genealogies of the Hebrew Patriarchs (Canadian Lamoureux on genealogies part 4)

genealogies of the Hebrew Patriarchs (Canadian Lamoureux on genealogies part 4) February 24, 2014

Today we continue with part 4 of a 6-part audio-slide series by Denis Lamoureux on biblical genealogies.

Before we begin, however, I need to say how much I hate Denis at this very moment, seeing that he sent me a rather gloating email concerning the Canadian hockey team’s unexpected–some might even say questionable–win over the American team in the Olympics.

Would that we had heeded Dave Barry’s advice of several years ago to declare war on Canada for toilet smuggling. If only. We would not be in this mess.

Where was I? Oh yes. Genealogies.

In this episode Denis takes on the significance of the genealogies of the Patriarchs. Here, too, we find symmetrical and stylistic numbers, and another helpful reminder not to read these genealogies through modern eyes. He does note, though, that the reigns of the Israelite and Judahite kings are not stylistic and symmetrical, but realistic and historical.

Although Denis does not discuss it, this syncs well with the notion, widely held, that with the monarchic period, we are more in the realm of history than legend or myth–though that is not to say the monarchic accounts aren’t also stylized to reflect theological and political agendas, but that is a topic for another day.

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

Lamoureux (though Canadian) 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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  • Ross

    Thanks again Denis for a great presentation. I can’t wait for the next couple of episodes.

    Without trying to jump the gun, my thoughts are filling with the original presentation of these numbers. I’m presuming they were presented using hebrew letters and not a separate numerical notation as we use. Plus, as well as numerical symbolism there may also be additional symbolism from the letters themselves. It also throws up questions about when these numbers were tied to the reigns, were they put in at a first time of writing, to give some special character at that time, or were these numbers taken on from a pre-literate oral tradition and did this oral tradition have a separate symbolism, which may or may not have translated seamlessly into a written record. Ultimately it would be nice to have a clearer appreciation of how these numbers should be taken, without reading too much or too little into them.

    Anyway as I said, I’m fascinated and can’t wait for more!

  • Kim Fabricius

    It could be worse, Peter – if Denis were Finnish! Canada was a tough loss; Finland was a humiliation.

  • Ross

    As a Brit I will of course, with common grace congratulate Denis on all his victories, including the Curling, even if he did personally beat us in that, whilst not in the slightest gloat about the US being 10th. Ultimately, sharing a Sovereign, his wins can reasonably be considered mine anyway. Which brings me nicely to another comment. If my thoughts are misplaced in being posted here please tell me (gently).

    Having slept on this since viewing Denis’ presentation. This reminded me of how I have viewed the Genesis genealogies in the past. The ages of the people mentioned may be a “rhetorical device” giving some kind of symbolic significance to the characters, similar to a kid in the playground saying “my dad’s 10 feet tall, he’s bigger than your dad, who’s only 9 feet tall”. So the numbers are significant in some way, but not literal, however they may be “felt” as literal.

    Another thought is that a genealogy, being similar to our own genealogies, is a family tree and helps in explaining who we are and therefore adds to our identity. These particular genealogies take on significance, particularly for the exiled Israel/Hebrews/children-of-Abraham as it is their family tree. This may accentuate their difference to those “others” around them and help “cohere” them as family. So here the genealogies are being used in forming an identity. “This is who we are, we are Abraham’s children, we are brothers and sisters”.

    Not only does this identity define the family, the group, it links directly to the great God who may at this time seem very distant. So the genealogy may be saying “okay, God seems far away, distant, maybe you think he’s abandoned us, or maybe has no power here, but look what he’s done for us in the past, he was close to and supported us, he was with Abraham, Isaac, David, before that Noah and Enoch and before that Adam, look what he did for them, he saved them from floods, brought them out from slavery in Egypt”. To my mind this brings a distant God very close through the image of family, which I think is a very strong image in Judaism.

    By tying the genealogy to Adam, this also compresses time, bringing God not only closer in “physical” distance, but in time distance too. So the message here may be “God was with our father Abraham and with our Grandfather Adam, and he can be with us now”. The imagery here may be something along the line, that in a way we are one as family and what happens to family is a part of us now, whether the family is those around us now, or those in the past. So maybe “God being the creator God, who (in a way quite literally) was Adam’s father, giving birth to him, is also our father too, as we are ‘in’ Adam”.

    To conclude, these genealogies may be mainly identity forming and link the Hebrews/Israel to each other and God. This I can see be “felt” internally and be very close, particularly if you are Hebrew/Jewish. For Gentile Christians, maybe there is a degree of separation and the “feeling” of belonging here is missed so the significance of the numbers grows out of proportion and the purpose of the genealogy is missed. Resulting in it being used for other (errant!!?) doctrinal purposes.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Dear Ross,
      A very astute post. Thank you. Your comment “the numbers are significant in some way, but not literal, however they may be ‘felt’ as literal” is so true, and in my mind the challenge. The Redactor of Gen 1-11 certainly seems to have the intention of writing cosmic and human history, and thus the “feel” of these chapters is indeed historical. On this point I am quite emphatic with young earth creationists when they say Gen 1-11 comes off as history. However, once you see the stylistic use of numbers (5 and 7) it makes us realize we can’t take these numbers as literal periods of time, and consequently we can’t use them to date the age of the earth.

