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Feedback archiveFeedback 2015

Why 6,000 years and not Septuagint chronology?

Published: 29 August 2015 (GMT+10)

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Daniel B. wrote to the editors of Creation magazine about Dr  article Evolution’s long age contradicts Genesis order of creation, Creation 37(3):52–54. He took exception to the claim “God created in six 24-hour days a little over 6,000 years ago”, because evidently he is a fan of the Septuagint (LXX) chronology although he didn’t say so explicitly. His letter is pasted below in its entirety, followed by Dr Sarfati’s point-by-point response.

Dear Editor,

Dr Sarfati states that the church has understood the earth to have been created a little before 3986 BC “for most of the church’s history, and the way Hebrew Scholars have always understood it.” 

While he is right that both Christian scholars and Hebrew scholars have for many centuries been able to date the current year in terms of Anno Mundi, he is wrong that either of those reckonings point to a creation date “a little over 6000 years ago.”

Our position favours ~6,000 years as the age of the earth. But we are not committed to an exact year, because we don’t think the Bible provides such precision.
Surely Dr. Sarfati knows that the official Jewish reckoning of AM was designed to give Shimon Bar Kochba, rather than Yehoshua bar Yosef, the chance at fulfilling Daniel’s Vision of Seventy Weeks. Because this creative cooking of the history books has endured to this day, Rabbinic Jews are still over 200 years short of hitting that 6000-year target. This dating scheme dates back at least to Maimonides, and apparently originated with Yose ben Halafta. No, Hebrew scholars have not ‘always’ followed this scheme. We can’t prove what dating scheme they followed before ben Halafta, because there are no extant Hebrew writings dating back before then. But if the united testimony of historians Flavius Josphus (Anitiquites) and Julius Aficanus (Chronographai) is to be trusted, the Hebrew scholars of the first two centuries dated creation to around 5500 before Christ.
“For why should I speak of the three myriad years of the Phoenicians, or of the follies of the Chaldeans, their forty-eight myriads? For the Jews, deriving their origin from them as descendants of Abraham, having been taught a modest mind, and one such as becomes men, together with the truth by the spirit of Moses, have handed down to us, by their extant Hebrew histories, the number of 5500 years as the period up to the advent of the Word of salvation, that was announced to the world in the time of the sway of the Caesars.” –Africanus

As for Christian scholars, there appear to have been none prior to the eight century who dismissed this ancient belief of the church that creation had preceded Christ by 5500 years. Bede was no doubt aware that his Latin Bible, which followed Jerome’s adoption of yet another Hebrew chronology, was incompatible with the history of the Britons, which aligned with the aforementioned 5500 BC date. His attempts to push a creation date of 3952 BC met with stiff resistance from the Bible scholars of his day, who were aware that he was overturning centuries of Christian scholarship. It would appear that eschatological excitement was the main reason for finally adopting Bede’s approach, which postponed the inevitable millennium from AD 500 to 2000. Well, that excitement has come and gone again as that cycle likewise ended in disappointment, yet through it all, the Eastern Church has held fast to the 5500 BC creation date, as it has been transmitted for at least 2000 years in their own copies of the Old Testament. I say it’s time to stop pretending that the Church has always been agreed on something tied to strongly to idiosyncratic eschatological doctrine, and take a fresh look at evidence that has been suppressed for half a millennium, since the canonization of the Christ-denying Hebrew chronology by the Reformers.

I have written an journal essay giving my opinion as to how the present wide divergence of biblical chronology emerged, using the principles of textual criticism to identify the Masoretic scheme as a late recension. It’s not been accepted for peer review until I adequately demonstrate that I have interacted with everything previously published on the subject, which task I am presently working through. Some of it is pretty nutty, despite having been written by Ph.D’s.

Daniel B.


Dear Editor,
Dr. Sarfati states that the church has understood the earth to have been created a little before 3986 BC “for most of the church’s history, and the way Hebrew Scholars have always understood it.”

