On the Generations of: A Pattern Usage in Scripture

 

In the 1990s I read Dr. Henry Morris’ The Genesis Record[1].  He postulated that the repeating phrase “These are the generations of . . .” denoted authorship of the section preceding the phrase.  This was in contrast to the commonly held opinion that it serves as a introductory sentence to the subsequent section, as argued in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament[2] (TWOT) discussion of “tôlëdôth[3],” a derivative of  “yälad” [to bear, beget, bring forth] (#867).

Dr. Morris identified the authors as God, Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob.  However,  in closely examining the phrase usage in Hebrew[4], I concluded that, while Dr. Morris had the right idea, he did not see that this pattern involved two distinct phrases:  one starting with the disjunctive waw (we – translated as ‘now’) and one starting with the demonstrative pronoun “zeh” (singular ‘this’) or @ëlleh (plural ‘these’).

The phrases are:

“These are the generations of” (@ëlleh thôlëdôth)

“Now these are the generations of” (we@ëlleh thôlëdôth).

I agree with Dr. Morris that “These are the generations of X” occurs at the end of a section and signifies authorship, but I think that “Now these are the generations of X” occurs at the beginning of a section and is a title statement introducing a genealogical list.

The TWOT #867 article comments about the meaning of the word ‘tôlëdôth.”

“The common translation as ‘generations’ does not convey the meaning of the word to modern readers.  The English word ‘generations’ is now limited almost entirely to two meanings:  (1) the act of producing something or the way it is produced; (2) an entire group of people living at the same period of time, or the average length of time that such a group of people live.  Neither of these meanings fits the usage of ‘tôlëdôth.’

As used in the OT, ‘tôlëdöth’ refers to what is produced or brought into being by someone, or follows therefrom.”

Thus, I would translate the first phrase as “These are the proceedings of . . . “ as a signature statement to indicate that the previous section was produced by the individual named.  And I would translate the second phrase as “Now these are the generations of . . .” as a title for a list of those descended from or brought forth from the named individual.

Verifying the pattern usage

I decided that the best way to verify this conclusion was to look at every instance of the usage of “these are/were” in the Old Testament.  I wanted to see whether its use without the “we” occurred more frequently at the end of a section and whether its use with a “we” occurred more frequently at the beginning of a section.

I set up a table to count when “these are/were” by itself and in combination with the “we.”  Using e-Sword to identify the verses, I ended up with a table seven pages long.  Therefore, I am only putting the summary count into this essay.

These are the proceed-ings  (end)

And these are the genera-tions (begg) And these are (begg) And these were (end) These are (begg) These are (end)

All these were (end)

4/1            3/2

8

67 7 34 102

20

The specific phrase “these are the tôledöth” occurs only 12 times in Scripture, with a 13th variant of “this is the book of the tôledöth.”  However, in the Septuagint,[5] I found this variant used for one of the 12 occurrances in the Masoretic.

The four instances of “these are the tôledôth” occurring without the “we” all occur in Genesis:

Gen 2.4a:      @ëlleh tôledôth hashshämayim wehä@ärets:  These are the proceedings of the heavens and the earth in their being brought into existence.

Gen 6.9a:      @ëlleh tôledôth nöãch:      These are the proceedings of Nöãch

Gen 11.10a:  @ëlleh tôledôth shëm:       These are the proceedings of Shëm

Gen 37.2a:    @ëlleh tôledôth yaøáqöv: These are the proceedings of Yaøáqöv

The Masoretic variant is:

Gen 5.1a    zeh sëpher tôledöth @ädhäm: This is the book of the proceedings of @Ädhäm.

The Septuagint variant is:

Gen 2.4a       aúta ha bíblos géneseos ouranoû kaì gâs:  This is the book of proceedings of heaven and earth

Six of the eight instances of “and/now these are the tôledöth” occur in Genesis with the last two in Numbers and Ruth.

