[b-hebrew] , cultic calendar, shanah

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Jul 23 15:06:02 EDT 2013

Dear Rev. Bryant J. Williams III: 
You wrote:  “Again, when you say "not possible" that Terah lived to be 205 
years,  then you are applying "modern" definitions to what was possible and 
not  possible. You are using eisegesis NOT exegesis. Furthermore, the plain 
meaning  of "shannah" is year. The context also confirms that. The TEXT does 
NOT indicate  that "shannah" should not be taken otherwise.” 
The  m-o-d-e-r-n  meaning of  shanah is a 12-month year.  I am not  
applying that modern meaning of shanah to the stated ages of people in the  
Patriarchal narratives.  Rather, I  am applying the archaic meaning of shanah in 
that particular context, which  signified “head of the year” or “turning of 
the year” or “equinox year”, that  is, a 6-month period. 
We have many mummies from ancient times.  No one ever lived close to 205 
years in  12-month years.  When the text says  that Abraham’s father lived 205 
shanah, surely that must be using the archaic  meaning of shanah, so that 
Terah is being stated to have witnessed the first day  of 103 years that 
began in the fall, and the first day of 102 years that began  in the spring, for 
a total of 205 New Years.  We know for a fact that Canaan had two harvest 
seasons of approximately equal  value, one in the fall and one in the spring, 
and that a New Year was often  observed in both the fall and the spring. 
For the benefit of people who may have missed it in an  earlier post, let 
me cite again a brief portion of what the leading scholar in  the world on 
cultic calendars in the ancient near east has said on this  subject: 
Mark E. Cohen, “The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near  East” (1993), at 
p. 6:  “…the cycle  between the equinoxes, a period when the sun and the 
moon vied with each other  for time in the sky.   The  ancient Hebrews 
recognized the significance of this cycle, referring to the  equinoxes, the times 
when the year turns, as teqūfat haššānā (Exodus 34:22):  ‘You shall 
observe the Feast of Weeks,  of the first fruits of the wheat harvest;  and the 
Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year’ (the autumnal  equinox) and as 
tešūbat  haššānā (2 Samuel 11:1): ‘At the turn of the year, the season 
when kings go  out {to battle}’, (probably referring to the vernal equinox).  
The Israelite incorporation of this  six-month ‘year’ into its ritual can 
further be detected in the duration and  timing of the festival of the first 
month, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and  the festival of the seventh 
month, the Feast of Ingathering.  This concept of a six-month equinox year  
appears to have been a major factor in the establishment of the cultic calendar  
throughout the Near East.” 
Note Prof. Cohen’s references to:  (a) “the turn of the year”;  (b)  “
six-month year”;  and (c) “six-month equinox year”.  All of those references 
are in the  context of the “ancient Hebrews”.  Accordingly, it makes sense 
to ask if that archaic meaning of shanah may  be used in particular 
situations in the Patriarchal narratives.  [The early Hebrew author also knew the  
modern meaning of shanah, and used shanah to mean a period of 12 months  
regarding the amount of time the Hebrews spent in Naharim/eastern Syrian and in  
Egypt.  But each person’s age in the Patriarchal  narratives is, by 
contrast, always set forth in terms of the archaic meaning of  shanah, which is a 
6-month period.] 
Outside of the Patriarchal narratives, shanah has the  archaic meaning of a 
6-month period in the rest of the Bible on only about 3  occasions or so.  
But in the  Patriarchal narratives, that archaic meaning of shanah is always 
used in setting  forth all persons’ ages.  
I respectfully disagree with your assertion that “the  plain meaning of ‘
shannah’ is year. The context also confirms that. The TEXT  does NOT indicate 
that ‘shannah’ should not be taken otherwise.” 
(1)  Exodus  34: 22 and II Samuel 11: 1 testify that shanah could have its 
archaic meaning of  a 6-month period in the Bible.  The  Patriarchal 
narratives are older than Exodus or II Samuel, so the Patriarchal  narratives are a 
likely candidate for a word having an archaic  meaning. 
(2)  The  context of Terah’s age being stated to be 205 shanah virtually 
requires that  shanah be given its archaic meaning, as no human being could 
live to age 205  years in 12-month years!  There is  no reason why YHWH would 
have granted Terah a miraculously long life.  [Abraham did not even return 
to Naharim  in eastern Syria for his father’s funeral, even  though both 
Ishmael and Esau, along with Isaac and Jacob, came back for their  father’s 
funeral.  That delicately  suggests that there was a major rift between Abraham 
and his father, thus  confirming that YHWH is not going to allow Terah to 
have a miraculously long  lifespan.] 
Rev. Bryant J. Williams III, it’s  y-o-u , not me, who is the one who is  
applying the modern definition of shanah to these passages in the truly 
ancient  Patriarchal narratives concerning people’s stated ages.  By contrast, I 
am the one who is trying  to go with what the Hebrew author originally 
intended his audience to understand  as to these ages being stated in terms of 
shanah.  When the text says that Terah lived to  age 205 shanah, that’s the 
archaic meaning of shanah, which is a 6-month period,  so that Terah is 
thereby portrayed as realistically living to age 102½ in  12-month years. 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston,  Illinois
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