3 – How Genesis Genealogies were Abridged

1 – Introduction
2 – To Use or not to Use the Strict Chronology Version
3 – How Genesis Genealogies were Abridged
4 – Thread of History not Lost in the Post-Flood World
5 – Examination of the Genesis Chronology
6 – Writing and Technology: Did Mankind have to Start from Scratch?
7 – The Ice Age
8 – Conclusion

In ancient times those who recorded and kept genealogies were not concerned that future generations would try to distance the formation of the natural world into a dim and distant past. First and foremost, they were historians, trying to record the highlights of their history; dates of events were also important, but not the primary concern. When compiling their genealogies, they weren’t thinking, “A few thousand years from now, the world will believe in vast evolutionary ages, so we’ve got to make sure our records are perfectly accurate and that we don’t miss a beat.”

Well there is evidence that they did abridge their genealogies to some extent and did “miss a beat” here and there. To understand this point, there is some rather startling evidence in the genealogy of Moses and Aaron.

In the Book of Exodus, the text states plainly, “And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife: and she bare him Aaron and Moses.” (6:20) The strange thing here is that Amram lived during the early period of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. He was the grandson of Levi, one of Jacob’s sons who migrated into Egypt at the behest of Joseph and Pharaoh.

Most likely, Amram’s father Kohath was already born when Jacob and his extended family moved into Egypt to begin the children of Israel’s 400-year plus sojourn there. Thus, if  Kohath was a child at the time of migration into Egypt, then his son Amram and “grandson” Moses would have been born in the early stages of Israel’s sojourn there. That means Moses’ birth might have happened anywhere between 50 and 200 years after the entry into Egypt.

The Exodus took place 430 years after the Israelites’ entry into Egypt. (Exodus 12:40, Galatians 3:17) That means Moses, if he really was the first descendant of Amram and Jochebed, would have been anywhere between 230 and 380 years of age at the time of the Exodus. But Moses was only 80 years old when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt. (Acts 7:23,30)

So how do we account for this discrepancy? Here a little background understanding of ancient culture and language is helpful. The Hebrew word for “father” was somewhat vague and could easily be applied to a distant ancestor. And the word for “gave birth”, unless it was accompanied by the word for “conceive”, often meant something like “became the ancestor of”. When a genealogy does use the word “conceive”, then there is no question that the passage is referring to direct father-to-son linkages – no omissions of generations. (An example of this is the genealogy for Joshua; see Appendix 2 below.)

Besides the Amram-Jochebed “glitch”, there is also the statement that Amram had three brothers who all had children; and the total number of all the male descendants of Amram and his three brothers was 8,600 at the time of the census taken in the second year of the Exodus. (Numbers 3:1,19,27-28, Exodus 19:1) Thus, if Moses and Aaron were the immediate sons of Amram, then we would have to believe that the two brothers had 8,600 male relatives (mainly cousins and nephews and a few uncles) all descended from their “grandfather” Kohath.

Evidently, Moses and Aaron were not the immediate grandsons of Kohath nor the immediate sons of Amram and Jochebed but were born two or three or more generations further down the line. Thus, the text in Genesis 6:20, which states, “Jochebed. . . bare him Aaron and Moses,” should be understood as saying, “Jochebed. . . bare him the ancestor of Aaron and Moses.” Or “Amram and Jochebed originated the family out of which arose Moses and Aaron.” This idea of a person “giving birth to a family” appears more plainly in Numbers 3:27, “And of Kohath was the family of the Amramites.”

8600 relatives

Perhaps in those obscure years of bondage, without much self-government, the children of Israel had less incentive to keep records. During this time when the people were pre-occupied with their slave labor, distracted and disorganized, perhaps the task of record-keeping was not given much priority. And very likely, with less established leadership or clear line of succession in their society, and because of the large population, it was difficult for the Israelites to keep track of the “who” or the “when” amidst the multitude of births of that era.

“The children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7)

However, even though the length of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt cannot be reckoned via the genealogies, we do know the time span from the statement in Exodus 12:40-41, “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” (KJV; also Galatians 3:17)

As a further note, in the story of the birth of Moses and his mother’s courageous efforts to preserve his life, the text makes no mention of her name. (Exodus 2:1-9) And probably the reason for that was that she was not the Jochebed who married Amram. Moses’ mother could have been a descendant of Amram and Jochebed; or if not that, certainly she was married to one of their descendants.

This example of Moses’ “birth”parents shows that sometimes ancestral forefathers were named, while the immediate or intermediate fathers’ names were omitted in the Genesis genealogies. Such omissions happened, it seems, when the population was growing rapidly and before the people of God began to live as an organized community.

When Israel became structured as a nation under Moses, then began an unbroken and detailed recording of the comings and goings of generations of kings and ancestors. In the absence of that kind of historical-cultural setting, however, the tendency in the recording of genealogies was to mention only the names of prominent or pivotal personages, leaving some of the less notable (but not necessarily less worthy) ancestors unmentioned.

By understanding from the example of Moses’ ancestry how genealogies were recorded (or not recorded) in times of upheaval or confusion, we gain a helpful understanding of that critical era after the Flood – another era when, like the sojourn in Egypt, it may have been difficult to keep track of the progression of ancestors.

