The contents of the book of Genesis were committed to writing long after the narrated events occurred, and efforts to identify ancient sources are mere conjectures. At the same time, oral transmission from generation to generation about certain events may well have been involved, accounting for the repetition of identical wording. Being a very ancient book, Genesis should be read as such and not against the backdrop of modern concepts. One must avoid assigning meanings to words, phrases, and the narratives themselves that would have been foreign to persons who first read Genesis or heard the book read to them.
It is also possible to draw wrong conclusions when the Genesis narratives are considered as a reworking of myths that anciently existed among Near Eastern and Mediterranean peoples. There is, for example, a marked difference between the Babylonian Enuma Elish creation myth and the account in Genesis chapter 1. At the very start of the Genesis account the focus is on the creative activity of one true God, and his “word” is portrayed as bringing everything into existence. The Babylonian myth, however, depicts the created world as the product of the violent, murderous conflict of gods and goddesses.
When reading Genesis, one must keep in mind that the book was originally committed to writing for Israelites who believed in one true God. Therefore, the reader must not forget that Genesis needs to be understood with this fact in mind. Individuals who reject belief in the one true God will not derive lasting benefit from what was recorded many centuries ago. Instead, they will most likely join the chorus of those who criticize and ridicule the ancient book, never giving thought to the reality that it was never meant for them. Genesis is not their book. It is foreign to them. Regrettably, with some of their interpretations, many who ardently defend Genesis as part of the “inspired Word of God,” have contributed to increasing and intensifying the ridicule of unbelievers.
According to verses 8 and 9 of chapter 1, the Hebrew words for “heavens” (the dual form shamáyim) and “earth” (’érets) designate what appears to a human observer as a celestial dome and a land area (literally, the “dry”). Therefore, it appears preferable to consider verse 1 as introducing the coming into existence of the apparent celestial dome and the dry land that rises above the sea. Verse 1 does not need to be understood as referring to the creation of the universe, with its billions of galaxies as by a “big bang” that God originated. The focus in Genesis is on the progressive steps that came about through the expression of God’s will to shape a watery void without form and shrouded in darkness (verse 2) into a place where plant, animal, and human life could exist. A number of modern translations interpretively render verse 1 to be explicit as an introduction to the words that follow. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth —” (NAB) “When God began to create heaven and earth —” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition])
In Genesis 1:5-2:4, the Hebrew word yohm appears with four different meanings — the period of daylight (1:5, 14, 16, 18), the six creative days followed by the day of rest (1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:2, 3), the day consisting of a period of daylight and of night as people would reckon it on the basis of the appearance of the sun and the moon (1:14), and the entire period of the seven creative days (2:4) The various meanings for the Hebrew word yohm, as indicated by the context, provide good reason for avoiding arguments about the length of each of the six creative days.
Verse 2 mentions the activity of the rúach. The Hebrew word rúach can either mean “spirit” or “wind.” This explains why translations differ in their renderings (“a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” [NAB], “a wind from God sweeping over the water” [Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition)], “the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water” [REB]). The attribution of creation to what God says (not to his spirit) suggests that “wind” here may be the preferable meaning of rúach. Targum Jonathan on Genesis (thought to date probably from the second century CE), however, refers to the “spirit of mercy from before YY [Yeya (YHWH)].”
In the Hebrew language, the state of the earth at the beginning is described as tohú va-vohú, and the Septuagint renders this expression as “unseen and unformed.” No land and no seas teeming with life existed at that time. What would become land and seas was a “deep,” an “abyss” (LXX), a watery void enshrouded in the blackness of gloom. “Day one” witnessed the coming into existence of “light” or the removal of the darkness. Just how this state of darkness ended through the “light” is not revealed nor is the manner in which developments occurred explained in relation to other days. With the total darkness having vanished, “day one” was marked by a period of daylight (“light”) and a period of darkness (“night”). Like the 24-hour day that began for the Israelites at sundown, “day one” (as also the other “days” that followed) began in the evening. (1:2-5)
God’s word or the expression of his purpose on “day two” is represented as causing a division between the “waters,” with “waters” coming to be above the “expanse” or the celestial dome (“heaven” or the “sky”) and beneath it. Whereas God is portrayed as acknowledging as good the creative work accomplished on days one, three, four, five, and six, the extant Hebrew text does not include “good” for “day two.” This may be because the work involving the expanse above the “waters” was not completed until “day four.” The Septuagint, however, does contain the phrase, “and God saw that [it was] good.” (1:6-8) In the case of the ancient Israelites, they apparently would have understood “waters” as being above the expanse because rain descended from the sky or the celestial dome that towered above them.
In expression of God’s will on “day three,” the dry region of land (literally, the “dry”) appeared as an area for greenery and trees to flourish. God is represented as calling the dry region “earth” or “land,” and as designating the “waters” that had been collected into one place as “seas.” Once land came into being, it began to produce a great variety of plants and trees. (1:9-13)
Seemingly, from the standpoint of a human observer, “day four” was marked by the appearance of two “lights” and also of “stars” in the sky or on the celestial dome. The “greater light” (the sun) served to provide daylight, and the “lesser light” (the moon) provided illumination during the night. At a time when the people of other nations worshiped the sun and moon as deities, the Genesis account proved to be truly revelatory. The sun and moon were not deities, just “lights” that functioned as “signs” or as means for establishing seasons, days, and years. They were mere creations that came into existence through the expression of the purpose of the one true God. (1:14-19)
There being an ample provision of food in the form of plants and fruit growing on the land and apparently also sufficient means of nourishment in the seas to support marine life, the time had come, on “day five” for the coming into existence of both marine and flying creatures. This included huge ones in the seas. With God’s blessing, the great variety of creatures (literally, “living souls”) could reproduce their own kind. (1:20-23)
On “day six,” quadrupeds, reptiles and other creeping things began to live on the land. All of these creatures had the capacity to reproduce their own kind. (1:24, 25) Also, on “day six,” God is quoted as saying, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” According to Targum Jonathan (considered to date probably from the second century CE), God spoke to the “angels who ministered before him” and says that they had been “created in the second day of the creation of the world.” Angels are mentioned in the book of Genesis, and so it is understandable that the people of ancient Israel would have concluded that God spoke to them. The view expressed in the Targum about the creation of the angels on the second day probably was based on associating the realm of the angels as being above the expanse or celestial dome that came into existence on “day two.” For “man” to be in the “image” of God would not mean that humans were made to look like God but that they would be in possession of noble qualities such as love and wisdom, of the capacity for thought and creativity, and of an appreciation for order and beauty. (1:26)
God is represented as giving man “dominion” over all marine and terrestrial life forms. This was not a grant to destroy or to exploit living creatures, but a stewardship or a responsibility toward them, for they were God’s creation and did not belong to man. Throughout the centuries, humans have failed greatly in the exercise of proper dominion, having made themselves responsible for the senseless extinction and abuse of many living creatures. (1:26)
According to Targum Jonathan, God created man “with 248 members, with 365 nerves,” overlaying them with “skin” and filling it “with flesh and blood.”
After creating “man” in his image, creating male and female, God blessed them. They were to have offspring, “subdue” or cultivate the land, and exercise dominion over all living creatures. Plants and trees would provide them and also animals with abundant food. Targum Jonathan indicates that trees that did not bear fruit suitable for food were to be used “for building” and as material “for burning.” Everything that had come into existence on “day six” was “very good.” (1:27-31)
After six creative days, all the works pertaining to the land, sea, and the celestial dome were complete. Everything is represented as having come into existence on the basis of what God said. Nothing is revealed about any work or activity on God’s part nor is there any reference to any time element in conjunction with the creation of what was required to transform a watery void into land and seas where plant and animal life began to flourish in great abundance and variety. For example, nothing is said about any work needed or time required for the land to come into existence and afterward for a variety of plants and trees to appear on the land. Day seven, however, is identified as God’s day of rest “from all his work that he had done” and as a day he blessed and set apart as sacred. (2:1-3)
There is a reason for the focus on God’s spoken word rather than on his activity. Once his word or purpose is expressed, that purpose is certain to be realized. God’s word, therefore, brought into the realm of reality everything that was represented as having been spoken by him. The processes or specific times involved in bringing the revealed purposes into the realm of actuality are not included in the biblical narratives. The emphasis on God’s word can help the one who reads the the biblical narratives or hears them read to recognize that what God says is trustworthy and that all of his promises are certain to be fulfilled.
Work or activity was involved in bringing into being everything that God had purposed. His resting on “day seven,” however, does not mean that he needed time for recuperation after everything was finished. The fact that he is represented as seeing the creative works as good indicated that his purpose had been fully accomplished, with no need for any additional creative activity. God could rest from the standpoint of looking upon all creation with delight and satisfaction as work that had been finished. (2:3)
For the people of Israel, the divine precedent of six days of work followed by a day of rest provided them with a lofty spiritual reason for faithfully observing the seventh day as a day of rest. Referring to the “rest” that followed the six creative days, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “In just six days the world and all that is therein was made; and the seventh day was a rest, and a release from the labor of such operations — whence it is that we celebrate a rest from our labors on that day, and call it Sabbath, which word denotes rest in the Hebrew tongue.” (Antiquities, I, i, 1; compare Exodus 20:8-11.)
Verse 4 of chapter 2 appears to be the introduction for the creation narrative that focuses specifically on the beginning of the human race. “These [are] the generations [or beginnings] of the heavens [the sky or celestial dome] and the earth [or land] in their being created in the day YHWH God made [the] earth [or land] and the heavens [the sky or celestial dome].” This is the first occurrence of the divine name (YHWH). Based on Exodus 3:14, the four Hebrew consonants, YHWH, making up this name evidently incorporate the verb “to be” (Compare the Septuagint reading, egó eimi ho ón [I am the one who is], and the words of Revelation 1:4, ho ón kaí ho en kaí ho erchómenos [the one who is and who was and who is coming]). In view of the Septuagint reading of Exodus 3:14 and the words of Revelation 1:4, the name apparently identifies the Supreme Sovereign as the One who is and continues to be and as the ultimate Source of everything that exists and that will come to be in fulfillment of his word and purpose. The name stands as an absolute guarantee that the Supreme Sovereign would never deviate from what he has declared or revealed he would prove himself to be. He and his word, therefore, are deserving of the utmost confidence. Whereas the Greek eimi (am) is in the present tense, the Hebrew expression ’ehyéh is in the imperfect state. Hence, the words of Exodus 3:14, ’ehyéh ’ashér ’ehyéh, may be rendered “I will be who I will be.” This suggests that the Almighty would prove to be exactly who he has revealed himself to be.
The creation narrative starts with a description of desolate, uncultivated land devoid of plant, animal, and human life. Conditions for the sprouting of greenery did not exist. The stated reason for this was that “YHWH God had not caused it to rain upon the earth” or land. There also was no man to cultivate the ground. The watering of the surface of the ground is attributed to a “mist” that rose from the land. According to the Septuagint, the source for the watering was a “fountain.” Targum Jonathan (considered to date probably from the second century CE) provides a different explanation. It says that a “cloud of glory descended from the throne of glory, and was filled with waters from the ocean, and afterward went up from the earth,” causing rain to come down and to water the entire surface of the ground. (2:5, 6)
YHWH God is represented as forming man from the dust of the ground or from the elements that are a part of the soil and breathing into his “nostrils the breath of life.” By having the animating principle of life imparted, the lifeless body became a “living soul” or a living being. (2:7) Targum Jonathan adds that God created the first man “red, black, and white.” The Jewish historian Josephus of the first century CE wrote regarding the man, “This man was called Adam, which in the Hebrew tongue signifies one that is red, because he was formed out of red earth, compounded together; for of that kind is virgin and true earth” or soil. (Antiquities, I, i, 2)
As a home for the man (Adam), YHWH God is represented as planting a garden (a paradise [LXX]) in the eastern part of the region of Eden. (2:8) One long-held conjecture is that Eden was located in the mountainous area of eastern Turkey just south of Lake Van.
