Ancient History and Dating the Flood

Q:  I would like to know where, historically, would you place the Tower of Babel and Noah’s Flood and what effects those dates might have on ancient near eastern history. I have not found a reasonable response to a question about Genesis 11:10–32. From what I have read, the exodus occurred about 1445BC plus or minus. With the 400 plus years of the Israelites captivity, that puts Abraham’s birth (according to James Ussher at 1996BC). Here Ussher follows Genesis 11 to trace the Flood back to about 2348 BC. So about 350 years before Abraham, the flood occurred. Yet Egypt’s history of the kings and kingdoms goes well back past 3000BC. There have been Bible scholars who have pushed the flood before 5000BC. Is there a way to reconcile Genesis 11 and Egyptian history? Could Genesis 11:10–32 span more than the 350 years?

A:  The genealogy in Genesis 11:10–32 might span more than the apparent 350 years. Hebrew genealogies do not always include every generation. For example, Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus omits several generations between Hezron and Aram (Matt 1:3). Hezron appears in Genesis 46:10 when Joseph went down to Egypt; Aram’s son Amminadab is connected with Moses and the wilderness wanderings (Num 1:7) 400 years later. It would be difficult for Rahab to be Boaz’s mother, since the two lived nearly 200 years apart. Boaz is a direct descendant of Rahab, but perhaps after 3 or 4 generations. Similarly, the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 may have gaps of unspecified length. Granted, they might not be very long, but they could account for several hundred years at a time, adding up to a few thousand years.

In Hebrew, there is no special word for grandfather, grandson, great-grandfather, or great-grandson. The same two words are used for all such relationships: “father” and “son.” In 2 Samuel 6:3, for example, Uzzah and Achio are at least “grandsons” of Abinadab (see 1 Samuel 7:1), even though English translations have translated the Hebrew literally as “sons” rather than in the light of the context and the totality of biblical revelation.

The following hypothetical scenario illustrates what such gaps might look like in the genealogy of  Arpachsad (Gen 11:12-14):

  • Arpachsad at the age of 35 sired a son who would be the ancestor of Shelah. In other words, at 35 he became the great-grandfather of Shelah. [verse 12]
  • Arpachsad lived 403 additional years, siring more descendants (children who would produce grandchildren who would produce great-grandchildren like Shelah). [verse 13]
  • Arpachsad died at the age of 438. [summary of verses 12 and 13]
  • Shelah, Arpachsad’s great-grandson, at the age of 30 sired a son who would be the ancestor of Eber. Eber, in this case, might have been Shelah’s grandson, rather than his great-grandson. [verse 14]

As for the Egyptian historical dates, all is not as certain as it might seem. Egyptologists are disagreed about the overall dates for several of the royal dynasties — sometimes shifting the entire Egyptian list by several hundred years. There is fairly firm evidence, in spite of the debate, that the records of the ancient dynasties still go back to around 3000 B.C. Besides the Egyptians are not the only people with records that indicate a history beyond 3000 B.C. The ancient Sumerians and Chinese also have histories going back at least that far. Reconciling the biblical record with Egyptian history is only a part of the problem. Such reconciliation is currently very difficult because of the state of flux in which Egyptian chronology finds itself–as well as the chronologies of other ancient peoples and civilizations.

Gaps in the genealogies, however, do not justify extravagant amounts of time. It would be difficult, on the basis of the biblical evidence (both of histories in the OT and of genealogical practices) to insert more than a few thousand years (maybe up to 6000 maximum — but, more likely less than that).

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