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Genesis 10:25:

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.

Is "his" referring to Eber or Peleg in this case? In other words, did the dividing happen in Eber's days or Peleg's days?

If it was referring to Peleg, that raises two follow-up questions:

  • Why would something that happened in one's lifetime influence one's name? Does this mean that his name was changed? How often did that happen? (One prominent example I can think of was Abraham, of course).
  • Why did that happen in Peleg's days (but not in his brother's days)?
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    That the earth was divided in Peleg's days does not imply that it was not divided in his brother's days. All we know is that it's not what his brother was named for. And why would it be? That's Peleg's thing. Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 11:48
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    It is not clear from the English text whether "the earth was divided" is a description of a singular event, of a recurring event, or of an enduring state of the world. Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 11:51

3 Answers 3

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Genesis 10:25

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.

The pronoun refers to the closest antecedent: Peleg.

There is no mention in the Bible that his name being changed because in his days the earth was divided. In fact, his name means division.

Pulpit

the name of one was Peleg. "Division," from palg, to divide;

Why did that happen in Peleg's days (but not in his brother's days)?

Peleg was named after the event of division.

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"Peleg" certainly means "division" and the antecedent of "his" in Gen 10:25 is definitely "Peleg". The most helpful analysis of this text is given by Albert Barnes showing that the "division" is a reference to the dividing of languages that occurs in Gen 11.

(56) Peleg is remarkable on account of the origin assigned to his name. "In his days was the land divided." Here two questions occur. What is the meaning of the earth being divided, and what is the time denoted by "his days?" The verb "divide" (פלג pālag) occurs only three times elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures 1 Chronicles 1:19; Job 38:25; Psalm 55:10. The connection in which this rare word is used in the Psalm, "divide their tongues," seems to determine its reference in the present passage to the confusion of tongues and consequent dispersion of mankind recorded in the following chapter. This affords a probable answer to our first question. The land was in his days divided among the representative heads of the various nations. But to what point of time are we directed by the phrase "in his days?" Was the land divided at his birth, or some subsequent period of his life? The latter is possible, as Jacob and Gideon received new names, and Joshua an altered name, in later life.

The phrase "in his days" seems to look the same way. And the short interval from the deluge to his birth appears scarcely to suffice for such an increase of the human family as to allow of a separation into nations. Yet, on the other hand, it is hard to find any event in later life which connected this individual more than any other with the dispersion of man. It is customary to give the name at birth. The phrase "in his days" may, without any straining, refer to this period. And if we suppose, at a time when there were only a few families on the earth, an average increase of ten children in each in four generations, we shall have a thousand, or twelve hundred full-grown persons, and, therefore, may have five hundred families at the birth of Peleg. We cannot suppose more than fifty-five nations distinguished from one another at the dispersion, as Heber is the fifty-fifth name, and all the others are descended from him.

Thus, it appears that the division of languages that is recorded in Gen 11 occurred about the time of of Peleg's birth.

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  • That seems like a pretty plausible explanation to me (that the Tower of Babel incident occurred right around the time that he was born, so he was named after it). Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 21:24
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The Hebrew Bible likes to give reasons for people's names. For example, in Genesis 2:

7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
...
20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

It's not obvious in the translation, but in the original Hebrew "ground" (אֲדָמָה / 'ădâmâh) and "Adam" (אָדָם / 'âdâm, which means "man") are very similar, so people reading the Hebrew would instantly see the connection between "Adam" and "dirt".

From e-Sword (you need to download and install it on your computer):

H120
אָדָם
'âdâm
aw-dawm'
From H119; ruddy, that is, a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.): - X another, + hypocrite, + common sort, X low, man (mean, of low degree), person.

H127
אֲדָמָה
'ădâmâh
ad-aw-maw'
From H119; soil (from its general redness): - country, earth, ground, husband [-man] (-ry), land.

Further along in Genesis 2:

23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

[The Hebrew words for woman (ishshah) and man (ish) sound alike]

From e-Sword:

H802
נָשִׁים    אִשָּׁה
'ishshâh    nâshı̂ym
ish-shaw', naw-sheem'
The first form is the feminine of H376 or H582; the second form is an irregular plural; a woman (used in the same wide sense as H582).: - [adulter]ess, each, every, female, X many, + none, one, + together, wife, woman. Often unexpressed in English.

H376
אִישׁ
'ı̂ysh
eesh
Contracted for H582 (or perhaps rather from an unused root meaning to be extant); a man as an individual or a male person; often used as an adjunct to a more definite term (and in such cases frequently not expressed in translation.) : - also, another, any (man), a certain, + champion, consent, each, every (one), fellow, [foot-, husband-] man, (good-, great, mighty) man, he, high (degree), him (that is), husband, man [-kind], + none, one, people, person, + steward, what (man) soever, whoso (-ever), worthy. Compare H802.

So e-Sword gives more detail, in saying that אִשָּׁה / 'ishshâh (woman) is the feminine form of אִישׁ / 'ı̂ysh (man).

And in Genesis 3:

20 The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

[Eve sounds like the Hebrew for life-giver and resembles the word for living]

From e-Sword:

H2332
חַוָּה
chavvâh
khav-vaw'
Causative from H2331; lifegiver; Chavvah (or Eve), the first woman: - Eve.

H2416
חַי
chay
khah'ee
From H2421; alive; hence raw (flesh); fresh (plant, water, year), strong; also (as noun, especially in the feminine singular and masculine plural) life (or living thing), whether literally or figuratively: -    + age, alive, appetite, (wild) beast, company, congregation, life (-time), live (-ly), living (creature, thing), maintenance, + merry, multitude, + (be) old, quick, raw, running, springing, troop.

This pattern is continued consistently throughout the Hebrew Bible, for instance in your example of Genesis 10:

25 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.

[Peleg means division]

From e-Sword:

H6389
פֶּלֶג
peleg
peh'-leg
The same as H6388; earthquake; Peleg, a son of Shem: - Peleg.

H6385
פָּלַג
pâlag
paw-lag'
A primitive root; to split (literally or figuratively): - divide.

So, when naming Peleg, it is saying "in his days the earth was divided", with the implication that "Peleg" is related to "divided". Again, this is obvious when read in the original Hebrew but becomes obscured in translation.

There are many good online translations with footnotes that can help you understand translation issues. e-Sword is also a good resource for this sort of thing.

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