Genesis 5:6 When Seth had lived a hundred and five years, he became the father of Enosh. 7 Seth lived after the birth of Enosh eight hundred and seven years, and had other sons and daughters. 8 Thus all the days of Seth were nine
hundred and twelve years; and he died. 9 When Enosh had lived ninety years, he became the father of Kenan. 10 Enosh lived after the birth of Kenan eight hundred and fifteen years, and had other sons and daughters. 11 Thus all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died. 12 When Kenan had lived seventy years, he became the father of Ma-hal’alel. 13 Kenan lived after the birth of Ma-hal’alel eight hundred and forty years, and had other sons and daughters. 14 Thus all the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died. 15 When Ma-hal’alel had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Jared. 16 Ma-hal’alel lived after the birth of Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and had other sons and daughters. 17 Thus all the days of Ma-hal’alel were eight hundred and ninety-five years; and he died. 18 When Jared had lived a hundred and sixty-two years he became the father of Enoch. 19 Jared lived after the birth of Enoch eight hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 Thus all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years; and he died.
There are no wives’ names mentioned in the genealogy. No accounting is given of where the wives came from or who their parents were. The genealogy is purely patriarchal: a father-son schema. Each man’s life is marked by only three events: 1) the man’s birth, 2) what age he was at the birth of his son of this genealogy, and 3) how old he was when he died. The only mention of females at all is almost parenthetically – they are among the “other” sons and daughters each man had. These “other” sons and daughters are not named, are not part of the direct lineage being followed, and though their existence is acknowledged, they are not significant for the story. That they must have been marrying and producing families and descendents is not within the interest of the text.
St. John Chrysostom reminds his audience that every word of the scriptures are inspired, and that they must not just be read in dull, leaden literal fashion, but rather one must allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the depth contained in the verses. He did feel the genealogies were inspired and important, but in his own commentaries he often glosses over them and does not do the verse by verse parsing which is his usual way to approach the biblical text. “I beg you all not to pass heedlessly by the contents of Holy Scripture. I mean, there is nothing in the writings at this point which does not contain a great wealth of thought; after all, since the blessed authors composed under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, on that account they hold concealed within them great treasure because written by the Spirit. … You see, there is not even a syllable or even one letter contained in Scripture which does not have a great treasure concealed in its depths. … Sacred Scripture does not call in to play human wisdom for the understanding of its writings, but the revelation of the Spirit, so that we may learn the true meaning of its contents and draw from it a great benefit.” For St. John not only are the writers of Scripture inspired by God, but also inspiration comes upon those who listen to or read them. It isn’t literalism that is necessary to read them but more importantly we need inspiration to understand them. Like many Patristic writers, Chrysostom saw the understanding of scriptures to be similar to mining gold – we cannot be satisfied with what we find on the surface, we must dig (work hard) to get deeper into them so that we can mine the depth of their riches.
One might ask why should we read these ancient texts with their lists of names, describing a world that no longer exists and lifestyles to which we cannot relate? St. Peter of Damaskos (12th Century AD) offers these thoughts about reading less interesting scriptural passages: “I went through all these slowly and diligently, trying to discover the root of man’s destruction and salvation, and which of his actions or practices does or does not bring him to salvation. I wanted to find what it is that everyone seeks after, and how people served God in the past, and still serve Him today, in wealth or poverty, living among many sinners or in solitude, married or celibate: how, quite simply in every circumstance and activity we find life or death, salvation or destruction … Cain and Abel… between them jealousy triumphed, and deceit, and these gave rise to murder, cursing and terror. I was astonished, too, by their descendants, whose sins were so many that they provoked the flood…” For St. Peter, scripture offers us a chance to learn about the sins and mistakes of others, so that we don’t repeat them, and to realize there have been righteous people in every generation even when most people in the world practiced evil.
On the Sunday before Christmas the Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Ancestors of Christ and has the holy men of the genealogy celebrating the birth of Christ: “Adorned with the glory of divine communion Adam exults today; with him, Abel leaps in gladness and Enoch rejoices; Seth dances for joy and Noah with him.” (Vespers hymn)