As we begin our discussion, I would first like to discuss Genesis
4 and 5. These two chapters give us the story of Cain and Abel,
and provide the genealogy leading to Noah.
The beginning of civilization may be traced to Cain. According to Genesis 4:16-18, he built a city and named it after his son.
Chapter four continues with the line of Cain for a short while, and then the narrative picks up with the line of Seth through Noah. It is interesting to compare this genealogy with the ancient Sumerian King list.
When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was [first] in Eridu
[In] Eridu, A-lulim [became] king and ruled 28,800 years.
Alalgar ruled 36,000 years.
[Thus] two kings ruled it for 64,800 years.
I drop [the topic of] Eridu,
[because] its kingship was brought to Bad-tibira.
[In] Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-Anna ruled 43,200 years.
En-men-gal-Anna ruled 28,800 years.
The god Dumu-zi, a shepherd, ruled 36,000 years.
[Thus] three kings ruled it for 108,000 years.
I drop [the topic of] Bad-tibira,
[because] its kingship was brought to Larak.
[In] Larak, En-sipa-zi-Anna ruled 28,800 years
[Thus] one king ruled 28,800 years.
I drop [the topic of] Larak,
[because] its kingship was brought to Shuruppak.
[In] Shuruppak, Ubar-Tutu became king and ruled 18,600 years.
[Thus] one king ruled it 18,600 years.
These are five cities. Eight kings ruled them for 241,000 years.
[Then] the flood swept over [the earth].
After the flood had swept over [the earth and] when kingship was lowered [again] from heaven, kingship was [first] in Kish.
In Kish, Ga[...]ur became king and ruled 1200 years...
Pala-kinatim ruled 900 years.
Nangish-lishma ruled [...] years.
Bah[i]na ruled [...] years.
BU.AN.[..].um ruled 40 ye[ars].
Kalibum ruled 960 years.
Qalumum ruled 840 years.
Zuqaqip ruled 900 years.
Atab ruled 600 years.
[Mashda, son] of Atab ruled 840 years.
Arwi'um, son of Mashda, ruled 720 years.
Etana, a shepherd,
he who ascended to heaven,
who consolidated all countries,
became king and ruled 1560 years.
Balih, son of Etana, ruled 400 years.
En-me-nunna ruled 660 years.
Melam-Kishi, son of En-me-nunna ruled 900 years.
Bar-sal-nunna, son of En-me-nunna ruled 1200 years.
Samug, son of Bar-sal-nunna, ruled 140 years.
Tizkar, son of Samug ruled 305 years.
Ilku' ruled 900 years.
Ilta-sadum ruled 1200 years.
he who carried away as spoil the weapon of Elam,
became king and ruled 900 years.
Aka, son of En-men-b arage-si, ruled 629 years.
[Thus] Twenty-three kings ruled it for 24,510 years, 3 months, and 3 and a half days. Kish was defeated in battle: its kingship was removed to Eanna.
In Eanna, Mes-kiag-gasher, the son of the god Utu, became high priest as well as king. He ruled 324 years.
Mes-kiag-gasher went [daily] into the [Western] Sea, and came back again to the [Sunrise] Mountains.
En-me-kar, son of Mes-kiag-gasher -- he who built Uruk -- became king and ruled 420 years.
The god Lugal-banda, a shepherd, ruled 1200 years.
The god Dumu-zi, a SU.PES fisherman --
his native city was Ku'a[ra] --
ruled 100 years.
The god Gilgamesh --
his father was a LILLU --
a high priest of Kullab
ruled 126 years.
Ur-Nungal, son of Gilgamesh, ruled 30 years.
Utul-kalamma, son of Ur-Nungal, ruled 15 years.
Lab[h...]ir ruled 9 years.
Ennun-dara-Anna ruled 8 years.
MES.HE, a smith, ruled 36 years.
Melam-Anna ruled 6 years.
Lugal-ki-tun ruled 36 years.
Uruk was defeated in battle.
Its kingship was removed to Ur.
In Ur, Mes-Anna-pada became king; he ruled 80 years.
Mes-kiag-Nanna became king; he ruled 36 years.
Elulu ruled 25 years.
Balulu ruled 36 years.
[Thus four kings ruled it for 177 years.
Ur was defeated in battle....
