Saturday, February 09, 2008

Biblical Chronology

At risk of being labeled a fundamentalist... I am currently taking a class on the Pentateuch, in which we have just finished reading Genesis. Being interested in historical chronologies I decided to investigate the dates given in Genesis from the standpoint of faith in the inerrancy of the holy writings. The question is how to interpret them. Ussher's famous attempt, in which he posits 4004 B.C. as the creation of the world, ends up in a tangle of difficulties. The difficulty is knowing what to do with the formulaic geneologies found in Genesis, as for example the following:

"When Enosh had lived ninety years, he became the father of Kenan. Enosh lived after the birth of Kenan eight hundred and fifteen years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died" (Gen. 5:9-11).

Ussher attempted to read this as meaning that Kenan was literally the son of Enosh, a plausible interpretation at first sight. However, this results is absurdities all along the way - just one example is that he trims Israel's time in Egypt to 200 years and something whereas Exodus 12:40 states that Israel dwelt in Egypt for 430 years to the day.

Another approach, however, that I happened across in reading Robert Sungenis, is looking at examples like the above in the following way: when Enosh was 90 he fathered the man who was to become the anscestor of Kenan - who was born himself in the same year that Enosh died. This is certainly a possible interpretation as the word "begat" can refer to sons and descendants at further remove. Exceptions are found where the text states specifically that the father named his son, as Adam named his son Seth, and Seth named his son Enosh. These, then, are literal father-son relationships.

Following this line of interpretation I came up with the following as the historical timeline of Gensis. Dates will be from the creation of the world, along the lines of the Roman ab urbe condita. Enjoy!

1: Creation of the World
130: birth of Seth
235: birth of Enosh
930: death of Adam
1042: death of Seth
1140: death of Enosh / birth of Kenan
2050: death of Kenan / birth of Mahalalel
2945: death of Mahalalel / birth of Jared
3907: death of Jared / birth of Enoch
4272: translation of Enoch / birth of Methuselah
5241: death of Methuselah / birth of Lamech
5423: birth of Noah
5925: birth of Shem
6018: death of Lamech (Noah's father)

6023: The Great Flood
6373: death of Noah
6525: death of Shem / birth of Arpachshad
6963: death of Arpachshad / birth of Shelah
7396: death of Shelah / birth of Eber
7860: death of Eber / birth of Peleg
8099: death of Peleg / birth of Reu
8338: death of Reu / birth of Serug
8568: death of Serug / birth of Nahor
8716: death of Nahor / birth of Terah
8786: birth of Abraham (this is uncertain because Gen. 11:27 says only that "when Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran." I therefore take Terah to be seventy years old at the birth of Abraham.)
8797: birth of Sarah

8861: Abraham departs from Haran
8872: birth of Ishmael
8885: Covenant of circumcision
8886: birth of Isaac
8921: death of Terah (Abraham's father)
8924: death of Sarah
8926: Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah
8946: birth of Esau and Jacob
8961: death of Abraham
9009: death of Ishmael
9037: birth of Joseph
9054: Joseph sold into slavery
9066: death of Isaac
9067: Joseph becomes steward of Egypt
9076: Jacob goes into Egypt (this is uncertain - the text says that it was the second year of the famine when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Following this Jacob comes to Egypt and at least two years of famine remain. I therefore take Jacob to have entered Egypt in the second year of the famine.)
9093: death of Jacob
9147: death of Joseph

This would put the Exodus by the way at 9506 - four hundred and thirty years after Jacob's entry into Egypt. If we accept the consensus of historians that the Exodus took place around 1,500 B.C. we can work that back into our timeline and see that Abraham lived about 2,000 B.C., the Flood was about 5,000 B.C. and the creation of the world occured about 11,000 B.C.

7 comments:

Mr S said...

We know that there are some who insist the world is billions of years old. IMHO, I doubt it.

What I do believe is that God was certainly able to create the Grand Canyon, for instance, in such a way that it looked a billion years old at its "birth".

And if man were too much older than you posit, he would no doubt have destroyed the earth by now.

Guess that makes me a "young-earther" huh.

I rather enjoy Dr. Sungenis too. His CASB series is impressive, instructive, and actually fun to read.

Keep up the good work Anselm.

.

japhy said...

"When Enosh had lived ninety years, he became the father of Kenan. Enosh lived after the birth of Kenan eight hundred and fifteen years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died" (Gen. 5:9-11).

