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

Shoshanna Walker rosewalk at concentric.net
Sun Oct 21 19:48:23 EDT 2007

Also, the detailed chronology of the flood, giving the dates of its 
beginning, prevailing, declining and total length, are for the 
purpose of telling us that a year was a year and a month was a month 
- then as now.  First it records that the flood began in the 600th 
year of Noach's life on the 17th day of the second month, and it was 
all over after 12 months, stated as the 601st year of his life, and 
the Torah records that from the 17th day of the second month, to the 
17th day of the seventh month (five months), 150 days elapsed, which 
equaled then as today 30 days per month.


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.

The fact that some ANE cultures celebrated the new year in the spring and
others celebrated it in the fall, and that both are reflected in the Bible,
does not mean that each semester counted as a "year". There is simply no
evidence of that. The Mishnah, as I'm sure that you know, actually lists
FOUR "new years", each for a different purpose. It's like begining the
calendar year, the school year, the tax year and the football season on
different dates. Of, if you will, like Jews, Chinese and any member of a
"non-Christian" culture in the Western world celebrating (or at least
marking) both the Jan. 1st New Year, and their own cultural or religious new

And James, none of the written or physical evidence that we have shows that
people in the ANE lived any longer than humans do today. If anything,
"average" people lived less, due to disease, warfare, and malnutrition. Most
of the people who are mentioned in the written sources are memebers of the
upper classes, who had it better. The only people in ancient sources who are
said to have lived longer are legendary figures such as Gilgamesh.

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.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yaakov Stein" <yaakov_s at rad.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2007 7:25 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Assumptions about ANE ages that just don't work.

> James,
>> Abram's father dies at the age of 205. That's three times greater than
>> modern life expectancy. It is therefore safe to assume that Te'rah
> aged
>> three times slower than modern humans. And so if a modern human would
> be in
>> his prime until 30 Terah would have been in his prime until he was
> about 90.
> Is a factor of three needed, or is a factor of two enough ?
> Terah could dies at the old age of 205/2 = 102,
> and Abraham at 75/2 = 35 took off from Haran.
> The reason I mention that 2 is enough,
> is that I believe that in this part of Genesis
> the counting is by seasons, rather than years.
> In Israel there are two seasons, namely the wet season and the dry
> season.
> They both commence with a "new year" celebration,
> the Tishri new year and the Nissan one.
> One can speculate that there was an early period when each season was
> counted,
> and only later, with more sophisticated astronomical knowledge,
> did the transition to our years occur.
> At an even earlier period, time was counted by months,
> which would explain Methuselah's 969 / 12 = 80 !
> If you think about it, the idea of a year being the time it takes
> for the sun to revolve around the earth (or the other way around for the
> ancients)
> is a rather sophisticated one. The first thing a group of shepherds
> would notice
> would be the month (the menstrual cycle, the moon coming up over the
> same hill).
> Later, when agriculture becomes important, the season is more critical.
> Finally, with more culture and time on their hands to develop an
> astronomy,
> the idea of a full year (the setting sun returning to the same place
> with respect
> to the stars) becomes obvious.
> Yaakov (J) Stein
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