[b-hebrew] Assumptions about ANE ages that just don't work.

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sun Oct 21 07:56:18 EDT 2007

On 10/21/07, Yigal Levin wrote:
> Dear Yaakov,
> All of the evidence that we have, from the very earliest written documents
> (about 3,300 BCE in Mesopotamia, 3,100 in Egypt, in any case much earlier
> than any assumed date for Abraham) points to an accute awareness of the
> yearly cycle and its seasons. You are correct in noting that in Israel, and
> in most of the Middle East as well, there are really only two seasons - hot
> and dry; cold and wet. But that cycle is important for pastoral (shepherd)
> nomads, to know to move from summer pasture to winter pasture, and of course
> for the earliest agraculturalists, back in the Neolithic period, c. 8,000
> BCE in the Middle East (such as at Jericho). Anthropological study of
> pre-modern cultures of recent generations has shown the same. And CERTAINLY
> by the time Genesis was written (even if by Moses!), a year was a year and a
> month was a month. Have a look at Gen. 8:22.

If I remember correctly, Mark Cohen in "The Cultic Calendars of the
Ancient Near
East" suggests that originally, the ANE calendar was based on 6-month "years."
However, this would have been much before Abraham and/or the Amarna age.

> There are really only two ways to deal with the extra-ordinary lifespans of
> the biblical ancestors. The first is to assume that the references are
> alagorical, part of the literary style of Genesis, not to be taken literally
> and that it is our task to try to understand what the author(s) meant to
> convey by giving their characters such long lives. The other is to assume
> that these special individuals had especially long lives because God chose
> to give them long lives, not because everyone else also lived so long. Then
> we can try to figure out why God gave these individuals long lives. You can
> take your choise, but there is really no reason to try to hold both ends of
> the stick.

There is also a lot of symbolism in the dates.  For example, Lamekh in Gen 4
is the 7th generation (Adam, Cain, Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael,
Lamekh).  His avengement is "seven-fold," and in Gen 5, Lamekh lives 777
years.  Enoch lives 365 years, and his connection to the calendar is explicit
in apocryphal books (such as the books of Enoch and Jubilees).  Trying to
read the dates given in Genesis purely literally is to miss the point.

Yitzhak Sapir

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