are the Genesis flood genealogies literal? (Lamoureux on genealogies part 3)

are the Genesis flood genealogies literal? (Lamoureux on genealogies part 3) February 17, 2014

Today we continue with part 3 of a 6-part audio-slide series by Denis Lamoureux on biblical genealogies.

The Sumerian King List has long been understood to offer insight into the long lifespans of the the pre- and post-flood characters in Genesis 5 and 11. Here, Lamoureux lays it all out in about a dozen slides and 9 minutes.

The audio-slide show can be accessed here and the accompanying handout here.

Lamoureux holds three earned doctoral degrees (dentistry, theology, and biology) and is associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta (full bio here). He is the author of I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (see first of the audio slide series on this book here) which is a great introduction to his view of origins called “evolutionary creation.”

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  • John McNassor

    How fun! Great post.

  • Gary in FL

    I am really loving this series! I am so looking forward to the next installment that I hope you post it sooner rather than later. Thanks so much!

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi Gary,
      Thanks. You got it. The next episode is where it gets exciting. And keep in mind Pre-Flood and Post-Flood numbers.

  • Nancy R.

    When Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated, Ham showed Nye how to determine the age of the earth by adding up the biblical genealogies and came up with 6000 years. But what if we added up the reigns of the Sumerian kings instead? We might come up with something closer to 4.5 billion years.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Nice! Never thought of that. But maybe if we appreciate the the stylistic use of numbers in the ancient near East, then we won’t try to add up the genealogies in the Bible to determine the age of the earth.

      • James M

        The high numbers of the OT, when historically impossible (& not evidence of textual corruption), appear to be an ingredient in theologically-motivated legend-formation.

        The million-strong army of Zerah the Ethiopian, and the 185,000 smitten by the angel of the LORD, & the impossibly high census figures in Numbers 1 & 26, & in Exod.12.40, come to mind. The figures are not historically possible – it does not follow that they have no theological significance. On the contrary. Maybe the same applies to the impossibly high ages of the earliest generations.

        Harmonisation in the usual Fundamentalist manner deprives them of their significance, & falsifies the meaning of the texts :(.

    • James M

      A quick calculation points to about 270,000 or so, if the basis is the Sumerian King List:

      The pre-Flood Kings account for 241,200 years. If one goes by the figures in the much later – 1500 years – text of Berossos, the pre-Flood Kings reigned for 432,000 years.

      Either way, the lifespans of the patriarch in chapter 5, 10, 11 & later in Genesis, & in Exodus 6, are not that long:

      Adam 930
      [8 generations skipped]
      Noah 950
      Shem, a s. of Noah 600
      Arphaxad s. of Shem 438
      several more generations
      Terah 205
      Abraham 175
      Isaac 180
      Jacob 147
      Levi 137 Joseph 110
      Kohath, a s. of Levi, 133
      Amram 137
      Aaron 123 Moses 120

      The inter-Testamental “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”, gives ages not for Levi & Joseph alone, but for their brothers too. Ages for other worthies from Genesis can be found in the post-OT “Book of Jubilees”.

  • Hello Denis, I am really thankful for your excellent scholarship. Along Peter Enns and Randal Rauser, you are a living example that the phrase “Evangelical scholar” is not an oxymoron.

    I tend to view the Genesis account as a nice folktale,
    although I cannot rule out the existence of a first couple who might have been Homo Erectus.

    It is very sad that many people leave Christianity after having discovered the kinds of facts you mention.

    They have been taught to put their faith in an inerrant Bible instead of in the person of Christ.

    Otherwise, would it be possible to interview you in the future?

    My email is

    Friendly greetings from Europe.

  • Ross

    Thank you for the series so far, I’m looking forward to the next episode.

    Over the past few years I’ve looked at the use of numbers in the bible but get a bit waylaid by the different conceptual frameworks used by different number systems and how these relate to our current “arabic” number system. Will there be much on how to engage with these systems or is there an alternative reference you could recommend?

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      You got it. The next episode is where the rubber starts hitting the road. And you are right, there are a number of theories regarding the meaning of the numbers. I will offer one that seems the most parsimonious to me. I’ll be interested to read your comments.

  • James M

    “[A]re the Genesis flood genealogies literal?”

    ## Yup, but they are not historical info. Just as the 6+1 days schema in Genesis 1-2.4a is not. They have the same historical value as the dates for Aragorn II or the Battle of Yavin – none at all. They are accurate historical info within their respective ‘verses – not within the (so-called) “real world” inhabited by the reader/watcher. There are 10 generations before the Flood, and 10 from the Flood to Abraham, b/c that suits the writer’s literary & theological purpose – not because the 20 generations are real facts of known human history.

    Jared’s 962 years are meant as 962 years – it does not follow that the author/editor (P ?) thought that Jared lived that long. There is a human character in Tolkien who lives 500 years – does it follow,that because that age was the right one for that literary context, Tolkien “must have” thought that people could live for 500 in the Primary World ?

    Fictions are to be “taken literally” – to do that is essential to understanding what the text says. That is not the same as taking them as historically accurate, or as intended by the author/compiler/composer/editor to be understood as historically accurate. Otherwise, everyone who has have talked about Balrogs or Tribbles or Sith Lords or the JLA or Godzilla or Hobbits or Death Eaters or ASOIAF or Cybermen would have to be understood, not only as talking about them as subjects worth discussing, but as assenting to the notion that they really exist.

    To understand Tribbles, Cybermen, etc. properly, one has to take them as real within the constraints of the existence they have in their respective ‘verses – & the same applies to the beings in the ‘verse of Genesis 1-11.

    Just MO.