Week Four: Genesis 5; Moses 6
When I realized no one had chosen to present the genealogies in Genesis 5 and Moses 6, I pounced. Why on earth would anyone be itching to dig into those interminable lists of names? Let me explain with a not-so-brief digression—
My parents barely escaped the inferno of the Holocaust. Soon after WWII ended, they narrowly escaped living under Communism in the Soviet satellite country of Hungary.
My father weathered the most lethal year of the Holocaust in Hungary, hiding in an area of Budapest known as the International Ghetto. There, dozens of Jewish residents crowded into single apartments intended to house one family. My father, then 16– blond, blue-eyed, and brave – would make forays into the city disguised as a Nazi soldier to get medications and various necessities for other residents.
My mother was able to leave Hungary. At twelve years old, she journeyed through many countries searching for sanctuary. She found it after swimming across a river into Switzerland.
Through an unexpected scholarship and dedicated romance, my parents found themselves in Seattle, Washington by 1949. In 1950, they married under a chuppah in Los Angeles. A couple of years later I was born in San Francisco.
After the war, distraught at the death sentence Judaism had passed on family and friends, and unimpressed by supposed Christians who watched and even facilitated Nazi’s killing their neighbors, my father turned away from faith in God. My mother sought meaning in spirituality.
One day, a salesman came to our door offering my mother a 10-volume set of The Bible Story books. Shocked at the price, my mother said, “No thank you.” The man left. But my mother, overcome with regret, caught up with him at the corner and breathlessly reneged— “I need to buy those books for my children,” she said. “I’ll find a way to pay for them.”
These beautifully illustrated Bible Stories shaped my earliest understanding of the Old and New Testaments. My dear mother read them to us every night. I believe they nurtured the root which flourished, while I was in college, into a conviction that Jesus was the Messiah and then into a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
And here is where the digression rejoins the lesson. The author of these Bible Stories once mentioned that when asked, one little girl had told him her favorite part of the Bible was the “Begats.”
WHAT?? THE BEGATS!!!! REALLY? I’d always wondered why would one spend one tiny line of limited text, listing boring names and births? Why! Well, here’s the answer I got to the question: “Why love the “Begats”?
A lot of space in the Bible and in Latter-day scripture is devoted to ‘Begats’. In Genesis 5 we learn who begat whom, we are told TWICE how long each patriarch lived. This information is repeated in Moses 6.
Geneologies provide scaffolding for all of the subsequent events in Genesis, Exodus, Moses, Matthew and many other books of scripture. Lists of births and parentage, going back to Adam and Eve…who go back to God, remind us that we are each part of God’s family, blessed with a royal heritage. The recounting of parentage and birth is a testament to the significance of every family, every birth, and all those on our family tree.
Paradoxically, in Judaic law, religious/ethnic identity is very explicitly recorded through the mother. Because my mother was born Jewish, I am considered Jewish. Because I am considered Jewish, my children are as well. However, while grandchildren born to my own daughters (neither of whom are married to Jewish husbands) are technically considered Jewish, those born to my sons (who are also married to non-Jews) are not.
Yet records in Genesis and Moses are strictly patriarchal – from father to son to father to son. This is the pattern followed in the identification of Jesus’ heritage. Christ was not technically Joseph’s flesh and blood, yet his line is traced through Joseph, all the way back to King David and beyond.
To digress, again: In my early 20s, I’d been baptized only a few years when I met a fellow graduate student who was enormously faithful but struggled with Biblical (and Latter-day) revelation that God had created the earth in one week. He told me of his struggle. It’s embarrassing to admit I had not struggled much with this issue. I figured, when important, discrepancies would be resolved. I suppose it was important then because the answers this man shared have enlightened my understanding since he shared them with me so many years ago.
Before working on a PhD in mathematics he’d served a mission in Taiwan and helped translate the Book of Mormon into Chinese. He pleaded with the Lord to understand differences between the Biblical account of creation and evidence of archeology, anthropology and geology. One evening, kicking up bio effervescent sand on a Santa Cruz beach, he explained the answer he’d received after praying and fasting :
Adam was the first man on earth to receive the priesthood. Adam was the first man to whom the Plan of Salvation was revealed in its entire beauty and simplicity. As I re-read these pages in Genesis and, in particular, Moses, the revelations that came to my friend were expanded, corroborated, and reiterated. After Seth’s son, Enos, is born we learn:
“And then these men began to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them;…. “
It was the men included in these endless lists of ‘Begats’ who began to exist in relationship to the Lord, with knowledge of Him and His laws and His plan for our salvation.
“And a Book of Remembrance was kept… for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration. And by them their children were taught to read and write…
Now this same Priesthood which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also.”
Wow! As someone who homeschooled many children, this passage was remarkable. Parents have been teaching their children to read and write (with the Lord’s help,) since the beginning of recorded scriptural history. It’s clearly no big deal… and though I guess Adam and Eve walked and talked with God himself, they certainly had fewer online resources than we have.
So, back to the ‘Begats’. These long-lived men, who helped to populate the earth with a mixed multitude, included some of the most revered names in history Adam,Jared, Enoch, who walked with God and fathered Methuselah, the oldest man in the Bible, Noah and many others. These ‘Begats’ bespeak the significance of our births and parentage throughout time. Reading of the patriarchs I felt motivated to flesh out the accounts of my own children’s births and deeds. Our births, our choices and our relationships are and have ALWAYS been important. The begats … reaffirm the importance of each link in our eternal family chain.
Many in my family died in Auschwitz or by the banks of the Danube river. Their physical resting places are lost to us. Upon learning this, my grief at their absence in both life and death felt deep and irreparable. The knowledge that families have the potential to be sealed together forever through Temple ordinances changed my experience of this life. Like jewels bound together in a necklace, the ‘begats’ in the scriptures and our own lives, link families together through centuries and millennia. The generations of our big human family, living and dead, going all the way back to the Biblically recorded “begats”, can and will be part of one unbroken circle of love, connected through all time and eternity.