The garden featured delightful fruit-bearing trees. There were also two special trees in the garden — the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Targum Jonathan greatly exaggerates the height of the “tree of life” (a “journey of five hundred years”). A river, with its source in Eden, watered the garden. This river divided and formed four rivers — the Pishon (Ganges [Josephus]), Gihon (Nile [Josephus], flowing around Cush (Ethiopia [LXX]; through Egypt [Josephus]), Hiddekel (Tigris [LXX]), flowing east of Asshur (Assyria), and Perath (Euphrates [LXX]). (Antiquities, I, i, 3) The Pishon is associated with the “land of Havilah,” a region where quality gold, bdellium (a resinous gum [carbuncle (LXX)), and onyx stone (green stone, possibly emerald [LXX]) were found. Havilah, however, cannot be linked to any known region. (2:9-14)
After YHWH God had created the man, he placed him in the “garden of Eden” to cultivate it and to keep, guard, or preserve it. (2:15) He also commanded him not to eat of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” warning him that he would die that day if he were to eat its fruit. As for all the other trees in the garden, their fruit was available to the man for food. (2:16, 17) The command not to eat of the one tree implied no moral defect in the man, for eating was essential for sustaining life and only God’s command respecting the tree made its fruit unacceptable for food. This tree is not identified. Therefore, the view that it was an apple tree is baseless. For the man to eat fruit from the tree would bring upon him the immediate judgment of death, but the actual death would not necessarily follow on that 24-hour day.
YHWH God is represented as declaring that it was not good for the man to be alone (to “be sleeping alone” [Targum Jonathan]) Therefore, he determined to make a suitable “helper” for him or a companion like him, a genuine support. Before the man received this “helper,” he was given the opportunity to name animals and birds that YHWH God had formed from the soil or the elements of the ground. Among all these creatures, the man did not see any of them as a suitable “helper” for him. The man’s naming the creatures implied his superiority over them. Only humans possess the capacity to name creatures, and this has continued to the present time. (2:19, 20)
YHWH God is portrayed as causing the man to fall into a deep sleep, removing from him one rib and then closing up the flesh over the place from which the rib had been taken. Thereafter he formed the rib into a woman and brought her to the man. (2:21, 22) Targum Jonathan says that the “thirteenth rib of the right side” was removed. This view probably is based on the reality that both men and women have the same number of ribs — 24. It may be noteworthy, however, that a partially removed rib can regenerate if the periosteum (the membrane of connective tissue around the bone) remains intact. Moreover, the bone does contain the potential for the formation of another human.
Rabbi Sa’adiah ben Yosef Gaon (882/892 – 942 CE) explained that the creation of the woman from the rib of the man was done with wisdom. It would motivate the man to treat her mercifully as she was one of his body parts, and she would regard him as the source of her life. He would look after her as a man would guard a piece of himself, and she would follow him in the manner a limb would follow the body. Abarbanel (a fifteenth-century Portuguese Jewish Bible commentator) concluded that the woman was not created from the man’s foot so that he would not consider her to be a lowly maidservant, nor was she created from his head so that she would lord over him. Instead, she was created from his side so that she would be equal to him.
The man was delighted when he saw the woman and is quoted as expressing himself in poetic language. “At last this one [is] bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called woman, for from man this one was taken.” (2:23)
The union that would result from a man with his wife would become closer than that which had existed with his parents. A man would leave his father and his mother, attaching himself to his wife and forming a partnership as “one flesh,” comparable to that of just one person or a union of the closest kinship possible. (2:24) Both the man and the woman remained naked in their created state, but they were not ashamed. (2:25)
Among all the creatures of the “field” that YHWH God made, the serpent is described as being more clever or crafty (‘arúm). It may be that the reason for this description was the deceit with which the serpent became associated, for all creation was good and so no part of it could fittingly be identified as clever, crafty, or deceitful. Targum Jonathan (considered to date probably from the second century CE) refers to the serpent as being wiser respecting evil. The serpent is portrayed as asking the woman, “Did God indeed say that you must not eat from any tree of the garden?” This question implied that God was depriving her of partaking of the fruit from all the trees and that it was unfair for him to prohibit her from enjoying even a little of the abundance of available fruit. She responded correctly to the cleverly worded question. “Of the fruit from any tree of the garden, we may eat. But from the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God said, You must not eat from it and you must not touch it, lest you die.” Although the woman was fully aware of God’s command regarding the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” the question led to her focusing her attention on that very tree and preparing her for an answer respecting the reason for the prohibition regarding it. The answer was a lie that slandered God who had provided everything needful for her enjoyment and that of her husband. “You will certainly not die (literally, “dying, you will not die”), for God knows that, in the day of your eating of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God in knowing good and evil.” According to Targum Jonathan, she was told, “You will be as the great angels, who are wise to know between good and evil.” Completely deceived by the words coming from the serpent, the woman saw the tree in a different light, not as something to be avoided. It was good for food, pleasant to behold, a tree to be desired and having the capacity to make one wise. She then ate the fruit. Later, when her husband was with her, she gave him fruit, and he also ate it. (3:1-6)
Prior to partaking of the fruit, the woman and her husband had no knowledge of evil on the basis of personal experience. She and her husband had conducted themselves in a good way, and the thought of doing evil by transgressing the command they had been given apparently did not even occur to them. At the time she chose to eat the fruit, however, the woman determined that God’s command was not good. In this manner, she elevated herself to be like God in establishing what was good and what was evil for her personally. The result was not what she expected. Her eyes and those of her husband were opened, and they experienced the disturbing effect from having chosen to do evil. They became uncomfortable in the presence of one another because their conscience condemned them. Perceiving their naked or exposed state, they covered their private parts with fig leaves. Targum Jonathan says that “they knew they were naked, divested of the purple robe in which they had been created.” (3:7)
The ancient view among the Jews regarding this narrative appears to have been that the serpent possessed the capacity to speak and to express thoughts. First-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “All the living creatures had one language.” At that time, the serpent lived together with Adam and his wife. At seeing them living happily and in obedience to the commands of God, the serpent manifested an envious disposition. Imagining that, if they were to disobey the commands, they would fall into calamities, the serpent “persuaded the woman, out of a malicious intention, to taste of the tree of knowledge.” The serpent told the woman “that in that tree was the knowledge of good and evil, which knowledge,” when obtained, would lead to a happy life — a “life not inferior to that of a god.” By this means, the serpent “overcame the woman, and persuaded her to despise the command of God. Now when she had tasted of that tree, and was pleased with its fruit, she persuaded Adam to make use of it also. Upon this, they perceived they were naked to one another.” Being ashamed thus to be seen abroad, they invented coverings for themselves. The tree had “sharpened their understanding, and they covered themselves with fig leaves.” Tying these leaves together, “out of modesty, they thought they were happier” than they had been before, as they had discovered what they lacked. (Antiquities, I, i, 4)
Early Christians understood the serpent to have been more than a talking snake. They considered the serpent to have been the instrument the Devil used to deceive the woman. In John 8:44, Jesus Christ is quoted as identifying the Devil as a murderer, a liar, and the “father” or originator of lies, and Revelation 12:9 refers to the one called “Devil and Satan” as the “ancient [or original] serpent.”
Just like the woman long ago, many people since then have been deceived by the same lie, imagining that their best interests are served when they set their own ever-changing norms or standards respecting what is good and what is bad. They prefer to make themselves like God, or the highest authority, with no accountability for rejecting what is set forth as the “word of God” in the “holy scriptures” that have been preserved throughout the centuries. Often those who disregard the “word of God” ridicule what is set forth in Genesis, never recognizing themselves as having adopted a course like that of the woman.
During the windy part of the day (literally, the “wind of the day) or the “late afternoon” (deilinós [LXX]), the man and his wife heard the “sound of YHWH God walking in the garden.” It appears that the one whom the man and his wife heard walking was the direct representative of YHWH or the “angel of YHWH,” the one who many centuries later spoke to Abraham and who is referred to as YHWH and as one of three “men” or angels whom Abraham met. (Compare Genesis 18:1, 2, 16, 17, 22, 33; 19:1.) In view of their guilt-ridden conscience, the man and his wife went into hiding “from the face [or the presence] of YHWH God among the trees of the garden.” (3:8)
YHWH God called out to the man with the question, “Where are you?” The man admitted that he had heard his sound (apparently of his walking) in the garden and had hidden himself, being afraid on account of his nakedness. Targum Jonathan represents God as saying, “Is not all the world that I have made manifest before me — the darkness as the light? How did you think in your heart to hide from before me? Do I not see the place where you are concealed? Where are the commandments that I commanded you?” The Jewish historian Josephus added that the man had previously been pleased to respond to God and to converse with him whenever he came into the garden. He then quoted God as saying, “I had before determined about you both, how you might lead a happy life, without any affliction, and care, and vexation of soul; and that all things which might contribute to your enjoyment and pleasure should grow up by my providence, of their own accord, without your own labor and pains-taking; which state of labor and pains-taking would soon bring on old age, and death would not be at any remote distance.” (Antiquities, I, i, 4) Questioned as to who had told him that he was naked and whether he had eaten from the prohibited tree, the man, just like many people today, failed to acknowledge personal responsibility for his sin. He framed his answer in a manner that implicated God in his transgression and placed the blame for his sin on his wife. “The woman you gave [to be] with me, she gave me [fruit] from the tree, and I ate.” Faced with the question as to what she had done, the woman also did not take full responsibility for her deed but said that the serpent had deceived her. (3:9-13)
YHWH God first pronounced judgment on the serpent. Among all the animals, the serpent would be cursed, move on its belly, and eat dust “all the days of [its] life.” There would be enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed or offspring and the woman’s seed or offspring. The offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent in the head, and the serpent would bruise the woman’s offspring in the heel. Targum Jonathan represents this to mean that the serpent’s means of locomotion changed and that it became a venomous creature. “Upon your belly you will go, and your feet will be cut off, and you will cast away your skin once in seven years. And the poison of death will be in your mouth, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.” The Jewish historian Josephus likewise made a literal application to the serpent. He indicated that God, out of indignation at the serpent’s malicious disposition toward Adam, deprived it of speech, had poison inserted under its tongue, made it an enemy of man, had its feet removed, and made it to drag itself on the ground. Additionally, God suggested to men that they should direct their strokes against the head of the serpent (the source of its malicious designs toward men). (Antiquities, I, i, 4) Of course, a serpent does not have legs, and it may be regarded as appearing to eat dust because of the proximity of its flickering tongue to the ground as it moves on its belly or rib cage. (3:14, 15)
Besides making a literal application to the serpent, Targum Jonathan includes, in God’s pronouncement of judgment, the prospect of a Messianic hope. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between the seed of your son, and the seed of her sons; and it shall be when the sons of the woman keep the commandments of the law, they will be prepared to smite you upon your head. But when they forsake the commandments of the law, you will be ready to wound them in their heel. Nevertheless, for them there will be a medicine, but for you there will be no medicine. And they will make a remedy for the heel in the days of the King Meshiha.” In view of their understanding that the serpent was an instrument of Satan or the Devil, early Christians considered the judgment to incorporate the messianic hope. The time would come when the “seed” or offspring that would come through a woman would crush the Devil, triumphing over him and all the powers of darkness, and liberating humans from sin and its baneful consequences. Accordingly, the reference in Genesis has been applied to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah who came to be “out of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) and who through his sacrificial death destroyed the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8), making it possible for humans to be reconciled to God as his approved children by having their sins forgiven. Jesus Christ’s being killed was comparable to his having a heel wound inflicted on him, for he recovered upon being resurrected from the dead. There is no such recovery for the Devil after he is totally crushed and God’s approved children find themselves in a completely sinless state like that of his unique Son, the resurrected Jesus Christ. (3:15)
As a consequence of the woman’s sin, her life would not be as it could have been. Bearing children would be a very painful experience. Her longing or desire (apostrophé [returning, turning back, or inclination], LXX) would be for her husband, apparently wanting his help and support, and he would lord over her. The Hebrew word for “longing” or “desire” is not limited in its application to women. In the Song of Solomon (7:10), the Shulammite said respecting her beloved that his “desire” (epistrophé [turning or attention], LXX) was for her. Sin would have effected a change in the close relationship of the man and the woman, causing him to regard her as less than a fellow partner. He would exploit her need for him and act as a master. (3:16) Targum Jonathan indicates that he would rule over her “unto righteousness and unto sin.”
