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In Rabbinic Literature there is a principle of Biblical interpretation known as אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה (Ein Mukdam U'me'uhar B'Torah), which postulates that the Pentateuch does not (necessarily) follow a chronological order. That is to say that Event A could appear in the text prior to Event B, despite the fact that Event A occurred after Event B chronologically.

A classic example of this appears in Genesis 35:29 where the verse states that Isaac died. The rabbinic commentators, however, use various calculations to determine that Isaac was still alive at the time of the sale of Joseph, which doesn't appear until Genesis Chapter 37. They thus explain that the text does not follow the chronological order.

My question here is whether there are any other streams of thought (besides rabbinic interpretation) that subscribe to this principle or recognize such a phenomenon.

Note that the idea I am referring to is not utilizing the premise that there might have been multiple authors or editors that arranged things in this form. This principle is assuming that one (Divine) author deliberately wrote the text out of order. Therefore, I am not asking for streams of thought that acknowledge that texts are out of order but attribute it to something else.

  • Two completely distinct Arks always bugged me. One day, there was a TV discussion where one man said, "The only way Moses wrote the Pentateuch is if there was more than one Moses." There was a CLICK. Since then, that's the angle I use, except expanded; it's still unfolding. – tblue Jul 4 '18 at 22:44
  • The multiple authors and arrangement hypotheses include the Documentary Hypothesis. To be clear, there is ancient Judaic belief that Ezra wrangled with the texts a bit. – elika kohen Jul 20 '18 at 17:42
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The nineteenth century commentary by Charles Ellicott (editor) with R. Payne Smith writing the book of Genesis takes this position as it applies to Genesis 35:28-29. The name of the commentary set is An Old Testament Commentary for English Readers. as It is old there are a number of websites that have it as HTML or you can go to Google books and search for "An Old Testament Commentary for English Readers: Genesis" and you will find it. It is also available as HTML on Biblehub.com

Smith stated the following:

(28) The days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.—As Isaac was sixty when his sons were born, Jacob was one hundred and twenty years of age at his father’s death, and one hundred and thirty when he appeared before Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9). Now, as Joseph was seventeen when sold into Egypt (Genesis 37:2), and thirty when raised to power (Genesis 41:46), and as the seven years of plenty and two of the years of famine had passed before Jacob went down into Egypt, it follows that the cruel deed, whereby he was robbed of his favorite child, was committed about twelve years before the death of Isaac. (29) Esau and Jacob buried him.—Esau, who apparently still dwelt at Hebron until his father’s death, takes here the precedence as his natural right. But having in previous expeditions learnt the physical advantages of the land of Seir, and the powerlessness of the Horites to resist him, he gives up Hebron to his brother, and migrates with his large wealth to that country.

What this points out and is often missed is that there is a structure to Genesis that emphasizes the "generations" of an individual and as such it is not entirely chronological. In the KJV each broad section is introduced by the phrase "these are the generations."

In the extraordinary commentary by Allen Ross he gives the significance of the word tôledôt which is translated as "these are the generations of.."

Ross states the following:

The structure of the book is marked by an initial section and then ten further sections with headings. The major structural word of the book is tôledôt, expressed in the clause “these are the generations of.…” The word is a feminine noun from yālad, “to give birth” (properly derived from the hiphil stem of the verb, meaning “to beget”). It is often translated as “generations,” “histories,” or simply “descendants.”2 This word has been traditionally viewed as a heading of a section. Reconstructing the outline according to this view would yield the arrangement below. (See C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, trans. James Martin [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949 reprint], pp. 70–71; Bush, Notes, p. 57; Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, vol. 1, pp. 109–11.)

Ross goes on:

    1.      Creation (1:1–2:3)
    2.      Tôledôt of the heavens and the earth (2:4–4:26)
    3.      Tôledôt of Adam (5:1–6:8)
    4.      Tôledôt of Noah (6:9–9:29)
    5.      Tôledôt of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1–11:9)
    6.      Tôledôt of Shem (11:10–26)
    7.      Tôledôt of Terah (11:27–25:11)
    8.      Tôledôt of Ishmael (25:12–18)
    9.      Tôledôt of Isaac (25:19–35:29)
    10.     Tôledôt of Esau, the father of Edom (twice) (36:1–8; 36:9–37:1)
    11.     Tôledôt of Jacob (37:2–50:26)

Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 69–70.

