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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Tue Jul 14 01:50:00 EDT 2009

Dear Jim,

You are right that I have followed the 
traditional interpretation in my translation of 
the expression in question. I have read your 
arguments, and I am not convinced that you are 
right. But we should not be too quick to exclude 
alternative interpretations. I have never made an 
in-depth study of the issue, so I do not have the 
right background to evaluate it. But thank you 
for bringing the issue to our attention.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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>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 81Ž2 
>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
>Looking for love this summer? 
>it now on AOL Personals.

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