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Moses, John Tyler, and Skewed Generation Lengths

I thought this story about Presidential descendants was interesting:

Former President John Tyler, born 221 years ago, still has two living grandchildren. The one-term president isn’t a well-known historical figure; he’s probably best remembered for helping to push through the annexation of Texas in 1845, shortly before leaving office.

So, how is it possible that a former president who died 150 years ago would still have direct descendents alive today? As it turns out, the Tyler men were known for fathering children late in life. And that math is pretty outstanding when added up:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He became the 10th president of the United States in 1841 after William Henry Harrison died in office. Tyler fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler in 1853, at age 63.  Then, at the age of 71, Lyon Gardiner Tyler fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924 and four years later at age 75, Harrison Ruffin Tyler. Both men are still alive today.

That means just three generations of the Tyler family are spread out over more than 200 years.

I don’t know how old Lyon Jr. and Harrison were when they became fathers, but the average age for both President Tyler and his son, Lyon, is a whopping 67 years! To put this in perspective, genealogists will usually figure a first child is born when the father is about 20-25. If you’re not worrying specifically about firstborns, the average father-to-son generation length will be a bit longer, but surely not much past 30. But here is a documented account of a father-to-son average generation length of almost 70 years. This is significantly longer than the average 40-year generation length documented in my own family tree over the past six generations.

Of course, I’m thinking about this because of (what else?) the biblical genealogies. We usually don’t bat an eye when we see a genealogy (biblical or otherwise) with generation-lengths in the 20-30 year range. But surely something is amiss if we find some in the 60-70 year range, right? Well, yes, there almost certainly is—but apparently not always. In the great majority of cases, there is most likely a generation or more missing from the record when you find you have to “stretch” the generation lengths to cover the allotted time. Either that or you have over-estimated the time span in the first place.

For example, the genealogies that span from the time Jacob and his family entered Egypt until the time of the Exodus will expand or contract depending on the dates assigned. Even then, however, different genealogical lines cover that period with different numbers of ancestors. Joshua’s (through Joseph) has thirteen. Nahshon’s (through Judah) has seven—or maybe a couple more if you make certain text-critical assumptions about the version of this line given in Luke 3. Moses’s (through Levi) has only five.

Is it really possible that only five generations separate two points in time that other genealogies fill with a dozen or so ancestors? Actually, probably not. I still suspect there are some missing generations in there somewhere. But the genealogy of John Tyler makes the genealogy of Judah look a bit more plausible on the surface. Two or three unusually long generational “jumps” would bring all the rest into something like the expected parameters.


Happy Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for

  • The love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
  • A loving, longsuffering wife
  • A brilliant, happy, healthy ten-year-old daughter
  • Freedom to practice my faith without anybody looking over my shoulder
  • The King James Version of the Bible
  • The Screwtape Letters
  • A warm house with a full refrigerator
  • Parents who care, help, and advise without being pushy
  • A job where I’m appreciated
  • Ray Charles
  • A church where I’m both challenged and comforted
  • The Proto-Sinaitic alphabet
  • Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili
  • The unforgettable experience of celebrating a Baptist Eucharist that involved vestments, chant, and real wine in a golden chalice
  • Writers who help me see Scripture in different ways
  • Interstate 75 (except around Atlanta)
  • The Charlie Brown Christmas Special
  • The Mercer University Children’s Choir
  • Two arms, two legs, and all five senses
  • The Internet
  • Students who indulge me by laughing at my jokes
  • Bedtime stories
  • Socks

What are you thankful for?

An Editor’s Bucket List

Tom Raabe rocks! My favorites:

  • Catch a really important typo. Many have been the authors whose assiduous editors have saved them from espousing a “pubic” theology, for example, or from proclaiming a gospel that is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the “Geeks.” The great editorial coup, however, the ne plus ultra of the category, is catching a typo in the title of a book on the very cover of the book in question. There circulated a few copies of the first edition of Elmer Gantry whose covers proclaimed the title as Elmer Cantry. Pity the poor saps who scribbled their sign-off initials on the cover proofs of that one.
  • Successfully pronounce a French phrase at a staff or sales meeting. Reading refined and intelligent books for a living, I come across a plethora of recondite words, and not a small number of foreign phrases, many of them in French. I look these up, of course, to verify the spelling and diacritical markings, but very rarely have occasion to utter them out loud. And when I do, people look at me as though I’m speaking ancient Ugaritic.
  • Respond to demanding technophobic authors who insist on communicating exclusively in snail mail with replies written in ancient Ugaritic.
  • Write into the contracts of certain selected authors the clause that, when they submit their finished manuscripts, they be required to include in the package a case (“consisting of no fewer than twenty-four [24] bottles”) of Five-Hour Energy Drink.
  • Receive a bibliography that does not require any editing whatsoever.
  • Be standing at the Eerdmans author reception at the Society of Biblical Literature convention, in a conversational huddle comprising N. T. Wright, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Stanley Hauerwas, Miroslav Volf, John Dominic Crossan, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and say something so amusing that all of them burst out laughing simultaneously.

I’m Going to Give Johnny Cash the Last Word on Harold Camping

As much as I usually resist it, I find there’s still a lot of Bell County, Kentucky in my spiritual pilgrimage. So here’s to Southern gospel music, heart-felt religion, the hope of heaven, and good old fashioned meat-and-potatoes spirituality.

Now, off to church. The faithful gathered in Jesus’ name, the word of God proclaimed, the bread and the cup: Rapture!

Math Homework (and Only Math Homework) Seems to Improve Test Scores

Is homework a waste of time? David Brooks points to a new study that says yes—except for math. I have two comments about this study.

First, the researchers look at “hours of homework assigned.” But teachers don’t assign “hours” of homework, they assign worksheets, pages to read, problems to solve, etc. What would be an hour of homework for one student might be two hours for another. I’m not convinced most teachers (myself included) have a clear vision of how long it takes their students to complete the out-of-class readings and assignments they are given. Frankly, there have been nights I would have wished Rebecca’s teacher had assigned her an “hour” of homework—and given her permission to quit when the hour was over!

Second, the study concludes that more math homework tends to improve test scores in math, but that more English, history, etc. homework has a negligible effect. But even with math, where is the point of diminishing return? If one hour of homework is good, then surely two hours is better, right? Well, then what about five or six hours? At what point do children become so burdened down by the weight of their homework assignments that they no longer benefit from more? What if you have a child, as I do, who would really love to read a chapter book, do an art project, perform community service, or even (gasp!) enjoy downtime with family and friends, but often can’t because there is still more homework to do before bedtime?

Until I’m convinced that Rebecca’s teachers put in as many after-class hours as she does preparing for the next day, I remain a homework skeptic.

Mother’s Day: Guest Post by Rebecca Anne Pursiful

Today is Mother’s Day. Everyone loves their mom and appreciates her, too. We give her gifts, flowers, and chocolate. But today let’s give her something better. Make a homemade card. Giver her a meal in bed! Give her something you love as much as your mom.

If You’re the Praying Sort

I’d appreciate kind thoughts directed toward my dad, who is having a heart catheterization this morning. Thanks!