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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Numbers in Genesis

As Carol Hill points out, some of the numbers in Genesis cause some questions. Among these are the reported ages of the patriarchs. Hill, writing in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, presents considerable evidence from scripture, archaeology, and elsewhere, that suggests strongly that these numbers, and others, had more symbolic than literal significance. The article is well written, seems to be authoritative, and does not require any special knowledge to understand, but it is not the sort of thing you are going to be able to read and digest in five minutes.

Here's perhaps the most important passage:

All age-numbers (30 in all) from Adam to Noah are a combination of the sacred numbers 60 (years and months) and 7. No numbers end in 1, 3, 4, 6, or 8—a chance probability of one in a billion. Thirteen numbers end in 0 (some multiple or combination of 60), 8 numbers end in 5 (5 years = 60 months), 3 numbers end in 7, 5 numbers end in 2 (5yrs + 7 yrs = 12), and 1 number ends in 9 (5yrs + 7yrs + 7yrs = 19). All of this cannot be coincidental. The Mesopotamians were using sacred numbers, not real numbers. Therefore, these numbers were not meant to be (and should not be) interpreted as real numbers.

There have been some responses to Hill's article, which can be found here. One of them is a letter from me, which points out that the Bible indicates the number of people that went to Egypt with Jacob during the famine. Only two of those listed and included in the total are female, which is inconsistent with common sense, and also inconsistent with the scripture's own statement that Jacob's son's wives went along. I take this as further evidence that not all the numbers in the Bible were meant to be taken literally.

Here's a link to the ESV Bible, Genesis 46:8-27, which is the passage I was referring to.

Thanks for reading.

January 17, 2006: I have posted more on the subject of the women in Jacob's family.

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