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The Septuagint (along with the Samaritan Pentateuch) and Flavius Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities allow for about 6 to 7 hundred more years from our days back to the Flood (which accordingly would date back to the 31st century b.c. - there are some variants).

The Masoretic textual tradition sets about the 24th century as date of the flood cataclysm. That makes it hard for any early chronology of mankind to appear historical for anyone inclined towards the biblical account. Most translations regard the Masoretic numbers as the most reliable ones. However, they appear to be the latest, since Flavius Josephus (a prominent Pharisee and historian of the first century) does not know the Masoretic numbers.

What motivated the Rabbis/Masoretes to change the numbers and shorten the early chronology of mankind?

An English translation of the relevant chapter (Genesis 11) can be seen here: (corrected in acc. with Flav.Jos. Ant.Jud., Theophilus, Africanus, Eusebius, who used an older version of Septuagint, 1st to 3rd cent. and (oldest, 2nd cent.) Papyrus Bodmer´s Luke 3:36, which do not have that second, later inserted Kainan)

10 And these are the generations of Sem:
Sem was a son of one hundred years
when he became the father of Arphaxad, in the second year after the flood.
12 And Arphaxad lived one hundred thirty-five (MT: thirty-five) years
and became the father of Sala.
14 And Sala lived one hundred thirty (MT: thirty) years
and became the father of Eber.
16 And Eber lived one hundred thirty-four (MT: thirty-four) years
and became the father of Phalek.
18 And Phalek lived one hundred thirty (MT: thirty) years
and became the father of Ragau.
20 And Ragau lived one hundred thirty-two (MT: thirty-two) years
and became the father of Serouch.
22 And Serouch lived one hundred thirty (MT: thirty) years
and became the father of Nachor.
24 And Nachor lived seventy-nine (MT: twenty-nine) years
and became the father of Thara.
26 And Thara lived seventy years (130 years -> Abram)
and became the father of Abram and Nachor and Harran.

Flavius Josephus writes in his 6th book:

  1. I will now treat of the Hebrews. The son of Phaleg, whose
    father Was Heber, was Ragau; whose son was Serug, to whom was
    born Nahor; his son was Terah, who was the father of Abraham, who
    accordingly was the tenth from Noah, and was born in the two
    hundred and ninety-second year after the deluge;
    for Terah begat Abram in his seventieth year.
    Nahor begat Haran when he was one hundred and twenty years old;
    Nahor was born to Serug in his hundred and thirty-second year;
    Ragau had Serug at one hundred and thirty;
    at the same age also Phaleg had Ragau;
    Heber begat Phaleg in his hundred and thirty-fourth year;
    he himself being begotten by Sala when he was a hundred and thirty years old,
    whom Arphaxad had for his son at the hundred and thirty-fifth year of his age. Arphaxad was the son of Shem, and born twelve years after the deluge.

Is the Septuagint (and Flavius Josephus') chronology inflated, as almost every translation of the bible seems to maintain, or is—on the contrary—the Masoretic Text deflated for some reason?

For instance, this Wikipedia article shows the differences for some of the genealogies in Genesis:

Differences in dating

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Wikipedia has a very nice table of the dates given the Masoretic, Samaritan, and Septuagint versions of Genesis. Note that there are some inconsistencies concerning who survived the flood if you take the Septuagint ages at face value. – Noah Apr 28 '13 at 19:50
I can't seem to find anything written about what the Dead Sea Scrolls have for these chronologies. Can anyone else? – Noah Apr 28 '13 at 20:00
@Noah Snyder: The Dead Sea Scrolls do not contain anything from Genesis 5 or 11, except for a few fragmentary words that do not side with one against the other. – user2350 Jun 14 '13 at 19:47
I addressed this in detail here.… – Bro Daniel Aug 27 at 13:37

5 Answers 5

     I propose that the variations seen in the genealogies of Genesis arose from an effort to praise or villify certain patriarchs. Specifically, there is evidence of a motivation to praise the first five generations from Adam to Mahalalel, and to villify Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech. I refer to the Wikipedia chart given above in my argument.

     The Septuagint added 100 years to the birthdates of the first five patriarchs versus the dates which appear in the Masoretic and Samaritan texts. By adding 100 years to the birthdates of the first five patriarchs, this shifts their times of death to before the birth of Jared (960) and the generations of Methuselah and Lamech. Shifting these dates could have been a way of changing the text to reflect what the traditional interpretation was at the time.

     On the other hand, the Masoretic and Vulgate texts do not separate Jared's birthdate from the earlier generations. However, the Masoretic text added 100, 120, and 129 years, respectively, to the birthdates of Jared, Methuselah and Lamech. This places the dates of death for these three patriarchs at the years 1422, 1656 and 1651. The time of the flood occurred when Noah was 600 years old, which was the year 1656 in the Masoretic text. Clearly, the text implies that Jared and Methusaleh perished in the flood, although Jared appears to have died before it happened. The tradition of not holding these three patriarchs in high regard is also evident in the Samaritan text. Here we find that all three perished in 1307, the exact same date as Noah's flood, according to that text.