In his book, The Sumerian King List (AS, No. 11), Thorkild
Jacobson offers a critical edition of the entire text. On the
basis of a systematic study of the numerous variant readings,
Jacobson has shown that all the "manuscripts" -- i.e.
tablets -- go back to one single original written in the time
of Utu-hegel, king of Uruk, the liberator of Sumer from the yoke
of the Guti domination (reigned from c. 2116-2110 BC).
To demonstrate that his country had always been united under one king -- though these kings were ruling successively in different capitals -- the author compiled this document from two types of literary sources:
1. From lists containing the names of the kings, the places and the lengths of their rules (established originally for practical chronological purposes).
2. And from epical texts, legendary stories, local anecdotic traditions, etc., dealing with the biography and the marvelous deeds of some of these ancient kings.
This literary material is referred to in very succinct sentences
scattered throughout the monotonous enunciation of royal names,
figures, and place names.
To this work has later been added a section dealing with the events before the flood.
When you read this list it is interesting to note that the length of the reigns given to these early kings are extremely long.
Needless to say, there have been a lot of discussions about the reason for these long reigns.
1. Scribal errors; the original numbers were misread and became excessive.
2. Pious exaggeration; just trying to magnify the ancients and make them appear great and important.
3. Perhaps these are not referring to the reigns of individual kings, but rather of royal dynasties -- though even this seems excessive, because there are no other records of single dynasties enduring so long.
Are these real names of real people -- or are they just made up?
1. Probably, these names refer to real people. As far back as we have other sources, the people can be verified as historical. For instance, Gilgamesh, long thought to be just a legendary, literary personage (as the main protagonist of the Gilgamesh Epic) has been found to be a real king who ruled in Uruk (southern Mesopotamia) sometime during the first half of the third millennium BC, a contemporary of Agga, ruler of Kish.
2. Another point to note is that the length of reigns decreases after the flood, just as the lifespans of people decrease in the genealogies after the flood in Genesis.
The Sons of God: who are they, what are they, what is going on here?
1. Sons of God = the line of Seth
2. The daughters of men = the line of Cain
3. Sin = the marriage of holy to unholy (unequally yoked)
4. Supporters: Leupold, Stigers
a. The concept of a holy line seems to be established.
b. There seems to be no real break from the first chapter of Genesis.
a. The term "sons of God" never means a special, holy line elsewhere in the Bible.
b. There is no evidence that the lines are kept totally separate; moreover, the theory fails to account for Adam and Eve's other children.
c. God had not yet begun working through only a single, special line or race of people.
d. The term for "men" as in "daughters of men" is general. It would need further classification to be understood in some special, technical sense.
e. By Noah's time, he alone was righteous.
1. Sons of God = Dynastic rulers
2. Daughters of men = commoners
3. Sin = polygamy
4. Supporters: Aramaic targums, Rashi, Rambam, Jacob
a. Magistrates or rulers are occasionally referred to as gods (Exodus 21:6, 22:8-9, Psalm 82:1, 6)
b. Kings are sometimes referred to as the sons of deities.
a. Kingship is not expressed in any way in the passage.
b. Scripture never considered a king to be the son of a god, with the possible exception of Psalm 2:6-7 -- although the New Testament applies this Psalm to Jesus Christ.
1. Sons of God = fallen angels
2. Daughters of Men = mortal woman
3. Sin = marriage between supernatural and natural
4. Supporters: Philo, Josephus, Justin, Ambrose, Book of Enoch, Delitzsch, Driver, Cassuto, H. Morris, von Rad, Speiser, Nettelhorst
a. "sons of God" refers only to angels in all other references (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, Psalm 29:1, 89:7; Daniel 3:25
b. Jude 6-7, 1 Peter 3:19-20, and 2 Peter 2:4-6 seem to refer to the incident. Notice that Jude 7 indicates "in a similar way" the people of Sodom perverted themselves (they desired sex with angels: Gen. 19:5)
c. The Septuagint in Job 1 reads "angels of God".
d. Jesus in Matthew 22:30 says that angels do not marry; it does not say they cannot, nor does it say they are incapable of having sex or procreating, nor, for that matter, are we necessarily legitimate in saying that sex will not exist in heaven, only that marriage, as it exists on Earth, will not be practiced.
a. Lends a mythological tone to the narrative.
b. Angels had not previously been mentioned in the text (except for the Cherubim in Gen. 3)
c. The New Testament support is not incontrovertible.
