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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Genealogy

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GENEALOGY . The genealogies of the OT fall into two classes, national and individual, though the two are sometimes combined, the genealogy of the Individual passing into that of the nation.

1. National genealogies . These belong to a well-recognized type, by which the relationship of nations, tribes, and families is explained as due to descent from a common ancestor, who is often an ‘eponymous hero,’ invented to account for the name of the nation. The principle was prevalent in Greece (see Grote, Hist . vol. i. ch. iv. etc. and p. 416); e.g. Hellen is the ‘father’ of Dorus, Æolus, and Xuthus, who is in turn the ‘father’ of Ion and Achæus, the existence of the various branches of the Greek races being thus explained. M‘Lennan ( Studies in Ancient History , 2nd series, ix.) gives further examples from Rome (genealogies traced to Numa), Scotland, India, Arabia, and Africa; the Berbers (‘barbarians’) of N. Africa invented an ancestor Berr, and connected him with Noah. The Arabs derived all their subdivisions from Nebaioth or Joktan. The genealogies of Genesis are of the same type. The groundwork of the Priestly narrative (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ) is a series of inter-connected genealogies, each beginning with the formula, ‘These are the generations ( toledôth ) of …’ ( Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 6:9 etc.). The gap between Adam and Noah is filled by a genealogy of 10 generations ( Genesis 5:1-32 ), and in Genesis 10:1-32 the nations of the world, as known to the writer, are traced in a genealogical tree to Noah’s three sons. We find in the list plural or dual names ( e.g. Mizraim, Ludim, Anamim), names of places (Tarshish, Zidon, Ophir) or of nations (the Jebusite, Amorite, etc.). An ‘Eber’ appears as the eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews. Sometimes the names might in form represent either individuals or nations (Asshur, Moab, Edom), but there can in most cases be little doubt that the ancestor has been invented to account for the nation. In later chapters the same method is followed with regard to tribes more or less closely related to Israel; the connexion is explained by deriving them from an ancestor related to Abraham. In Genesis 22:20 the twelve Aramæan tribes are derived from Nahor his brother; in Genesis 25:12 twelve N. Arabian tribes, nearer akin, are traced to Ishmael and Hagar; six others, a step farther removed, to Keturah, his second wife, or concubine ( Genesis 25:1 ). The Edomites, as most nearly related, are derived from Esau (36). The frequent recurrence of the number 12 in these lists is a sign of artificiality. The same principle is applied to Israel itself. The existence of all the twelve sons of Jacob as individuals is on various grounds improbable; they represent tribes, and in many cases their ‘descendants’ are simply individual names coined to account for cities, clans, and subdivisions of the tribes ( Genesis 46:8 , Numbers 26:1-65 ). A good illustration is found in the case of Gilead. In Deuteronomy 3:15 we are told that Moses gave Gilead to Machir, son of Manasseh. In Numbers 26:29 etc. Gilead has become the ‘son’ of Manasseh, and in Judges 11:1 ‘begets’ Jephthah. So among the ‘sons’ of Caleb we find cities of Judah (Hebron, Tappuah, Ziph, Gibea, etc., 1 Chronicles 2:42 ff.), and Kiriath-jearim and Bethlehem are descendants of Hur ( 1 Chronicles 2:51 ). It is indeed obvious that, whether consciously or not, terms of relationship are used in an artificial sense. ‘Father’ often means founder of a city; in Genesis 4:20 it stands for the originator of occupations and professions; members of a guild or clan are its ‘sons.’ The towns of a district are its ‘daughters’ ( Judges 1:27 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ).

With regard to the historical value of these genealogies, two remarks may be made. ( a ) The records, though in most cases worthless if regarded as referring to individuals, are of the highest importance as evidence of the movements and history of peoples and clans, and of the beliefs entertained about them. Genesis 10:1-32 gives geographical and ethnographical information of great value. A good example is found in what we learn of Caleb and the Calebites. In the earliest tradition ( Numbers 32:12 , Joshua 14:6; Joshua 14:14 ) he is descended from Kenaz, a tribe of Edom, and ‘grandson’ of Esau ( Genesis 36:11; Genesis 36:42 ); in 1 Samuel 25:3; 1 Samuel 30:14 the Calebite territory is still distinct from Judah. But in 1 Chronicles 2:4 ff. Caleb has become a descendant of Judah. We gather that the Calebites (‘dog-tribe’) were a related but alien clan, which entered into friendly relations with Judah at the time of the conquest of Canaan, and perhaps took the lead in the invasion. Ultimately they coalesced with Judah, and were regarded as pure Israelites. So generally, though no uniform interpretation of the genealogies is possible, a marriage will often point to the incorporation of new elements into the tribe, a birth to a fresh subdivision or migration, or an unfruitful marriage to the disappearance of a clan. Contradictory accounts of an individual in documents of different date may tell us of the history of a tribe at successive periods, as in the case of the Calebites.

