Patriarch (πατριάρχης, head of a family or tribe). Paul (Eph 3:15) calls attention to the fact that the term of πατριά comes from Πατήρ, "the great Father of all the πατριαί, both of angels and men" (Ellicott); and thus, constructively, "Patriarch," in its highest sense, is a title of him whose offspring all men are. In common use it is applied in the N.T. to Abraham (Heb 7:4), to the sons of Jacob (Ac 7:8-9), and to David (2:29); and is apparently intended to be equivalent to the phrase ראֹשׁ בֵּית אָבוֹת, the "head" or "prince of a tribe," so often found in the O.T. It is used in this sense by the Sept. in 1Ch 24:31; 1Ch 27:22; 2Ch 23:20; 2Ch 26:12. In common usage the title of patriarch is assigned especially to those whose lives are recorded in Scripture previous to the time of Moses.
In the early history of the Hebrews we find the ancestor or father of a family retaining authority over his children, and his children's children, so long as he lived, whatever new connections they might form. When the father died the branch-families did not break off and form new communities, but usually united under another common head. The eldest son was generally invested with this dignity. His authority was paternal. He was honored as the central point of connection, and as the representative of the whole kindred. Thus each great family had its patriarch or head, and each tribe its prince, selected from the several heads of the families which it embraced.
By the "patriarchal system" is accordingly meant that state of society which developed itself naturally out of family relations, before the formation of nations properly so called, and the establishment of regular government; and by the "patriarchal dispensation" the communion into which God was pleased to enter with the families of Seth, Noah, and Abraham, before the call of the chosen people. In the following account we treat the subject from both a Scriptural and a philosophical point of view.
⇒Bible concordance for PATRIARCH.
I. In the history of the antediluvian patriarchs, the Scripture record contains, after the first family, little except the list of the line from Seth, through Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech, to Noah; with the ages of each at their periods of generation and at their deaths. SEE CHRONOLOGY. To some extent parallel to this is given the line of Cain: Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methusael, Lamech, and the sons of Lamech, Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain. To the latter line are attributed the first signs of material civilization, the building of cities, the division of classes, and the knowledge of mechanical arts; while the only moral record of their history obscurely speaks of violence and bloodshed. SEE LAMECH. In the former line the one distinction is their knowledge of the true God (with the constant recollection of the promised "seed of the woman"), which is seen in its fullest perfection in Enoch and Noah; and the only allusion to their occupation (Ge 5:29) seems to show that they continued a pastoral and agricultural race. The entire corruption, even of the chosen family of Seth, is traced (in Ge 6:1-4) to the union between "the sons of God" and "the daughters of men" (Heb. "of Adam"). This union is generally explained by the ancient commentators of a contact with supernatural powers of evil in the persons of fallen angels; most modern interpretation refers it to intermarriage between the lines of Seth and Cain. The latter is intended to avoid the difficulties attaching to the comprehension of the former view, which, nevertheless, is undoubtedly far more accordant with the usage of the phrase "sons of God" in the O.T. (comp. Job 1:6; Job 38:7), and with the language of the passage in Genesis itself (see Maitland's Eruvin, essay 6). SEE ATEDILUVIANS.
Descending from this general view to particulars, we find Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, and having their first child, Cain, born to them, without any more exact indication of their whereabouts in the world than may be derived from what had already been said of Paradise itself. Nor, up to the deluge, is there any landmark supplied, except that mention is made of Nod, the country of Cain's wandering, to the east of Eden (Ge 4:16). The ark itself, which had probably, from its construction, not floated very far from the country in which it was built, rested on the mountains of the region of Ararat; and when, after the flood, men arrived in the land of Shinar or Babylonia, they had journeyed from the east (Ge 11:2). If at the flood the waters of "the great deep" were those of the Persian Gulf, we might suppose the country inhabited by the patriarchs at that time to have possibly been bounded eastward by the nearest range of mountains, and to have extended to the west but little beyond the valley of the Euphrates. SEE FLOOD.
As to their numbers, we have for our guide the enumeration of ten males in one direct line from Adam, through Seth, to Noah, and of eight through Cain to Jabal. There is, of course, nothing to forbid us supposing that many other children were born besides those enumerated. This indeed is taken for granted in the case of women. The names of the wives are not mentioned, until the case of Lamech, who appears to have been the first polygamist, brings them into un-enviable notice; and Cain found a wife, though we have no notice of any woman having been born into the world (see also Ge 5:4).
