway? Also, what is important about this information, exactly? What does God want everyone to know that this least of people and their sons, and their sons’ sons should we learn from the long, long, long, long lists of people? I’m going to guess most people find skimming through these an easy time (it’s the King lineage in Chronicles that usually kills people, but anyway…). So let’s look one of them:
3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. 4 Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. 5 So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.
6 Seth lived one hundred and five years, and became the father of Enosh. 7 Then Seth lived eight hundred and seven years after he became the father of Enosh, and he had other sons and daughters. 8 So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.
9 Enosh lived ninety years, and became the father of Kenan. 10 Then Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years after he became the father of Kenan, and he had other sons and daughters. 11 So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died.
12 Kenan lived seventy years, and became the father of Mahalalel. 13 Then Kenan lived eight hundred and forty years after he became the father of Mahalalel, and he had other sons and daughters. 14 So all the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died.
15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Jared. 16 Then Mahalalel lived eight hundred and thirty years after he became the father of Jared, and he had other sons and daughters. 17 So all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years, and he died.
18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and became the father of Enoch. 19 Then Jared lived eight hundred years after he became the father of Enoch, and he had other sons and daughters. 20 So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died.
Genesis 5 would imply that they did. And that sounds pretty darn crazy, all things considered. According to the Archaeology Bible sitting on my desk:
It is uncertain whether the large numbers describing human longevity in the early chapters of Genesis are literal, serve a literary function, or both. The fact that there are exactly ten names in the list (as in the genealogy of 11:10-26) indicates that it almost certainly contains gaps, the lengths of which are summarized in the large numbers. Other ancient genealogies outside the Bible exhibit similarly unrealistic figures and also contain exactly ten names.
And somehow we’re supposed to decipher something out of a list of names. I am not familiar with these people, and I imagine no one in the modern Western world has any more knowledge of Mahalalel than anyone else. Well, maybe Enoch’s a notable exception to the rule:
21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
He even has a non-canonical (except for Ethiopian Churches) book named after him which expands upon the flood narrative of Noah in Genesis. Enoch, which actually looks like five different books smooshed together, extends the story and makes Enoch into a divine messenger who needs to return the Fallen Angels (who created the Nephilim) from their descent to Earth (a violation of their orders, after all). It’s crazy and weird and confusing, and whoever wrote it came thousands of years after the events in question. I imagine it does tell us that there’s a fascination with these people, especially the ones who get more than a blurb, a name, and how long they lived. Take Nimrod in Genesis 10:
6 The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush were Seba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. 8 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim 14 and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim.
Does it surprise you that a warrior king famous for his great kingdom remains a complete mystery?
Nimrod is an enigma. Claims that he is to be equated with Gilgamesh or Hercules or other figures, or that he built the tower of Babel (11:1-9), are without historical foundation. Some have suggested that Nimrod was a Mesopotamian god (such as Marduk) or king (such as Sargon), but this is pure speculation.
Calvin’s commentary (which I’m not going to link for your sanity and respect for your time) tries its best to make sense of these gaps, and makes some bold and wild conjectures as a result. I am not opposed to theorizing, but it has more to do with the view that Moses authored the Pentateuch than anything else, and that’s not our focus here. Rather, I want to discuss the mystery inherent in these passages.
There’s an obvious reason for this mystery: the Bible did not come into being in a time absent vortex; whenever it came about, the whole of the Bible assumes a particular familiariaty with a time period and all that common knowledge the typical reader (more like hearer, given the literacy rates) would already retain from their upbringing. I do not know anything about Nimrod, but I certainly know lots about George Washington, for example. Israel’s original Tribal Confederacy or kingship (or two kingdoms, whatever), as the ruling party of that nation for many centuries, obviously influenced their own people into knowing these stories.
That makes it all the more bizarre that we simply don’t know anything about these figures. We know plenty about Moses and most of the people that come after him in extant historical recordings, but little of this patriarchal “prehistory”. It should not surpirise you that scholars, as a result, call these a created and manufactured “prehistory” to establish the blessings and promises given to the people of Israel, leading to their culmination in Jesus Christ. While I COULD agree with that, these patriarchs find mention far too often in the New Testament to become a mere story. Paul, for example, believed them wholeheartedly in Romans 4:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
Paul argues that Abraham becomes the model for the Christian faith. God credited Abraham’s belief as righteousness – judged not by works, but by grace. If this actually happened, then it makes the most sense in the world why Paul would cite it: because the events depicted in Scripture were real. They exist; they were not merely stories, or justifications for Israel’s kingship, or boastings of an imaginary God. They literally, and truly, happened.
It’s no surprise that even the New Testament uses genealogies: they convey a sense of historicity, of real things. They’re not myths, or wishful belief – this long, long, long, long line of descent (in either a physical or spiritual sense) brought us to the present moment, and that past continues to shape the future. To see God’s plan in action, to read it, and examine it fascinates me, as it should fascinate you. The Bible’s more than a few Gospels and a couple Epistles.