2010-04-08

The Bible’s 4000 years from Creation to the New Israel

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by Neil Godfrey

A 4000 year year span which terminates at the re-dedication of the Temple in 164 bce has been worked into the chronology of Old Testament literature. 4000 years had significance beyond the biblical texts, too. I will give the ancient sources for that at the end. This data has significance for when the Bible’s books were still subject to editing, or even creation, before settling into the canonical versions we use today.

Event

Year (from creation)

Historical year

Span

Adam 1
Birth of Abraham 1946 1945
Call of Abraham 2021 75
Entrance into Egypt 2236 215
Exodus from Egypt 2666  (two thirds of total span)
430
Solomon’s Temple 3146 480
Jerusalem besieged / Exile to Babylon 3576 588 bce 430
Edict of Cyrus 3626 538 bce 50
Rededication of Temple 4000 164 bce 374

This covers a neat 10 generations from Adam to the Flood

  1. Adam
  2. Seth
  3. Enosh
  4. Kenan
  5. Mahalalel
  6. Jared
  7. Enoch
  8. Methuselah
  9. Lamech
  10. Noah

and another 10 generations from the Flood to the father of Abraham

  1. Shem
  2. Arpachshad
  3. Kenan
  4. Shelah
  5. Eber
  6. Peleg
  7. Reu
  8. Serug
  9. Nahor
  10. Terah

Abraham was called by God when he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4)

Call of Abraham to the entry of Israel into Egypt was 215 years

From Abraham’s call to the birth of Isaac was 25 years, Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, and Jacob 130 years old when he entered Egypt (25 + 60 + 130 = 215 years)

Entry into Egypt to the Exodus and birth of Israel was 430 years

(Exodus 12:40).

Exodus to the beginning of the building of Solomon’s temple was 480 years

(1 Kings 6:1).

Abraham’s birth to the foundation of the Temple was 1200 years

Or 12 generations of the round 100 years each. (There are several remnants throughout the Bible of the idea of a post-Flood generation being a round 100 years, such as Genesis 15:13-16 where 4 generations are given 400 years.)

Foundation of the Temple to the destruction of Jerusalem was 430 years

(Ezekiel 4:5-6)

Destruction of the Temple to the (legendary) edict of Cyrus to return of Israel was 50 years.

(Jeremiah speaks of a 70 year captivity, but the chronology was constructed at a time when there was no canonical bible and Jeremiah’s book did not figure in the calculation.)

Return of Israel to the rededication of the Temple was 374 years

The odd-number out to complete the “Great Year” of 4000 years.

And the point of all this is?

And the whole framework has been constructed to find its completion in the birth of the New Israel in 164 b.c.e. (1 Maccabees 4:52-58)

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt-offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt-offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving-offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.

The above is for most part derived from pages 73-75 of The Mythic Past (also published as The Bible in History) by Thomas L. Thompson

So if the Bible chronology was pivoted around a year less than two centuries before Christ . . . ?

50 years exile

Not all of the above figures are made explicit in the biblical literature. Some, such as the 50 for the year of exile, are calculated from various texts. Presumably other texts discussed the chronology more explicitly. But the details nonetheless had to be fitted into the books that came to form the canon.

The 50 years of exile in the above list is based on Ezra 3:8

In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD

Thus the second Temple was founded (at least according to this text) in the year after the return of the exiles from Babylon. This year is equated in Ezra 1 with the first year of Cyrus — 538 bce.

This means that the second temple was founded in 537 bce — exactly 50 years after the destruction of the first temple in 537 bce (Jeremy Hughes).

I note that even by staying with the year 588 bce for the besieging of Jerusalem, 50 years from this brings us to 538, and the first year, therefore, according to priestly chronology which always counted the first full year of the new advent (discounting the year in which it first appeared — Jeremy Hughes, again) would bring it to 587 bce.

Hughes also points to other evidence for this 50 year period, including Josephus in his Against Apion 1.21

These accounts agree with the true histories in our books; for in them it is written that Nebuchadnezzar, in the eighteenth year of his reign, laid our temple desolate, and so it lay in that state of obscurity for fifty years; but that in the second year of the reign of Cyrus its foundations were laid, and it was finished again in the second year of Darius.

Most of us are more familiar with Jeremiah’s claim that the exile was to span 70 years:


This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.
(Jeremiah 29:10)

This whole land will become a desolate ruin, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for 70 years.  When the 70 years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation’—[this is] the LORD’s declaration—’the land of the Chaldeans, for their guilt, and I will make it a ruin forever. (Jeremiah 25:11-12)

And Zechariah 1:12

Then the angel of the LORD said, “LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?”

