THE GENERATIONS OF ADAM
An Examination of Conflicting Biblical Chronologies
By Jared L. Olar
The premier issue of this journal (Sept. 1998) included a brief discussion of the vast and often confusing subject of biblical chronology. The essay, “To Add or Not to Add – A Closer Look at Biblical Genealogies,” by Grace and Knowledge Executive Editor Doug Ward, is a clear and concise survey of the subject, and shows some good reasons why it may not be advisable to add up the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis chapters 5 and 11 in an attempt to determine how many thousands of years it has been since the creation of Adam and Eve. As Doug Ward explained, it “may be that the genealogies in Gen. 5 and 11 were not intended to give an unabridged record of the time before Abraham.”
However, in addition to the matters discussed in “To Add or Not to Add,” there is another very good reason why an attempt to calculate the date of Adam’s creation could be fraught with peril. Before one can attempt to add up the numbers of Gen. 5 and 11, one must first examine the various conflicting versions of Gen. 5 and 11 that are attested in ancient biblical manuscripts or in the writings of ancient historians. As with all variations in biblical manuscripts, those conflicting versions arose over time from a combination of accidental and deliberate textual corruption. In this study, we shall examine and compare those versions to see if it is possible to ascertain which version is most likely to have been the original one. Perhaps a good subtitle of this study would be, “To Add and to Subtract” – and so I must beg the indulgence of those readers who have little love of numbers and arithmetic, because we’ll be doing a lot of arithmetic before we can attempt to determine which version most likely represents the original.
Before we begin our examination of the seven conflicting versions of Gen. 5 and 11, we should first take note of the genealogical and chronological “template” that recurs generation by generation in those chapters. With only occasional variations in the pattern, in every version of Gen. 5 each generation’s chronology is described in this way:
And X lived a years, and begot Y.
And X lived after he begot Y for b years, and begot sons and daughters.
And all the days of X’s life were (a + b) years, and he died.
In almost all of the versions of Gen. 11, a shorter template is used that is nearly identical to the one used in Gen. 5:
And X lived a years, and begot Y.
And X lived after he begot Y for b years, and begot sons and daughters.
Thus, Gen. 5’s chronological and genealogical template includes a total of “all the days of X’s life,” but in all but one of the versions of Gen. 11 there are no totals given of the patriarchs’ lives. The only exception is the Samaritan Pentateuch’s version of Gen. 11, which includes totals of “all the days of X’s life” just as Gen. 5 shows for each patriarch. However, as we shall see, it is all but certain that the Samaritan Pentateuch’s patriarchal totals in Gen. 11 are interpolations, made to conform Gen. 11’s template with Gen. 5’s. As indicated above, except for Gen. 11 in the Samaritan Pentateuch, every version of Gen. 5 and 11 follows the same exact template. Again, apart from the question of the second Cainan, all the versions list the same generations. It is almost exclusively in the chronology, in the numbers, where the disagreements among the different versions of Gen. 5 and 11 are to be found.
The most familiar version of Gen. 5 and 11 – that is, the version found in English Bible translations – is the one found in the Hebrew Masoretic text as well as ancient Bible versions that match the Masoretic version of Gen. 5 and 11, such as the Latin Vulgate. However, the version (or to be more precise, the versions) of those chapters found in the Greek Septuagint is different in many ways. As we shall see, the most important difference between the Masoretic and the Septuagint versions of Gen. 5 and 11 is that for the number designating how old a patriarch was when he had his son, the Masoretic text usually has a figure that is 100 less than the Septuagint’s figure. The numbers in the Masoretic version of Gen. 5 yield a total of 1,656 years from the creation of Adam until the Flood of Noah, and the numbers in the Masoretic version of Gen. 11 yield a total of 292 years from the Flood until the birth of Terah’s sons Haran, Nahor, and Abram.
Although the Masoretic and the Septuagint are the two chief versions of Gen. 5 and 11, it is actually misleading to refer to “the” Septuagint version of those chapters. In fact there are two basic Septuagint versions of Gen. 5 and 11, which for our purposes may conveniently be called the “old” and the “new” Septuagint versions. The old Septuagint and the new Septuagint chronologies are almost identical, but their differences are not unimportant. The numbers in the old Septuagint text yield a total of 2,262 years from the creation of Adam until the Flood of Noah, and a total of 1,072 years from the Flood until the birth of Terah’s sons. But in the new Septuagint text, those totals are, respectively, 2,242 years and 1,172 years.
All extant copies of the Old Testament in Greek show the new Septuagint chronology, but the old Septuagint chronology was accepted by the pre-Christian Jewish historian Demetrius and the Greek writer of Jewish history Alexander Polyhistor, and is attested in the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (a Latin treatise written originally in Greek, once attributed erroneously to Philo of Alexandria, but in fact by a first century A.D. Pharisee relying on a Hebrew biblical text), and also is attested in the writings of several early Christian chronologers. However, this distinction between “old” and “new” Septuagint versions is actually a simplification for the sake of more convenient comparison, because in fact the ancient sources and the old Christian chronologers – such as St. Theophilus of Antioch, Julius Africanus, Eusebius Pamphilii, and the compiler of the old Paschal Chronicle – at times show some interesting or significant variations within the basic Septuagint chronological tradition.
A fourth version of Gen. 5 and 11 is found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, which preserves a chronology that, apart from some important divergences, represents a mix of the Masoretic chronology of Gen. 5 with the Septuagint chronology of Gen. 11. The Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers in Gen. 5 and 11 yield a total of 1,307 years from Adam’s creation until the Flood, and 942 years from the Flood to the birth of Terah’s sons. In the individual patriarchs’ ages if not in the bulk totals, the Samaritan Pentateuch’s chronology is very similar to the chronology found in some versions of the writings of Josephus. However, the standard (“vulgate”) text of Josephus is unlike the Samaritan Pentateuch’s chronology. Instead, it is very close to the old and new Septuagint versions, while agreeing in a few points with the Masoretic over against the Septuagint. In the Josephus versions, the total from Adam’s creation until the Flood is 1,556 years (just 100 less than the Masoretic total), and the total from the Flood until the birth of Terah’s sons is 892 years (exactly 600 more than the Masoretic total). In the vulgate Josephus, the total from Adam’s creation until the Flood is 2,256 years (exactly 600 more than the Masoretic total), and the total from the Flood until the birth of Terah’s sons is 952 years (just 10 higher than the Samaritan Pentateuch’s total).
Last of all, the seventh version of the chronology of Gen. 5 and 11 that we need to consider is that found in the Book of Jubilees, which has an antediluvian chronology that is very close to the Samaritan Pentateuch’s version of Gen. 5, but is in a class by itself when it comes to the chronology of the patriarchs of Gen. 11. The closeness of Jubilees and the Samaritan Pentateuch in Gen. 5 can hardly be a mere coincidence. Like the Samaritan Pentateuch, Jubilees shows a total of 1,307 years from Adam’s creation until the Flood, but shows 567 years from the Flood until the birth of Terah’s sons. (See the accompanying table for an easier comparison of these seven versions.)
Let us now examine the ages of the Pre-Flood patriarchs at their sons’ births, leaving until later a consideration of how long each version says the patriarchs lived after their sons’ births and how old they were when they died. Looking at the patriarchs’ ages at their sons’ births, we see that, although there are seven distinct versions of the chronology of Gen. 5 and 11, those seven versions resemble and diverge from each other in ways that make it evident that, when it comes to the Pre-Flood era, in fact we really only have to work with three basic versions of chronology: the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic.
For example, the antediluvian chronologies of the old and new Septuagint differ in only one point – the age of Methuselah at his son’s birth (187 versus 167), so they are really one basic chronological version. Again, the Septuagint and the vulgate Josephus are almost identical, differing only slightly in the age of Lamech at the time of Noah’s birth (the Septuagint has 188, vulgate Josephus has 182), yielding a difference of only six years between the Septuagint’s Pre-Flood total and that of the vulgate Josephus. The agreement of the Septuagint and vulgate Josephus is so close that they are for all intents and purposes the same chronological system. Again, the Samaritan Pentateuch and Jubilees are almost identical, differing only by a year or two in the ages of some of the patriarchs at their sons’ births, but both showing a total of 1,307 years from Adam to the Flood. Despite minor differences, these are really the same chronological system.
However, for the Pre-Flood era, the Masoretic chronology agrees partly with the Septuagint and partly with the Samaritan Pentateuch. For the first five generations, the Masoretic agrees with the Samaritan Pentateuch/Jubilees, but agrees with the Septuagint/vulgate Josephus on the sixth generation (162 versus 62), and then agrees with the Samaritan Pentateuch again on the seventh generation (65 versus 165). For the remaining three generations, the Masoretic matches vulgate Josephus and is almost the same as the Septuagint. This partial agreement with the Samaritan Pentateuch and partial agreement with the Septuagint classifies the Masoretic chronology as a distinct version. Notably, the alternate versions of Josephus are almost identical to the Masoretic, differing only on how old Jared was when Enoch was born (the Masoretic has 162, the Josephus versions have 62, as does the Samaritan Pentateuch, whereas Jubilees has 61). Thus, for the Pre-Flood era, the Josephus versions are properly to be classified as a minor variation on the Masoretic version.
Just as there are really only three basic versions of Pre-Flood chronology when it comes to how old the patriarchs were when their sons were born – the Septuagint version, the Samaritan Pentateuch version, and the Masoretic version – so we find that there are the same three basic versions of Pre-Flood chronology when it comes to how long the patriarchs lived after their sons were born. Jubilees and Josephus do not mention how long the patriarchs lived after the births of their sons (although Jubilees alludes to Enoch living 300 years after the birth of Methuselah), so the only versions to consider are the old and new Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic. But in this matter, just as in the matter of the ages of the patriarchs at their sons’ births, the only difference between the old and new Septuagint is found in the account of how long Methuselah lived after his son Lamech was born (782 years versus 802 years). Therefore the Septuagint’s numbers are properly classified as a single version of chronology, distinct from the versions found in the Masoretic and the Samaritan Pentateuch.