One of the main questions raised as to the antediluvian period turns on the longevity assigned to the patriarchs. With the single exception of Enoch (whose departure from the earth at 365 years of age is exceptional in every sense), their ages vary from 777 (Lamech) to 969 (Methuselah). It is to be observed that this longevity disappears gradually after the flood. To Shem are assigned 600 years; and thence the ages diminish down to Terah (205 years), Abraham (175), Isaac (180), Jacob (147), and Joseph (110). This statement of ages is clear and definite. To suppose, with some, that the name of each patriarch denotes a clan or family, and his age its duration, or, with others, that the word שָׁנָה (because it properly signifies "iteration") may, in spite of its known and invariable usage for "year," denote a lunar revolution instead of a solar one (i.e. a month instead of a year) in this passage, appears to be a mere evasion of the difficulty. It must either be accepted as a plain statement of fact or regarded as purely fabulous, like the legendary assignment of immense ages to the early Indian, or Babylonian, or Egyptian kings. The latter alternative is adopted without scruple by many of the German commentators, some of whom attempt to find such significance in the patriarchal names as to make them personify natural powers or human qualities, like the gods and demigods of mythology. This belongs, of course, to the mythical view of Scripture, destroying its claim, in any sense, to authority and special inspiration. In the acceptance of the literal meaning, it is not easy to say how much difficulty is involved. With our scanty knowledge of what is really meant by "dying of old age," with the certainty that very great effects are produced on the duration of life, both of men and animals, by even slight changes of habits and circumstances, it is impossible to say what might a priori be probable in this respect in the antediluvian period, or to determine under what conditions the process of continual decay and reconstruction, which sustains animal life, might be indefinitely prolonged. The constant attribution in all legends of great age to primeval men is at least as likely to be a distortion of fact as a mere invention of fancy. But even if the difficulty were greater than it is, it seems impossible to conceive that a book, given by inspiration of God to be a treasure for all ages, could be permitted to contain a statement of plain facts, given undoubtingly, and with an elaborate show of accuracy, and yet purely and gratuitously fabulous, in no sense bearing on its great religious subject. If the divine origin of Scripture be believed, its authority must be accepted in this, as in other cases; and the list of the ages of the patriarchs be held to be (what it certainly claims to be) a statement of real facts. SEE LONGEVITY.
When we endeavor to picture to ourselves the sort of life which these first patriarchs led, we seem invited to think of them as wearing at first coats of skins (Ge 3:21), and at a later time probably some woven garment (Ge 9:23), tilling the ground (Ge 4:2), keeping sheep (ibid.), building cities (Ge 4:17), and in later times handling the harp and organ, and working in brass and iron (Ge 4:21-22). But the great proof of the acquaintance of the primeval patriarchs with mechanical arts is to be found in the construction of the ark itself, which, from its enormous dimensions, must have made huge demands both upon the architect himself and the numerous workmen employed by him. SEE ARK.
As regards their spiritual condition, there is enough to prove that their knowledge of God was intimate, and their trust in God eminently real. But by the knowledge of God must not be understood such knowledge as consists in accurate theological definition. The Reformer Bullinger says: "Out of all this it is easy to understand what faith and knowledge Adam had of our Lord Christ; namely, that he knew in him very Godhead and manhood, and that he saw in faith his passion and cross afar off." He even attributes to the "holy fathers" the teaching of the doctrine "that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God in the most reverend Trinity." Doubtless the first intimations of a Mediator were such as to include within them all subsequent revelation, but there is nothing to show that they were so understood by those who then received them. At the same time God did reveal himself to Adam, to Enoch, and to Noah, as well as to Abraham afterwards, and perhaps to many others. "The traditionary knowledge concerning a promised Mediator was no doubt carefully cherished, and served to enlighten much which in the law, and even in the prophets, might otherwise have been unintelligible. Hence the Mediator, though but faintly shadowed out, was yet firmly believed in. We have our Lord's assurance that Abraham rejoiced to see his day; he saw it, and was glad (Joh 8:56). We have Paul's assurance that the same Abraham, having received the promise of the Redeemer, believed in it, and was justified by faith (Ro 4:1-20; Ga 3:29,14-19). And we may well suppose that the faith which guided Abraham guided others, both before and after him" (Bp. Browne, On Art. 7). Then, as to their knowledge of a future state, we have (Ge 5:24) a statement concerning Enoch which seems to show that the antediluvian patriarchs were familiar with the idea of a better life than the present. It has been argued that the very brevity and obscurity of the phrase "God took him" prove this familiarity. His being "taken" was a reward for his piety, a still greater blessing than the long life vouchsafed to so many of his contemporaries. "Now people who knew of the translation of Enoch must have known something of that state of bliss to which he was removed" (Bp. Browne). But, besides, in the first 930 years of the world, Adam still lived, and the communion which he had enjoyed with God could by him never have been forgotten. Is it possible that Adam was not well acquainted with a future life? This communion of God with man is again noticeable in the case of Noah (Ge 6:13; Ge 7:1; Ge 8:16; Ge 9), as with Abraham and others afterwards. In a general way the earliest patriarchs appear therefore to have lived the simple lives of a pastoral and also agricultural people, furnished with clothing, provided with houses, using herbs and grain and fruits, and probably also, by sufferance, animals for food, offering to God both of the produce of the earth and also slain beasts in sacrifice, able to distinguish the clean from the unclean, speaking one language, holding firmly to the promise of a great blessing to come, familiar with the idea of God's presence in the world, and looking for some better life when this should be ended.
