Saturday, January 1, 2011

Genesis 4-7 Adam and Eve Start a Family

After screwing up a good thing in Eden, Adam and Eve start the human race.  But it doesn't start off that well.
This also marks the start of the Bible's favorite past time, LONG list of names and ages.

I'm really excited about all the conversation going on here but, I love to get some input from Christians and others of faith.  If you know anyone that may be interested, please send them here.

Todays question is: Do these near endless lists of names give any credibility to the Bible as an historical document (not necessarily the word of god but as a census of sorts)?
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50 comments:

  1. In answer to your question, no. However note the overlap in the two lists in 4 and 5. Both contain Enoch, Methusael/Methuselah, Lamech in that order (though the Cain lineage throws in two more between Enoch and Methusael). Cain and Cainen (Seth lineage) also seem to be cognates.

    Also "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" seems to imply Enoch did not die (much like Elijah later in the Bible but a bit problematic for some Christian theology).

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  2. God doesn't need to prove himself nor his word, so it is not about evidence. In my view, it is about the importance of relationship and heritage.

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  3. I've always been fascinated by the endless lists of begats. I wonder about the people for whom it was so important to establish these lineages. I love that they don't just give names and ages but little personal details like "he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ" or the little side-story about Lamech and the man he slew.

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  4. This sounds like a great project, so I'd like to jump in if I may, from time to time...

    - For no apparent reason, God does not respect Cain's offering of crops, but respects Abel's offering of lamb. Why would God not respect an offering that Cain clearly worked hard to produce? This seems like a hastily constructed, and therefore unconvincing, device intended to get us to the author's main story of the murder of Abel.


    - "Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold."

    This contradicts the laws of proportional punishment (an eye for an eye, and so on) that will come later in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Not good news for the idea of an unchanging God.

    - Interesting use of the term "sons of God" in Gen.6:2. Makes one wonder if the gospel writers had a similarly innocuous interpretation in mind when they wrote about Jesus.

    - God betrays the benevolent nature attributed him by his followers by deciding to commit genocide on a global scale, by drowning. And of course, all the animals have to go too, even though they are innocent of any wrong. Once again, this comes across as a rather weakly constructed device to explain, in theistic terms, what the author understood was a real flooding event (and which may actually have been such, although not on a global scale).

    The widespread evil on the earth prior to the flood does not look good on God's CV: his project of human creation is a failure.

    I won't go into the physical impossibilities of a global flood, and of maintaining living individuals of all the earth's species on a single boat, since these have been much discussed elsewhere. Once again, this comes across as an attempt by the author to explain his observation that animals and plants still live despite the impossibility of their surviving a global flood.

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  5. all credibility goes out the window when the list consists of people who lived for 900+ years...

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  6. Hi there,
    I have just restarted exactly the same project - reading the King James over the course of a year. I have just read the first six chapters of Numbers, which is full of begatting (census stuff, service level agreements for tabernacle-tending).
    To answer your question - no, I don't see how it does. As commenter 2 said - God doesn't need proof (or rather, people who have faith don't do the whole 'proof' thing).

    Anyway, here's a link to my latest post.
    http://thekingjamessubversion.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/let-us-count-the-ways-numbers-1-to-6/

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  7. In answer to the question "Do these near endless lists of names give any credibility to the Bible as an historical document (not necessarily the word of god but as a census of sorts)?" - my personal opinion is that they give familial context, much not much else.

    A side note: In Gen 4 - After Cain is cast out, there's clearly a problem with the family line, as all females materialize out of nowhere in order to become wives.

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  8. I find it puzzling that it gets so very specific about all these "begats", but (as the Skeptic's Annotated Bible points out), there is no mention of where some of these first guys, like Cain, got their wives from. I suppose they had to be sisters or nieces since Adam and Eve were the only gig on the block at the time.

    And hey, I've already learned something. There are giants in the Bible. I seriously did not know they were mentioned.

    Also, I've noticed in these chapters the prominence of the number 7 (sevenfold vengeance, 77fold vengeance, 7 of each "clean" animal, 7 days before the flood). What is the significance of the number 7?

