[b-hebrew] Robert Alter on Joseph

James Read J.Read-2 at sms.ed.ac.uk
Fri Jul 24 17:17:21 EDT 2009


by that reasoning the UK has several new years. It has one on January  
1st from pagan origins. It has one in September when kids go back to  
school. It has one in April when the financial year starts. And  
others. Does that mean I should divide at least by three each time a  
Brit tells me his age?

James Christian

Quoting JimStinehart at aol.com:

> Karl:
> 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
> Canaan:
> “[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
> Years.
> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois
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