"A hundred and twenty years". Cf. 1 Peter 3:20. This
is probably a reference to how long before the flood occurs, rather
than a limitation on human longevity.
Part of the reason for sending the flood, some have argued, could have been to eliminate the demon contamination from the race; they point out that this might have been an early attempt on Satan's part to prevent the coming of the Messiah (alternatively, it might have been an attempt to make redemption possible for the demons, by linking them, even obliquely with the human race). According to the NT, the demons responsible for this have been put away permanently so they would not be able to do such a thing again.
However, the passage in Genesis 6 also seems to tell us that this intermarriage between demons and humans still occurs, and it is demonstrable that the Nephalim keep showing up in the biblical narrative. For instance, David's opponent, Goliath, is a member of the Nephalim (the word most commonly rendered "giant", elsewhere in the Bible).
The most remarkable parallels between the OT and the entire corpus
of cuneiform inscriptions from Mesopotamia occur in connection
with the story of the Flood as preserved in the recovered literature
of the ancient inhabitants of the region, the non-semitic Sumerians,
and their successors, who appropriated their culture and traditions,
the Semitic speaking Babylonians and Assyrians (collectively called
The story of the Flood was well-known in Mesopotamia and enjoyed great popularity, as the different forms of it, either alone or attached to other literary compositions, which have survived, indicate.
At least one Sumerian and four Akkadian recensions are known to us, if we include the Greek account of Berossus among the latter.
The oldest version of the Flood is the Sumerian, of course, recorded on a fragment of a tablet discovered in ancient Nippur, midway between Kish and Shuruppak in north central Babylonia. It dates most probably before 2000 BC, and it is inscribed on both sides, with three columns to the side. The first column tells of a previous destruction of humankind and how both humans and animals were created.
The second column relates how a certain deity founded five cities, including Eridu, Sippar, and Shuruppak, and how he assigned a god to each and established the irrigation canals.
The third column introduces the Flood, which, according to the tablet, "made Ninhursag groan" for her people.
At the time of the Flood, Ziusuddu was king-priest. When he got the frightening news of the coming deluge, he built an idol of wood, representing the chief deity, and then worshipped it every day.
In the next column, Ziusuddu receives instruction to stand beside a wall where he will receive a divine communication concerning the impending disaster. When he stands where he was told, a god tells him that the gods are going to destroy the human race in a flood.
In column five, the Flood has begun and Ziusuddu is riding it out in a huge boat, when the badly damaged tablet once again becomes legible enough to translate:
The rain storms, might winds all of them, they sent
The floods came upon the...
When for seven days and seven nights
The Flood had raged over the Land
And the huge boat had been tossed on the great waters by the storm,
The Sun-god arose shedding light in Heaven and on Earth.
Ziussudu made an opening in the side of the great ship,
Ziussudu the king
Before Sun-god he bowed his face to the ground.
The king slaughtered an ox;
Sheep he sacrificed in great numbers.
The fearful storm having passed, column six of the tablet ends with Ziusuddu receiving the gift of immortality and being taken to a paradise-like abode, called "the mountain of Dilmun", where he would now live forever.
Ziusuddu, the king,
Before Enlil he bowed his face to the earth,
To him he gave life like a god,
An eternal soul like that of a god he bestowed on him.
At that time, Ziusuddu, the king,
Named, "Savior of living things and the seed of humanity"
They caused to dwell in the inaccessible mountain, the mountain of Dilmun.
The Flood: Babylonian Account
Based on the earlier Sumerian tradition, but much more fully developed,
the Babylonian version of the Flood constitutes the eleventh tablet
of the famous Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh.
The text in its extant form comes from the library of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanippal (669-626 BC), but it is a transcription of a much older original.
The Flood tablets were discovered in 1853 at Kuyunjik (Nineveh) by Homuzd Rassam; they were not recognized for what they were until 1872, when George Smith deciphered them. Of all the ancient traditions which bear upon the Old Testament, the Babylonian Flood story, incorporated into the Epic of Gilgamesh, has the greatest similarity to the biblical version of the story.
The Sumerian Noah, Ziusuddu appears in the Babylonian account as Utnapishtim (which name, in both Sumerian and Akkadian means "Day of Life"). In contrast, Noah's name means simply "Rest".
The Adventure of Gilgamesh, in his search for immortality, leads him at last to Utnapishtim, who had been given eternal life for his part in the Flood.