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  9. I don't look at the list of names in the Bible as a census of the Bible, but more of a list of characters for the beginning of a book. Writers normally start out with a basic summary of what they want to write, create a comprehensive outline, then they will add characters giving them names, physical characteristics, and limited background information. In my opinion the Bible is a long lived tragic novel filled with glorified battles and enough sex to make even the raciest romance novel blush.

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  10. Todays question is: Do these near endless lists of names give any credibility to the Bible as an historical document (not necessarily the word of god but as a census of sorts)?

    Depends on the list of names. Some are probably accurate, some are plainly invented (such as Jesus's conflicting Davidic lineages in the NT.)

    If you love censuses, you'll find the second part of the book of Joshua extremely exciting.

    What is the significance of the number 7?

    One of the sources is OBSESSED with 7. From Joshua 6:4

    "Seven priests shall go in front of the Ark carrying seven trumpets made from ram's horns. On the seventh day you shall march round the city seven times and the priest shall blow their trumpets."

    The parts of Noah's story that deal with 7s are from the Jahwist source- the same guy that brought you Adam and Eve's Eden Adventures in Genesis 2-3. This source ("J") extends through to the book of Joshua and Samuel/Kings.

    Apparently, the dude liked the number seven.

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  11. - Interesting use of the term "sons of God" in Gen.6:2. Makes one wonder if the gospel writers had a similarly innocuous interpretation in mind when they wrote about Jesus.


    According to my annotated Bible, "sons of God" is a Canaanite term for the gods in their pantheon (Baal, Asherah, etc.) 6:1-4 is an older insertion, reflecting older beliefs.

    This is one of many, many, MANY hints that the Israelites were originally themselves Canaanites (at least a certain subset within Canaanite culture.) YHWH-worship came later, and monotheism even later.

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  12. - For no apparent reason, God does not respect Cain's offering of crops, but respects Abel's offering of lamb. Why would God not respect an offering that Cain clearly worked hard to produce? This seems like a hastily constructed, and therefore unconvincing, device intended to get us to the author's main story of the murder of Abel.

    I think it's actually a device used to point out that god likes the Israelites/Hebrews way of life better than the other groups around them. ie: Meat from herding pleases god, but produce from farming doesn't, therefore our way of life is best.

    As a technical note: I would really like at least a link to these passages at the beginning of the posts as we go through them. It's laziness, but I'm much more likely to follow along if I can click over to it instead of looking it up myself.

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  13. That's a great comment, Valerie. All my life I've wondered in what context it could make sense that God rejected Cain's offering, and you've just given me the first coherent explanation. I'm learning already!

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  14. The Cain and Abel story also makes more sense if you look at it from the POV of the people listening to the story. The early Hebrews, primarily a herding nomadic people, spent most of the time being conquered back and forth by the various empires of antiquity. One of the defining characteristics of the powerful early societies? Agriculture, which allowed for a specialized soldier class and organized armies. This transition from a fairly loosely organized pastoral society to a more rigid agricultural one would have been pretty traumatic for the early hebrews, and the cain/abel story is a reaction to that trauma. Actually much of the early bible is caught up in this struggle between pastoral and agricultural life. The casting out of paradise is marked by the punishment of Adam, who must now work the soil, when before he simply gathered what he needed.

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  15. Very interesting Blotz, thanks!

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  16. I see the lists the same way as J Northern, that is as a cast of characters being introduced. I think the Hebrews liked to keep all the main characters from their stories connected through a single lineage: Adam to Noah to the patriarchs to David. The early Christians then tacked Jesus onto that with the lineages that connect him to David.

    I like Esdras's comment about the Israelites being an offshoot of the Canaanites and their religion developing from Canaanite religion. It reminds me that one of the questions I'm keeping in mind as I read through the OT this time is whether the writers of the OT seem like monotheists and to what degree the worldview underlying the OT resembles modern monotheism. Certain parts have struck me in the past as sounding like the existance of many other gods besides YHWH were assumed by the authors.

    In addition, a lot of the primordial history in Genesis bears striking resemblance to older myths from the region, such as the Enuma Elish and the flood story of Utnapishtim (a model for Noah?) in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Wikipedia them to check it out.

