Part of the Priestly redactor’s interpretive framework included the use of extensive genealogical lists, or records of generations, in Hebrew toledoth. These toledoth provide a structural unity and shape to the narrative arc of Genesis, and the Priestly redactor inserted them throughout the book of Genesis to transition from one story to the next, or from the end of one age or generation to the beginning of the next. Thus, the toledoth of chapter 5—”this is the record of the generations of Adam” (Gen 5:1)—connects the narrative from Adam’s son Seth to that of Noah, in other words from creation to flood.
This structural framework is visible throughout the book of Genesis. There are: the toledoth of the heaven and the earth (Gen 2:4a), the toledoth of Adam (Gen 5:1-32), the toledoth of Noah (Gen 6:9), the toledoth of the sons of Noah (Gen 10:1-7, 22-23), the toledoth of Shem (Gen 11:10-26), the toledoth of Terah (Gen 11:27), the toledoth of Ishmael (Gen 25:12-18), the toledoth of Isaac (Gen 25:19), the toledoth of Esau (Gen 36:1-30), and by way of summation, the toledoth of Jacob (Gen 46:8-27). Such periodization of history in an attempt to sew together the mythic past with the patriarchal era for example is a central concern of the Priestly source. In Genesis 4:17-22, however, we get a rare instance where the Yahwist source has also left behind a toledoth; its genealogical list, however, looks cannily similar to that of P’s (Gen 5:1-25), yet strikingly different.
J’s toledothP’s toledothAdamAdamCainSethEnochEnoshIradKenanMethuyaelMahalalelMethushaelJaredLamechEnochNoahMethuselah
In comparing the two lists above, it is clear that they both exhibit similar traits, which might suggest that they both made use of a common textual or oral source. Yet it is also possible that P was working from different archival material or, as some scholars have suggested, was actually rewriting J. Another marked feature is that the Cain and Abel story is only found in the J narrative, while there is no mention of Seth (#7). P, on the other hand, makes no mention of Cain and Abel and gives us only a genealogy for Seth, who is the first born of Adam (5:3-4)—likewise the genealogical list found in 1 Chr 1-3.
There can be little doubt that both lists, J’s (4:17-24) and P’s (5:1-32), are fictional and were heavily influenced by Mesopotamian literary traditions. Both the lists of antediluvian patriarchs in Genesis 5:1-32 and the Sumerian Kings List express, in mythical terms, how the life-span of man was drastically reduced after the flood, and both sources list ten antediluvian figures who live mythically long lives prior to each account’s flood narrative. This is dramatized considerably more in the Sumerian Kings List where we have kings reigning for twenty to seventy thousand year periods prior to the flood. Obviously we are in the realm of myth, not historical data, and the biblical scribes were well aware of this fact.
A contradiction a day! These 3 leave me off the hook for a bit. Make sure you plug back in on the 11th. The 11th contradiciton (I am officially numbering them; that’s right!) is one of my favorites because we start to see how the various biblical authors crafted their narratives in a manner that legitimated and advocated for their own theological convictions and even placed those convictions on the lips of Yahweh!