In the Epic, Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk (Gen 10:10 = Erech) has a friend named Enkidu, his faithful companion through numerous adventures. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is thrown into such a desperate, unhappy state of mind that he undertakes a hazardous journey across untraveled mountains and dangerous waters to find the immortal Utnapishtim, to learn from him the nature of life beyond death, and the possibility of obtaining immortality for himself.
On the eleventh tablet of the epic, Utnapishtim explains his immortality to Gilgamesh by giving him an account of the Flood.
After the gods determined to send the Flood because they were tired of all the noise that human beings were making, Ea, the god of wisdom, slyly warns Utnapishtim of the approaching flood -- telling his house the news rather than Utnapishtim, so that he couldn't be accused of warning a human being and violating the oath all the gods had taken.
The boat was not the size or dimensions of the ark in the Bible. The ark Utnapishtim built was hardly seaworthy, standing 120 cubits square (about 180 feet square), like a giant ice cube.
Besides food, animals, and his family, Utnapishtim also brought gold, silver, and craftsmen with him.
The flood is so bad that the gods themselves were afraid of it. They become ashamed and sad that they ever brought the flood, which lasts a total of seven days and nights.
Utnapishtim sends out a dove, a swallow, and finally a raven. The raven doesn't return.
Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice, then, which the gods swarm around "like flies".
Then the gods argue among themselves about which one is to blame for sending the flood. They finally fix the blame on Enlil, who, to cleanse his sin, bestows immortality on Utnapishtim and his wife.
I. Resemblances between the two accounts
1. Both accounts indicate that the flood is divinely planned.
2. Both accounts indicate that the impending flood was divinely revealed to the hero of the story.
3. Both accounts tell of the deliverance of the hero and his family.
4. Both accounts assert that the hero of the flood was divinely instructed to build a large ship in order to preserve his life and the lives of the animals.
5. Both accounts indicate a physical cause for the flood.
6. Both accounts indicate the duration of the flood.
7. Both accounts name the landing place of the ship.
8. Both describe an act of sacrificial worship by the hero after his deliverance.
9. Both have several details in common:
a. the word for "pitch"
b. the sending out of the birds
10. Both accounts allude to the bestowment of special blessings on the hero after the disaster.
II. Difference Between the Two Flood Accounts
1. The two accounts are diametrically opposed in their theological
conceptions: polytheism vs. monotheism
2. The two accounts are diametrically opposed in their moral conceptions
a. cause of the flood
b. fixing blame for the flood
c. a god atoning for his sin
3. Differences in details are significant
a. size of ark
b. length of flood
c. types of birds
d. items brought onto the ark
III. Explanation of the Similarities
That there is some relationship between the cuneiform versions
and the Genesis version, in view of the numerous parallels, is
There are three general explanations for these similarities.
1. The Babylonians borrowed from the Hebrew account.
This is unlikely, since the earliest tablets (Sumerian) predate the book of Genesis. The earliest Babylonian accounts of the flood probably go back to the third millennium BC.
2. The Hebrews borrowed from the Babylonian account.
This has been widely held, but seems unlikely based on the number
of significant differences between the accounts. It is difficult
to see how the Biblical account would have developed from the
Those who reject a Mosaic authorship for the pentateuch postulate that the Jews got the flood story while they were captive in Babylon.
3. Both the Hebrew and Babylonian account go back to a common source.
This position is becoming more widely held as time goes by. Evangelicals would argue that not only does it go back to some third source, the stories reflect an actual incident.
IV. Universal Flood?
1. The construction, outfitting, and stocking of the ark would
have been absurd if the flood were local; that is, why build this
huge ship if one could simply move?
2. After the flood had ended, God promised that he would never again destroy the world by flood (Genesis 8:21-22; 9:11, 15). These promises by God would be false if the Flood were merely a local occurrence, as there have been numerous local and devastating floods since then.
3. In later chapters of Genesis, the Bible traces all the peoples on the planet back to Noah and his three sons. (Genesis 9:18-10:32).
4. Other biblical references to the Flood presuppose its universality, or at least do not oppose that interpretation.
See Job 22;15, 16, Psalm 104:5-9, Isaiah 54:9, Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 2:5, 3:5-6, Matthew 24:37-41, and Luke 17:26-27.
The Flood's universality is important because it is a historical demonstration of God's inescapable judgment; it is a type of the final, universal judgment.
