Who Was Born When Enosh Was 90?: A Semantic Reevaluation of William Henry Green’s Chronological Gaps

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This article was first published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Westminster Theological Journal, pp. 193-218, and has been republished here with permission of the author and the editors of WTJ.

Excerpt For a number of years, the ABR staff has been endeavoring to conduct research on the Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. As we worked towards the launching of this important project, Pastor Jeremy Sexton published this article in the Westminster Journal. Since it was very much in accord with the direction of our research, we invited Pastor Sexton to republish his article here, and he graciously agreed. We expect this to be the first of many articles (re)published by ABR that deal with this important, ancient, and complex subject. For more about the project, please visit: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/about/ancientneareasternbiblicalchronologies.aspx Continue reading

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I. The Genesis of the Primeval Chronology Debate

In 1890, William Henry Green, professor of Oriental and Old Testament Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, published his seminal essay “Primeval Chronology.”1 He argued that “the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended to be used, and cannot properly be used, for the construction of a chronology.”2 He concluded that “the Scriptures furnish no chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham."3

Green’s proposal challenged the long-established approach to Gen 5 and 11. Biblical interpreters had been reading the genealogies as chronologies since before Christ. Jewish historians Demetrius (ca. 200 BC), Eupolemus (ca. 160 BC), and Josephus (ca. AD 93), as well as the authors of Jubilees (ca. 150 BC) and Seder Olam Rabbah (ca. AD 150), used the genealogies for chronological computation.4 Several early and medieval churchmen-for example, Theophilus of Antioch (ca. 168), Julius Africanus (ca. 218), Origen (ca. 230), Eusebius (ca. 315), Augustine (ca. 354), Bede (ca. 723), and Cedrenus (ca. 1060)-did likewise.5 Luther dated creation to 3960 BC, Melanchthon to 3963 BC, and “Geneva” to 3943 BC.6 During the interval between the Reformation and the publication of Green’s essay, Ussher dated creation to 4004 BC, Vossius to 5590 BC, Playfair to 4007 BC, Jackson to 5426 BC, Hales to 5411 BC, and Russell to 5441 BC.7 This is merely a small sampling of those who used Gen 5 and 11 for the construction of a chronology. By 1890 the chronological interpretation had deep roots.

Chronological computation has always been so inviting because Gen 5 and 11 specify the age of each patriarch at the birth of his descendant, unlike any other genealogies in Scripture or in extant ancient Near Eastern writings.8 The text says that when Adam was 130, he begat Seth (Gen 5:3); when Seth was 105, he begat Enosh (5:6); when Enosh was 90, he begat Kenan (5:9); and so forth. It appears that one can construct a chronology from Adam to Abraham by adding up the patriarchs’ begetting ages. Green conceded that Gen 5 and 11 give “the prima facie impression” of a chronology, but he attempted to refute the chronological interpretation by arguing for the possibility of genealogical gaps created by the biblical author’s “omission of unimportant names.”9

During the twentieth century, Green’s proposal became the consensus view among evangelical OT scholars. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. included Green’s landmark paper in his compilation of Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, considering it one of “the finest moments in Old Testament scholarship.”10

Green’s hypothesis is attractive because it reconciles Scripture with the academically accepted antiquity of mankind. According to the chronological interpretation of Gen 5 and 11 in the Masoretic Text (MT), God created Adam c. 4000 BC. The Septuagint (LXX), with its higher begetting ages, puts the creation of Adam c. 5500 BC. Few anthropologists accept such recent dates for the origin of the human race. Green’s theory also removes any discrepancy between the conventional chronology of ancient Egypt and the date of the flood. A deluge that destroyed all of mankind must have happened before Egypt’s first dynasty, whose accepted date of commencement is c. 3000 BC.11 The problem is that Noah’s flood, according to the chronology in the MT, dates to c. 2500 BC at the earliest (Ussher dated it to 2348 BC). The longer chronology in the LXX puts the flood before Egyptian history, but Green insisted on the accuracy of the MT’s begetting ages. He proposed an appealing solution: gaps in Gen 5 and 11 that do not impose a timeline on the interpreter.12

II. Green’s Gaps

1. The Case for Genealogical Gaps

In the first half of his essay, Green shows that biblical genealogies are sometimes “abbreviated by the omission of unimportant names.”13 He appeals first to the familiar omissions in the genealogy of Jesus in Matt 1.14 For example, Matt 1:8 says that “Joram begat Uzziah,” even though Uzziah (also called “Azariah”) was Joram’s great-great-grandson (1 Chr 3:11–12). Green then points out omissions in OT genealogies (e.g., Ezra 7:1–5; cf. 1 Chr 6:3–14).15 He also discusses OT passages that use the Hebrew verb ילד (“to bear, give birth to, bring forth, beget”).16 The hiphil of ילד occurs fifty-three times in Gen 5 and 11:10–26, thirty-six times as וַיּוֹלֶד (“he begat”) and seventeen times as הוֹלִידוֹ (“[after] he begat”).17 Green’s purpose is to show that this verb can be used of remote descendants as well as immediate offspring.

