My conclusion was that the “division” of the “earth” here was of the surface of Planet Earth—the gradual breakup of Pangaea involving initially rapid continental drift, rather than a figurative “division” of people caused by the confusion of languages at Babel. In arriving at this conclusion I disagreed with a few big names in creation science circles, but decided it was best to be honest about the direction my research took me. Since that article is now over five years old, I thought it wise to check whether any additional studies had been done in the intervening years that called my conclusions into question. It turned out that was the case.
In reviewing several recent articles, I found that most exegetically-based treatments of the passage do three things:
- First, they view the verb palag, typically rendered “divided” in Gen. 10:25, as essentially synonymous with two other verbs, parad and puwtz, that come up several times in Genesis 10 and 11.
- Second, they hold that the Hebrew word eretz in Genesis 10:25 is a metaphor for “people” rather than carrying its usual non-figurative meaning of “earth” or “land.” Thus, they say Genesis 10:25b should be paraphrased, “the name of the one was Peleg, because in his day the people were divided by their languages.”
- Finally, they view all of the information in Genesis 10 and the Babel account of Genesis 11 as a contextual unit, such that information from one chapter influences the interpretation of the other.
In the analysis that follows, my goal is two-fold: first, to show that these approaches do not do justice to the text; and second, to point out that failure to notice the parenthetical nature of certain information leads to misunderstanding the passage.
A Word About Scientific Data
Some interpreters of Genesis 10:25 have raised science-based objections to a literal division of the earth happening years after the Flood had ended. I regard those objections as insignificant, because they assume that properties of the Earth’s mantle—especially its structure, viscosity (how fluid it is), and the tightness with which the Earth’s lithosphere (outer crust) is bound to the upper mantle—are essentially the same today as they were in Peleg’s time. Ironically, creationists are fond of asserting against uniformitarian evolutionists that the present is NOT the key to the past, yet often overlook that truth when it comes to geophysical studies. How can we possibly use indirect methods (seismic studies) done today as a basis for concluding anything definite about the characteristics of the inner Earth when the world was young? Hence, I see no reason for confidence that our current picture of the Earth’s interior tells us what could or could not have happened in Peleg’s time. Besides, science has a nasty history of overturning previously “settled” scientific understandings with new information. It is shifting sand. (In saying this I am not minimizing the valuable work of creationists in attempting to understand what God did in the past. I feel obliged, however, to point out that when a creationist reinterprets data obtained from secular research, it is well-nigh impossible to avoid depending on some assumptions secularists made in originally obtaining the data.)
Instead, I’d rather base my understanding of the passage on observations drawn from the rock-solid foundation of the text of the Word of God, which is inspired and inerrant. Were we to allow fashionable scientific theories to color our exegesis, we might as well say that much of God’s revelation about the world can only be properly understood by Western civilization in the 21st century. God forbid! Our view, rather, is that God had Spirit-guided writers record His thoughts so they would communicate with clarity—not necessarily giving comprehensive understanding—to the people who originally received them, however scientifically unsophisticated they may have been. Therefore, in the remainder of this article I will unapologetically only examine the biblical text.
A Typical Interpretation of Genesis 10:25
Before taking an in-depth look at the passage, let us examine a typical treatment of it by supporters of the Peleg Event = Babel Dispersion view. In a recent online article, “Peleg, Pangea, and the Division of the Earth” [off-site link], author Kyle Butt made some observations typical of those who claim the Peleg “division” is the same as what happened to mankind following the confusion of languages at Babel. It is helpful to first review his arguments:
Most everyone who has read Genesis 10:25 has been intrigued by a particular statement found there. The text says: “To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.” What does the statement, “the earth was divided” mean in this verse?... Many have wondered if this verse could be talking about the breaking up of one supercontinent into the various continents that we see today. While this interpretation is not impossible, it is unlikely.
