Some well-meaning old-earth creationists have suggested that the genealogies in early Genesis have significant gaps in them. That is, many patriarchs whose names were not recorded lived between the death of one patriarch and the mention of the next. This is in an effort to find a view of the scriptural record which aligns with the record of nature regarding the existence of mankind. That is, the genealogies of Genesis give a certain number of lifetimes with a certain number of years, and if one counts them up with no gaps then Adam could only have been so old and no older. Therefore it is suggested by some that these records have substantial gaps.
I find that idea unlikely. The genealogies are constructed so as to track time as well as lineage. If they are riddled with gaps then they are useless for their intended purpose. In fact they would be worse than useless, because they would actually be misleading.
I don’t have a problem with their being difficult to sort through, because they are very ancient records translated from a very different culture. We should expect that. But that is not the same thing as being misleading even when properly understood. At any rate, the truth of the matter is that Adam does not have to be placed back at the beginning of mankind. Once you know who Adam is (see book for details), the age of the human race verses the scriptural record of the age of Adam becomes a non-issue.
Perhaps the most straightforward reading and calculation of that age is that done by Bishop James Ussher in the 1600s. He was not the only fellow to attempt to make the calculation, but the others all came up with similar dates. By their reckoning Adam was formed sometime near to 4,000 B.C. or just over six thousand years ago.
Their dates varied a bit because, for example, the record gets a bit fuzzy after the time of Abraham. There is a dispute as to exactly when Moses led the children of Israel out from Egypt and the times and places up until the reign of King Solomon. There is evidence, both within the text and in the archeological record, which points to an earlier date for the Exodus than conventional wisdom suggests, but since that question is beyond the scope of this book I shall leave it aside for now.
Six thousand years is a very long time in human terms, and if I am right about the first two accounts in Genesis coming from Adam, and/or his immediate descendants, then early Genesis would still constitute the oldest written records which we have deciphered. It would not however, be the oldest writing known. As of the publication of this book, the Dispilio Tablet holds that record. It was discovered in northern Greece by Dr. George Hourmouziadis and has been dated at around 7,300 years old. It has not been deciphered.
Nevertheless, the age estimate of about 6,000 years to the time of Adam must be considered the minimum estimate. The other reasonable way to look at the genealogies in early Genesis pushes the dates back even further than that. While I don’t see justification for the practice of trying to shoe-horn unwritten generations between the lives of the listed patriarchs, there is another way to interpret them which is more reasonable. This alternative interpretation pushes the formation of Adam back significantly, but not to the degree necessary to place a date for Adam at the beginning of the human race.
Before we dive into this method of calculation, and its results, I want to make two points. One is that some readers whose minds have been conditioned by existentialist assumptions will be tempted to recoil and dismiss the idea that the extremely long life-spans recorded particularly in Genesis chapter five could be literally accurate.
Ironically many of these same readers will come upon some article about science’s power to extend the human life span to comparable figures and simply accept at face value that someday we will be able to accomplish the task. For example Aubrey DeGrey has claimed, without drawing notable derision from mainstream science and media, that the first person who will live for 1,000 years has probably already been born. Modern man has little trouble believing that he can extend human life-spans to around 1,000 years, but immediately dismisses the idea that God could have done so! We need to examine our hearts with our heads and understand that our faithlessness is not the rational position, but rather it’s the depths of irrationality.
Further, by the view of Genesis described in these pages the Bible does not make the claim that all ancient humans had extended lifespans. Rather only Adam and some of his near descendants enjoyed such life-spans. In Genesis chapter forty-seven Jacob is brought before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks him right away how old he was. This surely indicates that Pharaoh was impressed with his age. Jacob replied that he was 130 years old, and that his days were few in number compared to his fore-fathers. If everyone attained to such years then Jacob’s age would not have been notable enough to be the first topic of conversation. Thus the Bible implies that not all humans had extended life-spans.
Perhaps Adam possessed genetic and epigenetic gifts that we are only now beginning to understand how to re-claim. Perhaps his time in the very presence of the LORD God had a healing and life-giving effect on him which lasted several generations. How long would we live if Christ came to visit us every month and healed every infirmity, even the ones we didn’t know we had? We shall see in scripture that patriarch life spans began to decline rapidly once Yahweh changes His methods and quits interacting with them as much. But I get ahead of myself.
