You remember Noah’s three sons: Japheth, Shem, & Ham. Scriptural record suggests that there were at least two other, older brothers, who, if they existed, perished in or before the great flood.
A matter of numbers
The record in the book of Moses has Noah’s granddaughters marrying prior to the great flood, but the timeline hardly allows for Shem, Ham, or Japheth to have had children of marrying age prior to the flood. Rather, it has a vacuum which seems to expect the existence of earlier progeny, whose children would certainly have been of marrying age before the flood.
Admittedly, scriptural record has come under fire in the last 100 years, and consequently, timelines given prior to the divided kingdom of Israel will be taken lightly by critics, but in the face of criticism, the scriptural record tends to be vindicated where there is any evidence either to prove or disprove.
The age at which one becomes a father
The simplest hint that Noah had earlier sons is only circumstantial, but it had better be discussed first because the circumstance in question is integral to the weightier evidence to come. The meat of it is that unless Noah had children earlier than Japheth, he was substantially slower to father children than his forebears were—4 times slower!
Moses chapters 6 and 7 records the age of each patriarch from Adam to Noah at the time each fathered his primogeniture*. The generations before Noah yield the following ages:
130†, 105, 90, 70, 65, 162, 65, 187, 182
…and for Noah: 450. That’s about 4.3 times the median age for all previous generations (105).
(*We may reasonably presume, at least, that the lineage given follows a line of filius primus, or at least, that of the first son who survived to carry on his father’s lineage. This is not explicit in the record, however.)
(†This age actually represents the age at which Adam fathered Seth, who was preceded by at least two brothers. Having Adam’s age in fact be younger even than 130 strengthens the evidence.)
Moses 8 speaks of Noah’s granddaughters marrying wicked men‡ prior to the flood (indeed, their conduct is presented as though it were a significant incitement of the flood). Significantly, Moses 8:14–15 speaks of them as the daughters of the sons of Noah, so if we imagine that Shem, Ham, and Japheth were the only sons of Noah, at least Japheth and Shem were old enough to have daughters of marrying age.
Noah was 492 when Shem was born, so if we give Shem the mean fathering age for his predecessors (105 years old), then Noah would have been approximately 597 years old at the time his granddaughters were born.
At what age would a woman of that period marry? It’s hard to say, but the earliest suggestion of the parity/disparity of a wife’s age to that of her husband in the descendancy that we’re dealing with is that of Sarai (Sarah) and Abram (Abraham). Genesis 17:17 indicates that Sarai was 10 years younger than Abram. This isn’t enough evidence to suggest that in the time of Noah (1000 years earlier) the practice was the same, but it is enough to destroy any assumption that Noah’s practice was associated with the marrying age at the time of Christ (~12 years old for a woman) (unless the marrying age for men was ~20, but that’s just not realistic, as it means that couples would generally put off procreating for ~100 years).
Regardless of whether the marrying age of Noah’s granddaughters was near to that of their husbands or much lower, however, the math still doesn’t work. Genesis 7:6 states that “Noah was 600 years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.” If we keep our assumption that Shem married at age 105, his daughters would have to marry at the age of 3 for that to work.
If we back down Shem’s (and Japheth’s) fathering age to the very earliest had among their predecessors (65 years old), that leaves 43 years for the daughters. Having Shem’s daughters marry at the age of 43 comes across unlikely since their husbands presumably got married at a mean age of 2.4 times as old (unless there was a consistent and significant gap between marriage and filius primus, which is doubtful).
(‡It is interesting to note at this point that we see quite the reverse of what is represented in Genesis viz. sons/daughters of god and sons/daughters of men. In Genesis, the sons of god take the daughters of men to wife, whereas in Moses, the daughters of the sons of god are taken to wife of the sons of men.)
It gets worse
Even if you discredit the foregoing assumptions—that is, if you suppose that:
- two of Noah’s sons married as young as the youngest in precedent
- brides at the time of Noah’s grandchildren were less than half as old as their husbands
- couples tended to wait a long time after marrying before birthing their primogeniture
- two of Noah’s sons defied this convention, having daughters shortly after marrying
—even then, you still have problems with the timeline. Look at Moses 8:15–17. In verse 15, God decries the marriages of Noah’s granddaughters. In verse 16, Noah undertakes a ministry. In verse 17, God threatens to send the great flood.
The line to focus on is in verse 17: “all flesh shall die; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years; and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them.”
It is possible that God’s pronouncement in verse 17 was given before the events of verses 15 and 16, but the organization of the chapter implies the contrary. That means that the flood must have fallen no sooner than 120 years after the earliest marriages of the daughters of the sons of Noah.
Even if you outright omit Noah’s granddaughters and add that 120 years into the timeline right after the birth of Shem, Noah would be 612. That’s 12 years after the flood.
If Noah had at least 5 sons…
If Noah had at least 5 sons, the math works (and so do the semantics of “daughters of [Noah's] sons”).
We can suppose that Noah started fathering at the median time for his ascendancy (age 105). Add another 105 years for his first sons to have children of their own (Noah reaches age 210). Add another 105 years for his earliest granddaughters to get married (Noah reaches age 315). Add another 120 years for God’s prophesy in Moses 7:17 (Noah reaches age 435).
That’s completely believable and there’s no shortage of wiggle room. We just have to push the prophecy 165 years later, during which interim, we suppose it was business as usual, fathering more children, grandfathering more grandchildren.
Room for error
Admittedly, interpretation of scripture is notorious for being contradicted by other scriptures, and the matter of Noah’s children is no exception.
In particular, Moses 7:42–43 displays the prophecy (made in Enoch’s day) “that the posterity of all the sons of Noah should be saved with a temporal salvation.” (Verse 43 makes it clear that the temporal salvation in question is indeed salvation from death in the flood.)
Tradition and 1 Peter 3:20 teach that none of Noah’s grandchildren was saved in the ark. If our portrait of history relies on Noah’s earlier sons having daughters and on none of those daughters surviving the flood, then we have a conflict of source material. I.e. if none of Noah’s grandchildren were spared the flood, then the posterity of his drowned sons was not saved with a temporal salvation.
It seems likely that our interpretation of one or more of the foregoing scriptures is in error. The most likely error is an error in the semantics of “all” (not an unknown problem with transmitted, transmuted, or translated texts). Perhaps “all the sons of Noah” as used in Moses 7 means only all the sons that are known.
There is good scope for creativity, however; the foregoing teachings might yet be reconciled at least one other way: a remnant of the houses of Noah’s earlier sons might have escaped the known world and so avoided the flood. In such case, the whole (known) world would still be inundated, but the posterity of all the sons of Noah would be preserved.