  • ajl

    Good discussion. If people would like a short paper on this very topic, with over 60 references to other papers to explore, you can read Carol Hill’s work here:

  • Bev Mitchell

    Our women’s hockey team was much kinder than Denis appears to have been. Perhaps this low budget expression will help during the recovery phase.
    With Condolances

  • Denis O. Lamoureux

    My Dear Dr. Enns,
    Is bitterness a sin . . .
    Blessings always,
    PS Y’aaaaall should stick to baseball . . .

    • GordyHowe

      its funny, as an American this didn’t really bother me. I was in high school for the 1980 Olympics and watched the Miracle on Ice game. These last few Olympics with the NHL players just didn’t do it for me. I would be interested to see how an “amateur” team with 8 months of preparation would do against the NHL guys who show up on Saturday and start playing together on Monday.

  • ctrace

    Denis, some more data to factor in: I was born in a year that is a multiple of five, and I was one of five children. During the time after I was born to the death of my father, my father owned no less than five cars. My father’s name was David, which has five letters. When I first saw the angel Gabriel he was accompanied by no less than five musicians. This was at an outdoor concert, my ticket was in section five. Can you see where this is leading? We need to talk…I have five vaccination scars on my left arm. One from the government, four from the Messianic Dominions, and five small implants in my solar plexus which connects me to a star in a globular cluster galaxy just outside the Milky Way where there is never any darkness. My name there is Augustin Constantin Centauri, which has 26 letters which is a multiple of five is you subtract one. The one symbolizes the unity of my being, which envelops all of creation. We need to talk.

    • Scott Jorgenson

      Your analogy / “reductio ad absurdum” is not comparable. You list unrelated factors that of course, out of a large set of unrelated factors, can be cherry-picked to yield a non-existent pattern. But the ages in each genealogy are not unrelated; they are all presented together as a tight set in each genealogy, and so can reasonably be analyzed as a tight set. And when they are, they are found to be decidedly non-random. That is pattern detection, not making stuff up where no pattern exists. Something is going on here; I agree that whether “5” was selected because of the 5 books of the Torah or not is more speculative.

    • Ross

      Hmm ctrace, Looking at what you are saying here, even if much of it is intentionally ironic, I can agree that you need to talk to someone. I’m not sure if Denis is qualified in the relevant discipline.

      • ctrace

        Ross, everybody who disagrees with you is insane. Yes, just go with that…

        • Ross

          Apologies if the post was flippant, but it was intended to provoke an answer. Being new here it’s difficult to know what’s going on with other posters. Having worked with those considered “insane” for some years I don’t think disagreeing with someone is a basis for concluding such a diagnosis. Initially it’s a good reason for me to consider whether I’m correct or not. Is that your approach?

          • ctrace

            I just checked back here, not ignoring you. I’m just stating that I don’t find the numbers he’s presenting, or what he’s making of them, impressive.

          • Ross

            Ah, I just wasn’t quite sure where you were coming from. I have worked with people who make statements like yours as genuine views of what they are experiencing.

            Denis is exploring/explaining that if they are not literal years of life passed, then there may be some “numerological” meaning to them, and looking at what that may be, or how they came about, which is at least interesting. I’m not sure if he is saying there is some “great” significance in numerological explanations.

            My view is coming to one where there may be no real major significance to them. If they are not literal, then we shouldn’t use them to place a date on creation, or some other happenings in World history. If there is some other significance, maybe this is interesting, but not particularly significant.

          • Nancy R.

            The significance goes beyond the number of years that people may or may not have lived, or the numerological significance of lifespans that end in a 5 or a 0. It should cause us to examine how we view history as 21st century Americans. We see it as a reasonably objective and accurate description of events, as recorded or told by eye-witnesses. But that isn’t the sort of history we read here, and we should be careful not to use our assumptions in reading histories written thousands of years ago.

    • Zeke

      More creepiness – Canada beat Sweden 3-0 in the gold medal game, a total of 3 goals, which is also a multiple of 5 if you add the mystical number 7. Sweden and Canada are names of countries that appear to consist of 5 letters if you squint and it’s kind of dark. Finally, Don Cherry is 593 years old, but has a 5 in it despite being a prime number. These are dangerous times….

  • Hashavyahu

    What about the fact that the numbers in the LXX are different? And what does this imply about the author of the patterns discerned here? Is it possible to attribute the patterns to the authors of the sources, to the redactor, or to later tradents?

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Yes you are right. LXX often add 100 yrs to the age of when the 1st child is born, and then removes 100 yrs from the period for how long after the patriarch lives. In the end the life spans are the same between LXX and MT except for Lamek. Thus the multiples of fives pattern is kept intact.
      Now as to why LXX does this, I haven’t got a clue. Do you?