There are a number of inconsistencies in the genealogical list(s) of chapter 10, often referred to as the Table of Nations because the names are used eponymously by their authors to designate various geographies and/or ethnicities.
These inconsistencies result from the fact that the Table of Nations incorporates material from both J and P. In other words, chapter 10 is a mishmash of JP material: P’s genealogy includes verses 1-7, 20, 22-23, and 31-32, and J’s verses 8-19, 21, and 24-30. This in itself explains the two different renditions of Cush’s offspring—a confusion which stems from the fact that there were apparently two different traditions concerning the geographical location of Cush: in Ethiopia or in Mesopotamia.
After providing us with the geographical dispersion of Cush’s children—Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sebteca (10:7)—P’s toledoth is then interrupted by an insertion of J material—J’s brief remarks about Nimrod: “And Cush fathered Nimrod” (10:8). This allows for the inclusion of J’s genealogical stories about Babylon, Assyria, and the Philistines and Canaanites (10:10-19). This material accentuates a theme present throughout J’s primeval history: an interest in beginnings especially representative of the emergence and continuation of civilizations, and by extension human violence—here alluded to in the story of Nimrod and the founding of the Babylonian kingdom. Most likely this J material is but a fragment of what was originally there in the J source prior to the editorial cut-and-paste job which left us with the current text’s brief mention of the great Nimrod. If J’s narrative is removed, however, P’s genealogical list of Noah’s sons flows unbroken and continuous from 10:2-7 to 10:22, and, contrary to J’s negative and violent portrait of early humanity, P’s list is presented as evidence of the fulfillment of the divine blessing “be fruitful and multiply.”1
And Japhet’s children were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Yawan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. And Gomer’s children were Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. And Yawan’s children were Elisha, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. (10:2-4)
And Ham’s children were Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. And Cush’s children Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sebteca. And Ramah’s children were Sheba and Dedan. (10:6-7)
And Shem’s children were Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. And Aram’s children were Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. (10:22-23)
With respect to the descendants of Joktan, J’s list consists of geographies associated with southern Arabia, which lends further support to the claim that the southern kingdom was the place of composition for J. The Havilah mentioned here (cf. Gen 25:18), as with Cush, derives from the tradition which sees these locales as belonging to southern Arabia and Ethiopia. This accounts for the two different fathers of Havilah and S(h)eba mentioned by our two different sources. Thus, the discrepancies in the current form of the text are predominantly explained by recognizing the two sources which make up the genealogical list of the Table of Nations, and which were woven together at a later date.
- Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch, 90-91.↵