     There may a lingering question about Enoch. The biblical text mentions that Enoch walked with G-d, so there would be no motivation for placing his death near the flood.

     I would like to cite this paper I found online, which spurned my thinking on this question:

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I would propose the following approach:

For the time before the flood: Primacy of the Massoretic numbers. They have the greatest variance and most support by the Samaritan text (and in the three differing cases - Jared, Methuselah, Lamech - the Masoretic agrees or comes close to the Septuagint).

For the time after the flood: Primacy of Septuagint and Samaritan text, which agree in all instances. (The second Kainan does not appear in all Septuagint manuscripts, not in Josephus' chronology and not in the earliest manuscript containing Luke's genealogy of Jesus.)

The reason for the Massoretes to reduce the age of procreation for 100 years to (for that time) an unusually early age seems to be the following:

Abraham should stand out solitarily as the only one getting a son at his high age. (That the issue was actually more with his wife Sarah is seen in the account about the birth of Isaac, and later even more so, when Abraham had five more sons with Keturah at a much higher age.

The Massoretic numbers are historically impossible, because they do not allow enough time for Sumeric and Egyptian well (and written!) documented early history.

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Another theory I've read (has anyone else come across this?) is that as time went on under the Old Covenant, an understanding arose among the Israelites that the Messiah would appear during "the 6th Age" of human history--i.e. the sixth millennium after Adam. The Septuagint chronology reflects that perfectly, placing the creation of Adam somewhere before 5000 B.C. In Catholic/Western tradition, the date 5199 B.C. often appears, while in Byzantine/Eastern circles, 5509 B.C. is cited. Depends on which LXX manuscript is considered authoritative.

The Masoretes on the other hand, as followers of the Pharisees, had to figure out a way to realign the ancient timetable so that the creation of Adam would no longer point to Christ in this way, so..shave off a few centuries here and there..and voilà! The calender used by contemporary Israel today (e.g. the Jerusalem Post, etc) dates from 3761 B.C.--even shorter than Ussher's chronology!

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Hi, and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. We do appreciate you posting, but do you have a source for your sixth age statement? – Frank Luke Jan 8 '14 at 17:21
Thanks! Let'see... Links: 1. 2.… BOOKS: 1. The Beginning of Wisdom: Unabridged Translation of the Gate of Love (Elijah ben Moses de Vidas) 2. Prognosticum Futuri Saeculi [Julian of Toledo] These also demonstrate how the "6th millennium" thing, based on the Seder Olam creation date (3761 B.C.), led to all the craziness of some folks thinking the world would end in the A.D. 1840s! – Tony Jan 8 '14 at 22:47

One of the important considerations of the various editors was the death of Methusela. The Masoretic and Samaritan texts have him dying on the year of the flood, though the way they get there is quite different. It is also an important consideration that none of the other patriarchs survive the flood, and so some traditions ensure that they all die before the flood, except Noah of course.

Babylonian numbers used a base 60 positional system, but it did not have a placeholder like '0'. There was in fact no difference between 10 and 600. This, along with difficulties in changing bases, appears to have created a number of varied interpretations in later documents. If Biblical authors tried to base their numbers on the original Sumerian records, there would be a good number of possibilities that they could choose. The biggest difficulty would be for them to try to get sane numbers from the crazy ages of the patriarchs in some interpretations of Sumerian records.

To me it would seem that sanity checking and making the ages fit Biblical stories would be major influences on the original authors, as well as editors, as the same constraints can be seen being fulfilled in multiple versions, though the particulars can be quite different.

The specific changes that you refer to appear to have been made much more recently, as they reflect base 10 alterations. I would guess that another round of sanity checking influenced the decision for patriarchs to have their first children in the 30s rather than after 100 years. (I'm using sanity checking as a technical, not pejorative term)

I'm afraid I can't really comment on any particular changes, or how well they fit other events, as it seems to me that any true time spans have been mistranslated and edited out of existence, even if the original Sumerian writings had them correct. They now have mostly symbolic meaning, though I would guess that sometimes the extra stories that gave them meaning often did not make it into the final Biblical documents and so have also been lost.


You state:

That makes it hard for any early chronology of mankind to appear historical for anyone inclined towards the biblical account.

This appears to be a problematic hermeneutic technique, to decide on the more reliable text based on which fits your preferred timeline. It is clear that various authors, copyists, compilers, and editors have changed things, including lifespans, but I think it is better practice to look at the best evidence about the texts themselves, rather than fitting texts around ideas gained from other sources.

BTW, I studied Sumerian history and pre-history last year with my kids, and didn't see anything about an unusually large 3100BC flood, basically uninterrupted habitation with regular major flooding between the rivers, but not of civilisation destroying magnitude. 3100BC is in the middle of a reasonable populous and prosperous period, just before the development of the Bronze Age.

