May 6, 2009

Biblical Genealogies: Genealogies in the Ancient Near East

This post concludes a series on biblical genealogies (see here, here, here, here). Today, I will discuss the genealogies in the ancient Near East.

Much work has been done in attempting to correlate genealogical records from the ancient Near East with biblical genealogies.[1] Formal comparisons have included Sumerian and Akkadian king lists, genealogies in Mesopotamian royal inscriptions, the genealogy of Hammurapi,[2] and others.[3] Malamat’s seminal article has motivated a number of scholars to pursue the parallels of scriptural genealogies with ancient Near Eastern texts.[4] However, other scholars such as Hartman, Hasel and Hess, have been quick to point to dissimilarities between ancient Near Eastern texts and Scriptural genealogies.[5] The situation is further complicated by the fact that biblical genealogies, especially in the Pentateuch are rather unique.[6] As Wright notes, “Extensive genealogies were not a prominent feature of the ancient Near Eastern literary culture . . . Unlike the Pentateuch, ancient Near Eastern genealogies generally appear within broader literary contexts as brief insertions rather than as an integral part of a larger narrative.”[7] That being said, the study of ancient Near Eastern evidence is helpful but perhaps not determinative in interpretive issues. At the very least the existence of extra-biblical genealogies (some very early) indicate that biblical genealogies need not be considered a late phenomena.
[1] For a survey (albeit somewhat dated) of what has been done see Robert R. Wilson, “The Old Testament Genealogies in Recent Research,” Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 169–89.
[2] See especially J. J. Finkelstein, “The Genealogy of the Hammurapi Dynasty,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 20 (1966): 95–118.
[3] For a more comprehensive list and discussion see Johnson, The Purpose of Biblical Genealogies, 57-72, 114-32.
[4] Abraham Malamat, “King Lists of the Old Babylonian period and Biblical Genealogies,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968): 163-73. For an even more comprehensive treatment see Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World, 56-136.
[5] See Thomas C. Hartman, “Some Thoughts on the Sumerian King List and Genesis 5 and 11B,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972): 25–32, Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Genealogies of Gen 5 and 11 and Their Alleged Babylonian Background,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 16 (1978): 361–74, and Richard S. Hess, “The Genealogies of Genesis 1–11 and Comparative Literature,” Biblica 70 (1989): 241–54.
[6] For example, ancient Near Eastern literature contains very few segmented genealogies. Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World, 134.
[7] Wright, “Genealogies,” 346–47.

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