In the context, this verse comes just seven verses before Genesis 11:1. Of course, in the original language, Genesis was not divided into chapters and verses, so there would have been no chapter division. Thus, Genesis 10:25 would naturally have flowed into the discussion of Babel that immediately follows it. In addition, the word “earth” in the passage leads many people to believe that the division is of the physical continents, since, most of the time, in English, the word relates to the physical mass of land.
Yet Genesis 11:1 gives us another clear meaning of the term as it was being used in the context. The verse says: “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.” What does the text mean when it says “the whole earth?” It is obviously referring to the whole human population that inhabited the Earth. It could not be discussing a physical, geological mass of land.
Interestingly, verse nine of chapter 11 states: “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth, and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Notice that in this verse, the first use of the term “earth” refers to the people on the earth, and the next use “over the face of all the earth” refers to the actual land. The important idea to consider is which “earth” is being divided in this context. The context shows that the “earth” that was divided was the people, and nothing is stated about the division of the land. As Eric Lyons wrote concerning the reference to Peleg: “This is a clear reference to the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel described in chapter 11. The “Earth” (i.e., people; cf. 11:1) divided when God confused the languages (11:7–8). Thus, the division in Peleg’s day is linked contextually to the linguistic segregation at Babel (Genesis 11:1–9)” (Lyons 2004 [off-site link]). It seems the best interpretation of Peleg’s name and the division of the Earth during his lifetime is that the text is referring to the separation of the human population due to the fact that God confused their languages at Babel.
Context is NOT the Only Thing
“Clear meaning...obviously...clear reference.” If this is all so clear, why are we still discussing it? (smile...) But truly, context—the main thing Butt emphasized—is a crucial element in correctly understanding a passage, deserving our careful attention. However, it is not the only factor. When we deal with the Hebrew Old Testament, we are working with an ancient language that most of us have no familiarity with. Not only are the rules of Hebrew grammar different from English, but Hebrew has its own poetic styles, unique idioms with no direct English equivalents, and figurative language we’re not used to. It is as essential for us to properly handle such grammatical matters as it is to recognize context. We tend to leave grammar concerns to well-educated translators, trusting them to eliminate for us any potential misunderstandings caused by the idiosyncrasies of ancient Hebrew. For the most part they do a good job, giving us English versions rendered in such a way that we language rubes won’t generally misconstrue the meaning of the text.
Nevertheless, diligent translators cannot remove our own individual responsibility to carefully handle the text of Scripture. Because not all readers are equally sensitive to the nuances of language, certain aspects—such as properly understanding metaphors, and picking up the implications of parenthetical phrases—often are not handled very well. I believe many have overlooked such factors in their attempts to understand Genesis 10:25.
Let’s dive into our study now. We begin by observing how various English versions render Genesis 10:25, noting how different translators treat the text:
KJV: And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided [palag]; and his brother's name was Joktan.
NASB: Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother's name was Joktan.
ESV: To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother's name was Joktan.
So far, so good; we have perfect agreement among these three versions regarding the use of “divided” to render the verb palag. The various translators were of one mind here. But now, we turn to Genesis 10:32...
KJV: These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided [parad] in the earth after the flood.
NASB: These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.
ESV: These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.
Hmmm...three translations, three different renderings of the same Hebrew verb, parad! This is a red flag indicating something requiring our particular attention. Moreover, the KJV uses “divided” to translate both palag and parad. Since the original Hebrew uses different words, we cannot confidently affirm they both mean “divided” in exactly the same way. We should not shrug this off and simply assume the words are synonyms; rather, we owe it to God to ask why HE inspired the writer to use different Hebrew words in these two verses. The NASB and ESV agree with the KJV in translating palag as “divided” in 10:25, so we have good reason to trust that translation; however, they disagree with the KJV and each other over how to render parad in 10:32. Where the KJV says “divided,” the NASB renders it “separated,” while the ESV elaborates by giving it as “spread abroad,” a somewhat different nuance. The translators have left work for us to do...
