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The Universe according to Genesis 1

Robin Parry summarizes three papers on Genesis 1 by Paul H. Seely appearing in the Westminster Theological Journal in the early 1990s. According to Parry,

Seely comes from a Reformed evangelical background but, in these articles, he is reacting against creation science attempts to read modern scientific cosmology from the Bible. He demonstrates convincingly that the biblical authors presupposed an ancient cosmology and not a modern one.

Very interesting. Thanks, Robin, for bringing these to our attention.

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The Devil’s in the Details

… unless he’s completely AWOL, that is. Duane Smith has all the abnormal info.

Lessons and Carols 2

The Second Lesson:

God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Carol:

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

Lessons and Carols 1

Introit: “Once in David’s Royal City”

The First Lesson

God tells sinful Adam that he has lost the life of Paradise and that his seed will bruise the serpent’s head.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19)

Carol

“Jesus Christ the Apple Tree”

Abraham’s Era

Here is a post I’ve been meaning to get around to for many months but for whatever reason never quite got inspired to finish it. Several months ago Claude Mariottini drew my attention to this article by Leibel Reznick attempting to adduce archeological evidence for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). Obviously, people will have wildly differing opinions about whether it is even worth the effort to find such evidence.

Rabbi Reznick argues for identifying Sodom and the other “cities of the plain” mentioned in Genesis 14 and 19 with the ruins of five Canaanite cities south and east of the Dead Sea that were destroyed in some kind of fiery ordeal during the Early Bronze Age. Personally, I think chronological considerations makes it highly unlikely that this is the correct solution to the mystery. These cities were destroyed long before Abraham was even born. There are a number of lines of evidence that lead me to this conclusion:

Amorite Incursions

Most scholars attribute the Middle Bronze Age IIA (MB IIA) culture in Palestine to the arrival of the Amorites (William LaSor et al., Old Testament Survey, 2nd ed. [Eerdmans, 1996] 39). One interpretation of Abraham’s migration from northern Mesopotamia to Canaan is that it was part of this larger movement of Semitic tribes into this region after the cultural collapse at the end of the Early Bronze Age. If so, then Abraham belongs in the MB IIA phase as well. Many Canaanite cities were abandoned during the last phase of the Early Bronze Age (EB IV) and the first phase of the Middle Bronze Age (MB I). The Amorites (including Abraham?) began settling in the region when the population was beginning to rebound. In absolute terms, this archeological period begins c. 2000 BC. It is roughly synchronous with the end of Egypt’s First Intermediate Period and the beginning of the so-called Middle Kingdom.

(Note: Long-time readers may know I have a beef with the way ancient chronology has been put together. In this post, however, the archeological strata matter more than the absolute dates, and therefore all dates given according to the “conventional” chronology.)

The Battle of Four Kings vs. Five

The best guess for the incursion of Mesopotamian and Syrian armies against the ‘cities of the plain” described in Genesis 14 is roughly between 2000–1800 BC: between fall of the Ur III dynasty and rise of Hammurabi. Elam did indeed have a period of dominance in this era, during which such an expedition led by an (otherwise unattested) Elamite king would have been feasible. This era was brought to an end by Hammurabi, whose reign began in 1728 BC (“Low Chronology”) or 1792 (“Middle Chronology”). During this era, “power alliances” such as we see in Genesis 14 were common. According to Kenneth Kitchen,

the system of power-alliances (four kings against five) is typical in Mesopotamian politics within the period c. 2000-1750 BC, but not before or after this general period when different political patterns prevailed. In the eighteenth century BC, for example, a famous Mari letter mentions alliances of ten, fifteen and twenty kings. At least five other Mesopotamian coalitions are known from the nineteenth/eighteenth centuries BC. (Ancient Orient and Old Testament [InterVarsity, 1966] 45)

Thereafter (i.e., beginning with Hammurabi), Elam was able to attain territorial gains only for short periods of time until the demise of the Babylonian empire. It would, therefore, have been both strategically unwise and tactically difficult for an Elamite ruler in later periods to have taken on such a task.

Egyptian Evidence

When might Abraham have visited Egypt (Gen 12)? One theory first (to my knowledge) suggested by F. C. Cook in the nineteenth century suggests connections with the early Twelfth Dynasty, either during the reign of Amenemhat I (1991–1962 BC) or his successor, Senuseret I (1971–1926). The evidence is as follows:

A. Parallels with the Tale of Sinuhe point once again to MB IIA (early Twefth Dynasty) as the era of the early patriarchs. The Tale of Sinuhe depicts the reign of Senuseret I after the death of his father, Amenemhat I.