1. Universal terms do not in themselves prove universal destruction.
Cf. "all Israel stoned him".
2. Sodom and Gomorrah, an admittedly local event, like the Flood, is used as a picture of God's final judgment on the human race.
3. There are often other alternatives to a given problem, as Israel had more than one route to travel in escaping from Egypt -- but God chose a certain and specific way for them to go, so they wouldn't be discouraged by having to fight right away. Likewise, though Noah and his family might have moved, there was a divine purpose in the building of the ark and the assembling of the animals. This is revealed in the New Testament, where the ark is compared to the saving work of Christ.
who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:20-21)
4. Although there have been other local floods, there have been
none like the flood of Noah, which had a specific and spiritual
significance, and which God had warned a man about ahead of time.
Certainly, there have been no floods like that, where God warned
of them ahead of time, or where a boat was built and filled with
all sorts of animals.
5. There is not sufficient water on the planet to cover all the mountains. Even if the polar caps melted and every drop precipitated out of the atmosphere, most of the Earth's surface would not be covered with water.
Possible solution to the problem:
The biblical account of the flood is relatively lacking in details, so considerable speculation is possible. One potential solution to the shortage of water would be to question the need for the water to cover the entire planet all at the same time. That is, had the earth been struck by a sufficiently large asteroid impacting somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, theoretically one could get an incredibly huge tsunami. The question, for which I have no answer at the moment, would be: could a sufficiently large tidal wave be generated that would sweep around the globe, inundating everywhere?
One additional mark in favor of such a solution to the question, is that such a disaster explains the sustained rainfall of "forty days and forty nights", the utter destruction of all evidence of any civiliation in the ancient past, and the destruction of all other potential survivors (consider, if it was a peaceful storm, shouldn't others have survived who just happened to be in the water in their boats and ships when the rain started?) Admittedly this is all highly speculative, but perhaps the possibility needs to be checked out.
Importance of parallel accounts
The importance of the Babylonian flood account, part of what is
now known as the Gilgamesh epic, is not merely that it is an independent
testimony to the fact of an ancient flood, though it is that.
It is also one of the many similar accounts to be found in the
historical legends of literally hundreds of people scattered across
This fact is not usually fully appreciated. Hundreds of flood stories abound throughout the world in various cultures and are therefore evidence, not merely of the historicity of the Flood but of its universal extent, since the people having these stories presumably have them because of their descent from the Flood's survivors.
Hugh Miller, a careful investigator of these flood stories in the 1800's wrote:
The destruction of well nigh the whole human race in an early age of the world's history by a great deluge appears to have so impressed the minds of the few survivors and seems to have been handed down to their children, in consequence, with such terror-struck impressiveness, that their remote descendants of the present day have not even yet forgotten it. It appears in almost every mythology, and lives in the most distant countries and among the most barbarous tribes.
Yet strangely, in spite of widespread knowledge of the Bible and the persistence of flood traditions in virtually every culture and nation on the globe, modern man seems to have forgotten the Flood of God's judgment and argues as those whose views Peter anticipated: "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since the fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:4) Why is this?
There is only one explanation. It is not that the evidence for the intervening judgment of God in history is lacking. The evidence abounds. It is rather, as Peter says, that our contemporaries "deliberately forget" (vs. 5) these things so they can continue in their own sinful way unbothered by such disturbing concepts as accountability, sin, judgment, and the destruction of the ungodly.
The Table of the Nations
Genesis as a book of beginnings not only recounts the origin of
the physical cosmos, including all plant, animal and human life,
as well as the commencement of human sin and redemption, but it
also describes the rise of all human institutions and social relationships.
It also catalogues the beginnings of the nations, and that is
what we will examine today.
Genesis 9:18-27 is inseparably connected with the ethnographical table of Genesis 10 and furnishes an indispensable introduction to it. It contains both history and prophesy, the history containing the occasion for the prophecy. the history embraces the fact that the post-flood world was repopulated by the descendants of Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 9:18-19), and includes the episode of Noah's drunkenness. this incident, besides teaching us that sin did not end with the flood, and that even the redeemed are imperfect, reveals the general moral character that was to be manifested in the descendants of Noah's sons (Gen. 9:20-24).