First, note what I was trying to do. In this mag article, I was contrasting the main views: is the earth thousands or billions of years (“long ages”) old. This was not the place to perform a historical or textual analysis of the Genesis chronogenealogies. We just can’t cover everything in one article! Elsewhere in my own writings and those of my colleagues, this is fine-tuned.

While he is right that both Christian scholars and Hebrew scholars have for many centuries been able to date the current year in terms of Anno Mundi, he is wrong that either of those reckonings point to a creation date “a little over 6000 years ago.”

wikipedia.org

james-ussher

James Ussher (1641) by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen

First, this was a general summary of our position, and providing the right ball park. See the compilation in Old-earth or young-earth belief: Which belief is the recent aberration? which provides the range of estimated dates, all in the thousands. Our position favours ~6,000 years as the age of the earth, as explained in How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? But we are not committed to an exact year, because we don’t think the Bible provides such precision, as explained in How precise is the Bible about the date of creation?

Surely Dr. Sarfati knows that the official Jewish reckoning of AM was designed to give Shimon Bar Kochba, rather than Yehoshua bar Yosef, the chance at fulfilling Daniel’s Vision of Seventy Weeks. Because this creative cooking of the history books has endured to this day, Rabbinic Jews are still over 200 years short of hitting that 6000-year target. This dating scheme dates back at least to Maimonides, and apparently originated with Yose ben Halafta. No, Hebrew scholars have not ‘always’ followed this scheme. We can’t prove what dating scheme they followed before ben Halafta, because there are no extant Hebrew writings dating back before then.

Of course I know. I explain this in a response to criticisms and questions of the previous article, 6,000 years of biblical history: Questions and answers, answer to Victor M., New Zealand, 14 December 2012.

But if the united testimony of historians Flavius Josphus (Antiquities) and [Sextus] Julius Africanus (Chronographiai) is to be trusted, the Hebrew scholars of the first two centuries dated creation to around 5500 before Christ.
“For why should I speak of the three myriad years of the Phoenicians, or of the follies of the Chaldeans, their forty-eight myriads? For the Jews, deriving their origin from them as descendants of Abraham, having been taught a modest mind, and one such as becomes men, together with the truth by the spirit of Moses, have handed down to us, by their extant Hebrew histories, the number of 5500 years as the period up to the advent of the Word of salvation, that was announced to the world in the time of the sway of the Caesars.”—Africanus

Yes, we know. They used the LXX, which was again outside the scope of the article. I defend the primacy of the Masoretic Text (which gives ~6,000 without the distortions of Yose ben Halafta) against the demonstrably inflated LXX in Biblical chronogenealogies. Far more detail is found in my new commentary on Genesis 1–11, The Genesis Account. The above authors were not making any claims of the LXX over the Hebrew text, but were just calculating a chronology from the text currently available to them. But note that both accepted Genesis 5 and 11 as strict chronogenealogies, with no missing names or time.

As for Christian scholars, there appear to have been none prior to the eight century who dismissed this ancient belief of the church that creation had preceded Christ by 5500 years. Bede was no doubt aware that his Latin Bible, which followed Jerome’s adoption of yet another Hebrew chronology, was incompatible with the history of the Britons, which aligned with the aforementioned 5500 BC date. His attempts to push a creation date of 3952 BC met with stiff resistance from the Bible scholars of his day, who were aware that he was overturning centuries of Christian scholarship.

You mean, Jerome and Bede thought that we should go directly to the Hebrew rather than to a Greek translation, which the LXX was.

The authors were not making any claims of the LXX over the Hebrew text, but were just calculating a chronology from the text currently available to them. But note that both accepted Genesis 5 and 11 as strict chronogenealogies, with no missing names or time.
It would appear that eschatological excitement was the main reason for finally adopting Bede’s approach, which postponed the inevitable millennium from AD 500 to 2000. Well, that excitement has come and gone again as that cycle likewise ended in disappointment, yet through it all, the Eastern Church has held fast to the 5500 BC creation date, as it has been transmitted for at least 2000 years in their own copies of the Old Testament.