In the first five generations, from Adam to Mahalaleel, the Masoretic and the Samaritan Pentateuch have identical numbers. But with Jared, they begin to diverge significantly, agreeing only in saying Enoch lived 300 years after Methuselah’s birth. Otherwise the remaining Samaritan numbers are quite different from the Masoretic numbers (785 versus 800, 653 versus 782, and 600 versus 595), a phenomenon we shall examine later. In comparison, in the first five generations the Septuagint has numbers that are exactly 100 years less than the numbers in the Masoretic and the Samaritan Pentateuch. Then for the remaining generations, the Septuagint occasionally agrees and occasionally disagrees with the Masoretic, but consistently disagrees with the Samaritan Pentateuch.
Upon close examination, definite patterns can be discerned in the various agreements and disagreements of the conflicting versions. Notice, for example, that in the first five generations, the Masoretic and Samaritan Pentateuch show ages of the patriarchs at their sons’ births that are exactly 100 years lower than those in the Septuagint and vulgate Josephus; but also show numbers of years that the patriarchs lived after their sons were born that are exactly 100 years higher than those in the Septuagint. Thus, the numbers for Adam in the Septuagint are 230 + 700 = 930, but in the Masoretic and Samaritan Pentateuch they are 130 + 800 = 930. This pattern again appears with Enoch’s numbers, which are 165 + 200 = 365 in the Septuagint and 65 + 300 = 365 in the Masoretic and Samaritan Pentateuch. It is no doubt significant that, in comparing the Samaritan Pentateuch with other versions of Gen. 11, the same kind of 100-year differences can be found in four of the Post-Flood generations (Eber, Peleg, Reu, and Serug).
We noted at the beginning that Gen. 5 has a recurring chronological template for each generation, a template that concludes with the total years of the patriarch’s life. Although the conflicting versions of Gen. 5 show marked divergences in the ages of the patriarchs at their sons’ births and in the number of years they lived after their sons were born, it is interesting to note that the conflicting versions show very little corruption in the total years of the patriarchs’ lives. The Masoretic and Josephus are in perfect agreement in this matter, and they are both in almost complete agreement with the Septuagint. For the ages at death of the antediluvian patriarchs, the only difference between the Septuagint and Masoretic/Josephus is the age of Noah’s father Lamech (753 years versus 777 years).
The Samaritan Pentateuch, however, again shows significant divergence from the Masoretic and other versions, agreeing with them in the first five generations and in the total age of Enoch, but disagreeing with them in the total ages of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech (847 versus 962, 720 versus 969, and 653 versus 753 or 777). Thus, we again find that the seven conflicting versions of Gen. 5 and 11 all resolve into just three basic versions of Pre-Flood chronology – the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic. In this case, as we have said, the Septuagint and Masoretic show almost complete agreement, with the Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers showing the greatest divergence.
Upon closer examination, it appears that it is not merely accidental corruption that accounts for the Samaritan Pentateuch’s ages of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech. On the contrary, it seems that their ages were deliberately altered. The basis for that supposition is that the Samaritan chronology shows those three patriarchs all dying in the year of the Flood. According to the Samaritan Pentateuch, there were 1,307 years from Adam’s creation until the Flood, and there were 460 years from Adam’s creation until the birth of Jared, who lived 847 years, that is, the exact number of years from Jared’s birth until the Flood. Again, the Samaritan chronology shows 587 years from Adam’s creation until the birth of Methuselah, who lived 720 years, that is, the exact number of years from Methuselah’s birth until the Flood. Finally, according to the Samaritan numbers, Lamech was 53 years old when Noah was born 707 years after Adam’s creation. In all versions of Genesis, the Flood came when Noah was 600 years old, so Lamech’s death at the age of 653 according to the Samaritan numbers was in the year of the Flood.
Now, it is highly suspicious that all three of those patriarchs would die in the year of the Flood, especially when we compare the other versions of Gen. 5. First, the Samaritan Pentateuch is the only version that places the deaths of Jared and Lamech in the year of the Flood. Second, the old Septuagint chronology does not show any of the Pre-Flood patriarchs dying in the year of the Flood, while the new Septuagint chronology, surprisingly enough, actually has Methuselah survive the Flood by 14 years. The Masoretic and Josephus, however, agree with the Samaritan in placing Methuselah’s death in the year of the Flood, although the Samaritan’s total age for Methuselah is much lower than his total age in the Masoretic and Josephus. It is also noteworthy that the Samaritan chronology shortens the lives of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech, but, interestingly enough, extends the length of time that Lamech lived after Noah’s birth (565 years in the Septuagint and 595 years in the Masoretic, but 600 years in the Samaritan). A consideration of these facts tends to support the conclusion that the Samaritan chronology in Gen. 5 is artificial and deliberately altered.
As noted above, the conflicting versions show very little corruption or divergences in the total years of the patriarchs’ lives, the only differences being the Septuagint’s total age of Lamech and the Samaritan Pentateuch’s total ages of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech. This comparative lack of divergence is somewhat remarkable given the much greater extent to which the other chronological figures in Gen. 5 were subject to accidental alteration and deliberate adjustment. Nevertheless, it appears it was the simple fact that Gen. 5’s chronological template concludes with the patriarch’s age at death that helped to safeguard the numbers in Gen. 5 from even greater corruption. This inclusion of the total age in the chronological template made it possible for the ancient scribes to check the three figures in the chronological template against each other and to correct scribal errors, to make sure the first two figures were in agreement with the total. As we shall see, the lack of any mention of total ages in Gen. 11 led to much more corruption and inconsistency among the different versions of that chapter’s chronology than we see among the different versions of Gen. 5.
The presence of the total ages in Gen. 5 also helps account for the discrepancies of exactly 100 years among the conflicting versions. As mentioned previously, the Septuagint and vulgate Josephus say Adam was 230 years old when Seth was born, whereas the Masoretic and all other versions say he was 130 years old. Again, the Septuagint says Adam lived 700 years after the birth of Seth, whereas the Masoretic and the Samaritan Pentateuch say he lived 800 years. All versions agree that Adam died when he was 930 years old. The same kind of 100-year discrepancies, with agreement on the total ages, are also found in the cases of Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, and Enoch. Whether these 100-year discrepancies were the result of accident or design (an issue we’ll address shortly), the fact that Gen. 5 included total ages made it possible, or imperative, that the figures be adjusted to fit.
We should also note a 20-year discrepancy in the case of Methuselah. The Masoretic, old Septuagint, and Josephus agree that Methuselah was 187 years old when Lamech was born, and then lived another 782 years, dying at the age of 969. However, the new Septuagint says Methuselah was 167 years old when Lamech was born, and then lived another 802 years, dying 14 years after the Flood at the age of 969. In this case, the presence of the total age of Methuselah in Gen. 5:27 enabled the scribe to check the arithmetic and make sure that the 20 years lost from Methuselah’s age when Lamech was born would be made up in the remainder of Methuselah’s life, even though adjusting the figures in this way turned Methuselah into the ninth survivor of the Flood. Inevitably, Christian writers who accepted the new Septuagint’s chronology were at great pains to explain how Methuselah could have survived the Flood when he wasn’t a passenger on Noah’s ark. In comparison, the Samaritan Pentateuch avoids such contradictions by adjusting the figures to ensure that only Noah survived the Flood.
Among the conflicting versions of Gen. 5, there are three other 100-year discrepancies, but they are not like the 100-year discrepancies and the 20-year discrepancy noted above. The first example is found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, which says Jared was 62 years old when Enoch was born and then lived another 785 years, whereas almost every other version says Jared was 162 years old (Jubilees says 61 years old, but that is just a minor variant of the Samaritan number, or vice versa) and then lived another 800 years. If this discrepancy had followed the pattern, we would expect the Samaritan Pentateuch to say Jared lived another 900 years, not 785 years. However, as we noted above, the Samaritan Pentateuch instead made a reduction from 800 to 785 in order to prevent the chronological absurdity of having Jared survive the Flood. The Samaritan Pentateuch has a similar 100-year discrepancy in the case of Methuselah. The new Septuagint says Methuselah was 167 years old when Lamech was born and then lived another 802 years, but the Samaritan Pentateuch says Methuselah was 67 years old and then lived another 720 years. Again, instead of saying Methuselah lived another 902 years, the Samaritan Pentateuch made a reduction from 802 to 720 to ensure that Methuselah’s chronology had him die in the year of the Flood.
The final 100-year discrepancy in Gen. 5 is unique in that it involves a patriarch’s total age. The Septuagint says Lamech died when he was 753 years old, but the Samaritan Pentateuch says Lamech was 653 years old. Even though it is a difference of exactly 100 years, the Septuagint and Samaritan starkly disagree on the numbers that they add to reach their respective totals. The Septuagint’s total of 753 is the sum of 188 and 565, whereas the Samaritan total of 653 is the sum of 53 and 600.
Whether or not the Septuagint’s numbers here are correct (they probably aren’t, as we shall see), one can hardly doubt that the Samaritan numbers for Lamech are artificial, created to ensure that Lamech was not made to survive the Flood in the truncated Jubilees/Samaritan antediluvian chronology. But we shall return to this question later on. For now, let us move on to an examination of the different versions of Gen. 11’s chronology.
Just as we have seen that, for the Pre-Flood era, the seven distinct versions of chronology can be simplified into three basic versions, so the seven versions of the chronology of Gen. 11 can be simplified into four basic versions: the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Masoretic, and Jubilees. However, it is important to note that the differences between the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch for the period from the Flood to Abraham are much smaller than the differences between the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch for the Pre-Flood era.
In fact, for this period of time, the main thing that sets the Septuagint apart as a distinct version is the inclusion of the second Cainan, who is absent from all other versions except the Book of Jubilees. Nevertheless, despite the Book of Jubilees’ inclusion of the second Cainan, Jubilees’ chronological system for this period diverges wildly from every other version – Jubilees’ only chronological agreement with them being the interval from the Flood to Arphaxad’s birth (2 years) and the age of Terah at the time that his sons were born (70 years). Besides the second Cainan, the Septuagint for this period of time is virtually identical to Josephus and the Samaritan Pentateuch.