(1) Genesis 12:10-20 depicts Abram entering Egypt and later being escorted to the border. Sinuhe refers to a line of fortifications on the eastern border of the Delta. Could this be the “Shur which is opposite Egypt” (Gen 25:18; 1 Sam 15:7; cf. Gen 16:7)?

(2) In both Genesis and Sinuhe the residents of Canaan are still organized in tribes with a pastoral lifestyle, suggesting the region is still in disarray following the collapse of the Early Bronze Age civilization. Pasturage and wells are key concerns, again as in the patriarchal narratives of Genesis. Sinuhe describes wealthy sheikhs living in tents, with livestock and household retainers/fighting men. Likewise, Abraham had 318 fighting men; Esau later had 400.

B. The Beni Hassan wall painting depicts an Asiatic (Semitic) caravan visiting Egypt in Yr 6 Senuseret II (1892 BC). Perhaps a hundred years after Abraham, this scene might be roughly contemporary with Jacob and his family entering Egypt.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Finally we come to the question of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are basically three options for locating these cities archeologically. Some identify Sodom with Bab edh-Dhra in the southeastern quadrant of the Dead Sea—or with nearby Numeira, which is Reznick’s conclusion. Steven Collins is a vocal supporter of the theory that Sodom is the site known as Tall el-Hammam in the northeastern quadrant. Finally, there is the classical belief that Sodom is currently underwater near En-Gedi, in the southwest quadrant of the Dead Sea.

Many archaeologists have looked for the remains of Sodom in the region around the southern tip of the Dead Sea, either under the shallow waters there or in the nearby ruins of Bab edh-Dhra. A number of factors favor a southern location. The site is a mere sixteen miles from Tell es-Safi, the traditional site of Zoar, to which Lot fled in a matter of hours before the destruction of Sodom (Gen 19:15, 23). The southern shore of the Dead Sea is famous for its bitumen pits (Gen 14:10), and there are also petroleum and sulfur deposits, reminiscent of the “sulfur and fire” that fell upon the city (Gen 19:24). The northern Dead Sea region does not have bitumen, oil, or sulfur.

The traditional identification has come under fire in the past dozen years by Dr. Steven Collins, dean of the College of Archeology and Biblical History at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Beginning in 1996, Collins began to question the traditional site. He is now convinced the remains of Sodom are to be found at Tall el-Hammam in Jordan. (“Tall” is the accepted Jordanian equivalent of “Tell,” usually used for sites in Israel.)

Collins argues that “the Bible clearly says they were located on the eastern edge of the Jordan Disk, that well-watered circular plain of the southern Jordan Valley just north of the Dead Sea.” Furthermore, Bab edh-Dhra was destroyed too early, at the end of the Early Bronze Age (c. 2300 BC).

Unfortunately, Tall al-Hammam was almost certainly destroyed too late to be the city of Sodom. According to the reports of Collins’s team, the site has a good representation of MB IIA, B, and C, meaning it could not have been destroyed much earlier than the end of the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1600 BC. A MB IIC destruction is completely out of sync with other evidence favoring a MB IIA date for Abraham.

We are therefore apparently left with the traditional site of Sodom, which has recently been defended by Marcus Laudien (“Sodom and the Dead Sea,” Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum 9 [2002] 85–90). In ancient times it was assumed that Sodom was formerly located in the southwest quadrant of the Dead Sea. Dio Chrysostom (3:2) places the site of ancient Sodom “very near” to a community of Essenes which might very well be En-Gedi (see also Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5.15.73). Quoting Poseidonius, Strabo describes the Dead Sea region thus:

… near Moasada [=Masada] are to be seen rugged rocks which have been scorched, as also, in many places, fissures and ashy soil, … and therefore people believe the oft repeated assertions of the local inhabitants, that more than thirteen inhabited cities were in that region for which Sodom was the metropolis. But those outside a circuit of about sixty stadia [=about 6.9 miles] of that city escaped unharmed, and that by reason of earthquakes and of eruptions of fire and hot waters containing asphalt and sulphur, the lake burst its bounds, and rocks were enveloped with fire. And, as for the cities, some were swallowed up and others were abandoned by those who were able to escape. (Geography 16.2.43)

Much later, Stephen of Byzantium mentioned in his Ethnikon that En-Gedi was an oasis in the vicinity of “Sodom of Arabia” and that Sodom is now covered by the water of the “Salt Sea” (Laudien, 89).