Parad, Palag and Puwtz
This overview of translation differences shows we must give close attention to the verbs in Genesis 10 and 11, a fact others likewise have noticed. Answers in Genesis, for example, recently published an article about Genesis 10:25 [off-site link], where its authors wrestled (if somewhat briefly) with how to deal with two of the three important verbs in Genesis 10–11, parad, palag and puwtz:
3. Objection: “Have you carefully looked at the word for ‘divided’ in each reference? They are two different Hebrew words: vs. 25 palag vs. 32 parad. The former can mean to split or cleave and the latter to scatter... What is being divided appears different since the Hebrew verb is different in both verses.”
Answer: The name of Peleg [Strong’s Concordance #06389] in verse 25 is a variant of [#06388] peleg, which in turn is a derivation of [#06385] palag. This same root word for Peleg’s name is also used in Genesis 10:25. It makes sense why this was used in direct reference to Peleg’s name. But this is still different from verse 32 where [#06504] parad is used. However, they each appear in the same context.
Working backward, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament points out that parad is in reference to the scattering of peoples under comment 1806 (discussing parad). They in turn reference A. Wieder, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Lexicographical Notes,” JBL 84:160–64, esp. p. 163–64.
In fact, parad is also the Hebrew word used in Genesis 10:5 where it states: “From these the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated [parad] into their lands, everyone according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.” Later Mosaic writings in Deuteronomy 32:8 also use parad in reference to the split of nations.
This Hebrew word palag is used only three times in Scripture outside of Genesis 10. In 1 Chronicles 1:19 it repeats Genesis 10:25. In one case it refers to a splitting of a water channel when it overflows in poetic Job 38:25. The other usage is in Psalm 55:9 where it refers to splitting of languages. David was speaking of his enemies and was asking the Lord to judge them with the splitting of their tongues. Obviously, David was conjuring thoughts of the Tower of Babel and tongue-shifting there.
Peleg’s name was a direct derivation of palag, and considering the context of Genesis 10, it makes sense this Hebrew name was indeed referring to the linguistic division. So there would be no reason to distance from this plain interpretation.
The key idea in AiG’s understanding of Genesis 10:25 appears to lie in the words, “However, they [palag and parad] each appear in the same context.” By implication this makes them synonymous. Context, however, is not determined merely by how close to each other words are, but on the thrust of the text—where it is going, what it is trying to say. Context is not just a collection of nearby words, but a unit of thought. It’s quite possible to have distinct units of thought in close proximity to each other without their having any contextual dependence on one another. Attempting to interpret them as a contextual unit can be a recipe for exegetical disaster. It is a mistake to jump to the conclusion that because two similar but non-identical words are near each other, they are necessarily synonymous. They may be, but to come to that conclusion requires us to carefully analyze the thought structure of the passage.
When attempting to understand the meaning of a word that is not immediately clear, one should gradually broaden the range of context. One starts with the dictionary definition of the word and, if that doesn’t quite fit a given instance, expands the analysis to the sentence, paragraph, section, chapter or document levels in search of the best fit (perhaps, in the case of the Bible, even checking how the same word is used in other books). When an author uses a word once, though, he tends to use it the same way in other places, so we don’t generally have to dig very deeply to have confidence we understand it correctly. Since we have multiple instances of parad and puwtz in chapters 10 and 11 (as well as 14 instances of eretz from 10:1 through 11:9), we should be able to confidently determine their meanings. The verb palag, however, shows up in Genesis only in verse 10:25, so we’ll need to expand our search for its meaning beyond the immediate context.
