M. A. Thomas, These are the Generations: Identity, Covenant and the ‘Toledot’ Formula

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Thomas, Matthew A., These are the Generations: Identity, Covenant and the ‘Toledot’ Formula (LHBOTS, 551; New York: T&T Clark, 2011). Pp. xx + 176. Hardcover. US$120.00. ISBN 978-0-57615-141-4.

These are the Generations: Identity, Covenant and the ‘Toledot’ Formula is the doctoral thesis of Matthew A. Thomas. Thomas examines the organizational structure of the toledot formula in the book of Genesis and in Num 1–3. Building on the work of previous scholars, he argues that the narrowing function of the toledot formula defines the macrostructure of Genesis and the Pentateuch as a whole. He identifies five independent toledot headings in Genesis (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 11:10; 37:2), marked by the absence of a waw, which effectively narrow the focus from creation to Israel in particular. A further narrowing is seen in the toledot formula in Num 3:1, which focuses on the cultic and civil leadership represented by Aaron and Moses. Thomas explores three key mechanisms in chapters 2–4 (variations in the toledot formula, the genealogies, and divine-human covenants) to ascertain their role in shaping the narrowing effect of the formula in Genesis and the Pentateuch.

In the “Introduction,” Thomas surveys various methodological approaches to Genesis, discussing both diachronic and synchronic studies. He adopts a form-critical approach while incorporating insights from rhetorical, aesthetic, and linguistic analysis into his research. With emphasis on the final form of the text, he seeks to examine the surface structure of Genesis and the Pentateuch with the goal of uncovering the organizational framework and trajectory of the narrative.

In chapter one, “Defining the Toledot Formula: Syntax, Semantics, and Function,” Thomas examines briefly the syntax and semantics of the toledot formula. He observes that scholarship in the past century has focused on the structure and compositional history of the formula within the priestly material, citing the scholarly works of Budd, von Rad, Eissfeldt, Cross, Tengström and Renaud. Thomas distinguishes himself from these scholars in his focus on the final form of the text. By drawing upon recent linguistic studies, he argues persuasively that the toledot formula is a heading and that its function is to narrow the focus from a universal context to Israel in particular. The formula provides cohesion and continuity in the narrative, while alerting the reader to new material that is taken up in the ensuing section.

In chapter two, “Variations in the Syntax of the Toledot Formula,” Thomas surveys the views of Childs (1979), Tengström (1981), Renaud (1990) and Koch (1999), noting the various ways they define the toledot formula according to two basic categories, narrative (erzählerische or Epochen and narratif) and genealogy (aufzählende or Generationen and énumératif). Scharbert's seminal work on the formula is also examined, particularly his definition of the toledot as either Ausscheidungstoledot (“exclusion-toledot”) or Verheißungstoledot (“promise-toledot”). Croatto and Koch are discussed in detail since both analyze the formula according to the final form. J. S. Croatto argues for a ten-fold structure of Genesis, while affirming the two basic categories of narrative (Gen 2:4; 6:9; 11:27; 25:19; 37:2) and genealogy (5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 25:12; 36:1[9]). K. Koch holds to a five-part division of Genesis (2:4–6:8; 6:9–11:26; 11:27–25:18; 25:19–37:1; 37:2–50:26), defining each section as either Epochen-Toledot or Generationen-Toledot.

Thomas draws further upon the work of Francis I. Anderson and Peter Weimar when exploring syntactical variations in the formula. Both Anderson and Weimar conclude that the presence/absence of the waw is a key aspect of syntactical variation. After much discussion of scholarship in chapters 2–3, this is where the work of Thomas finds particular focus. He observes that the conjunction waw, which is commonly employed with the formula (Gen 10:1; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1, 9; Num 3:1; Ruth 4:18), is absent on five occasions (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 11:10; 37:2). Thomas draws the interesting conclusion that these five toledot function as five major headings in Genesis, providing the contours for the macrostructure; the remaining coordinate headings are deemed functionally subordinate. This observation sets his work apart from current scholarship, yet by affirming the narrowing focus of the toledot he is able to incorporate the results of previous scholarship into his work. Thomas's analysis of the syntax extends further to Num 3:1–3: he postulates that the presence of a double introduction (which he compares to Gen 25:13 and 36:10) may indicate that the sons of Aaron are potentially being set aside, giving further authority to Moses.