II. The Patriarchs after the flood were at first, in all, but four persons, with each his wife. Noah became the second father of the human race. They were exceedingly fruitful, as God had ordained they should be. The tenth chapter of Genesis is a wonderful document, describing the vast emigrations of the families of the sons of Noah. The number of nations there enumerated is reckoned by the Hebrew expositors as seventy; from Japheth fourteen, from Ham thirty, and from Shem twenty-six. But they no longer lived to the age of their antediluvian forefathers. Abraham was 90 at the birth of Ishmael, and about 100 at the birth of Isaac; Isaac was 60 at the birth of Esau and Jacob, and died at 180; Jacob died at 147, and Joseph at 110. It will be observed that as human life was shortened, children were usually born at an earlier period in the life of their parents. A providential compensation was thus supplied, by which the human family was multiplied, and large portions of the earth occupied. The language of men was, however, no longer one. When an attempt was made to concentrate the race, instead of occupying the earth and replenishing it, the scheme was defeated by the miraculous confusion of tongues. From that time the patriarchal state was preserved, or revived in its purity, chiefly, if not wholly, in the family of Abraham, the friend of God. Nations grew up on the right hand and on the left. In Assyria there arose the kingdom of Nimrod. "Out of that land he went forth to Asshur and builded Nineveh." Without notice from the sacred historian the marvelous civilization of Egypt then sprang up, and the thirty pyramids themselves were probably already built when Abraham first arrived in that land. Idolatry, moreover, was fast taking the place of the primeval religion, and if the name of the true God was ever in danger of being wholly forgotten in the world, it was probably then, when Abraham was called to go forth from Ur of the Chaldees. In the book of Joshua (Jos 24:2,14) we read that the original fathers of the Jewish race, who dwelt beyond the Euphrates, served other gods. Such was probably the case with Terah, the father of Abraham. "If we are asked," says professor Max Muller, "how this one Abraham passed through the denial of all other gods to the knowledge of the one God, we are content to answer that it was by a special divine revelation." "It is true." adds dean Stanley, "that Abraham hardly appears before us as... a teacher of any new religion. As the Scripture represents him, it is rather as if he were possessed of the truth himself than as if he had any call to proclaim it to others. His life is his creed; his migration is his mission.... His faith transpires not in any outward profession of faith, but precisely in that which far more nearly concerns him and every one of us — in his prayers, in his actions, in the righteousness, the 'justice,'... the 'uprightness,' the moral 'elevation' of soul and spirit which sent him on his way straightforward, without turning to the right hand or to the left.' Indeed, Abraham must be regarded as the type, 'the hero,' as he has been called, of the patriarchal state. He was acquainted with civilization and organized government, but in his own person and family adhered to the simple habits of a nomad life. With him and his, the father of the family was the patriarchal priest, the family itself the patriarchal Church."
HEBREW TEXT. SAMARITAN TEXT. SEPTUAGINT VERSION.
Years bef.bir th of Son Rest of Life Extent of whole life Years bef.birth of Son Rest of Life Exte nt of whol e life Years bef.birth of Son Rest of Life Exte nt of whol e life 1. Shem 100 500 600 100 500 600 100 500 600 2. Arphaxad 35 403 435 135 303 438 135 400 535
3. (Καϊνᾶν ) - - - - - - - 130 330 4. Salah 403 433 130 303 433 130 330 460 5. Eber 34 430 464 134 270 404 134 270 404 6. Peleg 30 209 239 130 109 239 130 209 339
7. Reu 32 207 239 132 107 239 132 207 339 8. Seru 30 200 20 10 100 30 130 200 330 9. Nahor 29 119 148 79 69 145 179 125 304 10 Terah 70 135 205 70 75 145 70 135 205 11 Abraham - - - - - - - - -
Dean Stanley has remarked how exactly, when Abraham and Lot "went forth" to go into the land of Canaan, they resembled two Arabian chiefs at the present day on a journey or a pilgrimage. He notes how at this day, as so many centuries ago, "the chief wife, the princess of the tribe, is there in her own tent, to make the cakes, and prepare the usual meal of milk and butter; the slave or the child is ready to bring in the red lentile soup for the weary hunters or to kill the calf for the unexpected guest. Even the ordinary social state is the same: polygamy, slavery, the exclusiveness of family ties; the period of service for the dowry of a wife; the solemn obligations of hospitality; the temptations, easily followed, into craft or falsehood" (Lectures on Jewish Church, lect. 1, p. 12).