The man’s failure to obey God is attributed to his listening to his wife’s words. According to Josephus, she persuaded Adam. (Antiquities, I, i, 4) In his letter to Timothy, however, the apostle Paul said that Adam was not deceived. (1 Timothy 2:14) The man made a choice to cast in his lot with his wife, making himself responsible for the entrance of sin into the world and his becoming the progenitor of only sinful or morally flawed humans. (Romans 5:12) His eating of the forbidden fruit had serious consequences for him personally. Cultivating the cursed ground to grow plants for food would prove to be an arduous task. The land would produce thorns and thistles, greatly diminishing the results from his labor. He would perspire as he worked the land. In this way, he would eat bread “in the sweat of his face.” The time would come when he would die, returning to the ground or the elements of the soil from which he had been taken. He had been taken from the dust and would return to the dust. (3:17-19) Targum Jonathan includes the thought that, in the future, the man would rise from the dust to render an account “in the day of great judgment” for all that he had done. After the divine judgment had been pronounced, the man called his wife “Eve,” meaning “Living One,” for she would become the “mother of all living” persons. (3:20)
Animals had to be slaughtered to obtain skins to clothe the man (Adam) and his wife Eve. Apparently, therefore, it would have been the first time for them to see the loss of life by a violent act that would not have occurred had they heeded God’s command. This must have made a deep, if not also highly disturbing or shocking, impression on them. Whether they discerned that a covering for the effects of sin required a sacrifice, one involving the pouring out of blood, is not stated in the account. It is, however, a conclusion many have drawn from the incident. Targum Jonathan presents a very different version of this event. For the man and his wife, God made garments of honor from the skin of the serpent that it had shed instead of the adornment (the purple robe in which they were created) that they lost when they sinned. (3:21)
YHWH God is quoted as saying, “Look, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” According to Targum Jonathan, God spoke to the “angels who ministered before him.” The quotation continues as an incomplete statement, “lest he [Adam] put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for limitless time —” Apparently the implied thought appears to be that preventive action needed to be taken. YHWH God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden in Eden. Outside the garden, Adam would have to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken in order for him and his wife to have food to eat. Access to the garden was barred on the east entrance, where cherubs were stationed to guard “the way to the tree of life.” Seemingly, between the cherubs the “flame of a sword” turned continually. This description fits the time when swords existed, but the reference likely is to a revolving brilliant flame that resembled the turning of the bright blade of a sword. (3:22-24)
Neither the tree of the knowledge of good and evil nor its fruit contained the essential properties for imparting knowledge. Disregard of God’s command respecting this tree made it possible for Adam and Eve to experience or come to know evil and the accompanying disturbing emotions. Prior to their transgression they had only known good. Through their disobedience, they had elevated themselves to the level of gods as persons with no authority over them to establish for them what was good and what was evil. In reality, though, they were not like God. As was the case with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil concerning the imparting of knowledge, the tree of life seemingly did not inherently have the needed properties to grant never-ending life to persons who were entitled to eat fruit from this tree. Instead, the tree served as a tangible means to assure all who were entitled to eat its fruit that they would continue to enjoy life as persons with an approved standing before God. Therefore, when Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command, they lost the right to partake of the fruit from the tree of life. Expelled from the garden, they were prohibited from access to the tree of life and any attempt to reverse the judgment of death that had been pronounced against them. They had forfeited their life, and a reversal was impossible.
According to a literal reading of the Hebrew text, “Adam knew his wife Eve.” This indicated that he knew her sexually or had intercourse with her. She gave birth to a son whom she named “Cain,” seemingly drawn from the verb meaning “acquire” and fitting the significance that Eve attached to his birth. “I have acquired a man with [the help of] YHWH,” suggesting that God had made it possible for her to have a son. (4:1)
Eve gave birth to another son. His name “Abel” may mean “emptiness,” “vanity,” or “exhalation.” Likely this name was not given to him at birth, but came to be attached to him when his life was cut short through Cain’s violent act against him. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus described Abel as a “lover of righteousness” who believed God to be “present at all his actions” and as a person who “excelled in virtue.” (Antiquities, I, ii, 1) Abel became a shepherd, and his brother Cain cultivated the soil. (4:2)
On the occasion that Cain and Abel brought their respective offerings to YHWH, they were grown men in a family that included sisters. According to Genesis 5:4, Adam fathered daughters and other sons besides Cain and Abel. So there is a possibility that there may have been offspring from sons by their sisters, for later Cain feared that he would be killed for having murdered his brother. (4:14)
Targum Jonathan says that it was the fourteenth of Nisan when Cain and Abel presented their offerings. Perhaps this was at a location near the place where the cherubs were stationed to prevent access to the garden in the region of Eden. Cain brought an offering from the produce of the ground that he had cultivated, and Abel brought an offering from the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions. YHWH approved the offering of Abel but did not look favorably upon Cain’s offering. This infuriated Cain and his countenance became downcast. (4:3-5) Regarding this development, Josephus expressed a view that may have been common among the Pharisees of the first century. It pleased God more when he “was honored with what grew naturally [firstlings from Abel’s flock] of its own accord” than “with what was the invention [cultivated plants] of a covetous man, and obtained by forcing the ground.” (Antiquities, I, ii, 1) The reading of the extant text of the Septuagint suggests that Cain failed to make the offering in an acceptable manner. “If you offer properly but did not divide properly, did you not sin?” (Genesis 4:7, LXX) According to 1 John 3:12, Cain was not in the right condition before God to make a proper sacrifice, for his “works were evil.” Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 1) also referred to the evil works of Cain, saying that he was “very wicked in other respects” and “wholly intent upon getting.”
After his asking Cain why he was angry and why his countenance had become downcast, YHWH, probably the “angel of YHWH,” is quoted as saying, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for you, and you should master it.” (See the Note regarding the “angel of YHWH.”) Targum Jonathan (thought to date probably from the second century CE) expresses the thought with additional interpretations. “If you do your work well, will not your guilt be forgiven you? But if you do not do your work well in this world, your sin is retained until the day of the great judgment, and at the doors of your heart lies your sin. And into your hand have I delivered the power over evil passion, and to you will be its inclination, that you may have authority over it to become righteous or to sin.” (4:6, 7) Cain chose not to get the mastery over the inclination to harm his brother.
The extant Hebrew text does not say what Cain said to Abel, but the Septuagint does. “Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go into the plain.” While there alone with Abel, Cain killed him and, according to Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 1) hid the dead body to escape discovery. (4:8) Targum Jonathan includes the words of an argument between Cain and Abel before Cain killed him. Cain is quoted as saying, “I perceive that the world was created in goodness, but it is not governed [or conducted] according to the fruit of good works, for there is respect to persons in judgment; therefore, it is that your offering was accepted, and mine was not accepted with good will.” Abel replied, “In goodness the world was created, and it is governed according to the fruit of good works. And there is no respect of persons in judgment; but because the fruits of my works were better than yours,” my sacrifice was “accepted with good will.” Cain countered with the words, “There is neither judgment nor judge, nor another world; nor will good reward be given to the righteous, nor vengeance be taken on the wicked.” Abel replied, “There is a judgment, and there is a judge; and there is another world, and a good reward is to be given to the righteous, and vengeance is to be taken on the wicked.” Thereafter Cain rose up against his brother and “drove a stone into his forehead,” thus killing him.
When YHWH questioned him about the whereabouts of his brother Abel, Cain lyingly claimed that he did not know and, with an impudent question, callously denied any responsibility toward him. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9) After having told him that his brother’s blood was crying out from the ground for vengeance or justice, YHWH pronounced his judgment against Cain. The ground that had received the blood of his brother from his hand would be cursed ground for him. Cain would toil to cultivate the soil, but it would not produce the expected yield, and he would be a “wanderer and fugitive” on the earth,” likely meaning that he would be exiled from the land where the offspring of Adam and Eve resided. The Septuagint does not refer to his being a “wanderer and fugitive.” It says that Cain would be “groaning and trembling on the earth.” (4:10-12)
Like a hardened criminal who may regard his penalty as too harsh, Cain (according to the Hebrew text) replied that his punishment was greater than he could bear. The Septuagint rendering represents Cain as saying, “Too great [is] my sin to be forgiven.” Targum Jonathan conveys a similar thought. “Heavier is my rebellion than can be borne [away].” These words are then followed by a positive expression regarding God. “Yet there is power before you to forgive it.” Cain felt that, in view of his banishment, he would be hidden from the face of YHWH and thus left totally vulnerable. As a fugitive and a wanderer, he thought that whoever might find him would kill him. Targum Jonathan designates the one who might find Cain as “any just one,” but Josephus wrote (Antiquities, I, ii, 1) that he feared that “he should fall among wild beasts, and by that means perish.” (4:13, 14)
YHWH said to Cain that sevenfold vengeance would be exacted from anyone who would slay him, and he put a mark on Cain to indicate that he should not be killed. (4:15) Many have concluded that thereafter an identifying mark appeared on Cain’s forehead. Targum Jonathan identifies the mark as “the great and honorable name,” apparently meaning the name of God, and says that it was “sealed upon the face of Cain.”
Cain went away “from the face” or the presence of YHWH, suggesting that any past relationship with YHWH had ended. Thereafter Cain began dwelling east of the region of Eden in what came to be known as the “land of Nod.” Targum Jonathan refers to this land as “the land of the wandering of his exile.” The wife of Cain, either one of his sisters or possibly a niece, accompanied him. He “knew” her sexually or had sexual intercourse with her, and she give birth to a son named Enoch. The city Cain later built and named after this son may have consisted of a group of dwellings surrounded by a protective wall constructed from stones or timber. (4:16, 17) Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 2) wrote concerning this development, “He built a city, and fortified it with walls, and he compelled his family to come together to it.”
Enoch’s line of descent is traced through Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, and Lamech. With Lamech, polygamy had its start. His two wives were Adah and Zillah. According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 2), Lamech had 77 children by these two wives. The sons of Lamech made a name for themselves with their inventions. Jabal, the son by Adah, became the “father” or founder of those who lived in tents and tended flocks and herds. Jubal, Jabal’s brother, invented musical instruments — stringed instrument and pipe — and playing songs with them. Tubal-cain, Lamech’s son by Zillah, devised forging implements of copper (or brass) and iron. (4:18-22) Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 2) referred to him as a man who “exceeded all men in strength, and was very expert and famous in martial performances. He procured what tended to the pleasures of the body by that method.” Apparently the implements made from metal could be used as weapons, and violence came to be associated with the descendants of Cain. According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 2), “the posterity of Cain became exceedingly wicked, everyone successively dying one after another more wicked than the former.”
Lamech had a daughter by his wife Zillah, and her name was Naamah. The fact that this daughter, the sister of Tubal-cain, is mentioned by name suggests that she had a prominent role in the family, but nothing specific is mentioned about her. (4:22)
Lamech may have used a weapon his son Tubal-cain fashioned when killing a young man. Seemingly, to assure his wives Adah and Zillah that there was no reason for them to fear that vengeance would be taken against him, he said to them: “Hear my voice, you wives of Lamech; give ear to my saying. A man I have slain for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is to be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” The poetic words of Lamech imply that he had far stronger reason than Cain for being avenged, for he had acted in self-defense. Targum Jonathan represents the words of Lamech as having an entirely different significance. “I have not killed a man, that I should be slain for him; neither have I destroyed a young man, on whose account my children should perish. For Cain who sinned and was converted by repentance [had protection] extended to him unto seven generations.” To Lamech, “who had not sinned, it is just that it shall be extended unto seventy-seven.”