I. The Prophesy of the Moral and Spiritual History of the Nations:
The prophecy growing out of the history recounted in Genesis 9:18-24
is contained in verses 25-27. the passage is one of the most
remarkable predictions to be found in all the Bible. From a redemptive
standpoint it presents in panoramic sweep the whole spiritual
career of the nations in relation to God's ways of grace. Noah
in an unguarded moment dishonors himself. In turn his son Ham,
revealing the licentious bent of his character, shamefully dishonors
his father. The Patriarch Noah then foretells the inevitable
outworking of this lascivious tendency in the curse that lights
upon Ham's son Canaan, who represents the progenitor of that branch
of the Hamitic peoples which later occupied Palestine before Israel's
conquest (Gen. 10:15-20).
The curse does not involve the infliction of a grievous disability on a large portion of the human race either by God or Noah. It is limited to Ham's fourth son, Canaan and his descendants (Ham's other three sons, Cush, Put and Mizraim) were left untouched).
The purpose of this prophesy was to clearly show the origin of the Canaanites and to set forth the source of their moral pollution. H.C. Leupold notes:
The descendants of Canaan, according to 10:15-20 are the peoples that afterward dwelt in Phoenicia and in the so-called land of Canaan, Palestine. That they became races accursed in their moral impurity is apparent from passages such as 15:16; 10:5; Lev. 18 and 20; Deut. 12:31. By the time of the entrance of Israel into Canaan under Joshua the Canaanites...were ripe for divine judgment through Israel.
In their religion the Canaanites were enslaved by one of the most
terrible and degrading forms of idolatry, which abetted rather
than restrained their immorality. That Canaan's curse was basically
religious has been amply demonstrated by archeology, particularly
by the discovery of the Canaanite religious texts from ancient
Ugarit in North Syria, 1929-1937. One scholar, Lenormant, said
of the Canaanite religion: "No other people ever rivaled
them in the mixture of bloodshed and debauchery with which they
thought to honor the Deity."
W.F. Albright writes:
Comparison of the cult objects and mythological texts of the Canaanites with those of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians forces one conclusion, that Canaanite religion was much more completely centered on sex and its manifestations. In no country has so relatively great a number of figurines of the naked goddess of fertility, some distinctly obscene, been found. Nowhere does the cult of serpents appear so strongly....Sacred courtesans [prostitutes] and eunuch priests were excessively common. Human sacrifice was well known...
The abject servitude of Canaan to Shem and later to Japheth, repeated
three times in Noah's prophecy (Gen 9:25, 26, 27), was realized
not only in the partial extermination of the Canaanites by Joshua
and the subjection of those who still remained to slavery, for
example by Solomon (1 Kings 9:20, 21) -- but also in such later
events as the capture of Tyre by Alexander the Great and later
the Roman conquest of Carthage (a Phoenician colony).
As important as the curse on Canaan, is the blessing on Shem and Japheth, indicating God's special dealings with these peoples, especially the descendants of Shem, among whom would be the citizens of Israel.
The prophesy of the moral and spiritual history of the nations in Genesis 9 furnishes an indispensable introduction to the principle that underlies the table of the nations in Genesis 10. The principle is that in divine dealings the moral character of a thing cannot be understood unless its source is known. Israel was in God's mind the medium of redemptive blessing to the world, and it was necessary for the nation to understand the source from which the various nations that surrounded her sprang, in order that she might have an insight into their character, thereby to guide her attitude and conduct toward them. This moral and spiritual principle underlying Genesis 10 makes it unique.
But this ancient document describing the distribution of the nations is unique from a literary standpoint as well. W.F. Albright writes:
It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel even among the Greeks, where we find the closest approach to a distribution of peoples in genealogical framework. But among the Greeks the framework is mythological and the peoples are all Greeks or Aegean tribes.
Commenting on the accuracy of these genealogies, Albright writes:
In view of the inextricable confusion of racial and national strains in the ancient Near East it would be quite impossible to draw up a simple scheme which would satisfy all scholars; no one system could satisfy all the claims made on the basis of ethnic predominance, ethnographic diffusion, language, physical type, culture, historical tradition. The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document. [It] shows such a remarkably "modern" understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation in the ancient world, in spite of all its complexity, that scholars never fail to be impressed with the author's knowledge of the subject.
Although numerous names of places and peoples included in the Table were known from ancient literary sources, notably Greek and Roman, many have been discovered for the first time by modern archaeology. Now nearly all the names in this chapter of Genesis may be elucidated by the archaeological discoveries of the past century and a half.