Moses was emphasizing the beginning and the ending of each of these patriarchs within a section. That means on occasion there will be some overlap of events when dealing with Father and sons as Genesis 25:28-29 makes clear.

The well known commentary by Keil and Delitzsch makes this point about Genesis 35:28-29

With this, therefore, the history of Isaac’s life is brought to a close. Isaac died at the age of 180, and was buried by his two sons in the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 49:31), Abraham’s family grave, Esau having come from Seir to Hebron to attend the funeral of his father. But Isaac’s death did not actually take place for 12 years after Jacob’s return to Hebron. For as Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold by his brethren (Gen. 37:2), and Jacob was then living at Hebron (Gen. 37:14), it cannot have been more than 31 years after his flight from Esau when Jacob returned home (cf. Gen. 34:1). Now since, according to our calculation at Gen. 27:1, he was 77 years old when he fled, he must have been 108 when he returned home; and Isaac would only have reached his 168th year, as he was 60 years old when Jacob was born (Gen. 25:26). Consequently Isaac lived to witness the grief of Jacob at the loss of Joseph, and died but a short time before his promotion in Egypt, which occurred 13 years after he was sold (Gen. 41:46), and only 10 years before Jacob’s removal with his family to Egypt, as Jacob was 130 years old when he was presented to Pharaoh (Gen. 47:9). But the historical significance of his life was at an end, when Jacob returned home with his twelve sons.

Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 205.

Matthews in his commentary suggests that some of the confusion regarding the various Tôledôt sections of Genesis may be due to the fact that portions of the genealogies may actually be records the came before the book of Genesis. In this model it is still Moses alone who wrote the inspired text of Genesis, yet he may have used some earlier works that contained the family records of the patriarchs.

The answer settles on what one thinks of the word Tôledôt.

Additional comments based on Alex's additional passages:

What about Genesis 24:22-23?

In Genesis 24:22-23 one of the significant exegetical questions is why did the servant give Rebekah the nose ring and the two bracelets. Keil and Franz Delitzsch suggest that it is not a bridal gift, instead it is a gift for her act of kindness in helping him. As far as the Jewish sources go I don't have access to their arguments. If they believed the gifts were bridal gifts then they may have reversed the order of events to better suit that interpretation. It would take a lot more research to see if there are any extant copies of Genesis that reverses the order. If not I would think this is trying to make the text fit an interpretation instead of developing the interpretation from the text. I would put this in a different category than the previous discussion concerning Genesis 35:29.

What about Genesis 24:64-65?

This one appears to be very much like the Genesis 24:22-23 passage. The reordering of events here seems to be a way to answer a perceived problem with the text. Exegetically the issue hinges on the word וַתֹּ֣אמֶר (she said or she had said) which is a wayyiqtōl (waw-consecutive + imperfect) verb, which usually indicates a simple continuation. Yet a wayyiqtōl verb can on occasion have a preterite sense indicating the action came before. In this usual meaning of verb this would mean her question comes after getting off the camel. If the verb has a preterite sense then the verb may indicate that she asked the question before she got off the camel. Most English translations translate it as simple continuation -- she said. The KJV appears to side with the idea that the question came before getting off the camel -- they translated it as "she had said" with the italics as an addition of some kind. A quick glance at my commentaries did not help here much as they largely ignore the issue or they keep the order as getting off the camel and then asking the question. In the end I think this is in a different class then the Tôledôt structure.

  • According to this the non-chronological sections are limited to genealogies? – Alex Jul 10 '18 at 22:26
  • They can also be in the narrative portions as well when there are overlaps. In the one you brought up it falls in the portion that emphasizes Isaac. In the section dealing with Jacob and his sons there is a new emphasis that overlaps and in a sense can repeat portions of the earlier toldedot even though it may not repeat actual words. I hope that makes sense. – Ken Banks Jul 11 '18 at 0:56
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    P.J. Wiseman suggests that the toledoth is the 'signature' on the bottom of a clay tablet. If it is, then the one mentioned would know the stuff preceding it. Different tablet authors could overlap their stories. Each author would have been inspired by God to write each record. The literal stories 'out of order' would have been inspired by the single author God to produce the mystery, sensus plenior or sod pictures of the Messiah. Lets see if I can do a more extensive unpacking in an answer. – Bob Jones Jul 11 '18 at 3:04
  • @BobJones Ross points out that there is a significant amount of debate as to the function of the toledot in the context of Genesis so I am open to the notion that it may be something other than the introduction of the "history" of the individual named. I am not open to the concept of multiple authors, because source criticism has an inherent bias against the doctrine of inspiration. Moses alone was the author of the inspired text of Genesis, that still acknowledges that Moses may have had access to other records either oral or written before Genesis was written. – Ken Banks Jul 11 '18 at 12:59
  • @Ken Why would you suppose that Moses would not have had access to tablets placed in Pharoah's library and simply copied them to papyrus? That is all that the Toledoth theory suggests. It is not a child of traditional 'source criticism' and has no bias against inspiration. It is based on patterns found on clay tablets predating Abraham. – Bob Jones Jul 14 '18 at 14:33
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Yes. In Sensus Plenior it is acknowledged that God is the primary author who was so intricately involved in history that men using their freewill wrote the literal text of the Bible while God directed them in such a way, that unbeknownst to them, they wrote a mystery concerning Christ at the same time.