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  17. Another facet of the Cain/Abel story is its definition of what is acceptable sacrifice. Yahweh wants meat! Barbara Ehrenreich posits in her great book "Blood Rites", that the ancient deities were representations of the large carnivores that harried our stone age ancestors. Whats more, the meat they usually wanted was people! The Abraham Isaac story we'll get to later is an allegory for the transitionb from human to animal sacrifice.

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  18. Question: Today's question is: Do these near endless lists of names give any credibility to the Bible as an historical document (not necessarily the word of god but as a census of sorts)?

    Answer: No.

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  19. "And hey, I've already learned something. There are giants in the Bible. I seriously did not know they were mentioned."

    The Creationist museum speculates they were in fact dinosaurs.

    Interesting speculation about Cain and Able. I have always felt he was seriously mistreated.

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  20. I tend to side with Blotz, the Cain and Able story is another cultural parable, about the struggle of agricultural society v hunter/gatherer. Told from the view of the Semites, who were hunter/gatherer.

    Is there a Biblical explanation of the extended lifespans? All I have been able to find online are rationalizations.

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  21. Also, http://www.blueletterbible.org has all of the Strong's references. Searchable by verse.

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  22. I really wish we had an 'edit' button.

    Something I just thought of: If there was enough water to cover all the mountains at just under 7 meters, then wouldn't that seriously alter the earth/moons orbital dynamics? The oceans we have now influence the Moons orbit, what would an entire sloshing liquid planet do?

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  23. How omniscient is god supposed to be? I noticed in 3:9 god couldn't find Adam hiding in the trees, and in 4:9 god didn't know Cain had killed Abel.

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  24. The endless lists of names do give us a hint of the oral tradition of the bible There are many groups of people who taught genealogy to their children this way.
    Trying to understand the bible as history is a silly exercise, but trying to understand the history of the bible could be interesting.

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  25. Not really, not without corroborating historical documents to back it up.

    But it is a good device to give a sense of credibility.

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  26. Asimovs Guide to the Bible, which is an invaluable resource for this sort of endeavor, explains the long list of antediluvian patriarchs as a reflection of ancient Sumerian legends which contained long lists of kings who ruled for thousands of years. The methuselan ages in these lists may seem silly to us now, but the original storytellers probably thought they were being much more sensible than their Sumerian predecessors.

    Actually a lot of this early bible is best understood in light of preceding Sumerian myths. There's a direct parallell between Noah and Gigamesh.

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  27. I suspect God's preference for meat reflects the high value that meat likely had in Biblical times. It was probably the most nutritious food source available to them (much like it is today), and I suspect that only the wealthier members of society could get regular access to it.

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  28. Reaching waaay back to my OT studies under Jesuits in high school, I recall that "longer life = more holy". These are not so much calculations of age, but ratings of comparative holiness, hence the decline in lifespan through (most) generations, showing the gradual corruption of humanity, and their increasing distance from God.

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  29. Antonios thanks, I was just going to ask about ages. That's a great explanation.

    On another issue from yesterday. G1:26 says Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish..."

    Us? Is there more than one god in the beginning?

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  30. For one thing, I've seen someone say "God doesn't need to prove himself." - This is my whole problem. GOD didn't write this. I can tell you that if someone I used to date & someone in my family wrote about me...they'd come out different stories completely. These are points of view. I like how someone said that trying to understand this book as a historical document is a silly exercise. Nice, I never thought about it that way. It's really just people's diaries. They were chosen & other books have been left out all together. (Perhaps these were the points of view that were looked down upon???

    All these begats, and people are living longer lives than us. WOW, we lost some important medical people/equipment/ideas in the flood. I DO think this was a historical (I'm not saying accurate) census.

    Someone said..."For no apparent reason, God does not respect Cain's offering of crops, but respects Abel's offering of lamb. Why would God not respect an offering that Cain clearly worked hard to produce? This seems like a hastily constructed, and therefore unconvincing, device intended to get us to the author's main story of the murder of Abel."

    YES! Very nice. I guess, though, since God knows about us from day one, he knew this would happen. Why did he create these people if he KNEW everyone would be so evil?

    "Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold."

    There sure is a lot of talk about vengeance and hate. I thought "God is love"?