Adam again “knew” his wife Eve or had sexual intercourse with her, and she gave birth to another son. Eve named him Seth, meaning “appointed one,” because, as she said, “God has appointed for me another seed [or offspring] instead of Abel whom Cain killed.” (4:25) Josephus (Antiquities, I, ii, 3) referred to Seth as an outstandingly good man. He “became a virtuous man; and as he was himself of an excellent character, so did he leave children behind him who imitated his virtues. All these proved to be of good dispositions. They also inhabited the same country without dissensions, and in a happy condition, without any misfortunes falling upon them till they died.”
During the lifetime of Seth’s son Enosh, certain ones “began to call on the name of YHWH.” (4:26) While some have attributed a positive meaning to this development, Targum Jonathan says the very opposite. “That was the generation in whose days they began to err, and to make themselves idols, and surnamed their idols by the name of the Word of the Lord.” The Septuagint rendering, however, does not support this significance. It indicates that that Enosh “hoped to call upon the name of the Lord God.”
As in chapter 3 and also here in chapter 4, it is probably the “angel of YHWH” who did the speaking. See the comment on Genesis 3:8 regarding this.
The introduction to this section of Genesis identifies it as the “book” of the “generations of Adam” or of his descendants. This introduction repeats words from Genesis 1:26-28, indicating that “God created man” in his “likeness.” God created them male and female, gave them the name “man,” and blessed them. Being in the “likeness” of God did not mean that Adam looked like God, but he had attributes that the animals he named did not possess. Adam could love, manifest wisdom, think, reason, be creative, and appreciate beauty and order. (5:1, 2)
After Adam lived 130 (230 [LXX]) years he became the father of a son “in his own likeness, after his image.” This son was like him and also had the flaw of the sinful condition that made it impossible for him to reflect the likeness of God in the manner his father could prior to his transgression. Adam named his son Seth. According to verse 25 of chapter 4, Seth was the name his mother Eve gave him. This suggests that Adam agreed with his wife on the name of this son who was regarded as a replacement for Abel. (5:3)
When, according to the extant Hebrew text, the ages at which Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mehalalel, Jared, Enoch Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah became father to a son are added, the total comes to 1,456 years. The sum in the existing Septuagint text is 2,142 years. This difference exists because the age for each of the seven men from Adam through Enoch is increased by a 100 years. Additionally, Methuselah is said to have become father to Lamech at the age of 167, and Lamech to Noah at the age of 188. Instead of 167 and 188, the Hebrew text says 187 and 182. Another difference is in the number of years that Methuselah lived after becoming father to Lamech (802 years, with the age at death being 969 [as in the Hebrew text]) and the number of years Lamech lived after becoming father to Noah (565 [595, Hebrew text]) and the age at death (753 [777, Hebrew text]). In his Antiquities (I, iii, 4), Josephus follows the Septuagint for the men from Adam through Enoch but agrees with the Hebrew text for Methuselah and Lamech. (5:3-32)
The age at which Methuselah became father to Lamech as contained in the Septuagint cannot be correct, for it would mean that Methuselah lived 802 years after becoming father to Lamech and, therefore, about 14 years after the flood began (802 years minus 788 years [the age of Noah when the flood began (600 years), plus the age of Lamech at Noah’s birth (188 years [LXX])]). An ancient explanation for the addition of the 100 years is that the Septuagint translator considered the ages to be a tenth of the numbers and then added 100 when it would have been impossible for a man to have been old enough to become father to a son. He also subtracted 100 from the number of years the man lived after becoming father to a son, preserving agreement with the age at death found in the Hebrew text. The writings of Josephus are in Greek, and this probably accounts for his use of the numbers for the ages that are increased by a hundred years and, in his preface to the Antiquities (section 3), for his reference to the “sacred books” as containing a history of 5,000 years. (5:3-32)
With the exception of Jared, the Samaritan Pentateuch agrees with the Hebrew text for the ages at which each of the seven men from Adam through Enoch became father to a son. It contains different ages at which Methuselah and Lamech became fathers to a son (67 for Methuselah and 53 for Lamech). For Jared, the number of years he lived after he became father to Enoch was 785 (800 [Hebrew text]), and his age at death was 847 (962 [Hebrew text]). Disagreement with the Hebrew text also exists regarding the ages for Methuselah and Lamech after the birth of a son (653 for Methuselah and 600 for Lamech; 782 for Methuselah and 595 for Lamech [Hebrew text]) and for the ages at death (720 for Methuselah and 653 for Lamech; 969 for Methuselah and 777 for Lamech [Hebrew text]). When, according to the Samaritan Pentateuch, the ages at which each of the ten men from Adam to Noah became father to a son are added, the total comes to 1,207 years.
Only regarding Enoch and Lamech are a few details provided aside from the ages at which they fathered a son, the number of years they lived thereafter, and the total years of their life. Additional details about Enoch are found in other writings and in the book of Hebrews and the letter of Jude.
Enoch is identified as a man who “walked with God,” indicating that he proved to be a man devoted to God throughout his life. Regarding Enoch it is then stated, “He was not, for God took him.” The Septuagint reads, “Enoch pleased God well. And he was not found, for God removed him.” (5:22-24) According to the reading of Genesis 5:24 in the extant text of the Septuagint, the Greek term for the “change” or “removal” is the same as in Hebrews 11:5. Ancient Jewish writings present the view that the change or removal referred to Enoch’s being taken to another realm without undergoing death. Josephus (Antiquities, I, iii, 4) wrote that Enoch “departed and went to God,” and for this reason nothing was recorded about his death. Philo maintained that Enoch was “carried off in such a way as to be invisible, for then he was not found,” and suggested that he “was translated from a visible place, perceptible by the outward senses, into an incorporeal idea, appreciable only to the intellect.” (Book 41, Questions and Answers on Genesis, I) The “Book of Jubilees” (chapter 4) says that Enoch was conducted “into the Garden of Eden in majesty and honor.” According to chapter 12 of the Book of Enoch, “Enoch was hidden, and no one of the children of men knew where he was hidden, and where he abode, and what had become of him.” Targum Jonathan states that Enoch “ascended to the firmament,” whereas the Targum of Onkelos says that the “Lord had not made him die.”
The letter of Jude refers to Enoch as “the seventh one from Adam” and as prophesying, “Look! The Lord came with myriads of his holy ones to render judgment against all and to convict every soul [‘all the ungodly,’ according to other manuscripts] regarding all their ungodly works that they committed in an ungodly manner and regarding all the harsh [literally, ‘hard’] words [missing in numerous manuscripts] ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14, 15) These words indicated that God, accompanied by a host of numberless angels, would expose the record the impious had made for themselves and execute judgment against them for their words and deeds, which had dishonored him.
The Genesis account does not contain any mention of Enoch’s prophesying (verses 14 and 15 of Jude), but the same basic thought is expressed in 1 Enoch 1:9. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, twenty fragments of the book of Enoch have been found. This is just as many fragments as were discovered for the book of Genesis, suggesting that the book of Enoch appears to have been highly valued. At the present time, only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) accept 1 Enoch as part of the Scriptures.
The portion of 1 Enoch 1:9 that is preserved in 4Q204 (a manuscript thought to date from the latter part of the first century BCE but copied from a manuscript believed to have been approximately 100 years older) is very limited. Most of the text has to be reconstructed to be meaningful. In the book The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, by Michael O. Wise, Martin G. Abegg, Edward M. Cook, the rendering with the supplied parts in brackets is as follows, “[...he will come with] myri[ads of his] holy ones […] [… to judge all f]esh for [their] works [of …] […] great and harsh […].” The complete text, as preserved in the Ethiopic version (in the Ge’es language), reads, “And look! He is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and to destroy all the ungodly; and to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness that they have committed in an ungodly manner, and of all the hard things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Comments about Enoch contained in the Scriptures do not provide enough details for reaching any definitive conclusions about what actually happened to him after 365 years of life. It would appear that Jesus’ words (in John 3:13) do not support the view that Enoch was taken to heaven. “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”
Lamech, the father of Noah, is quoted as saying about his son, “This one will bring us rest [or relief] from our work and from the toil of our hands on account of the ground that YHWH has cursed.” The thought appears to be that, during the lifetime of Noah (whose name appears to be drawn from a Hebrew word meaning “quietness,” “rest,” or “consolation”), the ground would no longer remain under the curse God expressed against it after Adam and Eve transgressed the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (5:29) Noah did not have any sons until he reached the age of 500. His three sons were named Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (5:32)
In the first century CE and in earlier centuries, the Jews regarded the names in Genesis as those of men who had actually lived, and so did the early Christians. Jesus Christ used the written record in the early chapters of Genesis in a way that recognized them to be reliable history. (Matthew 19:4, 5; 23:35; Mark 10:6-9; Luke 11:51) Many have found the reference to the long life spans of the men questionable. It should be kept in mind, though, that people lived far shorter lives when the words in Genesis were committed to writing. The collection of sacred songs known as Psalms contains the words, “The days of our years [are] seventy years and, if for [reason of] strength, eighty years.” (Psalm 90:10) Based on what is recorded about the time Noah and his family spent in the ark, the years men lived before the flood were full years and not much smaller parts of a year. (Genesis 7:11, 12, 17, 24; 8:3-6, 10-14) Nevertheless, life spans far longer than 70 or 80 years have been preserved in writing, translating, and recopying of the Genesis account. Persons who believe in God as the Creator of the first humans accept that men lived far longer in very ancient times, although no other corroborating writings exist. There is, however, a significant difference between the ages in the Genesis account and the fantastically huge number of years that antedeluvian rulers are said to have reigned. The Sumerian King List, for example, indicates the length of the reigns of eight rulers to have been 28,800, 36,000, 43,200, 28,800, 36,000, 28,800, 21,000, and 18,600 years respectively.
Millions of people today would be unable to trace their ancestry back for more than 400 years, and no one can definitively verify the exact length of life spans of their earliest ancestors who lived thousands of years ago. As to what conclusion individuals may draw about the ages recorded in the book of Genesis, this depends on whether they believe that God is the Creator of the first humans or that he does not exist. Just because a person cannot prove the existence of ancestors beyond a relatively recent time in history does not establish that earlier ancestors who accomplished remarkable tasks never lived. Likewise, one cannot prove that there is no God or that he had no part in bringing earthly life into existence. At a certain point in history, we reach a beginning for humankind, and Genesis identifies YHWH as the Creator and the God who is linked to that beginning.
After the human population had increased significantly, certain “sons of God” began to notice that the women (literally, “daughters of the man” [the earthling]) were attractive. Of their choosing or to their liking, these “sons of God” took wives from among the women. Targum Jonathan says that these women were beautiful, painted, and curled (apparently having curled their hair). They walked about with “revelation of flesh” or with much of their body exposed and with thoughts of wickedness. (6:1, 2)
Verse 6 of the letter of Jude indicates the “sons of God” to have been “angels who did not keep their original place for themselves, but left their own dwelling.” The Genesis account makes no mention about the punishment inflicted on these “sons of God.” Sources familiar to Jews living in the first century CE, however, did include references to their punishment as being restraint in bonds and confinement in a place of darkness. This is also mentioned in verse 6 of the letter of Jude and 2 Peter 2:4.
First Enoch 12:4 identifies the “sons of God as “the Watchers of the heaven” who “left the high heaven, the holy eternal place,” and took “wives for themselves.” As to their punishment, 1 Enoch 10:11 says that God instructed the angel Michael to “bind Semjâzâ and his associates who have united themselves with women so as to have defiled themselves with them in all their uncleanness.” This binding is not represented as their final punishment, but they are said to remain in their bound state until “the day of their judgment and of their consummation.” (1 Enoch 10:12) “In those days they shall be led off to the abyss of fire.” (1 Enoch 10:13) Regarding Azâzêl, God directed the angel Raphael to bind him “hand and foot,” and to “cast him into the darkness.” He would then remain bound and in a state of total darkness until the “day of the great judgment,” at which time he would be thrown “into the fire.” (1 Enoch 10:4-6)
There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew word dun in the opening sentence of verse 3. A literal rendering of the sentence could be, “And YHWH said, My spirit will not contend [dun] in [or with] man for limitless time.” This could mean that YHWH ’s spirit or attitude toward wayward humans would change. He would cease to trouble himself with them, refraining from executing severe punitive judgment. The Septuagint conveys a different meaning. “And the Lord God said, By no means [literally, not, not] will my spirit remain in these men.” This could signify that God would not allow the life force or life principle that he had imparted to humans continue to animate them. Man was but “flesh,” a mere mortal who had no strength to resist God in carrying out his purpose. YHWH determined to tolerate corrupt humans for no more than 120 years and to act against them after the allotted time was up. According to Targum Jonathan, the practicers of wickedness were given an extension of 120 years so that they might come to repentance and not perish. (6:3)
At the time the “sons of God” had sexual relations with women (literally, “the daughters of the man”), the “Nephilim” were on the earth. The designation “Nephilim” means “fellers” or individuals who caused other persons to fall by violent means. In the Septuagint, they are called “giants.” They were mighty men, “men of name,” but not men of renown known for good deeds. As the offspring of the “sons of God,” they apparently were men of extraordinary strength. (6:4) Josephus, in his Antiquities (I, iii, 1), referred to them as the offspring of “angels of God” and described them as unjust and as men who despised everything good, “on account of the confidence they had in their own strength.” The “tradition is that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.”
