What to make of Genesis chapters ten and eleven? I have suggested that the chapters are not chronological. That is to say, chapter ten describes where the Families of Noah wound up after the scattering at Babel and chapter eleven records the event which scattered them. Others, including Middleton, have suggested that they are in chronological order and chapter eleven refers to just some of the Hamite clans associated with Nimrod. Some evidence has prompted me to reconsider this question.
I understand the need for more time in some views of early Genesis. If they place the events of the tower of Babel in the early second millennium B.C., or even more recently, then that is too late to make a case that all of those other nations listed in the table scattered to their respective locations subsequent to that event. For example a model with a flood date of even 2,900 B.C. and a tower of Babel around 1,000 years later does not line up with the historical record for the founding of some of these nations. The Christ-centered model doesn't have those limitations. I calculate the flood date to be around 4,500 B.C. and the scattering at Babel with the sudden end of the "Uruk Expansion" at around 3200-3100 B.C. The extra time is not strictly necessary in my model, but it wouldn't hurt either.
I would say the three strongest points for Middleton's view are that 1) the chapters would be in chronological order, 2) Nimrod is associated directly with Babel, and 3) the same word for "scattered" is used in 10:18 ("afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad") and in the Babel account.
Number three is the strongest point in my view, so I want to look at it in detail. Let me point out though that the evidence which makes point #3 strong also undermines point #1 insofar as it must be viewed at least in part as referring to things which happened after the events of chapter eleven. On further consideration, a synthesis of these ideas is that chapter ten is a record of events over a long period of time, perhaps starting before the tower account but also describing things which occurred after it.
Let's look at point #3 supporting the idea that the "they" in Chapter eleven is restricted to some members of the Cushites from whom Nimrod came, and the Canaanites.....
Verse 18 of chapter ten says that "afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad". The word used for "scattered" is just that Hebrew word used in chapter eleven verses four, eight and nine- connecting the two accounts. In other words, what the men were afraid would happen (11:4) is that they would be "scattered", and what the Lord did was just what they were afraid of- He scattered them (11:8-9). And the table of nations reports that the descendants of Canaan were "afterward scattered abroad." After what? If the event the "afterward" is referencing in 10:18 is the tower of Babel, then it supports the idea that chapter eleven is talking about just the clans of Cush and Canaan.
In this view the other clans split off from them earlier. Canaan was under a curse from Noah. Maybe the clan was held in low esteem by the others. So they went their own way with those who would band with them- the clan of Cush which assumed a leadership role. Nimrod tried to hold these clans together but in the end the Canaanites left his empire and many of the clans of Cush did as well.
That all makes sense, and it may have been what happened. I am still mulling it over. Especially a modified view of the theory that has the Japathites alone going their own way with "gentiles"- other peoples in the northern and western hills- while the sons of Shem and Ham stuck together longer. The text of chapter ten does seem to treat the Japethites as being especially associated with the far-flung "iles of the Gentiles" and it mentions them doing so early in the chapter. But that is just Japheth, here are some things from the text against the idea that it was only the Cushites and the Canaanites in Babel....
1. Asshur is a son of Shem yet in 10:10-11 it says he went "out of Shinar" where Nimrod's kingdom was, to build Calah. So this Shemite clan appears to have been working with Nimrod from the start.
2. The lands of the other sons of Shem except for Lud (the Lydians) are all close to Shinar. Asshur secured the ground to his north. Aram took the land to his west (Arameans or Syrians), Arphaxad (Chaldeans) to his south, and Elam (Elamites) to his west. It looks like Nimrod had the center and his Shemite kin took the lands around him, almost like satellite states.
3. Genesis chapter eleven says that they journeyed from the east and found a plain in Shinar. It doesn't say there who the "we" is but notice that none of the clans wind up far to the east of Shinar. They are either at the eastern edge of it, or further west. So this indicates all clans could have been a part of the group that found Shinar, even if only two of the three families of Noah then settled it.
4. There were no chapter divisions in the originals. Chapter eleven should be read as a continuation or a connected account of ten, and the last verse of chapter ten references all of the families of the sons of Noah. I concede that it could have been part of another tablet (I hold to a modified tablet theory), but even that does not imply that the "they" in chapter eleven is anyone different than whoever it was talking about in 10:32. Only that it could be. That it is not specified to start the account lends weight to the idea that it was the families of Noah discussed earlier (though perhaps not many from Japheth).
5. Verse 11:5 identifies the "they" as "the children of Adam". It seems to me that if this were just the descendants of Ham here then it could have said that. Especially if it were just the Canaanites who were under Noah's curse and some Cushites. Instead, they are identified with a moniker which applies to all of Noah's offspring (but not the gentiles according to the Christ-centered model).
6. By tradition, the families of Noah stayed in a region near the ark landing until Noah died. But that was only 100 years after the flood. Then they "journeyed from the east." How many of them were there after only 100 years? Surely less than three hundred. Why split up in a dangerous world?
In conclusion, I can't go as far as the Middleton Hypothesis but just considering it has opened my thinking to a modification of the view which I previously held. Perhaps the clans of Japheth mostly stayed to the north from the beginning as they journeyed "from the east" and wound up entangling themselves with the foreign peoples in that region (gentiles originally meant "foreigners"). So they split early from the others and mostly did not settle Shinar. The clans of Shem (save for Lud who went with the Japhethites) and Ham settled in the plain of Shinar.
When Nimrod did his empire building he divided up the land among his kin. The other four sons of Shem took up positions on his flanks and he ruled from the center with the Canaanites who likely had a subsidiary role. When things went bad, the Canaanites scattered.The Shemites were already somewhat physically removed so they actually did not run as far from Nimrod as the clans of Canaan (and the other clans of Ham) which were closer to him and thus more under his thumb.