Re: [asa] Ages of the Patriarchs

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Date: Sat Feb 17 2007 - 11:15:17 EST

Hi all,
I plan to write an article on this topic, but here are some preliminaries.
First, although I really love all of Carol Hill's articles, I believe this particular article contains a mistake. She was trying to show that the patriarchical ages in Gen.5 are symbolic, and hence not to be taken literally. To do so she and her collaborator developed a list of rules that would define certain numbers as being "special" symbolic numbers. For example, divisibility by 60 carries symbolic meaning since 60 was the number associated with a certain Sumerian god, and was the basis of their number system, and had other symbolic meaning in Sumeria. Apparently, this list of rules to define "special" numbers had to be expanded until it became broad enough to include all the patriarchical ages. So it was necessary to include not just factorization, but also breaking down the numbers additively into portions that may be factorized separately. This is what the article actually does for almost all the numbers in the list. But this had the side effect of making the rul
 es so overly broad that literally every number between 1 and infinity satisfies the definition of a "special" symbolic number. This was fairly easy to prove -- you just write down the rules the way they were being used in that article and then you apply them consistently to all the other numbers that exist, and you can prove in just a few hours work that literally **every** number meets the rules equally well. Hence, this approach fails to show that there is anything special about the ages of the patriarchs. There is **no** evidence whatsoever that they are symbolic numbers.
As far as the Sumerian kings list (SKL) and other sources that say the Sumerians lived very long ages, this has already been thoroughly explained by ANE scholars. I tried this myself: just plot all the ages from the SKL (both ante- and post-deluvial) onto a scatterplot. You will see that every city-state had its own average age and its own standard deviation (scatter) around that average. When the kings list leaves one city-state and goes to the next, you get a very distinct step in both the average and the scatter. These steps are sometimes a factor of 60, sometimes a factor of 6, etc. The obvious implication is that the funny data are the result of different city-states using different numbering systems. Whoever compiled the SKL back in ancient times was unaware of the different numbering systems and wrongly interpreted them according to the same set of rules. This produced the apparently long ages that we see for some city-states as well as all the distinct steps w
 e see between the other city-states. ANE scholars have known about this for a long time and have explained it in detail from the actual numbering systems that were in use. Apparently, the ancient people who compiled the SKL not only made the mistake of misinterpeting the numbers, but then followed up by creating mythology around these mistakes. They believed that the earlier kings lived long ages so they created fantastic stories about it.
What about the Patriarchs' ages in the Bible? Apparently something very similar happened in the misinterpretation of the ages. Here is the squence of events that I am hypothesizing (and others have probably hypothesized exactly this, as well): that Abraham brought the account of the Flood and antediluvial patriarchs with him from Sumeria when God sent him to Canaan. The Jewish people faithfully copied down the numerals for generation-by-generation even long after they had forgotten what they meant. Eventually, the Jews were brought into Babylon during the Captivity and this re-exposed them to the most common of the old Mesopotamian number systems. So they suddenly had a way to understand the numerals contained in their own Scripture. Unfortunately, they were not exposed to the **correct** one of the many old Mesopotamian number systems, and so the numbers were misinterpreted. This gave us a Patriarch list with overly long ages, but which have funny statistical feature
 s that give evidence of that misinterpretation.
Here is a funny statistical feature: note that every age in the list ends in either 0, 2, 5, or 7. There is never any use of 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, or 9 for the trailing digit. (The one exception is Methuselah's total age, which ends in 9 because it is the addition of a 2 and a 7 for his earlier parts of life; so the 9 is probably a gloss to get additive consistency. More will be said about this kind of "tinkering" below.) The improbability of this unusual feature is so overwhelming that it gives strong evidence of a mistranslation of the original numbering system. At least one theory has been worked out in detail as to how these features could arise, based on actual Mesopotamian systems with only a little speculation. I have worked out my own theory, but it is purely speculative (not based on known Mesopotamian number systems) and hence not a good theory. But in any case, we know that the mistranslation of number systems can give exactly these kinds of funny statistical feat
 ures, and nothing else reasonably can.
The interpretation of ages in the Patriarch list wasn't the only numerical problem in the ancient text of the Jewish scriptures. There is evidence that they had other number systems before finally settling on the base-10 system the world uses today. I think that at the time of the Exodus until somewhere before king David, the Jews were using a base-7 system. There is some very strong evidence for that in the Bible, which I hope to publish soon. There are many other numerical problems in the OT, too. So the Jewish scholars at the time of the Captivity were struggling to understand why the numbers in the Bible didn't add up correctly, and how it needed to be changed to "correct" it since they had faith that the text was from God but didn't know how the numbers were supposed to be handled. The end result of their arguments is seen in the three existing texts of the Pentateuch: the Masoretic (upon which our modern Bibles are based), the Septuagint, and the Samaritan. All
 three versions have different patterns in the numbers. Apparently the scholars never got absolute unanimity in their attempt to resolve the numbers and that is why we have three versions surviving to this day. Their differences aren't random, but rather they show that the scholars were consciously trying to reconcile the numbers and so each version consistently uses a different method to do so. As the end result, in each version the numbers are internally consistent by adding up correctly number-by-number. So we know that there was some "tinkering" with the numbers to make each version internally consistent like this. For the Jewish scholars, who greatly respected their Scriptures, it must have been a very long and intense debate about how to change God's holy words, and so the debate was probably not finished for several centuries. When the masoretic text was finally settled, all its numerals were converted into spelled-out words (writing "seven" instead of "7") in or
 der to codify the conclusions and prevent that kind of problem from happening again.
So I am convinced that the Patriarch's ages are a misinterpretation of an ancient number system, and that it has no implications against the inspiration and inerrancy of the original text. I believe this was the result of scholars attempting to "correct" something that wasn't incorrect to begin with, because they didn't have sufficient knowledge of ancient numbering systems.
There are a couple of remarkable things to point out. First, unlike what happened in Mesopotamia, there is absolutely NO mythology in the Bible surrounding these long ages of the Patriarchs. The Bible treats them as completely unremarkable and has nothing to say about the length of these ages. This is evidence that the Bible was not formed as a silly mythology the way that the Sumerian stories developed.
Second, the very existence of these numerical features is evidence that the Bible is really very old and hence authentic. If the stories of the Patriarchs and later the Exodus and Conquest were merely invented at a late age when base-10 was the norm, then its inventors would not have come up with numbers that are statistically provable as mistranslations of earlier number systems. The only way this could have reasonably happened was if the ancient Jews really did use a base-7 system at the time of the Conquest, and if the Patriarch's ages really did come from ancient Mesopotamian numbering, and so this proves that the text was not a recent fabrication.
I have purposely not told the evidence for the base-7 system because that is the main thing that I hope to publish soon.
best regards,
Phil Metzger
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sat, 17 Feb 2007 8:41 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Ages of the Patriarchs