In their Greek translation of a Hebrew text, a translation that shows systematic evidence of time inflation.

I say it’s time to stop pretending that the Church has always been agreed on something tied to strongly to idiosyncratic eschatological doctrine, and take a fresh look at evidence that has been suppressed for half a millennium,

Our chronology has nothing to do with eschatology, but with protology. For CMI’s (non-)position on this doctrine, see End-times and Early-times.

since the canonization of the Christ-denying Hebrew chronology by the Reformers.

Christ-denying? It’s hard to take you seriously when you make nonsensical attacks like that.

I have written an journal essay giving my opinion as to how the present wide divergence of biblical chronology emerged, using the principles of textual criticism to identify the Masoretic scheme as a late recension. It’s not been accepted for peer review until I adequately demonstrate that I have interacted with everything previously published on the subject, which task I am presently working through.

This is important. So far, you have not dealt with the ample published creationist work defending the ‘Masoretic scheme’.

Some of it is pretty nutty, despite having been written by Ph.D’s.

Two of my colleagues have recently written an in-depth analysis of the textual history of Genesis 5 and 11 and find that the Masoretic is closest to the original. They use the normal principles of textual criticism, which properly used is akin to genetics. That is, what original could have given rise to the extant variant manuscripts given normal scribal practices. Since their paper has passed peer review by Hebrew/OT scholars, this should be published in a forthcoming Journal of Creation. [Update: see Lita Cosner and Robert Carter, Textual traditions and biblical chronology, Journal of Creation 29(2):99–105, 2015.]

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Readers’ comments
Jimmy C., United States, 1 September 2015

I am not a scholar but I do consider myself conversant with Scripture. We do not know the actual time Adam and Eve spent in the garden. Time as we count it began at the expulsion from the garden. So how long were they there? The question a lot of pastors ask is where did Cain get his wife? The assumption is that God created in six days, rested on the seventh then through kicked Adam and Eve out on what would be Monday. But if they were in the garden for say 3000 years and had lots of children and those children had children then when they left the garden there would have been many women from which Cain could have chosen a wife. It appears from the text that child bearing in the perfection of the garden was painless as pain in child birth came after sin entered the world. I don’t hold with millions of years, but there had to be more than a short time period in the garden. Bishop Ussher counted time as beginning 4004 years ago using lifespans as listed in Scripture, but an actual date for creation is not given, so we are left to guess at the age of the earth.

Sorry for the rambling of this comment, hope it makes sense and gets my point through.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

Actually, we do know the time window that Adam and Eve spent in the garden, because it can be logically deduced from Scripture, as shown in Why Bible history matters. Time was clearly operational before the Fall because God created over six days and rested on the seventh to give us a pattern for our working week (Exodus 20:8–11). Jesus plainly said that Adam and Eve were created male and female from the beginning of creation, not thousands or millions of years after the beginning. Also, Adam’s total lifespan was 930 years, so it is logically impossible for him to have lived in the garden for 3,000 years.

If you accept the biblical teaching that humanity began with one man and one woman, then brother-sister marriage is inescapable. Even if Cain married one of these other hypothetical women, these women must be traced back to a brother-sister marriage, as explained in Cain’s wife and brother-sister intermarriage. Also, there is not the slightest biblical evidence of any pre-Fall natural generation of humans; Cain was the first, and he was definitely fallen.

Jan J., Canada, 30 August 2015

The chronological errors of the LXX ,and not just in Genesis, have been demonstrated by many. What I’ve always found puzzling is that at least some of the New Testament writers clearly used LXX instead of the Masoretic and even quoted from Apocrypha. Even pharisee Josephus raised in Jerusalem did that. Now why would Jews fluent in Hebrew do that? What if the Hebrew text of the day actually was more like what we now have in the Greek version of LXX and some of the Apocrypha, at least The Book of Enoch was considered inspired? Jesus said that the Scripture cannot be broken and quoted from most books of the Old Testament. But would he consider the works of his Apostles as inspired Scripture or merely as historical accounts of his life? Just like we regard today, say the works of the early church fathers. The Book of Revelation, of course, would be an exception. I know I’m treading on slippery ground here but it would allow for and explain many things.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

I answered most of the above in my response to Dion R. above. For further explanation, CMI authors and speakers generally use an English translation, simply because that’s what people are familiar with. This doesn't mean that we believe that the original manuscripts were English.

