Studies in the Book of Genesis Part 2: The Table of Nations in Genesis 10—Its Structure -- By: Allen P. Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 137:548 (Oct 1980)
Article: Studies in the Book of Genesis Part 2: The Table of Nations in Genesis 10—Its Structure
Author: Allen P. Ross

Studies in the Book of Genesis
Part 2:
The Table of Nations in Genesis 10—Its Structure

Allen P. Ross

[Allen P. Ross, Assistant Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]


The tenth chapter of Genesis remains one of the least satisfactorily studied passages in the book. When compared to the volumes produced on the other sections of Genesis, the efforts to understand the structure and meaning of this passage in its context have been sparse. Westermann laments this fact, noting that most writers address themselves to the location of the individual names or to the classification of the sections into sources.1

Difficulties with the Passage

The Table of Nations is a lengthy listing of many names of peoples in the ancient Near East in the form of a genealogy of the sons of Noah—Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The fact that many scholars have addressed themselves to the study of the individual names on the list is due in part to several difficulties with the listing of certain names under supposed ancestors (such as the Hittites and Amorites being among the descendants of Canaan, a connection that cannot be supported by archaeology or history).

Not only are there a number of difficulties with the names on the Table, but there is also a tension over the structure of the record, for it incorporates a variation in style between the בְּנֵי (“sons of”) sections and the יָלַד (“begot”) sections. The former is an unadorned list of names, whereas the latter appears to incorporate various embellishments. Many scholars have felt that a classification into P and J sources, respectively, is the only solution to this variation.

A related tension comes from the inclusion of certain elements in the genealogy, such as the boundary list of the land of Canaan in 10:16–19. This listing of Canaanite cities seems suspicious on a Table of Nations. Moreover, the cliché list of the pre-Israelite tribes of Canaan (10:15–19) is suspected by some to be an addition.2 Then again many have had trouble with the extended list of Joktanites (thirteen Arabian tribes) in the Shem section, which not only seems disproportionate but also includes names found in other sections of the Table. Such “doublets” are often considered by scholars as sure evidence of overlapping sources.

Studies in the Passage

In spite of the fact t...

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