Where, then, does this leave Abraham’s Sodom? According to Genesis 14:3, the Dead Sea (or at least part of it) was once called “the Valley of Siddim”—in other words, it was once dry land. Geologists have, in fact, analyzed radio-nuclides in Dead-Sea sediments to determine lake levels in prehistoric times (Laudien, 88). They conclude that the area of the Dead Sea increased greatly during the MB IIA period, after c. 2000 BC. During earlier times, large areas of today’s Dead Sea were dry, especially the southern basin, which is shallower than the larger northern basin. During the Iron Age and into the early Middle Ages, the Dead Sea was once again confined to the northern basin.

In 1978, geologists used sonar to map the topography of the Dead Sea. This project revealed an elevation on the lake bed 2.4 miles south of En-Gedi, not far from the mouth of the Nahal Hever gorge. About 0.6 miles further south geologists discovered a crater that might have once been a large bitumen quarry. Laudien levels archeological evidence suggesting there is an as-yet undiscovered population center near En-Gedi that prospered throughout the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze periods. Might this center currently be underwater? Might it be the city the Bible calls Sodom?

Conclusions

The most likely era in which Abraham might have lived is Middle Bronze IIA. This was the period of Amorite incursions, a possible (though not uncontested) interpretation of Abraham’s social location. The battle of four invading kings against a five-king alliance of “cities of the plain” most likely took place in the window of optimum opportunity for such an Elamite incursion, also MB IIA (or possibly very late EB). Finally, comparisons with the Tale of Sinuhe and the pictorial evidence of Semitic immigrants in Egypt during the Twelfth Dynasty also point to an MB IIA horzon. In conventional terms, therefore, Abraham most likely lived some time between 2000–1800 BC. I’m inclined to place him in the earliest portion of this time span, during the reign of Amenemhat I.

If this is so, both of the two leading candidates for the location of ancient Sodom must be eliminated. Bab edh-Dhra (along with Numeira) was destroyed in the Early Bronze Age, at least 300 years before Abraham entered Canaan. Tall el-Hammam was destroyed in the MB IIC period, at least two to three hundred years too late.

Although nothing can be proven, I think the most likely location of Sodom is underneath the waters of the Dead Sea, on an elevation approximately two and a half miles south of En-Gedi, near the mouth of Nahal Hever gorge. When the Dead Sea began to expand during the MB IIA period (i.e., the time of Abraham and thereafter), this site eventually became submerged for a thousand years. It once again appeared during the time of Israel’s monarchy then re-submerged in since medieval times. Currently, the Dead Sea is once again drying up because of widespread irrigation, and it is possible that the curious lake-floor features that Laudien points out may become available for archeological investigation.

The Genealogy of Jesus 4

The Lukan and Matthean accounts of Jesus’ genealogy diverge after David. Matthew traces Jesus’ line through Solomon (and thus traces the royal Davidic line as it is found in the Bible and in Seder Olam). Luke traces a line through Nathan, also a son of David by Bathsheba.

The two lines come together once more in the generations following the deportation to Babylon, where both lines include Shealtiel (Greek, Salathiel) and his son, Zerubbabel (Mt 1:12; Lk 3:27). The generations around Shealtiel and Zerubbabel mark the first major dilemma in untangling the genealogy of Jesus. Three problems may be noted:

  1. In Matthew, Shealtiel’s father is Jechoniah (aka Jehoiachin). In Luke, Shealtiel’s father is Neri.
  2. In both Matthew and Luke, Shealtiel is the father of Zerubbabel. In 1 Chronicles 3:19, however, the father of Zerubbabel is Pedaiah.
  3. Following Zerubbabel, the genealogies of Jesus once again diverge, with Matthew tracing a lineage through Abiud and Luke tracing a lineage through Rhesa. Presumably, these are two sons of Zerubbabel. In 1 Chronicles 3, however, the sons of Zerubbabel are listed as Meshullam and Hananiah.

Let us take these issues one at a time.