This dates the foundation of the second temple to the second year of Darius. Hughes comments:

But significantly, this 20-year increase in the period from the first temple’s destruction to the foundation of the second temple was compensated for by a 20-year decrease in the period from the foundation of the first temple to its destruction, thereby preserving the original Priestly total of 480 years from the foundation of the first temple to the foundation of the second temple. (p. 41)

The details are complex. They have to do with another chain of years that incorporates two overlaps into the Masoretic text’s chronology of Kings.

Comparing the Samaritan Pentateuch

The above 4000 year span is based on the Masoretic text. The Samaritan Pentateuch is different, and points to a different ideology with an even greater focus on Abraham, placing his first year a neat schematic 1600 years after Creation. (Secrets of the Times: Myth and History in Biblical Chronology, by Jeremy Hughes.)

Hughes also pinpoints the Priestly nature of this chronology by noting that it was not so much the Covenant at Sinai that was a pivotal turning point, but the establishment of the Tabernacle and Priestly ritual — the precursor of the Temple establishment. Abraham and Temple/Priesthood were pivotal in the Samaritan scheme.

Significance of 4000 years

Thompson remarks that the notion of a Great Year was a well understood Hellenistic philosophical idea of a time between grand cosmic cycles or events. Others have also noted that “Great years” have varied from the calculations of the precession of the equinoxes, to multiples of significant numbers, and vary from Persian and Indic culture through to the later Stoics. An ancient Babylonian “great year” appears to have been as much as 432,000 years.

Hughes offers the following as evidence of the importance of 4000 as a significant time-span in the times when the biblical literature was created:

Pseud0-Philo wrote in the Book of Biblical Antiquities, 28:8

Now out of the flame which I saw, and it burned not, I beheld, and lo a spark came up and as it were builded for itself a floor under heaven, and the likeness of the floor thereof was as a spider spinneth, in the fashion of a shield. And when the foundation was laid, I beheld, and from that spring there was stirred up as it were a boiling froth, and behold, it changed itself as it were into another foundation; and between the two foundations, even the upper and the lower, there drew near out of the light of the invisible place as it were forms of men, and they walked to and fro: and behold, a voice saying: These shall be for a foundation unto men and they shall dwell therein 4000/7000 years. (the readings vary — 4000 or 7000)

Testament of Moses, 1:2 and 10:12

The Testament of Moses even the things which he commanded in the one hundred and twentieth year of his life, that is the two thousand five hundredth year from the creation of the world

And do you; Joshua (the son of) Nun, keep these words and this book; For from my death [assumption] until His advent there shall be 250 times [= year-weeks = 1750 years]. And this is the course of the times which they shall pursue till they are consummated.

2500+1750=4250

Babylonian Talmud (T.b. Agodah Aarah 9a; T.b. Sanhedrin 97b)

The world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand years are to be void; the next two thousand years are the period of the Torah, and the following two thousand years are the period of the Messiah. Through our many sins a number of these have already passed [and the Messiah is not yet].

The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation;two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era

Finally?

The above looks to me roughly right. If so, it suggests that priests were still busy modifying texts as late as 164 bce.

If so, the texts were not exactly so untouchably sacrosanct as we regard them today.

Even more interesting to me is that if the texts were still considered so mutable at this time, then does this have implications for those responsible for apparent imitations of some of this literature in the form of the Gospels? What was their perception of these canonical texts? And did they at any point think they might be adding sequels — equally mutable — to them?


3 Comments

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2010-04-09 01:08:24 UTC - 01:08 | Permalink

    Yes, and the diversity of readings of the Biblical texts in the DSS, as well as the difficulty of determining in many cases what Hebrew text the LXX translators were working with, testify to late redaction. I was reflecting, reading the Isaiah pesher from the DSS that writing “commentary” of this sort may have been a bid for inclusion in the canonical text. Jeremiah would seem, with all the interpolated interpretive passages, to contain its own pesher. Did the authors of the earliest DSS non-Biblical texts see themselves in some cases as writing Scripture with a capital S? Did the LXX translation “close” the canon?

    Good stuff, thanks.

  • 2010-04-20 06:24:54 UTC - 06:24 | Permalink

    I must have another look at Philip Davies’ book Scribes and Schools: the Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures, in relation to the questions you raise.

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