Toledot time

If you’ve spent any time with a Genesis commentary, you’ll know that the book is divided up by statements which have come to be called “toledot” statements. The majority opinion is that these link the compositional sections by introducing the next one with the name of a person from the last, using the formula, “These are the generations of…”

In some cases such statements do little more than head up a genealogy, serving the very important function of grounding the events of Genesis in history, rather than in mythology. In others the genealogical information is minimal, such as in the case of “the generations of Noah,” which after naming his three sons, goes on to four chapters of the flood account.

In most cases, the sections end up at a narrative destination, so that it’s not certain whether the “toledot” introductions are the headings of genealogies, into which the author has grafted the protohistory events from (as they say) “a separate tradition,” or whether “generations” is meant to indicate something like “the new stuff that came from Adam,” or Isaac, or whoever. That would include both their offspring and how they changed the world. That, I suppose, is why the NIV and the NASB both translate it as “account” sometimes, though “births” is the literal meaning.

But the odd one out in this is the first “toledot,” which is at the “break point” between the creation account and the Eden narrative, Genesis 2:4, reading in the KJV, which unlike many modern translations is happy to be literal in this instance:

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord made the earth and the heavens…

To follow the pattern, what follows ought to be a genealogy of the world – the heavens and the earth created in Gen 1. But that seems absurd, because the world is not a person to produce generations of offspring. That’s why modern translations have gone for “account,” but even that sounds strange, when the “account of the heavens and the earth” appears to be what we’ve already read in Gen 1 of how they came to be.

A few ways out of this dilemma are suggested. First, it could be that Genesis 2 is a restatement of Genesis 1. This is the classical view that it is the creation account from mankind’s viewpoint rather than from the cosmic one of Genesis 1. That at least keeps the “toledot” with its usual, introductory, function – but it’s awkward in a literary sense.

An alternative is to change the whole orientation around and say that the “toledots” end sections, rather than beginning them. This makes the later ones extremely awkward to explain, but tidies up the beginning. It’s pointed out that there is no “toledot” at the beginning of Genesis 1, which as we all know simply begins,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without form and void.

This scheme would make Genesis 2:4 a final summary to the creation account, rather than an introduction to the Eden narrative, eliminating any need for an introduction to the book. But a strong body of scholarly opinion considers that the first sentence is, indeed, an introductory summary of all that follows, so that creation starts from “formless and void” (tohu wabohu) rather than that state being simply the first stage of what God created.

That makes more sense to me, especially as it seems probable to me that the creation account, so rich in tabernacle imagery that resonates with the instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus, was written as an introduction to Genesis, and indeed to the Torah, placed before the traditional history that was received from the Patriarchs before Israel existed as a nation. Genesis 1, then, lacks a “toledot” because it is not from that tradition, where the “toledots” originated.

That still leaves, though, the anomaly of Gen 2:4, which whether originating from the protohistory tradition, or added in conformity to it by our “Moses,” speaks of the heavens and the earth as if they were the parents of a bloodline, or the begetters of events. Is that explicable?

As regular readers will know, I’ve been working on a biblical theology in the light of the Genealogical Adam paradigm: if there were people outside the Garden of Eden, and the biblical authors actually knew that, how does that affect the shape of the story the Bible tells? One surprising conclusion I came to is that the whole Bible, from the Eden narrative onwards, is about the new creation, not the old, the new being abortively introduced firstly through Adam, and then equally unsuccessfully through Israel, of which Adam is the archetype, and eventually successfully by Jesus, bith the new Adam and the true Israel.

Having reached that radical conclusion, I was both surprised and gratified to discover that much the same thing has been concluded by Greg Beale in his massive and detailed New Testament Biblical Theology. The new creation project, culminating in the new heavens and the new earth that are filled with God’s glory (of which we read in Revelation) actually begins in Genesis 2, and the drama unfolds through all the Bible’s subsequent pages, because the Bible as a whole is the history of the new creation, arising from within the old.

Suddenly, that makes sense of the “toledot” of Gen 2:4. What does the old creation of Genesis 1 “give birth to,” that might be analogous to the “generations” of Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah and so on? Why, a new creation, coming through the humanity created by God, as the crown and culmination of the original physical creation, for that very purpose.

Although “heavens and earth” is what is called a “merism,” that is a figure of speech in which the extremes represent everything in between as well, there is a poetically parental aspect to this. When Adam and Eve bear children, then those offspring are, as it were, the true union of their flesh. Seth is, literally, Adam and Eve made one. But the description we have of the new creation in the Bible is remarkably similar to that – God dwells with man, man sees God face to face, the new Jerusalem descends from heaven, and the temple is abolished because God is with humanity, and heaven and earth are conjoined. So heaven and earth, Scripture teaches, do actually become the parents of one “child” that unites them – and that child is the new creation whose long gestation begins in the Garden of Eden.

I find that a fascinating fit to my developing biblical theology. Do you think Moses had an inkling of it when he headed up the Eden account in such an odd, genealogical, way?