Explain again how you figure this means that Enosh died in the year of Kenan's birth. "Enosh lived after the birth of Kenan eight hundred and fifteen years" seems pretty clear to me.

Anonymous said...

Very cool!


Erick

BONIFACE said...

While I appreciate Sungenis' view and happent to think that it is the best one out there, the only trouble I have is that most of the Father's seem to take all of the ante-diluvian patriarchs as being individual persons (as opposed to the heads of tribal families, as in Sungenis' estimation).

However, if we look at the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, we can see that this "tribal" origin is used. For example, look at how the descendants of Canaan are explained in 10:15-18:

And Canaan begat Sidon his first born, and Heth, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, and the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, and the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad.

Even though the word "begat" is used, it is clear from the wording and the context that these are families, not individuals. This is again the case a little earlier up in 10:4-5 when it talks about the sons of Javan. This becomes explicitly clear when you get out a Concordance and look up the meanings of the Hebrew words here:

And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.

According to Strong's Concordance, these words mean the following:

Javan : Hebrew word for Greece
Kittim: " " " " Cyrpus
Dodanim: " " " " Rhodes

These are not persons, but families, as it insinuates in the next verse: By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

Also, Mizraim, mentioned in Genesis 10, is called the son of Ham and the father of Lud (or the Ludim), but in the Hebrew, Mizraim simply means "the Egyptians." Ham usually refers to the inhabitants of Africa, while if we look up Lud, or the Ludim, we see that the translation is "the Libyans." Thus, the Scriptures are saying that from the Hamites (Africans) came the Mizraim (the Egyptians), and from them the Ludim (Libyans).

Anselm said...

Japhy said, "Explain again how you figure this means that Enosh died in the year of Kenan's birth. 'Enosh lived after the birth of Kenan eight hundred and fifteen years' seems pretty clear to me.

Good question. It all hinges on how you understand the Hebrew word for "beget." It goes like this. "When Enosh had lived 90 years he begat (is that the past tense?) Kenan."

This means that at age 90 Enosh directly fathered somebody who fathered somebody who fathered, etc., Kenan.

Then it continues, "Enosh lived after the begetting of Kenan 815 years."

This means that he lived 815 years after Kenan was "begotten" in the person of his anscestor, not after he was born into the world.

I'll grant you that this is not the obvious interpretation that one would come to upon reading the text. It looks like it just indicates standard father-son relationships. The problem is that if you accept them for such you are forced to acknowledge contradictions (i.e. errors) in the sacred text, which I for one will not do.

Anselm said...

Boniface said, "The only trouble I have is that most of the Father's seem to take all of the ante-diluvian patriarchs as being individual persons (as opposed to the heads of tribal families, as in Sungenis' estimation)."

I didn't gather from my reading of Sungenis that he did not consider them to be individual persons. Perhaps you've read something of his that I haven't.

I don's see why one has to choose between whether someone in the text has begotten an individual or a nation since the only way to give birth to a nation is to give birth to an individual whose descendants grow populus enough to be a nation.

If a man named Greece, for example, gives birth to an individual man named Rhodes and to another named Cyprus, and these two men move to islands and populate them with their own descendants so that the islands take their names from them, then Greece has begotten both individuals and nations, right?

BONIFACE said...

Anslem-

If the main contradiction you are alluding to that would result from the literal father-son line is the 430 years vs. 200 years in Egypt, then there is another way to get around the difficulty and still keep a literal father-son chronology.

When the verse in Exodus says that Israel was "in" Egypt 430 years, some say it refers to the time when Israel was held in bondage, that the slavery of Egypt lasted 430 years, which would place the Exodus around 1250 BC. Of course, this gives us a chronolgy problem in judges (because Saul begins his reign around 1030 BC), but again, it is rectified by saying that teh stories of Judges did not happen chronologically but contemporarily (that Samson might have been happening in the South at the same time Deborah was happening in the North).

Or, you could interpret the 430 years as 430 years from the time that Joseph first came to the house of Potiphar, in which case that 430 years would cover a period of almost 200 years (Joseph lived to be 110 and saw his children to the third generation) during which the Israelites were not slaves but freemen. Then, the slavery period would have only lasted about 200 years, placing the Exodus sometime around 1450 BC. Then, Judges can be read chronologically.

While I still accept Sungenis' position, I don't think you have to accept it based on the 430 years argument, because there are other ways of resolving that.