Saturday, May 23, 2009

Peleg: Time of Division

To Eber were born two sons: the first was called Peleg, because it was in his time that the earth was divided, and his brother was called Joktan. (Genesis 10:25)

Alice C. Linsley

This verse has perplexed readers of Genesis for centuries. It is often associated with the Tower of Babel and seen as a marker of the time when God created many languages as an act of divine judgment.  However, all of the languages spoken by the peoples listed in Genesis 4-12 are in the Afro-Asiatic family or emerged from a common Proto-Afroasiatic source. When did this happen? The best guess is in the ninth century B.C.

Militarev, who linked proto-Afroasiatic to the Natufian culture, believes the Proto-Afroasiatic language family to be about 10,000 years old. He wrote that the "Proto-Afrasian language, on the verge of a split into daughter languages" (Cushitic, Omotic, Egyptian, Semitic and Chadic-Berber) "should be roughly dated to the ninth millennium B.C."

Another view holds that this division pertains to tectonic activity. The German scholar Alfred Wagener insisted that the division referred to tectonic drift beginning in Peleg's time, but analysis of Genesis 4 and 5 indicates that Peleg lived in the Bronze Age. The tectonic drift interpretation is impossible as humans were not on the surface of the earth until after the separation of the continents. Wagener's interpretation ignores a vast body of data and important details in Genesis about Noah and his descendants.
Wagener was correct, however, in thinking that the word "Peleg" has to do with separation by waterways. Genesis reveals that after the time of Peleg there was a separation of the ruler-priests lines who controlled separate water systems of the ancient Afro-Asiatic world. The line of Ramaah, Nimrod's brother, was estbalished in northern Arabia. These are the Afro-Arabians whose language was old Arabic. The line of Nimrod settled and established cities in the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley. These are the ancestors of those who spoke Aramaic. So, there was a geographical and linguistic separation of priestly lines. However, the priestly lines continued to intermarry exclusively. They did not change the marriage pattern of their Horite ancestors.

The evidence for ruler-priests exercising control over water systems is found as early as Noah whose homeland was in Bor-No (Land of Noah), in the region of Lake Chad. He lived during the late Holocene Wet Period 8-7,000 years ago. Though Genesis doesn't explicitly state that Noah lived in Africa, it is evident from analysis of the Genesis genealogies that he and Abraham's ancestors were Nilotic peoples. DNA studies have demonstrated that Noah's descendents moved out of Africa into the Arabah. This was the first time of division. The time of Peleg would be the second, when the Kushite migration continued into Mesopotamia.

It is not entirely clear at what point the clans became geographically separated, but it is clear that their kinship pattern did not change.

Further, written records already existed in the time of Nimrod, Noah's great great grandson. Those records indicate that "the earth" refers is the Afro-Asiatic Dominion which extended west into central Africa and east into Mesopotamia. This is why Genesis contains eastern and western accounts of the creation and of the flood. In In the eastern/Nilotic account, Noah takes only one pair of animals on board and releases a dove.  In the western/Asiatic account, he takes seven pairs of clean animals and releases a raven. Africa is not a habitat for ravens, but there are many varieties of doves.

The Clue of Two Sons
Genesis tells us that Eber had "two sons". These words are a clue that the text is speaking of a territory here. Two sons always represents a land holding in Genesis. So we may safely assume that the division of Peleg's time had to do with a separation or parting of ways between two sons or two lines of descendents. The question is which sons or lines separated? To answer that we must look more closely at the genealogical information.

Note that the name "Peleg" doesn’t appear in the lines from which Abraham descends. As far as we know Peleg had no offspring. The lack of information about Peleg's offspring suggests that a separation of clans had taken place at this time. Or it could mean:

a. a loss of information (not likely)

b. a change in kinship pattern (not supported by the evidence), or

c. a veiling of Abraham's Horite blood.

Analysis of the geneological data reveals that critical information is missing about the chiefs who were the contemporaries of Reu, Serug and Nahor. (See chart at right.) The information that is missing pertains to Abraham's mother's people who controlled a region between Mt. Hor (northeast of Kadesh-barnea) and Mt. Harun (near Petra). Genesis 10:30 tells us that these were the clans whose dwelling place extended from Mesha "all the way to Sephar, the eastern mountain range." They are called Horites (Egyptian Khar) in Genesis 14:6, 36:20 and in Deuteronomy 2:12. Numbers 33:27-28 mentions 'Terah' as a place near Mount Harun (Mount of Aaron in Jordan).

Besides being the name of Abraham's father, Terah is also the name of an Arabian tribe (Terabin) that dwells chiefly between Gaza and Beersheba. This information links Terah to the clans of Joktan and Sheba, from which he took his wife, Abraham's mother. It also suggests that Terah's mother was a daughter of a Horite chief named Terah. She named her first-born son by Terah after her father, according to the cousin bride's naming prerogative.

With this information, we are able to list the rulers whose names do not appear in Genesis 10 and 11. The reconstructed chart (below) shows the intermarriage between the lines of Eber and Sheba and reveals Abraham's connections to the Horites of Canaan through his father and his mother. As bloodline was figured through the mother, Abraham would have been regarded as Horite.