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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6 Responses to Toledot time

  1. swamidass says:

    Missing the genealogical Adam tag! =)

  2. sheldonr says:

    Congratulations on the book, Jon!
    I’ve been working on a Gen 1-11 for about 10 years, and my daughter said “Dad, no one will read a 800 page book!” So I split it into thirds and had the first volume published with Wipf&Stock back in July 2017, “The Long Ascent” by Robert Sheldon. It covers Genesis 1-2, a bit of 4 and 6. The “toledot” was taken as the separator between Gen 1 and Gen 2, where I argue that Gen 1 describes the Big Bang, and Gen 2 describes the creation of Eden starting about 11,900 BC. (Just found some data by Julius Oppert suggesting 11,542 BC.)
    One of the many themes in the book, are that Genesis is about domestication, and domestication is about epigenetic changes–what Darwin was doing with his pigeons. So Adam is not the genetic father of mankind, but the epigenetic father of mankind, the domesticated human drawn from Cro-Magnon (Aurignacian, Gravettian, but with better PR) stock. Likewise, the Hebrew is quite clear: Noah’s ark was filled with domesticated (epigenetic) animals only. It was a floating farmyard, not a floating zoo. Most of the modern era has assumed Adam to be the genetic father, with all the complications that brought for Europeans trying to incorporate all the world’s races into 4000 years. But the context of Genesis is all about epigenetics.
    Anyway, what drew my eye to your blog, was your book arguing that the “fallen creation” does not do justice to the good world God has made. I didn’t feel qualified to argue that position, so I simply assumed it ;). But you might like to know that I spend quite a bit of time with the Hebrew MT, showing that Gen 1:29-30 is very poorly translated in both LXX and English, inserting both a subject and a verb into the sentence to radically change the meaning. When translated better, God is giving animals for food to man, which happened before the Fall, indicating that much of the theology of death and/or sinless creation isn’t even Biblical.
    The 2nd volume is waiting for my editor to finish reading it, but it covers Gen 4-8 as well as Job 38-41. The unifying theme is maps. Maps of Eden as found in Egypt, in Norse myth, in Chinese myth. I confess it is wicked fun to switch from textual exegesis to visual analysis and make the same point despite all the textual sophistication of modern exegesis.
    The 3rd volume, still a year or two from publication, is about Eden’s technology and etymology. Just a teaser, Norse mythology is shown to be written in code, the same code as Greek and Hindu mythology.
    Now I have to go and order your book…

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Rob, and welcome.

      I’ve actually seen your book (I think Amazon generated a recommendation for me). Didn’t realize it was part of a trilogy. I’ll have to order it, if only for the beautiful cover!

      God’s Good Earth appears not to step on your toes much – as you’ll see from the Introduction (thanks for ordering!) it started as an out-of-the-way conversation about the Church Fathers and ended up wondering, and answering, where the “cosmic fall” idea came from in the first place.

      This present article is, it may now be told, really a justification for the title of my next book, just contracted with Cascade, whose title, The Generations of Heaven and Earth is based on the Toledot. It wasn’t intended as a follow up to God’s Good Earth but has turned into one by suggesting (parallel to Gerg Beale’s work) that the whole Bible, bar Genesis 1, is intended to be about the new creation. That kind of makes one book about the first creation, and one about the new.

      We appear to take entirely different tacks on the text, but that’s how it is in this discussion, so no matter. My new one definitely majors on the theology rather than science, though it starts from the science of Genealogical Adam I’ve been tossing around for several years, and which Joshua Swamidass and Andrew Loke are publishing on in tandem with mine.

      If you like GGE, I anticipate the new one will probably appear about the end of the year.

  3. KJ says:

    Hey, Jon! I’m finally getting back to catching up on my favorite blogs. I look forward to digging into your biblical-theological reflections. I’m not sure how much it matters if “Moses” knew of those outside the garden (either via historical record or logical reflection), or if (by divine providence?) the effect of the text turns out to be helpful in the modern discussion.

    Just a technical note, which you already hinted at. The toledots are really more about the offspring of the person named rather than the person himself. This is most clear with Terah (11:27)–why not Abram?–and easily seen with Jacob (37:2), with the ensuing narrative focused on his sons (not just Joseph).

    I suppose this also lends support to a sequential reading of Gen 1 and 2.

    Another tangent: most scholars consider 10 toledots, but must conflate the ones in 36:1 and 36:9 concerning Esau. The number “10” would be significant, of course. But Iaian Provan (in Discovering Genesis) argues that all 11 should count, which then allows for Gen 1 to be the 12th unit (another significant number). So Gen 1 as an intro remains, but the shaping of Genesis into 12 units perhaps adds something to viewing the book through the lens of Israel.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Ken, thanks for these useful comments.

      I agree that there is always a tension between “what the writer knew” and “what the Spirit intends us to infer.” Yet it seems to me that one of Genealogical Adam’s main strengths is to put the Genesis protohistory “early on in recorded history” rather than “about a far off time before history.” In that case, just as a matter of course, “Moses” probably would have known, and reading the text that way would be fruitful. One small example of that is the Genesis comparison between the cities of the plain and Eden – suggesting, perhaps, that the writer had a real place, or a real type of place, in mind in the Eden account.

      Thanks for the point about Toledots. I guess the question of total numbers of them is great when it works, but dangerous to impose on the text as its definite explanation.

      However, the model I’ve been working with (which seems not uncommon) is that of traditional material reworked into final form by the author. That, of course, would be straightforward in a traditional view that Moses received the proto-history and Patriarachal narratives and wove them into the Torah.

      In that case, the toldeots would be, at least to some extent, a feature of the sources, and (as I contend) the creation acount a preface to them, and hence being given a toledot to link it into the narrative. Yet because the literary form of the book is intentional, one would expect that significant numbers like 12 would apply to the final form rather than the sources. In other words, there might well be evidence, at that stage, of authorial contrivance to get the numbers to work out right.

      But this is the kind of discussion that I hope might arise from putting Genealogical Adam in the biblical theology setting – it can become one of the interpretive tools you experts haveavailable in order to understand the text itself better. That, to me, is a lot more valuable than GA’s being simply a way to accommodate the Bible to science.

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