Until the arrival of the patriarch Abraham and his sons Isaac and Jacob, there is hardly any record of the life stories of those who came before. This was a time of migration, exploration, and population growth. There is a good possibility then that the genealogy of this pre-Abraham era omitted some generations, just as the genealogy between Amram and Moses, in the pre-Exodus era, missed some generations.

And there is further reason – what might be called circumstantial evidence – to understand from the Biblical text that the genealogy in the early years after the Flood was not a perfectly linked chain, that some generations were omitted.

For example, one of the more glaring difficulties in Bible chronology concerns the problem of how to explain the very short time span between the Flood and the arrival of Abraham.  If we are to go strictly by the chronology given in most modern Bibles, then we would have to believe that, only 400 years after the Flood, Abraham was traveling through lands already established with civilizations, pyramids, etc.

If the strict-chronology interpretation of Genesis 11 is correct, all the post-diluvian patriarchs, including Noah, would still have been living when Abram was fifty years old; three of those who were born before the earth was divided (Shem, Shelah, and Eber) would have actually outlived Abram; and Eber, the father of Peleg, not only would have outlived Abram, but would have lived for two years after Jacob arrived in Mesopotamia to work for Laban!
        On the face of it, such a situation would seem astonishing, if not almost incredible. . .

        The Bible implies that the world of Abram’s day, with its civilizations and cities, was ancient already; and we are left with the unmistakable impression that its peoples had long since been divided “after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, in their nations” (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31).
        As we follow Abram in his wanderings, from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan, filled to overflowing with “the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite” (Gen. 15:19-21); and then follow him down into the land of Egypt with its Pharaoh and its princes (12:150); and then see him going to Lot’s rescue in the vicinity of Damascus after Lot and other captives from the five Cities of the Plain had been deported by the kings of Shinar, Ellaser, Elam, and Goiim (14:1-16); and then see him being met by a priest-king of Salem (14:18) and Hittite landowners (23:2-20), we cannot help but feel that [a good amount of time had passed since the Flood, more than what can be outlined in most modern Bible translations].
        (The Genesis Flood, pgs. 477-479)

Interestingly, the Septuagint Bible allows for a span of over 1,000 years between the Flood and the birth of Abraham. And this seems more realistic, if for no other reason than the fact that those who translated it lived closer to that ancient historical era and may have had a greater knowledge of what happened before their time and how long ago it was.

Regarding the patriarchs’ ages at the birth of their sons, the Septuagint translators have often been accused of tampering with the text, and this may be true. But perhaps the reason they elongated those ages was to bring the text in line with what they figured was the approximate span of time between the Flood and Abraham’s birth. We might say they sacrificed accuracy in one aspect in order to gain accuracy in another aspect.

In these modern times we like to be very specific and exact with our dates and times, perhaps because we have the technological means to do so. The people of ancient times could be very exact and precise also, at least when it came to practical affairs. Money, weights, volume, size measurements were important in trading and building enterprises. But where it had to do with the passage of time, there was far less concern about accuracy.

They may have felt it was more important to make sure the sacred records (the Creation and Flood accounts) were passed on from generation to generation, and the genealogies were a secondary consideration. But to aid in the transmission of those sacred records, it was helpful to make certain shortcuts and stylistic changes to the less engaging aspects – those tedious genealogies.

Since the records were to be treasured by future generations, there was a different perspective as to how to present the various numbers and ages and so on. There was a concern for numerological symmetry along with a preference for certain auspicious numbers. To them the task was an artistic one; exactness and accuracy were more of an afterthought.

The ancient compilers may have had what seems to us an odd, skewed perspective on how to assemble chronologies. However, that does not mean that the Biblical record should be discarded. Nor does it mean that the timeline of history can be stretched very far beyond the strict chronology given in the Bible (or in other non-Biblical sources). The reasons for this will be made clear as we go along.


Appendix 2: Joshua’s Genealogy

In 1Chronicles 7:20-27 we find a listing of the generations from Ephraim (grandson of Joseph and Rachel) to Joshua. Verses 23-27 show that Joshua was the 10th descendant. In this passage (verse 23), besides the usual word for “beget” or “bear” (yalad ), the word (harah) for “conceive” is also used. (“She conceived and bore a son” NKJV; “became pregnant and gave birth” in NIV) When these two words are combined like this, it removes the usual ambiguity, making it clear that the passage is describing this as a direct father-to-son lineage. 

In the case of Moses and Aaron, however, the word for “conceive” is not used in Exodus 6:20. And the lineage after Jacob is expressed as going from Levi to Kohath to Amram to Moses. This makes Moses the 4th generation after Jacob, in line with the statement in Genesis 15:16, “In the fourth generation they [Abraham’s descendants] shall return here [to Canaan].”

Although, strictly speaking, that is not correct, it seems that, unless specified with the word “conceive”, then in the language and culture of that ancient time, those words “fourth generation” could be interpreted rather loosely (according to our modern way of thinking). To be exact however, since Moses was born in the generation before Joshua, then he should have been approximately the 9th, not the 4th, descendant after Jacob (since his protégé Joshua was the 10th descendant).


Continue to Chapter 4: Thread of History not Lost in the Post-Flood World

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