Friday, June 06, 2008

Will you Date Me?

The Tanakh is precise about dates. It places its story within a specific time frame, by reference to events, ages, persons, etc. I understand the Old Earth Creationism claim which lengthens the time within Genesis One to beyond a 7-day week of 24 hour days. But once Adam appears, how does the OEC get around the fact the Tanakh gives a precise history, placing Adam at the most at 6000 BCE?

How much allegory can be read into numbers? How can anyone reading the Bible conform it to the evidence of humans existing before 6000 BCE? (I am always puzzled at the concept of Old Earth Creationists who accept science as “trumping” Genesis One regarding the age of the earth, but deny science “trumping” the Bible when it comes to cosmology or evolution. How did they pick one over the other?)

For some time I have wanted to go through the Tanakh to see how precise a dating system we can have, and I was given a reason to do so on a thread elsewhere. It was interesting enough. The easiest way to do this is to work backwards.

926 BCE – Shishak (also known as Pharaoh Shoshenq) attacks Rehoboam. (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chron 12:1-12) Rohl has attempted (unsuccessfully) to claim this was, in fact, Ramesses II, not Shoshenq, which would move the date of this attack back by about 300 years. Rohl calls this a “New Chronology.” The problem with Rohl’s claim, is that Assyrian King Lists, as well as other histories, align with the current Egyptian chronology. In order to modify it, we also have to introduce, wiggle, wrestle and create elaborate possible explanations and wild theories to resolve the other histories. The simplest explanation, rather than turn the world upside down to somehow make the Bible align, is that this was Shoshenq. The vast predominance of Bible scholars agree.

931 BCE – Since the attack of Shishak occurred five years into Rehoboam’s reign, this would be the first year of Rehoboam and the last year of King Solomon.

971 BCE – Solomon starts to reign [He reigned for 40 years.] (1 Kings 11:42). Four years into his reign (967 BCE) he began to build the first temple. This is critical, because this date gives us our jumping off point to cover the time of David, Saul, Judges, Joshua and Exodus. We make a large leap back in time at this point.

1447 BCE – Exodus from Egypt. 1 Kings 6:1 says Solomon began to build the temple 480 years after the people left Egypt. The Septuagint says 440 years. (For the moment, I will use the Masoretic Texts) Adding 480 years to 967 BCE gives us 1447 BCE.*

*An anomaly. Paul claims in Galatians 3:17 the law was given 430 years after the covenant was made with Abraham. Abraham was 75 at the time of the covenant, (Gen. 12:1-4) which we will soon see was 2092 BCE. This would place the Exodus at 1662 BCE. I have seen on my internet travels, when apologists want to play funny with the dates, rather than use the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1, they work around Abraham and Paul to move the date of the Exodus. I have not seen this contradiction addressed head-on.

1877 BCE – Jacob enters Egypt with his family. Exodus 12:40-41 says this was 430 years prior to the Exodus, fixing us to this particular date. It also conforms to the four hundred years predicted by God in Gen. 15:13-16**

**Anomaly Two. Exodus 6:16-20. We have the genealogy of Levi (son of Jacob) -> Kohath -> Amram -> Moses. Levi lived to be 137, Kohath 133, and Amram 137. However, Joseph was at least 30 (probably older) when the family moved to Egypt, and Levi was his older brother, so the most conservative age would have Levi being 31 when the family moved to Egypt. Adding all the time: Levi [137], Kohat [133], Amram [137] and Moses up to the time the people left [80], subtracting the time Levi did not live in Egypt [-31] puts us at 457 years. Close to the 430 years, true? But this would mean each of the individuals had their sons very, very late in life. All of them would have to be over 100 years old.

At the moment we have a date certain (1877 BCE) to work backwards from. The method of doing so is simple. Jacob was 130 years old when he entered Egypt. (Gen. 47:9) Therefore we can determine the year he was born. 1877 BCE + 130 years = 2007 BCE. We are told Isaac was 60 years old when he had Jacob. (Gen. 25:26; Gen. 35:28-29) Now we can calculate the year Isaac was born. 2007 BCE + 60 years = 2067 BCE.