But if Abraham was in all outward respects like any other sheik, there was that which distinguished him, as it did Noah before him, and Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and others, after him, from all the world. This distinction consists partly in the covenant whereby these men were especially bound to God, and secondarily in the typical character of their recorded actions. Thus God made a league or covenant (q.v.) with Noah (Ge 9:8-9), and afterwards with Abram (Ge 15:8-18), when, as dean Stanley says, "the first covenant, 'the Old Testament,' was concluded between God and man, and when there was represented by outward signs that which had its 'highest fulfillment' in one who, far more than the Jewish people, reflected in his own 'union of suffering and of triumph, the thick darkness of the smoking furnace, the burning and the shining light.' This league was often renewed, as with Abraham when circumcision was enjoined (17:10), and with Isaac prospectively (17:19), but with each of these as being themselves types of "another seed... and another son of promise, in whom the covenant was to be accomplished" (see dean Jackson, Creed, bk. 9, ch. 16).
From the postdiluvian periods more may be gathered as to the nature of the patriarchal history. It is at first general in its scope. The "covenant" given to Noah is one, free from all condition, and fraught with natural blessings, extending to all alike; the one great command (against bloodshed) which marks it is based on a deep and universal ground; the fulfillment of the blessing, "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth," is expressly connected, first with an attempt to set up a universal kingdom round a local center, and then (in Ge 10:1) with the formation of the various nations by conquest or settlement, and with the peopling of all the world. But the history soon narrows itself to that of a single tribe or family, and afterwards touches the general history of the ancient world and its empires, only so far as bears upon this.
Hence in this last stage the principle of the patriarchal dispensation is most clearly seen. It is based on the sacredness of family ties and paternal authority. This authority, as the only one which is natural and original, is inevitably the foundation of the earliest form of society, and is probably seen most perfectly in wandering tribes, where it is not affected by local attachments and by the acquisition of wealth. It is one, from the nature of the case, limited in its scope, depending more on its sacredness than its power, and giving room for much exercise of freedom; and, as it extends from the family to the tribe, it must become less stringent and less concentrated, in proportion to its wider diffusion. In Scripture this authority is consecrated by an ultimate reference to God, as the God of the patriarch, the Father (that is) both of him and his children. ) Not, of course, that the idea of God's Fatherhood arried with it the knowledge of man's personal communion with his nature (which is revealed by the Incarnation); it rather implied faith in his protection, and a free and loving obedience to his authority, with the hope (more or less assured) of some greater blessing from him in the coming of the promised seed. At the same time, this faith was not allowed to degenerate, as it was prone to do, into an appropriation of God, as the mere tutelary God of the tribe. The Lord, it is true, suffers himself to be called "the God of Shem, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob;" but he also reveals himself (and that emphatically, as if it were his peculiar title) as the "God Almighty" (Ge 17:1; Ge 28:3; Ge 35:11); he is addressed as the "Judge of all the earth" (Ge 18:25), and as such is known to have intercourse with Pharaoh and Abimelech (Ge 12:17; Ge 20:3-8), to hallow the priesthood of Melchizedek (Ge 14:18-20), and to execute wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah. All this would confirm what the generality of the covenant with Noah, and of the promise of blessing to "all nations" in Abraham's seed, must have distinctly taught, that the chosen family were, not substitutes, but representatives, of all mankind, and that God's relation to them was only a clearer and more perfect type of that in which he stood to all.
Still the distinction and preservation of the chosen family, and the maintenance of the paternal authority, are the special purposes, which give a key to the meaning of the history, and of the institutions recorded. For this the birthright (probably carrying with it the priesthood) was reserved to the first-born, belonging to him by inheritance, yet not assured to him till he received his father's blessing; for this the sanctity of marriage was jealously and even cruelly guarded, as in Ge 34:7,13,31 (Dinah), and in 38:24 (Tamar), from the license of the world without; and, all intermarriage with idolaters was considered as treason to the family and the God of Abraham (Ge 26:34-35; Ge 27:46; Ge 28:1,6-9). Natural obedience and affection are the earthly virtues especially brought out in the history, and the sins dwell upon (from the irreverence of Ham to the selling of Joseph), are all such as offend against these.
