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This question is a bit esoteric. Looking at numbers in the Bible I noticed this story about one of Cain's decedents:

And Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
O wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech.
I have slain a man for wounding me,
And a lad for bruising me.

If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

—Genesis 4:23-24 (NJPS)

Like graded numerical parallelism, the idea of increasing something exponentially is a poetic device. It's a form of hyperbole. But notice that Lamech isn't using a sexagesimal (which would probably produce exaggerated claims of 17- or 67- or 427-fold vengeance), but a decimal numbering system. Since numbers written in cuneiform use a modified base-60 system, does this passage argue against the tablet theory?

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But weren't the words for numbers still base-10 ("seventy" being derived from "seven", words existing for "hundred" and "thousand"). May-be this value wasn't simply figured out with "pen and paper"? –  UncleBens Nov 19 '11 at 18:21
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@UncleBens: I believe you are correct when it comes to Hebrew, but not cuneiform. So that's exactly the crux of the question. (And you also hint at Soldarnal's answer: whoever recorded it in Hebrew might have retained the rhetorical meaning at the expense of the mathematical meaning.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 21 '11 at 18:54

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Although it's an interesting argument, I would say no.

For one thing, this supposed tablet being pre-Babel, all bets are off as to what language and number system it would have been written in. It could have been Mesopotamian, but I do not see why it has to be.

More importantly, however, even assuming the hypothetical tablet was not originally in Hebrew, we can't be certain what kind of translation methodology Moses would have adopted. Perhaps the seventy-seven is not a word-for-word rendering of what Lamech said, but an adaptation by Moses to help his Hebrew readers understand the text.

Unless you could establish both that the original tablet would have featured a sexagesimal and that the only translation methodology of the day was word-for-word, I don't think you have a decisive argument - though it may cast doubts.

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I think a corollary hypothesis to Wiseman's (though of a completely different origin) is that of Edenics. This is the claim that all language is derived from proto-Hebrew and that the Semites were preserved from having their language changed at Babel in order to maintain a continuity in the written word. Edenics claims that the scrambling of the languages was much like giving everyone lesdyxia... I mean dyslexia. –  Bob Jones Nov 16 '11 at 3:53

Once the passage is recognized to not be literal, but a riddle, then the rules of riddle apply:

The expansion is based on the meanings in sensus plenior.

  • Cain - possessor, spear
  • Spear - sins of the church
  • Lamech - powerful (Christ come in power)
  • seven - fullness
  • ten - dual-natured man (Christ)
  • seventy - 7 * 10
  • seventy times seven - seven in heaven and on earth, dual-natured man

"If the possessor of the sins of the church is punished fully, truly when he comes in power he will avenge himself as the dual-natured man fully in heaven and on earth."

Since the numbers lose any numeric value as metaphors, they are not base-10 numbering. As such they have no bearing on the Wiseman hypothesis. The question presumes that Genesis is merely a product of culture (cuneiform) and that God is incapable of preserving his types and shadows throughout his word.

Wiseman's hypothesis deals with the meaning of the toledoth. It surmises that it is a signature line transposed from tablets onto papyrus, such that we have evidence that Genesis was written by eyewitnesses. The number system used has nothing to do with the hypothesis.

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It's clearly not literal, but I don't see how any of this answers my question. The passage doesn't say 70*7 for instance. For another, Jesus says exactly the opposite of Lamech. You have some good ideas, but this answer is a miss. –  Jon Ericson Nov 16 '11 at 5:14
    
@Jon When the church is multiplied, God adds to his church daily. It's riddle. You can't apply literal methods to riddle. When Christ comes in 'power', the meaning of Lamech, he forgives 7*70. –  Bob Jones Nov 16 '11 at 5:40

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