What distinguishes the Masoretic version of Gen. 11 from the other versions (except for Jubilees, which is unlike every other version) is that, from Arphaxad to Serug, the ages of the patriarchs at their sons’ births are exactly 100 years lower than the other versions show. All versions agree on the age of Shem at Arphaxad’s birth, and as noted above, all the versions except vulgate Josephus agree on a two-year interval between the Flood and Arphaxad’s birth. Again, all versions agree that Terah was 70 years old when his three sons began to be born. Thus, apart from the second Cainan and the discrepancy among the different versions regarding Nahor’s age at Terah’s birth, five of the seven versions display remarkable agreement and consistency, while Jubilees and the Masoretic version each disagree in their own ways with the five that are in basic agreement. For the chronology of the period from the Flood to Abraham, the Masoretic and Jubilees appear to be, each in their own way, the “odd men out.”
Although there are four basic versions of the chronology of Gen. 11, there are only three versions of Post-Flood chronology when it comes to how long the patriarchs are said to have lived after their sons were born – the Septuagint version, the Samaritan Pentateuch version, and the Masoretic version. The Book of Jubilees does not supply any numbers for the years each Post-Flood patriarch lived after his son’s birth, nor does Josephus (with the exception of Shem, who Josephus says lived 500 years after his son was born – the same number found in all other versions). Those numbers appear only in the Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic. In these numbers, the old and the new Septuagint show three discrepancies with each other, but the discrepancies are not significant enough that old and new Septuagint can be classed as distinct versions. First, the old Septuagint says Arphaxad lived 430 years after his son Cainan’s birth, but the new Septuagint says it was just 400 years; second, the old Septuagint says Eber lived 370 years after his son Peleg’s birth, but the new Septuagint says 270 years; and third, the old Septuagint says Nahor lived 129 years after his son Terah was born, but the new Septuagint says 125 years. Otherwise the old and new Septuagint versions show the same numbers for how long each patriarch lived after the birth of his son.
In essence, then, the old and new Septuagint versions present the same basic set of numbers, the differences between old and new Septuagint apparently resulting from textual corruption or scribal error in the new Septuagint. But the differences are more pronounced among the Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch and Masoretic versions. All three versions, along with Josephus, agree that Shem lived 500 years after the birth of Arphaxad, but in the remaining Post-Flood generations there is significant divergence. As mentioned above, the old Septuagint says Arphaxad lived 430 years after the birth of his son Cainan, whereas the new Septuagint says it was 400 years. However, the Masoretic text says Arphaxad lived 403 years after the birth of his son Salah, while the Samaritan says he lived 303 years after Salah’s birth. In this instance, the Septuagint and Masoretic numbers 400 and 403 are very close, which strongly suggests that the Samaritan Pentateuch’s figure of 303 years is not the original reading but is merely the Masoretic number with 100 subtracted.
It is also significant that in the Samaritan Pentateuch, from Arphaxad to Serug, the lengths of time the patriarchs lived after their sons’ births are almost always 100 years lower than the Masoretic numbers – the lone exception being Eber, who is said in the Samaritan Pentateuch to have lived 270 years after Peleg’s birth, in comparison with the Masoretic, which says 430 years, the old Septuagint, which says 370 years, and the new Septuagint, which has the identical figure of 270 years. In the case of Eber, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the new Septuagint agree on the figure of 270 years, which is 100 years lower than the old Septuagint number – an indication that the Masoretic’s outlier number 430 is probably not the original reading here.
Another remarkable fact about the Samaritan Pentateuch is that, from Eber to Serug, the lengths of time the patriarchs lived after their sons’ births are always 100 years lower than the old Septuagint numbers. Similarly, from Peleg to Serug, the Samaritian Pentateuch shows numbers that are always 100 years lower than the Masoretic numbers. The same kind of 100-year discrepancy has already been observed in the ages of the Pre-Flood patriarchs in Gen. 5. Also, as noted above, one of the chief differences between the Masoretic version of Gen. 11 and the other versions is that, from Arphaxad to Serug, the ages of the patriarchs at their sons’ births are 100 years lower than the other versions show. Thus, the Masoretic says Arphaxad lived 35 years + 403 years, whereas the Samaritan says Arphaxad lived 135 years + 303 years. In comparing the Samaritan and the Masoretic, we find that the same pattern, showing this 100-year discrepancy, recurs with most of the remaining patriarchs in Gen. 11.
As a matter of fact, for the generations from Arphaxad to Serug, the Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers for the patriarchs’ ages at the birth of their sons is in every case exactly 100 years higher than the Masoretic’s numbers, while the Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers for how many years the patriarchs lived after the birth of their sons is in every case exactly 100 years lower than the Masoretic’s numbers. Thus, as just noted, where the Samaritan Pentateuch shows Arphaxad living 135 + 303 years, the Masoretic shows Arphaxad living 35 + 403 years, and so on, down to Serug. This aspect of the Samaritan and Masoretic figures here is the same kind of 100-year discrepancy that has been observed in the numbers of the Pre-Flood patriarchs. However, a 100-year discrepancy is not present in most of the different versions’ numbers of the patriarch Nahor – in Nahor’s case, the Samaritan Pentateuch agrees with the old Septuagint in saying he was 79 years old when Terah was born, whereas the Masoretic’s number is exactly 50 less than that. Notably, only the old and new Septuagint show an exact 100-year discrepancy in Nahor’s age at Terah’s birth, the new Septuagint saying Nahor was 179.
However, when comparing the Septuagint and the Masoretic numbers for the patriarchs of Gen. 11, we see that, although the Septuagint’s ages at birth of son are exactly 100 years higher than the Masoretic’s ages at birth of son (and on this point the Samaritan Pentateuch matches the Septuagint, as noted above), nevertheless there is never an exact 100-year discrepancy between the Septuagint and Masoretic figures for the time these patriarchs lived after their sons’ births. In fact, on this point the Septuagint and the Masoretic sometimes have the same numbers.
Thus, the Septuagint and Masoretic agree that Shem lived 500 years after the birth of Arphaxad, but, as noted above, the old Septuagint says Arphaxad lived 430 years after the birth of his son while the new Septuagint says 400 years and the Masoretic says 403 – figures close enough that the discrepancy must have arisen from an innocent scribal error. Moving on, we encounter the second Cainan in the Septuagint, the generation that was either accidentally or deliberately cut from the Masoretic manuscript tradition, so the Masoretic has no corresponding number to the Septuagint’s 330 years after the birth of Cainan’s son Salah. Then, where the Septuagint says Salah lived 336 years after the birth of Eber, the Masoretic again has the figure of 403 (presumably a dittography of Arphaxad’s number in the Masoretic arising from a scribe’s eye straying back up a line). Next, the old Septuagint says Eber lived 370 years after Peleg’s birth while the new Septuagint says 270 years and the Masoretic says 430 years. In none of these cases do we find an exact 100-year discrepancy between the Septuagint and Masoretic.
Continuing down the genealogy, we find that the Septuagint and the Masoretic are in perfect agreement in their figures for how long Peleg, Reu, and Serug lived after their sons were born. But the Septuagint and Masoretic diverge once more with the figure for how long Nahor lived after the birth of Terah. The old Septuagint says it was 129 years, but the new Septuagint says 125 years and the Masoretic says 119 years. In this particular case, the figure of 125 years is an outlier, probably arising from a mistaken transcription of the old Septuagint’s figure of 129, which is exactly 10 years higher than the Masoretic’s figure. That 10-year discrepancy itself is probably merely the result of an accidental copyist’s error. The genealogy in Gen. 11 has no chronological figure for the length of Terah’s life after he began to have his sons, but all versions except the Samaritan Pentateuch agree that Terah lived to the age of 205, which means he lived 135 years after the birth of his eldest son.
As I indicated above, it appears that Gen. 11’s lack of a line saying, “And all the days of X’s life were (a + b) years, and he died,” is perhaps the chief reason for the divergent figures in chapter 11 that arose among the different versions of the Book of Genesis. The presence of that line in Gen. 5 would have made it easier for ancient scribes to check their arithmetic to see if the figures they’d copied added up correctly. With no convenient checking aid in Gen. 11, before long various errors began to creep into the texts of this chapter’s chief manuscript traditions – variants of a kind not found in Gen. 5.
There is, however, one exception or outlier among the ancient versions of Gen. 11. Of all the extant versions of the Book of Genesis, the Samaritan Pentateuch is unique in that its recension of Gen. 11 does include an “all the days of X’s life” line for each of the Semite patriarchs of that chapter. This line is entirely absent from the Septuagint and Masoretic manuscripts, showing that it is not an authentic or original part of the Mosaic text, but must have been deliberately added by a scribe at some point, who no doubt was motivated by a desire to “improve” the Mosaic text by bringing chapter 11 into symmetry with chapter 5. The Samaritan Pentateuch’s totals are simply the correct sum of the text’s stated patriarchs’ ages at birth of son and the length of their lives after the son’s birth. Thus, since the Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers align very closely with the Masoretic’s numbers (with the exception of Eber’s and Terah’s numbers, as mentioned above), the Samaritan Pentateuch’s totals are usually what the Masoretic’s totals would be if the Masoretic text had included an “all the days” line in Gen. 11.
In the case of Eber, the Samaritan Pentateuch shows 134 + 270 = 404, whereas the Masoretic shows 34 + 430 [= 464]. The difference of 60 is due to the Samaritan Pentateuch’s adoption of the Septuagint’s “270” rather than the Masoretic’s “430.” But in the case of Terah, the reason for the Samaritan Pentateuch’s divergence from all other versions can be readily ascertained. As mentioned before, the Samaritan Pentateuch agrees with the Septuagint and the Masoretic that Terah was 70 years old when his eldest son was born, but disagrees with all the other versions which state that Terah died at the age of 205. Instead, the Samaritan Pentateuch says Terah was only 145 when he died. It must be emphasized that in claiming that Terah died when 145, the Samaritan Pentateuch stands alone against the Septuagint, the Masoretic, and Josephus. That lower figure, however, is obviously artificial, for it is nothing more than the sum of Terah’s age at the birth of his eldest son and Abraham’s age when God called him to leave Mesopotamia and go to Canaan: 70 + 75 = 145. The ancient scribe who made this alteration to the Mosaic text evidently made the understandable assumption that Abraham was born when Terah was 70 and then went to Canaan during the year after Terah’s death, and then “fixed” what he believed was a corrupt figure (205) and changed it to 145.
