Peleg is a name that appears eight times in the Biblical record, all in genealogies (Genesis 10:25, 11:16, 17, 18, 19, I Chronicles 1:19, 25; Luke 3:35). He first appears amidst the “Table of Nations”, the record of the dispersing of Noah’s sons (Genesis 10). Twice the tantalizing detail is added that “in his [Peleg’s] days the earth was divided (Genesis 10:25; I Chronicles 1:19 NASB).” In fact, Peleg’s name actually means “division”. His very name commemorates a monumental event that made things different after his time than they were before it.
Peleg was born in the fifth generation (101 years) after the Flood and yet was the first patriarch born after the Flood to die. His father, Eber, lived 464 years (Genesis 11:16), but Peleg died at the age of 239. Eber outlived Peleg by 191 years and Noah and his son Shem were still living when Peleg died. No one after Peleg lived much longer than he did. The genealogies also take the highly irregular tact of mentioning Peleg’s brother, Joktan (Genesis 10:25; I Chronicles 1:19). Joktan’s name means “smallness” or “a lessening”. Life spans did indeed decrease dramatically after the time of Peleg and Joktan.
Do you have a moment in your life where things were not the same after an event as they were before? What division is Peleg related to and why is he so associated with it? Did Peleg in any way cause the division?
Traditionally, the split in Peleg’s time is associated with the failure of the Tower of Babel and the resulting diaspora (Genesis 11:1-9). James Ussher (1581-1656)’s famed chronology dates the Tower of Babel five years after the birth of Peleg. The connection between Peleg and Babel still represents the dominant view. Of the divisiveness, Walter Kaiser (b. 1933) writes “Here is a clear allusion to the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel (Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 118).” Proponents of the traditional view include G. Charles Aalders (1880-1961), Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1941), Kaiser, C.F. Keil (1807-1888) and Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), H. C. Leupold (1892-1972), Henry M. Morris (1918-2006), Allen P. Ross (b. 1943) , John Sailhamer (b. 1946), and Richard T. White. Babel does mark an epic irrevocable change in human life as presumably the world went from one language to today’s estimated 7,299 primary languages.
Some segments of creation science pose that Peleg’s schism references a continental division. This theory holds that the earth was once a single landmass, often called Pangaea, and that Peleg lived at a time when a geological event precipitated continental drift. The belief that the contingents were once unified is supported by God’s command at creation to “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear (Genesis 1:9, NASB).”
Supporters of the continental drift view cite etymological considerations based on Peleg’s name which suggests that the division involved water. The associated noun peleg occurs ten times in the Old Testament and in each instance refers to water (Job 29:6; Psalms 1:3; 46:4, 65:9, 119:136; Proverbs 5:16; 21:1; Isaiah 30:25, 32:2; Lamentations 3:48).
Bernard E. Northrup (1925-2008) writes of the hydraulic connection to Peleg:
[Peleg, palag, or PLG] often contains within it a reference to water. It is used to refer to a stream of water in Hebrew, Coptic, Ethiopic and in Greek. The root is used to refer to irrigation canals which carried the water throughout the farming land of Mesopotamia. However, an examination of the Greek usage (of the family of Japeth) of the root letters PL and PLG clearly shows that in the majority of the instances this root was used of the ocean...It is used to mean: “to form a sea or lake,” “of places that are flooded and under water,” “of crossing the sea,” of “the broad sea” itself, of “being out at sea,” “on the open sea.” It is used of seamen and ships. The noun with the result suffix is used of “an inundation.” I continue: it is used of “a being at sea,” of “a creature of or on the sea,” of “one who walks on the sea,” of “running or sailing on the open sea,” of “a harbor that is formed in the open sea by means of sandbags,” and in many ways of “the open sea itself,” of “going to, into or toward the sea,” of “roving through the sea,” of “being sea-nourished,” of “turning something into the sea or into the sea or of flooding.” It is quite apparent that every Greek usage here involves the sea in someway. (Northrup, “Continental Drift and the Fossil Record,” Repossess the Land (Minneapolis: Bible Science Association, 1979), 165–166)Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960), Northrup and Alfred Wagener (1880-1930) support the view that continental drift occurred at the time of Peleg.
Other simpler theories have also been posited. One suggests that “divided” implies that the land was surveyed and divided into grids. The division could also be one between Peleg and his brother, Joktan. Genesis states Eber had “two sons”, a phrase which often denotes a territorial issue in Genesis. The Biblical genealogies follow Peleg’s line while Joktan became the father of Arabian people (Genesis 10:26-30).
Regardless of what event is being referenced, Peleg is associated solely with divisiveness.
Who do you most associate with divisiveness? Are you known more for divisiveness or unity? In what ways are you actively building bridges with others?