The Father of Shealtiel

As with Joseph himself, the Matthean and Lukan genealogies both purport to identify the father of Shealtiel, but the two lists disagree! Is Jehoiachin the father of Shealtiel, or is Neri? Seder Olam follows the Old Testament in describing Jehoiachin as the father of Shealtiel with no apparent need for any elaboration on the matter. Luke complicates matters by adding Neri son of Melchi (and his immediate ancestors) to the mix.

Is there any reason to question Jehoiachin’s paternity? Jereremiah 22:30 reports that Jehoiachin (called Coniah in this passage) was condemned to die childless:

Thus says the LORD:
Record this man as childless,
a man who shall not succeed in his days;
for none of his offspring shall succeed
in sitting on the throne of David,
and ruling again in Judah.

The early death of Jehoiachin’s son Zedekiah may well have been understood to be the fulfillment of this curse. But if Jehoiachin was childless, this fact at least raises the possibility that, while Shealtiel was the legal heir of Jechoniah, he was not his biological descendant. How can this be?

In Hebrew thought it was a terrible fate for a man to perish without sons to carry on his name. Therefore, several strategies are described in the Old Testament for avoiding this situation:

  • If a man died childless, the custom of levirate marriage provided for his widow to marry his brother. (Levir is the Latin word for “brother-in-law.”) The firstborn son of this union was legally reckoned to be the son of the dead man (Deut 25:5-6).
  • If a man had daughters but no sons, the custom of Zelophehad adoption permitted him to legally adopt the husband of his oldest daughter (Num 36:1-13), provided they marry within the tribe of their father. The children of this marriage would be considered the grandchildren of their mother’s father.
  • If a woman was unable to conceive, there was a custom in the patriarchal period whereby she would provide her husband with a female slave by whom to father children (Gen 16:1-2, 30:1-4). There is no evidence this custom prevailed into exilic or postexilic times.

In light of ancient marriage customs, there are a number of ways a son could be reckoned the legal heir of a man who was not his biological father. This include:

1. Levirate marriage. One possibility is that, once Jehoiachin was imprisoned in Babylon, his wife contracted a levirate marriage with Neri. The firstborn child of this union, Shealtiel, would legally be the heir of Jehoiachin. But one must then ask why there are six others also listed as sons of “Jechoniah the captive” in 1 Chronicles 3. By the levirate custom, the children after Shealtiel would be considered merely sons of Neri and would not appear in the 1 Chronicles genealogy at all.

2. Zelophehad adoption. By this theory, Neri was Shealtiel’s grandfather—the father of his mother. If Neri had no sons, the Zelophehad custom permitted him to adopt the sons of his eldest daughter. If this daughter were married to Jehoiachin, then Shealtiel could be called both the son of Jehoiachin and the son of Neri. By this theory, the line from Shealtiel back to Nathan (Lk 3) represents the ancestry of Shealtiel’s mother, while the line back to Solomon (Mt 1) represents that of his father.

3. Simple adoption. It is possible that Shealtiel was adopted by Neri after the death of Jehoiachin. Assuming he was a minor at the time, Neri may have taken him into his home and raised him as his son. Thus, though biologically the son of Jehoiachin, he became the legal heir of Neri, his distant relative. Alternatively, the adoption might have gone in the other direction. Although I cannot vouch for its accuracy, the Loeb family tree website, a compendium of ancient Jewish (and specifically Davidic) genealogy, offers the following explanation:

King Jeconiah…married Tamar, his cousin, her second marriage, the daughter of the late crown-prince, Johanan, his uncle [i.e., a previously unknown son of King Josiah—DJP], and begot Zedekiah, the crown-prince. The early death of the crown-prince was the fulfillment of “Coniah’s Curse”, placed on King [Je]Coniah’s off-spring by Jeremiah “The Prophet”.

The king adopted his step-sons, the sons of his wife, Tamar, by a previous marriage since they too were of the “royal seed”, that is, her first husband was a Davidic prince.

Some of the details of this report are questionable. Most blatantly, Zedekiah was the son of Josiah and thus the uncle of Jehoiachin, not his son! The remainder is logically coherent, although certainly not proven. For what it’s worth, this report means Neri’s mother later went on to marry Jehoiachin. The king subsequently adopted Neri and Tamar’s children after the death of his own son, Zedekiah (presumably after his release from prison in Babylonia in 561 BC).

I leave it to the reader to decide which, if any, of these alternatives makes the most sense of the data.