It is, however, perilous to assume that Abraham was born when Terah was 70, just as it is perilous to assume that Shem was born when his father Noah was 500. In both of these cases, the Mosaic text says the father was a certain age when he begot three sons. At first glance, that sounds as if Noah and Terah were both the fathers of triplets, but in Gen. 11 we find that in fact Shem was born when Noah was 502, which indicates that either Japheth or Ham, or both, were older than Shem. The correct interpretation must be that when Gen. 6 says Noah begot three sons when he was 500, Moses meant that Noah was 500 when his eldest son was born.
The same interpretation probably should be applied to Gen. 11’s statement that Terah was 70 when he begot Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. Evidently that means that Terah was 70 when his eldest son was born – but just as the Book of Genesis lists Shem first even though he wasn’t really the eldest son, we probably should conclude that Abraham also wasn’t the eldest son of Terah. Rather, Shem and Abraham are listed first in order since they were the most important among their brothers in Salvation History.
With the story of the divine call of Abraham being told immediately after his father’s death, we should thus conclude that Terah was 130 years old when Abraham was born: 205 – 75 = 130. Alternatively, although the prima facie meaning of Gen. 11:32 and Gen. 12:1 is that Abraham left Haran after his father’s death (that is how St. Stephen the Deacon in Acts 7:4 read those verses, and how almost all Christians have read them), if one instead favors the interpretation that Abraham was born when his father was 70, then the chronological figures would indicate that the Call of Abraham took place while Terah was still living, and that Abraham left Haran 60 years before Terah’s death.
Why so many variations in Gen. 5 and 11?
Having reviewed and compared the various conflicting versions of Gen. 5 and 11, we must now attempt to explain how these variations came about. Speaking very broadly, as we said at the outset, those conflicting versions arose over time from a combination of accidental and deliberate textual corruption, just as all variations in biblical manuscripts arose. But that assessment isn’t of much help, for to acknowledge that fact is really to say not that much more than that there are conflicting versions of Gen. 5 and 11 whose variant readings need to be explained.
Tangled and complicated though this problem is, in fact we do know enough to be able to arrive with reasonable certainty at explanations for just how and when these divergent figures in these two chapters of the Book of Genesis originated.
Jubilees and Samaritan chronology obviously corrupt
First, let us consider the idiosyncratic chronology found in the Book of Jubilees and the Samaritan Pentateuch. As we have seen, the Samaritan Pentateuch/Jubilees chronology is the shortest of all the versions of biblical antediluvian chronology, presenting a total of only 1,307 years from Adam’s Creation until Noah’s Flood in comparison to the Masoretic’s 1,656 years and the 2,262 or 2,242 years of the Septuagint. The Samaritan Pentateuch’s truncated lifespans for Jared, Methuselah and Lamech are undeniable evidence that the numbers in this particular chronological tradition are the result of deliberate tampering with the text of Genesis. The Samaritan/Jubilees system bears all the signs of being produced by the shaving off of a century from some, perhaps most, of the Pre-Flood patriarchs, and then the truncating of the lifespans of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech to ensure that they were not made out to have survived the Flood. As conservative evangelical scholar Henry B. Smith Jr. explains in a recent study of the Genesis chronology problem, “the begetting ages in Jubilees Genesis 5 and 11 are not derived from a Hebrew biblical text, but are the result of an artificial scheme.” (See Smith’s paper,“Methuselah’s Begetting Age in Genesis 5:25 and the Primeval Chronology of the Septuagint: A Closer Look at the Textual and Historical Evidence,” in Answers Research Journal, 2 Aug. 2017. Smith uses the standard abbreviations LXX for “Septuagint,” SP for “Samaritan Pentateuch, and MT for “Masoretic text.”)
But why would someone have tampered with Gen. 5’s numbers in
that way? The answer may be ascertained from Jubilees 50:4, which says:
“. . . there are forty-nine jubilees from the days of Adam until this day,
and one week and two years : and there are yet forty years to come for
learning the commandments of the Lord, until they pass over into the land
of Canaan, crossing the Jordan to the west.”
This reckons a total of 50 jubilees from the Creation until Joshua’s Crossing of the River Jordan. The author of the Book of Jubilees, writing in the second century B.C., presented biblical history down to Joshua as fitting neatly within a numerologically ideal framework of 50 jubilees – that is, 50 x 49 = 2,450 years. The Jubilees author then made a series of adjustments to the numbers in Gen. 5 and 11 to make everything fit that framework. As Smith explains in a footnote to his 2017 paper:
“Jubilees imposes an artificial chronological framework onto the biblical
text in order to create a schematic history spanning 50 cycles of jubilees
(49 years each), a total of 2450 years from Adam to Joshua’s entry into
Canaan . . . To achieve this goal, the primeval chronology was severely
deflated by the author. The artificial, chronological structure in Jubilees is
evidence that its begetting ages have been deliberately reduced throughout
Genesis 5 (and 11). The jubilean scheme also forced the author to alter the
remaining years and lifespans of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech to prevent
them from living past the Flood.”
From the Book of Jubilees, this artificially shortened chronology later entered the Samaritan Pentateuch manuscript tradition for Gen. 5 (whereas the Samaritan Gen. 11 follows the Septuagint). We know from St. Jerome that in his day there existed Samaritan Pentateuch manuscripts in which the chronological figures aligned very closely with that of the Septuagint. Smith explains in a footnote that, “Jerome’s SP manuscripts with the higher begetting ages, remaining years and lifespans for Methuselah and the 182-year begetting age for Lamech provide strong evidence that the now extant SP was deliberately reduced to reflect the Genesis 5 chronology of Jubilees,” and also observes that, “There is no discernable reason for the SP to have been altered exactly in this same manner, except to bring it in line with the antediluvian chronology of Jubilees.”
In light of these considerations, we may safely conclude that the Jubilees/Samaritan short chronology is not authentic or original to the Book of Genesis.
St. Augustine’s speculation
Let us turn now to the other two main versions, the Septuagint/Vulgate Josephus and the Masoretic. As we have seen, the chief variations between these two traditions are the 100-year discrepancies. Much as the Jubilees/Samaritan version isn’t the result of scribal errors or copyist misreadings, but is a deliberate alteration of the original, these 100-year discrepancies also don’t strike one as accidental. What are we to make of them?
Writing in the first half of the 19th century, English chronologer Henry Fynes Clinton confidently declared, “These variations are not the effect of accident, but design . . .” (Fasti Hellenici, vol. I, 1824-1851, Appendix V., “Scripture Chronology,” p.285) In illustration of this assertion, in a footnote Clinton (who argued for the Masoretic chronology) refers to a discussion in St. Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, in which Augustine observed that these 100-year discrepancies were a phenomenon that “savours not of accident, but of design.” By that, St. Augustine meant that he believed the Septuagint’s higher numbers may have been the work of a copyist who believed an antediluvian “century” was in fact only one of our decades. He thus argued:
“. . . it is obvious that the copyist who contrived this arrangement designed
to insinuate that the antediluvians lived an excessive number of years only because each year was excessively brief, and that he tried to draw the
attention to this fact by his statement of their age of puberty at which they
became able to beget children. For, lest the incredulous might stumble at
the difficulty of so long a lifetime, he insinuated that 100 years equaled
but ten of ours; and this insinuation he conveyed by adding 100 years
whenever he found the age below 160 years or thereabouts, deducting these
years again from the period after the son’s birth, that the total might
harmonize. By these means he intended to ascribe the generation of offspring
to a fit age, without diminishing the total sum of years ascribed to the lifetime
of the individuals. And the very fact that in the sixth generation he departed
from the uniform practice, inclines us all the rather to believe that when the circumstance we have referred to required his alterations, he made them;
seeing that when this circumstance did not exist, he made no alteration.” (City
of God, XV. 13)
In brief, St. Augustine held that the antediluvian patriarchs did indeed live much longer lives than later men, that the Hebrew Masoretic numbers in Gen. 5 were the original ones, and that the Masoretic numbers should be interpreted as literal years. Augustine believed that the Septuagint’s higher numbers were deliberate alterations of the original numbers, the work of a copyist who didn’t take the Masoretic numbers literally because that copyist believed the antediluvian patriarchs couldn’t have really lived for centuries nor had children at such advanced ages as the Masoretic numbers show.
While Augustine’s position seemed obvious to him and may possibly be true, we lack sufficient grounds to affirm it as probably true. One flaw in his argument is that if the Septuagint’s numbers really arose from an intention “to ascribe the generation of offspring to a fit age,” why do all versions of Genesis agree that Terah was 70 when he begot his sons and that Abraham was 86 when his son Ishmael was born and 100 at the birth of his son Isaac? None of those ages are “fit” for the usual generation of offspring, yet no copyist ever felt a need to adjust them by adding 100 to them.
St. Augustine also never addresses the curiously low figures of Jubilees and the Samaritan Pentateuch – indeed, he seems to have been unaware of those versions (he does mention other Bible manuscripts whose chronology matched the Septuagint, though), which cannot be explained by the motive he proposed. Finally, whatever we may think of his proposal that an ancient copyist had believed that an antediluvian year lasted only a tenth of one of our years, there is after all no evidence that there ever was a copyist who was so motivated as Augustine suggested.
To be sure, while St. Augustine’s specific explanation of the Septuagint’s higher numbers may be incorrect, he may still be right that it is the Septuagint’s numbers that were inflated rather than the Masoretic’s numbers that were deflated. Let us now consider that question.
Septuagint chronology a pagan corruption?
If one is of the opinion that the Septuagint’s numbers were intentionally inflated but does not find St. Augustine’s hypothesis convincing, he may instead propose, as have many conservative evangelical scholars, that the Septuagint’s numbers were tampered with due to the influence of paganism, in order to create a chronological system that could rival those of Egypt and Babylon, whose ancient legendary kinglists feature individual kings with ludicrous reigns of tens of thousands and thus purport to trace human history back for hundreds of thousands of years.
We may dismiss the “pagan corruption” proposal as wholly implausible. For one thing, anyone who had wished to create such a rival chronology would not have stopped at the addition of a mere century to several patriarchs’ lives, but ought to have added a thousand or more spurious years to each of them. In an extended footnote of his above-quoted 2017 paper, Smith conveniently lists and concisely refutes the problems with the proposal.