With the simple process we can progress backward and use the age of the fathers at the time of the birth to calculate the year the father was born. Where were we? Ah, yes—Isaac.

2067 BCE – Isaac Born.
2167 BCE – Abraham Born. (He was 100 when Isaac was Born. Gen 21:5; 25:7)
2237 BCE – Terah Born (Gen 11:26; 11:32)
2266 BCE – Nahor Born (Gen. 11:24-25)
2296 BCE – Serug Born (Gen. 11:22-23)
2328 BCE – Reu Born (Gen. 11:20-21
2358 BCE – Peleg Born (Gen. 11:18-19)
2392 BCE – Eber Born (Gen. 11:16-17)

Eber named Peleg because of the Great Divide. The Tower of Babel. (Gen. 10:25). This would place the event of the Tower of Babel between 2392 BCE (Eber’s birth) and 2358 BCE (naming of Peleg).

2422 BCE – Salah Born. (Gen. 11:14-15)
2457 BCE – Arphaxad Born (Gen. 11:12-13)***

***Another Anomaly. According to Luke 3:36, a fellow named “Cainen” is inserted between Salah and Arphaxad. P75, one of the earliest manuscripts we have of Luke does not have Cainen. Further, Josephus, in his similar genealogy in Antiquities 1.6.5 does not have Cainen. Curious.

2459 BCE – Flood (Gen. 10:10-11)
2557 BCE – Shem Born (Gen. 11:10-11; 5:32)
3059 BCE – Noah Born. (Gen. 9:29)

Interesting to see Noah lived 950 years, or from 3059 BCE to 2109 BCE. Notice Noah was alive at the time of the Tower of Babel!

3241 BCE – Lamech (Gen. 5:28-31)
3428 BCE – Methuselah (Gen. 5:25-27)

Methuselah. Oldest recorded living person in the Tanakh at 969 years of age. 3428 BCE – 969 years = 2459 BCE. Year of the Flood. Coincidence?

3493 BCE – Enoch (Gen 5:21-24)
3655 BCE – Jared (Gen. 5:18-20)
3720 BCE – Mahalalel (Gen. 5:15-17)
3790 BCE – Cainen (Gen. 5:12-14)
3880 BCE – Enosh (Gen. 5:9-11)
3985 BCE – Seth (Gen. 5:6-8)
4115 BCE – Adam (Gen. 5:3-5)

It is simple math. Calculated from agreed upon dates within history. How can the Bible be read any what BUT humans first appeared only a few millennium ago? And the flood spoken of was in 2500 BCE?

One common apologetic you may come across in this area is the claim “When the Jews wrote genealogies, they would ‘skip’ a generation. The word ‘begat’ does not necessarily mean a direct ancestor and the words ‘son of’ do not necessarily mean a direct ancestor.” The most common example utilized is the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.

Matthew 1:1 states, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” As we know Jesus was not the actual son of David, nor David the actual son of Abraham; this would seem to support the apologetic. However, the problem is that this is an introduction—not a specific genealogy. In fact, to demonstrate the point, the author immediate launches into a genealogy which clearly indicates the intended linage.

Within the genealogy itself, though, the author definitely engages in some generation-skipping. Matthew 1:8-9 only has “Joram -> Uzziah -> Jotham “ whereas 1 Chron. 3:11-12 has “Joram -> Uzziah (Ahaziah) -> Joash -> Amaziah -> Azariah -> Jotham.” Apparently the author missed a few! This is further complicated by the fact the author states he is grouping the genealogy in three (3) sets of 14, (Matt. 1:17). Did the author deliberately cut out a few in order to maintain this magic number? [Only to have a later copyist blow it anyway. If you count the names, there are only 41, demonstrating some copyist left one out!]

