Abide: Genesis 5; Moses 6
A lot of time passes in Genesis 5. We see fathers and sons’ names and their ages when sons were sired. They lived a lot longer than we do now! In Moses 5 we receive far more detail about post-Eden life but without the connections to genealogy beyond Adam, Abel, Cain, and Lamech.
What are we to understand from these genealogies? What happens when we zoom way out, like in Genesis 5, or we zoom in and receive more detail, like in Moses 6? We’ll discuss that and more in this week’s episode of “Abide: A Maxwell Institute Podcast.”
A lot of time passes in Genesis 5, we see fathers and sons names and their ages when sons were sired and they lived a lot longer than we do now. In Moses 5 we receive far more detail about post-Eden life but without the connections to genealogy beyond Adam, Abel, Cain, and Lamech. What are we to understand from these genealogies? What happens when we zoom way out, like in Genesis 5, or we zoom way in and see more detail, like in Moses 6? We’ll discuss that more in this week’s episode of Abide: the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
My name is Joseph Stuart. I am the Public Communications Specialist at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. Kristian Heal is a research fellow at the Institute. Each week we will be discussing the week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Come, Follow Me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson, but rather to hit on a few key themes from the scripture block so as to help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints and their testimonies of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and engage the world of religious ideas.
Joseph Stuart: Now Kristian, what’s going on in Genesis 5 and Moses 6?
Kristian Heal: Genesis chapter 5 gives the genealogy of the ten generations from Adam to Noah through Seth. It’s formulaic. It kind of feels like we are being introduced to a new history, but one which is more telegraphic than anything we have read so far in Genesis. In this chapter, a man is born, has a son at a certain age, lives for a period longer, fathers other sons and daughters, and then dies. Then their son has a son at a certain age, and lives for a period longer, fathering other sons and daughters, and then dies. Note however that none live longer than a 1,000 years, suggesting that the tradition found in Psalms 94 and 2 Peter 3:8 that a day is a 1,000 years unto the Lord, is being used here to interpret God’s warning to Adam that in the day you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad you shall die. Before the flood, it seems that this 1,000 years is the upper limit of the human lifespan. Methuselah gets closest at 969 years. In Genesis 6:3 however, God vows to limit the age of humans to 120 years, perhaps thinking they can do less damage in less time. Though some, like Abraham, live longer. While Psalms 90:10 seems to reflect the reality of much of ancient Israel when it says that, “The days of our years are threescore and ten. And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Genesis 5 corresponds to Moses chapter 6 through chapter 8 verse 13. Genesis 5 is 443 words in the King James version, corresponding Moses is 5,685 words. Within those 5,000 extra words are some of the most beautiful doctrines of the restoration. We learn more about Adam, the gospel of repentance is preached, and we have an extended story of Enoch; one of the most important biblical figures in the Latter-Day Saint tradition. Enoch just gets 4 verses in Genesis, but the evocativeness of those verses demanded explanation and expansion, generating three separate books of Enoch anciently. First Enoch which survives completely only in etheopic, but is an ancient Jewish text, thought to be written in Aramaic in the centuries before Christ. Second Enoch which survives in Slovenic, but is another ancient Jewish text thought to have originally been written in Greek, perhaps even in Egypt before the first century. And third Enoch which is a Jewish text composed in Hebrew around the 6th or 7th centuries after Christ. We’ll talk more about Enoch, I think, in the next episode on Moses 7 when Terryl Givens will be our special guest.
Joseph Stuart: Thanks for that brief summary. I confess growing up, I never liked reading the genealogy sections, they seemed repetitive and formulaic as you said. What sort of value do you see in going over the 10 generations from Adam to Seth?
