Tuesday 15 March 2016

Gen 4:17 antediluvian genealogies

Occam's razor is our friend. We should never invent a lost source of we have the original source at hand. With that in mind, let's look at the genealogies between Adam and Noah.

Why? Because this is the missing link. It seems clear to me that Genesis 1-11 is a reworking of Gilgamesh, but it is not clear where the genealogies came from. In this post I will argue that we probably have the source material for these as well.

To see why, let's review what we can already say with confidence.

1. Genesis 1-11 is based on Gilgamesh, 

I hope to demonstrate this in another post. The important point is that it is a reconstruction, not an original record. This means we cannot just say the names and ages were written at the time and passed on down. So where did they come from?

2. Genesis 1-11 is the best reconstruction we could hope to have. 

Again I hope to demonstrate this in another post. It is the best history we could hope for. This means we cannot just dismiss the names and dates as randomly made up or sloppily thrown together. The compilers must have had reasons.

3. The Torah routinely mixes individuals and dynasties

Adam is both an individual and a class (human). God is both an individual and a class (Elohim is plural). Israel is both an individual and a class. Pharaoh is both an individual and a class. And so, later, was Caesar. So was Nebaioth (Genesis 25:13,16; 28:9) and goodness knows how many others. This is a rational way to simplify a complex situation: it allows the brain to handle more information in less space. So there is nothing wrong with taking, say, a thousand years of complex genealogy and picking ten representative names. That is not lying, and it is not pretending that people lived for centuries, it is just efficient data handling.

4. Early languages were abbreviated

Ancient writing on clay tablets was not easy. They would use shorthand where they could. The earliest languages were just pictures, memory aids for the trained interpreter. Even as late as the first millennium, Hebrew had no vowels. And when writing numbers the position of a single dot made a huge difference (much as today). This becomes a problem when texts are transmitted across several centuries and several different languages. So, for example, the dates in the Masoretic, Septuagint and Samaritan versions of Genesis are different. Most scholars think they can see what happened, and the more careful Masoretic text is the most reliable, but it illustrates how easily innocent mistakes can creep in. So when we see a repeated phrase like this:
And "A" lived "X" years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name "B": And the days of "A" after he had begotten "B" were "Y" years: and he begat sons and daughters: And all the days that "A" lived were "X + Y" years: and he died.
We can be sure that at same stage in the transmission is was much shorter. E.g.
"A" "X" years, begat "B", lived "Y", died.
And gave the ambiguities of different languages, "died" at some point would just mean "ended". So when we read about individuals having individual children it could very easily mean dynasties producing offspring, until the last member of the original line died or was deposed.

5. They liked to divide the pre-flood names into ten.

Genesis, the Sumerian king lists and Borossus all choose ten names to represent kings before the flood. Given the previous observation this is not a problem. All historians have to choose arbitrary boundaries: when does one era end and another start? At what point did Rome cease to be top nation? Do we count the Windsors as a new dynasty or just an extension of the Saxe Coburg Gotha dynasty? When did World War II start and end: do we use the American date, the European date, or the the Japanese date? When dealing with the messy world of politics (as with the rival Sumerian city states) there is plenty of flexibility for deciding what names matter. Especially as kingship in ancient Sumeria was largely a matter of Public Relations (more on this when we discuss Gilgamesh). Those who complain that the number of kings seems unnatural need to read more history.

6. Adam was not a lord-god

In other posts I will write a lot about lord-gods (god-kings). I already touched on it when discussing the documentary hypothesis fiasco. Seth's line was generally subservient to the lord-gods. Either Seth's line were minor kings, or not kings at all, So we should not expect to find them in the main king list. However, they might appear in a list of friends of the kings, such as the Uruk List of Kings and Sages”, discovered in 1962. This listed the main kings and also their most trusted advisors. We might also find them listed in other legends that deal with pre-flood events.

And while on the subject of the flood... it goes without saying that this was not a global flood. According to my reading of the texts it was a deliberate smashing of canals and burning of houses, possibly affecting just one or two cities. But that is a topic for another post. It was a dramatic turning point in the relationship between men and lord-gods, so it is rightly remembered as a massive break point in Sumerian history.

7. The genealogy is snapshots only

Seth's genealogy contains little more then ten names, some dates, and the occasional detail, like "Enoch built a city". For generations readers have assumed that this is a tiny glimpse into a much more detailed history. But I think that is us wearing our supernatural goggles again. Take the goggles off,look at the text, and what do we see? It is snapshots and no more.