As pointed out in the AiG article, biblical references using palag are limited to four: Genesis 10:25; its repeat in 1 Chronicles 1:19; Job 38:25; and Psalm 55:9. This isn’t much to go on, so it’s a great idea to consult a lexicon for guidance. An excellent Hebrew scholar of the recent past, Dr. Bernard Northrup, did the requisite lexical research [off-site link] and derived the following observations:
The word in Genesis 10:25 for “divided” is Strongs 6385—palag (PLG)—to split or to divide (only used for “divided” four times). It is important to note here that Hebrew root words are combinations of consonants. So the basic word Peleg is the same as palag—PLG. The other times it is translated “divided” are:
1 Chron. 1:19 (repeats Gen. 10:25)
Job 38:25 – (NIV) “Who cuts (PLG) a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm?” (KJV) “Who hath divided (PLG) a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder?”
Psalm 55:9 – “Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues” (literally, “council”—3956—from 3960—lashon or lashan—to lick, to wag the tongue, to accuse, to slander; figuratively a fork of flame, a cove of water, a babbler, an evil-speaker, a talker, a wedge, a tongue)
The root PLG is translated “divided” those four times; it is translated as some kind of a body of water, such as a river, ten times; as “dividing” two times and the related word “pelach” as “piece” six times. Thus, the concept of dividing, pieces, and water are strongly connected with this word.
Northrup went on to say,
PaLaG is found in Genesis 10:25, Job 38:25, Psalm 1:3 (He is like a tree planted by PELEG of water...) and elsewhere with the meaning “to divide by water,” a meaning common to both Hebrew and Greek. In some contexts it deteriorates simply to mean “to divide” in Hebrew and Aramaic...Perhaps of special significance to our understanding of that which happened in Genesis 10:25 is this. The fact is that the root under consideration, PaLaG, often, if not usually, contains within it a reference to water. It is used to refer to a stream of water in Psalm 1:3. A similar meaning is found in Coptic, Ethiopic and Greek. The root is used in Akkadian to refer to irrigation canals, which carried the water throughout the farming land of Mesopotamia. A similar use is found in Syrian.
My reason for emphasizing Northrup’s analysis is because the connotation of division by water often tied to palag is crucial to appreciate. Neither parad nor puwtz carry that shade of meaning. Palag is not a word you would normally expect to find used to describe the dividing up of people; both parad and puwtz are much more appropriate, and in fact, this is what we observe in Genesis 10 and 11—verse 10:25 is the exception. To apply palag to the division of people takes one out on an exegetical limb, but both parad and puwtz fit perfectly. We should not ignore this fly in the exegetical ointment.
Northrup was not alone in noting the water connection that characterizes most instances of palag and its derivatives. In “Rightly Dividing the Word about Peleg,” a paper [off-site link] presented at the Creation Research Society annual meeting in July 2009—a few months after my Bible and Spade article came out, so perhaps they were aware of it—Drs. John Morris and James J. S. Johnson of the Institute for Creation Research made similar observations. Dr. Johnson closely examined the philological aspects of Genesis 10:25—that is, as Wikipedia puts in, the factors pertaining to “the study of literary texts and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning.”
From his analysis of Genesis 10:5, 10:25 and 10:32, Johnson’s overall conclusion was that “philological analysis supports the conclusion that Peleg was named for something that occurred after the worldwide Flood, of a geological nature, that had geographical significance” (emphasis in the original). And a significant reason he came to this conclusion is that he, like Northrup before him, also noted the connection of palag division to the action of water. This led him to observe that the word is not a synonym for parad, nor were people the object of its action: “The masculine noun derived from palag... is peleg, which appears 10 times in the Old Testament, and is routinely translated as ‘river.’” This analysis reinforces the case made by Northrup, though it does not tell us exactly how water was involved in the Genesis 10:25 “division.” That is a question for another time.
Getting the Bigger Picture
We will now do our own close examination of several verses in Genesis 10–11 that include our three key verbs, replacing the English translation from the NASB with the Hebrew words behind them so we can understand the verses with greater precision. Doing so will also help us see how the noun eretz relates to those verbs.
GEN. 10:5: From these the coastlands of the nations were separated (parad) into their lands (eretz), every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.