We see generation skipping in this genealogy. No question. Yet we also see a stated purpose for doing so (keeping the number to 14.) What was the stated purpose of the authors of the Genesis genealogies to skip generations?

Secondly, I have not found any demonstration it was common practice to skip generations in other genealogies. It should be mildly noted this is a circular argument:

1. We know it was common practice to skip generations because the Bible author does.
2. The Bible author skips generations because it was common practice to do so.

Thirdly—the one that puts a fork in it—these genealogies give very specific ages. Even if there WAS generation-skipping—it doesn’t change the numbers!

Assume, for an instant, the genealogy stated, “Abe begat Charles.” The apologist could claim, under this generation-skipping theory, the possibility of inserting “Bob” between “Abe” and “Charles—thus lengthening the time indicated. In fact, the apologist can insert “Bob,” “Bob, Jr.,” “Bob the III” and so on, and claim that “Abe begat Charles” was a period of 1000’s of years with hundreds of “Bob’s” in-between.

But that is not what we have. No, what WE have is “Abe begat Charles when Abe was 34.” A period of 34 years between Charles’ birth and Abe’s birth. If you want to insert a skipped generation—go ahead. It will still only be 34 years! We could insert “Bob” as follows: “Abe begat [Bob who begat] Charles when Abe was 34.” See how old Abe is? Still 34! See how many years have passed? 34.

This argument completely fails to understand that inserting generations doesn’t help it one bit, due to the specificity of numbers.

Since nothing is straightforward in Biblical studies, mention must be made about the Septuagint. A Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh which was complied some time in the Third Century BCE. The Septuagint has numerous ages within these genealogies where it adds 100 years to the age of the father. For example, instead of saying Adam had Seth at 130 years of age, the Septuagint states Adam was 230. Instead of Seth being 105, the Septuagint says 205. Enosh is 190 instead of 90 and so on.

There has been no cogent explanation for this seemingly arbitrary adding of 100 years. No explanation of translation issues, or even textual errors. I suspect the translators were already seeing the problem of placing history so close, especially with greater contact amongst foreign histories, and decided to lengthen the time as best they could. Even by adding 100 years, though, due to the limited number of people, at best this totals approximately 1400 years, placing Adam to 5500 BCE.

I am curious how Old Earth Creationists explain these dates. Was God s-l-o-w-l-y developing the earth and then… BAM! Hits it with humans 8000 years ago? Or do we not only analogize “days” to mean “millions and millions of years” in Genesis One, but start analogizing the humans listed? The genealogies? Those years?

The authors of Genesis’ intentions are clear. They thought humans had only been around for a short period of time. They were wrong. How much more could they be wrong about?


  1. Dagoods....Man you have a lot of time on your hands. And you say you have a wife and Kids. lol you must not sleep.

  2. I appreciate this critique and am in complete agreement with the judgment that, upon a plain and natural reading of these genealogies and the context in which they are situated, the most if not the only reasonable interpretation is that the author intended for his readers to believe that each listed generation followed immediately upon the next.

    However, I suspect that those dedicated to keeping these genealogies from becoming mere mythologies might make use of the following interpretation in order to overcome your contention that the insertion of a generation results in the same number of years between father and descendant. Perhaps when the text states, “Seth lived 105 years, and became the father of Enosh” (Gen 5:6), this is not meant to indicate that Enosh was born in Seth’s 105th year, but in the sense that, in Seth’s 105th year, he had a son through whose line Enosh would be born. On such an interpretation we could say by extension that Seth lived 105 years, and became the father of Methuselah, or Noah, or whoever would arrive through the line of the boy born to Seth in his 105th year.

    While this interpretation does violence to the text and could make for some very strange true statements (e.g.: “Seth lived 105 years, and became the father of Jesus”), the violence does not seem to be any worse than that which is perpetrated against other texts in order to preserve in Genesis the maximum degree of historical accuracy short of adopting young-earth creationism.

  3. The numbers are out of whack. That's not really news. Either the numbers were wrong because the writers didn't know the true numbers or they were used symbolically, or both.

