googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Did the Ancient Hebrews Believe in a Literal Genesis?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Did the Ancient Hebrews Believe in a Literal Genesis?

Many liberal theists have made the claim that the ancient readers of the Bible never believed Genesis was meant to be literal. When I hear people make this claim, I've often asked them what literary clues are present that identify Genesis (or other relevant passages) as figurative and how can we distinguish them from simple narrative. The usual responses I get are a swift change of the subject (a red herring), links to liberal scholars who have made the same claim (appeals to authority), or an avalanche of literary terms that have absolutely no substance (argument by verbosity). I intend to write a more detailed discussion of this criticism in the future but on this occasion of New Years Eve, I wanted to point out a simple fact that might shine some light on the matter.

Our Gregorian calender was intended to count the years since the birth of Christ. There was a little goof in our math but, for the most part, it's been approximately 2,012 years since the birth of Christ.

Now the Jews, of course, do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah of Scripture and so their calender doesn't count the years since His birth. Instead, they have counted the years since creation. So, what year is it on the Jewish calender? It's 5,772.

Hmmm. Is it just a coincidence or is that not too far off from the typical creationist's understanding of the age of the earth? The claim has been made that creationists like myself are simply fanatical fundamentalists who take a hyper-literal view of Genesis that is not intended by the text. It seems to me that the Jewish calender agrees with me. If they are counting the years since the creation, they are far closer to my estimate of the earth's age than any evolutionist's estimate. I guess that means the ancient Hebrews were also young earth creationists!


rmwilliamsjr said...

i have an interest in calendar. but i don't know exactly how the modern jewish calendar arose so i went poking around.
of course i knew already that it was a lunar-solar one.
i start with the wiki
it's also obvious that it's a Mesopotamian derived calendar with 7 days and lunar months with particular importance given to names of the months and the babylonian exile.
but the question here is the Anno Mundi epoch.
"The Jewish calendar's epoch (reference date), 1 Tishrei 1 AM, is equivalent to Monday, 7 October 3761 BCE in the proleptic Julian calendar, the equivalent tabular date (same daylight period) and is about one year before the traditional Jewish date of Creation on 25 Elul AM 1, based upon the Seder Olam Rabbah of Rabbi Yossi ben Halafta, a 2nd century CE sage.[27]"looking at
i knew from past study:Two dominant dates for creation using such models exist, about 5500 BC and about 4000 BC. These were calculated from the genealogies in two versions of the Bible, with most of the difference arising from two versions of Genesis. The older dates are based on the Greek Septuagint.[1]

i suspect something is amiss here however "Since before 3925 AM (165 AD), years in the Hebrew calendar have been counted from the Creation year based on the calculation in the Seder Olam Rabbah of Rabbi Jose ben Halafta in about 160 AD.[3] By his calculation, based on the Masoretic Text, Adam was created in 3760 BC. However, Halafta's dating was not universally accepted by all Jewish communities. Even in 1000 AD, the Muslim chronologist al-Biruni mentioned three different epochs used by various Jewish communities being one, two, or three years later than the modern epoch.[4] In 1178 AD, Maimonides included all the rules for the calculated calendar and their scriptural basis, including the modern epochal year in his work, Mishneh Torah.

Today, the rules detailed in Maimonides' code are those generally used by Jewish communities throughout the world." since the dating for the masoret text is too early

but in any case, the jewish calendar is not preserved from ancient knowledge much preceeding the babylonian captivity with the number of years an extrapolation done 200-600CE.

so what it shows is what jews thought in 200CE about their ancestors, not what those ancestors themselves could have thought.

RKBentley said...


Thanks for visiting my blog. My first impression of your comment was that it was a combination of responses 2 & 3 that I mentioned in my post. Though there may be some of that going on, you concluded your comment with an interesting point. You said, "what it shows is what jews thought in 200CE about their ancestors, not what those ancestors themselves could have thought."

I agree with you to a point. The Bible itself does not give calender dates marking how long after the creation certain events occurred (i.e. "David became king in such and such year of history"). However, we do have the genealogies and chronologies from which we derive a reasonable estimate of the creation date. Since, by your own admission, 2nd century Jewish scholars arrived at recent date for the creation, it gives weight to the idea that a young earth is the plain and intended meaning of the text.

As to what the ancients believed, there is a lot more that could be said than what I've said here. I do intend to write about it more sometime. For now, I'll just say that if the Church patriarchs and early Jewish scholars believed the Bible plainly taught a young earth, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the ancient readers believed the same.

Thanks again for visiting and for your comments. God bless!!