The sentence structure indicates “coastlands of the nations” is a metaphor for the people of those regions. (It is like referring to “Washington” when we actually mean “the people in the United States government.”) These people are “separated”—parad—into the lands—eretz—they were to live in. So in this verse, eretz is not used metaphorically, but refers to geographical land areas.
Note well that parad separation, in this verse at least, is something that happens to people, not land; and eretz refers to geographical locations where the people went to live. It will interest us to see if this pattern holds up in the next few verses we study.
GEN. 10:8: Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth (eretz).
Though this verse contributes nothing to our understanding of parad, palag and puwtz, it includes the noun eretz. Here it refers, as in verse 5, to a geographical region; in this case, the whole world. Thus, in neither of the first two instances of eretz in Genesis 10 does it metaphorically apply to people. (In this survey I will skip over other instances of eretz—Gen. 10:10, 11, 20, 31 and 11:2, 4—because those uses are not associated with our three verbs. I will just observe that in all of them, eretz unambiguously has a geographical sense. You can check that for yourself.)
GEN. 10:18: ...and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad (puwtz).
Here we get our first exposure to the verb puwtz, carrying the meaning "spread abroad." Although the noun eretz is not used in conjunction with it as in chapter 11, it clearly refers to a geographic dispersion of the Canaanites. The KJV, agreeing with the NASB, translates the word with "spread abroad" as well, while the ESV renders it "dispersed." These usages are in good agreement with the concept of "scattering" we will see in chapter 11.
GEN. 10:25: Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth (eretz) was divided (palag)...
This verse is the lynchpin of the argument in favor of Peleg’s “division” being the distribution of people from Babel due to the confusion of languages. Recall that in verse 10:5, parad separation happened to the people. But parad separation does not happen in this verse; instead, palag division occurs. We now ask, does palag, like parad, also refer to something that happens to people?
At this point, having no other instances of palag in the immediate context to check for insights, we recall the lexical study done by Northrup above. The connotation of division that involves water should influence how we view this word. I submit that God purposely inspired the writer to use palag here instead of parad, which we saw in 10:5 is directly connected with people, because in this verse people are not the object; the land surface of the world is. Land can, after all, be divided by water. By implication, eretz here would be used as we already saw in 10:5 and 10:8, to refer to a geographical region.
Another consideration...since the writer had previously used parad to describe the separation of people, why wouldn’t he have again used that same word in 10:25 if, indeed, people division is in view? That would have been expected. (Maybe Peleg should have been named Pered instead?)
Perhaps these considerations are not conclusive, but let us be honest: they do indicate the interpretive direction we should prefer to move in, given no clear indications to the contrary within the text—the only place we should seek them.
GEN. 10:32: These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated (parad) on the earth (eretz) after the flood.
As in 10:5 we see parad separation taking place, and people are once again the object of its action—in this case, “nations” is a metaphor for people groups. We are starting to see a consistent connection between the verb parad and action upon people. Eretz here is again an unambiguous geographical reference encompassing the entire world.
GEN. 11:1: Now the whole earth (kol ha’aretz) used the same language and the same words.
Here we have the beginning of a self-contained thought unit dealing with the Babel event, which continues through verse 9. Though aretz (a different vowel pointing of eretz, but the same word) has primary reference to the terrestrial ball of the Earth, by a metaphor it is used here to represent all people. There is no ambiguity about this figure of speech; it is quite similar to the way “coastlands of the nations” was used in 10:5. “The whole earth” means “all the people in the world.” Given how clear this metaphoric use of eretz is, the metaphor some insist is present in Genesis 10:25 is downright obscure! It is far more likely that in 10:25 there is no metaphor at all.
GEN. 11:7–8: Come, let Us go down and there confuse (balal) their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad (puwts) from there over the face of the whole earth (paniym kol ha’aretz).
The verb balal warrants just a quick glance; it conveys the idea of confusion, not division. These two concepts are not the same, and we need to nip in the bud any sloppy thinking that would blur the two ideas. No one has any excuse for referring to languages as something “divided.” In Genesis 11 they are “confused.”
