Barry Newman's Blog

July 29, 2012

Science and Genesis 5: 1 – 6: 8 (part II)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:56 am

Seth to Methuselah (5: 6 – 27)

I am again indebted to Walton[1] for his insights into the language used in these early chapters of Genesis and also for information concerning surrounding cultures that could be considered relevant for understanding certain aspects of these chapters. He indicates that while the names Seth and Enosh are clearly Hebrew, the only names in the lists in chapters 4 and 5 that have a reference to the divine name “El” are, Mehujael, Methushael and Mahalalel. The use of “El” indicates a Semitic setting for the language involved.  He also states that “indications of Mesopotamian (Akkadian) include the use of the term, mutu, ‘man’, in Methushael and Methuselah” and that “most of the names can be explained using Hebrew etymologies.” He concludes that if one “accepts that Hebrew did not develop as a language until the first half of the second millennium B.C. … it is logical to conclude that these are translations from a language used in earlier sources.”

The complete list of names – Adam to Noah is ten in number, with special attention being given to the first and last and also to the seventh – Enoch.  A feature of the list of names in chapter 4, if one begins with Adam, is that the seventh there is also written about in some detail – Lamech, not to be confused however with the Lamech of chapter 5.  Furthermore, just as this Lamech, last on the list of seven, has three sons so does Noah, last on the list of ten named in chapter 5.  The list of names in chapter 11 also has some features parallel with those of chapter 5.  In chapter 11 the list begins with Shem and ends with Terah.  If one adds to the list Noah, father of Shem, there is a total of ten names with the one named at the end also having three sons.  Such similarities among the lists suggest a degree of artificiality. This is not to suggest however that the names were not meaningful or even that that they did not belong to real people.  None the less, it might mean that one does not have tight person to person genealogical lines.  Any genealogy where all linkages would have been expressed could have contained many more names.  Walton points out that “comparing biblical genealogies to one another shows that there are several generations skipped in any particular presentation.  This type of telescoping also occurs in Assyrian genealogical records.”

It should be noted that all those from Adam to Lamech are recorded as having “other sons and daughters”. Noah is spoken of with reference to his sons only and all three are named. It could be inferred from the blessing of God upon Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and increase in number” found in Genesis 9: 1, that Noah also had other sons and daughters, though that is not certain. The list of seven names, together with the reference to “other sons and daughters” probably indicates that the population was steadily increasing. God had pronounced his blessing for mankind, “Be fruitful and increase, fill the earth” (Genesis 1: 28) and his words had come to fulfilment.  While, as Walton puts it, “in the Mesopotamian traditions overpopulation was considered a major problem … the Atrahasis Epic (indicating) that overpopulation contributed to the noise of humanity and brought on the flood”, in the Genesis account it was never a question of overpopulation. Nor was the existence of a large population to be seen as anything other than the fulfilment of God’s intention for mankind.  What was extremely disturbing to God was the increase in wickedness as mankind increased.  And what was disturbing to man was the unfailing curse in which God had cursed the ground.

But why does the list exist in the first place?  Could not the writer have simply moved on from Seth to Noah, making a general reference to population growth, without expressing any continuity?  Obviously for the writer, continuity is important.  This is an account of humanity.  One person leads onto another just as one event leads onto another.  Many individuals named may not be all that important in themselves but it is necessary that they all be linked, with special significance being given to those who begin the list and those who end the list.

The seventh person named in the list, Enoch, is however of some significance in his own right.  It is reported of him that “Enoch walked with God and then he was not for God took him.” With Walton, the phrase, “walked with God” expresses the idea of “living in a way that pleased God.”  That “he was not” at least at first strikes one as a little odd.  However considered alongside of, by comparison, his short life span of only 365 years, it could either signify that he simply died before his normal time or that in some other sense he ceased to exist as a human being on the earth.  That “God took him” is consistent with either possibility.  However that it is also recorded that “he walked with God” might indicate that for benevolent reasons God took him before his “natural” time, to be with him, either through an early death or without any normal death occurring.  On the basis of the text alone and without considering later ideas about what happened to Enoch, a degree of uncertainty remains.  Later speculation about Enoch in Jewish literature abounds but it is later speculation.

What is of interest is that “in the Mesopotamian lists of pre-Flood sages, the seventh in the list, Utuabzu, is said to have ascended to heaven.”  Furthermore, “in the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Shu, the god of the air, is instructed to take the king to heaven so that he does not die on earth.”  Such texts together with the Genesis text could have relied on material dated earlier than all three.  Alternatively there could have been borrowing among the texts.  Is the Genesis text a theologically purified version of textual material that the writer relied upon as he constructed his version?  That is a possibility.


[1] See Walton, J.H., Genesis, the New Application Commentary Series, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001, pp. 279-285 for comments on Genesis chapter 5.

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