    One of the guys at the de-conversion blog called this "review by journalistic integrity". I like that.

    OEC does not "trump" Genesis, by the way. The text does not mandate a literal interpretation. Job 38:1-4 makes it clear the specifics of the Creation were withheld, leaving God Himself to denounce the simplistic literal interpretation. Note also that the day the Lord made the trees, they dropped seed and more trees sprouted up. Haven't seen that happen in one day.

    Our eyes don't deceive us, and if what we see in science (scientific facts, not pseudo-science) appears to contradict the scriptures, I would then have to go further in understanding what the scriptures are saying hermeneutically on the subject. I wouldn't discard it as fairy tales because it is in the tale that the treasure is, understanding the God that created us so we can love him more. The Bible is a grand morality play to end all morality plays. If we shoot it down for some putative journalistic inaccuracies, we miss the message and walk past the treasure.

  4. John T,

    I find it fascinating. Still. Can’t help myself. *grin*


    I fear you are correct. Those who want to believe will massage the text to conform to their belief. But for the few who are ever-searching, this is one more tidbit to add to the pile of improbabilities presented by the Bible.

    Jim Jordan,

    I agree the text(s) are wrong because the authors didn’t know, or were writing symbolically, or both. This does not instill a great deal of confidence in the Christian claim to the historical accuracy of Genesis or Matthew or Luke when we have to admit even the simplest things are recorded incorrectly due to human error.

    Nor does it help any claim of divine influence.

  5. Jim, either the bible is literally true, in which case you can (must) believe everything it says, or else it is not literally true. If it is not literally true, then how can you KNOW anything at all for certain?

    Clearly the bible's inconsistencies and self-contradictions make it plain to any rational person that it is not literally true.

    So how can you know which parts are true and which aren't? "Common sense" interpretations have resulted in thousands of Christian sects that disagree violently on important points such as whether homosexuality is a sin and whether women ought to be allowed to speak in church and what, exactly one must do to earn a place in Heaven.

    Wouldn't you think an omnipotent Divine Intelligence would have done a better job at communicating with us if it wanted to communicate something?

    And really, is the Bible - with all its twisted, evil stories - the kind of thing you'd credit a loving Intelligence with producing for our enlightenment?

  6. Hello, Slut,
    The Bible is parable, history, poetry and praise among others. Its the message that is true and infallible.

    Wouldn't you think an omnipotent Divine Intelligence would have done a better job at communicating with us if it wanted to communicate something?

    The Bible communicates everything we need to know, period. You can read it every day for 100 years and find something new.

    And really, is the Bible - with all its twisted, evil stories - the kind of thing you'd credit a loving Intelligence with producing for our enlightenment?

    That's pure materialism talking there.

  7. Sacred slut,

    You hit the nail on the head. Keep asking for the methodology by which we determine which parts are true and which parts are not. Extremely rarely have I seen Christians come up with such a method (and even then, they use external sources to “trump” the Bible) and never have I seen one stay consistent.

    Jim Jordan,

    The message modifies if the facts underlying the message are not true. Avoiding that problem does not make it go away. And saying, “The Bible communicates everything we need to know, period. You can read it every day for 100 years and find something new” also is avoiding the problem.

    Why is it when we skeptics want to look at the facts, the Christians often hand-wave and say, “Oh, the facts aren’t important—it is the message underneath.” Yet when--say a liberal theist—says the message about homosexuals is what is more important the more conservative Christian all of a sudden becomes a literalist?

    If the authors of the Torah thought something was true—but external evidences show them to be wrong, it would be consistent to recognize the Gospel writers wrote things they thought were true—but external evidences show them to be wrong.

  8. I know this may just be of academic interest (since it is obviously written by Christians to a Christian audience), but the church to which Jim and I belong, the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA), actually has established guidelines for the interpretation and use of Scripture. These have been in place since 1982, just before the old Northern (UPCUSA) and Southern (PCUS) churches were reunited to form the PC(USA). The "Southern version" (with which I am more familiar) goes like this. Yes, it's wordy, but then so are southerners and Presbyterians (and southern Presbyterians doubly so).

