Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bible Commentary - Genesis 10

Now we're into the third major genealogy, depending on how you count (Cain to Lamech, Adam to Noah), and this one is much broader than the prior genealogies. Generally speaking, there are two types of genealogies we will meet in the bible. The first, what we saw before, is a directed linear genealogy, which generally scopes out from one person to their descendant. So like the Cain to Lamech genealogy, it only includes father to son relationship between the two individuals. The genealogy here in chapter 10 is the second type, which is a broad genealogy. While all the people mentioned in it are descended from Noah, they are broadly scattered amongst various family lines, so it does not show the focused linearity of the first kind. In computer science terms, the first one is kinda like a depth-first search, while the second is kinda like a breadth-first search.... (that's a joke of sorts...).

... Anyway, there are a lot of names in this chapter. A few of them we will see again, the vast majority we won't. This is the sort of chapter that I think historians absolutely love, but people like me... tend not to get as much out of them. I'm sure that all of the names have incredible significance for those scholars who specialize in various subfields of anthropology, and I'm sure that you can make some fascinating cross-references between the names here and inscriptions on various pillars or manuscripts in other places, but I am not familiar with any of these (rather esoteric) studies. So I won't have much to comment on for this chapter, other than a few of the interesting little remarks that are included.

For indeed, the author of this chapter has written a few interesting tidbits of gossip about various figures and the events of their time, which has produced much discussion in the millennia since then.

Before I get to that... this isn't gossip but it's worth noting: some of the names in this chapter are later used as the names of kingdoms. That's why this chapter is sometimes called the "table of nations", because so many of these individuals are the founders of various nations (or in a more modern sense, tribes/clans). Some of the notable nations here are Tarshish (a coastal city, possibly Phoenicia I think?), Cush (upper Nile region, in southern Egypt/Ethiopia), Mizraim (Northern Egypt, some translations just call him Egypt), Canaan (pretty much all of modern and ancient Israel, with an emphasis on the coastal cities), Sheba (later the origin of the "queen of Sheba" who visits Solomon), Sidon (another coastal city), all of the sons of Canaan (the Hittites, Jebusites, etc), and then of the sons of Shem the important ones are Aram, Asshur and Elam.

Havilah (one of the sons here) is the name of the region mentioned in Genesis 2 where the garden of Eden is. So.... an interesting correlation for all of those "garden of Eden" hunters.

Ok, now on to the gossip. The first to show up is this note regarding Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord. How crazy is that? Nimrod is never mentioned again in the bible, and I have no idea what the significance of this is.

The second is Peleg, because in his day the world was divided. There are a lot of opinions about what this means, anything from references to the continental split of Pangaea to the division of languages that happens in the next chapter. At the end of the day, nobody really knows but that doesn't stop everyone from speculating. Peleg is also in the genealogy of King David, so we will see his name mentioned (strictly in genealogies) a couple times more in both the OT and the NT. However, never will the bible elaborate on what this "division of the world" refers to. As most bibles will note, Peleg is the Hebrew for "division", which means that this division must have been a massive, publicly known event such that someone would name their son "division" in respect for what happened. Or maybe his father was a prophet and named his son prophetically to predict some future division? But now I'm drifting into speculation too.

Anyway, that's all for chapter 10. On to 11 and Babel.

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