Semitic Idea of a Genealogy

But with the Semitic writers the idea of a Genealogy was not so much that of a succession of persons or of individual lives, as a period of time; to be filled out with a record of the more prominent events of that period, and the persons connected with them. Great leaps, therefore, often occur from the record of some historic character to his successor, who is called his son, even if a very remote descendant in point of time. This mode of forming a genealogy has, perhaps, its most striking illustration in the opening of the Gospel of St. Matthew, beginning: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham and the closing of the genealogy, with the statement, that the generations from Abraham to Christ are three times fourteen or forty-two generations, whereas St. Luke gives fifty-six generations as covering this period. But this involves no discrepancy from the point of view of the two narrators; for, the three double sevens of St. Matthew are used as indefinite numbers,[1] not intended to be taken as literal, but simply as representative of a complete time—of the idea that the full period had arrived for the appearance of the "Son of David, the son of Abraham:" seven being a sacred number with Semitic writers; and multiples of seven, the highest expression of completeness of God's time that could be used in connexion with the advent of the Messiah.

In the filling out of the history in the time between Adam and Noah, very long periods are attributed to special human lives, and required for the consistency of the narrative; but this filling out of an indefinite period by ten generations is analogous to, and illustrated by, the filling out by St. Matthew of the period between Abraham and Christ by forty-two generations.

The post-Noetic Sethite succession in the line of Shem filling out the period from Noah to Abraham with ten lives of decreasing periods in the length of life assigned to each, is also, no doubt, formed upon the principle of the pre-Noetic succession of ten; to convey the same idea of indefinite time, but of a complete succession of the sacred line.

It is a curious fact that in the Chaldean records the period corresponding to the pre-Noetic era of Man's existence is filled out with ten Kings; whose united Reigns covered a cycle of ten cosmic days. These ten days were used by the Chaldeans, after the oriental mode, as representative of a great time-cycle, not of definite but of indefinite length; which was thus conceived by them in placing it as an introduction to their historic annals. And these ten time-periods or cosmic days also appear in the early histories of all the most ancient civilizations; including those of the Eberite branch of the Semitic family. In these Eberite records not only is no limitation intended to be expressed of the pre-Noetic period of Man's existence; but, on the contrary, the use of the representative number ten, as the number of generations of that period, is designed to convey an idea of indefinite time. In this view, therefore, these early Semitic records of the house of Eber take their place by the side of the early histories of all the most ancient peoples of the earth; and both explain them and are explained by them. We have then some data of comparison of the cosmic day of the Book of Genesis with the time-measures of modern Geology; especially with those related to the life of Man upon the earth.


[1] Numbers: The use of definite numbers as representative of indefinite time is an oriental mode of presenting historic events, which does not in the least interfere with the truthfulness of the record for the purpose held in view by the writers. It is, however, very difficult for western minds to adapt themselves to the point of view of such methods of computation. The Christian religion has come to us from the East, founded upon a series of historical facts, and we must seek those facts through an understanding of their surroundings, and the methods employed to convey them. In the time when they took shape their form was adapted, to be understood by all who heard them. It is only the lapse of ages and our own ignorance which have obscured them. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia or the Tigro-Euphrates basin were, from the earliest period, a mixed population, representing every branch of the human family of the Noetic dispersion; who, together, developed and used a common time-notation, called the "Chaldean System." It has been customary to consider as mythical the enormous length assigned in the Chaldean records to the development of the human race, and the Chaldean early civilization; but late discoveries and researches show that the history of the development of the material civilization of the Euphrates valley goes back to a far earlier period than has ever before been held possible.—MacWhorter.