[b-hebrew] Genesis 41: 1: "Two Years of Days"
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Jul 22 13:54:07 EDT 2009
You wrote: “Were such an approach deemed halakhically sound, 'years' would
certainly deserve a double measure.”
Consider the Hebrew way for determining the age of a tree, in “years”.
If a tree is planted in Canaan in August, the tree is considered to be age
1 “year” at only a month after it was planted, at the fall New Year. For a
tree planted in August, a 1-month-old tree is considered to be age 1 “year”
12 months later, at the next fall New Year, the 13-month-old tree is
considered to be age 2 “years”.
12 months later, the 25-month-old tree is considered to be age 3 “years”.
Per Leviticus 19: 23-25, the fruit of a tree cannot be used until the tree
is age 3 “years” old. That does not mean that the tree must have been in
existence at least 36 months since it was planted. No, it means that the
tree must have been in existence at three fall New Years.
In setting forth the age of a tree or of a human, the age in “years” is
shorthand, for the Hebrews, for stating how many relevant New Years have
passed since the tree or human came into existence.
For Hebrews who live in Canaan their entire lives, we would expect a Hebrew’
s age to increase by 1 “year” at the fall New Year, and only at the fall
New Year. But for the Patriarchs, it’s hard to decide which is or are the
relevant New Year(s). More stated ages are given for Joseph than any other
person in the text except Abraham. Joseph is only in beloved Canaan for 3½
regular years. Joseph literally only witnesses 3 fall New Year celebrations.
Joseph is born and spends his childhood in Harran, in northwest
Mesopotamia, where the locals only celebrated a spring New Year. Joseph spends his
adulthood in Egypt, a locale where the only New Year was in early summer. So
can we be certain that in setting forth Joseph’s ages, the author of the
Patriarchal narratives is referring exclusively to fall New Years?
Consider now the traditional view of Terakh, under which Terakh never is in
Canaan. In setting forth Terakh’s ages at the beginning of the Patriarchal
narratives, can we be sure that the author of the Patriarchal narratives is
counting Terakh’s age in terms of fall New Years, even though Terakh, on
that view, never actually witnesses a single fall New Year celebration? Now
consider my own controversial view of Terakh, under which Terakh was
indigenous to Canaan. But Terakh spends the last three decades of his life in
Harran, which only knew a spring New Year. Can we be sure that Terakh’s age is
being set forth exclusively in terms of fall New Years, even though for the
last three decades of his life, Terakh witnessed no actual fall New Year
Abraham, Sarah and Jacob likewise split their time between Mesopotamia,
which had only a spring New Year, and Canaan, which prior to Moses celebrated a
fall New Year. 12 of Jacob’s 13 named children are born in Harran. How
can we be certain that all of these people’s ages are being counted
exclusively on the basis of how many fall New Years in Canaan have transpired?
The Patriarchal narratives present the unusual situation where most of the
people for whom we are given stated ages split their time between
Mesopotamia, Canaan and Egypt. For people like that, we cannot be sure that their
ages are being set forth exclusively in terms of how many fall New Years in
Canaan have transpired.
Moreover, the Jewish calendar has two New Years. The first day of the New
Year is in the fall, but the first month of the New Year is in the spring.
Having two New Years in Canaan feels fairly natural, because Canaan has two
annual harvests of equal importance, spaced about 6 months apart: the
harvest of fruits in the fall, and the harvest of grains in the spring.
Jay, I presume you agree that when a Hebrew author sets forth a person’s
age, that age in “years” is saying how many relevant New Years have
transpired since the person’s birth. The Hebrews never determined ages on the basis
of how many complete 12-month periods had passed by since the person’s
actual date of birth. That’s the Protestant way, not the Hebrew way. No, the
Hebrews always determined the age of people and trees on the basis of how many
relevant New Years have transpired.
In the Patriarchal narratives, it’s not easy to determine what the relevant
New Years are. The fall New Year is the most basic New Year in Canaan,
because that’s when the fall rains cause plants to grow again in Canaan, and it’
s a New Year in Canaan. But given the spring harvest of grains in Canaan,
the spring New Year instituted by Moses (long after any historical
Patriarchal Age) also feels right for Canaan. Harran observed only a spring New
Year, and many characters in the Patriarchal narratives spend time in Harran.
Most of Jacob’s sons are born in Harran.
So what I am saying is that we should consider two different options that
the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives had for setting forth people’
s ages. He could have increased each person’s age by one “year” at the
fall New Year, and only at the fall New Year. I admit that would be anyone’s
first guess as to how ages are set forth in the Patriarchal narratives. But
then all people’s ages are exactly twice as old as they realistically should
be. Why would Terakh be thought to live to age 205 years, in 12-month
years? Accordingly, I am asking people to consider a second possibility: that
the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives may have made the daring
choice of increasing each person’s age by one “year” both at the fall New Year
a-n-d at the spring New Year. If we check out that possibility, we see
that, like magic, every single age in the Patriarchal narratives now makes
complete sense. And as I noted in my first post on this thread, the author
uses a different approach regarding periods of years (but not ages of people)
when the Hebrews are in Harran or Egypt. In those foreign locales, which
had only one New Year every 12 months, the author presents periods of years in
terms of 12-month years.
There’s no way that Abraham could sire Isaac at age 100 years, in 12-month
years. But it makes perfect sense for Abraham to be age 100 “years”, in
6-month “years”, when Abraham sires Isaac. Abraham had witnessed 100 New
Years at the time when Isaac was born: 50 fall New Years, and 50 spring New
Years. In my view, that is what the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal
narratives means when, at Genesis 21: 5, the text states that Abraham was age 100 “
years” when Isaac was born. That is to say, Abraham was age 50 years, in
12-month years, at Isaac’s birth.
My theory of the case explains all 40 numbers in the Patriarchal narratives
that are either a person’s age, or a period of years. Or you can stick
with the scholarly view:
(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 35: 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.
(4) "In fact, the episodic style of the narratives that recount the life
of Abraham is only tenuously attached to a biological clock; witness the
ages in which Abraham and his spouse go through major moments of their lives.
The same can be said of Isaac. Rebekah herself is famously unattached to
chronology…." Jack M. Sasson, "The Servant's Tale: How Rebekah Found a
Spouse", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, January-October 2006, volume 65, at p.
Modern scholars’ misunderstanding of how the Hebrew author of the
Patriarchal narratives presents people’s ages is one of the main reasons why today’s
scholars erroneously view the Patriarchal narratives as being a “myth”.
**************What's for dinner tonight? Find quick and easy dinner ideas
for any occasion.
More information about the b-hebrew