[b-hebrew] Order of Death: A Key to Understanding Genesis

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Sep 20 15:04:42 EDT 2011

Matt Williams:
1.  In response to my contention that “The text states, in straightforward 
Biblical Hebrew prose, that Ishmael predeceased all of his half-brothers”, 
you wrote:

”If the prose is so straightforward, why is it that no one has ever "seen" 
this amazing fact before?  If it's really so obvious, why has no one seen it?
(a)  It’s right there in the KJV that I quoted:  “he died in the presence 
of all his brethren.”  
(b)  I myself put this into modern English regarding Ishmael as follows:  “
He fell [died] during the lifetimes of all his [half-]brothers.”
What literal translation would you propose for the second half of Genesis 
25: 18?  Isn’t it the case that my proposed translation, and the old KJV 
translation, accurately reproduce what the Hebrew text says?
2.  In response to my contention that “Though we don’t hear about Abraham’
s sons by minor wives until a later point in the text, nevertheless such 
sons would have been sired by Abraham at a younger age”, you wrote:

”Does the text tell us that?  This is an assumption with absolutely no 
weight based upon the text.”
Not true.  I cited Genesis 17: 17, which says:  “Then Abraham fell upon his 
face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall [a child] be born unto him 
that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, 
The text portrays each of Abraham and Sarah as being past the normal age 
when a man or a woman could have children.  Since it is a semi-miracle that 
Abraham, who has witnessed 100 total New Years [spring and fall New Years], 
could still manage to sire Isaac, it would not make sense if, after that, 
Abraham later went on to sire 6 more named sons and un-named “sons of concubines”
.  Rather, Keturah certainly was Abraham’s concubine when Abraham was a 
younger man.  Nothing suggests that Abraham was abnormally old when he sired 6 
sons by Keturah.  So the only sensible reading of the text is that Abraham 
sired 6 sons by Keturah, and several un-named sons by other concubines, and 
then Abraham sired Ishmael, and finally Abraham sired Isaac.  If it’s not a 
semi-miracle that Abraham managed to sire Isaac at an age when most men in 
the ancient world could no longer sire children, then the account of Isaac 
being born in the old age of Abraham and Sarah would not make sense.
3.  You wrote:  “There is nothing in the text that names 4 other sons, or 
the fact that they all lived to adulthood.”
As I stated in my prior post and above, Abraham’s “sons by concubines” are 
not named in the text.  The plural forms suggest that there were at least 
two other minor wives other than Keturah, and that Abraham sired more than 
one son by them.  It’s possible that Abraham had 2 or 3 or 5 or 6 sons by 
other concubines, but the most likely scenario is that he had 4 un-named sons by 
other concubines.  Then Abraham would have 12 sons, just like Nahor and 
If you want to insist that Abraham had only 10 sons, which per the text 
would seem to be the minimum, then so be it.  Ishmael is the second youngest of 
10 or more sons, just as Joseph is the second youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons.  
We know that these sons by concubines lived to adulthood, because the text 
tells us that at Genesis 25: 6:  “But unto the sons of the concubines, which 
Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, 
while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.”
How do we know that each and every one of these many sons by concubines, 
all of whom were older than Ishmael, nevertheless outlived Ishmael?  That’s 
precisely what the second half of Genesis 25: 18 tells us!  “He [Ishmael] fell 
[died] during the lifetimes of all his [half-]brothers.”
Note how the text gives us all this information, if we’re willing to do a 
little digging in the text.
4.  You wrote:  “(L-PNY is most commonly translated as "upon the face" (of 
the earth), or "in the presence of" (an individual).  It can mean "during 
the lifetime of" (cf. w. Gen 11:28), but even there "in the presence of" makes 
perfect sense.  Why is it that here it is a mistranslation?  Who supports 
this view here?  What are the reasons in the text that it means that here?”
When the Patriarchal narratives say that a person died (L-PNY a group of 
people, that means that such person died during their lifetimes.  It literally 
means that he died in their faces, or in their presence, but in fact, at 
Genesis 25: 18 Ishmael’s half-brothers aren’t literally there to see Ishmael 
die.  So this phrase is an idiom, meaning “in the lifetimes of” in the 
context of a person dying (L-PNY a group of people.  [Maybe we can explore the 
critically important phrasing of Genesis 11: 28 at a later time.  It’s very 
relevant, by the way, to each of Ishmael and Joseph predeceasing their 
brothers, though it’s not an exact parallel.]
5.  In response to my assertion that “both the birth order and the death 
order of Ishmael and Joseph are  i-d-e-n-t-i-c-a-l”, you wrote:  “There is 
n-o-t-h-i-n-g in the text to support your view.”
Hello, hello?
Abraham sired 8 or more sons by concubines before siring Ishmael, then 
Isaac in Abraham’s old age [by the standards of the ancient world], as shown 
above.  So Ishmael is clearly the second to last of Abraham’s sons, and Abraham 
likely had 12 [or at least approximately 12] sons.  [Abraham has 8 named 
sons.]  Jacob has 12 named sons, and Joseph is the second to last son.  Each 
of Ishmael and Joseph is the first of a great Patriarch’s 12 sons to die, in 
particular predeceasing all 10 of his older half-brothers.  That’s what 
Genesis 25: 18 and the last 5 verses of Genesis tell us.
6.  You wrote:  “Once again, you can't simply read into the text what fits 
your theory and call it straightforward.”
Once again, I am doing no such thing.  As shown above, we know that Abraham 
had about 12 sons, and that Ishmael was his second to last son.  Ditto for 
Joseph as a son of Jacob.  And we know that each of Ishmael and Joseph was 
the first of those 12 sons to die, because the text tells us that.  All of 
that comes straight out of the Hebrew text, even though modern university 
scholars have not taken note of it.  To the best of my knowledge, no modern 
university scholar has ever discussed the issue of order of death in the 
Patriarchal narratives.  But in fact, order of death is a critical issue in the 
last 40 chapters of Genesis.  If it were not important, the second half of 
Genesis 25: 18 would not say that Ishmael was the first of his many 
half-brothers to die, nor would the end of Genesis say that Joseph was the first of his 
many [half- or full-]brothers to die.  Rather than “simply read[ing] into 
the text what fits your theory”, I am reporting what the Hebrew text clearly 
7.  One cannot understand the Patriarchal narratives without giving careful 
consideration to the important issue of order of death.  It is not a “
coincidence” that each of Ishmael and Joseph is the second youngest son of 12 
sons of a great Patriarch, who nevertheless predeceases all 10 of his older 
half-brothers.  Rather, that is part and parcel of what the Patriarchal 
narratives are telling us.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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