Liberal Christians: Genealogies in the Bible?

I initially asked this in Christians: Why are scientists more likely to be non-believers?

Since I didn’t seem to get any replies from Christians and since that thread is full up of non-Christian arguments I thought I’d create its own thread here.

Books like the Song of Solomon and prophecy books involve a lot of metaphors. I think that Genesis isn’t a book of poetry like liberal Christians say it is - in particular the beginning of the book. If it is a book of poetry, what about the genealogies:

What on earth is that about? Is that poetry or metaphors?

“their days will be a hundred and twenty years”

Well that is about the maximum age that humans live… maybe it is talking about the maximum age of humans rather than being some kind of poetry!

What do all of the numbers mean? Do they have some mystical numerological meaning? Do those numbers paint some kind of beautiful poetic picture?

I really want to know.

BTW those genealogies are repeated in Luke 3… it suggests that those people were real ancestors of Jesus rather than just characters in a poem.

Luke copied the list. He was not an independent source. As for the poetry, I prefer,
As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
And every wife had seven sacks
And every sack had seven cats
And every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?*

because it’s a riddle that I gloated over answering (wrongly) because I had just learned my Sevens.

So are you saying that the genealogies are just poetry? Did those people actually exist? Did they live to those ages? If not, why did the “poem” include such non-poetic numbers? (Well 777 is a bit poetic)

While I’m not one, quite a few Christians did post in that thread. They just weren’t your particular variety of Christian.

Two comments.

(1) While the lifespans before Noah are absurdly long, I’ve read a theory that later time spans make some sense if you divide by two. For example, Moses is said to have lived till age 120 – he lived to 60. Supposedly, one ancient Semitic calendar counted equinoxes instead of years. The theory is probably crackpottery, but I lack the expertise to judge. (I don’t want to hijack this thread but might send URL in response to PM.)

(2) Genesis 46 is genealogy – it lists Jacob’s wives (and mentions two other women by name), sons, grandsons and even some of his great grandsons. There is an interesting “logic puzzle” associated with an apparent arithmetic error in that Chapter. I’m told that some Jewish scholars are aware of the logic puzzle and have an answer. Will any experts comment? (I’ve wondered if that “logic puzzle” is interesting enough to start a SDMB thread – but I’d need a lot of encouragement to do so, since most of my threads fizzle.)

When I said “I didn’t seem to get any replies from Christians” I meant about whether the genealogies are a poem or whatever.

So 950 years = 475 years? Also
“Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.””
implies that the maximum lifespan would then be 60 years.
edit: I see you were talking about the later time spans… but the earlier ones can’t be ignored… I’d like to see the URL - after all the source would be from a liberal Christian.

BTW there seems to be differences in the numbers in Genesis 5 amongst different texts:

It’s the records of a breeding program conducted by space aliens.

Or not.

The genealogies are not “poems,” (as far as I am aware). However, they are myth. Based on the concept that a long life was indicative of God’s blessing, one will note that they trend downward with only a few exceptions.

Name	Age at birth of son	Years lived 		Age at death
				after birth of son
Adam		130		800			930
Seth		105		807			912
Enosh		90		815			905
Kenan		70		840			910
Mahalel		65		830			895
Jared		162		800			962
Enoch		65		300			365
Methusaleh	187		762			969
Lamech		182		595			777
Noah		500+		450?			950
Shem		100		500			600
Arpachshad	35		403			438
Shelah		30		403			433
Eber		34		430			464
Peleg		30		209			239
Reu		32		207			239
Serug		30		200			230
Nahor		29		119			148
Terah		70		130			205
Abram		100		75			175 

Age at death does not directly reflect on how good an individual might have been, but demonstrates the sinfulness of humanity. This is not a lot different than the Greek tales that showed different “ages” of men being made up of successively more base metals, beginning with gold, until it finally deteriorated into mere flesh and blood.

It is myth. Myth does not have to be represented in beautiful poetry, although it quite often is. Not every fact mentioned in myth has to be false, but most are. Sometimes clumsy attempts at verisimilitude get mixed in with literally absurd (but possibly symbolic) elements. It is not uncommon for the people who write down myths to get caught up in tedious listings and spuriously precise details, which they may or may not have themselves believed to be mundanely factual. None of this says anything about the overall truth of the texts or anyof tehparticular details. Obvius falsities ae all mixed up with the possibly true, and sometimes with the outright dull.

I might be wrong, but from the poem, the only one that is clearly going to St Ives is the person relating the information. He simply met the others on the way.

So, at least one conclusively, but the others are unknown if they’re even going anywhere.

Actually it remained quite constant before the Flood and then declined after that:

Actually right before the Flood mainly just Noah was “good”… many of the others were wicked.

I can’t find a link at the moment but there is a Creationist belief that before the Flood there was a vapor canopy that held the Flood waters and also filtered out a lot of radiation. Initially people had perfect DNA and were able to have children with their siblings. After the Flood people’s DNA accumulated mutations and their lifespans declined. Also in Exodus it said that people can no longer marry their siblings perhaps due to them having identical mutations causing their children to be more likely to be mutated.

Are the genealogies in Luke 3 also a myth? If so how can you be sure that Mary was a virgin, etc? Or maybe you don’t believe in the virgin birth, etc. Why are there myths in the Bible? What’s the point of the scholars rewriting out all of those ages, etc, if they’re just myths?

What I have never understood is how liberal Christians can readily admit they have a book of myth/fiction and then accept a particular miracle story contained therein as the gospel truth, so to speak.

Yes. Parthenogenesis is, uh, pretty rare in humans. Because the people who wrote them down considered them to have great religious or cultural importance.

That was easy.

Couple of interesting trivia notes if you work out the timeline.

*Noah is the first named descendant of Adam who was born after Adam’s death.
*Methuselah died the year of the flood.
*Noah was still alive for a good portion of Abraham’s lifetime. Abraham (still known as Abram) was fifty-eight when his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Noah died.


I assumed that some people might have lived through the Flood but they didn’t… it explains why Lamech only lived to 777 rather than 900+ like everyone else before the Flood.

The chart tries to shrug off a discrepancy in the Bible. Genesis says that Shelah is the son of Arphaxad but Luke says Shelah is the son of Cainan and Cainan is the son of Arphaxad.

Actually Lamech is reported to have died five years before the flood.

If you’re looking for a metaphor, you can say that times began to go bad when Adam died and people no longer had direct access to somebody who had personally been present at the creation. And Methuselah was presumably the last living person who had known Adam - so when he was gone mankind became more distant from the creation because now we didn’t have anyone who had heard the story second hand from Adam. Noah and all the rest of us got our information third hand. So people began taking the whole God story less seriously now that the eyewitnesses were gone and God ended up killing everyone with the flood.

The flood presumably put … well … the fear of God back into people. I imagine when little Abram was growing up he heard the stories from old Noah about how three hundred years ago God had killed everyone on Earth except for their family.

I’m looking for serious replies from liberal Christians.

No I think the best pattern is whether they lived before the Flood (lived to about 900 years except for Lamech) or after the Flood - after the Flood there was a fairly constant decline in their ages.
Also there was that verse about lifespans being limited to 120.

Though Methuselah lived to be the oldest age, Noah still was one of the oldest people in the genealogy (950 years) He lived to only 19 years less than Methuselah.

Well, I can’t help you there.