B. Japhetic Nations
The descendants of Japheth, the youngest son of Noah, are given
first, those of Ham next, and those of Shem, the oldest son, last.
This is in accord with the plan of the book of Genesis, in which
the families which branched off the main line are noticed first.
When these have been dealt with, the writer returns to the family
in the main line to describe it more elaborately and to carry
forward the redemptive history.
The Japhetic or northern peoples, originally concentrated in the Caucasus region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, spread from there toward the east and west.
1. Gomer: Assyrian Gimirraya. Represents the Cimmerians of classical antiquity. With Togarmah, Gomer is listed by Ezekiel as residing "in the uttermost parts of the north" (Ezek. 38:6). Coming into Asia from the regions beyond the Caucasus, the Cimmerians settled in the general region of Cappadocia and are known from the Assyrian records as Gimirrai. Esarhaddon (681-668 BC) defeated them. Ashurbanipal (668-625 BC) mentions their invasion of the kingdom of Lydia, in the days of the famous king Gugu (Gyges), whose name is perhaps preserved in Scripture as Gog (Ezek. 38:2).
Magog is a land and a people in the "uttermost parts of the north" whose ruler, God, chief prince of "Meshech and Tubal" has Gomer and Togarmah among his allies (Ezek. 38:2 and 39:6). Josephus identified them with the Sythians, but it is more likely simply a comprehensive term for northern barbarian hordes.
Madai represents the Medes who peopled the mountainous country east of Assyria and south of the Caspian Sea. They are well known in the Old Testament (2 Kings 17:6, 18:11, Isa. 21:2, etc.) and their history is further elucidated by the Assyrian inscriptions from the ninth century BC on till the fall of the Assyrian Empire in the late seventh century BC. It was Cyaxares, the Mede, in an alliance with Nabopolasar of Babylon, who besieged and destroyed Ninevah in 612 BC.
Javan, the name of the Greeks, more exactly the Ionians of Homer, and more particularly the Asiatic Ionians who dwelt on the coasts of Lydia and Caria, and whose cities were important commercial emporiums two centuries before those of Greece itself. Javan was the name under which the Jews first became acquainted with the Greeks. It is the name by which they are known throughout the Old Testament (Ezek. 27:13, Isa. 66:19, Joel 3:6, Zech. 9:13, Dan. 8:21, 10:20)
Tubal and Mesheck (Ezek. 27:13, 32:26, 38:2, 39:1, Isa. 66:19). These are the Tabali and the Mushki of the Assyrian records. The Tabali are first mentioned in the frontier campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser I (c. 1100 BC) and Mushki by Shalmaneser III (860-825 BC), and both names occur prominently later. The notices of them in the Assyrian period place their home northeast of Cilicia (Hilakku) and east of Cappadocia (Gimirrai), but by Herodotus' time they had removed further north to the mountainous region southeast of the Black Sea.
Tiras: Perhaps this is the Tursenoi, a people dwelling on the north shores and islands off the Aegean Sea and greatly dreaded by the Greeks as pirates.
2. The Descendants of Gomer.
Ashkenaz is equivalent to Assyrian Ashkuz, the Scythians. In the time of Jeremiah they dwelt in the vicinity of Ararat and Minni (the Mannai of the Assyrian inscriptions southeast of Lake Van).
Riphath: Occurs in 1 Chronicles 1:6 as Diphah, which is explained by the similarity of resh and daleth. The names seems to be preserved in the Riphaean Mountains.
Togarmah is Tegarama in southwestern Armenia. It is probably to be identified with the Armenians (Cf. Ezek. 27:14, 38:6)
3. The Descendants of Javan.
These, four in number,embrace the most southerly and westerly peoples of the Japhetic group who occupied the ports of commerce on the Mediterranean.
Elishah: Kittim or Cyprus. These people are called Alashia in the Amarna letters. Perhaps they are to be identified with Sicily.
Tarshish: a name of the Phoenician smelting center located at Tartessus in southern Spain near Gibraltar.
Kittim: the Kitians, or Kiti (in Phoenician inscriptions). Cyprus.
Dodanim: May be the Dardana of Asia Minor.
C. Descendants of Ham:
The descendants of Ham comprise the eastern and southern people who settled originally in lower Mesopotamia and subsequently in south Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Canaan (Gen. 10:6-14). As the second son of Noah, Ham is regarded as the ancestor of the African peoples, to some extent.