The Nephilim and their fathers must have greatly contributed to the extreme corruption that came to exist among the people of that time. This did not escape the attention of YHWH. He saw that the “wickedness of man” was great. In their thoughts, humans continually were focused only on bad. The complete moral breakdown that existed caused YHWH to look with regret upon his having made man because of how evil humankind had become. He was grieved or pained at heart or in his inmost being. Therefore, YHWH purposed to blot out man, beast, crawling creature, and bird. The evil for which man was responsible had led to impending calamitous results for the whole environment, including the animals. This is still true of the environmental ruin that humans cause and which brings about the destruction of animal life. (6:5-7)
Among his contemporaries, Noah “found favor in the eyes of YHWH.” He was an upright, blameless man, one who “walked with God,” or a man who conducted himself with a wholesome regard for God and according to the guidance of his God-given conscience. Noah was the father of three sons — Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (6:8-10)
As an upright God-fearing man, Noah remained undefiled by the corruption and the violence that “filled the earth.” In view of the corruption that came to exist among “all flesh,” or all the other humans then alive, YHWH revealed to Noah his purpose to destroy “all flesh.” The destruction of corrupt humankind was to be “with the earth,” indicating that everything on the land in the then-existing condition would come to an end. (6:11-13)
For the preservation of his life, that of seven immediate family members, and that of animals, Noah was divinely directed to build an “ark,” a huge rectangular box-like vessel. Gópher is the Hebrew word for the wood that was to be used for the construction of the ark. There is uncertainty about which tree the term gópher designated. The Septuagint rendering is “squared [lengths of] wood.” The lumber may have been obtained from a resinous tree like the cypress. Compartments were to be constructed in the interior of the ark. To make the vessel watertight, both the interior and exterior were to be covered with pitch. Based on a cubit of 18 inches (c. 46 centimeters), the ark was 450 feet (c. 137 meters; 300 cubits) long, 75 feet wide (c. 23 meters; 50 cubits), and 45 feet high (c. 13.7 meters; 30 cubits) high. (6:14, 15; see the Notes section.)
There is uncertainty about the meaning of the feature of the ark that is designated as the tsóhar. Perhaps the word tsóhar referred to an 18-inch (c. 46-centimeter; 1-cubit) opening below the roof of the ark and on all four sides of the vessel. Such an opening would have provided needed ventilation and some daylight. The entrance of the ark was on its side, and the interior of the vessel had three decks. (6:16)
YHWH revealed to Noah that he would flood the earth, destroying human and animal life. He concluded a covenant with Noah, his wife, his three sons, and the wives of his three sons. That covenant assured them that they would survive the deluge. To preserve every kind of bird, animal, or crawling creature, Noah was to bring two of each, male and female, into the ark. Additionally, he was to arrange for provisions of food to last for the duration of the flood. Noah followed through on everything he had been commanded to do. (6:17-22; see the Notes section.)
There is archaeological evidence for a cubit of approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters). This would make the dimensions of the ark approximately 438 feet (133.5 meters) by 73 feet (22 meters) by 44 feet (13.4 meters). Possibly the cubit was significantly longer.
In the then-existing generation, among the contemporaries of Noah, YHWH found him to be righteous and, therefore, directed that he and his household enter the ark. Of the clean animals, he was to take seven pairs (literally, “seven, seven” [or seven by seven]), male and female, and one pair, male and female of unclean animals, into the ark. At the time Noah lived, no distinction existed between animals that were clean or suitable for food and those which were not. When, however, the narrative was committed to writing, the people of Israel were fully aware of the distinction and needed no explanation as to what was meant. To preserve all the different kinds of birds, Noah was told to select seven pairs of each kind, male and female. It appears that seven days were allotted for Noah and his family to bring all the animals and birds and the essential supply of food into the ark. Targum Jonathan (thought to date probably from the second century CE) indicates that the seven-day period was granted so that the people might repent. If they repented, God would forgive them. If, however, they did not change, God decreed that he would cause rain to come down upon the earth. It would rain for forty days and forty nights, leading to a deluge that would destroy every living thing on the surface of the land. (7:1-4)
Based on the ages of the men listed in Genesis chapter 5, Methuselah died in the year the deluge began. This may be the reason that Targum Jonathan also refers to the seven-day period before the downpour began as a time of mourning for Methuselah. The mourning for Methuselah, however, did not cause the people to turn away from their wayward conduct.
Noah did exactly what he had been commanded to do. He was then in his 600th year of life. To escape the deluge, he, his wife, his sons, and their wives entered the ark. The clean and the unclean animals, birds, and crawling creatures, two by two, male and female, went into the ark as God had commanded Noah. Just as God had revealed, the waters of the flood came down upon the earth at the end of seven days. On the seventeenth day of the second month, the downpour began. Targum Jonathan refers to the “second month” as Marchesvan (Heshvan; mid-October to mid-November), for formerly “the months had been numbered from Tishri” (mid-September to mid-October), “which was the beginning of the year at the completion of the world.” Rain from the sky above and water on the earth below (“all the fountains of the great deep” that had “burst forth”) began to cover the land as the rain continued without letup for forty days and forty nights. (7:5-12)
All who had entered the ark were safe — Noah, his wife, his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, and every kind of beast, domestic animal, crawling creature, and bird, male and female, that had gone into the ark with Noah. As the flood waters rose, no one could come into the ark, for YHWH had closed the entrance. Once the flood waters rose high enough to cover land, including the higher elevations, the ark began to float. All hills and mountains (the then-existing highest elevations on the flooded land) were covered with water. The reference to fifteen cubits (22.5 feet; c. 7 meters) may indicate that the depth of the water over the highest elevations corresponded to the approximate draft of the ark. Every bird, domestic animal, beast, crawling creature, and human outside the ark died — “all flesh” or every living fleshly creature, the life of which depended on breathing (the “breath of life” in the nostrils). YHWH blotted out every living creature. Only Noah, members of his family, and the living creatures with him inside the ark survived. For 150 days the waters of the deluge remained unabated. (7:13-24)
After the flood had overwhelmed the land for 150 days (7:24), YHWH remembered or directed his attention to Noah and all the other occupants inside the ark and caused a drying wind to blow across the earth. Then the waters began to recede. (8:1)
“The fountains of the deep” (abyss [LXX]) and the “windows of the heavens” (“cataracts of heaven” [LXX]) were stopped up. At the start of the deluge, the “fountains” were the source of water that had burst forth from the land below, and the “windows of the heavens” were like floodgates that had been opened to let huge quantities of water descend as rain from the sky above. The stopping up of all sources for additional water made it possible for the floodwaters to recede progressively after the period of 150 days. (8:2, 3)
On the seventeenth day of the seventh month (Nisan [Targum Jonathan], mid-March to mid-April), the floodwaters had diminished sufficiently for the ark to come to rest on the mountains of Ararat. In his Antiquities (I, iii, 5), Josephus referred to the place where the ark rested as a “certain mountain in Armenia” (a mountain in what is today eastern Turkey). The floodwaters continued to recede until the tenth month (Tammuz [Targum Jonathan], mid-June to mid-July). On the first day of the tenth month (eleventh month [LXX] or Ab, mid-July to mid-August), the tops of the mountains became visible. (8:4, 5)
Noah had made a “window” in the ark. He opened this window at the “end of 40 days” and released a raven. As the raven flew to and fro until the floodwaters had dried up from the earth, Noah was unable to determine anything specific about the conditions outside the ark. Therefore, he next released a dove to see whether the floodwaters had receded from the surface of the land. With the floodwaters still covering the land, the dove located no place to settle and flew back to the ark. Noah then reached out his hand to the bird and brought it inside through the open window. He waited another seven days and again sent out the dove. This time the bird returned toward evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak. Josephus, in his Antiquities (I, iii, 5), added that the dove was “covered with mud.” Based on the evidence from the return of the dove, Noah knew that the floodwaters had diminished. When, after seven days, he sent forth the dove once more, the bird did not return to him. (8:6-12)
By the first day of the first month (Tishri [Targum Jonathan]; mid-September to mid-October) in the 601st year of Noah’s life, the floodwaters had begun to dry off from the surface of the land. Upon removing the cover of the ark, probably meaning a section thereof that made it possible for him to see the terrain, Noah determined that the ground was dry. On the twenty-seventh day of the second month (Marchesvan (Targum Jonathan), Heshvan; mid-October to mid-November), the earth or land was found to be dry. (8:13, 14)
God directed Noah and his family, together with every bird, land animal, and crawling creature, to leave the ark after having been inside for over one year. (Compare Genesis 7:11 with 8:14.) The living creatures that had survived inside the ark were to breed and increase greatly on the land. Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives, and every beast, crawling creature, and bird came out of the ark according to their respective kinds or “families” as had been divinely commanded. (8:15-19) In his Antiquities (I, iii, 5, 6), Josephus commented about the place where all the occupants of the ark made their exit. “The Armenians call this place (Apobatérion) The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day. Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark” Among them is Berosus the Chaldean. After describing the circumstances of the flood, Berosus continued: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a “great many more, make mention of the same.” Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, is quoted as having written: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.”
Likely in gratitude for having been saved from the deluge, Noah built an altar and sacrificed creatures from among the clean ones as holocausts or burnt offerings. These creatures would have been domestic animals like bovines, sheep, and goats, and birds like doves. YHWH is represented as “smelling” the “pleasing odor” of the sacrificial victims or as recognizing the offerings as acceptable. (8:20, 21) Targum Jonathan says that Noah “took of all clean cattle, and of all clean fowl, and sacrificed four upon that altar. And the Lord accepted his oblation with favor.” Josephus did not identify Noah’s offering up clean animals on the erected altar as an expression of thanksgiving. He wrote, “As for Noah, he was afraid, since God had determined to destroy mankind, lest he should drown the earth every year; so he offered burnt offerings, and entreated God that nature might hereafter go on in its former orderly course, and that he would not bring on so great a judgment any more, by which the whole race of creatures might be in danger of destruction.” Josephus also referred to Noah as entreating God “to accept of his sacrifice, and to grant that the earth might never again undergo the like effects of his wrath; that men might be permitted to go on cheerfully in cultivating the [land]; to build cities, and live happily in them; and that they might not be deprived of any of those good things which they enjoyed before the flood.” (Antiquities, I, iii, 7)
“In his heart” or within himself, YHWH is represented as saying that he would never again curse the ground on man’s account, the reason being that, from youth onward, the inclination of the human “heart” or the inmost self has been toward bad. Although a corrupt human society perished in the deluge, this did not eradicate the serious moral flaw with which Adam infected his offspring by the transgression that alienated him from God. The frightening atrocities, acts of violence, oppression, fraud, and other evils that humans have committed in past centuries down to the present time undeniably prove that the serious moral flaw continues to exist. In view of inherent human sinfulness, YHWH purposed not again to destroy every living creature as he had by means of the deluge. (8:21)
“All the days,” or for as long as, the earth remained, the natural cycles would not end. “Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter [spring (LXX)], and day and night would not cease. Targum Jonathan is more specific in referring to “sowing in the season of Tishri” (mid-September to mid-October), “harvest in the season of Nisan” (mid-March to mid-April), “coldness in the season of Tebeth” (mid-December to mid-January), and “warmth in the season of Tammuz” (mid-June to mid-July). (8:22)
With God’s blessing upon Noah and his sons, the family was to repopulate the earth or land. Although Noah and his family were permitted to add meat to their diet, land and marine creatures and birds would continue to have a natural fear of them. This suggested that wild animals would not pose a threat to the deluge survivors. To the present time, even predators commonly avoid contact with humans. (9:1-3)
When killing an animal for food, Noah and his family were not to eat the blood. A creature’s life depended on the blood. Seemingly for this reason, the blood is referred to as “its soul” or its life. Targum Jonathan (thought to probably date from the second century CE) does not include the prohibition against eating blood. It rules out eating flesh that is torn from an animal that is still alive or from a slaughtered animal while there yet remains breath in it. (9:4)
God revealed that he would require an accounting from any beast or human responsible for shedding the lifeblood of any person. This accounting authorized capital punishment for murder and killing any animal that killed a human. The taking of human life showed disregard for the reality that man was made in the “image of God” and so was a unique creation with the capacity to love, to manifest wisdom, justice, and compassion, and to value and appreciate beauty and order. (9:5, 6) According to Targum Jonathan, “the judges, by witnesses,” were to condemn the murderer to death. If there were no witnesses, God himself would “bring punishment on him in the day of the great judgment.”