I have several questions on this topic.
First, for Dick Fischer:
You wrote "Evidence for long life is scant at best, but personally, I take the ages at face value" by which I take it you mean the stated numbers in Gen. 1-11 are the physical years of life of the patriarchs. I've long admired your work, and that of Carol Hill, Conrad Hyers, etc. in the sense that a deep understanding of the mesopotamian culture is vital to understanding Genesis. Given the indications that numbers had a great symbolic value in that culture, why do you feel that these numbers represent chronology instead of symbolism? Or at least would you have an openness to the possibility that they might be?
To any paleontologists or similar expertise:
How is the longevity of a pre-historic species determined? esp. of mammals?
Is there any evidence for enhanced longevity in Homo Sapiens at any time in the past? (assuming the longevity wasn't limited to a small number of special cases)
If not, is it simply that there is no evidence of it? or is there evidence that there was no enhanced longevity?
To biologists:
What is the latest research thinking on aging? How big a factor is radiation considered to be?
What is the role of telomeres in aging? Can you help explain telomeres?
Is there any reason to believe that Homo Sapiens could have had, from a biological point of view, enhanced longevity in the past?
Is there reason to believe it couldn't have had it?
Is the increase in life expectancy over the last couple of centuries entirely due to the shift in distribution of life spans? or is there also an element of increasing longevity?
(assuming I'm using the terms longevity and life expectancy correctly to mean, respectively, the inherent 'early disease-free' life of an average individual, vs the actuarial expectation)
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Received on Sat Feb 17 11:16:07 2007

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