    Getting into the flood story...that is a LOT of water and a little bitty raft for all those animals. What about food for these meat-eating animals. I guess he has to gather and kill a lot of food to feed all those animals and his family. Wouldn't that fill the raft all on it's own??

    Good call, everyone, on the wife situation. There are a lot of things left out already. We are only reading the first book. So there were giants too? I didn't even know there were giants...but it seems that these women that "pop" into the story are said to have procreated with them. Someone said the creationist museum labeled them as dinosaurs...procreation with dinosaurs?


    Reading this over again (I haven't read anything since Sunday school as a child) makes me angry. I feel lied to, I feel brainwashed. I've got to "learn to walk again" without the "crutch" of the bible.


    "Something I just thought of: If there was enough water to cover all the mountains at just under 7 meters, then wouldn't that seriously alter the earth/moons orbital dynamics? The oceans we have now influence the Moons orbit, what would an entire sloshing liquid planet do?"

    ****Wow, very cool point. I like that.

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  31. @Cunni: Yes and no... Most folks assume that Yahweh is using a "royal" us. Most likely the Hebrews went back and forth from monotheism to polytheism and back again as they developed and the world around them developed. Also a lot of less sophisticated apologists will contend that he's conversing with the Angels at this point.

    Throughout the OT we will find references to other gods. They never form the Greek style pantheon of deities that we might build in a D&D game. They're more likely rivals, each having his chosen people as Yahweh has his. Baal's chosen people just didn't win the historical lottery to hang around long enough to have an impact on modern times.

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  32. The other suggestion given for the 'us' is that God is speaking his court (angels for monotheists, lesser gods for polytheists).

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  33. I'm interested in Enoch (Jared's son, not Cain's. For some reason, they were already running out of names that early.). Everyone else lived upwards of 900 years, but Enoch "only" made it to 365 before "God took him". They never explain how he eats it, but I like to assume that it involved pie.

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  34. Regarding the sons of God in 6:5, is there a clue to this in 4:1? When Eve delivers Cain, she says that the has "gotten a man from the LORD." Would this perhaps mean that Cains children (Sons of God) are marrying Seth's children (men's daughters), and this mixing causes the anger and the flood?

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  35. A lot of good points tonight, particularly around the agrarian/hunter-gatherer conflict.

    Homer also used a list of names at the beginning of the Iliad. I think that list is used to bring in a popular local name into the story and by that establish a larger, multi-village story-telling community. That mechanism might apply here.

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  36. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/book.php?book=Genesis&chapter=4&verse=

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  37. To answer your question...
    Let me start by saying that once you get through the first five books the age and family tree thing really slows down...a ton. But to answer your question yes...keep in mind God intended us to read the Bible for Faith purposes and learn His law too and not for only family tree purposes.

    I notice many of these posts are referring to the OT and Christians. Lets remember that the Christian faith did not begin with Genesis but with Matthew. We Christians accept the old teachings but our foundation is with Jesus.

    Even Jesus had issues with what was being practiced with His Fathers Law in the OT.

    so many posts should be questioning the Jewish teachings with these OT issues as well.

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  38. And...yes Jewish and Christians worship the same and only God

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  39. Tom, that's great insight. I would gather many here would appreciate your point of view. I assume most here, like me, are either from a Christian background or live in a majority Christian environment, so I'd guess that many of our religious-based questions will be Christian focused.

    So your continued help will be appreciated.

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  40. And...yes Jewish and Christians worship the same and only God

    And Muslims, of course?

    I don't see how the Jewish God and the Christian God can be identical, since only one of them had a son.

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  41. +++For no apparent reason, God does not respect Cain's offering of crops, but respects Abel's offering of lamb. Why would God not respect an offering that Cain clearly worked hard to produce?
    Grain sacrifices do not involve blood.
    +++all credibility goes out the window when the list consists of people who lived for 900+ years...
    They were closer to God back then, don't ya know.
    +++ number7
    There was some sort of psychological study a while back (good luck finding it) that suggested that somewhere between 6 and 8 items is all we can really keep in our head, and for longer lists we have to start making groups. Look at the alphabet song:
    ABCDEFG
    HIJK
    LMNOP
    QRS
    TUV
    WXYZ
    Six groups of 7 or less items. This might be the basis for 7 being a "magic number".