The family of Noah was to increase greatly in numbers, and God assured Noah and his sons that they and all the other occupants of the ark would never again experience a deluge. “For all future generations,” God made a covenant or solemn agreement with all the deluge survivors that never again would “all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood.” The rainbow was to serve as a sign of this covenant. Whenever the rainbow appeared “in the clouds,” God would remember the “everlasting covenant” between himself and every living soul of all flesh [or every mortal creature] that is upon the earth.” (9:7-17)
Of Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth (the ancestors of the post-flood human family), Ham, the father of Canaan, became the focus on account of a disrespectful act toward his father. Noah became intoxicated from the fermented juice of the grapes he obtained from the vineyard he had planted. In his drunken state, he lay exposed in his tent. Ham witnessed his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers about it. Shem and Japheth then took a garment, placed it on their shoulders and, walking backwards, covered their father’s nudity without looking upon it. (9:18-23)
In Leviticus chapter 18, the expression “to uncover nakedness” refers to illicit sexual relationships. This has provided the basis for a conjecture that Canaan may have been involved in a perverse act toward his intoxicated grandfather and that Ham failed to respond with appropriate corrective action. When Noah woke up from the effects of the wine he had drunk, he learned what his “youngest son had done to him.” It seems somewhat unusual that Ham would be called the “youngest son,” for he is always mentioned in the second place (Shem, Ham, and Japheth). Possibly, therefore, the designation “youngest son” applies to the grandson Canaan. (9:24) The comments of Josephus do not support this conjecture. He understood the “youngest son” to be Ham and wrote that the “youngest son” saw sleeping Noah in his intoxicated state lying “naked in an unseemly manner.” “When his youngest son saw this, he came laughing, and showed him to his brothers; but they covered their father’s nakedness.” As to the reason Noah did not curse Ham, Josephus wrote that it was on account of “his nearness in blood” or because Ham was a closer blood relative to Noah than his offspring would have been. “When the rest of [the offspring of Ham] escaped that curse, God inflicted it on the children of Canaan.” (Antiquities, I, vi, 3)
Upon coming to know what had happened, Noah pronounced a curse on Canaan, indicating that he would become “a slave of slaves to his brothers.” Noah also said, “Blessed [or praised be] YHWH, the God of Shem, and let Canaan be his slave.” Seemingly, the prophetic curse on Canaan pointed forward to the time when the descendants of Shem, the people of Israel, would subjugate the Canaanites and make the survivors of the conquest of the land of Canaan their slaves. It is noteworthy that the Canaanites were known for engaging in abhorrent sexual practices, and the earliest sign of this may have already been in evidence in the case of Ham’s son Canaan. (9:25, 26)
Noah continued, “May God enlarge Japheth,” either greatly increasing the number of his descendants or expanding the boundaries of the territory in which they would reside. Let Japheth “dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his slave.” The form of the Hebrew word for “enlarge” or “expand” consists of the same consonants as does the proper name “Japheth” and, therefore, the verb and the proper name constitute a wordplay. Descendants of Japheth (Persians, Greeks, and Romans) did conquer Canaanite territory in later centuries, and this may be regarded as fulfillment of the prophetic words that Canaan would become a slave of Japheth. As for Japheth dwelling “in the tents of Shem,” this could mean that the descendants of Japheth would at a future time derive benefits from the descendants of Shem. (9:27) One great benefit was the translation of the sacred writings from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek and the associated spread of the knowledge about the one true God, YHWH. Targum Jonathan indicates that the sons or descendants of Japheth would become proselytes and “dwell in the schools of Shem.”
After the deluge, Noah lived an additional 350 years and died at the age of 950. (9:28, 29) Commenting on the long lives of Noah and others, Josephus (Antiquities, I, iii, 9) wrote: “Let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we have said of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life, for those ancients were beloved of God, and [lately] made by God himself; and because their food was then fitter for the prolongation of life, might well live so great a number of years: and besides, God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue and the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries.”
After the deluge, Noah’s sons fathered their own sons. The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. (10:1, 2) Gomer’s sons were Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. Javan became father to Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. The descendants of Japheth settled in the coastlands. In their territories, they became families and nations and came to speak their own distinctive languages. (10:3-5)
Josephus indicated that the area where the descendants of the sons of Noah settled became known by the name of their forebears. By the time he wrote in the first century CE, some of the original names of the regions had been lost, but others could still be recognized. He attributed to the Greeks changes in names that sounded better to them than the original designations. (Antiquities, I, v) Gomer has been linked to the Cimmerians who settled in the vicinity of the Black Sea. The descendants of Magog may have inhabited the region to the south of Gomer. Madai has been identified with the Medes, Javan with the Greeks, and Tubal with the Tabalu mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions. The descendants of Tubal are thought to have inhabited a region in eastern Asia Minor. Meshech’s descendants may also have resided in Asia Minor and may be identified with the Mushku to which people references are found in Assyrian inscriptions. A possible identification for Tiras may be the seafaring people known to the ancient Greeks as Tyrsenoi. Ashkenaz has been identified with the Scythians who settled north of the Black Sea. The descendants of Riphath may have lived in the northwestern part of Asia Minor. Togarmah has been linked to the Armenians. Elishah has been associated with various locations — Crete, Italy, and Cyprus. Tarshish has been linked to the Iberian Peninsula, Kittim to Cyprus, and Dodanim (or Rodanim) to the island of Rhodes.
The comments of Josephus probably reflect views that were current among Jews in the first century CE. He indicated that the descendants of the seven sons of Iaphtha (Japheth; Iapheth [LXX]) “occupied first the mountains of Tauros [Taurus, a mountain range in southern Asia Minor] and Amanos [Amanus, a mountain range in Asia Minor] and proceeded through Asia as far as the river Tanais [the Don River in European Russia) and across Europe as far as Gadeira [Cadiz, a city in southern Spain], settling the lands they encountered where none had lived before, and calling the nations by their own names. Gomaros [Gomer; Gamer (LXX)] founded those whom the Greeks now call Galatians, but were then called Gomarites. Magoges [Magog (Hebrew and LXX)] founded the Magogites after himself, whom they call Scythians. The sons of Iaphtha [Japheth; Iapheth (LXX)], Iauanos [Javan; Ioyan (LXX)] and Mados [Madai], were also founders of nations: from Mados [Madai] came the Madaians, whom the Greeks call Medes, and from Iauanos [Javan; Ioyan (LXX)] are descended Ionia and all the Greeks. Theobelos [Tubal; Thobel (LXX)] founded the Theobelians, who are now called Iberes [Iberians]. The Meschenians were founded by Meschos [Meshech; Mosoch (LXX)] and are now called Cappadocians, though a trace of their ancient name is still visible, for there is still among them a city called Mazaca, an indication to those who understand such things that this was once the name of the whole nation. Theires [Tiras; Thiras (LXX)] called his subjects Theirians, but the Greeks changed the name into Thracians. … Of the three sons of Gomaros [Gomer; Gamer (LXX)], Aschanaxes [Ashkenaz; Aschanaz (LXX)] founded the Aschanaxians, who are now called by the Greeks Reginians; and Riphath founded the Riphathaians, now called Paphlagonians, and Thugrames [Togarmah; Thorgama (LXX)] the Thugramaians, whom the Greeks called Phrygians. Of the three sons of Iauanos [Javan; Ioyan (LXX)], son of Iaphtha [Japheth; Iapheth (LXX)], Halisas [Elishah; Elisa (LXX)] named the Halisaians whom he ruled, who are now the Aiolians [Aelonians]; and Tharsos [Tarshish; Tharsis (LXX)] (the former designation of Cilicia) named the Tharsians, an indication [for the name Tharsos being] the name of their noblest city and metropolis Tarsus, the tau having replaced the theta. Chethimos [Kittim; Kitioi (Kitians), LXX] occupied the island of Chethimaand, now called Cyprus, from which all islands and most of the seacoasts are called by the Hebrews Chethim [Kittim], an indication of which is that one city in Cyprus has kept that name. It is called Kition by those who use the Greek language, not far removed from the name Chethim [Kittim]. … To please my readers, the names are here rendered in the Greek style, as our native language does not pronounce them like that.” (Antiquities, I, vi, 1)
The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. Descendants of Cush are thought to have settled in ancient Ethiopia, those of Mizraim in Egypt, and the offspring of Put in Libya. Descendants of Canaan occupied the Levant, the region that borders the easternmost part of the Mediterranean Sea and includes the land that the people of Israel occupied in later centuries. (10:6) Josephus made the same identification. “Of the four sons of Ham, time has in no way changed the name of Chousaios [Cush; Chous (LXX)], for his Ethiopian descendants … are even to this day called Chousaioi [Cushites], both by themselves and by everyone in Asia. … All of us living [in Judea] call Egypt Merse and the Egyptians Mersaians. Phoutes [Put; Phoud (LXX)] was the founder of Libya and called the inhabitants Phoutians, after himself. … Chananaios [Canaan], the fourth son of Chamas [Ham; Cham (LXX)], lived in the country now called Judea and called it by his own name Chananaia [Canaan; Chanaan (LXX)].” (Antiquities, I, vi, 2) The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca; and Sheba and Dedan were the sons of Raamah. Their descendants may have lived in Arabia, probably in the southwestern part of the peninsula. (10:7)
The son of Cush who made a name for himself among his contemporaries was Nimrod. He was the first one to distinguish himself as a “mighty man” (a hero or a warrior) and a “mighty hunter before the face of YHWH.” (10:8, 9) From ancient times the expression “before the face of YHWH” has been understood to mean that Nimrod acted defiantly toward God. Targum Jonathan (thought to date probably from the second century CE) says about Nimrod that “he began to be mighty in sin, and to rebel before YY [Yeya (YHWH)] in the earth. He was a mighty rebel before YY [Yeya (YHWH); therefore, it is said, From the day that the world was created there has not been [one like] Nimrod, mighty in hunting, and a rebel before YY [Yeya (YHWH)].” In the first century CE, Josephus also expressed himself to this effect. Nimrod was a bold man of great strength who incited his contemporaries to have contempt for God and persuaded them not to attribute their prosperity to God, but to ascribe it to their own courage. “He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way to turn men away from the fear of God and to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power.” (Antiquities, I, iv, 2)
Nimrod began to exercise dominion over his contemporaries in the “land of Shinar,” the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. His kingdom had its beginning over the cities of Babel (Babylon [LXX]), Erech, Accad, and Calneh. From Shinar he headed northward, probably in command of a military force intent on seizing territory in Asshur (Assyria). There he later directed the building of the cities of Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen situated between Nineveh and Calah. The “great city” apparently was Nineveh, with Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen being suburbs. (10:10-12)
Mizraim, the son of Cush, became father to Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim, and Caphtorim. All seven names are plural and, therefore, may be understood to represent distinct peoples or tribes, the majority of whom settled in northern Africa. Casluhim is identified as the one from whom the Philistines came. The Philistines took up residence on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 2) wrote that the descendants of Mersaios (Mizraim; Mesraim [LXX]) possessed the region “from Gaza to Egypt.” Lehabim (Labimos [Josephus]; Loudiim [LXX]) “settled alone in Libya and called the country after himself.” With reference to his own time, Josephus said, “Of Nedemos [Naphtuhim; Nephthaliim (LXX)] and Pethrosimos [Pathrusim; Patrosoniim (LXX)] and Chesloimos [Casluhim; Chasloniim (LXX)] and Cephthomos [Caphtorim; Caphthoriim (LXX)] we know nothing except their names, for the Ethiopian war … destroyed those cities.” (10:13, 14)
