The meaning of Antediluvians in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
1. Chronology Uncertain:
According to the ordinary interpretation of the genealogical tables in Gen. 5 the lives of the antediluvians were prolonged to an extreme old age, Methuselah attaining that of 969 years. But before accepting these figures as a basis of interpretation it is important to observe that the Hebrew, the Samaritan and the Septuagint texts differ so radically in their sums that probably little confidence can be placed in any of them. The Septuagint adds 100 years to the age of six of the antediluvian patriarchs at the birth of their eldest sons. This, taken with the great uncertainty connected with the transmission of numbers by the Hebrew method of notation, makes it unwise to base important conclusions upon the data accessible. The most probable interpretation of the genealogical table in Gen. 5 is that given by the late Professor William Henry Green, who maintains that it is not Intended to give chronology, and does not give it, but only indicates the line of descent, as where (I Chronicles 26:24) we read that "Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was ruler over the treasures"; whereas, while Gershom was the immediate son of Moses, Shebuel was separated from Gershom by several generations. According to the interpretation of Professor Green all that we can certainly infer from the statement in Hebrew that Adam was 130 years old when he begat Seth, is that at that age the line branched off which culminated in Seth, it being permitted, according to Hebrew usage, to interpolate as many intermediate generations as other evidence may compel.
2. Meaning of Genealogies:
As in the genealogies of Christ in the Gospels, the object of the tables in Genesis is evidently not to give chronology, but the line of descent. This conclusion is supported by the fact that no use is made afterward of the chronology, whereas the line of descent is repeatedly emphasized. This method of interpretation allows all the elasticity to prehistoric chronology that any archaeologist may require. Some will get further relief from the apparent incredibility of the figures by the Interpretation of Professor A. Winchell, and T. P. Crawford (Winchell, Pre-adamites, 449 ff.) that the first number gives the age of actual life of the individual while the second gives that of the ascendancy of his family, the name being that of dynasties, like Caesar or Pharaoh.
3. The Nephilim:
The nephilim (giants) and the mighty men born of "the sons of God" and the "daughters of men" (Genesis 6:4-5) are according to the best interpretation "giants in wickedness," being the fruit of intermarriage between the descendants of Seth ("sons of God" who called on the name of Yahweh, Genesis 4:26), and the "daughters of men." The idea that "sons of God" refers to angels or demigods has no support in Scripture. On this familiar designation of the worshippers of the true God see Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; 32, repeatedly; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 43:6; Isaiah 45:11; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 11:1. Intermarriage with depraved races such as is here intimated produced the results which were guarded against in the Mosaic law prohibiting marriages with the surrounding idolatrous nations. The word Nephilim in Genesis 6:4 occurs again only in Numbers 13:33 (the King James Version "giants"). But the word is more probably a descriptive term than the name of a race. In the older Greek versions it is translated "violent men."
4. The Ice Age:
The antediluvians are, with great probability, identified by some geologists (Sir William Dawson, e.g.) with glacial or paleolithic man, whose implements and remains are found buried beneath the deposits of glacial floods in northern France, southern England, southern Russia, and in the valleys of the Delaware, Ohio and Missouri rivers in America. The remains of "paleolithic" men reveal only conditions of extreme degradation and savagery, in which violence reigned. The sparse population which was spread over the northern hemisphere during the closing floods of the Glacial period lived in caves of the earth, and contended with a strange variety of gigantic animals which became extinct at the same time with their human contemporaries.
See DELUGE OF NOAH.
Green, "Primeval Chronology," Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1890; Dawson, Modern Science in Bible Lands; B. B. Warfield, "On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race," Princeton Theol. Review, January, 1911; Winchell, Pre-adamites; Wright, Ice Age in North America, 5th ed.; Man and the Glacial Period, and Scientific Confirmations of Old Testament History.
George Frederick Wright
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