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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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  • 1
    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, 2011 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.) Nov 21, 2011 at 18:54

3 Answers 3

7

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, 2011 at 3:53
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The Greek Septuagint (LXX) translates this passage from the Hebrew as seventy times seven (rather than 77). The reason that I bring this up is that this translation captures how Greek-speaking Hebrew scholars roughly around 250 BCE interpreted this number.

Regarding Base 60 (sexagesimal), there's no affinity of this mathematical system to the number 7 (the Sumerians passed Base 60 down to the Babylonians). It is indeed a more convenient base for trading fractions of quantities than Base 10. Base 10 has 2 pairs of divisors, Base 12 has 3 pairs of divisors, and Base 60 has 6 pairs.

One could argue that Base 8 (octal) would be a more likely candidate than 60 since God created the heavens and the earth in seven days. Day eight in Base 8 would then be written as 10 in that case. In other words, one would count 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10, 11, etc. In Base 8, 70 would be 56 in Base 10 and 70 x 7 in Base 8 would equal 392. However, no convincing evidence has been found of the use of Base 8 in the Bible or anywhere in the ANE. Octal was used by the Yuki tribe in California and the Pame people in Mexico.

Calendars were absolutely crucial in determining when to plant crops. The lunar calendar was used with 12 months of 30 days to yield a 360-day year, which does have some affinity to Base 60. The extra 5.24 days in the actual 365.24-day year were not counted (I think they were considered holidays). The average lunar month is close to 29.5 days, but the number of weeks in a month is only 4, so a four-week month is only 28 days. This does not work out evenly. Since the new moon is pretty obvious, ancient peoples would be aware of at least a one-day discrepancy per month, which would need to be accommodated when keeping the Sabbath in a seven-day week.

Also note that various ancient civilizations had different numbers of days in a week, but the ancient Babylonians used seven days as did the Hebrews and other peoples in the ANE.

I really can't see any way that a different base could impact P.J. Wiseman's Tablet hypothesis regarding Genesis.

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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. Nov 16, 2011 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, 2011 at 5:40

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