Remember that Seth's like is the "non-king" line. Imagine that you wanted to recreate the history of non-kings before the flood. What do you do? These people left very few records. This is exactly the problem modern historians have when they try to create social histories of women, slaves, illiterate people, or other "invisible" groups. Al they can do is scour other records for the occasional clue, and sometimes just use representative types rather than individuals. E.g. "this is Mary, she was a housemaid, this is her typical day". Yet this "Mary" is an invented, composite character. But house maids did exist and Mary was a common name, so this approach is acceptable when no other data exists.

Now image that you are compiling the history of Israel in 600 BC. You have the library of Ashurbanipal as a source, but it only lists kings and legends. So you find every legend that seems to have a germ of truth, and any reference to friends of kings, and look for other clues, such as "look, this king called Enoch was from our group! One of our underdog group built a city, fancy that! Definitely include him!" A responsible historian could then recreate the best available snapshot of life between the first cities and the flood. This seems to be exactly what we have in Genesis.

8. Numbers have to be precise

When recreating ancient history we need to assign numbers. Sometimes we will have a precise, albeit legendary number: for example, Rome was traditionally founded in 753 BC. Other times we an calculate a number: e.g. if somebody was associated with the reign of a known king, we can pencil in the start of that king's reign for the person's dates. Other times we can just use a round figure: "100 years" or "1000 years". If the compiler of Genesis was a good historian he would have done all three. And that is what we see: a mixture of strangely precise numbers, but quite a few that seem formulaic. It is just the nature of numbers that they always look precise even when they are not. Later copyists might then tidy up the numbers so everything adds up. For example:
"Readers of the Septuagint noticed that according to its data Methuselah survived the flood, and in order to avoid this incongruity a scribe changed the 167 years, ascribed to his age at the birth of his son, to 187 years." (source)
Thus we see that responsible historians and their over helpful scribes can quickly give the illusion of very precise dates. But the text does not demand this.

9. The large numbers are not a problem

On the subject of very large numbers, the Sumerian King lists appear to give ridiculously long reins, usually in multiples of a "sar", translated as 3600 years. But that is easily explained by a problem with early translation. The Babylonians used base 60 and the Hebrews used base 10. But they both used simple dashes to denote numbers. So 100 (10 x 10) could easily be mistaken for 3600 (60 x 60), just as today one country's comma is another country's decimal point. Plus if a record is kept over many centuries you can be sure that the style will change at some point, leading to confusion when transcribing earlier texts. I once spent some time transcribing ld records, and the golden rule was "if you see an obvious mistake, leave it in!" It is so tempting to correct what seems like an obvious mistake, everyone wants to do it, just t help future generations, but that is how the really big problems arise.

So while we cannot be sure exactly how the gigantic "sar" numbers arose, Occam's razor says we should not assume aliens malice or stupidity, when perfectly innocent transcribing errors were almost certain.

10. Different names are often the same

Finally, and this is the clincher, when were read apparently very different names they could be the same name but in different languages. For example,
The third Babylonian king is Amelu, man, and the third patriarch is Enosh, also meaning man; the fourth king is Ummanu, artificer, and the fourth patriarch is Kenan, a name derived from a root meaning to form or fabricate. The seventh king is Enmeduranki, who apparently was reputed to have been summoned by the gods Shamash and Ramman into their fellowship and made acquainted with the secrets of heaven and earth; and the seventh patriarch was Enoch who walked with God. (source)
It is important to remember that this could still be coincidence. A typical ancient name has multiple possible meanings (because from this distance we have to guess). I highly recommend the Abarim web site for a detailed look at all the possibilities in each Bible name. If we also allow events from their life (as in the case of Enoch, above) it is very easy to link almost any name to almost any other name. But this does not change the fact that two totally different names can still be the exact same name, but translated into a different language. Not all ancient languages are perfectly understood, so there could be many like this that we miss.

Conclusion: we probably have the source of the genealogies

To summarise. the antediluvian genealogies in Genesis are exactly what we would expect is an expert historian had done the best possible job to recreate the story of our earliest ancestors. And it is perfectly reasonable to think that we have all or most of the source material in the various legends and king lists.

David Fasold for example suggested how the Sumerian King list could translate almost directly into Genesis, Personally I think the king list is unlikely to be the main source, because the king list gives the top kings, the lord-gods. I think it more likely that the Genesis genealogies were compiled from a mixture of ancient legends plus something like the sages from the “Uruk List of Kings and Sages”. If I had unlimited time I would examine every possibility and suggest which seems the most likely. But for now my purpose is just to use Occam's razor: there is no reason to assume a lost text, neither need we assume the early historians were malicious or lazy.

The Genesis genealogies may or may not be real. But they are exactly the kind of thing we should expect a good historian to produce using the best resources available.

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