When we see 'issues' in the literal text, they are intended by God to draw us into the hidden. The reason for this literal out of order account is that functionally several pictures of Christ are overlaid, so it is right where it needs to be.

This is a quick perusal, not a polished thesis:

In sensus plenior, every verse participates in telling a hidden story of Christ.

As we parse out the sensus plenior we will drill down from the top. The Bible has 7 sections according to SP. each section is a picture of Christ.

TOC - Ge 1 - Ge 2.5

Day 1 : Ge 2.6 -5.32 Holiness and grace

Day 2 : Ge 6.1 - 11.32 Water and dry gound

Day 3 : Ge 12.1 - De Ex Life from dry ground 35 Isaac died, and 37 sale of Jopseph

Day 4 : Jos - Mal Holiness in grace, grace in judgement

Day 5 : Gospels Life from water/word

Day 6 : Letters Christ and his bride

The information in question is not distinguished at this level so we zoom into Day 3.

Ge 12.1 - 36 Role of Father, Son, Holy Ghost in story of Christ. Father (Abraham) chose the bride, the Son died (Isaac), and the Holy spirit brings the increase (Jacob). Ge 37 - 50 Son (Joseph) as King of Kings

Here we see the division and the need for the out of order information. The stories of Christ overlap. Each one is fruitful before his death (real or metaphoric) as a symbol of Israel as the first bride, and fruitful again after his death as a symbol of his fruitfulness after the cross.

Abraham is fruitful through Isaac, Ishmael, Esau and Jacob. He is fruitful after his death Ge 25:11

Isaac is fruitful through Jacob and Esau. Isaac is fruitful through Jacob/Israel, his fruitfulness before his death Genealogies before his death.) He is fruitful after his death through Esau (genealogies follow his death).

Jacob is fruitful in the flesh before he wrestles with God (in the flesh), and fruitful again afterwards (he forfeited them but they were returned to him).

The fruitfulness of Isaac and Jacob roll into the fruitfulness of Abraham by the same promise. The purpose of God is to speak of Christ in the mystery which was hidden from the beginning.

  • How about a comment to help improve it? How does it not answer the question? Or do you simply deny SP? – Bob Jones Jul 11 '18 at 4:58
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    I barely see how this is even related to the question. How about starting the answer with "Yes, SP recognizes this" or "No", then explain from there. I can't even see from this post whether you are trying to say SP recognizes deliberate non-chronological Pentateuch texts or not. – Caleb Jul 11 '18 at 9:51
  • Robert Thomas has written a few articles explaining that in most cases the use of sensius plenior is actually a method of imposing the New Testament onto the Old Testament and thereby changing the meaning of the original text. That is an invalid hermeneutical method as the meaning of a text is established at the time it was written and remains the meaning of that text. The Old Testament is full of Messianic references but that is quite a different thing than suggesting that every Old Testament passage has a Christological reference to it in some way. – Ken Banks Jul 11 '18 at 13:05
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    @KenBanks I don't think that's a very fair critique of SP, but even if it was I think it misses the point: even trying to look from an SP perspective and using an assumption that it's hermeneutic is valid I still don't see how this post answers this question. Lets try to keep comments on point, the merits of SP overall should be either covered in questions under hermeneutical-approaches and sensus-plenior or perhaps debated in chat, but comments shouldn't become a broad debate platform. – Caleb Jul 13 '18 at 7:03
  • @Caleb Thanks for the note. Hope the intro helps – Bob Jones Jul 14 '18 at 14:15

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