What we particularly want to note here is the verb we first encountered in verse 10:18, puwtz. I suggest that puwtz scattering is a more nuanced form of the parad separation we already know happened to people—it is very close to the ESV rendering of parad as “spread abroad.” It carries with it the additional sense that this separation involved sending people off in all directions, like a shotgun blast. It thus conveys the essence of the parad separation, but with additional overtones about the quality of that separation. The direct connection of verses 7 and 8 show there is a causative relationship between them—the confusion of language causes the scattering of the people.
As for the new instance of eretz, “face of the whole earth” here is an indivisible idea unit; in the phrase paniym kol ha’aretz, aretz / eretz cannot mean “people.” It clearly means the land surface of the world.
GEN. 11:9: Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused (balal) the language of the whole earth (kol ha’aretz); and from there the LORD scattered them abroad (puwts) over the face of the whole earth (paniym kol ha’aretz).
In this summary of the entire passage, we have two instances of eretz. The first is clearly a metaphor, where “whole earth” means “all the people” just as in 11:7–8. These people, originally localized at Babel, were then “puwtzed” out of there—scattered abroad—over the surface of the whole earth, giving us a final geographical instance of eretz in our passage. Thus, in 12 of the 14 instances of eretz in Genesis 10:1–11:9, only two use eretz figuratively for people, and these are unambiguous metaphors. The odds therefore strongly favor the single unclear instance of eretz we’ve looked at, Genesis 10:25, as likewise being a geographical reference to land.
The Exegetical Significance of Parenthetical Phrases
With this comparison of multiple verses completed, let us ask again whether it is correct to equate the noun eretz with the meaning “people” in Genesis 10:25, making it refer to the Babel event. I believe that Kyle Butt and other interpreters following his line of thinking equate eretz with “people” in this verse due to their impression that the overall context requires it to refer to the Babel event, despite various niggling problems. There are other factors predisposing some to the Babel interpretation as well, such as a close adherence to the Ussher chronology or allegiance to a particular view of geophysics which disallows rapid plate tectonics at any time except during the Flood. I cannot escape the conclusion that these other factors tip the scales for many people who think the Hebrew text alone is not clear enough to determine the answer.
I actually agree that the words of Genesis 10:25, considered by themselves, are not enough to settle the matter. They can only, by comparison with other verses, indicate a favorable probability that eretz in 10:25b is best understood in a non-figurative, geographical sense. But what if, as I asserted near the beginning of this paper, context is not the only factor? Is there a consideration apart from context that can remove the uncertainty?
I believe there is. The study so far has revealed a characteristic word association: wherever parad separation or puwtz scattering are encountered in Genesis 10 and 11, they always refer to people. But this claim cannot be made regarding palag in Genesis 10:25. Why? Because not only are there no other verses with that word in the immediate context to compare with, but Genesis 10:25b stands on its own as a parenthetical phrase about the person Peleg. Genesis 10:25b has no direct contextual tie to anything written about the Babel event in Genesis 11. Lacking such a tie, an exclusive focus on overall context is misleading, even if it initially seems to make sense.
Please bear with me now. This is not the place for an in-depth grammar lesson, but I feel constrained to explain what parenthetical phrases and their close relations, subordinate (or dependent) clauses, are. Essentially, they amount to minor digressions from the main thrust of what is written, adding supplemental information about the subject. In his helpful, non-technical article at http://www.dailywritingtips.com/parenthetical-phrases/ [off-site link], Mark Nichol writes (emphasis mine):
One of three basic strategies usually suffices to set a parenthetical phrase off from its root sentence. By “parenthetical phrase,” I mean one that constitutes a digression (or a clarification)—and, despite the name, it doesn’t have to involve parentheses...the mildest form of parenthesis, for when you want to quickly insert a detail without distracting the reader, is a subordinate clause: a nonessential phrase framed by a pair of commas. The preceding sentence includes a subordinate clause: the one that begins “for when” and ends “the reader.” If you temporarily remove that phrase from the sentence, its structural integrity remains intact.