In his footnote, Smith discusses what he calls “the oft-repeated claim that the Alexandrian Jews deliberately inflated the begetting ages in LXX Genesis 5 and 11 (and reduced the remaining years of life in Genesis 5) to bring the primeval chronology in line with Manetho’s Egyptian history,” and lists seven problems with the claim – problems that, taken together, Smith concludes are “insurmountable.” Following is Smith’s list of the claim’s seven problems, omitting his cited sources.
* “It cannot explain the matching begetting ages in the SP and LXX of Genesis 11, which would need to arise separately and independently, and yet somehow identically, if the inflation theory were true.”
* “There is no ancient historical evidence to support the LXX chronological inflation theory, which appears to be a 19th century AD innovation.”
* “It would have been impossible for the LXX translators to get away with such a fraud due to the public nature of the project and the widespread geographic dissemination of the LXX in antiquity.”
* “There is no evidence of any desire whatsoever in the LXX of Genesis to conform to Egyptian worldview claims. It is inexplicable that the translators would therefore have altered the sacred text to conform solely with Egyptian chronology, risking the wrath of God by doing so (Deuteronomy 4:2).”
* “There is incontrovertible evidence that Josephus and Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (both first century AD) used biblical Hebrew texts of Genesis 5 and 11 that contained the longer chronology.”
* “The chronology of the LXX does not even achieve this alleged goal” of bringing Jewish chronology into line with Manetho’s Egyptian chronology.
* “Numerous Septuagint and text critical scholars maintain that the 100-year differences between the numbers in the LXX of Genesis 5 and 11 and the MT/SP should be attributed to the LXX’s Hebrew Vorlage, not the translators.” (Vorlage is a German term referring to the original text “laying before” the translator.)
Smith’s survey of these problems makes a convincing argument, and we must conclude that the “pagan corruption” explanation isn’t an explanation at all, but strikes one as merely a way to justify the rejection of the Septuagint’s version without serious examination of the problem.
Masoretic chronology intentionally deflated?
The chief weakness with the proposal that the Septuagint’s numbers were intentionally inflated is the difficulty in determining a motive for an artificial increase of the Mosaic chronology. Neither St. Augustine’s proposal nor the popular “pagan corruption” idea adequately account for a putative inflation of the biblical chronology. Could it then be that it wasn’t that the Septuagint’s numbers were inflated, but rather that the Masoretic’s numbers were deflated?
In fact, it was the contention of several early Christian chronologers and writers that the Jewish rabbis and scribes had intentionally shortened the chronology in Gen. 5 and 11. Already in the early and middle second century A.D., of course, the Apostolic Fathers St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr address the problem of divergent readings in the Bible versions of their day, including divergences between the Septuagint and proto-Masoretic Old Testament. Ignatius in his Epistle to the Philadelphians mentions “corrupted copies” of the Old Testament whom some used to reject the New Testament Gospels, while Justin in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew alleges that the Jewish scribes of his day had intentionally made changes in the readings of various Messianic prophecies and Psalms in order to rule out a Christian interpretation of various passages of Scripture. But neither Ignatius nor Justin, nor any other early Church Father of the second and third centuries mentions chronological discrepancies or divergences in Genesis. Rather, the early Fathers followed the Septuagint’s chronology, and prior to the mid-300s A.D. they do not explicitly refer – and perhaps don’t even implicitly refer – to the vast divergence of the Septuagint and proto-Masoretic chronologies. Smith notes that “Eusebius (AD 260-340) is the first known author to explicitly cite and discuss the divergences, followed by Ephraem of Syria (AD 306-373).”
According to Smith, Eusebius Pamphilii in his Chronicon 25:10 alleges that Jewish scribes at some point had intentionally deflated the chronological figures of Gen. 5 and 11 in order to (in Smith’s words) “encourage their contemporaries to lower their age of marrying.” But Smith finds that to be an “inadequate” motivation for something so audacious as the systematic falsification of the readings in Israel’s most sacred texts, adding that Eusebius’ proposed explanation “is not supported by any historical evidence.”
Not long after Eusebius’ day, though, St. Ephraem Syrus again alleged that the Jewish scribes had deliberately deflated the numbers in Gen. 5 and 11 – but Ephraem gave a very different motivation for this alleged deflation:
“The Jews have subtracted 600 years [in Genesis 5] from the generations
of Adam, Seth, etc., in order that their own books might not convict them
concerning the coming of CHRIST: he having been predicted to appear
for the deliverance of mankind after 5500 years.” (Cited by Smith from
W. Hales’ A New Analysis of Chronology and Geography, History and
Prophecy, 1830, vol. 1, p.278)
Grave though this allegation of St. Ephraem is, his leveling it is by no means unusual when seen against the background of the long-standing alienation and hostility between Judaism and the Church which began very soon after Christianity’s first Pentecost. St. Ephraem’s explanation for the divergent Septuagint and proto-Masoretic chronologies was accepted and repeated either in whole or in substance by (among others) Julian of Toledo (642-690), Jacob of Edessa (640-708), George Syncellus (d. 810), and Bar Hebraeus (1226-1286). Smith writes in a footnote, “Each of these ancient authors . . . argued that the Jewish rabbis in the second century AD deflated the primeval chronology by ca. 1300 years in their Hebrew manuscripts to discredit Jesus as the Messiah.”
How credible is Ephraem’s explanation?
Could Ephraem’s explanation be correct? Most assuredly such an allegation should not be casually or carelessly accepted, given the profound reverence in which the Jewish people hold the books of the Torah – a reverence that led to the development of rigorous practices for the copying of old biblical manuscripts to prevent or at least minimise scribal errors. Chief among the resources of the Jewish scribes are the massorah, the official registration of the Hebrew Scriptures’ words, letters and accents, whence comes the adjective “Masoretic” used for the text of Orthodox Judaism’s official Hebrew Bible. Even so, the chronology of the Book of Jubilees provides evidence that pious and devout Jews in ancient times could nevertheless falsify the Bible’s chronology for religious purposes. Given the intense enmity that arose early on between non-Christian Jews and the Church – the kind of hostility to Jesus’ Messiahship that led non-Christian Jews to spread the lie that the disciples had faked the Resurrection by stealing Jesus’ body (Matt. 28:11-15) – it can hardly be unimaginable that a Jewish copyist could have intentionally deflated the figures in Gen. 5 and 11 in order to negate a popular early Christian proof that Jesus is the Messiah.
But what of this motive that St. Ephraem attributes to the Jews who had custody of the official recension of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible? He says the Jews altered their copies of Genesis because they rejected a prediction that the Messiah was “to appear for the deliverance of mankind after 5500 years” – but that naturally raises the question of when, where, and by whom the Messiah’s coming had been predicted to occur in Anno Mundi 5500? (Anno Mundi, abbreviated A.M., means “Year of the World,” counting from the creation of Adam and Eve). In a footnote, Smith provides some explanatory background:
“Chronological speculations and calculations about the time of the messiah’s
arrival (messianic chronology) were widespread in Second Temple Judaism.
Messianic chronologies were usually associated with the Days of Creation,
with each day representing 1000 years of history. In some schemes, the
messiah would arrive in the 6th millennium (5000-5999 AM), and usher in
the kingdom in the 7th millennium (6000 AM) . . . Many Jews believed the
Messiah would arrive in/around the year 4000 AM . . . . See also the rabbinic
Babylonian Talmud: Abodah Zarah 9a, Sanhedrin 97b. Reducing the primeval
chronology as presently found in the MT places Jesus’ life outside the time
of the coming of the Messiah. The rabbinic world chronology in the Seder
Olam Rabbah (ca. AD 150), which is derived from the MT, places Creation
at 3761 BC, and the arrival of the Messiah about AD 240, eliminating Jesus
from messianic consideration.”
Smith’s remarks about schemes in which the Messiah would arrive in the sixth millennium in order to usher in the seventh millennium in A.M. 6000 should sound familiar to those with a background in Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God (formerly called the Radio Church of God). Armstrong and leading ministers of the WCG frequently spoke of “God’s 7,000-Year Plan” which interpreted human history as a symbolic “week” of seven “days” of 1,000 years each (cf. Psa. 90:4; II Peter 3:8). The symbolic week was said to have begun with the creation of Adam around 4000 B.C. and was expected to culminate in modern times with the Second Coming of Christ around A.D. 2000, which would then be followed by the Millennium – a “Sabbath day” during which Jesus and the saints would reign upon the earth for 1,000 years.
The antiquity of the 7,000-year schema
Herbert Armstrong was far from the first to put forward such an eschatological schema, however – the belief in a “7,000-year plan” has been widespread not only in modern times, but can be found even in the writings of the early Church Fathers. It first appears around A.D. 100 in chapter 13 of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, which allegorically interprets Creation Week to mean that “in six thousand years the Lord God will bring all things to an end . . . . in six days, that is, in six thousand years shall all things be accomplished.” Christ would then return and usher in an allegorical Sabbath rest on the seventh “day,” when Jesus would “abolish the season of the Wicked One, and judge the ungodly; and shall change the sun and the moon, and the stars; then He shall gloriously rest in that seventh day.” Finally, according to Pseudo-Barnabas, after the seventh allegorical day “the eighth day” – eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth – will arrive, the heavenly hope which the early Christians anticipated through the weekly memorial of Christ’s resurrection on the day after the Sabbath.
In Armstrong’s version of the “7,000-year plan,” he and his followers during the 1950s and 1960s used the Masoretic chronology to set the year of Adam’s creation at 4025 B.C. (see, for example, Radio Church of God evangelist Dr. Herman Hoeh’s two-volume dissertation A Compendium of World History), and therefore expected the Second Coming of Christ to occur in 1975. Coincidentally, the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect in those days also believed the 6,000 years of human history were to extend from 4025 B.C. to 1975, but arrived at those dates for different reasons and using different methods of calculation.
It should be no surprise that the ancient Jewish and Christian “7,000-year plans” bore only the barest resemblance to the 20th century WCG and Jehovah’s Witnesses versions. For example, the fourth century A.D. Gospel of Nicodemus, chapter 22, takes the divinely-commanded dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant (traditionally seen by Christians as an allegorical sign of the Incarnation of Christ) as an allegory that there would be 5,500 years from Adam’s creation until the Incarnation – the same thing mentioned by St. Ephraem. This would place the end of the 6,000 years around A.D. 500.