I've heard of a theory of a 5500BC flood in a close by area - the fabled Black Sea Deluge - but that doesn't help fit your chronology either. Where was the flood you are referring to?

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The Alexandrine Septuagint is the most reliable. It gives the birth of Adam as 5404 BC. The Flood is 3142 BC. The birth of Abraham in Urfa is 2142 BC. Exodus is 1453 BC. The Temple is started in 973 BC. It is destroyed in 586 BC. These dates are in alignment with both Egyptian and Sumerian chronologies, if you accept that Menes = Mizraim (as Manetho said) and that the Predynastic period of Sumerian hostory is an archaeological fantasy. Then Ham (son of Noah) is Sargon the Great (son of Ziusudra). The Shemsu Hor (followers of Horus) are the followers of Ham, and his son Mizraim (Menes) who invaded Egypt by dragging their ships overland from the Red Sea, refloating them at Kontos, and defeating the native Egyptians, and thus founding the first dynasty (Menes). Every archaeologist notices the distinctive Sumerian architecture at Abydos, burial place of the First Dynasty, but does not follow that clue to the origin of that dynasty in Sumer.

There is no doubt that the ages of the Patriarchs were altered, and we can pin down the era it was done in. Josephus starts writing his second book about 90 AD, and the lengths of his Patriarchs' lives agree with the Septuagint (except for Lamech, where he inexplicably makes an error of 6 years. Since we have no original manuscript, only later copies in Latin, this error could have been introduced by the translator.)

After Josephus' time, the Patriarchs' length of life is altered. The latest date for this alteration is the end of the rebellion of Bar Kochvah 132 - 135 AD. This entire period is under the religious control of rabbi Akiva, and it is to him that the alterations must be attributed. The reason for the changes is simple: competition from the growing Christian sect, who were using the Torah and other texts to argue for the reality of Jesus' fulfillment of the prohecy for the coming of the messiah. The Book of Adam and Eve was current around this time and it specifically states that God tells Adam that he will send a redeemer after 5500 years. Since Adam was born in 5404 BC (according to the Septuagint (LXX), that makes Bar Kosiba the right age (born about 96 AD). Rabbi Akiva proclaims him the messiah, changes his name to Bar Kochva, and he goes on to lead a massive rebellion against the Romans, which succeeds in throwing them out of the country for nearly 3 years. The Jews rejoice, re-sanctify Jerusalem, print coins with Bar Kochva on them, etc. However the Romans are not so easily defeated, and they return with 7 legions under Severus and proceed to march across the countryside, burning all the towns and killing all the inhabitants, rather than fighting the potent Messianic army head-on. This tactic succeeds, and the Jews are defeated again, Jerusalem is razed again and the majority of surviving Jews expelled from Judea. Thus begins the Diaspora.

Trying to pull things back together, Rabbi Akiva and his surviving rabbinic group make the determination to prevent the use of the Torah to proclaim another messiah, and they do this by altering the recorded lengths of the lives of the Patriarchs. Therefore, there is no 5500 years to Bar Kochva anymore, and in fact, it will be hundreds of years before the messiah can come.

The result of this rabbinical fudging unintentionally screwed up the acceptance of the Old Testament as a reliable source of chronology once archaeology got going 1800 years later. With the shortened masoretic chronology, the Exodus and occupation of Canaan take place 200 years too late. There is a paucity of archaological finds for the dating that the masoretic chronology produces. Therefore the scientists have said : "It was all a tribal fable". Even Jewish rabbis have been sucked into this false attitude, since they accept the masoretic text as inviolable. It is a fatal error.

If we go back to the Septuagint (LXX), which was sanctioned by the hierarchy in Jerusalem at the time it was translated (280 BC), and use the datings given there for the lives of the Patriarchs, suddenly everything falls into place. Not only is the Exodus in the correct Egyptian Dynasty (18th), but the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan is now in 1413 BC, which agrees with the radiocarbon dating of a burnt plank from Jericho that registered at 1410 BC.

Sumerian and Egyptian chronology can now be synced to Hebrew history, and we can even discover the exact date of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2040 BC), in the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon. This is a revolution in achaeology. And it also means a re-evaluation of the veracity of the OT.

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Welcome to Stack Exchange! If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour. In particular, be sure to read the section on what constitutes a good answer and revise your post to better cite your references. Please note that "showing your work" is required for answers to be considered "good" and get upvotes from the community on this Stack Exchange. This answer has some good observations, but could be made outstanding with a few links and a little exposition. – James Shewey Nov 5 at 0:13
I'd be particularly interested in a reference for the claim that "Sumerian hostory is an archaeological fantasy" – James Shewey Nov 5 at 0:15
I'd be quite interested in knowing a reference that gives the Greek more validity than the Hebrew. – seedy3 Nov 5 at 1:03
Like the others imply, I would upvote this if you add some references... The general rule here is that a good answer doesn't just say something is true, but also shows why one should believe that it is. – ThaddeusB Nov 5 at 15:31

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