    1. Use the original languages (we have no official translation, and translations are always used with a grain of salt).

    2. Employ the best available manuscripts.

    3. Plain sense of the text (the reformers rejected the traditional four levels of allegory)
    a. Read in context
    b. Recognize the cultural context of language
    c. Understand social and historical circumstances


    4. Purpose of Scripture
    (i.e., the Bible is a book about God and God's relationship with humanity). The guideline goes on to explain that "The purpose of Scripture has to
    do with questions about the ultimate origin, meaning, and goal of human life in relation to God, all of which lie behind or beyond the scope of secular scientific and historical disciplines. ...
    Conversely, ... Scripture is not authoritative for any and everything, in any and
    every question. It is not an encyclopedia of information about every area of human knowledge and understanding. So, for instance, it is not appropriate to go to the biblical sources for scientific understanding of such things as biology, astronomy, the structure of the universe, or historical knowledge in general." This always gets the fundies in a tizz.

    5. Precedence of Holy Scripture
    a. Priority of Holy Scripture. I.e., it's the most authoritative source on faith and life, but not necessarily the only one. Subordinate sources (including secular sciences) need to be respected, but it notes that "priority of Scripture is compromised when Scripture is forced to conform or made the authority of human reason and logical consistency...."
    b. Use of knowledge (again, noting that human knowledge can help inform and discern, but it needs to be recognized as subordinate and subject to human error)
    c. Use of experience (though cautiously, sharing one's experience in reading and interpreting Scripture can helpfully inform others in theirs)

    6. Centrality of Jesus Christ. For a Christian, the Bible is first and foremost a story whose central character is Christ. Christ is present at creation and fall, becomes human and suffers in order to redeem humanity by dying and being raised from the dead, and he will be present at the end of existence.

    7. Interpretation of Scripture by Scripture. It's what we've got to work with.

    8. Rule of Love. We are told by Christ that all of Scripture "hangs on" the two-fold commandment to love God and neighbor. "Any interpretation of Scripture is wrong that separates or sets in opposition love for God and love for fellow human being, including both love expressed in individual relations and in human community (social justice)."

    9. Rule of Faith. While the Reformed confessions all echo Westminster's admission that "the synods and councils may err", emphasis must be given to the traditional theology of the church. One example is reading descriptions of God in the Bible through a Trinitarian view, even though the Trinity is not explicitly mentioned.

    10. Fallibility of all interpretation. Again, we are human and we make mistakes, so keep it in mind that we may be wrong about all this.

    11. Relation of Word & Spirit. A Christian does need to rely on the Holy Spirit in order to interpret Scripture, as "Neither careful rationale nor logical deduction, nor use of all the tools [of] critical-historical exegesis, can guarantee the right interpretation of Scripture. After we have done the best we can with all the means at our disposal, we depend upon God's Spirit to enable us rightly to hear...."

    12. Use of All Relevant Guidelines. The Guideline of Guidelines, it reminds us again to use ALL the tools at our disposal.

  9. Dagoods, Flycandler actually answered the question for me. Thank you, Fly.

    You make a good point about Christians shifting to literalism when it suits them. The practice of singling out homosexuals for special punishment is one of those. On a personal level, I am far too busy dealing with my own sins to condemn someone else for theirs.

    I will always vote No on same sex marriage because I think it's clear that's not God's design, but not because I condemn the individuals. The fact that many have interpreted opposition to SSM as being hate speech will only cause unnecessary conflict.

  10. On a personal level, I am far too busy dealing with my own sins to condemn someone else for theirs.

    Wow! Who is this new and improved Jim Jordan?

    I will always vote No on same sex marriage because I think it's clear that's not God's design, but not because I condemn the individuals.

    Never mind. We're back to Scottish Common Sense.