Kristian Heal: I think this genealogy section is at first, unpromising. Most of the commentaries that I read on Genesis will spend just a few lines, one or two pages, looking at this. Some that are more interested in history will look at other things. What we find though, is many commentators compare Genesis 5 to other ancient Near-Eastern sources where we find lists of genealogies, most famously perhaps the Samarian king list. The classic version of the Samarian king list says that between the luring of kingship from heaven and the flood, eight Samarian kings reigned for 241,200 years and the 23 Samarian kings that reigned after the flood reigned for 24,510 years. It suddenly feels though in Genesis 5, things are much more realistic even though people are still living through a very long time. So within this ancient Near-Eastern background, we find echoes again of this primeval history of the house of Israel, especially in these chapters 1-11. Constantly hearing these echoes of things that we find in other literatures as we look in subsequent episodes, echoes of the flood, and here the echoes of these lists of kings which are really trying to get us from one place to another in the Samarian king list. From the beginning of kingship to the present day kings, and in this king list, getting us from Adam to where we want to be now which tells us more about the flood. That’s what we start with in Genesis chapter 6.
Joseph Stuart: I also think in the book of Genesis, as we discussed in prior episodes, that it’s compiled during the Babylonian captivity that this genealogical list provides a history to a people. It’s a Western idea that people with a history are people who are connected to God, people who are favored by God. And though this is coming in a Near-Eastern context, I wonder if this is showing the value to the Israelites, to the Jewish people, that they are not just people who are being oppressed in Babylon. They are people with a proud and noble lineage to which they can look to. And in thinking about writing, while oral culture and oral histories are crucial to maintaining a family’s history, a people’s history, when one writes one down, it’s with a hope that it will survive from one generation to the next. And so, these mothers and fathers who are in Babylon raising their children are not just telling their children about their people’s history, they are writing it down with the hope that they will not be oppressed. They will be able to teach their grandchildren and they will know what they did about their religion and about their ancestors. I think about in the Doctrine & Covenants where the Lord commands Joseph Smith that there will be a record kept among you, and I wonder if these genealogical records fulfill this same sort of commandment from the Lord which is to say, you need to keep a record of what you have done so that you can refer back to what you have done in the day of judgment, but also so that here on earth people can refer back to what you have done and draw inspiration and draw lessons from it.
Kristian Heal: I think those are two great points: one, the importance of genealogical lists in locating us and connecting us to some aspect of the past that gives us meaning and purpose. Here we are connecting Noah to Adam, later on we will be connecting Noah’s child to Abraham, so we have this direct line when we talk about Abraham, the kind of patriarch of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the three Abrahamic faiths, we are talking about a descendant of this direct connection. And the same when Jesus is introduced in Matthew, we have this direct connection from Jesus back to Adam, so we are doing interesting things there.
Joseph Stuart: Now, I have a question because you bring up the Samarian king list and in other episodes we’ll talk about other ancient Near-Eastern documents that mirror what is in Genesis and other Old Testament books. How would you describe to someone why ancient Israelites have similar narratives or similar practices to their ancient Near-Eastern neighbors, that we accept as scripture, but that we don’t necessarily accept as scripture from other civilizations or other nations?
Kristian Heal: Now I think that’s a really interesting question, one of the best answers to this is that the Israelites are simply using the established genres of their time in the same way that General Authorities today would preach a sermon, which is a genre as Christians throughout the world are using. Or will write a letter in the same way that other people write letters, or us scholars will write articles because that’s what other people do. The content of those, however, becomes the thing which is different and so Jewish writers of the Bible are using, thinking about other creation stories, but writing a creation story which has at its heart, the work of God, or the work of their God, of Jehovah God. I think in each of these cases, God didn’t inspire the Israelites to write history, he just inspired them to write better history. We’ll have these genealogical lists that sound like other genealogical lists, but they are performing a particular purpose. And so, this is how, I think all of us, kind of work. We’ll look at genres, and very rarely new genres get created. We look at existing genres, which provide a vehicle for saying certain things and will take that, and we’ll use them and repurpose them to say the thing that we want to.
Joseph Stuart: While you were explaining that, what came to mind is that Joseph Smith borrowed the term, General Conference, from Methodists in Antebellum America. And the idea that Joseph Smith took what was there, prayed to receive more inspiration, and adapted it to the Saints’ circumstances. So that strikes me as useful to think about not just writing a kind of history, but writing a better history. I’m curious, do you think that there’s a theological significance to these genealogical lists, beyond establishing an intellectual or literal genealogy for the ancient Israelites? Or do you think that there is something bigger going on there?
