[b-hebrew] Robert Alter on Joseph

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Jul 24 14:47:12 EDT 2009

Let me answer your three questions, but in reverse order.
1.  You wrote:  “And what about the ages listed in Genesis 11:10 ff? Three 
month “years”?”
I see the Patriarchal narratives, beginning at Genesis 11: 26, as being 
older than the rest of the Bible.  My theory of the ages of the Patriarchs does 
not apply to any other part of the Bible (such as Genesis 11: 10).

2.  You wrote:  “You have yet to show one ancient source that your 
speculated bronze age fall and spring new years actually existed: all the sources 
you have pointed to
 date from close to 2000 years later and later still.  Good scholarly 
practice demands that you be able to present primary sources, and so far you have 
presented none.”
Any Biblical source outside of the Patriarchal narratives is, by necessity, 
going to long post-date the Patriarchal Age.  So we need to look to secular 
history.  Just about the only place in Bronze Age greater Canaan having 
fairly extensive written records is Ugarit.  Here is what the standard source 
on ANE cultic calendars has to say about calendars and New Years in Late 
Bronze Age Ugarit.  The primary source material is “the Ugaritic Myth of Ba’lu”
.  In order to keep this post fairly short, let me just quote the 
conclusions reached on the basis of that primary source from Late Bronze Age greater 
“[T]he Ugarit cultic year appears to begin in autumn and the civil year in 
the spring….”  Mark E. Cohen, “The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East
” (1993), CDL Press, Bethesda, Maryland, at p. 378, quoting J.C. de Morr, “
The Seasonal Pattern in the Ugaritic Myth of Ba’lu”, AOAT 16, 61-62
If you want the primary source names of the months in Ugaritic, here are 
some:  gn, hlt, hyr, ib’lt, itb, ittbnm, mgmr, nql, pgrm, ris yn, sm.
Scholars well-versed in Ugaritic literature and culture believe that Ugarit 
had a New Year every 6 months:  a New Year in the fall, and a New Year in 
the spring.  Each calendar was a 12-month year calendar, but the combination 
of these two 12-month calendars led to there being a New Year every 6 months 
in Ugarit.
There are virtually no written records from Bronze Age greater Canaan 
outside of Ugarit (and the Patriarchal narratives).  Using logic, we know that 
the fall rains in Canaan revive plant life in Canaan, so the fall New Year 
must be the fundamental New Year in Canaan.  But Canaan has not only an annual 
harvest in the fall, but also an annual harvest in the spring.  So having 
one calendar with a New Year in the fall, and another calendar with a New Year 
in the spring, fits Canaan nicely.  That’s what Ugarit had.  And that’s 
the Jewish calendar to this very day. 
3.  You wrote:  “N(R was used for young men up into their 20s. If you know 
Hebrew you can find examples.”
N(R has two basic meanings.  For a named individual, it means “boy”.  For 
unnamed mere servants, it means “young servants” or “young workers”.  In 
that latter sense, they would often be in their upper teens, and could be in 
their early 20s, but they would not be middle-aged.
I myself do not know of a named individual in the Bible who is called N(R 
who is over age 15 years, in 12-month years (unless an obviously metaphorical 
meaning is implied, as noted below).  On my theory of the case, the oldest 
named individual who is called N(R in the Patriarchal narratives is Isaac, 
at Genesis 22: 12, who is age 15 regular years at the binding incident.  It 
is slightly surprising to see a young future Patriarch called N(R at age 15, 
but Isaac is presented as being somewhat childlike, not quite realizing what 
his father is intending to sacrifice.  Likewise, Benjamin is repeatedly 
called a N(R at age 15 regular years in chapters 43 and 44 of Genesis, when his 
father Jacob reluctantly allows Benjamin to be taken to Egypt (at the 
insistence of a disguised Joseph, age 25 regular years).  Once again, like Isaac, 
Benjamin seems a bit childlike for his age, so the label fits him.  Joseph 
is a N(R at age 13 regular years, when he is in jail.  Pharaoh’s top 
official, 2 regular years later (Genesis 41: 1), remembers that a N(R had correctly 
interpreted that official’s dream in jail.  Genesis 41: 2  So 2 regular 
years later, Joseph is age 15 regular years, being age 30 “years”, in 6-month “
years”.  Genesis 41: 46  But when Pharaoh’s top official had had Joseph 
interpret his dream (2 years ago), Joseph had been a N(R, age 13.  Ishmael is 
age 9½ regular years when he is repeatedly called N(R in chapter 21 of 
Genesis, and as a mere boy is carried into exile on his mother Hagar’s shoulder.  
Dinah’s would-be husband is called N(R in chapter 34 of Genesis.  Dinah’s 
would-be husband, young Shechem, is likely age 13 regular years, or possibly 
younger, though we cannot be certain of his age.
Outside of the Patriarchal narratives, I do not know of a person with an 
individual name who is called N(R after age 15 regular years.  Solomon claims 
to be but a little boy at I Kings 3: 7, but that is clearly a reverent 
affectation, and is metaphorical.  Jeremiah 1: 6-7 is the same.
If you look at what Joseph does at the beginning of chapter 37 of Genesis, 
you will see that all his actions make sense for an 8½-year-old boy, and 
none of his actions make sense for a 17-year-old grown man.  Joseph is a boy, 
not a man, at the beginning of chapter 37 of Genesis.  When Joseph is stated 
at Genesis 37: 2 to be age 17 “years”, that means that Joseph has witnessed 
17 New Years in total, counting both fall New Years  a-n-d  spring New 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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