Monday, April 18, 2011

Thoughts on Calculating Dates of the Patriarchs

Alice C. Linsley

I'm often asked about the approximate dates of the Patriarchs' lives. I usually refer people to sites where this sort of information is found, though I don't vouch for the accuracy of the dating. I haven't concerned myself with this task because it is of less importance to me than the sequence of the ruler-priest generations and the kinship pattern.  I don't doubt that the Genesis king lists refer to historical people and my analysis of their kinship pattern shows that these are authentic dynastic lines.

Another reason I haven't tackled the challenge of putting dates on the lives of the Patriarchs is my poor skills in Calculus.  There are many factors that must be considered and frankly, this data would best be presented in the form of equations, not my strong suit.

Let's look at some of the factors that must be considered.

1.  One factor that must be considered is whether a ruler is the firstborn of the sister-bride or the cousin/niece bride. The sister-bride was the first wife and the wife of the ruler's youth. The cousin/niece bride was the wife that the heir married before ascending the throne. For the sister-wife's firstborn son, the father's age would be between 18 and 25 (median would be 21).  So we can estimate that generally the firstborn son of the sister-wife would have been born when his father was about 21. For the cousin/niece bride's firstborn son the father's age would be between 45 and 60 (median would be 52).  So we can estimate that the cousin-bride produced an heir or priest (for her father, not her husband) when her husband was about age 52.

2. A modular formula governed the order of marriage.  This is alluded to in the account of Laban's insistance that the older sister (Leah) must marry before the younger (Rachel).  The deliberation about who may marry whom involves a cycle of between 9 and 12.  In this equation X represents firstborn son, and the possible matches are between 9 and 12 blood related females, but they must be considered in a fixed order of rotation. There will never be a 13th possibility.  A bride must be selected from the 9-12 females and may be either a half-sister or a cousin, usually patrilineal, but sometimes matrilineal.  The bride for the next son will be considered in the rotation, beginning with the next female in the rotation after the last match was made.

The number 9 is based on the evidence that Abraham's ancestors were organized in groups of 3 clans and there were 3 groups of 3 clans, which means that there were 9 clans from which a consanguine bride could be chosen. The number 12 is based on the evidence of numerous 12 tribe sets, with celestial animal totems and probably organized on the 12 moon phases.

3. We must also take into consideration the fact that we don't know how long the various rulers lived.  It is certain that the numbers of years assigned to the patriarchs before the flood are symbolic. Noah is said to have lived a total of 950 years, for example. According to these numbers,Terah who is criticised as an idol worshipper lived longer than Jacob by 58 years. In the Afro-Arabian numerology, Jacob's 147 and Terah's 205 are both auspicious numbers. Clearly, we can't use symbolic numbers to determine lifespans. This is where we must turn to paleontology for some help.

Between 100,000 and 500 BC the average man lived less than 40 years and the average woman lived less than 38 years. These lifespans would have been longer for rulers due to their superior diets and access to medical resources. So it is conceivable that the rulers named in Genesis lived relatively long lives, with the exception of those who died by assasination or in battle. We might estimate their livespans to be between 60 and 80 years (average would be 70). This would mean that a dynastic line of a depth of 10 rulers would represent between 300 and 400 years. We can't be more specific unless we first identify if the heir is the firstborn of the sister-bride or the cousin-bride.

To illustrate, consider the following table.

Assuming that Nimrod is Sargon the Great who lived from about 2290-2215 BC, which is when his son Rimush (Ramesh) by his sister-wife ascended the throne, we can estimate the approximate dates of those who lived after him. (Alternative dates for Sargon the Great are 2360-2279, but it is likely that these dates refer to his maternal grandfather after whom he was named. It is Sargon the Elder, not Sargon the Great, who conquered Nippur in 2340 B.C.)

Using the first set of dates, we see that Nimrod lived to age 75. Applying his age for these rulers, and calculating the father's age at the times of the first-born son's births (age 21 for sons of sister-wives and age 52 for sons of cousin-wives), we can estimate the following dates:

B.C. 2290-2215 - Nimrod
B.C. 2238-2163 - Arpacshad, son by Asshur's daughter, probably his cousin-wife. ("Shad" means happy.)
B.C. 2217-2042 - Salah, likely Arpacshad's son by his sister-wife.
B.C. 2196-2121 - Eber, likely Salah's son by his sister-wife.          
B.C. 2175-2100 - Peleg, likely Eber's son by his sister-wife. Peleg's brother was Joktan the Elder.
B.C. 2154-2079 - Reu (My hunch is that this is Leah's line, who named her first-born son Reu-ben.)
B.C. 2133-2058 - Serug, likely Reu's firstborn by his sister-wife.
B.C. 2112-2037 - Nahor, likely Serug's firstborn by his sister-wife.
B.C. 2091-2016 - Terah, likely Nahor's firstborn by his sister-wife.
B.C. 2039-1964 - Abraham, Terah's son by his cousin-wife.[1]
B.C. 1987-1912 - Joktan, Abraham's firstborn son by his cousin bride, Keturah.[2]

Again, these are approximate dates based on the information that is available. (See diagram of this genealogical segment here.) This same approach can be taken to calculate dates of the patriarchs before Nimrod.  Those approximate dates are as follows:

B.C. 2490-2415 - Noah  This is when the Sahara experienced a wet period (Karl W. Butzer 1966)
B.C. 2438-2363 - Ham, son of Noah by his cousin-wife
B.C. 2417-2342 - Kush/Cush, son of Ham by his sister-wife (?) and the father of Nimrod and Raamah

The father of Noah was Lamech, named after his maternal grandfather (Gen. 23). Lamech's father was Methuselah, Naamah's patrilineal cousin. Methuselah's father was Enoch who some believe to be Enmendurana, the predynastic ruler of Sumer (c. 2900).  Both were pre-dynastic rulers and both were associated with the solar symbolism fundamental to ancient Afro-Asiatic religion. Both Enoch and Enmendurana are dated to around 2900-2800 BC.
If they are the same person, this would support the view that Enoch was a sent-away son who moved into Sumer and established a kingdom for himself. This may explain why the text says that Enoch "was no more" (Gen. 5:24).

1. Nahor the Younger was Terah's firstborn, but since we don't know the age difference between Nahor and Abraham, I'll stick with these dates for Abraham.  They could safely be adjusted by 5-10 years to reflect that Abraham is Terah's youngest son.

2. Joktan the Elder was the brother of Peleg and their father was Eber (B.C. 2196-2121). It was during this period that the linguistic division between Old Arabic (Dedanite) and Aramaic first emerged. "Shad" (as in Arpac-shad) is an Arabic word. I haven't listed Isaac here because it is difficult to know Abraham's age when Sarah miraculously conceived.  According to Genesis Abraham and Sarah were both "advanced in years."

Further reading:  Nimrod was a Kushite Ruler; Nimrod: Afro-Asiatic Kingdom Builder; Kushite Kingdom Building; The Cousin Bride's Naming Prerogative; The Pattern of Two Wives; Finding Noah's Ark; Joktan: Abraham's Firstborn Heir

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