Kristian Heal: I’d like to think that one of the things that this genealogical list conveys is the overlapping of generations. Adam lived to the generation of Noah’s father, Nemec. And Noah in turn, would have witnessed the 60th birthday of Abraham. And so we have this wonderful overlap. And of course, today we don’t have such extraordinary overlap. We talk to the oldest person living in our particular valley, and think about the oldest person that they knew in their lives, you’re not very far away from the Prophet Joseph Smith for example. And so I think this idea of a multigenerational personal family, ward family, church family, that is able to pass down, and be aware of, and be eager to learn from the elders of the previous generations, creates this sense of continuity that we find a little bit in Christianity. For example, we have apostles and those who knew the apostles, and those who knew those who knew the apostles. And so we have this tradition of orality as well as in what we’re writing that gets us somehow closer to or gives us a more direct connection to the sources of revelation and knowledge.
Joseph Stuart: Switching gears a little bit, I’m curious, why does the Bible talk about the Book of the generations of Adam? So obviously, Adam is the first man, Eve is the first woman, but why is it so important to link it directly to Adam?
Kristian Heal: I think there’s something interesting going on here. The Book of Moses expands on it when it tells us that Adam was given a commandment to write. This was not just a commandment to him, but a commandment to his posterity. So we have within our own Latter-Day Saint tradition, this emphasis on writing histories, which now, through this revelation goes right back to Adam. So it’s important to write things down. The interesting thing about Genesis is that it points to the fact that the books that we have are made up of other books. That we have sources within them, that they are drawing from other sources. And we see this most clearly, perhaps, in 1st Chronicles 29:29, which says, “Now the acts of David the King, first and last, behold they are written in the Book of Samuel the seer,” that we have, “…and the book of Nathan the prophet,” we don’t have, “…and the book of Gad the seer,” which we don’t have. And so, we suddenly find that these writers of scriptures are drawing from a collection of sources. And we are used to seeing this in the Book of Mormon. Mormon is conscientious in letting us know that he’s found another source, for example the small plates of Nephi. And he’s adding that, or he’s putting two texts together. He’s abridging a certain text and he’ll interject into the text. We also see this in the Bible, this existence of other texts and these really piqued the interest of Latter-Day Saints.
Joseph Stuart: In section 91, for instance of the Doctrine and Covenants, talking about the apocrypha and Joseph Smith is actively asking what is a value here? What are we supposed to draw from this? And you have some great examples of Joseph Smith trying to seek out what has been lost in the record. And I can see how his position as the last prophet in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he is trying to figure out everything that happened in other dispensations, so that he can draw from it and draw knowledge and wisdom to adapt to the situation of the saints.
Kristian Heal: I love that kind of notion of kind of seeking out, of reaching into the past and drawing in, restoring and bringing back, and bringing perhaps for the first time, things which we need in this dispensation. As early as 1830, the history of the church notes that much conjecture and conversation frequently occurred among the saints concerning the books mentioned and referred to in various places in the Old and New Testaments, which were nowhere to be found. Where were these other books? You’ve given us the Book of Mormon, what about these other books? The work in the Book of Moses is clearly designed to help respond to this desire. To restore and bring back these things which were lost. A few years later, Joseph Smith is saying, we’ve not found the book of Joshua or any of the other lost books mentioned in the Bible as yet, nor will we obtain them at present. These things are just around the corner, there’s an imminence to this kind of ongoing restoration, this ongoing discovery. There’s a quotation that I love in a letter from Brigham Young and Willard Richards back to the First Presidency in 1840. They’re on a mission in England and they said, “We’ve lately visited a museum where we saw an Egyptian mummy. On the headstone are many ancient and curious characters and we ask the privilege of copying them for translation, but have not received an answer yet. Shall we copy them and send them to you for translation?” Everyone is now involved in this sort of corporate effort of going out and gathering in these records and bringing to our translator, prophet, seer, revelator, and translator, for greater light and knowledge and to grow this set of books that we now have.