Green recognizes that the hiphil verbs וַיּוֹלֶד and הוֹלִידוֹ describe the event of birth throughout Gen 5 and 11. Commenting on Gen 5:9 (“When Enosh had lived 90 years, he begat [וַיּוֹלֶד] Kenan”), Green affirms that “when Enosh was ninety … one was born.”18 Eight more times Green acknowledges that the genealogies specify the age of each patriarch at the “birth” of his “son.”19 Modern OT scholars concur. Hamilton states that וַיּוֹלֶד and הוֹלִידוֹ refer to “the birthing process,” that is, “the actual delivery of a son or daughter.”20 He notes in his commentary on Genesis that the genealogies provide “the age of the father at the birth” of his son, for וַיּוֹלֶד “repeatedly” describes “the son’s birth.”21 Lessing and Steinmann agree that the genealogies furnish “the age of each ancestor at the birth of his descendant.”22 Waltke and O’Connor show that the hiphil and hophal (the causative forms) of ילד describe the “event” of birth.23 They translate וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת in Gen 5:4 as “he begat (Hiphil) sons and daughters (lit., caused sons and daughters to be born [as an event]).”24 They translate יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת אֶת־פַּרְעֹה in Gen 40:20 as “on Pharaoh’s birthday (Hophal) (lit., on the day of Pharaoh’s having been caused to be born [as an event]).”25 One is “caused to be born” on the day, and in the event, of birth. Isaiah 45:10 illustrates well that the hiphil of ילד refers to delivery. The child in utero asks his father, “What will you bring forth [מַה־תֹּולִיד]?” (Isa 45:10), which indicates that the father has not yet “brought forth” or “begotten” (ילד, hiphil) the child. Oswalt says that the hiphil verb תֹּולִיד in this verse makes “future reference” to the time when the unborn child will be “brought to birth.”26 Young similarly explains that this verse points ahead to the time when the father “will bring forth” (תֹּולִיד) his already conceived child.27 A father “begets” or “brings forth” (ילד, hiphil) his child on the day in which his child is “brought to birth.” Tov argues that the hiphil of ילד throughout the genealogies “refers to the birth of the son rather than the fathering [of the son].”28 The translation “begat” (as well as “fathered”) potentially obscures this point. English Bibles convey the “birthing” sense of ילד in Gen 5 and 11 when they translate it as “had.” For example, the NIV, ESV, NKJV, NASB, CEB, RSV, NRSV, and NLT say that Enosh “had [וַיּוֹלֶד]” other sons and daughters (Gen 5:10b). Throughout the genealogies, the hiphil of ילד describes “the birthing process” or “the actual delivery” of descendants. Neither Green nor modern Hebrew scholars dispute this semantic reality. A descendant was “brought to birth” at the specified age of each patriarch in Gen 5 and 11.

Read the rest of this article by downloading or opening the PDF file. (Additional text will be added to the body of this web posting in the coming days).

About the Author: Jeremy Sexton is pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd in North Augusta, SC, and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Religion (with an emphasis in biblical languages) from Missouri Baptist University and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary. He and his wife Brandy have five boys and one girl, and another boy coming in August!



*Corrigendum on p. 216: "unlike the SP, the LXX in Gen 11 closes each generation with 'and he died' (as does Gen 5)" should read "unlike the SP, the LXX in Gen 11 does not provide the total years of each patriarch's life."


1. William Henry Green, “Primeval Chronology,” BSac 47 (1890): 285-303.

2. Ibid., 286.

3. Ibid., 303.

4. Ε. H. Merrill, “Chronology,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David w. Baker (Downers Grove, IE: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 117-18.

5. William Hales, A New Analysis of Chronology and Geography, History and Prophecy, 2nd ed. (London: C.J.G. & E Rivington, 1830), 1:211-12; Hugh Magennis, The Cambridge Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 100-101.

6. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard, 2nd ed. (Columbus, OH: Scott & Bascom, 1852), 145.

7. Michael Russell, A Connection of Sacred and Profane History, rev. J. Talboys Wheeler, 2nd ed. (London: William Tegg, 1865), 1:31-32, 88-90. The earlier dates for creation (ca. 5500 BC) are based on the Septuagint’s longer primeval chronology, to which most Christian interpreters before the Reformation, and many afterward, subscribed (see Appendix B below).

8. Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Meaning of the Chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” Origins 7 (1980): 53, 62; see also Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Genealogies of Gen 5 and 11 and Their Alleged Babylonian Background,” AUSS 16 (1978): 361–74.

9. Green, “Primeval Chronology,” 285–86.

10. Walter C. Kaiser Jr., ed., Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 7.

11. See, e.g., Anthony J. Spalinger, “Chronology and Periodization,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, ed. Donald B. Redford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1:267.

12. Green, “Primeval Chronology,” 300.

13. Ibid., 286.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., 286–93.

16. Ibid., 290–94; see BDB, HALOT, DCH, NIDOTTE, TLOT, TDOT, and TWOT, s.v.ילד.”

17. ילד occurs only in the hiphil stem throughout Gen 5 and 11.

18. Green, “Primeval Chronology,” 298.

19. Ibid., 296–97, 300–301

20. Victor P. Hamilton,ילד,NIDOTTE 2:456. Hamilton wrote the following to me: “The Hebrew word yalad refers to the actual delivery of a son or daughter. That is what I mean by ‘the birthing process.’ The birthing process begins and ends with delivery” (quoted with permission).

21. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 255.

22. R. Reed Lessing and Andrew E. Steinmann, Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament (St. Louis: Concordia, 2013), 55–56.

23. Bruce K. Waltke and Michael P. O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 447–48.

24. Ibid., 447 (parentheses, brackets, and italics original).

25. Ibid., 448 (parentheses, brackets, and italics original).

26. John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40–66, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 209.

27. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 3:204.

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