5 – Examination of the Genesis Chronology

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 the historical period after Terah, the Bible gives more detail about the lives of the patriarchs, and we see from the Chart 1 below that the timeline looks more stretched out. The Terah-Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Levi-Moses links are rather stretched-out compared to the earlier Peleg-Reu-Serug-Nahor links. For the Terah-to-Moses line,the Biblical account provides enough detail that we can trace exactly the number of years from one end of it to the other.

Chrono1 copy

Chart 1 (Click to Enlarge)

And here is a helpful observation regarding Terah’s family: at one point we learn that “Terah lived 70 years and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” (Genesis 11:26) It almost sounds as if his wife bore triplets. But further ahead we learn that when Terah died in Haran at the age of 205 years, Abraham was only 75 years old. This means that Terah was actually 130 (not 70) years old when Abraham was born. (Genesis 11:32, 12:4)

Here we run into a major feature of ancient Mid East culture: the birth of the first son was supremely important. Jacob referred to his first-born son Reuben as the “beginning of my strength”. (Genesis 49: 3) In the case of Terah, at 70 years he had his first-born son who was probably Haran. The other two sons, Abraham and Nahor, are listed there because they were part of Terah’s line – his “beginning of strength” which began at the age of 70. But Abraham’s actual birth date was somewhat later. In the Mid East view, however, that was a minor detail – a mere extension of the “beginning of strength” event that took place when Terah was 70 years of age.

Perhaps this could be compared to how one might advertise a series of sermons, or playoffs in sports, or episodes in a movie or TV drama production. The advertisements will emphasize the date of the first sermon or playoff or episode, so that the audience can start at the beginning and not miss any part of the series.

In a similar way perhaps, it seems that in ancient times the “beginning of strength”, the date of the firstborn son, was the important year to be listed for the birth of the various patriarchs, regardless of whether or not they were actually first in the series. We also learn that the son who ends up carrying the torch so-to-speak, who continues the line of succession, may not, like Abraham, be the firstborn son.

Whichever son turned out to be the “torch-bearer” – the Messianic link – had a lot to do with his influence or faithfulness or chosenness – as much as whether or not he was the firstborn son. And as we know from the example of the “birth” of Moses to his “parents” Amram and Jochebed, that “son” may actually be an influential descendant born in a later generation of that family line.

It is quite possible that only a small number of the patriarchs listed in Genesis 11 were firstborn sons. A comparison of 11:10 with 5:32 and 8:13 suggests that Shem was not. A comparison of 11:10 with 10:22 suggests that Arpachshad was not. And we have already seen that Abram was not. Actually, not one of the Messianic ancestors in Genesis, whose family background is known in any detail, such as Abel, Seth, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Perez, was a firstborn son. The year of begetting a first son, known in the Old Testament as “the beginning of strength,” was an important year in the life of the Israelite (Gen. 49:3, Deut. 21:17, Psa. 78:51, and Psa. 105:36). It is this year, then, and not necessarily the year of the birth of the Messianic link, that is given in each case in Genesis 11. Thus we have clear evidence for the possible addition of a limited number of years from the lives of some of these patriarchs to the total of years from the Flood to Abraham. (The Genesis Flood, pg. 480)

Looking again at the chart, we can see that the Peleg-Reu-Serug-Nahor line looks compressed, perhaps because no account was taken of the fact that the ancestors listed may not have been first-born sons, and in some cases not even first-generation descendants. And just before Peleg, the Eber-to-Peleg section is even more compressed – with a dramatic decrease in age from 464 years (for Eber) to 239 years (for his “son” Peleg). There is a likelihood then that some generations were left out in this section of the genealogy.

This is even more reasonable when we consider what Genesis 10:25 states: “And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided.” According to a strict chronology interpretation, it wasn’t just Peleg who was alive when the earth was divided. There would have been also Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, Shelah, and Eber. Yet the phrase (“in the days of Peleg”) gives the impression that Peleg was the only patriarch around in those days when “the earth was divided.”

Furthermore, according to the strict interpretation, the patriarch Shem would have been alive during the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet there is no mention at all of this extraordinary fact in the detailed stories of those three patriarchs. It seems an inescapable conclusion then that Peleg’s ancestors had already passed away and that there are a few unrecorded generations in the transition period between Eber and Peleg.