The translators of the King James Version agreed, and wrote the following in their Preface to the Readers to defend the benefits of using translations even though they are not as good as the originals:

The translation of the Seventy [i.e. the Septuagint] dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Jerome and most learned men do confess) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend it to the Church, if it had been unworthy of the appellation and name of the word of God.

About the Book of Enoch, in my commentary I point out:

Some argue that it is problematic that Jude is quoting from the non-canonical Book of Enoch. But Jude was merely affirming that it was accurate in this place, not that it was canonical. For comparison, Paul quotes the Greek philosophers Aratus (Acts 17:28), Menander (1 Corinthians 15:33), and Epimenides (Titus 1:12). This doesn’t mean that he considered their works Scripture; it does mean that he thought something they said was sufficiently accurate to be an excellent way to get a point across to his readers. The same applies to Jude quoting from The Assumption of Moses. See also Holding, J.P., Quotations in the New Testament: Do they mean that the quoted book is totally authoritative? creation.com/enoch, 15 December 2007.
Dion R., Australia, 29 August 2015

Hi. Philo of Alexandria said the OT was originally written in a language called ‘Chaldean’ not ‘Hebrew’. And scholars say Jesus and the apostles used the LXX so why then do (Christian) scholars do a backflip and say the 1000 year more recent Masoretic is authoritative over the LXX? And where did the Masoretic translation take place? And what happened to the (alleged) proto-Masoretic texts it was translated from? Thanks.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

Philo was mistaken then; there are only a few parts of the OT that was originally written in ‘Chaldean’ (Aramaic), such as some chapters of Daniel. Most of the OT clearly had a Hebrew original.

The Masoretic Text chronology has much earlier support than the earliest extant manuscripts, such as Jerome’s Vulgate and the Samaritan Pentateuch. For other parts of the OT, the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Masoretic Text very closely, for example in Isaiah.

From my commentary:

The LXX was in widespread use by Jews outside Israel in NT times. This explains why it was commonly (but far from exclusively) cited in the New Testament—if not, then people like the noble Bereans of Acts 17:11 might have checked the Apostles’ teachings by the OT and said, “That’s not how we find it in our Bible.”[1] But it’s important not to overstate the LXX influence on the NT. Jesus clearly cites the OT 64 times in the Synoptics (with many more allusions). Of these:

  • More than half (32+) agree with both the LXX and the MT (simply because the LXX is a good translation of the MT in those cases.)
  • One-fifth of the 64 differ from both the LXX and the MT
  • One-fifth of the 64 agree with the MT against the LXX
  • The rest agree with the LXX against the MT (but we have a couple of verses where we see different versions of the LXX itself! (E.g. Mark 13:25 vs Mark 9:48)[2]

[1]. Gleason Archer makes this point in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 30–32, 1982 .

[2]. From Miller, Glenn, Septuagint, christian-thinktank.com/alxx.html, 30 January 1995.

Dale O., New Zealand, 29 August 2015

I think when your correspondent says "Christ-denying" he is referring to the Jewish fiddling of Daniel's seventy weeks for Bar Kochba. Personally, I think the inflexion point for chronologies is Jerome. His Latin translation preferring the MT as I understand it was based on the premise that the New Testament authors preferred OT references found in the MT over the LXX. It seems to me that this is manifestly untrue. Where the OT is quoted in the NT it generally matches the LXX.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

But I already made it clear in the main text that I rejected the Jewish fiddling to match Bar Kochba. This has no bearing on a chronology objectively based on the MT. See also responses below about NT citations of the OT.

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