Additional relevant historical background on this point is provided by Lester L. Grabbe in his 1982 article, “The End of the World in Early Jewish and Christian Calculations” (Revue de Qumran 41, pp.107-108). Grabbe wrote his article in response to a 1980 Revue de Qumran article by Roger Beckwith, entitled, “The Significance of the Calendar for Interpreting Essene Chronology and Eschatology,” in which Beckwith discussed the eschatological chronology of the Seder ‘Olam Rabba that, as Grabbe says, “makes 6000 Anno Mundi come about 2240 Christian Era.” Grabbe comments:
“Both pre-135 Jewish literature and Christian writers of the first few
centuries [A.D.] calculated the end of history for a much earlier time
than Beckwith seems to realize. For example, he states (correctly) that the
early church fathers put the end of the world about 6000 A.M. But it
should be noted that most of the early Christian writers who explicitly
discussed the matter put the birth of Jesus about 5500 A.M.”
As we have seen, St. Ephraem in the latter fourth century A.D. was one of those early Christian writers to whom Grabbe refers. Grabbe briefly discusses three other early Church Fathers who dated the birth of Jesus to A.M. 5500: Julius Africanus and St. Hippolytus of Rome in the first half of the third century A.D., and Lactantius in the fourth century.
Grabbe also discusses four Jewish writers who placed the creation of Adam around 5000 B.C. or 5500 B.C. The Jewish historian Justus of Tiberias may have dated his own time at 5000 or 5500 A.M., “a deduction from the fact that Africanus and other early Christian chronographers based themselves on Justus.” Be that as it may, the best known ancient Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, explicitly said the world was about 5,000 years old in his day. Another Jewish historian, Eupolemus, calculated the time from Adam’s creation to the fifth year of Demetrius I and the 12th year of Ptolemy VII (i.e., 158 B.C.) to be a total of 5,149 years. Finally, the late first century A.D. pseudo-apocalypse IV Esdras 14:45 dates that book’s purported prophecies of Ezra to A.M. 5042, which would place the birth of Jesus at about A.M. 5500.
The end is nigh . . . or maybe not?
These ancient chronological systems differ drastically not only from modern Protestant, dispensationalist “pre-millennial” eschatological systems, but also from the ancient “proto-Masoretic” system of the mid-second century A.D. Seder ‘Olam Rabba. All these systems except the Seder ‘Olam Rabba agree broadly in an expectation that the Messiah’s coming was (or is) in the very near future.
Understandably, many modern Christians hope and yearn for the Second Coming, which leads some to construct chronological schemes that place the end of the world in our own day. Similarly, Jews and Christians of the first century B.C. and first century A.D. expected the Messiah’s coming in their own day, leading to the formulation of “7,000-year plan” schemas that placed the end of history in the very near future. The Seder ‘Olam Rabba is unusual, though, in that it places A.M. 6000 far into the distant future – at a time that is yet future even for us. Grabbe offers the following explanation for that great difference:
“Beckwith correctly observes that the scheme of the Seder ‘Olam Rabba,
which became standard, makes 6000 Anno Mundi come about 2240
Christian Era. But this system of chronography comes from rabbinic times
and was likely worked out in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jewish
State. The fervent apocalyptic expectations evidenced in certain of the
pre-135 literature seem to have been dashed by the destruction in the Bar
Kokhba revolt. There was little belief in an imminent end of the world after
this time; certainly, the widespread belief of earlier times was drastically
Grabbe’s remarks on the Bar-Cochba revolt provide an important key to understanding Judaism in the early second century A.D. – and for understanding the poor relations between the Church and non-Christian Jews in those days. Most Jews rejected the Messianic claims of Jesus, for they desired a military conqueror who would overthrow the Roman Empire and reestablish the Davidic kingdom and purify the Temple cult, not the Incarnation and atoning sacrifice of the Lord God Himself that would overthrow the reign of sin and death. After Christ Jesus was crucified, the fervent Jewish hope for a warrior-king Messiah remained unsatisfied. This led to the disastrous Jewish revolt in the 60s A.D. that culminated in the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The false hope of that first revolt fed Judaism’s religious and political ferment that resulted in a second revolt in the early 130s A.D., when Rabbi Akiva acclaimed Simon Bar-Cosiba as the Davidic “Bar-Cochba” – “Son of the Star.” The revolt was initially successful, and Bar-Cochba was able to drive out the Romans and briefly establish a Jewish kingdom – but Emperor Hadrian marshalled his forces, slew the Jews’ false Messiah, skinned Rabbi Akiva alive, and mercilessly crushed the revolt in A.D. 135, leveling Jerusalem and rebuilding it as a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina from which all Jews were barred. This was a dreadful religious and cultural cataclysm for the Jews, with repercussions that extended over the next 18 centuries.
The Bar-Cochba revolt served to solidify the enmity between Judaism and Christianity, because Bar-Cochba and his followers persecuted the Jewish Christians in his kingdom for refusing to acknowledge him as the Messiah. That only convinced the Christians even more that the Jews were “the Synagogue of Satan,” spiritually blinded and enslaved to sin. But it also had the effect, as Grabbe noted, of squelching the Messianic fervor that had inspired so many imprudent outbursts of violence among the Jews in those days. In the aftermath of the Bar-Cochba disaster, the Jewish world-chronicle known as the Seder ‘Olam Rabba was written, presenting an abbreviated account of biblical history in which the Creation was said to be much more recent. The Judaeo-Christian notion that this present world would only last 6,000 years was still widely believed in those days, and would continue to be for some time, so instead of rejecting the idea of an allegorical “week” of human history, the Seder ‘Olam Rabba compressed biblical history, thereby putting off the end of the world until A.D. 2240. (A tendency to compress or deflate chronology is found in the Seder ‘Olam Rabba’s treatment of every stage of sacred history, from Adam down to the post-Exilic period.)
Compressing biblical chronology
The Seder ‘Olam Rabba’s compressed chronology – which follows the Masoretic chronology of Genesis – had two practical advantages for second century A.D. Orthodox Judaism. In the first place, it helped to dissipate the threat of self-destructive manifestations of Messianic fervor. But it also undermined the Christian chronological apologetic that was so popular during the Church’s early centuries, in which Jesus was presented as the Second Adam coming “in the fullness of time” (cf. Gal. 4:4), appearing 5,500 years after Adam – that is, in the middle of the allegorical “sixth day” of human history even as Adam had been created around the middle of the sixth day of Creation Week.
St. Ephraem, followed by several later Christian writers and chronologers, alleged that this latter motive was in fact the reason for the extensive differences between the Septuagint and Masoretic chronologies – they claimed that the Jews had deliberately deflated the chronology of Gen. 5 and 11 “in order that their own books might not convict them concerning the coming of Christ,” in Ephraem’s words. Modern conservative evangelical scholars Jeremy Sexton and Henry B. Smith Jr. argue that Ephraem was right – the Septuagint’s original chronology was reduced by the Jewish custodians of the Hebrew Bible in order to, as Smith puts it, eliminate Jesus from messianic consideration.
As I have observed above, this explanation is quite possible. Even as the author of the Book of Jubilees compressed biblical history in order make everything from Adam to Joshua fit neatly into an artificial framework of 50 jubilees, so the author of the Seder ‘Olam Rabba applied a “shorter is better” hermeneutic to Old Testament chronology. In other words, where a biblical text could be interpreted in a way that resulted in a shorter chronology, the author would adopt that interpretation – sometimes even if the interpretation is forced or implausible. That sort of chronological compression is evident enough in the Seder ‘Olam Rabba. But does this compression extend, as it does in the Book of Jubilees, to tampering with the chronological figures in the Bible, substituting artificial figures for the numbers in the original text of Genesis?
It seems very likely that something of that nature did in fact happen. It may not be the case that the deflation of the chronology of Gen. 5 and 11 arose of an anti-Christian animus – or at least hostility between Judaism and Christianity may not have been the primary motive. The anti-Judaic “color” of St. Ephraem’s specific allegation, being leveled in the fourth century A.D. well after the putative deflation would have taken place, perhaps has more do with the scenario imagined by the author of the Gospel of Nicodemus, which presents the Jewish high priests Annas and Caiaphas privately admitting to Pontius Pilate that biblical prophecy and chronology predicted the coming of the Messiah in A.M. 5500. This scenario does not depict the Jewish scribes tampering with their biblical manuscripts, but the Gospel of Nicodemus does present the chief priests and scribes in a very negative light---privately admitting the truth while publicly denying it. As we have seen, Eusebius Pamphilii was the first person known to have alleged that the Jews deliberately compressed biblical chronology, but he ascribes a much more innocent motive than Ephraem does.
Masoretic chronology intentionally deflated
Leaving aside the question of
the motive for the compression, there are nevertheless good reasons to believe
that it wasn’t the Septuagint chronology that was inflated from the Masoretic,
but rather the Masoretic chronology that was deflated from the Septuagint.
One reason is the priority of age. As a rule, in the study of antiquity earlier texts and sources are to be preferred to later ones. Biblical manuscripts and extrabiblical historical sources attest to the Septuagint’s long chronology as early as circa 200 B.C. In comparison, no writer and no biblical manuscript attests in any way to the Masoretic’s short chronology until the second century A.D. at the earliest.
It is of course true that, as the saying goes, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and it is unfortunate that the Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries do not include any texts or fragments of the earliest chapters of Genesis (for those chapters were written on the portions of the scrolls that would be the first to rot away). Nevertheless, there is good reason to doubt that the Masoretic numbers were present in the ancient biblical scrolls from the caves at and near Qumran. Besides the fact that the Masoretic chronology is not attested in the first centuries B.C. and A.D., it is known that the first century B.C. Book of Jubilees with its short chronology was very popular among the Jews who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls – so it’s quite possible the Qumran scrolls of Genesis had the truncated Jubilees figures.