This may seem like a terrible discrepancy, but in a way it is quite understandable. For it is no different from what happened with the children of Israel in Egypt. Immediately after the Flood, it was easy to pass on the torch from Shem to Arphaxad to Shelah. However, by the time it came to Eber, with greater numbers of people and tribes, it was getting difficult to find a clear line of succession – similar to the children of Israel’s situation during their prolonged sojourn in Egypt, or to the era recorded in the Book of Judges. Between the birth of Amram and the birth of Moses, there were no outstanding individuals or events to record. And probably the situation was similar during the years that transpired between the lives of Eber and Peleg.

The Book of Genesis features the highlights, or turning points, of early human history. For those who recorded the different parts of the Book, this was the main concern; recording the passage of time was a secondary consideration. Nevertheless, God made sure to strengthen and revive the thread of recorded history during those times when it was starting  to become feeble. And because it was preserved, today we are gifted with the amazing result – a historical heritage featuring a line of ancestors, stretching all the way back to the very dawn of human history.

And even though a few names were forgotten or dropped from the chronologies during the process of compiling, that does not diminish the astounding reality of these records’ existence and the fact that they extend all the way back to the very Beginning.

How is it then that some names were left out in the post-Flood chronologies? Perhaps, as Noah and his sons began to die off, their account of Creation and the Great Flood event began to lose some of its currency or immediacy. And by the time of Peleg, it is likely that many tribes and nations had wandered away from the original faith of Noah and his family and had adopted their own versions of the Creation and Flood story – versions that were more compatible with their culture and religious beliefs.

Unlike the city-states of that era, those who were obeying God were busy traveling and migrating to different corners of the earth. They were not organized yet, with a line of succession of kings and rulers, which would have made it easier to record the passage of time.  

Major events were recorded, however, such as the landing of the ark and the dawn of the new historical age. The Tower of Babel was a major recorded event by which God re-affirmed for the human race what His plan for them was.

There were, no doubt, many exciting but unrecorded tales of the exploits of those early adventurers who migrated into different corners of the earth according to God’s plan. We may well hear those stories in a future era, but for now they will have to be postponed – along with any exact accurate estimate of the passage of time between the Flood and the arrival of Abraham and the children of Israel.

Another major recorded event (or perhaps the same Tower of Babel event) came in the days of Peleg. Once more, a dynamic event took place when “in his days the earth was divided.” (What does it mean “the earth was divided”? See Appendix 3 below.) Looking again at Chart 1, it is easy to see that, after Peleg, the chronological line of succession continues without any major interruption.

But a “major interruption” does appear to have taken place between the arrivals of Eber and Peleg. If we take the rate of age decline in the Peleg-to-Moses section and apply it to the Eber-to-Peleg section, we can stretch the time between Eber and Peleg to a rather astonishing 1,585 years (as seen in Chart 2 below). The time span probably is exaggerated. The Eber-to-Peleg era may have been a time when lifetime lengths were declining quite rapidly while the Peleg-to-Moses era may represent a time when the rate of age decline was much less and beginning to level out. Nevertheless, there seems little doubt that, between Eber and Peleg, there are likely a few generations that did not make it into the final recording of the genealogy.

Chrono3 copyChart 2 (Click to Enlarge)

In the case of the missing generations from Amram to Moses, the chronology does not require them because the text summarizes the length (430 years) of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt in Exodus 12:40-41 (and Galatians 3:17). The Eber-to-Peleg gap, however, has no such summary of the time span, so for now the number of missing years has to remain a matter of guesswork.

But the time span, whatever it is, cannot be stretched unreasonably or beyond certain limits. The genealogies in Genesis 5 and 10 may be extended slightly, but they cease to be genealogies if large gaps exist.

To be sure, it was by means of Biblical analogies that we were able to find possible gaps in the genealogy of Genesis 11. But the point we now wish to emphasize is that those very analogies serve also to limit our time-scale for Genesis 11. The gap between Amram and Moses was 300 years, not 30,000. And the gap between Joram and Uzziah in Matthew 1:8 was 50 years, not 5,000. On the basis of the analogy of Biblical chronology, therefore, we maintain that it is very hazardous to assume a period of 100,000 years between the Flood and Abraham. (The Genesis Flood, pgs. 485-486)

Does the fact that the Biblical genealogy has a few omissions make it invalid? As mentioned before, the genealogy testifies to the power of the Almighty who somehow managed to get around and past human frailties and string together the timeline of human history right from its very Beginning.

Remarkably, the timeline and records of the Flood cataclysm and pre-Flood world made it through the “gauntlet” of that early post-Flood era when there was the greatest likelihood of them getting lost. As we’ve seen, the timeline cannot claim to be unbroken, but even when the recording of that ancestral line became feeble, it never got lost but always got re-established.