( b ) Though the genealogical names usually represent nations, there is, no doubt, in certain cases a personal element as well. The patriarchs and more prominent figures, such as Ishmael and Esau and Caleb, were no doubt individuals, and their history is not entirely figurative. On this point see Driver, Genesis , pp. liv. ff.; also artt. Abraham, and Tribes. We should note that the distinctive feature of the Greek genealogies, which traced national descent from the gods, is absent from the OT. A trace remains in Genesis 6:4 (cf. Luke 3:38 ).

2. Genealogies of individuals . Whatever view be taken of the genealogies of our Lord (see next article), their incorporation in the Gospels proves the importance attached to descent in the NT period; they also show that at that time records were kept which made the construction of such tables a possibility. St. Paul was conscious of his pure pedigree ( Philippians 3:5 ), and in several cases in the NT the name of a person’s tribe is preserved. The hope of being the ancestor of the Messiah, and the natural pride of royal descent, probably caused the records of the house of David to be preserved with great care. In the same way Josephus, in the opening chapter of his Life , sets out his genealogy as vouched for by the public records, though only as far hack as his grandfather Simon. In c. Apion . i. 7, he speaks of the careful preservation of the Priestly genealogies; and the story of Africanus ( ap . Eus. HE i. 7, 13), that Herod the Great destroyed the genealogical records of the Jews in order to conceal his own origin, is at least an indication of the existence of such records and of the value attached to them. The Talmud speaks of professional genealogists, and in the present day many Jews, especially among the priests, treasure long and detailed family trees, showing their pure descent (cf., for an earlier period, Malachi 2:1 Malachi 2:1 , Bar 1:1 , Tob 1:1 ).

There can be no doubt that this careful recording of genealogies received its main impetus in the time of Ezra. It was then that the line between the Jews and other nations became sharply drawn, and stress was laid on purity of descent, whether real or fictitious. After the return from Babylon, it was more important to be able to trace descent from the exiles than to be a native of Judah (Ezra 9:1-15 ). Certain families were excluded from the priesthood for lack of the requisite genealogical records ( Ezra 2:61 , Nehemiah 7:63 ). And in fact practically all the detailed genealogies of individuals as preserved in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , Chronicles, and kindred writings, date from this or a later period. No doubt the injunctions of Deuteronomy 23:3 and the arrangements for a census ( 2 Samuel 24:1-25 ) imply that there was some sort of registration of families before this, and the stage of civilization reached under the monarchy makes it probable that records were kept of royal and important houses. But the genealogical notes which really date from the earlier period rarely go further back than two or three generations, and the later genealogies bear many traces of their artificiality. The names are in many cases late and post-exilic, and there is no evidence outside the genealogies that they were in use at an earlier period. Of the twenty-four courses of the sons of Aaron in 1 Chronicles 24:1 ff., sixteen names are post-exilic. Names of places and clans appear as individuals ( 1 Chronicles 2:18-24 , 1 Chronicles 7:30-40 ). Gaps are filled up by the repetition of the same name in several generations ( e.g. 1 Chronicles 6:4-14 ). At a later time it was usual for a child to be named after his father or kinsman ( Luke 1:59; Luke 1:61 ), but there are probably no cases where this is recorded for the pre-exilic period, except in the Chronicler’s lists (see Gray, HPN [Note: PN Hebrew Proper Names.] ). There are numerous discrepancies in the various lists, and there is a strongly marked tendency to ascribe a Levitical descent to all engaged in the service of the sanctuary, e.g. the guilds of singers and porters. So Samuel is made a Levite by the Chronicler ( Luke 6:22; Luke 6:33 ), almost certainly wrongly, as his story shows. In the same way the position of clans, such as Caleb and Jerahmeel, which in the early history appear as alien, is legitimized by artificial genealogies ( 1 Chronicles 2:1-55 ). In 1 Chronicles 25:4 the names of the sons of Heman seem to be simply fragments of a hymn or psalm. In 1 Chronicles 6:4 there are, including Aaron, 23 priests from the Exodus to the Captivity an evidently artificial reconstruction; forty years is a generation, and 40×12 = 480 years to the building of the Temple ( 1 Kings 6:1 ), the other 11 priests filling up the period till the Exile, which took place in the eleventh generation after Solomon. Such marks of artificiality, combined with lateness of date, forbid us to regard the lists as entirely historical. No doubt in certain cases the genealogist had family records to work upon, but the form in which our material has reached us makes it almost impossible to disentangle these with any degree of certainty. W. R. Smith ( Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia , p. 6) gives an interesting parallel to this development of genealogizing activity at a particular period. The Arabian genealogies all date from the reign of Caliph Omar, when circumstances made purity of descent of great importance.

C. W. Emmet.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Genealogy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/g/genealogy.html. 1909.

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