Apr 21, 2009

Biblical Genealogies: Forms

I recently began a series on biblical genealogies (see here). Today, I want to discuss the forms of genealogies.

The genealogies in Scripture typically take one of two forms. One form is a standard identification and linking of descendants (e.g. Gen 36). Another form of genealogy is narratival in form (e.g., 25:19), and Wilson refers to these genealogies as a “genealogical narrative.”[1] The Book of Genesis includes both of these forms. One might also distinguish between patrilinear and matrilinear genealogies. Patrilinear genealogies trace descent from the father and matrilinear genealogies trace descent from the mother. “In the Penteteuch genealogies are fundamentally patrilinear, though women occasionally—and significantly—appear within them (e.g., Gen 11:29-31; Ex 6:23, 25).”[2]

While perhaps not strictly a question of form, it is worth noting at this point the work of Martin Noth.[3] Noth distinguished between “authentic” and secondary genealogies. “Authentic” genealogies are genealogies that existed prior to and apart from the narrative in which they are found. Secondary genealogies, on the other hand, are genealogies which exist only within the narrative itself. For Noth, the Pentateuch contains some “authentic” genealogies which are older than the narrative in which they are found (and thus might have some historical value) and secondary genealogies which are literary constructs for linking literary units.

[1] Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World, 9.

[2] Wright, “Genealogies,” 346.

[3] Martin Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions, trans. Bernhard W. Anderson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 214-19.

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