Thursday, April 19, 2007

The "toldoths" of Genesis

Genesis 2:4 introduces the biblical material on the Garden of Eden with these words: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created." The original word translated "account" is one of the most significant words in the entire Pentateuch. The original word is "toldoth". "Toldoth" means "results", "proceedings", or "descendants". The old King James Version of the Bible translates "toldoth" with the word "generations".

"Toldoth" is used eleven times in Genesis to signal the beginning of a new section of the Book. Here are all of the references where "toldoth" is found: Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; and 37:2. The subjects of the respective "toldoths" are: the heavens and the earth, Adam, Noah, Noah's sons, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, Esau's sons, and Jacob. As it turns out, these names provide a kind of outline of the Book of Genesis, at least on the level of major headings. Most people who are familiar with the Book of Genesis will be able to recall much of the content of the Book in association with these names.

There are two other interesting things to note about the "toledoths" of Genesis. First, of the eleven uses, ten refer to the "proceedings" of certain men. One stands by itself in reference, not to the "proceedings" of a man, but to the "proceedings" of the heavens and the earth. It's as if to say "the material that follows is an account of what proceeded initially from the heavens and the earth." In other words, it is an account of the initial conditions of the heavens and earth immediately upon the completion of their creation. This makes the use of "toldoth" in Genesis 2:4 both a means of marking off this section of the Book as the others are marked off and a means of tying the material that follows back to what is recorded in Genesis chapter 1.

The second interesting thing to note is that there is a "toldoth" for Adam (Genesis 5:1ff). Some people believe no such real, historical person ever existed. Adam, they say, is the name of a fictional character used to tell the mythical account of creation and the fall. The use of "toldoth" in reference to Adam is a significant contradiction to such claims. The remaining nine "toldoths", the ones from Noah to Jacob, all reference known, historical persons. The use of "toldoth" in reference to Adam means the author of Genesis wants us to understand that Adam is a real, historical person too, just as real and historical as the rest.

The real-ness and historical-ness of both Adam and Eve factor significantly into our understanding of so many things, including our own struggle with what the Bible calls "the sin". We'll get to that soon enough. For now, the next subject to be raised in Genesis is marriage and the family...

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