This is me playing some catch-up, since I’ll write another post this evening. But chapter 5 is short and sort of monotonous, so I think I can write a short and simple post on it.
These are the first of the infamous “begats” (from the King James’ translation). The NRSV uses the term “became the father of” and the NCT has mouketa, “had a child” (can be used for men or women).
Because that’s what this is: a long list of men having firstborn sons over about 1500 years. They follow a fairly strict formula:
- tell how old the man was when he had his first son
- son’s name
- how long he lived after having his first kid
- say he had lots of other, nameless, children
- then he died
The monotony of it is enough to make you be intrigued by the rare breaks in it, like Enoch, who rather than “living” instead “walks with God,” and rather than dying, “he was no more, for God took him.” (v 24)
There are a few other things to note. It opens by reiterating that in the beginning, God made humankind in his own image, according to his likeness, male and female, blessed them, and dubbed them “human”/Adam. (v 1-2) But then it says that Adam became the father “of a son of his likeness, according to his image,” the same terms used for God creating humanity. (v 3) I think this creates the idea of God as “father” of creation rather than just an architect. Or something. I’m still thinking about it.
And then there’s the remarks on Noah’s birth, where his father Lamech declares “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” (v 29). For whatever reason the NRSV doesn’t have a footnote on this, but the NCT parenthetically notes that “Noah” comes from “relief.” This is obviously an explanation of Noah’s name, but does it also imply that somehow, through the flood, part of God’s curse on the land was lifted from us? We’ll wait post-flood to see if I get any more insight into that.
But let me continue on a point I brought up last time. Why do we even have this list? Why the seemingly random-number-generated ages? Why didn’t the Bible just say “and then many generations later…” and jump right to the flood story?
My suspicion is that originally there were stories for each of these guys, that their age represented their respective virtue (since longevity was seen as a sign of God’s blessing), that, in short, this is an abridged form of a much longer story. But the editors, living in Babylon during the Exile, had to prioritize, and so just listed them off, knowing their readers might be familiar with the oral traditions about the men, and they could just focus on what they believed were the more important stories.
Part of me feels that’s a bit of a shame. I’d love it if the Bible had a Mahabharata sort of feel, a massively long tale where every little side character had a story. But I also know that the Mahabharata is sort of difficult to get all the way through, what with it being 1.8 million words long. There’s something to be said for brevity, and for leaving parts of the story up to the individual’s imagination.
Japanese for this chapter: keizu (geneology), moukeru (to have a child; also to gain or to earn), ayumu (as an alternate reading for the usual aruku, to walk), kurou (hardship, trouble), and nagusameru (to comfort, console, ease suffering).