More and More People

Question
The genealogy as explained in Genesis is somewhat hard to follow due mainly to the extreme ages reached by these people. Did some of these folks actually live for several hundred years, and even continued to father children after being around several centuries, or was the biblical year back then different from what we use today?

Answer
Those who read Scripture usually do not consider the genealogies the most exciting parts to read. For the most part they are read once, if that, and then discarded in future readings. Beginning with Genesis 4.17 (see below) there is a proliferation of people. Scripture uses a literary device, which is called genealogy. In the Old Testament sense it is a list of names, which indicate the ancestors or descendants of individuals. Often it is a simple registration of names. It is clear that Old Testament genealogies are not used in the same strict fashion that modern genealogies are in which each person in a line is listed. We find most of the genealogies in the Pentateuch, Ezra- Nehemiah, and the Chronicles.

Genealogies range from a list of names (1 Chron. 1.1) to a more common type which links names and occasionally adds further information (Gen. 5.24) to a fully expanded historical account as in the book of Kings. There are ascending which use the formula “x the son of…” or descending which uses “x begat…” The latter type often includes information about the age and actions of the individual while the ascending often is used to trace the ancestry of an individual back to some important person in the past. Genealogies in Scripture often omit some generations. As an example the genealogy of Aaron in Ezra 7.1- 5 omits six names which are given in 1 Chronicles 6.3- 14. In Ezra the word son has the ability to also mean grandson or descendant.

Genealogies were a standard feature of the ancient historical tradition. The genealogies of royal families offer the best examples of an ancient method, as do records of lawsuits over the ownership of land. There is a list of the Kings of Assyria, which spans a thousand years. There is a list of the kings of Babylon and their ancestors. There are King lists from Sumeria, Hittite, Ugaritic, and Egypt as well, all of varying lengths and purposes.

These lists are not unlike the biblical genealogies in that they omit certain names. There is no reason to suppose that all the genealogies in Scripture claim to be complete since their main purpose was to establish the descent from some notable ancestor. Because the genealogies are abridged, it would not be safe to use them as a basis for numerical historical purposes.

The genealogy in this section of the Pentateuch enable the storyteller to bring together somewhat disconnected occurrences and makes the transition from Adam to Noah a rather smooth road. It also demonstrates how Genesis 1.28, “Have lots of children. Fill the earth with people…” (CEV) was fulfilled.

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