Gen 10.1a:    we@ëlleh tôledöth benê nöãch:   Now these are the generations of the sons of Nöãch

Gen 11.27a:  we@ëlleh tôledöth terach:  Now these are the generations of Terach

Gen 25.12a:  we@ëlleh tôledöth yishmäøë@l:  Now these are the generations of Yismäøë@l

Gen 25.19a:  we@ëlleh tôledöth yitschäq:  Now these are the generations of Yitschäq

Gen 36.1a:    we@ëlleh töledôth øësäw:  Now these are the generations of ØËsäw

Gen 36.9a:    we@ëlleh töledôth yaøáqöv:  Now these are the generations of Yaøáqöv

Num 3.1a:    we@ëlleh töledôth @ahárön wemösheh:  Now these are the generations of @Ahárön and Mösheh

Ruth 4.18:    we@ëlleh toledôth pärets:  Now these are the generations of Pärets

In looking at the contexts, all of the ‘we@ëlleh’ verses clearly occur at the beginning of a section introducing a list of descendants.  But I don’t think that the same holds true for the ‘@ëlleh’ verses.  My observation of the context is that these occur at the end of a section indicating the author of the preceding section.

The phrase “these are/were” followed by something other than “tôlëdôth” occurs 210 times in Scripture; only 3 of these usages do not involve a list of some kind.

Of the 136 occurring without the “we,” 34 (25%) occur at the beginning of a section and 102 (75%) occur at the end of a section.

Of the 74 occurring with the “we,” 67 (90.5%) occur at the beginning of a section and 7 (9.5%) at the end of a section.

The phrase at Genesis 5.1a inserts ‘sepher’ or ‘book of’ between @ëlleh and tôlëdôth, so I did not count it, but I think it belongs in this category as another ending statement.  The same holds true for the Septuagint’s translation of Genesis 2.4a.

The phrase “All these were” also came up in the search.  It’s not a phrase that I was analyzing, but it is interesting to note that, of the 20 times it is used, it occurs only at the end of a section and never at the beginning of one.  It is clearly a summary statement of what preceded it, which one would expect given the wording.

Thus, I contend that Scripture uses the phrase “these are/were” without the “we” most frequently as a summing up statement at the end of a section or list, while it uses that phrase with the “we” most frequently to introduce a list.  There are exceptions, of course, but overall, that is the usage in Scripture that I have observed.

And again, with respect to the specific phrase “these were/are the tôlëdôth,”—of which all instances without the “we” occur only in Genesis—I reiterate my contention that they occur at the end of a section, and that all instances with the “we” clearly occur at the beginning of a section.

Conclusion

So, based on the overall usage of the phrases “there are/were” and “and/now there are/were” in the Biblical text, I conclude that Dr. Morris was correct in observing that “@ëlleh thôlëdôth” (These are the proceedings of) is a signature statement at the end of a section identifying the author.  I also conclude that I am correct in observing that “we@ëlleh thôlëdôth” (Now these are the generations of) is an introductory statement to a geneaological list of the individual named.

Now, the phrase “@ëlleh thôlëdôth” occurring only five times and only in Genesis begs the question of why its usage was so limited, but I’ll address why I think that happened in another post.

May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Dori

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Footnotes

[1] Morris, Henry. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976.

[2] Harris, R. Laird, et. al.  Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.  Chicago: Moody Bible Institute.  1980, 2v.  Article #867.

[3] The transliterated Hebrew and Greek words in this essay reflect my version of the official  transliteration systems.  Since, in the mid-1990s, I did not have access to word processing software that used the diacritical marks of the official transliteration systems, I developed a transliteration alphabet for both Hebrew and Greek using only the letters and symbols available in MS Word (or other word processing systems). This mostly affected the vowels.  However, in Hebrew, I decided to use the ‘@’ sign for the aleph and the ‘ø’ for the ayin because I was having difficulty distinguishing between the apostrophe and the reverse apostrophe in certain fonts.

[4] Using the Masoretic text of the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia.

[5] Brenton, Sir Lancelot C.L.  The Septuagint with Apocrypha:  Greek and English.  London: Bagster & Sons.  1851 (2001, US: Hendrickson),  1138p, 248p.