Hopefully this gives you a feel for the nature of a parenthetical phrase, but painting a word picture may help even more. A parenthetical phrase is like exiting the Interstate to visit a scenic overlook you saw advertised on a billboard along the way. You get out of your car, stay a little while to stretch your legs and soak in the ambience, then get back to the Interstate and continue to your intended destination. Your enjoyable little detour contributed nothing to getting you where you were going. The jaunt to the overlook was a self-contained unit in itself, neither influencing nor influenced by the rest of the trip. This is a picture of what a parenthetical phrase is: a short digression on an interesting sidelight, an item of incidental information which stands by itself apart from the overall context. It has no essential connection to the larger context, and in fact, it would be a mistake to seek one.
Now, let us look at our passage for parenthetical phrases. In Genesis 10 they typically take the form of details elaborating on certain significant individuals. Genesis 10:32, which wraps up the chapter, gives us the overview of our journey, what the chapter was meant to do: to list the sons of Noah and their descendants, and show how they were the progenitors of various nations. The parenthetical phrases in chapter 10 are bits of information that provide interesting sidelight details without being essential to the passage. They’re minor things that could be removed with no harm to the primary message.
The first of these phrases is easy to find. Genesis 10:8b–9 gives the first break from the listing of names, going off on a tangent to add some details about Nimrod. We learn he “became a mighty one on the earth,” that he was “a mighty hunter before the LORD.” Verses 10–12, where we learn that Nimrod founded several early cities, can also be regarded as tangential information. All of the details given here add nothing useful to the main thrust of the chapter—to lay out the names of descendants from which nations sprang—but is interesting and helpful for us in understanding that Nimrod was an unusually significant individual.
Umberto Cassuto, on page 184 of the second volume of his commentary on the book of Genesis, likewise observed this break from the main flow of this passage: “In v.7 are mentioned the peoples that claim descent from Cush, whereas in vv. 8–12 Nimrod is spoken of as a notable individual of the sons of Cush; it is self-understood that the name of a person could not be included in a list of peoples” (emphasis in the original). In other words, the whole Nimrod passage is a parenthetical phrase or subordinate clause.
Moving along, the next significant digression comes at Genesis 10:19, where we learn some peripheral facts about the extent of the territory inhabited by the Canaanites—it “extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.” Again, noteworthy detail about the extent of the land the Canaanites inhabited, but still peripheral to the chapter in that it adds no new names to our list.
Now we come to the next digression, the important one for us, though very short: Genesis 10:25b, “for in his (Peleg’s) days the earth was divided.” This is another parenthetical phrase that adds some detail off the main track of the overall context. At this point, recall the example of a parenthetical phrase used by Mark Nichol, “for when you want to quickly insert a detail without distracting the reader”; 10:25b also starts with “for,” alerting us that a parenthetical phrase is beginning. Actually, we could have translated Genesis 10:25 using parenthesis: “Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg (for in his days the earth was divided), and his brother's name was Joktan.”
Being an aside, there is no inherent reason for this phrase to have any necessary tie to the Babel incident expanded on in Genesis 11:1–9. Peleg’s sidebar, “for in his days the earth was divided,” is as insignificant to Genesis 11 as Nimrod’s “he became a mighty one in the earth.” I submit that the only reason interpreters might think otherwise is because our English translations usually render palag with “divided,” which unfortunately is the same word the KJV translators chose to render parad elsewhere. We have been wrongly conditioned by the KJV to seek a connection between Genesis 10:25b and 11:1–9 that is not there in the Hebrew. The parenthetical information given about Peleg in 10:25b is only significant insofar as it provides insight into why Peleg got his name. It is information that stands apart from the rest of the surrounding context, and it is a mistake to seek some link between it and the Babel account in Genesis 11:1–9.
