[b-hebrew] Genesis 41: 1: "Two Years of Days"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Jul 13 11:09:27 EDT 2009


Genesis 41: 1:  “Two Years of Days”
 
Although not related to Rolf Furuli’s discussion of Hebrew verbs, I would 
nevertheless like to challenge Rolf’s traditional interpretation of “And it 
happened at the end of two years of days” at Genesis 41: 1 as meaning “At 
the end of two full years”.
 
The only other expression of time like this, using “days”/YMYM, is at 
Genesis 29: 14, where Jacob works for Laban “a month of days” before becoming 
engaged to statuesque Rachel.  To translate that as “a full month” would not 
make sense.  Those days speed by for Jacob, who is enamored of beautiful 
Rachel.  The word days/YMYM is not being used to emphasize that, subjectively, 
the time period seemed extremely long.  Very few English translations of 
Genesis 29: 14 say “a whole month” or “a full month”, because such a 
construction does not make sense in that context.  So why assume that “two years of 
days” at Genesis 41: 1 means “two full years”?  It doesn’t.
 
In both cases, this is the first instance where a period of years is being 
referenced in a particular foreign land, with the first case being northwest 
Mesopotamia (Harran), and the second case being Egypt.  The Hebrew 
expression “days”/YMYM is a verbal alert that the 7 years that Jacob will soon 
promise to work for Laban in Harran (Genesis 29: 17-18) are 7 Mesopotamian 
years, that is, 7 regular, 12-month years.  Note that the preceding reference to 
a period of years (excluding people’s ages) was Genesis 16: 3:  “So Sarai, 
Abram’s wife, took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian -- after Abram had dwelt in 
the land of [or, “at this piece of ground in”] Canaan ten years -- and gave 
her to her husband Abram as concubine.”   Genesis 16: 3  Those were ten 
years in Canaan, which had a New Year celebration both in the spring and in the 
fall, based on the equally important harvest of grain and harvest of 
fruits.  But the 7 years that Jacob promises to work for Laban are Mesopotamian 
years, where northwest Mesopotamia had only one New Year every 12 months, in 
the spring, based on the all-important harvest of grains.  Equally 
importantly, the preceding reference to a person’s age was at Genesis 26: 34, which 
tells us that Esau married, unwisely, two Hittite women at age 40 “years”.  
Esau had lived in Canaan his whole life to that point, so those “years” are 
logically referring to the fact that Esau had witnessed 40 New Years in 
Canaan:  20 spring New Years and 20 fall New Years.  Esau did not wait until 
being well into middle age (in the ancient world) at age 40 regular, 12-month 
years to make those unwise marriages.  (In the ancient world, many men died 
at about age 40 regular years, as life expectancies were much shorter than 
today.)  No, Esau was a young man, age 20 regular, 12-month years, when Esau 
impetuously made those unwise marriages to Hittite women.
 
Likewise, the reference to a period of two years concerning Pharaoh’s dream 
at Genesis 41: 1 comes not long after we are told at Genesis 37: 2:  “At 
seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a 
helper [“lad”/nar/N(R] to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah.”  
If Jacob’s favorite son Joseph were a grown man, age 17 regular, 12-month 
years, there’s no way that Joseph would be a mere helper to his older 
half-brothers by Jacob’s minor wives, and there’s no way that the narrator would 
refer to beloved Joseph as a grown man as “nar”.  Rather, Genesis 37: 2 is 
telling us that Joseph to that point had witnessed 17 New Years in Canaan:  9 
spring New Years and 8 fall New Years.  Joseph is age 8½ regular, 12-month 
years.  That is why Joseph is, very realistically, a mere helper to his older 
half-brothers by his father’s minor wives at that point, and why Joseph is 
very appropriately described by the narrator as being a “nar”.
 
The reason for the expression “two years of days” at Genesis 41: 1 is to 
clue us into the fact that the narrator here is referring to two Egyptian 
years.  Egypt had only one New Year every 12 months, based on the annual 
flooding of the Nile River in early summer.
 
In comparing Genesis 29: 14 with Genesis 41: 1, please note the following 
additional key factor.  In both cases, the Hebrew man as to whom that 
peculiar phrase relates then soon talks to the lead person in that locale (of 
Harran or Egypt), not using a translator, and refers to a period of 7 years 
(Genesis 29: 18;  41: 26).  (As a descendant of Abraham’s father, Laban would be 
able to speak to Jacob in Jacob’s native language (pre-Hebrew or Hebrew), 
even if most of the locals at Harran ordinarily spoke Hurrian or Aramaic, etc. 
 So no translator is needed.  In Egypt, Joseph has learned to speak 
flawless Egyptian, so no translator is needed when Joseph speaks to Pharaoh.)  In 
those situations, Jacob and Joseph would be using the word “years” in the 
sense that “years” were understood in northwest Mesopotamia and Egypt:  12 
month years, since those foreign locales had, so unlike Canaan, only one New 
Year every 12 months.
 
Thus at Genesis 41: 1, the reference to “two years of days” is not an 
assertion that this amount of time was very long.  It does not mean “two full 
years”.  No way.  Rather, the reference to “two years of days” at Genesis 41: 
1 means that we are dealing with Egyptian years, that is, regular, 12-month 
years.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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