The firstborn son of Canaan was Sidon (Sidonios, Josephus). According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 2), Sidonios “built a city of the same name,” and the Greeks called it Sidon. This city has been identified with modern Saida, a coastal city of southwestern Lebanon. Other offspring of Canaan included Heth, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, Hamathites. It appears that Josephus referred to the Hamathites as “Amathous who lived in Amathine, which the locals even now call Amathe, although the Macedonians gave it the name Epiphania.” Josephus continued, “Aroudaios (Arvadites; Aradios [LXX]) occupied the island of Aradus [an island off the northern coast of Syria], and Aroukaios (Arkites; Aroukaios [LXX]) occupied Arke in Libanus [Lebanon]. Of the seven others, Euaios [Hivites; Euaios (LXX)] , Chettaios [Heth (Hittites); Chettaios (LXX)], Iebousaios [Jebusites; Iebousaios (LXX), Amorraios [Amorites; Amorraios (LXX)], Gergesaios [Gergashites; Gergesaios (LXX)], Seinaios (Sinites, Asennaios [LXX]), and Samaraios [Zemarites; Samaraios (LXX), we have nothing from the sacred books except their names, for the Hebrews destroyed their cities.” (10:15-18)
The territory that the Canaanites occupied extended from coastal city of Sidon in the north to Gerar in the south and then to nearby Gaza. From Gaza, Canaanite territory extended eastward to the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim in the Dead Sea area and then either near or as far as Lasha. (10:19)
The concluding words about the “sons” or descendants of Ham relate to the respective regions of their residence after all of them began to speak their own distinctive languages. “These [were] the sons of Ham by their families, by their languages, in their lands, according to their nations.” (10:20)
Noah’s son Shem also fathered sons. All the “sons” or descendants of Eber came through the line of Shem. The apparent reason for the focus on Eber is that the people of Israel descended from him through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In his Antiquities (I, vi, 4), Josephus wrote that it was from Heber that the Jews were originally called Hebrews. The Hebrew text could be understood to indicate that Shem was either the older brother of Japheth or that Japheth was Shem’s older brother. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, Japheth is definitely identified as the “greater” or the “older” (“brother of Iapheth [Japheth] the greater [or the older]).” (10:21)
Shem’s sons were Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. In the Septuagint, “Kainan” (Cainan) is mentioned after Aram, and Arpachshad (Arphaxad) is referred to as the father of Kainan. The name Kainan is missing in the Hebrew text, but it is included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Luke 3:36) Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 4) also omitted Kainan and referred to Shem as having five, not six, sons. The sons of Aram were Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. Arpachshad became father to Shelah (or, according to the Septuagint, to Kainan [Cainan] and Kainan to Sala [Shelah]), and Shelah to Eber. Eber had two sons, Peleg and Joktan. The reason for the name Peleg was that in this son’s “days” the earth was “divided.” Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 4) wrote that Phalegos (Peleg; Phalek [LXX]) “was born at the dispersion of the nations to their several countries; for phalek, among the Hebrews, signifies division.” This dispersion occurred after the confusion of the language while the tower at Babel was in the process of being built. (10:22-25; 11:7, 8)
According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 4), the descendants of Shem’s sons resided in the region that extended from the Euphrates River to the Indian Ocean. “Elymos [Elam; Ailam (LXX)] left behind him the Elymaians [Elamites], the ancestors of the Persians. Assouras [Asshur; Assour (LXX)] lived at the city of Ninon [Nineveh] and named his subjects Assourians [Assyrians], who prospered greatly. Arphaxades [Arpachshad; Arphaxad (LXX]) named the Arphaxadaians, now called the Chaldaians [Chaldeans]. Aramos [Aram (LXX)] had the Aramaians, whom the Greeks call Syrians. … Loudas [Lud; Loud (LXX)] founded the Loudians, now called Lydians. Of the four sons of Aramos [Aram (LXX)], Ouses [Uz; Os (LXX)] founded Trachonitis and Damaskus [Damascus]. This country is between Palestine and Coele-Syria. Otros [Ouros; Ul; Oul (LXX)] founded Armenia, and Getheres [Gether; Gather (LXX)] the Bactrians, and Mesas [Mash; Mosoch (LXX)] the Mesanaians in the region now called Charax Spasini [a place between the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers].”
Peleg’s brother Joktan became father to Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. (10:26-29) The region in which they settled is described as extending from Mesha (Masse [LXX] as far as Sephar (Sophera [LXX]), “to the mountainous area of the east.” It is likely that the settlements were in the Arabian Peninsula, possibly as far south as Yemen. Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 4) indicates that they resided in the region around Kophenos (Cophen), a river of India, and the adjoining part of Asia. (10:26-30)
The concluding statements regarding the “sons” or descendants of Shem and the families of the descendants of Noah pertain to the situation that existed after the dispersion on account of the confusion of the language. “These [were] the sons [or descendants] of Shem by their families, by their languages, in their lands, according to their nations. These [were] the families of Noah’s sons [or descendants] according to their genealogies, by their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the deluge.” (10:31, 32)
To indicate the differences in the spelling of the names found both in the Greek text of Josephus and in the Septuagint, these names have been transliterated to correspond more closely to the Greek. Therefore, the transliterated names in the text of Josephus differ from those in English translations of the works of Josephus. Other minor changes have also been made in the wording of the translated text.
As the descendants of Noah’s family increased in number, they continued to have one “language” and the same “words,” the same vocabulary, or the same way of expressing themselves. According to the Septuagint, the people had “one lip and one voice,” sound, or pronunciation. Both in the Hebrew text and in the Septuagint, the entire human population that then lived on the land is referred to as “all the earth.” (11:1)
From the original location where the family of Noah first lived after the deluge, a significant number of their descendants moved eastward. They found a “plain in the land of Shinar,” a region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and settled there. In the vicinity, stone was not available for building projects. Therefore, the people decided to use kiln-dried bricks made from clay and bitumen for mortar. Their plan was to build a city and a very high tower (a tower with its top in the heavens or reaching up to the clouds). They also wanted to make a “name” for themselves, not wanting to be scattered over the surface of “all the earth” or over the extensive land areas that they knew existed. The “name” they wanted to make for themselves apparently was that of a reputation that defied God and opposed his purpose for the human family to spread abroad throughout the vast regions of land. (11:2-4)
In his Antiquities (I, iv, 2, 3), Josephus attributed to Nimrod the building project in the land of Shinar. Nimrod persuaded the multitude that “he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach, and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God. They built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work.” By reason of the many hands employed on the project, the tower “grew very high, sooner than anyone could expect.” Its thickness “was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was.” The tower “was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water.” Targum Jonathan (thought to date probably from the second century CE) linked the tower to idolatry, indicating that the builders intended to place an idol for worship at its top.
Whereas the builders of the tower attempted to have it reach the “heavens,” YHWH is represented as coming down to see the city and the tower they had built. He is then quoted as saying, “Look, they are one people, and they all have one language.” The building of the city and the tower was just the beginning of acts that defied God’s purpose for them to spread to various regions of the earth, and other acts of defiance were bound to follow. With the kind of united action that speaking the same language made possible, the people would have been able to carry out any of their God-defying plans. Everything that they devised would have been “possible for them to do.” Therefore, YHWH is represented as determining to go down to confuse the language of the builders so that they would be unable to understand one another and thus be prevented from carrying out corrupt plans as a united body. In Targum Jonathan, God is portrayed as addressing angels to make known to them his purpose. He “said to the seventy angels which stand before him, Come, we shall descend and shall there commingle their language, that a man will not understand the speech of his neighbour.” In the Targum, the “seventy angels” are then linked to “seventy nations.” The confusing of the language led to scattering the people “over the surface of all the earth” or the land, and they stopped building the city. According to the Targum, each one of the seventy nations came to have its own distinctive language. This development was the reason the city became known as “Babel.” (11:5-9) Commenting regarding what occurred at the city, Josephus (Antiquities, I, iv, 3) wrote, “When God saw that [the people] acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they had not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners.” He brought about confusion among them by causing them to speak a multitude of different languages so that they could no longer understand one another. “The place where they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion.”
From this point onward, the focus in Genesis chapter 11 is on the descendants of Shem, starting with his son Arpachshad and then continuing consecutively to (Kainan [Cainan]), Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. Neither the Hebrew text (the Masoretic Text) nor the Samaritan Pentateuch include Kainan (Cainan), but the Septuagint does in Genesis 11:12, 13. The name Kainan (Cainan) is also found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ at Luke 3:36.
Arpachshad was born two years (twelve years [Josephus, Antiquities, I, vi, 5) after the deluge when his father Shem was 100 years old. The Hebrew text, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch are in agreement about the age of Shem at the time Arpachshad was born and that Shem died at the age of 600 or 500 years after the deluge. Regarding Arpachshad and the other descendants, however, there are differences in the ages at the time of the births of the listed sons and the length of life after this event. The following are the ages of each man at the time his listed son was born: Arpachshad (Arphaxad) to Kainan, 135 (LXX); Arpachshad to Shelah, 35 (Masoretic Text); 135 (Samaritan Pentateuch); Kainan to Shelah (Sala), 130 (LXX); Shelah (Sala) to Eber, 30 (Masoretic Text); 130 (LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch); Eber to Peleg (Phalek), 34 (Masoretic Text); 134 (LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch); Peleg (Phalek) to Reu (Ragau), 30; 130 (LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch); Reu (Ragau) to Serug (Serouch), 32 (Masoretic Text); 132 (LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch); Serug (Serouch) to Nahor (Nachor), 30 (Masoretic Text); 130 (LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch); Nahor (Nachor) to Terah (Thara), 29 (Masoretic Text); 79 (LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch). The following are the ages of each man at his death on the basis of the number of years he lived after becoming father to the listed son: Arpachshad (Arphaxad), 438 [Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch]; 565 [LXX]; Kainan [Cainan], 460 [LXX]; Shelah [Sala], 433 [Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch]; 460 [LXX]; Eber, 464 [Masoretic Text]; 504 [LXX]; 404 [Samaritan Pentateuch]; Peleg (Phalek), 239 (Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch); 339 (LXX); Reu, 239 (Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch); 339 (LXX); Serug (Serouch), 230 (Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch); 330 (LXX); Nahor (Nachor), 148 (Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch); 208 (LXX). (11:10-26)
An ancient explanation for the addition of 100 years to the ages of the men at the time they became fathers to the listed sons is that the years were only a tenth of the twelve-month year. This explanation, however, does not fit the way the year is calculated in connection with the time that Noah and his family spent in the ark during the deluge. It is noteworthy that the men born after the deluge did not live as long as those who lived during the preflood period. For believers in YHWH as the true God and the Creator of the first humans, the explanation for the decline in the life spans is that the generations after the deluge progressively lost the potential for a long life that Adam continued to possess after his sin and which potential his earlier descendants still retained. Finally, at the time Psalm 90 was committed to writing, the typical life span was around 70 years, and an approximate age of 80 came to be attributed to the possession of greater strength.
