[b-hebrew] Isaac's Age at the Binding Incident

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Jun 24 14:48:43 EDT 2008


Rev. Bryant J. Williams:
 
You wrote:  “You have stated that ‘All ages in the Patriarchal narratives 
are set forth in
 terms of 6-month 'years.’  This has not been proved to anyone's satisfaction.
” 
 
What you say is correct.  Here is a representative sampling of scholarly 
opinion on this subject:
 
1.  "[P]rodigious life spans [are] attributed to the Patriarchs.”  John J. 
Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (2004) at p. 84. 
 
2.  "The actual chronological place of this event [Isaac's death, reported at 
Genesis 28: 29] is obviously considerably earlier in the narrative.  The 
biblical writers observe no fixed commitment to linear chronology, a phenomenon 
recognized by the rabbis in the dictum, 'there is neither early nor late in the 
Torah'."  Robert Alter, Genesis:  Translation and Commentary (1996), footnote 
29 at p. 201.
 
3.  "The over-all chronological scheme [of the Patriarchal narratives] 
remains obscure."  E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1962) at p. 126.
 
By contrast to modern scholars, the Hebrews understood the ages of the 
Patriarchs.  The Koran understands the ages of the Patriarchs.  And the medieval 
Christian scribes who put chapter and verse numbers into the Bible in the Middle 
Ages understood the ages of the Patriarchs.
          
But you are right that modern scholars are totally baffled by the ages of the 
Patriarchs.  Although the internal timeline of the Patriarchal narratives in 
fact makes perfect sense, without a single number being a “mistake” or not 
fitting in perfectly, modern scholars have been unable to figure out that 
internal timeline.  Modern scholars also do not understand the way in which each 
character’s ages are set forth in the text.  
 
The above scholarly quotations speak for themselves.
 
The scholarly view is that P put in all the numbers, and that P’s numbers are 
unfathomable.  But why would P take the time to put a whole series of numbers 
into the Patriarchal narratives, where allegedly all characters’ ages are way 
too old to be believable, and even worse, allegedly the internal timeline of 
the Patriarchal narratives is incoherent to a fault?  Though that is the 
modern scholarly view of the case, is that scholarly view a rational explanation 
that is the slightest bit convincing?
 
Do you realize that not a single modern scholar has taken the time to figure 
out that the reason why Abraham finds out about Rebekah at Genesis 22: 20-24, 
after the binding incident and before Sarah’s death, is because that is when 
Abraham’s father Terakh died?  That’s straight mathematics, as shown in my 
post.  And it works regardless of how one interprets a “year”.  No modern 
scholar for the last 50 years has made a serious, sustained attempt to try to figure 
out how the internal timeline of the Patriarchal narratives works.
 
Modern scholars have not come up with any proposal for understanding either 
(i) the stated ages of people in the Patriarchal narratives, or (ii) the 
internal timeline of the Patriarchal narratives.  You are right that modern scholars 
do not endorse the concept of a 6-month “year” being used for all people’s 
stated ages in the Patriarchal narratives, or for periods of time the 
Patriarchs spend in Canaan.  But it is also true that modern scholars have no 
alternative of their own to propose in this regard, other than to say that the numbers 
used in the Patriarchal narratives are “obscure”. 
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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