Jehoiachin’s Curse

According to the book of Jeremiah, God pronounced a curse on Jehoiachin’s line. This is most clearly expressed in Jeremiah 22:28-30. There God declares that none of Jehoiachin’s offspring would ever sit on David’s throne. Jeremiah 36:30 makes a similar pronouncement concerning Jehoiachin’s father Jehoiakim. Some scholars take this pronouncement to describe a permanent condemnation of Jehoiachin’s line. Others believe that Jeremiah’s words were only intended for the near future—the lifetime of Jehoiachin himself.

The theory that the curse upon Jehoiachin was only temporary is buttressed by several facts recorded in the Bible and early Jewish tradition. First, Jehoiachin apparently repented while in exile. The last chapter of 2 Chronicles records how he was elevated from prison and given special honors at the Babylonian court. Although he was not permitted to return to Judah, he is recognized by the Jews as the first Exilarch or ruler of the exiled community in Babylon.

Second, there are also rabbinic sources that indicate God removed the curse on Jehoiachin, which they attribute to his repentance while in prison. For example, according to Leviticus Rabbah 19:6:

The Holy One, blessed be He, then said: “In Jerusalem you did not observe the precept relating to issues, but now you are fulfilling it,” as it is said, As for thee also, because of the blood of thy covenant I send forth thy prisoners out of the pit (Zech 9:11) [which means], You have remembered the blood at Sinai, and for this do “I send forth thy prisoners.” R. Shabbethai said: He [Jeconiah] did not move thence before the Holy One, blessed be He, pardoned him all his sins. Referring to this occasion Scripture has said: Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no blemish in thee (Song 4:7). A Heavenly Voice went forth and said to them: ‘Return, ye backsliding children, I will heal your backslidings'” (Jer 3:22).

Pesiqta Rabbati 47 records the following:

R. Joshua ben Levi, however, argued as follows: “Repentance sets aside the entire decree, and prayer half the decree. You find that it was so with Jeconiah, king of Judah. For the Holy One, blessed be He, swore in His anger, As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet on a hand, yet by My right—note, as R. Meir said, that it was by His right hand that God swore—I would pluck thee hence (Jer 22:24). And what was decreed against Jeconiah? That he die childless. As is said Write ye this man childless (Jer 22:30). But as soon as he avowed penitence, the Holy One, blessed be He, set aside the decree, as is shown by Scripture’s reference to the sons of Jeconiah”—the same is Assir—Shealtiel his son, etc. (1 Chron 3:17). And Scripture says further: In that day … will I take thee, O Zerubbabel…the son of Shealtiel…and will make thee as a signet (Hag 2:23). Behold, then how penitence can set aside the entire decree!

According to these sources, the curse was lifted because of Jehoiachin’s repentance. (See also b.Sanhedrin 37b-38a; Pesiqta de Rab Kahana; and Numbers Rabbah 20:20.)

In any event, the Bible is unanimous in casting Zerubbabel as the rightful heir and legal successor of Jehoiachin. Later rabbinic speculation insisted in no uncertain terms that the Messiah would be a descendant of Zerubbabel. The medieval Tanhuma Genesis states:

Scripture alludes here to the verse, “Who art thou, O great mountain before Zerubbabel? Thou shalt become a plain” (Zech 4:7). This verse refers to the Messiah, the descendant of David…. From whom will the Messiah descend? From Zerubbabel.

Any plausible claim on behalf of Jesus’ messiahship would have to involve descent from Zerubbabel (Hag 2:21-23), regardless of any irregularities surrounding the legacy of his grandfather Jechoiachin.

Next: Zerubbabel

Adam and Israel

The latest post by Peter Enns explores the connection between Adam’s story and the story of Israel, and in the process explains where Cain got his wife:

Look at it this way. The word “adam” is ambiguous in Genesis. Every commentator notes that sometimes “adam” represents humanity (so I will use the lower case); other times it is the name “Adam” (upper case) representing one man. What does this back and forth mean? It means that Adam is a special subset of adam.

The character “Adam” is the focus of the story because he is the part of “adam” that God is really interested in. There is “adam” outside of Eden (in Nod), but inside of Eden, which is God’s focus, there is only “Adam”—the one with which he has a unique relationship.

The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

I’m still perturbed, however, that nobody ever  seems to worry about where Seth got his wife!