Does the fact that there are gaps in the genealogies mean that the Bible’s version of history can be made to conform to modern evolutionary theories and its vast ages of time? This is a crucial question. For it would be easy to slip into thinking that a few gaps in the Genesis chronology provides a green light, either to forget the whole thing, or else stretch out the timeline and bring it in line with evolutionary speculations.

Evolution theory proposes that the human species appeared in some kind of primitive state about 100,000 to 250,000 years ago. Without getting into the biological, genetic, and other scientific reasons* that would invalidate such a belief, let us examine this question from a cultural-sociological point of view. (*For the various scientific reasons why monkey-to-man evolution over a long period of time is incorrect, posts 4D and 4E from the Retrieving Mankind’s Lost Heritage series are recommended.)

Although we cannot know the exact dates for Creation and the Flood and could add a few extra centuries or even one or two millennia to the age of the earth, there are limitations as to how far the age of the Earth can be extended.

It would seem to us that even the allowance of 5,000 years between the Flood and Abraham stretches Genesis 11 almost to the breaking point. The time has come when those who take the testimony of God’s infallible Word with seriousness should begin to look with favor upon the efforts of those who are examining and exposing the unwarranted assumptions and false presuppositions of uniformitarianism as it applies to the dating of early man. (The Genesis Flood (pg. 489)

The above passage was written at a time when theologians and preachers were promoting the idea that the Genesis record could be stretched to accommodate the theories of gradual evolution that had gained preeminence in the world of science. Nowadays, among believers, there is, thankfully, less acceptance of that kind of interpretation.

But how do we know there are limitations as to how far the age of the earth can be extended? One way is by using evidence from other sources. Numerous geological and astronomical studies and investigation point to a young age for the earth. That includes radioactive dating, which, according to new devices and research, is measuring young ages for Earth’s history – instead of the vast ages of time that older and less refined methods used to do. (The posts for this information were already mentioned, and in this study we won’t get into those scientific aspects.)

But from a cultural-historical angle also, there are several indicators pointing to a recent date for Creation and the Flood. It is generally agreed among secular and Christian historians that recorded history began about 5,000 years ago (or about 3000 B.C.) with the inhabitants of Sumeria. Prior to this, the various families and tribes of mankind were growing in numbers and migrating away from where Noah’s ark had landed in the mountains of Ararat.

Many of these ancient tribes have preserved some version or other of the Flood and Creation account. There are at least 270 such legends to be found in ancient societies all over the world. In these ancestral legends it is obvious that the tribes of man, in their earliest days, had heard the Flood story, no doubt from Noah and his sons. The Genesis account is the official record, in what appears to be Noah’s actual log of events. This we can tell in phrases like the following, which give detailed information about the dates of certain key events of the Flood legend:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month. . .
In the tenth month, on the first day of the month. . .
In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month. . .
In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month. . .

        (Genesis 7:11; 8:5,13,14)

It would appear that the account of this great event in Earth’s natural history was recorded by Noah in his journal and passed down in written form through the centuries to be gathered finally by Moses in the Book of Genesis. Had Noah not written it down, the details mentioned in the above quotes would never have been remembered. And indeed, in all the oral versions that were transmitted in other ancient societies, there is no mention of those particular details.

Remarkably though, several ancient societies were able to preserve an account of the Flood through their oral traditions for some time before eventually writing them down – quite an achievement. Their versions, as expected, show distortions because of not having the original written records. But it is surprising that all of them show traces of some of the same details – perhaps the raven and the dove, or the number of people on the ark, even just the fact that there was a floating vessel of some kind and a flood that overwhelmed the Earth.

APPENDIX 3: “The earth was divided”

Genesis 10:25 states, “The earth was divided.” This mysterious passage is often taken as a reference to the confusion of tongues and scattering of tribes from the city of Babel. This could be. But then, if Nimrod was the founder of Babel and the grandson of Ham, that would mean that the Tower of Babel event happened early in the post-Flood era; whereas Peleg came along rather late in that era. So it is possible that the division of the earth, whatever it was, refers to something else.

Another theory proposes that the division of the earth refers to the spreading apart of the continents (continental drift theory). A third theory could be that at the end of the Ice Age, sea levels rose drastically, drowning many coastal cities and separating land masses that were once connected via land bridges.

That passage in Genesis 10:25 presents us with a most intriguing mystery, the answer to which has not really been solved with any degree of certainty.


Continue to Chapter 6 – Writing and Technology: Did Mankind have to Start from Scratch?

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