The second point I wish to make before describing this view of the genealogies is that those who wish to greatly extend their age do have a point regarding the meaning of the word “begat.” It is an interesting word. It can mean “became the father of”, or it can mean “produced the line of (became an ancestor of).” The idea of “Father” for this culture went back multiple generations. The Jews of Christ’s sojourn thought of Abraham as their “father” (Mat. 3:9). The context in which “begat” is given can determine what it means.
With all that being said, let’s get into the text. The two great genealogical records in Genesis are in chapter five and in chapter eleven. Except for the beginning and ending generation in each, they have a similar format. I shall take a few verses from chapter five to demonstrate:
6 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos:
7 And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:
8 And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.
The second genealogy has a similar format, except that the last line is omitted. The total lifespan of the years of the patriarch is not stated separately. It is necessary to add the number of years until the next line is begat with the number of years the patriarch lived after begetting it in order to determine the length of life of the patriarch. That is a trivial calculation though, especially because the second list is shorter.
To calculate his dates, Ussher added, for example, the 130 years of Adam until Seth was born with the 105 years of age at which Seth “begat” the subsequent line of Enos. This is a reasonable possibility in the case of Adam to Seth because the previous text makes clear that Seth is Adam’s direct son. Time is being counted here from “birth” to birth: the “birth” of Adam to the birth of Adam’s son Seth. The question then becomes whether or not the particular wording in the first generation (verses 5:3-5) is establishing a pattern for use when tracking the time of subsequent generations or showing a difference in the normal pattern for the subsequent generations?
If you have reached this point in the book you have probably detected the consistent way which I use to approach scripture: Every difference in the text matters, and when there is a difference in the text it should be interpreted as meaning something different. They are not using variations in the language haphazardly, but the text is saying something different with the differences in the language, even if our western eyes are not familiar enough with nuance to ‘get it’. There is also circumstantial evidence in chapter eleven for the method of calculation I am about to give, which I will discuss when we reach that point.
The other reasonable possibility is that the typical wording in this chapter indicated not necessarily a son of the patriarch, but instead a descendent of the patriarch who was born around the year of that patriarch’s death. The newborn would then be used to track time for the next generation. They used the lives of patriarchs like a calendar, for reference points in their history. In that case the figure to use to track time would not the length of time from one “begetting” to another begetting, but rather the total length of years of the life of each patriarch.
So here is my view: In those cases where the text did not clarify that the next generation begot was a son, it was instead referring to a descendant who was born about the time the previous patriarch died and who would then be used to track time. The year of begetting only indicated the time that the line leading to the next calendar-patriarch was first produced.
The exception to this pattern would be found right at the beginning of the genealogy. In that case, the case of Adam to Seth, the wording makes it clear that the counting is to be from the birth of the patriarch until the time the patriarch begat their son. But maybe that wording was not trying to define a rule for the other entries which lacked it, but rather trying to highlight that this particular generation was an exception to the rule used to track time in subsequent generations. That is, from life time to life time, not from begetting to begetting.
It is well known that once Israel had kings, they tracked time by the length of time the king had been on the throne. For example, “In the 32nd year of King Azariah” is a specific time. When his reign was over, the following year would be the “first year of” his successor. That would have been the case even if the successor had not been his son, but his grandson. They did not start tracking time with the birth of the next generation, but when the next generation took the throne on the death of the previous one.
The problem of how to track time is something we never think about because we have had the B.C./A.D. system for many generations. For early human civilization though, there was no such system in place. They had to create one, and do so in an environment where at least some blessed men could live hundreds of years after the birth of their first-born.
The children of Adam may not have had kings with reigns in those early days, but they had patriarchs with descendants. What I am suggesting is that they used the lifespans of the patriarchs as a calendar, and when one died they used a descendent born around the same time as the next calendar-patriarch. So unless the text explicitly indicates that the next generation is the “son” of the previous man named they used the entire length of the life of the patriarch to track time. The age of the preceding patriarch when they “begat” the following patriarch is a record of when the line leading to that following patriarch was begun, not the age of the first patriarch at the birth of the second.
We then use 130 years to count from Adam to Seth, because the text makes it clear that Seth was his son. But from Seth to Enos onward we use the whole lifespan of the calendar-patriarch to measure the years. Thus 912 years are added from Seth to Enos, and 905 from Enos to Cainan, and so forth.
One may count time in this manner until one gets to Lamech. The text indicates that Noah was not only begat by Lamech, but was also named by him, and further that Lamech made a curious prediction about his son. Because the text does not follow the rule of the previous passages in format, we revert here to the method of calculation used for Adam and Seth. Lamech begat Noah at 182 years of age so we add that number of years to the total calculated to this point, bringing us to a total of 6,230 years from the formation of Adam until the birth of Noah.
