meaning, “before the Deluge,” refers to those who lived before the Flood described in
Genesis 6-8. The early chapters of Genesis affirm that the God of Israel is the God who created the world and who guides all of human history. Those chapters connect the history of all humankind to that of God's covenant people, and thus to salvation history.
The Bible tells of the antediluvians through narrative and genealogy. Two distinct genealogies beginning with Adam, trace his descendants through Cain (Genesis 4:1,
Genesis 4:17-24) and through Seth to Noah's sons (Genesis 5:1-32). The names of Enoch and Lamech occur on both genealogies, and other names (such as Cain and Kenan, Irad and Jared) are similar enough in Hebrew to be variations of the same name. This has suggested to some scholars that the two genealogies constitute different traditions concerning the same list.
The genealogy in
Genesis 4:1 is framed by two accounts of violence—1) the murder of Abel by Cain and God's promise of seven-fold vengeance on anyone who harmed Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), and
Genesis 4:2) the war song of Lamech, threatening seventy-seven fold vengeance for any injury (Genesis 4:23-24). In between we are told of the cultural achievements of the antediluvians. Cain is credited with building the first city. The three sons of Lamech are attributed with the origins of cattle raising (Jabal), music (Jubal), and metallurgy (Tubal-cain). Since cultural achievements were often attributed to the gods in the Ancient Near East, the Scripture wants to emphasize that they are achievements of human beings created by the one God. The text is aware of parallel developments—beside the achievements of civilization stood the perennial violence which threatened it and used its technology for destructive purposes. This perpetual struggle to maintain order and to insure the proper use of cultural advances is a part of the human condition.
The longevity attributed to the antediluvians in
Genesis 5:1 is the subject of study and debate. The ages of the antediluvians are reported somewhat differently in the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text), the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). One traditional view is that these people lived longer because they were closer to the state in which God created human beings. Others say that their more simple life and vegetarianism (Genesis 2:16-17;
Genesis 3:18; and
Genesis 9:3) allowed for longer life spans. Some consider the numbers symbolic.
The discovery of lists of Sumerian kings who reigned before the Flood has thrown light on the theological significance of the text. The Sumerian kings, who were considered gods, were said to have lived for tens of thousands of years. In contrast, the biblical antediluvians were clearly human. Genesis emphasizes the oneness of God and the distinction between the Creator and human beings who were created. See Flood.
Wilda W. Morris