The type of character formed under such a dispensation is one imperfect in intellectual and spiritual' growth, because not yet tried by the subtler temptations, or forced to contemplate the deeper questions of life; but it is one remarkably simple, affectionate and free, such as would grow up under a natural authority, derived from God and centering in him, yet allowing, under its unquestioned sacredness, a familiarity and freedom of intercourse with him, which is strongly contrasted with the stern and awful character of the Mosaic dispensation. To contemplate it from a Christian point of view is like looking back on, the unconscious freedom and innocence of childhood, with that deeper insight and strength of character which are gained by the experience of manhood. We see in it the germs of the future, of the future revelation of God, and the future trials and development off man.
It is on this fact that the typical interpretation off its history depends — an interpretation sanctioned directly by the example of Paul (Ga 4:21-31; Heb 7:1-17), indirectly supported by other passages of Scripture (Mt 24:37-39; Lu 17:28-32; Ro 9:10-13, etc.), and instinctively adopted by all who have studied the history itself. By this is not meant, of course, that in themselves the patriarchs were different from other men, but that the record of their lives is so written as to exhibit this typical character in them. "The materials of the history of Genesis are so selected, methodized, and marshalled as to be like rays converging steadily from various points to one central focus. The incidents in the lives of the patriarchs, which seem trivial when read literally, and which would never have been recorded unless they had possessed a prospective value, and unless he who guided the writer had perceived them to have that prospective value, all fall into their proper place when they are read by the light which is shed on them by the Gospel of Christ.... They are so selected as to be full of instruction" (Wordsworth, Introd. to Genesis etc. p. 34). To this may be added, from the same authority, the beautiful illustration of Augustine (comp. Faust. Manich. 22:94: "As it is in a harp, where only the strings which are struck emit the sound, and yet all things in the instrument are so fitted together as to minister to the strings which send forth the music, so in these prophetic narratives of the Pentateuch, the incidents which are selected by the prophetic spirit either send forth an articulate sound themselves, and pre-announce something that is future, or else they are there inserted in order that they may bind together the strings which produce the sounds." Even in the brief outline of the antediluvian period we may recognize the main features of the history of the world, the division of mankind into the two great classes, the struggle between the power of evil and good, the apparent triumph of the evil, and its destruction in the final judgment. In the postdiluvian history of the chosen family is seen the distinction of the true believers, possessors of a special covenant, special revelation, and special privileges, from the world without. In it is therefore shadowed out the history of the Jewish nation and Christian Church, as regards the freedom of their covenant, the gradual unfolding of their revelation, and the peculiar blessings and temptations which belong to their distinctive position. It is thus but natural that the unfolding of the characters of the patriarchs under this dispensation should have a typical interest. Abraham, as the type of a faith, both brave and patient, gradually and continuously growing under the education of various trials, stands contrasted with the lower character of Jacob, in whom the same faith is seen, tainted with deceit and selfishness, and needing therefore to be purged by disappointment and suffering. Isaac, in the passive gentleness and submissiveness which characterize his whole life, and is seen especially in his willingness to be sacrificed by the hand of his father, and Joseph, in the more active spirit of love, in which he rejoiced to save his family and to forgive those who had persecuted and sold him, set forth the perfect spirit of sonship, and are seen to be types especially of him in whom alone that spirit dwelt in all fullness.
This typical character in the hands of the mythical school is, of course, made an argument against the historical reality of the whole; those who recognize a unity of principle in God's dispensations at all times will be prepared to find, even in their earliest and simplest form, the same features which are more fully developed in their later periods. SEE TYPE.
See Maier, De vivacitate patriarcharum (Kiel, 1669); Frondin, De patriarchis Hebraeorum (Greifsw. 1709); Michaelis, De actiquitatibus ocononice patriarchalis (Halle, 1728-9); Hess, Gesch. der Patriarchen (Zurich, 1785); Sommerfeld, Leben der Patriarchen (Elbing. 1841); Walch, lIist. patriarchalrum Jud. (Jena, 1752); Heidegger, Hist. Patriarcharum (Amst. 1667); Cumming, Lives and Lessons of the Patriarchs (Lond. 1865); Maurice, Platriarchs and Lawgivers of the O.T. (ibid. 1855); and the literature referred to in Darling, Cyclop. Bibliog. col. 1841.