In contrast to the dearth of early evidence for the Masoretic chronology, the general outline of the long chronology found in the Greek Septuagint biblical manuscripts is supported not only by Demetrius and Alexander Polyhistor in the second and first centuries B.C., but also by the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum and Flavius Josephus in the first century A.D. (The Josephus manuscripts that closely reproduce the Masoretic numbers almost certainly represent an alteration of the original Josephus text, assimilating his numbers to those also found in the Latin Vulgate Genesis, which was translated from a fourth century A.D. proto-Masoretic text.) Smith observes that:
“The LXX, LAB, and Josephus provide a triple textual witness to an
exceptionally ancient Hebrew text with the higher begetting ages in
Genesis 5, while the LXX, SP, and Josephus provide a triple textual witness
to the same Hebrew text’s higher begetting ages in Genesis 11. This evidence
of the longer chronology from the first century AD and earlier affirms the
claim that the begetting ages in the second century AD Hebrew manuscripts
were deflated by at least 1250 years by the rabbis. Significantly, no unbiased
external witness to the MT’s complete primeval timeline exists before the
time of Eusebius in the early fourth century AD.”
In addition, as mentioned before, “There is no ancient historical evidence to support the LXX chronological inflation theory, which appears to be a 19th century AD innovation,” according to Smith.
Another reason to believe that the Masoretic chronology arose from a deflation of the Septuagint chronology may be found in an examination of the Gen. 11 Masoretic numbers. While the Masoretic’s short generations for the Gen. 11 patriarchs are of a normal length, the Masoretic’s unusually long remaining years of the patriarch’s lives result in a very curious scenario in which most of Abraham’s ancestors, including Noah’s son Shem, would still have been living in Abraham’s day, while Noah himself would have survived almost to the time of Abraham. This is telltale evidence that the Masoretic chronology was intentionally deflated. Smith discusses this point in a footnote as follows:
“I propose that when the rabbis deflated the chronology of Genesis 11 in the
proto-MT, they left the remaining years intact. It was not necessary to inflate
them, since the original text contained no lifespans to serve as a cross check
(unlike Genesis 5). Thus, the MT retains all the original remaining year
figures except for scribal errors (Eber, and possibly Arpachshad and Nahor).
Further, the lifespan figures in Genesis 11 SP from Shem to Nahor are
secondary harmonizations and were not part of the original, inspired text.
They cannot serve as a basis for textual reconstruction in Genesis 11 . . .
Additionally, the remaining year figures from Arpachshad to Nahor in
Genesis 11 SP have no external attestation until Eusebius’ tabulation of
them, nor are they found in the LXX or MT. They are all secondary
readings as well. Since the remaining year figures in Genesis 11 SP are
incorrect, the lifespans in Genesis 11 SP are also incorrect (except
Shem’s). Similarly, the MT’s begetting ages in Genesis 11 have no
external attestation before the Seder Olam Rabbah, which was written by
the very same rabbis who, we argue, deflated the chronology of the
proto-MT. In summary, the triple witness of the matching begetting ages
in the LXX/SP/Josephus and the double witness of the matching remaining
years of the LXX/MT (after scribal errors are accounted for) serve as the
strongest entry points for reconstructing the numbers in Genesis 11:10-32.”
Despite occasional variant readings, the longer chronologies for the time from the Flood to Abraham which are found in the Septuagint, Jubilees, and the Samaritan Pentateuch all avoid the absurdity of the overlapping of most of the lives of the Shemite patriarchs that is found in the Masoretic.
The Methuselah conundrum
Even though the numbers in Gen. 5 and 11 evidently have suffered the indignity of having been systematically tampered with in the Jubilees/Samaritan and Masoretic textual traditions, not every numerical discrepancy in those two chapters was the result of deliberate tampering. In some cases, the variations were undoubtedly innocent scribal errors – due to accident, not design.
Perhaps the best known scribal errors in the numbers of Gen. 5 and 11 are the new Septuagint numbers for Methuselah. The earliest sources – Demetrius, Polyhistor, the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, and Josephus – agree in saying Methuselah was 187 years old when his son Lamech was born, then lived another 782 years, dying at the age of 969 (the oldest man ever mentioned in sacred history). But in the latter second century A.D., St. Theophilus of Antioch drew up a summary of biblical chronology in which he gave the figure of 167 for Methuselah’s age at his son’s birth – and the same figure appears in all extant copies of the Greek Septuagint, which give Methuselah’s numbers as 167 + 802 = 969 instead of 187 + 782 = 969. Other notable Christian chronologers such as Eusebius and Africanus also show 167 + 802 = 969.
As discussed earlier, the new Septuagint chronology for Methuselah places his death 14 years after the Flood – an unusual circumstance which led several ancient writers to try to solve the puzzle of how anyone could have survived Noah’s Flood who wasn’t one of the eight people on the ark, when the Scriptures plainly said the only human survivors of the Flood were the immediate members of Noah’s family. This conundrum does not exist in the old Septuagint chronology, which places Methuselah’s death 6 years before the Flood. Smith tackles this very difficulty, explaining at length how a scribal error could have entered – and almost certain did enter – into the Septuagint manuscripts, in which 187 was mistakenly copied in Greek as 167. St. Augustine also anciently discussed this problem and observed that it was a simple scribal error. The error probably arose as a homoioteleuton (caused by “a simple slip of the eye,” in Smith’s words) involving Gen. 5:21 and Gen. 5:25, in which the copyist’s eye strayed back up to verse 21 while he was copying verse 25, and thus accidentally wrote the 60 from Enoch’s age instead of the 80 of Methuselah’s age. Smith says:
“The scribe who committed this error would not have changed the
remaining years (782), since he obviously reduced the begetting age to
167 by accident and did not realize it. However, when the next scribe who
copied the manuscript came along, he noticed the discrepancy. Realizing that
the sum of the begetting age and remaining years (782 + 167 = 949) would
not equal Methuselah’s correct lifespan (969), the scribe changed the
remaining years to 802 in order to ‘fix’ the problem. It is likely that the
lifespan figure of 969 was so well known and revered in Jewish thinking
(Methuselah being the oldest person recorded in Scripture) that the scribe
would not have altered it. This ‘correction’ of the remaining years to 802,
along with the already accidental and incorrect 167, and preservation of the
revered 969 lifespan figure, entered the textual stream and was transmitted
and copied over several centuries until it came down to Eusebius, Jerome,
Augustine, et al. The historical and manuscript evidence show that the
187/782 readings were preserved in other LXX textual streams, and are both
original and correct.
“In any case, the number 167 is certainly not the result of deliberate
reduction by the LXX translators. Even if the original Greek translation
somehow did read 167, the only plausible explanation for this would be that
the error was accidental. For by everyone’s account, the Greek translators
were not motivated to reduce the chronology, and we have no reason to think
that they deliberately put Methuselah’s death beyond the Flood. There is no
discernible motive for the LXX translators to lower Methuselah’s begetting
age intentionally from the original 187 to 167. Such a move would be
inexplicable, especially since the Septuagint’s begetting ages are (almost)
always higher than the MT/SP in Genesis 5.”
This explanation is clear and reasonable and meshes perfectly with the available evidence, which shows that the old Septuagint had the same numbers for Methuselah as the Masoretic text. However, there is one more problem with Methuselah’s numbers in the Septuagint. In the Masoretic chronology, Methuselah died at the age 969 in the very year of the Flood, but in the old Septuagint chronology he dies at the exact same age of 969 six years before the Flood. The “neatness” of the Masoretic chronology in which Methuselah’s life ends precisely when it should – when most of the human race is said to have drowned in the Flood – bears a somewhat troubling resemblance to the Samaritan Pentateuch chronology, in which not only Methuselah but also Jared and Lamech all died in the year of the Flood.
As we have seen, the Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers for Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech were deliberately lopped short in order to avoid the absurdity of their surviving the Flood. Could Methuselah’s age in the Masoretic tradition have been similarly lopped short? Did the original text of Genesis say he died in the year of the Flood or rather six years before the Flood? The answer to those questions may be found by taking a look at Lamech’s numbers.
The discrepancies in Lamech’s numbers
The Septuagint numbers for Lamech are 188 + 565 = 753, in comparison to the Masoretic numbers, which are 182 + 595 = 777, and those of the Samaritan Pentateuch, which are 53 + 600 = 653. The Septuagint and the Samaritan totals of 753 and 653 are obviously related to each other, and since we know that the Samaritan Pentateuch’s numbers were intentionally deflated, there can be little doubt that the Samaritan figure of 653 was concocted by the subtraction of 100 from the Septuagint figure.
But that doesn’t mean we should accept 753 as the correct figure for the total years of Lamech’s life. The Masoretic total 777 is supported by Josephus and the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, both of which generally align with the Septuagint’s long chronology rather than the Masoretic’s short chronology.
Furthermore, the number 777 is a notable and memorable one, and it is probably not a coincidence that the text of Genesis draws attention to the numbers 7 and 77 in the story of Lamech’s wicked same-named Cainite cousin. In the story of Lamech the Cainite, 7 and 77 are associated with a curse and murder (Gen. 4:23-24), but in the story of Lamech the Sethite the number 777 is associated with life (for it is the total years of his life). The association of the number 7 with both Lamechs is no doubt related to the way Genesis invites the reader to compare the two Lamechs by presenting each man as uttering prophetic oracles, with the Cainite predicting a curse and vengeance and the Sethite predicting help and hope. (See my study “Cain and his Family: A Survey of the Scriptural and Legendary Traditions,” in Grace and Knowledge, Dec. 2006, no. 22, where I discuss the two Lamechs and note in passing the Septuagint vs. Masoretic numerical discrepancy.)
If we accept 777 as the correct total of Lamech’s life, then one or both of the Septuagint’s other figures for Lamech’s life must be wrong – but all extant sources show either 182 + 595 = 777 or 188 + 565 = 753, never 182 + 565 (which gives a sum of 747, a figure never attested in any source) or 188 + 595 (which gives a sum of 783, which again is never attested). For these figures, Josephus and the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum agree with the Masoretic numbers rather than the Septuagint. Considering these facts, the most likely conclusion is that the Septuagint figures for Lamech are the result of a series of two scribal errors (188 for 182, 565 for 595) followed by a harmonising “correction” of the total from 777 to 753.
These errors may have occurred in a Hebrew manuscript of Genesis that was within the Septuagint tradition, rather than in a Greek Septuagint copy. Smith proposes that the error may even have arisen during the creation of the Septuagint in the 200s B.C. He states:
“This six-year discrepancy between the MT (182) and LXX (188)
is historically and textually complex. Lamech’s numbers in the
LXX (188, 565, 753) most likely arose in the original translation from
a scribal error while the translator was reading the Hebrew Vorlage,
followed by a complex, two-stage and deliberate scribal emendation to
correct the chronological matrix.”
