Home Featured

Genesis’ Genealogies in Alternate Text Traditions

Genesis’ Genealogies in Alternate Text Traditions


  1. Anonymous23.11.22

    What do you think the numbers in the genealogies in Genesis are supposed to mean? Would you consider them to be literal or symbolic and how do they fit into the cultural context of the Ancient Near East?

    1. The source of these ages (most likely a Priestly author-editor) seems to have been imitating a concept we find in texts like the Sumerian King List, where ancient humans had incredible lifespans that diminished over time. The specific numbers may have held some symbolic value in the vorlage, but if there was, it's probably lost to us—other than Enoch, whose lifespan (365 years) is almost certainly modeled after Emmeduranki from the Sumerian King List (both are seventh in the list, and Emmeduranki was from Sippar, associated with the solar god Shamash).

      The contradictions in the antediluvian ages between the three primary text traditions (Masoretic, Samaritan, LXX) primarily owe to redactors noticing that multiple patriarchs survived the flood when they shouldn't have (Yared, Methushelah, Lamech), leading to them coming up with different solutions (e.g. the LXX increases the age when patriarchs had their son, which both increases the amount of time before the flood, while also shortening the amount of time each patriarch lived after their son was born).

      The redactor of the Masoretic text tradition seems to have put the most thought into the long-term genealogy. It kept track of the full lifespan of all the patriarchs, all the way down to Moses, so that the sum total of all their lives equals 12,600 years, a large sexagesimal number (divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, and 60). The intention of the redactor here was to suggest that Moses, and thus the Torah, came at the perfect time in history.