Joseph Stuart: It’s really something to look back on that sort of optimism and just see a world that they are expecting to be exploding with revelation, that they have every confidence that there are so many answers yet to be received, yet to be revealed. And I think sometimes as modern Latter-Day Saints we get bogged down a little bit. We think, oh the days of revelation or miracles were in the past, but in reality they are still happening today. I personally would like to capture some of that optimism, and maybe change the way that I say go forward with faith, isn’t going forward with a certain knowledge that everything will be okay in the end, but going forward with faith, with the expectation that good things are always around the corner. Switching gears again, what do we mean by an acceptable sacrifice when we read that in Moses 6? How do you interpret that, Kristian?
Kristian Heal: We’ve been introduced to the law of sacrifice early on in the book of Moses. God teaches this to Adam through an angel after the Fall. And in Moses 6:3, God reveals himself to Seth and, “…Seth rebelled not, but offered an acceptable sacrifice like unto his brother Abel.” And this notion of an acceptable sacrifice seems to be significant. It seems to be the thing which distinguishes Seth and Abel from, for example, Cain. Who offered a sacrifice in a different spirit. In fact, he offered a sacrifice because Satan told him to. We have these two narratives of sacrifice, which I think can be transposed onto the good things that are done, or seem to be done in the world today. It comes down in part to a number of factors, one, for example, in Moses 5:17. We learn that Abel hearkened unto the voice of the Lord and there seems to be a parallel to harkening in Moses 5:17 and rebelling not in Moses 6:3. This kind of reminds me of Nephi’s experience in the beginning of the Book of Mormon where he describes that, “I Nephi,” he says, “…being exceedingly young, nevertheless large in stature, and also having great desires to know the mysteries of God, wherefore I do cry unto the Lord and behold he did visit and soften my heart and I did believe all the words which have been spoken by my father, wherefore I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.” We have this connection again. Nephi is sort of offering an acceptable sacrifice which is a heart, an unrebellious heart, a harkening heart, a listening heart, which is really interesting.
Joseph Stuart: And I think with hearkening, it speaks to a certain sort of alignment that we can think about, that it’s not just crossing off things that we are supposed to do in order to make our sacrifices. It’s not going to our two hours of church, or doing our ministering assignment because that’s what we are expected to do, but because that’s genuinely what we want to do. It seems in Genesis and in Moses to me that Cain’s heart is the issue, not the actual sacrifice that he made. As someone who likes to be able to put a flourish on the things on my checklist and be able to say I’ve accomplished this, I’ve done this, I don’t need to worry about it for a while, there’s something really powerful to me about saying, it’s one thing to do it, it’s another thing to do it with the love that our Heavenly Parents have for all of their children. It seems to me that Satan telling Cain to perform this sacrifice has a certain way of saying that it becomes more about Cain then about the sacrifice being made. For instance, when I was twelve doing a fast offering route in Utah, I wanted to do the biggest one because I wanted someone to notice that I was working so hard to serve. And looking back, yes, that’s a silly story, but it also points to something that I’ve had to learn over time, which is that someone else’s recognition of what you’ve done isn’t the end game; it’s serving with your heart, might, mind, and strength.
Kristian Heal: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I think that some of the most subtle work, which is done in our own spiritual lives is teasing out why we do the things that we do and purifying our intentions so that we are not acting out of shame, or out of guilt, or out of fear, or out of a desire to promote ourselves, but really finding and drawing upon that pure love of Christ.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I also want to mention here though that sometimes we can get into these big discussions of, am I authentically serving? Am I really following the Spirit? Things like that. It’s okay to do things for the sake of doing them, but always with the aim of doing it more because of our love for God rather than our love of self. So if you’re thinking to yourself, I too take the biggest fast offering packet or whatever the case may be, I do my ministering so that I don’t have to tell my Elder’s Quorum president that I didn’t do it, whatever it is, it’s okay to start there. It’s always about growth and becoming better and moving on from there, which brings us to another section in Moses 6 where it discusses repentance. In fact, there is some really beautiful language there around the promises that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers to each of us, to repent and become closer to God.