In chapter three, “Genealogies-Role in Shaping the Narrative,” Thomas examines the relationship of genealogies to the toledot structure. He observes, as other scholars have done, that linear genealogies move the narrative forward at an accelerated pace, from one key figure to the next, whereas segmented genealogies focus attention on familial relationships within each generation, usually of secondary lines, and the pace is slowed down. Thomas's discussion of genealogies in Genesis is consistent with current scholarship on the topic. He goes beyond Genesis, however, considering how the list of leaders and the census in Num 1 function in relation to the toledot heading in Num 3:1. He proposes that the list of leaders in Num 1:5–16, which records one name per tribe, is functionally equivalent to the linear genealogy in Gen 11:10–26. Reference to Aaron's four sons in Num 3:1–4 is seen to be functionally parallel to Terah's three sons in Gen 11:26–32, and the migration of each group is compared among other possible parallels. The census list in Num 1:20–47 is thought to be analogous to the segmented genealogies in Genesis. Thomas then reasons that the census list preserves the presence of Israel in the story, while at the same time the people of Israel are being set aside to focus attention on their leaders through the linear list in Num 1:5–16 and the toledot in Num 3:1. While it is worthwhile to consider the lists in Num 1 in relation to the toledot formula in 3:1, the cited parallels are not as evident as Thomas suggests. Thomas returns to Genesis and proposes, somewhat tentatively, that Gen 1:1–2:3 similarly functions as a preservation list, which is given prior to the narrowing of the toledot in Gen 2:4.

In chapter four, “Covenants Change the Basis for the Narrowing of Focus,” Thomas explores how the divine covenants with Noah, Abraham and Israel affect the narrowing in the toledot structure. He suggests that five major toledot headings form a chiastic structure: heaven and earth (A); Adam (B); Noah (C); Shem (B'); and Jacob/Israel (A'). Evidence for the chiastic structure is assembled, although support seems to be lacking at times. Thomas argues that Noah is at the center of the chiasm, and thus he raises the question concerning the role of the Noahic covenant in shaping the ensuing toledot formula. He suggests that after the flood the narrowing no longer takes place through the death of human beings, but through divine promises which are made to Abraham and to Israel (though Moses). Thomas reasons that Ishmael and Esau are included in the toledot structure because they participate in God's promise and are thus preserved in the segmented genealogy. The Sinai covenant is another decisive moment affecting the narrowing of focus. While the final toledot in Genesis (pre-Sinai) focuses on the 12 sons of Jacob and the narrowing comes to an end (Gen 37:2–50:26), after the Sinai covenant Israel is preserved as a people who participate in the ongoing narrative, alongside the leadership of Aaron and Moses (Num 1–3).

In the concluding chapter, Thomas summarizes his findings and suggests possible implications of his work along with topics for further research.

Thomas's detailed analysis of scholarship on the toledot formula is a helpful resource to have in one volume. His interaction with scholarship throughout his work, while covering familiar territory at times, reminds the reader of the variety of opinions espoused by scholars, and thus it provides the impetus and rationale for Thomas's own research on the topic. His thesis that the syntactical variations of the formula indicate that five major headings form the macrostructure of Genesis is intriguing and worthy of further consideration. He contributes to scholarship through his exploration of the narrowing function of the toledot formula, which he extends beyond Genesis to consider the role of the toledot in the shaping the Pentateuch as a whole.

Thomas's view that the toledot formula in Num 3:1 narrows the focus to the cultic and civil leadership in Israel is an interesting suggestion. Yet his view that the list of leaders and the census list in Num 1 are comparable to the linear and segmented genealogies in Genesis is less convincing at times, particularly since the genealogies in Genesis have a clearly defined genre and context which may not be as analogous to the lists in Num 1 as Thomas suggests. Furthermore, while it is well-established that the toledot formula provides an important literary framework for the book of Genesis, one may well enquire whether the toledot formula has the same function in Numbers (notably occurring without the waw in Num 3:1), and whether it is significant enough to define the macrostructure of the Pentateuch.

Thomas is to be commended for examining the toledot formula in the Pentateuch as a whole. Yet given that that the formula is employed in Ruth 4:18, where it introduces a ten-depth linear genealogy comparable to the linear genealogies in Genesis (5:1–32; 11:10–26), the question arises whether Ruth 4:18 ought to be examined in relation to the narrowing focus of the toledot formula. Thomas has examined the trajectory as far as the leadership of Aaron and Moses, but it might be of interest to consider Ruth 4:18 with its focus on the line of Judah and Davidic kingship. Perhaps this is a topic for further discussion, as Thomas himself suggests.

There is much to be commended in Thomas's book, and anyone interested in the macrostructure of Genesis and the Pentateuch will find it a worthwhile read.

Carol Kaminski, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary