This paper seeks to identify the date of the Babel incident with reference to events in the life of Eber’s sons, Peleg
and Joktan. Traditionally the Babel event is associated
with a division (Genesis 10: 25) in the life of Peleg, and this
traditional understanding, relating to confusion of languages
and demographic scattering, is accepted here. There are
various biblical and extra-biblical sources that are available
for consultation, including the Masoretic Text (MT), the
Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), the Septuagint (LXX) and the
Book of Jubilees. The text of Genesis 10: 25 reads as follows:
“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” (Genesis 10: 25).
But at what point in Peleg’s life do the events occur?
Answering this question is important because it will help us
understand the timeframe of post-Flood climatic changes and
human migration. A number of present-day Christians who
hold to a literal reading of Genesis consider that the reference
to Peleg is linked to his birth, combined with acceptance of
the MT. This suggests the Babel incident occurred as early
as 101 years after the Noahic Flood, although with some
flexibility of several decades (figure 1 ).
1 The very earliest
dates are, however, implausible because other verses in
Genesis 10 ( 26–32) inform the reader that the demographic
scattering occurred in the time of Joktan’s extended family,
and this problem was recognised by both Augustine of Hippo
and Bishop Ussher.
2 Genesis 10: 26–32 reads as follows:
“Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth,
Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba,
Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of
Joktan. The territory in which they lived extended
from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill
country of the east.
“These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their
languages, their lands, and their nations.
“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.”
The problem is that even if Joktan was the elder
brother (which is doubtful because the name implies lesser
3 it would be impossible for him, according to
the period relayed in the MT, to grow up and have such a
large family prior to Peleg’s birth. This natal event occurred
when his father Eber was 34 years old. But in addition to this
consideration, the first-century commentary of Josephus,
Antiquities of the Jews, follows the longer timeframe of
the Septuagint (LXX) and Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), and
places the events at Peleg’s birth.
4 While early commentaries
on the MT, for instance the Seder Olam Rabbah, place the
events at a later stage in Peleg’s life, namely at his death.
But both early approaches require at least several hundred
years from the Flood to the Babel event, and this length of
time is supported by the Book of Jubilees.
5 This evidence
constrains the time of the Babel scattering to several centuries
Supporting the traditional view
The traditional view of the meaning of the verb ‘was
divided’ [nip̄ ·lə·ḡāh הָ֣גְלְפִנ] (Genesis 10: 25) holds that it
is a reference to the destruction of the Tower of Babel
episode (figure 2), which is recorded in Genesis 11 and
involves a geographical scattering of people, following
the confusion of languages. This traditional view is
supported by Fouts6 and Sarfati,
7 who both point to the
commentaries of a number of conservative theologians, or
at least Fouts thinks the traditional view is the one with the
8 John Calvin spoke of the division of Peleg
in terms of the Babel confusion of languages,
9 as did Bede
in his chronology.
10 John Gill also held to a traditional view,
Dating the Tower of Babel events with
reference to Peleg and Joktan
This paper discusses and seeks to identify the date of the Babel event from the writing of biblical and extra-biblical sources.
This is a relevant question for creationists because of questions about the timing of post-Flood climatic changes and
human migration. Sources used include the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and the Book of
Jubilees, and related historical commentaries. Historical sources suggest that the Babel dispersion occurred in the time
of Joktan’s extended family and Peleg’s life. The preferred solution of this paper is to follow the Masoretic Text and the
Seder Olam Rabbah commentary that places the Babel event 340 years post-Flood at Peleg’s death. Other texts of the
Second Temple period vary from this by only three to six decades, which lends some support to the conclusion.