Splitting Heirs: When the Land was Divided (Genesis 10:25)

Shem’s genealogy (in Gen. 10:2–30) records that “Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg [פֶלֶג], because in his time the earth was divided [נִפְלְגָ֣ה]; his brother was named Joktan” (10:25; NIV). What this “division” was has generated a few popular views, but none has reached consensus. The major interpretations to date are that the division was: (1) geographically, the patriarchal partitioning of territories to Noah’s three sons, or (2) a second distribution of these territories after the first by Noah; or (3) the split of the Pangaea continent into the modern continents or some other geological event; or (4) linguistically, the scattering of people after the confusion of the people who built the tower in Babel. A fresh and focused look at this genealogy may result in a new and satisfying interpretation. Whatever this division was most likely is limited to Eber’s family and immediate circumstances. Noteworthy is that Joktan, Peleg’s brother, is mentioned in verse 25 in relation to the separation that occurred. What contextually best explains the division for which Peleg was named? A plausible answer is a theological split between these brothers, since Joktan and his lineage are connected to Canaanite settlements (Gen. 10:30).

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