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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 26 - The Table of Nations (Chapter 10)

Now that we have examined the story of Noah in-depth, what we begin to see as we launch into Genesis 10 is that the population begins to increase and recover, and in a few short generations Noah's family repopulates the earth.  From this repopulation now comes the first nations, something that was not seen prior to the Flood as their appeared to be no national boundaries then, even between the descendants of Cain and Seth.  Genesis 10 also sets up the stage for what we see in the first few verses of Genesis 11 in the next lesson, because as in many Scriptures, these two chapters are not exactly linear in sequence, but rather occur simultaneously. We need Genesis 10, in other words, to see what happens in Genesis 11.  The general structure of Genesis 10 is sort of like a family tree, but it goes in a specific order that also sets the stage for the rest of the Genesis narrative as it unfolds.  The first genealogy dealt with is Japeth in verses 1-5, whose descendants really don't come into their own yet until sometime later.  Secondly, it is Ham's genealogy - Ham's descendants are significant at this point as many of them were responsible for the first major civilizations that were on the earth following the Flood, but they also harbored a resurrection of the evil Nephilim seed as well.  From verse 21 until the end of the chapter, the focus is then on Shem's lineage, as it will be from this point onward.  It is through the lineage of Shem that God will begin to narrow and focus in on a specific plan of salvation of mankind which eventually culminates in the person of Jesus Christ, and that is why Shem's lineage is given more emphasis.  In the middle of the chapter, there is also considerable attention devoted to a grandson of Ham's named Nimrod, as we'll see in verses 8-13.  Nimrod is dealt with due to his role that is played out in Genesis 11.   That is a basic overview of the chapter.

The "Table of Nations" of Josephus

The genealogy of Japeth is discussed first in the chapter, and here is a chart I found that maps it out more clearly to follow:

As we can see, Japeth has seven sons, but only four of them are addressed in the Table of Nations, those being Gomer (meaning "Complete"), Magog (meaning "Expansion"), Madai (meaning "Extended of the Lord"), and Javan (meaning "He that deceives).  Gomer, who is believed by some to be the progenitor of the Germanic peoples, is listed in this chapter as having three sons:  Ashkenaz (meaning "The Fire that Spreads"), Riphath (meaning "Crusher of enemies"), and Togarmah (meaning "Breaking bones" or "rugged").  The name Ashkenaz is still associated with Germany by Jewish sources today, as Yiddish-speaking Jews from central Europe are still called Ashkenazim.  Magog, the next son of Japeth, is not mentioned a whole lot in this chapter, but his descendants come into play later on, as they are the prophetic end-times invaders of Israel according to Ezekiel 38-39.  For many years, many Protestant ministers who address Bible prophecy have associated Magog with Russia, largely due in part to a Cold War mentality that we heard a lot of from about the 1950's onward.  However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's has sort of made that whole hypothesis look stupid at best, and many are rightly re-thinking the idea that Magog is Russia and are noting that it may signify something else, which I tend to agree.   The descendants of Magog occupy what is called the region of Transoxiana  in central Asia, and this region is the historic home of various nomadic tribes such as the Tatars, Mongols, and Turks.  A number of ancient sources, including the Armenian writer Agat'on, as well as more recent scholars and writers such as Apostolos Makrakis (Makrakis and A.G.Alexander, trans, Interpretation of the Book of Revelation.  Chicago:  The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1972.  pp. 252-270).  A more in-depth discussion of this would be more appropriate in a study series on Bible prophecy, but reading this in lieu of Ezekiel 38-39 does give some perspective on where Magog's origins are. Very little is said in this chapter about the next son, Madai, either, except that in my research Madai is often identified as the ancestor of the Medes and Persians.  A little more is mentioned about Javan, who had four sons - Elisha, Tarshish, Kittim, Dodanin - that are said in verse 5 to be the ancestors of the "coastland peoples of the Gentiles," namely the ancient Greeks.    At any rate, these particular nations are mentioned in that they would play a big role in the rest of the Scriptural narrative later on.

