The Descendants of Shem; Gen. 10:22-32; 11:10
We now want to merge together the genealogy given in Genesis 10:21-32, the descendants of Shem given there, and the descendants that are specifically delineated in 11:10-26 which ends with the father of Abram, Terah. That ends this book. Verses 10-26 is one toledot. From verse 27 we have the toledot of Terah, which goes all the way down to Isaac.
Genesis 10:21, the descendants of Shem. The five sons are listed in verse 22. “The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram.” Only two of them are going to be isolated in terms of their descendants, so we don’t know a whole lot about all of these five men and where they went. What we will notice going through the genealogies is that there is some repetition. There are some names in the Shem line that we also find in the Japheth line and in the Ham line. These are not the same persons. The firstborn is Elam, and there is a region or country that is named after him, and this is the territory of Elam, which lies to the east of southern Mesopotamia. What is interesting is that for years liberal Protestant scholars—the development of liberal Protestant theology in the mid-19th century, which rejected the historical veracity of the Bible—taught that this had to be false because here the Elamites were being portrayed as Semites, the descendants of Shem. Yet, because of the limited archaeological discoveries of the 19th century the only thing discovered at that point was that the descendants there were probably Hamitic. So that caused them to question the veracity of Scripture. However, by the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century archaeologists had uncovered further layers and discovered that the oldest inhabitants of this area were a completely different racial stock than the later inhabitants, and the earliest inhabitants were Shemites. What we see from archaeology confirms what the Bible says. That is, in the northern area of what is modern Iraq and Persia there were some fair-skinned descendants—Japhethites. In the center area, following Nimrod and from what we know about Ham, we see the descendants of Ham; and in the southern part we see these Shemitic descendants. What happens under Nimrod is that he becomes a conqueror and that is why he eventually enters into the pantheon of Babylon under the name Marduk. (Taking the MRD consonants from Nimrod his name survives as Marduk, and later on as Merodach-baledan) He establishes the kingdom of Babylon as he conquers both the descendants of Japheth and Shem.
Genesis 10:23, Aram has four sons. “And the children of Aram; Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash.” Once again, we don’t have much said about them. This genealogy, though, is confirmed in 1 Chronicles 1:17. The name Uz appears again as a nephew of Abraham through his brother Nahor and Micah, noted in Genesis 22:21. Another Uz shows up a couple of generations later as a descendant of Esau. But these are several centuries later and so they can’t be confused with this particular Uz. This Uz seems to be one who gave his name to a particular territory. This is where Job lived, the land of Uz, and this territory would be in the area of Jordan or Iraq, down to Saudi Arabia today. We don’t know precisely where it was, but according to references in Jeremiah 25:20 and Lamentations 4:21 it would be to the south east of Israel. We know nothing about the other sons, but because they are the descendants of Aram they are probably the forerunners of the various tribes that later made up the Aramaeans who were a Semitic people in the area of Syria.
Then we have the descendants of Arphaxad, v. 24. “And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber.” So we have the line developing to Abraham. Then, v. 25, Eber has two sons, Peleg and Joktan. Joktan has thirteen sons that are listed between verses 26 and 30, and these all settled down in the area now known as Saudi Arabia.
But we have two major problems to discuss in relation to this genealogy. The first problem has to do with a gap. This is important because nearly everyone has heard the argument that there are gaps in the genealogies. In Genesis 11:10-11 we are told, “These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood: and Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.” So Shem was 600 years old when he died. Arphaxad lived 35 years and begot Salah when Shem was 135. Because of those numbers, can you insert multiple generations in there? You can’t. The Bible is establishing a strict chronology. There are no gaps there. The problem that develops is that if you add up all the numbers you end up with a creation somewhere between 4000-4500 BC.
One thing we ought to note is that there are different kinds of genealogies in Scripture. Note the genealogy in Matthew chapter one has gaps because it is not trying to show every single generation. It is trying to establish the fact that there is a straight linkage between Jesus Christ all the way back through David to Abraham. But there are no numbers there. Once you insert numbers, where X lived 35 years and begot Y, and then he lived another 600 years and died, and then Y lived 25 years and begot Z, and then lived another 250 years; as soon as you put numbers in there you close up the genealogy. The problem that we have with Genesis 11 is that there is the insertion of another person between Arphaxad and Cainan in Luke 3:35, 36, “Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala, which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech.” We’ve picked up somebody in there! In Genesis 11 we have Shem, then Arphaxad, and then Salah. No Cainan. Where does this Cainan person come from? If it is accurate it is the only example of a gap. But there is no gap here. This is a case of a copyist placing text in the wrong place. There is a mention of Cainan in verse 37. There was a Cainan in the genealogy before the flood, so what appears to have taken place in Luke 3:36 is that somewhere, probably in the 4th or 5th century A.D., some scribe inadvertently copied the name twice.
Let’s see if there is any kind of confirming evidence for this. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and it was translated into Greek between 250 and 150 B.C. because the Jews living in Egypt outside the land had forgotten how to read Hebrew. Jospehus would have been using the Septuagint, or something based on the Septuagint. The Hebrew text, known as the Massoretic text, gives the age at which Arphaxad became a father at 35. But the Septuagint says it was 135. Josephus says it was 135. Cainan isn’t mentioned by either the Massoretic text or Josephus. Salah was 30 years old according to the Massoretic text, 130 according to the Septuagint and 130 by Josephus. The Septuagint adds 100 to all the numbers, so that was clearly some kind of scribal error. Josephus follows the Septuagint in that mistake. Josephus, because he has the same error in terms of the numbers that the Septuagint has clearly was using either the Septuagint or a Septuagint-based document for coming up with his genealogy. But he left out Cainan. So that tells us that in the first century, i.e. at the time of Christ, the earliest records from the Old Testament did not have Cainan in there. Cainan is not found in the Massoretic text, is not found in 1 Chronicles 1:18, which is a parallel genealogy, and it wasn’t found in any of the ancient versions that were translated directly from the Hebrew. It wasn’t found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, it wasn’t found in the Aramaic, it wasn’t found in the Syriac Targums, or in the Vulgate. Jerome refused to use the Septuagint as a source for translating the Vulgate. He felt it was too corrupt and not an accurate translation. The point is that at the end of the first century, around 70-80 AD, Josephus is using a Septuagint or something based on the Septuagint and doesn’t mention this person Cainan. Not only that, but about 100 years later between 200-250 AD an early church father by the name of Julius Africanus produced a chronology of the Bible. He did not include Cainan in his list. What is interesting is that, just like Jospehus, the numbers that he had matched the numbers in the Septuagint. So he is obviously using a Septuagint as late as 220 AD that doesn’t have Cainan in it. So that tells us that this insertion of this name into the Septuagint doesn’t occur until at least 250 AD. So it is obvious that Cainan is an insertion and is a textual problem, and it is not in some of the oldest New Testament MSS as a matter of fact.
The second thing that we have to look at when we study this genealogy is: what does it mean when it says that “the earth was divided” in the days of Peleg? In the genealogy there are two interruptions. One is to tell us about Nimrod and the other is to tell us about Peleg. Genesis 10:25, “And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided.” Let’s look at the name, Peleg. There was a group in northern Greece that was known as the Polaskians. We have seen before in relationship to language that there are certain ways in which we define that somebody is from a certain area. This ending is related to the English word “scion,” the descendants of somebody, which is interestingly related to the Greek ending “skoi.” So you have the descendants of Peleg being called the Pelegskoi, which becomes the Polaskians. These people were known as traders. They had ships, sea-faring people who sailed the Mediterranean, and were also pirates. They operated in the area north of Greece between two rivers. One of these rivers was called the Hebrus River. Isn’t that interesting! Who was Peleg’s father? Eber. The root of Eber is where we get the word Hebrew. That is just an interesting note that would confirm that this is the area where his descendants ended up. Eventually they were pushed further south by the Thracians and merged in with the Greek people. In the concept of being divided the first theory was proposed in 1859, relating this to the split of the continents. A lot of creationists thought this might be possible for a while, but the geologic upheaval would be too great; it would be enormous. The second idea which many people have thought is that this would described a division of national boundaries by Noah. They proposed that Noah divided up the earth among various territories, designating his various sons and grandsons. But there is no real support for that. What we have is the fact that Peleg (his life and the life of Nimrod overlapped) was about 125-150 years old when the tower of Babel incident occurred. So this reference to a division in the time of Peleg is a reference to the division of languages, it happens during his life.
Shem dies just ten years before Abraham does, so everybody else was outlived by Shem. Notice with Peleg, and from that point on, life spans began to drastically shrink. Each generation gets shorter and shorter. Almost all of the antediluvian patriarchs lived over 900 years. A couple of them lived just a little less, but afterward there is this immediate decline. Noah lives to be 900+, but Shem only lives 600 years, a drastic drop. Something changed in the environment after the flood and people just couldn’t live as long.
That brings us down to the sons of Joktan in Genesis 10:26-29, “And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, and Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, and Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, and Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.” They all move into the area of modern Saudi Arabia. These are the thirteen original Arabian tribes. Many of these names have cognates of places, wells, oases, etc., in Saudi Arabia. They can indicate the historicity of these names. That shows that we have descendants of Ham as well as of Shem that form the foundation for Arabic tribes. Later on other groups come out of Abraham, but these are more distant cousins of Abraham who come through Joktan.
When we come over to Shem’s genealogy (a closed genealogy) it is a straight line of descent all the way down to Nahor in Genesis 11:22-24, “And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor: and Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah.”
Genesis 11:26, “And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” Notice the parallelism here. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. There is a parallel showing consistency of the author—one author of Genesis, not three or four. But we see now that when Abram is born Terah is still alive, Nahor is still alive, Serug is still alive, Peleg is still alive, but Eber, Salah, Arphaxad and Shem are also still alive. So there is a tremendous population explosion, simply because the generations aren’t dying off yet. The first four generations off the ark are still alive and live throughout most of Abraham’s life.