If we then consider that Genesis 7:6 says that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the flood, and add that 600 years to the total, we find that a space of time of 6,830 years would have occurred between the formation of Adam and the flood of Noah. That is the total from the first of the two great genealogies.
We then go to the second great genealogy in Genesis Chapter 11 to determine the space of time from the Great Flood to Abraham. Verse ten says that Shem begat Arphaxad two years after the flood. If we then add the life of each patriarch up, using the total span of years just as we did in the previous genealogy, until the birth Terah, we find there is a total of 2202 years.
Things then get a bit fuzzy because the text does not tell us in what year of Terah’s life Abram (soon to be Abraham) was born. It only says that by the age of seventy he had begat Abram, Nahor, and Har’an. This is another variation in the pattern of the text and the end of this chapter makes it plain that Abram is the direct son of Terah.
The reader may find it odd that the age of the previous patriarch at the birth of the succeeding patriarch is carefully documented throughout the chain until one gets to Terah and Abraham. From our perspective they would be the most important figures in the chain, yet Terah’s age at the birth of Abram is not precisely given. While this may be perplexing to someone with an Ussherian view of the genealogies, it makes perfect sense in the calendar-patriarch framework which I am proposing.
Under this framework, they never knew until the patriarch died which son would be the one to produce a descendent who would be born in the same or following year of the death of the patriarch. The best Terah could do in his lifetime is list the age by which he had finished bearing sons. It would be up to the next generation to fill in the exact year at which the next line was begun and the name of the calendar patriarch who would follow.
For example, if he gave birth to Nahor at thirty, Abraham at fifty and Haran at seventy, then he would not know which of those figures to use to say what his age was when the line of the next calendar-patriarch was begotten. It could have been a descendant of any of the sons. The next generation could provide a more precise figure after the identity of the next calendar-patriarch was established.
In Terah and Abraham’s case this procedure would have presented an embarrassing difficulty. Indeed as lifespans got shorter and fertility lower the system would grow less workable. When men lived long enough to see their sons to the fourth or fifth generation it was easy for them to have a descendent who was born the year of, or the year after, their death. A man with three sons whose descendants also had three sons would have 81 great-great grandsons. If the role of calendar patriarch could pass to male descendants who came from daughters, then double that number. Either way, someone would soon come around to fill the role. For ancient people in their situation, it would have been a very sensible way for them to communicate with fellow clan members about exactly when in the past specific things happened.
But Terah and Abraham were no longer in that situation according to 11:27-32. For one thing, Terah lost one of his sons so young that he was only able to produce one son of his own- Lot. Another of his sons, Abraham, had a wife who was barren during the life of Terah. The third son of Terah was Nahor. He had sons, but he separated from his father. Nahor stayed behind in Ur and did not immigrate with the rest of the family to Har’an. The clan was small, and it was broken up by geography as well due to the immigration of Terah.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that after Abraham we don’t see another great genealogy in Genesis, or the rest of scripture, in the style of those found in chapters five and eleven. The conditions under which those genealogies were created ended when human lifespans went down and the fertility of Abraham’s line took a temporary dip. That specific form of genealogy stopped when the conditions necessary to sustain it no longer existed. Those conditions were long life spans and high fertility. This was the calendar-patriarch system.
So we do not know the exact age of Terah at the birth of Abraham, only that it was 70 or less. If we add seventy to the 2202 years of the previous total of the lives of the patriarchs we come to a figure of 2272 years. This is my calculation of years from the great flood to the birth of Abraham.
Our calculation here will have to be a rough one. Due to the end of the calendar-patriarch system I described, the numbers in the text of Genesis are much more straightforward counting from Abraham back to Adam than they are from Abraham to say, the Exodus or Solomon. Of the two “mainstream” dates for the Exodus, I favor the minority view with an earlier date, but such disputes are beyond the scope of this work. The “error bars” for the period beyond Abraham to the Exodus are pretty large anyway, so I will just pass on sorting all of that out here and use Abraham’s birth as a starting point.
Common estimates for Abraham’s birth are from 1850 B.C. to as early as 2150 B.C. Let’s say that 2000 B.C. is a good rough date for the birth of Abraham. I propose we work back from that date to find the approximate date for the formation of Adam.