To wrap up our analysis of the parenthetical phrases of Genesis 10, we have verse 30, which expands a bit on the sons of Joktan by explaining where they settled: “Now their settlement extended from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the hill country of the east.” In its use of the phrase “as you go toward,” it follows almost exactly the phrasing of Genesis 10:19 and has the same clarifying function.
The above analysis should leave no doubt in our minds that parenthetical phrases, of which Genesis 10:25b is one, add interesting but still incidental information that is only significant within its very narrow immediate context. It stands by itself, and it is an error to view Genesis 11:1–9 as having any connection to it.
From the research I did for this article and the one from 2009, I am confident that the most biblically faithful way to understand Genesis 10:25b is as referring to some event which caused a split in the primordial continent of Pangaea, which had came out of the Flood still intact, and this split marked the onset of plate tectonics that divided the Americas from Eurasia and Africa. In fact, the 2009 textbook Global Tectonics by Philip Keary et al notes on page 2 that as far back as 1756, Theodor Christoph Lilienthal, Professor of Theology at Königsberg in Germany, related the separation of the continents to biblical catastrophism, drawing on our text, “in the days of Peleg, the earth was divided.” It is not as if this view marks a sudden divergence from reputable scholarship.
To those who object that it is unreasonable for such a major Earth event to receive such superficial passing notice in the Bible, we can only say that in God’s eyes it was an unimportant matter. He says nothing directly about the Ice Age, either, beyond possible allusions in the book of Job. His priority in Scripture has always been to unfold the plan by which man can be reconciled to Himself, not to scratch our itching ears.
I mentioned above that, even if we accept for exegetical reasons that the “earth” division must be understood in a geographical sense in Genesis 10:25, this does not tell us exactly how water comes into play. Was it limited to “canalization” due to human action, or the formation of new river courses due to localized earthquakes? Those are possible. But against them, we should note that this palag division is said to have taken place “in his (Peleg’s) days” (plural); it was not an event that happened at a single point in time and was quickly over with, like an earthquake, but instead was something that began before his birth and continued for some time thereafter. It was an ongoing event that prompted Peleg’s parents to bestow on their baby boy his noteworthy name, and then continued to occur for an indeterminate period of time. That someone would name their child after this event implies it was something stupendous, something far more than a local earthquake, much less a feat of human engineering like a canal. Possibly it referred to the opening up of the Jordan Rift Valley, which carries the Jordan River from Galilee to the Dead Sea, and connects with the Great Rift Valley that continues into Africa. But such a limited event was most likely an aspect of a much larger one—the initial opening of the globe-girdling plate split at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, leading to the complete separation of the Americas from Eurasia and Africa over the space of a few hundred years. We do not know enough to say for certain. But as long as creationists think Genesis 10:25 refers to the Babel event, it will stifle scientific investigation by creation geologists into the exact nature of the water division in Peleg’s days.
I realize that in undertaking this study, I am fighting an uphill battle in my attempt to change the minds of people about the nature of the Peleg event. Some apparently have a vested interest in not considering the possibility that there could have been another, less destructive though still considerable Earth disaster following the Flood; entire systems of thought have been developed which cannot incorporate this idea without upheaval. Others are so influenced by certain external factors—science models, chronologies, translations, manuscript reliability, whatever—that to raise this question is too uncomfortable, and it’s much easier to quickly dismiss it so biblical research can continue within comfortably defined parameters.
Others, though, will want to study for themselves whether this analysis is faithful to the Bible, and ask whether it opens up exciting new avenues of study and research. I believe it does, and hope others will join me in building on it. It may be that new wineskins are required to hold this new wine; time will tell. All I can ask the reader is to search the Scriptures for yourself, examine my reasoning with an open mind, and see if it holds up. And all I can ask of God is what I have been asking for years...”Guide me into Your truth.” May all of us ask this question, and follow His answer wherever it may lead.