Beginning in verse 6, we have the genealogy of Ham, and specifically he had four sons.  Although Ham's name means "dark" and many scholars have Ham's physical descendants based in Africa (although some definitely were), in reality Ham's descendants were much more diverse.  In my research, the main attribute of Ham's descendants is their association with many of the first and oldest civilizations - Sumer, Egypt, the Minoans, and Mohenjo-Daro.  In other words, his family was quite scattered, and would be more so later.   Some writers I have come across have even proposed that Ham's descendants were the progenitors of the ancient American civilizations such as the Olmecs, and although possible, for the sake of both time and lack of source material we'll leave that one to personal opinion.  The chart of Ham's descendants is included below:

The first of Ham's four sons discussed is one who would play a major role in affairs to come later, and that is Cush.  Cush had six sons, but only one - Nimrod - is actually given any real attention in the narrative.  I will deal more with Nimrod in the next paragraph, as there is a lot to say.  The next son of Ham's was Mizraim, who is generally credited with being the progenitor of the nation of Egypt.  Mizraim had six sons as well, but one in particular stands out in this narrative, and that one is Clasluhim, who is also called in some translations Caphtorim.  The chart above actually has this wrong, in that it lists Caphtorim as as  separate son of Mizraim, but the Biblical record makes no such distinction.  The reason Caphtorim is mentioned specifically is for two reasons.  In the context of the Biblical record, it is because it is his lineage that produces the future Phillistines.  On a more historic and general level though, Caphtorim is the progenitor of the great Minoan civilization from which the Phillistines were said to also have their origins, and as such they are the first and most ancient of the Greek cultures.  Although later on Japheth's descendants - the sons of Javan - would ultimately overtake and assert their own culture on Caphtorim's descendants (reflected historically as well with the later Mycenaeans uprooting the Minoans), at this point Greece (in particular Crete) was an advanced Hamitic civilization.   The next son of Ham's, Canaan, is someone we already discussed in the last chapter in that he was dealt a blow when he transgressed his grandfather Noah.   Canaan's claim to fame is that his descendants were the various "ite" nations the Hebrews would have to contend with when Moses led them out of Egypt.   Many of these "ites" were also believed by many to be giants, and therefore would represent a new incursion of Nephilim seed upon the earth which would cause problems for the children of Israel well into the time of King David.  And, as Noah's prophecy mentions, Canaan became a slave to Shem, as in time the original Canaanites would be uprooted and would disappear from the land they were settled in, as Semitic peoples would later assume their identity and become the new rulers of that region.  The final son of Ham was one named Put, who settled the area in what is now called Libya and Tunisia.  Put's descendants are the modern-day Amazigh tribes (Berbers) of the region, and some of those people would play a very important role in the early spread of Christianity.  One of Put's descendants, Symeon of Cyrene, even helped Jesus bear the Cross to Calvary, and another, the famed St. Augustine of Hippo, would become the greatest Doctor of the Western Church.  

We now at this point want to backtrack a little and talk some about Nimrod, as he would be pivotal in the events we see in Genesis 11.  Nimrod was a son of Cush, and therefore a descendant of Ham, and his name translates as "We will rebel."  I would assert, as do others, that the name "Nimrod" is in reality a title rather than a proper name, and as the theory goes on this, the writer of Genesis (which we have established as Moses) probably knew Nimrod by another name - as we see later on, this enigmatic son of Cush has a lot of names!  The hypothesis here is that due to the contemporary nature of the story with the mythological Epic of Gilgamesh, it is highly possible that Nimrod and Gilgamesh were the same person.  The writer of Genesis uses the title "the Rebellious One" as a literary device therefore to prevent drawing attention to Nimrod and thus giving him undue honor, as Genesis was God's book and God was to be the focus of honor in it.  This view may have some merit, as it would make sense.  Nimrod is described in this passage as being "a mighty one," which translates from the Hebrew word Gibborim, but at this point there is an important distinction to be made.  When Genesis describes this person Nimrod as a "mighty hunter before the Lord" in this passage, it is not saying it to flatter or honor Nimrod, but rather it is saying something else.  Both Saints Augustine and Chrysostom interpreted this as saying that Nimrod "began to be a giant," or "giant hunter," and in Augustine's classic theological text City of God, he says this without any ambiguity.  This is a little unusual for St. Augustine to say, in that Augustine would have normally subscribed to a more Sethite view of Genesis 6 as proposed indirectly by Julius Africanus and others.  Yet, here is St. Augustine calling Nimrod in essence a giant!   The ancient Jewish writer Josephus also indirectly equates this personage Nimrod with Gilgamesh in his Antiquities of the Jews, and when compared with a similar passage from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the similarities are uncanny.  Josephus, for instance, writes this:

