Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Toledoth of Shem

If you're sick of Bible stuff, skip down a couple posts ... Magruder asked about Genesis, so this is mostly for him (at least the second part is).

Since I didn't go to church today*, I spent a good part of the morning going over Shem's toledoth (a result of the prior post) and while I intended to make what I found an update to that, it sort of grew out of control, and so you have to put up with 2 bible posts in a row.

The idea I explored a bit below was that if Gen 10-11:10 was indeed a stand-alone document written by Shem - as toledoth theory suggests - it would be probably just one of many written by him to various groups of his decendants, which is why the theory would be a lot stronger if we had another similar copy from somewhere else. And in my studies today I came across a pair of internal references that seem to bear that out.

The document contains a triple genealogy (Ham, Shem, Japeth), with Japeth going first and Shem's posterity being presented last. But there is one subtle difference in how the three are introduced:

Gen 10:2 - The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

Gen 10:6 - And the sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan.

Gen 10:21-22 - To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, and the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. The children of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.

While Ham and Japheth are presented rather generically, before the same type of line for Shem we find that he is called "The father of all the children of Eber." Now Eber, from whom the Hebrews draw their name, is but one of Shem's many grandsons. Why does he get a special mention? One possible reason is that this document is being written specifically to his family.

A second confirming fact turns up in the genealogy itself: none of the many divergent lines are traced as far as is Eber's. Of Shem's 5 named sons, only Aram (from whom the Aramaic language draws its name) and Arphaxad, the father of Eber, have their sons named.

No grandsons are named for Aram (in other words, his line is ended here), but one (Eber) is named for Arphaxad, then two of Eber's sons are named, and thirteen of his grandsons, though, notably, none of the last generation named is in the direct line of the Jews, who are traced through Reu, a son of Peleg not named in Shem's document.

Therefore while it's probable that this document was created specifically for the family of one of Shem's grandsons (from which I infer the probability that similar documents were created for others), it is not traced furthest into the line that became the Jews. So if Moses is making it all up, he is in the strange position of making up family trees for others and leaving his own comparatively barren.

Odd, but it is probably better explained by toledoth theory than by either JEPD or Moses-dictation theories, if only because the Jews must have gotten this from the family that originally received it (the family of Eber, Joktan branch), which means they have a copy, which means that there are likely more copies out there.

A second thing I found - totally unrelated to the above but perhaps illustrating the construction of the passage - was in the Story of Babel itself. A while back I laid out the reason why the Babel narrative is part and parcel of the genealogies (it is the story that explains how the families came to be as Shem presents them rather than a chronological contradiction), but I did miss an interesting parallelism:

Here's the story as it is written (I've update the KJV language a bit for clarity, removed the verse notations, the intro, and the summary):

And it came to pass that, as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there. They said one to another, “Come, let us bake bricks and bake them well.” (They had brick instead of stone and slime instead of mortar). And they said, “Come, let us build a city and a tower whose top reaches the heavens. Let us make a name for ourselves so we are not scattered across the face of the whole earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men were building. The LORD said, “Look, the people are together, sharing a language, and this is what they begin to do? Now nothing they can imagine will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down to there and confound their language so they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Now, if we set these two main parts of the story side by side we can find a very clever parallel:

Man - action and discovery: And it came to pass that, as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there.
God - action and discovery: The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men were building.

Man states his intention: They said one to another, “Come, let us bake bricks and bake them well.**”
God notices the intention: The LORD said, “Look, the people are together, sharing a language, and this is what they begin to do?

Man states a further intention: And they said, “Come, let us build a city and a tower whose top reaches the heavens."
God states the effect of this intention: "Now nothing they can imagine will be impossible for them."

Man states his intention to foil God's plan***: "Let us make a name for ourselves so we are not scattered across the face of the whole earth.”
God states his intention to foil Man's plan: "Come, let us go down to there and confound their language so they may not understand one another’s speech.”

The summary notes that "from there the LORD scattered them across the face of the whole earth," precisely the opposite of Man's intention.

It is nearly impossible to see this when the verses are lined up in neat little columns, but I thought it an interesting find nonetheless, and something I'd never seen before.

* Lynn worked till noon, babies nap at 10, Jaley had a party at 11:15, you know, all the regular excuses.

** I removed the clause about "slime for mortar," which I take to be explanatory rather than narrative.

*** God's plan being that man "fill the earth" (Gen 9:1)

1 comment:

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