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  42. (such as Jesus's conflicting Davidic lineages in the NT.)
    These lineages do not conflict. One is his lineage thru Joseph. The other is his lineage thru Mary. Since Mary had no brothers, Jesus was first heir of both grandfathers, both back to the ancestor King David.

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  43. The mates of the early men were clearly close female relatives. The gene pool was much purer at this stage and inbreeding was not a problem.

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  44. I've heard that the significance of the number 7 comes from astrology: there are 7 objects in the sky that move against the background of stars: (1) the Sun, (2) the Moon, the visible planets (3) Mercury,(4) Venus, (5) Mars, (6) Jupiter, (7) Saturn.

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  45. What an exciting journey. To become aware. Coming to be in the garden with no knowledge of death, nor understanding of limits just the instinctive mind reaching for what one can. Then the tree of knowledge. Becoming aware. Seeing that you are naked, that death comes, that things have consequences, that good and evil exists. And as you look out to this scary place that is the universe and the forces that control it you announce it all as "god". And believe you can bargain with it. Manipulate it for your advantage. The storytellers begin to speak of their deals and the revealing of truths in the this universe/god. That they find things that are pliable and meaningful. And they put these stories down as guideposts to us. For the are now self aware and care enough for each other to try to preserve the knowledge they have gained through testimony,story and myth. Amazing beginning to the journey.

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  46. There are giants in the Bible. Goliath was one. 1 Samuel 17.
    A dinosaur is also mentioned in Job 40. Indicating that man and dinosaur lived at the same time.
    And also a dragon, Job 41.

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  47. Hey all, Sara here. I'm a fundamental, evangelical Baptist (oh, no, not one of them!) in a science major at a public university, so I've faced my share of questions regarding the authenticity of the Bible. I was reading through and noticed the question on who the "us" referred to during the creation account is supposed to be. I've been taught throughout my life that this is the first reference to the Trinity, so that God the Father is talking to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

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  48. I don't think the Bible needs our approval for credibility-I believe it is the Word of God. And as far as purpose for there being "endless lists", Perhaps the main reason for their permanent inscripturation in this fashion is simply to illustrate the great truth that God knows and cares about every one of His children. We do know that each of our names is written in “the book of life of the Lamb” and in God’s “book of remembrance . . . for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name” (Revelation 13:8; Malachi 3:16). Perhaps, as a small token and assurance of these great lists in heaven, God has listed a few of these names in His Book here on Earth. Credit again to icr.org

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  49. Great comments! I thought the Cain/Abel agrarian/hunter-gatherer parallel was particularly interesting.

    One commenter mentioned my favorite book of the bible: the book of Asimov (Asimov's Guide to the Bible). In his book, Isaac Asimov explains that the long lists of "begats" may not represent actual people, but instead are "eponymous" references to tribes (i.e. each tribe is identified by a character's name).

    (The remainder of this post is my own speculation, so don't blame Dr. Asimov.)

    These eponymous tribe names are similar to clan names in Scotland (e.g. not all members of clan MacDonald are actually the son of Donald, as "MacDonald" implies).

    One tribe "begat" another tribe by dividing its territory among new smaller tribes. As time went on, the tribes got bigger and it became necessary to subdivide them more frequently to reduce the population density to that which could be supported by hunting, gathering and primitive farming. This may explain why younger tribe names have shorter lifetimes than older tribe names.

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  50. Several people have commented on the reference to God in the plural. The word "elohim", which is often used to refer to God, is actually a plural form. The singular form is "eloah" or "el".

    The use of a plural form may indicate that the early Hebrews worshiped more than one god, or that they worshiped one among several supernatural beings that they regarded as gods (perhaps the gods of neighboring tribes), or it may simply be a use of the "royal we". Other commenters have already pointed out all of these possibilities.

    But I'm very skeptical of one possibility suggested by a commenter. I think it is highly unlikely that the use of plural references to god in Genesis prefigures the "trinity" of Christianity. Are we to believe that Hebrews/Jews used these plural forms for centuries without recognizing then (or now) that the god they worshiped was actually three gods in one?

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