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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Jul 15 13:23:40 EDT 2009

James Christian:
1.  You wrote:  “1) What age do you consider somebody to be a 'grown man'? 
I venture that a few list members may disagree.”
In the ancient world and in the medieval world, a boy became a man at about 
age 13 years.  That is why the Bar Mitzvah custom is set at age 13 years, 
symbolizing manhood.  In the ancient world, ages 10-12 were a transitional 
period, somewhat akin to teenage years in modern times.
If Genesis 37: 2 is interpreted (that is, misinterpreted) to mean that 
Joseph is age 17 regular, 12-month years, the narrator would not call beloved 
Joseph, who at that point would be a grown man, a “nar”/N(R/“boy”.  No way.  
Nor would favorite son Joseph at that point be a mere helper, in tending 
the flock, to his older half-brothers by father Jacob’s minor wives.  The 
entire scene makes perfect sense if Joseph is age 8½ regular years, while not 
making sense if Joseph is age 17 regular, 12-month years.
As a point of reference, on the female side, most females married at ages 
13 – 15 in the ancient world, and bore their first child by age 15.  Ages 
10-12 were transitional years for females, when arguably they should not have 
gotten married or pregnant, but fairly often they did.
A male or female older than 15 years in the ancient world was certainly an 
adult.  Many males in particular were poor at that age, and did not have 
enough resources to take a bride.  But a male older than age 15 was certainly 
an adult, and was treated as such in the ancient world.  Age 13 was the 
approximate changeover point from being a boy to being a man, in the ancient 
I understand that mere servants were routinely referred to as being “boys”
/nar/N(R, throughout their teenage years, as we see at Genesis 22: 3.  But 
that usage was confined to mere servants.  In the Patriarchal narratives, 
when the narrator is talking about Joseph, the narrator does not view Joseph as 
being a mere servant.  And when the narrator, YHWH and an angel of YHWH are 
talking about Ishmael, they are not viewing Ishmael as being a mere 
servant.  So in context, nar/N(R/“boy” in chapters 37 and 21 of Genesis must be 
referring to an actual boy, that is, a male who is probably less than age 13 
years, and who is certainly less than age 15 years (in regular, 12-month ye
2.  You wrote:  “2) Does why do you think that the Quran acknowledging 
Ishmael to be 19 has a bearing? It makes no mention of whether this is 19 12 
months years or 19 6 month years that you postulate. i.e. interesting but 
irrelevant (quran tradition is largely of biblical origin).”
Prior to modern times, many people knew the “secret” of the ages of the 
Patriarchs, namely that all stated ages in the Patriarchal narratives, 
beginning at Genesis 11: 26, are set forth in terms of 6-month “years”.
(a)  Hebrews.  The Hebrews of course knew the “secret” of the Patriarchs’ 
actual ages.  The Hebrews knew that the foundational moment of Judaism came 
when Abraham was age 50.0 regular years, upon the birth of Isaac to 
long-barren Sarah.  Abraham is stated age 100 “years”, in 6-month “years”, meaning 
50.0 regular, 12-month years.  That is why, per Leviticus 25: 8-10, the 
Hebrew Jubilee celebration was famously set at 50 years.  Although Leviticus 
25: 8 mentions “seven weeks of years”, nevertheless Leviticus 25: 10 
unequivocally states that it is the 50th year that is the Hebrews’ holy Jubilee.  
The true focus is on the number 50, not on 7 x 7.
(b)  Medieval Christians.  The medieval Christian scribes who put chapter 
divisions and chapter numbers into the Bible likewise knew this “secret” of 
the Patriarchs’ ages.  That explains why the Book of Genesis has exactly 50 
chapters.  The medieval Christian scribes, like the Hebrews, knew that the 
foundational moment of Judaism is when Abraham sired Isaac at age 50.0 
regular years, making the number 50 special for Judaism.  (Though not as easy to 
see, it can also be determined that Jacob is age 27 regular, 12-month years 
when, in chapter 27 of Genesis, Jacob manages to get named the leader of the 
next generation of Hebrew monotheists.  The medieval Christian scribes 
manipulated the chapter divisions in Genesis so that chapter numbers often fit 
what the text is saying.  As a less important example, you just know that 
Genesis 13: 13 is not going to be a pleasant sentence, given the double presence 
of the awkward number 13.)
(c)  Koran.  Like the Hebrews, Jews and medieval Christians, the early 
Islamic wisemen likewise knew the “secret” of the ages of the Patriarchs.  It 
is an objective fact that the number 19 has an outsized importance in the 
Koran.  (I realize that some people have gone too far with that notion, but the 
basic concept is valid.)  The only sensible explanation of why the number 
19 is so important in the Koran is that the Koran associates the number 19 
with the moment when Ishmael broke off from the Abraham-Isaac line, and in 
effect became the first Arab at that point.  Using the 6-month “years” in 
which all ages are stated in the Patriarchal narratives, Ishmael was age 19 “
years” when he was exiled by Abraham.  That is age 9½ regular, 12-month years, 
so Ishmael was a mere boy, and hence is called by both YHWH and an angel of 
YHWH “boy”/N(R/nar.  Likewise, each of Joseph and Dinah is involuntarily 
separated from his or her father’s family at the identical age:  9½ regular 
years.  Note that all three are called nar/N(R, including Dinah (showing an 
archaic usage of nar/N(R at Genesis 34: 3, 12 to refer to a female).  Joseph 
is age 8½ regular years at the beginning of chapter 37 of Genesis, per 
Genesis 37: 2.  But by the time Joseph is later almost murdered by his older 
half-brothers and is sold to slavetraders who take young Joseph to Egypt, Joseph 
is age 9½ regular years.
(d)  Medieval Christians vs. Koran.  The Koran views Ishmael positively, 
and hence the Koran has a positive view of the number 19.  The medieval 
Christians did not view Ishmael positively, and hence they did not like the number 
19.  Note how the medieval Christian scribes who made chapter divisions in 
Genesis managed to get chapter 19 of Genesis to be the story of evil Sodom 
and Gomorrah being destroyed, and the incest of Lot with his young teenage 
daughters.  Since 19 x 2 = 38, we should also look at chapter 38 of Genesis.  
Chapter 38 of Genesis has the other incest story, when Judah impregnates his 
own daughter-in-law Tamar with twin sons.
Here we see the medieval Christians putting their own interpretation on the 
Patriarchal narratives.  The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives 
himself did not view Ishmael as being evil (Genesis 17: 20).  The Hebrew 
author viewed the actions of Lot’s daughters as being laudable (Genesis 19: 32), 
and viewed Tamar’s actions as being laudable as well (Genesis 38: 26).  It 
is fascinating to note this medieval Christian commentary on the Patriarchal 
narratives, based on how the medieval Christian scribes divided Genesis into 
chapters so that certain actions would be associated with certain chapter 
The only reason I have mentioned (b), (c) and (d) above is to make the 
basic point that prior to modern times, many people knew the “secret” of the 
ages of the Patriarchs.  Beginning at Genesis 11: 26 and continuing on through 
the end of Genesis, all people’s stated ages are set forth based on how 
many total New Years, counting both spring New Years and fall New Years, 
combined, each person had witnessed.  That is a sensible approach to setting forth 
people’s ages in the Patriarchal narratives, since (i) people’s ages were 
increased by one at a New Year in the ancient world, and (ii) ancient Canaan 
is famous for uniquely having both a spring New Year and an equally 
important fall New Year, as reflected in the Jewish calendar to this very day. 
If we take the numbers in the Patriarchal narratives seriously, we can make 
exciting discoveries about what the text is really telling us.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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