Kristian Heal: So in Moses chapter 6 alone, we are taught that we must repent 7 separate times and so this is a distinctive and an important theme here. Right from the beginning, Adam harkens unto the voice of God and called upon his sons to repent. And there’s this emphasis on generationally to teach your children the Gospel, to teach them to repent. When Enoch is called, he is called to preach repentance. And so this message, the message of repentance, which is really a message of hope that you have the chance to change and receive the rewards and blessings for changing, is one that was just here in the foundation of our understanding of the primeval story. From Adam forward, as we understand it now, through this revelation, through the Book of Moses, the gospel of repentance was preached.
Joseph Stuart: Sort of also reminds me of 2nd Nephi chapter 2 again thinking, “Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.” I don’t think that you can take that joy away from repentance, away from becoming a better person. Becoming more spiritually clean through the Atonement of the Savior. And from the beginning, that’s what we’ve been asked to do is to become better, to align ourselves more fully with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kristian Heal: Yeah, exactly. And I think that we see this actually not only taught in Moses 6, but modeled in Moses 6. Enacted by Adam himself who is told in Moses 6:53 by God, “Behold, I have forgiven thee of thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.” Adam went through this process of repentance. This is why we are punished for our own sins, not for Adam’s transgressions. Adam took care of what happened with him and has been forgiven by God. And we have this beautiful scene of him being taken up by the Spirit and baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost and then is told, “Behold, thou art one in me. A son of God and thus may all become sons of God.” And so he sets a pattern for all of his children to follow, that through the waters of baptism, through repentance and baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost, we become one with God, we become sons of God.
Joseph Stuart: As soon as you said that it made me think about the babushka dolls, the Russian dolls, the nesting dolls. And thinking about how all of them are one in one giant figure, but are born out in that way and also thinking of something that my friend Rachel has spoken about. Thinking about generations as these nesting dolls. And thinking about how we fit into a larger context that we come out of somewhere else that only makes sense if we can think about our relationship to the other dolls that are in the other set, ultimately within the one set, within Christ Jesus and within the fold of our Heavenly Parents.
Kristian Heal: I love that idea. And one of the things that strikes me, is that in a generation we are confronting our separation from God. This seems to me to be sort of the test that is presented to us. Even those of us who were brought up within a religion, brought up as Latter-Day Saints, we have to confront this moment of feeling are we able to enter back into the presence of God, are we connected, do we feel alone, do we feel that sort of despair that comes from feeling as though God is not close. I can’t help thinking about Alma 36, when Alma cries out in his deepest moment of despair, “Oh Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me!” And is then blessed with this marvelous light and filled with a joy as exceeding as was his pain. And I think each of us go through this process, where we feel the desire to call out, “Oh Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me!” I think in an active imagination, we can imagine Adam and Eve outside of the garden, no longer in the presence of God hearing the voice, but no longer seeing; having to toil and confront with and wrestle with this earth rather than having God as the gardener and everything growing naturally and freely for them. And crying out when they learn about the Gospel of sacrifice, when they learn about the promised Messiah, “Oh Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me!” and that this response to Adam and to Eve, you’re forgiven of your transgressions in the Garden of Eden is the result of that. And that’s how I sort of imagine this story playing out with the Gospel of repentance with it at its heart.
Joseph Stuart: What a marvelous place to stop for this week. Have a blessed week y’all.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Abide: A Maxwell Institute Podcast. Head on over to iTunes or your preferred podcast provider, subscribe, rate, and leave a review, each of which are worth their weight in podcast gold. You can receive show notes, including references to the sermons and articles referenced in this episode by signing up for the Maxwell Institute Newsletter at mi.byu.edu. Please also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more content on the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Thank you.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)