In the Hamitic line is traced the rise of earliest imperial world power, first under Nimrod in Babylonia and later in Nineveh and in Egypt.
I. The Hamitic Nations:
1. The descendants of Ham:
Phut: (Put) Libya
Canaan: denotes the descendants of Ham who settled in the land of Palestine and from whom the country took its original name.
2. The descendants of Cush:
Seba is mentioned first and it is connected with south Arabia through the southwestward migration of the original Chusites from lower Mesopotamia. According to the Assyrian inscriptions this people had migrated to northwest Arabia in the eight century BC. Cf. Queen of Sheba.
Havilah: A district of central or southern Arabia.
Sabtah -- generally indentified with Shabwat, the ancient metropolis of Hazarmaveth (Gen. 10:26) in south Arabia which is still called Hadramaut by the Arabs.
Raamah, Sabteca, and the descendants of Raamah, Sheba and Dedan, all represent Cushite tribes of the Arabian peninsula.
Nimrod was the founder of a kingdom in Babylon. His name is apparently
Sumerian, which is what would be expected, since Sumerians controlled
Babylon and Mesopotamia first. Nimrod is explained as Nin-Maradda
"Lord of Marad", a town southwest of Kish. And if
Cush is to be traced in the ancient city-kingdom of Kish, founded
3200-3000 BC took their royal titles as kings of the world, archaeological
light is thrown on this primeval imperial period preserved in
the name Nimrod. It is significant that the Sumerian King List
names the dynasty of Kish with twenty-three kings first in the
enumeration of Mesoptamian dynasties which reigned after the flood.
The cities of Babel, Erech, and Akkad are now known through archaeology and are among the earliest great capitals of the civilized world. They are in the land of Shinar.
Babel (Akk. bab-ilu: gate of God)
Erech (Akk. Uruk, modern Warka)
Akkad (Sargon would bring this city to great prominence as the capital of a new Semitic empire dominating the Mesopotamian world from 2360 to 2180 BC (Agade)
The Tower of Babel
If the brief account of post-flood humanity was to be complete for its purpose in the history of human redemption, it had to deal with all the major factors that help to explain the present state of the world. The origin and distribution of the various nations of antiquity having been outlined and prefaced with a prophetic survey of the general moral relation of these peoples to God's purposes of redemption, one necessary consideration remains: how and why did the many languages and dialects that are found in the world originate? When this item of essential background material is disposed of, the author of Genesis will be free to leave the general history of humanity and concentrate on the redemptive promise in Shem.
1. The confusion of tongues:
It is evident that it was the author's intention all along to
treat this subject, as appears from genesis 10:25, where in connection
with Peleg, the son of Eber, it is noted that "in his day
the earth was divided". This division of the earth into
different nations of various languages and dialects is recounted
in Chapter 11, and chronologically is to be placed before the
distribution of the nations.
If all the inhabitants of the post-flood world are descended from Noah, they must of necessity have possessed one and the same language. The writer of Genesis clearly sets forth this fact: "and the whole earth was of one language and one speech". Noah's family and their descendants are, moreover, pictured as moving nomadically eastward, till "they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there" (Gen. 11:2).
About one hundred years after the flood, in this location, they began to build a tower "with its top in heaven", an idiom meaning simply "a very tall tower". Their purpose in building: "Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole Earth." (Gen. 11:4) They would spare no effort. Since stones were lacking, they used the material at hand ( they were still industrious and inventive, if technically limited). Cf. Gen. 9:1 as regards their desire not to be scattered: they were disobeying God.
Such apostasy of early post-diluvian humanity demanded divine judgment. He would further slow their technical redevelopment (note God's reason for confusing their language). The idea that they were a technologically advanced society before the flood is not completely without scriptural foundations. You get hints for that idea if you've already made up your mind for that position.
2. The tower itself.
Often you will hear it described as being a zigurrat (from Akk. ziqquratu), which was a temple tower. One problem: it is not called a ziggurrat in the Bible! Besides, everything seems to indicate that this is the first city and tower attempted after the flood. they had no models, except perhaps memory of what had been before (skyscrapers?). A thing to keep in mind, too, is that they wanted not only to build a tower, but more importantly, a city (Gen. 11:3-4). The word for tower in Hebrew "migdal" refers to watchtowers that would sit on the city walls.
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