Friday, October 9, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Genesis 5

Now we are back to Genesis 5 and the ten generations from Shet to Noach. 
We know that the urban legend says it is a version of the Sumerian Kings List and we know that the Kings List originally dated to about 2000 BCE when Utu-Hengel commissioned it, sealing his victory over the Gutians by asserting how many native Mesopotamian kings ruled before the Gutians came in and messed things up.  The names came from the kings lists kept by various cities in Mesopotamia, with the exception of Lagash, whose king at one previous point had taken over Mesopotamia.
Then after 1700 BCE a prequel was added which goes back to “pre-diluvian” kings which appeared, not in the city kings lists, but in other Mesopotamian literature.
The fact that all the cities of Mesopotamia kept kings lists suggests a common custom of recording one’s forebears.  That’s what Genesis 5 does.  Records the forebears of Noach. 
The ships list in the Iliad is another example of the same thing: the men who captained each ship were claimed as ancestors by later Greeks.
It would be amazing if the ancestors of the Jews had NOT kept a list of their forebears. 
But what about those exaggerated lifetimes?  Again, the later version of the Sumerian kings list shows that such a thing happened in other cultures.  An additional fact is that ancient heroes in Greek mythology have tales told about them which imply longer than human life spans.
So exaggerated lifetimes of ancient progenitors is not unique to Torah.
The ancestors of the Jews – and the Jews of the Babylonian Captivity – had a low probability of accessing the royal archives, and a low probability of learning to read cuneiform, a skill limited to the upper classes and possibly to a hereditary class of scribes.  If the probabilities are both low, then the probability of both of them is their product (remember this because it will become important much later), and the likelihood that the Jews copied the Sumerian king list doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
The genealogies in Genesis 5 do not mimic the Sumerian kings list.  They are a natural cultural custom – recording one’s forebears – and long lives are imputed to the most ancient ancestors.
For next week you can read the flood story, but make sure and read the whole thing right up to the Tower of Babel.  And since you know that quoting out of context is going to cause trouble, make sure and read every verse.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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