So then Abraham was born roughly 4,000 years ago. The time from Abraham back to the flood was an additional 2,272 years, and from the flood to Adam was another 6,830 years. This means that Adam was brought forth by The LORD God about 13,102 years ago. So the dates would look like this:
Adam was created: about 13,102 years ago or 11,102 B.C.
The Great Flood: about 6,272 years ago or around 4,272 B.C.
Birth of Abraham: about 4,000 years ago or 2000 B.C.
That last date is non-controversial, at least when one puts 200 year error bars on it (and subsequently the other dates as well). I shall leave it to more learned scholars to test the ideas laid out in this volume and refine the dates in more detail.
The Ussherian date for the flood, 2348 B.C., is more problematic than the dates I suggest when one considers what the tenth chapter of Genesis says happened within a couple of generations after the flood. For example, verses 8-12 of chapter ten tell us that Nimrod (the grandson of Noah in Ussherian accounting, the descendent of Noah in my view) established what amounted to a kingdom consisting of several cities, some of which are lost in the mists of time, but one of which was Akkad. While the location of that city is also presently unknown, we do know that it was destroyed in 2154 B.C. with the collapse of the Akkadian Empire.
By Ussher’s dates, in the space of a meager 206 years Ham would have had to father Cush. Then Cush would have had to father Nimrod. Then Nimrod would have had to grow up, and then Nimrod would have had to found a kingdom whose beginning included Akkad- which would be destroyed by the time he would have been, in terms of the life spans of those men, barely middle-aged.
In addition to that, it is well known that the Akkadian Empire was founded near or at 2340 B.C. by Sargon the First. That was about eight years after the Ussherian flood date. Sargon ruled for at least 40 years and was succeeded by his sons. That empire collapsed about 150 years later. From what little we know of them Sargon and Nimrod do not match up well.
David Rohl in his book From Eden to Exile: A Five-Thousand Year History of the People of the Bible (Greenleaf, 2009) provides substantial evidence that Nimrod is the same person as Enmerkar, the first, or second depending in the exact status of his father, King of Uruk (Erech) after the Flood according to the Sumerian King’s List. Enmerkar is the grandfather of Gilgamesh who built up the walls of Uruk and was the focus of an epic Sumerian story. The exact time of Enmerkar’s reign is unknown, but the description in Genesis fits well with a period archaeologists call the “Uruk Expansion” from around 3,600 B. C. to 3,100 B.C. This fits far better with a flood date of around 4,272 B.C., which gives mankind seven hundred years to rebuild civilization and erect cities, and then city-states to become an empire like the one founded by Nimrod/Enmerkar.
Not that I am sold on the location as the landing place of the ark, but I should note that in 1953 a German, Dr. Friedrich Bender, obtained a small bitumen covered wood sample from a region on Mt. Judi in Turkey where it was said that pilgrims were taking wood left from the ark of Noah. His C14 dating showed the wood to be just under 6,500 years old. The Bible and Spade Journal reprinted his findings in English in 2006.
Returning to Adam, the calendar-patriarch view produces a date for Adam which makes a lot of sense considering what the Bible says about him. This puts the date and location of Adam just before the dawn of agriculture and just before the dawn of the domestication of livestock.
I don’t think this is a coincidence. The human race had lost its way, and instead of becoming protectors of the earth, it had become the most terrible of its predators. Man was a plunderer, not a nurturer as originally intended. We were far from the intent of God in Genesis chapter one when He had created them and granted them dominion.
In short, the human race had abused the dominion they had been given. Instead of becoming stewards of nature and what was in it, they became super-predators. In contrast, Adam was specifically made and trained “to tend the garden and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). In Adam, as in Christ, God provided the pattern. He became the example which they could live by. Adam and his ilk were the seminal agriculturalist, and the seminal pastoralists, of mankind.
I don’t say that agriculture and animal husbandry were never tried earlier. I feel sure they were, since it was the God-desired orientation of man from the beginning. But the earlier attempts did not stick. Man had not pulled it off. He had back-slidden into a less civilized manner of life.
Adam, in terms of both time and place, was in the right spot to have introduced these things to mankind in a way which did stick. The human race began a Great Leap Forward which began about the time and the place which I am suggesting Adam lived. That seems too neat to be a co-incidence. So then it seems that the advent of Adam did raise Man up, but Adam was only able to do this because he was helped up himself. We will see in Genesis chapter two that Adam’s accomplishments were not strictly a result of his own efforts. Yahweh provided the man Adam with a powerful head start.
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