Friday, January 3, 2014

Reading Genealogies

“Reading Genealogies We do not normally read the genealogies in the biblical texts. The names are difficult to pronounce and the repetition boring. We struggle to know how to read the genealogies, how we should understand them. Sometimes we find tension between different genealogical lists. For example, the names found in Genesis 4:17–26 appear also in Genesis 5:1–32, but in different order and with slight variations on some of the names. Usually we do not read the genealogies closely enough to notice such variations.

In our culture we record genealogies to tell exactly who is related to whom by blood and marriage. We develop elaborately branched genealogies with complex relationships between their various segments. We seldom find such elaborately segmented genealogies in the Bible. The function of genealogy in ancient Israel was less to record data than to talk about groupings. Genealogies were lists that grouped and ordered different aspects of Israel’s domestic, political, and religious life (R. R. Wilson, 1977: 38–45). If we require biblical genealogies to be like ours, we will find ourselves pushing and tugging to get all the relationships to fit in so they come out “right.” Doing that will cause us considerable frustration and likely cause us to miss what is available in the genealogy.
Perhaps we can learn to ask different questions as we read biblical genealogies. Suppose we begin by asking why each genealogy appears in its particular place. Often we find such a list at the end or sometimes the beginning of a narrative section. Positioned there, the genealogy may function to bring a narrative to a close or serve as a transition to the next narrative (e.g., Gen. 36). The list may group some persons together, distinguishing them from other persons that have been or will be important in the narrative (e.g., Gen. 25:12–18). Or the genealogy may function to tie a person or group to its roots: family, religious, or political roots (e.g., Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew).
Second, we need to look inside the genealogy to see what stands out as important in the flow of the list. Even in the most repetitious genealogy, we can search for variations and pay close attention to those. Not always, but often those variations signal important elements in the genealogy as it comes to us.
Third, we need to look closely at the genealogy to find out why this list was passed on. For example, Genesis 4:17–22 served to group together various occupations, and Genesis 10 organized different national groups. The genealogies can tell us much about how Israel understood the order of its world and its community.
Genealogies may never become favorite texts. However, as we learn how to read them, we can find different kinds of information than simply who gave birth to whom.” via the Logos Bible Android app.

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