After Joktan the Elder married a daughter of Sheba, the Arameans and the Afro-Arabians became established in geographically distant regions. However, their kinship pattern remained unchanged. The lines of Eber and Sheba continued to intermarry, which means that wives were chosen from kin of distant territories (as did Jacob when he married his patrilineal cousin). Their pattern of intermarriage parallels the pattern of intermarriage between the lines of Cain and Seth, the lines of Ham and Shem and the lines of Abraham and Nahor. Apparently, the territorial division began about five generations before Abraham, but can only be understood as geographical separation, not social separation.

Though the clans of Peleg, Joktan and Sheba became geographically separated, they continued to intermarry according to a long-standing kinship pattern. It is interesting to speculate why preservation of the bloodline was so important to these rulers. Could it be that they knew themselves to be direct heirs of God's promise that the Son of God would be born to their bloodlines?  Indeed that is exactly what happened when Jesus was born to Mary, the daughter of a priest and the patrilineal cousin of Joseph of the priestly line of Mattai.

Related reading:  Noah's HomelandThe Christ in Nilotic MythologyNoah's Sons and Their Descendants; Nimrod: Afro-Asiatic Kingdom Builder; God's Word Never Fails


Anonymous said...

Gen 11.18, and on, shows that Peleg had descendants Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, and Abram.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I refer you to Genesis 10:24-30.

Bereangirl said...


Please forgive my ignorance, but can you please tell me why the division spoken of in Peleg's day was not the tower of Babel where God confused everyone's speech? In Gen 11 where we are told that is how God scattered the peoples abroad, instead of water ways. I would think that the earth would have been divided by many water ways after the flood when the fountains of the deep were broken up and would probably account for why that area was more wet then now. Wouldn't Bable also account for the commonality of social behavior throught the nations, and why most if not all nations have an account of the flood as well as the tower of Babel?

Alice C. Linsley said...

There certainly was a linguistic separation in Peleg's time and that is what the Tower of Babel story indicates. The Afro-Asiatics were one people who spoke one language with various dialects (Gen 11:1). A division developed with two large branches: Afro-Arabian (called Dedanite or Old Arabic) and Aramaic (language of Padan-Aram).

The water ways didn't divide them. The rulers who controlled the water systems lived apart and developed linguistic differences. However, the priestly lines of the Horite rulers continued to intermarry exclusively in the same pattern as their ancestors in Genesi 4 and 5.

The Afro-Asiatic language group is one of at least 17 major language groups. Genesis lists only Afro-Asiatic languages and languages of the Levant which was controlled by the Afro-Asiatics.

Anonymous said...

Joktan and Jokshan are not the same person. Joktan son of Eber, Jokshan son of Abraham and Keturah. Jokshan denotes the lineage of Sheba as Joktan son of Eber was married to a daughter of Sheba. Sheba lineage went into the Sabeans, and Saba, to the Queen of Sheba descendant of Joktan son of Eber. Sheba is typically identified as Saba, a nation once spanning the Red Sea on the coasts of what are now Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen, in Arabia Felix. . In Islamic tradition she was called Balqis or Balkis by the Arabians, who say she came from the city of Sheba, also called Mareb, in Yemen or Arabia Felix.
Bilqis Bint As-Sairah. Her father was called Al-Hudhad, or Shurahil Ibn Dhi Jadan Ibn As-Sairah Ibn Al-Harith Ibn Qais Ibn Saifi Ibn Saba' Ibn Yashjub Ibn Ya `rub Ibn Qahtan.

Alice C. Linsley said...

There is more than one ruler named Joktan or Jokshan in the Bible. The root of the names is the same, however.

The clan of Sheba intermarried with the clan of Joktan and with the Ketu-Jebu whose western boundary is marked by a 70 foot high wall that runs for 100 miles in Nigeria. See Patrick Darling's report on Eredo. The local people say that Eredo belonged to Bilqis.

Ketu-ra was an important woman for Abraham to marry. She was connected to all three clans: Joktan, Jebus, and Sheba.

Anonymous said...

God's creation of multiple languages at the Tower of Babel occurred in the third generation of men after the flood. The "division" of Peleg occurred in the fifth generation after the flood. Population growth went from hunter-gathers to farmers and herdsmen. Large herds of cattle and other livestock grew too large. Chieftains of clans resolved this issue by looking for and finding new land and water resources.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I refer you to the essay on The Tower of Babel.

In Genesis we find the ruler-shepherds settling the problem of large herds and water by separating the herds. This happened with Abraham and Lot. It was not such a great problem for rulers in established territories (territories they inherited from their fathers) because they controlled the waters systems within their territories. Abraham had not yet become established with a territory of his own.

Anonymous said...


Based on your article - Peleg: Time of Division - you agree that Wagner's observation of "Peleg" has to do with the separation by waterways. The early inhabitants of this region created waterways from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to provide irrigation for crops and livestock. Clans overseen by chieftains regulated the flow of water, which tended to create disputes among them. Peleg and his brother, Joktan, were both Chieftains of their clan, and both owned land and livestock. Some believe that Peleg's "division" centered around a dispute between him and Joktan over land and water rights.

"the Dude" said...

"Peleg" sounds very similar to various languages' words for split/2/pair (pali, paru, pela)

(eg. sanskrit kapalam = half portion, kabalam = sphere/skull).

Anonymous said...

IMO the divide means blood and other things as
well like water,family
If you look at the word Tower Rew =Reu
He wasn't even in the table of nations Just IMO
Thank you Jesus