 So they followed Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, who set up a tyranny and began building a tower higher than any water could reach in case God ever wanted to flood the earth again.  (Paul A. Meier, trans. and ed. Josephus:  The Essential Writings.  Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1988.  p. 22).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, we read this description at the time of Gilgamesh's death:

THE destiny was fulfilled which the father of the gods, Enlil of the mountain, had decreed for Gilgamesh: ‘In nether-earth the darkness will show him a light: of mankind, all that are known, none will leave a monument for generations to come to compare with his. The heroes, the wise men, like the new moon have their waxing and waning. Men will say, "Who has ever ruled with might and with power like him?" As in the dark month, the month of shadows, so without him there is no light. O Gilgamesh, this was the meaning of your dream. You were given the kingship, such was your destiny, everlasting life was not your destiny. Because of this do not be sad at heart, do not be grieved or oppressed; he has given you power to bind and to loose, to be the darkness and the light of mankind. He has given unexampled supremacy over the people, victory in battle from which no fugitive returns, in forays and assaults from which there is no going back.  (N.K. Sanders, trans.  The Epic of Gilgamesh.  New York:  Penguin Classics, 1960. p. 24).  

If this is talking about the same person, then one thing could be concluded - this was a powerful king who subdued and subjugated a vast population of people.  And, that leads to the next question.

Was Nimrod a Nephilim?   In the Sandars translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is described as being "two-thirds god and one-third man," and this would correspond as well with what Augustine, Josephus, and others wrote about him being of giant stature.  As a tyrannical world ruler, he was the first to embody the spirit of Antichrist, and the fact he is described in Genesis as being "mighty before the Lord" suggests that he had a defiant, rebellious attitude against God, and he openly blasphemed God, vowing revenge for the death of his "forefathers" (the Nephilim destroyed before the Flood, not Noah, Ham or Cush).  As Josephus aptly described, Nimrod was a tyrannical ruler and a slave to his own ambition.  In verses 10-11, Nimrod's kingdom is described as being several cities he founded - Babel, Erech, Arkad, and Caineh in Shinar (southern Mesopotamia) and Nineveh, Rehobeth, Ir, Calah, and Resen in northern Mesopotamia (Assyria).   Resen in the north was his de-facto capital from which Genesis says he ruled, but Babel would become the center of his empire later.  More will be discussed about Nimrod in the next lesson as well.

The end of Genesis 10 now focuses on the descendants of Shem for an important reason, in that from Genesis 11:13 onward it will be Shem's lineage from which the story of salvation will generate.  Not all of Shem's sons are listed, although three - Elam, Aram, and Arphaxad- are.  The main focus of this passage is on Arphaxad's lineage.

The interesting thing though about this particular genealogy in the table of nations is that it ends with the twin sons of Arphaxad's grandson Eber,  Peleg and Joktan, and although it is Peleg's lineage from which the future Messiah would come, the nations that generated from his twin brother Joktan are listed here.  At this point, let us look at some names.  Arphaxad's name means "a jar pouring forth," and his son Salah's name means "sprout."   What is really interesting though is the meaning of Eber's name, which is "passing over," and this is significant because it is Eber's name from which the ancient Hebrews take theirs, and the very event that freed them from Egyptian bondage in Exodus, that faithful Jews still observe today, was the Passover.  It could be said then that the very definition of the word "Hebrew" is "one who passes over," and that carries with it significant prophetic significance.   But, as it relates to the current text, the name of Peleg is of significance, as it bridges the "Table of Nations" with what happens at Babel in Genesis 11.

The name Peleg is translated "the earth was divided," and a debate about this has come up among those who study this passage.  There are some that would contend that it was during Peleg's lifetime when the continents shifted, becoming what they are today.  However, the Flood had already taken care of that, as we saw in the last two lessons.   More likely, Peleg's name has significance when it comes to the events that occur at Babel in Genesis 11, in that the people of the earth were divided into different ethnolinguistic groups when God scatters them at Babel.   Looking at it in that context, it would make much more sense as well.  And, at this point this lesson will conclude, as we now have the groundwork laid for discussing Babel in Genesis 11 in the next lesson. 

References to the Church Fathers are taken from Andrew Louth and Thomas Oden, ed.  The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. 1 - Genesis 1-11.  Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2001.  pp. 160-165.

The meanings and translations of Biblical names in this lesson are referenced from Judson Cornwall and Stelman Smith, The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1998.