In fact, it’s probable that these mistakes in Lamech’s numbers were present in the Hebrew version of Genesis that the author of the Book of Jubilees relied on when he deflated the antediluvian chronology. Apparently the Jubilees author found the total figure of 753 in his copy of Genesis, subtracted 100 to get 653, and then “back-dated” from the Flood, going up the table from Lamech to Adam and subtracting centenaries as needed to make the chronology fit within 50 jubilee cycles.
Be that as it may, there is another good reason to believe the figure of 182 for Lamech’s age at the birth of his son was the original one: using that figure in the Septuagint long chronology moves the Septuagint date of the Flood six years up, with the result that Methuselah is made to die in the year of the Flood, just as he does in the Masoretic chronology. Thus Smith observes:
“Methuselah’s death ‘six years before the deluge’ in the LXX chronology
depends on a begetting age of 188 for Lamech. If one argues that the
original text should be the MT’s figure of 182, then Methuselah would die
in the year of the Flood, akin to the MT’s Genesis 5 chronology.”
This is simply illustrated by using the extant old Septuagint numbers from Methuselah’s death to the Flood, and comparing it to corrected old Septuagint numbers. Thus, we find in the old Septuagint that 187 + 188 + 600 = 975, but in the corrected old Septuagint we find that 187 + 182 + 600 = 969, the total being the same as the total age of Methuselah. These corrected old Septuagint numbers are, of course, identical to the Masoretic numbers.
We may conclude, then, that Methuselah’s death in the year of the Flood did not enter the proto-Masoretic manuscripts through a Masoretic tampering with the original numbers, lopping years off Methuselah’s life to ensure he was not made to survive the Flood. (Indeed, if that had happened, why does the Septuagint agree Methuselah lived to be 969?) Rather, the Septuagint and the Masoretic numbers for Methuselah and Lamech were originally the same – that is, the proto-Masoretic scribes did not deflate the old Septuagint figures for the patriarchs Methuselah and Lamech.
Scribal errors in the post-diluvian numbers
Besides these accidental errors in the numbers of the antediluvian patriarchs, a comparison of the Septuagint and Masoretic versions shows that there are a few innocent scribal errors in the numbers of the post-diluvian patriarchs as well. These post-diluvian errors are all found in some of the figures for how long each man lived after the birth of his son (what Smith calls the patriarch’s “remaining years,” which he abbreviates “ry.” They affect the ages of Arphaxad, Salah, Eber, and Nahor.
In a series of footnotes, Smith brief discusses these copyist errors. Beginning with Arphaxad, he argues that the old Septuagint figure of “430” is most likely the original figure. He comments:
“Most LXX manuscripts read 430 or 330 for Arpachshad’s remaining
years (ry). An early scribal error may explain a change from an original
403 (MT) in Hebrew to 430 or 330 in the LXX . . . . The proto-MT also
could have easily lost the suffix ים at the end of ‘30’ in its transmissional
history, thereby accidentally changing the number in the Hebrew from
430 to 403. The second scenario is much simpler, as the LXX translators
most likely had a Hebrew Vorlage with the 430 figure. Thus, I favor 430
as the original reading for Arpachshad’s remaining years. 330 comes
from a simple scribal gloss from 430 in Greek.”
Moving on to Arphaxad’s grandson Salah (or son in the Masoretic and a few Septuagint texts which omit the second Cainan), Smith says it is uncertain what the figure for Salah’s remaining years originally was:
“Several reconstructions to one original ry for Shelah are plausible for
the MT/LXX. A few LXX MSS read 403 (including the one used by
Eusebius, Chronicle 27:2), matching the MT. 330 is found in the majority
of LXX MSS . . . . An accidental subtraction of ים from 430 in the Hebrew
could easily account for the MT’s present reading . . . . For now, I favor 403
as original, but 430, 330, or 303 . . . are also possible. If 403 is original, 330
may have been accidentally picked up by an early scribe from Kainan’s ry,
or is the result of a two-stage scribal error.”
As for the discrepancy in the remaining years of Salah’s son Eber, ancestral eponym of the Hebrews (Ibrim), Smith adverts to the studies of three other evangelical scholars to conclude that “430 is a scribal error for Eber in the MT and was originally 370, preserved in some LXX MSS.”
Finally, as in the case of Salah, Smith observes that the solution to the slight discrepancy in the remaining years of Terah’s father Nahor is uncertain, commenting, “The remaining years for Nahor in the MT (119) or LXX (129) could be explained in either direction as a minor scribal error. Either option is plausible, though I slightly favor 129.”
Corrected table of Pre-Flood and Post-Flood patriarchs
Having completed an exhaustive (or perhaps more accurately, exhausting) review of the conflicting versions of Gen. 5 and 11, we may now draw up a table of the Pre-Flood and Post-Flood patriarchs showing what are most likely the original numbers compiled by Moses in the 1400s B.C.
GENESIS CHAPTERS 5 AND 11 – CORRECTED TABLE
Age at son’s birth After son’s birth Age at death
Adam 230 700 930
Seth 205 707 912
Enos 190 715 905
Cainan 170 740 910
Mahalaleel 165 730 895
Jared 162 800 962
Enoch 165 200 365
Methuselah 187 782 969
Lamech 182 595 777
Noah 500 950
Noah at Flood 600
Total at Flood 2,256
Noah after Flood 350
Shem 100 500
Interval after Flood 2
Arphaxad 135 430 [or 403]
Cainan 130 330
Salah 130 403 [or 330 or 336]
Eber 134 370
Peleg 130 209
Reu 132 207
Serug 130 200
Nahor 79 129 [or 119]
Terah 70 205
to birth of 1,072
to birth of 3,328
Some final observations
While I hope I have presented compelling and convincing arguments in support of a slightly modified Septuagintal version of Gen. 5 and 11, no doubt many will disagree with these conclusions, favoring the Masoretic version instead. But others may dismiss the effort to ascertain the original figures of Gen. 5 and 11 as a pointless or almost frivolous focus on Bible trivia.
Nevertheless, for those who accept the Holy Scriptures as “God-breathed” – inspired by God (II Tim. 3:16-17), who cannot inspire men to write falsehoods – and that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), nothing in the Bible can be regarded as trivial. Obviously not everything written in Scripture is of equal importance or weight, but no word of God is idly uttered. It may well be difficult to understand, but it is never trivial. Therefore it can never be a vain thing to sift through conflicting biblical texts and versions to ascertain the truth.
That said, we should always keep in mind the important distinction between what a passage of Scripture is and what the same passage of Scripture means. The purpose of my study has been to examine the numerical variants of Gen. 5 and 11 in order to ascertain, to the extent that is possible at so late a date, what the original numbers of those two chapters were. That difficult task must come first, before any attempt is made to interpret Gen. 5 and 11.
However, it has not been my purpose to propose or advocate any specific interpretation (or interpretations) of these two remarkable passages of Holy Writ – nor have I even attempted to hint at how I think we should read them. That is not to say that I am not inclined to any particular interpretation. Rather, I mean that to present a sustained argument in that regard is properly the subject of a different study (perhaps a study I shall undertake in the future, wherein I might delve into the questions of “to add or not add” and “how to add”).
In the same vein, in dwelling on the ancient Christian chronological apologetic that claimed the Messiah was predicted to appear 5,500 years after Adam’s creation, I hope the reader does not misunderstand me as advocating that the claimed prophecy is authentic. I do, however, think it noteworthy that the chronology of the Septuagint – which was basically the Bible of the early Christians – lends itself to the support of that prophecy, whereas the Masoretic chronology does not.
It is ultimately due to the choice of St. Jerome to rely on a proto-Masoretic version of Genesis for his fresh Latin translation that led in time to an overshadowing of the earlier biblical chronology based on the Septuagint. St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate has exercised a great influence on the development of the biblical text and Bible translations, which may be seen not only in the old Catholic Douay-Rheims English translation but even in the Protestant King James Version. Interestingly enough, the Roman Martyrology’s traditional “Kalends of Christmas” announcing the birth of the Savior even today still proclaims that Jesus was born in A.M. 5199, a date that is based on the Septuagint’s rather than the Masoretic/Vulgate’s chronology, even though Bibles used in the Western Church contain the Masoretic chronology (in contrast, Eastern Catholics use the Septuagint). “Most ancient Christian scholars argued for the originality of the LXX’s primeval chronology,” says Smith, observing that, “This strong consensus lasted for over 14 centuries until the Reformation, when the MT supplanted the primacy of the LXX in the western church.”
In any event, certainly the original Protestants approved of St. Jerome’s having translated directly from Hebrew manuscripts rather than from the Greek Septuagint, and ever since the 1500s both Catholic and Protestants have sought to go back to the original Hebrew when translating and revising their Bibles. Yet the Masoretic text is acknowledged to suffer from scribal errors here and there. It would be rash to assert that the Masoretic text does not require emendation. It appears that the Masoretic numbers in Gen. 5 and 11 are among the readings that need emending.
The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, translated by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, London, 1851, 2001.
Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, Alberto Colunga, OP, and Laurentio
Turrado, Christian Classics, 1965.
Josephus – Complete Works, translated by William Whiston, Kregel Publications, 1960, 1985.
The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament – in English, R. H. Charles, Oxford University Press, Ely House, London, 1913, 1968, vol. II.
Fasti Hellenici: The Civil and Literary Chronology of Greece from the Earliest Accounts to the LVth Olympiad, Henry Fynes Clinton, Burt Franklin, New York, 1824-1851, vol. I.
Journal, 2 Aug. 2017, “Methuselah’s
Begetting Age in Genesis 5:25 and the Primeval Chronology of the Septuagint: A
Closer Look at the Textual and Historical Evidence,” Henry B. Smith Jr.
The City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo, translated by Marcus Dods, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, 1986.
Revue de Qumran 41 (1982), pp.107-108, “The End of the World in Early Jewish and Christian Calculations”, Lester L. Grabbe.
The Apocryphal New Testament, translated by William Hone, Bela Marsh, Boston, 1820, 1868.