The ages contained in the works of Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 5) do not correspond to those in the extant Hebrew text. For Arpachshad (Arphaxados), Shelah (Selos), Eber (Heberos), and Peleg (Phalegos), Josephus has the same ages as does the Septuagint for the time the men became fathers to the listed sons. Although increasing the ages at the birth of their sons by 100 years for Reu, Serug, and Nahor, the ages do not agree with the Septuagint nor with the Hebrew text when the sum of 100 is subtracted (Reu [Reumos], 130; Serug [Serougos], 132; Nahor [Nachoros], 120). Also unlike the Septuagint, Josephus does not include Kainan (Cainan).
At the age of 70, Terah (Thara) became a father. His family came to include three sons, Abram, Nahor (Nachor), and Haran (Harran). Although listed first, Abram was not the firstborn son of Terah. At the time Terah died at the age of 205, Abram was 75, indicating his father was about 130 years of age at the time of his birth. The reason for mentioning Abram first may have been on account of his prominence as the ancestor of the people of Israel and his outstanding example of devotion to God. (11:26, 27; see 11:32 and 12:4.) According to the Samaritan Pentateuch, however, Terah died at the age of 145. Based on this shorter life span, Abram would have been the firstborn son. In view of the absence of any corroberative support from the Hebrew text, the Septuagint, Targum Jonathan, and Josephus, the rendering of the Samaritan Pentateuch is in doubt. Possibly the age of 145 (instead of 205) was introduced into the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch because Abram was considered to have been the firstborn son of 70-year-old Terah.
Abram’s brother Haran was the father of Lot and preceded his father Terah in death, dying at Ur in Chaldea, the land of his birth. Terah’s surviving two sons, Abram and Nahor, married before Abram’s departure from Ur (commonly identified with Tell el-Muqayyar on the south bank of the Euphrates in southern Iraq). Abram’s wife was Sarai who had remained barren, and Nahor’s wife was his niece Milcah, the daughter of his deceased brother Haran. The siblings of Milcah were her brother Lot and her sister Iscah. Although Abram was the one whom God called upon to leave Ur, the move, as was customary in ancient times, was attributed to the family head Terah. The members of Terah’s family who left Ur included Abram and his wife Sarai, and Abram’s nephew Lot, the son of his deceased brother Haran. According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, vii, 1), Abram adopted Lot because he had no son of his own. The final destination for the family was to be Canaan, but it was not possible to travel westward through the inhospitable desert. Therefore, the family headed north on the usual route from Ur to Canaan. When they reached Haran, a city in northern Mesopotamia, Abram, Sarai, and Lot remained there until Terah died at the age of 205. The Genesis account does not list Nahor and his wife as accompanying his father Terah from Ur, but later in the account he and his family are mentioned as having their home at Haran. (11:28-32; 22:20-23; 24:15, 24, 47) Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 5) wrote that Terah had come to hate Chaldea because of his mourning for his son Haran and that the entire family (“they all,” which would have included Nahor and his wife) “removed to Haran of Mesopotamia.”
The Hebrew word for “father” can designate a grandfather or even an earlier ancestor. Targum Jonathan identifies Iscah (10:29) as Sarai. This identification is only possible in the event that Terah was the grandfather of Sarai but the father of Abram. If Terah was her grandfather, she would have been Abram’s niece. This is how Josephus (Antiquities, I, vii, 5) understood the relationship between Abram and Sarai to have been, for he wrote that Abram and his brother Nahor “married their nieces.”
YHWH directed Abram to leave the country where he had settled after leaving the city of Ur and the relatives of his father’s family who were residing in that country and to go to the land he would be shown. His willingness to respond would be richly rewarded. YHWH is quoted as saying, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great. And you will be a blessing. And I will bless those blessing you and curse the one cursing you. And by you all the families of the earth will bless themselves.” (12:1-3)
Abram did become a great nation, for he came to have many descendants. He was blessed with much wealth and a long life. Most importantly, he came to be known as YHWH’s “friend.” (Isaiah 41:8) The greatness of his name likely relates to his outstanding reputation as a man with exemplary faith in and devotion to YHWH. To this day, millions of people acknowledge the greatness of the name of Abram (Abraham). Historically, individuals and peoples who aligned themselves with descendants of Abram were blessed, but those who demonstrated themselves to be bitter enemies suffered serious consequences. (Joshua 2:9-13; 6:22, 23, 25; 11:16-20; Ruth 1:16, 17; 4:13-22; Amos 1:3-15; Matthew 1:5) Targum Jonathan includes the example of one who would attempt to curse the descendants of Abraham. “Bileam [Balaam], who will curse them, I will curse, and they will slay him.” Abram would prove to be a source of blessing for other peoples, for through his line of descent the sacred writings that reveal the identity of YHWH, the only true God, and his will and purposes were preserved. Moreover, the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, came through the line of Abram. In Abram, through his descendant Jesus Christ, all the families living on earth can obtain the greatest blessing possible. When Jesus Christ surrendered his life for the human family, including future generations, people everywhere were provided with the basis for having their sins forgiven and coming to enjoy an approved relationship with God as his beloved children. Moreover, as Paul wrote (Galatians 3:7), the real children of Abraham are such “out of faith” or on the basis of their faith. Therefore, their being blessed “in” Abraham could also mean that people of the nations would share in the blessing by reason of belonging to Abraham. He is their spiritual forefather or ancestor. As his spiritual children, they share in his blessing. (12:2, 3)
The Genesis account does not disclose how YHWH spoke to Abram. It could have been in a dream, a vision, or through his representative angel. Abram, though, understood God to have been the source of the message that was revealed to him, and he responded in faith. It would not have been easy for Abram and his wife to leave family behind and to head for a foreign land about which they knew nothing. At the age of 75, he, with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the “souls” or servants he had acquired, left Haran in upper Mesopotamia for Canaan. They also took with them all their possessions, which would have included domestic animals. Upon arriving in Canaan, they traveled through the land in which the Canaanites were residing until they reached Shechem by a well-known landmark — the tree of Moreh (the “lofty oak” [LXX]). Shechem has been linked to Tell Balata about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Jerusalem and at the east end of the Nablus Valley. (12:4-6)
At Shechem, YHWH (probably the angel of YHWH) appeared to Abram and declared that he would be giving the land to Abram’s “seed” or descendants. In view of the appearance (the nature of which is not revealed), Abram built an altar there to YHWH. Thereafter Abram and all those with him traveled southward, reaching an elevated site to the east of Bethel (identified with Beitin situated about 11 miles [c. 7.5 kilometers] north of Jerusalem and at an elevation of approximately 3,000 feet [over 900 meters] above sea level. There, between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, Abram set up his tent, built an altar to YHWH, and “called on the name of YHWH.” Apparently he presented an offering on the altar and prayed. The area in the vicinity of Bethel was not where Abram chose to settle. With his wife, his nephew Lot, his servants, and domestic animals, Abram headed southward, arriving in the Negeb, the semi-arid region to the south of the mountainous territory in the land that centuries later came to be assigned to the tribe of Judah. (12:7-9)
At an unspecified time, the people in the land of Canaan experienced a severe famine, and Abram decided to go to Egypt. Before entering Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai that, because she would be desired as a wife on account of her beauty, he feared that he would be killed, whereas she would be preserved alive. Therefore, he entreated her to identify herself as his sister so that he would be spared from death. (12:10-13)
Evidence exists that Abram’s fear was justified. Unas, an ancient Pharaoh, had the following expression attributed to him on an inscription in his pyramid: “Unas is the lord of seed, he who takes the women from their husbands, wherever Unas wants, according to the desire of his heart.” (Unas Pyramid Texts, Utterance 317) An extrabiblical manuscript (The Genesis Apocryphon [1QapGen], thought to date from the late first century BCE or the early first century CE) relates that Abram acted out of fear because of a dream he had. In his dream, he saw a cedar tree and a palm tree. When someone tried to cut down and uproot the cedar, the palm tree spoke up, requesting that the cedar not be cut down, and the plea of the palm tree saved the cedar. Abram interpreted this dream to mean that the Egyptians would seek to kill him but would spare his wife Sarai. Therefore, he asked Sarai to tell them that he was her brother and thereby protect him from being killed.
The account in The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) continues: While in Egypt, Sarai was very careful that the Egyptians would not see her. After five years had passed, three Egyptian princes, including Harkenosh, came to see Abram to inquire about his affairs and about his wife, and they presented him with numerous gifts. At that time, the princes saw Sarai and, upon returning to Pharaoh, described her exceptional beauty and added that no virgins or brides entering the bridal chamber were more beautiful than she. Her beauty was superior to that of all other women. In addition to beauty, she possessed much wisdom. The glowing report about Sarai prompted Pharaoh to send for her and take her away from Abram. Impressed by her beauty, Pharaoh took her as his wife and planned to kill Abram. Sarai intervened, telling him that Abram was her brother and thereby saved him from death.
According to the Genesis account, the Egyptians, including princes of Pharaoh, who saw Sarai did notice that she was very beautiful. The princes praised her to Pharaoh, leading to his taking her into his house to be his wife. As he believed Abram to be Sarai’s brother, Pharaoh treated Abram well on her account. Therefore, Abram came to have sheep, cattle, male and female donkeys, camels, and menservants and maidservants. The mention of camels has often been referred to as an anachronism, but an ancient drawing, a pottery head, and an ointment pot that were found in Egypt suggest that camels appear to have been known in that land from a time before Abram arrived. (12:14-16)
The “great plagues” that affected Pharaoh and his house or the entire royal establishment may have included the inability to conceive or to bring babies to full term. (12:17; compare 20:18) Commenting on the plague that came upon Pharaoh and subsequent developments, Josephus (Antiquities, I, viii, 1) wrote: “God put a stop to his unjust inclinations [to enjoy Sarai] by sending upon him a distemper, and a sedition against his government. And when he inquired of the priests how he might be freed from these calamities, they told him that this his miserable condition was derived from the wrath of God on account of his inclination to abuse the stranger’s wife. He then out of fear asked Sarai who she was …” The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) refers to the cause of the affliction that affected Pharaoh and his household to have been a God-sent pestilential spirit that attacked him and every member of his household. Pharaoh was unable to approach Sarai and had no sexual relations with her during the two years she remained with him. At the end of the two years the distress he and his household experienced intensified. Pharaoh then summoned the sages of Egypt, all the magicians, and all the physicians, desiring that they heal him and the members of his household. They could do nothing, for the pestilential spirit attacked all of them, and they fled. Thereafter Harkenosh, one of Pharaoh’s princes, came to Abram, requesting that he pray for the monarch and lay his hands on him so that he might recover from the affliction. It was on account of Pharaoh’s dream that Harkenosh had been sent to Abram. Lot spoke up, “My uncle Abram cannot pray for the king while his wife Sarai remains with him. So now go and tell the king that he should send [Sarai] … back to her husband. Then he will pray for him, and he will recover.”
Upon coming to know the actual relationship of Abram and Sarai, Pharaoh reproved Abram, asking him why he did not tell him that she was his wife and say that she was his sister. Sarai was Abram’s half sister, the daughter of his father Terah but not the daughter of his mother. (20:12) Nevertheless, when concealing their relationship as a married couple out of fear, Abram implied that she was available for marriage. Therefore, Pharaoh had taken her to be his wife. Upon coming to know the full truth, he returned Sarai to Abram and instructed him to leave Egypt. Additionally, he gave orders to men in his service to conduct Abram, his wife, and everything he owned out of Egypt, apparently to provide them with safe passage. (12:18-20)
The Genesis account does not censure Abram for concealing that he and Sarai were married but simply reports what he did. Abram was childless at the time, and God’s promise to make him into a great nation could not be fulfilled until he had a son. Faith in that promise, however, was not then strong enough to overcome fear for his life and to trust in God to protect him and Sarai. Nevertheless, God did not abandon Abram, but came to his aid so that Sarai was not violated and that his purpose respecting Abram would be fulfilled. From what happened to Abram and Sarai, God-fearing persons can take comfort. Through God’s providential care for them, they may mercifully be shielded from the consequences of past regrettable actions on account of having yielded to fear instead of relying fully on God.